With Jamaica Carnival pulling out of this year’s road march due to a lack of support, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and Sport, said she is taking steps to ensure that Byron Lee’s name remains alive.
“I have been in discussion with the Lee family about ensuring that Byron’s rich legacy is secured. One of the best ways would be to ensure that his brand, Jamaica Carnival, continues. However, it requires financial support that neither the government nor the family has at this time,” Grange told The Gleaner.
After a seven-year absence, Byron Lee’s brainchild, Jamaican Carnival, made its official return last year with a rebranded, repackaged and re-energised brand. However, after just one year on the road, Jamaica Carnival’s director Julianne Lee last week said a lack of support has forced the band to stay put this year.
The minister told The Gleaner that she is disappointed that Jamaica Carnival will not be on the road this year.
“Jamaica Carnival was started by the legendary Byron Lee and positioned as ‘the People’s Carnival’. Jamaica Carnival has been very inclusive and allowed Jamaicans from all walks of life to participate in the carnival experience, and so I am disappointed to learn that it will not be on the road this year,” she said.
Grange said that the Carnival Stakeholders Committee has been charged to “explore ways to honour the memory and contribution of Byron Lee and I expect that we will make an announcement on that shortly.”
Byron Lee, who died in 2008, has been hailed as the father of carnival in Jamaica. Dr Kai Barratt, a University of Technology (UTech) lecturer who specialises in popular culture, noted that Byron Lee strived for an inclusive carnival.
“It wasn’t just the masqueraders that Byron Lee attracted but also just observers. He didn’t want to keep anyone out, and that was the appeal of Byron Lee Jamaica Carnival. It was really a Jamaica carnival, whether it was for people in costume or just people who wanted to be a part of the festivities,” she said.
Even as Jamaica Carnival remains grounded, at least three major carnival bands, Bacchanal Jamaica, Xaymaca International and Xodus Jamaica, are set to take over the corporate area when road march is held next month. Minister Grange is heartened by the growth in Jamaica’s carnival, describing it as exceptional.
“Jamaica is an exciting and growing space for carnival. In some parts of the region, the talk is that ‘carnival in Jamaica’ has the greatest potential for growth,” she said.