THE LAST TRIBE
How an upstart Carnival Band came to dominate global Carnival
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on Huckleberry Media Company on 20 July 2015. Some edits have been made but the core of the article, including its 2015 point of view, remain the same.
Every brand follows a timeline and therefore every brand without fail has an expiry date. Just ask Poison — THE Carnival band before TRIBE became the IT band. Even Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com knows this. He was once quoted as saying it is highly possible that by the time he is retired, he himself may no longer be shopping on Amazon. At the rate it’s going, we all in fact may soon be ordering on Alibaba.com instead. The basic premise is that every brand struggles with legacy, longevity and innovating faster than the competitors around them.
But with SO much information at our fingertips, especially the ability to capture, measure and use metrics about our audience and potential clients in real time, it’s no wonder that many brands are constantly innovating, rebuilding and reincarnating as often as annually. Just take a look at your Facebook newsfeed this weekend for anything TRIBE Carnival related, and you will find an immensely different type of feedback compared to years gone by: an overwhelming positive review of the mega-band’s mega-launch. An event that in recent years that has became the social event of the summer: the kind that Trini students return for or expats plan summer vacations around. Here’s the thing: many of those positive reviews are coming from people and groups that once lamented many things that TRIBE was once reviled for. These same people posting happily about the band once berated it for, among other things: reducing Carnival to ‘bikini and beads’ mas, being inaccessible to the ‘average’ masquerader registration-wise, being too ‘exclusive’ to the point that their comments often bordered on racial discrimination allegations or being too expensive for the simplicity of its designs and much more. So how did TRIBE change the conversation about its brand?
THE CURRENT SITUATION
The fact is, TRIBE has already changed the very nature of playing ‘mas. Gone are the days of masqueraders stopping to purchase drinks from vendors (which yes, is both a positive for masqueraders’ experience and a negative for those who depend on that Carnival income). Today instead, we have a band that caters every drink you can possibly desire to the point where they rain Moet down on you at the close of day. There are massage tents and air-conditioned cool down zones both at lunch parks and on the road. There are lunch options where once there was a communal pot of pelau. There are toilet trucks. With the mas experience locked, the next goal is to change Carnival itself. The Lost Tribe: A Revolution of Mas was the real focus of this weekend’s band launch event, as we watched TRIBE essentially add a third band to its offering, alongside its more public band launch entitled The Secret Garden where the namesake TRIBE and BLISS debuted their offerings. With stunning photography and edits by Laura Ferreira (really awesome work) and a raft of new and old designers, you can almost feel as if the band has re-opened a market for the likes of players of the Minshall/Mac Farlane era. (May both forgive us for separating their names with only a backslash) Dean Ackin, TRIBE bandleader, was quoted earlier this month by the Trinidad Guardian as saying, “Our priority is not the art aspect of it; that’s important, yes. But our priority is ensuring that our masqueraders have a fantastic time in this street party.” Well, now, they are ensuring both. The Lost Tribe is a space for those who want to play mas today, with the creativity (and cloth) of yesteryear, powered by a design team whose average age is twenty six.
More recently too, the TRIBE team has also infiltrated the legend of Carnival itself, Harts Carnival, offering ‘road management services’ to the stalwart and offering up a few designers like the inimitable Solange Govia to share her own expertise. Publicly passed off as a symbiotic relationship, this is almost like a Walmart going to your neighbourhood parlour and offering ‘logistics management services’. There is little doubt in the public’s mind (well the Carnival-playing public) that this relationship is an inevitable take-over, whether now or in the future.
Add to their decade long history, Red Ants, arguably the largest Jouvert band that took ‘the bottle and spoon and steelpan as the sun rises’ street party and turned it into a music-truck filled, DJ-powered, culture-less experience. Throw in the ‘Soca Drome’driven by TRIBE but open to other bands, where masqueraders swapped waiting hours in the dust for a few minutes on the Big Stage (the Queens Park Savannah) for a smaller but more efficient one at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. The market lapped it all up. TRIBE could do no wrong for its clientele, but the general public didn’t share that kind of love for the band.
TURNING THE TIDE
For the past twelve years, the TRIBE team has dominated Carnival but often been credited as robbing Carnival of its soul in favor of a capitalist approach to our beloved annual product. So how do you change the commentary on your brand from a negative to a positive? When your name is TRIBE, you leverage exactly that — your tribe. In the last 18 months, the band has very quietly opened its doors, selectively inviting friend and foe, past critic, commentator and casual observer, and leveraging its mega-brand to bring on smaller entertainment brands from newbies like Winerboy Entertainment and Hakwai Clan to icons like Caesars Army and SCORCH Magazine, extending an olive leaf for them to join THE Tribe. It has also expanded internationally, where the market for its kind of mas really matters, including London-based brands like BussPepper Promotions too. If you find that people who were once so vocal against the very notion of playing Carnival with TRIBE, suddenly extolling its virtues, you are in fact witnessing a finely-executed and entirely bloodless coup in the Carnival arena in T&T. After years of being inaccessible, the band is suddenly saying: “You throw a couple of parties or have a fan following? Welcome to our TRIBE; we will essentially allow you to associate your name with ours.” TRIBE has created the ultimate Carnival brand, it has grown, assimilated and merged itself with all other surrounding tribes, to become the one dominant tribe that counts; the one that turned present and future competition into kindling for the fire to power its very own journey. Essentially, the band and brand is cementing (or glue-gunning?) its position in the Carnival arena.
For those who think that the band will one day collapse a la Poison and others, it will do them well to know that this wasn’t just a revolution of ‘mas this weekend, this was a brand future-proofing itself to infinity and beyond. This was a brand extending its roots, to make every relevant stakeholder in the entertainment space, a stakeholder in their brand. The brand has also earned itself hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity across the networks that matter — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp among others simply by having all these new groups promote its brand for them. Since launch, the official Tribe Page has barely raised a finger with 2–3 posts.
In one weekend, the Carnival powerhouse has played with the notion of ‘The Lost Tribe’ when in reality it has ensured, that it really is the Last Tribe. One of a kind — the likes of which we will never see again.
Kieran Khan is the founder of Huckleberry Media Company, a Caribbean-based initiative aimed at crowdsourcing creative talent and changing the advertising agency landscape.