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Carnival Calabar: How Popular Is The Event Eight Years After

26 Jan 2013

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Cross Rivers Acting Governor Cobham declaring Calabar Carnival open


CARNIVAL CALABAR HAS COME AND GONE WITH ITS CLIMAX ON DECEMBER 27. BUT WHAT HAS DISTINGUISHED THE ONE-MONTH EVENT FROM OTHERS IN THE COUNTRY AND HOW POPULAR IS THE CARNIVAL EIGHT YEARS DOWN THE LINE? JUDE OKWE WRITES


The allure of the serenade and the sound of the various genres of music filled the air. Colourfully costumed ladies and men danced along. On the 12 kilometers route, Africa’s biggest street party was on. The exotic, body-wriggling revelers were having fun on Carnival Calabar day. And there was no dull moment while it lasted.


For over 12 hours on December 27 from the Muster Point of the Millennium Park through Mary Slessor Avenue – Marian Road – Efio Ette Junction – MCC Road to the U. J. Esuene Stadium, a sea of human beings flowed along with hundreds of thousands watching from both sides of the route. The turnout was so thick that a pin dropped from above would not get to the floor.


The variously designed costumes with colours unique to each of the five competing bands were radiant and very elegant in velvet and Nigerian fabrics. With these stage-like attires, the beautifully decorated ladies and men danced to the admiration of onlookers. Creativity was the watchword of each band as they decorated their trucks in interpretation of the theme of the carnival for the year.


But for the first time, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago Steel Bands participated. The voluptuous ladies from the South America football nation added colour to the road show. They were sparsely clad; with only G-string pants to cover their womanhood and small size designer-bra to hold the breasts, they freely entertained guests at each adjudication point. Eyes popped out, mouths remained agape as spectators on the sidelines watched the Brazilian ladies thrill. It was their first time in Calabar.


With the aid of their steel band and other musical instruments the Samba group led by Thobias vai vai danced to Portuguese tones dished out by a lady vocalist. They swirled at each dance spot with their high-heeled legs gyrating according to the rhythm of the music. The obviously brave performance surprised onlookers as the group from Sao Paolo brought style to it all.


Carnival Calabar came swinging into the city eight years ago. This is one festival with economic value. Hotels in the city operate at full premium, restaurant operators sell more, and fashion designers are hired for the costumes. Yes, fashion was not left out. Designers were out to outdo themselves. Makeup artists had field day as they are ensured that the chocolate ladies on each of the bands had either short or long hairdo, sculptured curls framing smiling faces.


Along the 12 kilometers stretch, food vendors, hawkers of assorted drinks had brisk business. The sit-out arranged could not accommodate the army of guests who wanted to cool off. Hawkers of memorabilia were not left out. Photographers snapped and printed so many pictures. It was brisk business for this category of business people. All of them smiled to the bank.


Retailers of cosmetics were not left out. Since women like to decorate themselves before going out, operators of cosmetic shops recorded the highest sales of the year. Powder of different colours and other makeup accessories were also in hot demand. Hair dressing salons in the city had more customers than they could attend to. Brazilian hairdo was the preferred style by girls selected by their bands to parade.


December is the month when the state government makes more money from tourism tax. December tax is borne indirectly by guests. What is charged per night is inclusive of this tax. Once due, the state government based on the number of rooms in that hotel, collects accordingly. But it’s often difficult to calculate and collect the exact sum, as some hoteliers are dishonest.


Operators of commercial transportation are not left out. They had passengers for regular service or drop. Given the number of visitors to Calabar, taxis and buses come in short supply. This explains why most passengers waited longer before catching a taxi or bus. In the absence of commercial motorcycles and non-operation of Indian tricycles popularly called Keke NAPEP beyond 9pm, commuters had it difficult. In all this, the economy of the city was better for it.


For many, the Carnival Commission deserves a pass mark. Everything went according to plan. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Gabe Onah, the commission ensured that the ceremony went hitch-free as assigned responsibilities were carried out to the letter. The Executive Secretary of the commission, Mr. Chris Agibe, other members: Liz Ogbudu and Gloria Odigha worked for almost 24 hours a day before and during the carnival.


