The scene, I Dream of J’ouvert from the film Lavway.

The physical absence of Carnival 2021 has left thousands who depend on the annual festival without much need income.

But through its film Lavway, The Lost Tribe, Tribe and Ultimate Events Ltd have created much needed employment for those across a broad spectrum in the sector.

“Lavway” is a type of music based on call and response.

These were sung on ships that brought the enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.

It is this concept which encapsulates the film.

But the elaborate production and filming, more importantly, reflects the ability of the popular mas band to be able to pivot and remain relevant in these trying economic times.

Tribe’s head Dean Ackin explained, “Because of COVID, we like many other businesses were thrust into survival mode and therefore, had to explore new lines of business and new opportunities. It made sense to start looking in areas that related to our core competencies.”

And, as such, he said the band’s ultimate events team further delved into film and TV production.

“For instance One Yard, a COVID charity concert was a partnership with the ANSA McAL group and that was a huge success. Lavway is a film on Carnival and it is going to be a first of its kind in T&T,” Ackin said.

He said this represented “a perfect marrying” of the organisation’s events arm joining forces with the Carnival arm of the business to showcase Carnival and all its elements in a very different way.

“All packaged to an international standard so that the audience can connect with T&T’s culture in an interesting and exciting way,” Ackin added.

And with the uncertainty of the coronavirus, engaging customers and clients virtually might be the new norm even for those in the entertainment industry.

Ackin said Tribe, therefore, intends to further explore this line of business, noting that worldwide opportunities are vast.

“People are always interested in good entertainment and fun and that’s what we do best,” he said, noting that Netflix and many other streaming services are continuously looking for new content.

“And we hope to position ourselves to take advantage of these new opportunities,” Ackin added.

However, being virtual requires innovation as Ackin noted that trying to replicate a real life experience virtually like a fête or that unique “Carnival road” experience could never be the same.

The Lost Tribe director, Valmiki Maharaj explained that pre-production and roll-out of Lavway started in November 2020.

Filming began in January this year and took 10 days to complete before moving into post-production and final product.

Maharaj said the band hired people from every possible sector of the industry thereby creating between 250 to 300 jobs.

“Jobs ranged from the make-up artists, to the hair dressers to the costume designers.

“It also moved into lights, cameras, filming, printers, videographers and so much more. Every single person we really worked with for a Carnival season was involved in the making of this project,” he added.

The budget for the Lavway was originally set at $4 million but less than half was obtained, with Carib being the largest sponsor.

“We see Carib as really a partner because their support was overwhelming. Because we did not get the expected amount of money we basically needed to re-plan the entire show. We sat with the design and production teams and said, “We were supposed to get $4 million but we got $1.5 what are we doing now,” Maharaj explained.

He added that preproduction which was done even before the budget was approved.

“It’s just a challenge financially when you have ideas and especially during this time of COVID where we don’t have the money and the sponsors don’t have the money and you can’t charge for it. It’s a very difficult place to be in,” Maharaj said.

“When we got the approvals we also had to make hard decisions in terms of do or die, meaning that can we produce at this stage. But the ability by the team to produce in such a short time has been absolutely mind-blowing,” he added.

Lavway will be aired on CNC3 on February 14—Carnival Sunday—and will showcase the different aspects of Carnival and by extension, the country’s culture.

Benefits of virtual

Albeit virtually, Maharaj strongly believe that Lavway will play a critical part in further catapulting T&T’s Carnival into the international arena.

He explained that for many years T&T has been inviting the world to its Carnival celebrations however, the mandate of the show is to now take Carnival to the world.

“We need to translate our culture into a language and into capsules that the world can digest. It’s very difficult because we know our culture so we can walk past a moko jumbie and like, ‘Oh my God we love this moko jumbie,’ but the language of the world is different.

“The imagery that they’re accustomed to is different. So if we are taking this out there that translation needs to be done. We see this as the first step towards the future of Carnival not only in terms of saying there will be more productions like this but also in terms of how we package our Carnival moving forward particularly

as the Tribe group,” Maharaj advised.

He added that the band has been working with its team to appropriately position the show to garner the attention of future investors even those internationally.

“Even before this show I had so many other ideas. I had ideas for other shows I wanted to do based on our festivals and our people and tell our story whether through costuming, movement, film or art.

“The world is open to us right now and this pandemic has pushed us into this virtual realm that allow us much more control over environment,” Maharaj said, noting that producing for the savannah stage sometimes entail challenging elements like wind, rain and sun.

Generally, he added, the pandemic has also resulted in the band making tough decision.

Maharaj said Tribe which has been growing in popularity and size over the years has had some difficult choices to be make ‘personally and businesswise’ to ensure that the entity financially survived the pandemic.

“It’s unheard to any business to say they are going to survive without any income for two years. We had to plan for the absolute worst case scenario.

“It’s difficult for us to stay alive. We feel we have a responsibility to ourselves, our masqueraders and our industry to make sure we do stay alive because there are so many people who depend on us for jobs, even morale and we have been working as far as we can to help those people,” Maharaj added.

Concept for Levway

The idea for Lavway started many years ago.

The Lost Tribe, Maharaj explained, is a story telling band, a band of shows.

“We have always been a showmanship people. Our Carnival is called the ‘greatest show on earth’ and I think the concept of this and Carnival as a participation sport has lost a bit of its showmanship. The days of the grand Dimanche Gras and the tents and so on have gone and the main stimulus for me was to do an ode to Dimanche Gras, that greatest, grand show in Carnival before we hit the streets,” Maharaj explained.

This “reimagination” of Dimanche Gras however, took a different form when COVID-19 struck.

No longer was the band able to do a physical recreation, although this will eventually take place in the coming years.

“Because of virus we had to take it to film. I wanted to build the show on the concept of call and repeat.

“One generation calling to the next generation, one artist calling to another artist. I think that needed to be dispersed so it could reach the people,” Maharaj added.

A slew of popular artists also took part in Levway including Patrice Roberts, Destra Garcia, Neval Chatela, Nailah Blackman and Terri Lyons.

But more that simply putting on a grand production Maharaj hopes this will be the beginning of greatness for T&T’s Carnival industry.

“I hope when people look at Levway they will see our potential for growth, not just for Tribe but for us as a people. I want them to look at us as an art form and say, ‘Wow I didn’t see us like that.’ I hope the industry will be encouraged to do more,” Maharaj added.