Onah, who has become an authority on Cross River State Tourism Development and carnival, relied on experience to see things through. He ensured that the bands were well organised, costumes and trucks decorated in accordance with the theme of the carnival, carnival floats orderly and security to check any eventuality. For the first time, there was no much gap between a band performing before judges and the next. Thus, all the bands made it to the final point on time.


Planning any vacation is as much fun as taking it. Carnival Calabar is a brand, a fiesta of culture and razzmatazz. See it, feel it, ask about it, hear about it and book a trip to experience it. This annual event has taken Cross River to the world tourism stage. And with the participation of Caribbean nations reputed for carnivals, the Calabar event is closing on their heels.


For 32 days revelry was in the air in city of light. For first time tourists and visitors, it was a dream come true. They arrived from different corners of the world and checked into hotels of their choice. From there they took part in most of the activities. Then the climax: carnival, which arrested their attention making them to forget home. With a clean and green city, receptive and orderly residents, visitors found a home in this earthly paradise—Calabar.


Are you a tourist or visitor to Calabar in December? In your next trip to this ancient city, discover a new way of frolicking. It brings you the comfort and love of the yuletide season. Setting standards with unparalleled innovations; Carnival Calabar offers more entertainment, fun, opportunity for business for each and every tourists, visitors, businessmen. It’s the city’s way to end the year and enter the new one with fresh business ideas, energy and contacts.


But what makes Carnival Calabar tick? Unlike most carnivals in the country, the Calabar Carnival is not merely an annual jamboree. It has tourism undertones. Besides, it has a competitive spirit as its five bands: Masta Blasta, Passion Four, Freedom, Seagull and Bayside gun for the star prize of N10million. Thus the bands are well organised and try every year to interpret the theme of the carnival through the decoration of their trucks, costumes and displays.


Besides individual band rehearsals, the Carnival Commission organises three-day dry runs before the commencement of the festival proper. This dry run (rehearsal) involves the participation of the five bands, which enables them to perfect their act ahead of the D-day. They use this to make and correct their mistakes. Three days are set aside for children carnival dry run too. The children graduate from this cadre to their respective adult bands.


Also, bands on this carnival start individual rehearsal in October. Every weekend each band gathers its members to practice how to dance, interpret the theme through artistic decoration of trucks and perfect on the innovations that may be introduced. Carnival Calabar thrives on innovations. According to the Acting Governor of the State, Mr. Efiok Cobham, innovation is the force behind the success story of the carnival. Organisers, he said in an interview, have continued to barge in on one idea to another to make the street party better.


Though loosely used in the entertainment industry, “creative force” is a term applicable to Carnival Calabar and the personalities behind it. One of such persons is the chairman of the Carnival Commission. Mr. Onah is the personification of that phrase in its truest sense. As a graduate of theatre arts, he knows how to research, write a script, produce and direct. He is at the heart of the carnival and has understudied the Caribbean nations on how to organise carnivals.


Onah is an energetic young man with a twinkle in his eye, a zest for perfection and taste for good quality.

His creative instinct is one of the guiding lights of the carnival. Little wonder that ever since the state government made tourism one of its economic pillars, he has not worked outside the sector. Every year he brings his creativity to bear on the organisation, costumes, theme and vitality of the carnival.


“What makes Carnival Calabar tick is the warmth and welcoming smile of our people. But above all, what stands our carnival out is the dance and choreography segment, which is not common in other carnivals. The crowd appeal and opportunities open to sponsors along the territory of performance makes it a unique avenue and domain for merchandising goods and services.


“Some countries that participated in the last carnival include Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Korea Republic, Ghana and Cameroon. Our sponsors were First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Dangote, Seven Up Bottling Company, OCIC Limited that fully sponsored the Brazilian Band, NDDC, Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Lilleker, Diamond Bank, Ecobank, Moments With MO and DSTV amongst other organisations.


“We try every year to improve on the previous edition. We try as much as possible to fuse culture into our carnival. Behind our mind is that this strategy if vigorously pursued would have positioned our culture as the true spirit of our tourism and the reason for tourists’ arrival and repeat visit”, Onah said. 

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