Xhosa launched its new theme for Crop Over 2018 'Circle of Life' at the luxurious grounds of the NCC Botanical Gardens. We attended the launch to see whether the 'Circle of Life' launch party would signal a turnaround for this beleaguered brand or would it actually be the #XhosaFarewellParty, especially if Xhosa did not fend off the demons of its past to reach for a bright new future.
To start, Xhosa's theme was promising. We looked forward to seeing how the band would interpret the theme with its costumes and presentation. Xhosa has already had fantastic presentations, notably with their 2016 launch at St. Ann's Fort. To boot, it always had exciting launch parties that were great fun just by themselves, before you added the costumes. With a new theme, new section leaders, brand new location (undoubtedly being looked at by a number of event promoters) and a drive to win back masqueraders and restore brand confidence, Xhosa knew it had its work cut out for it.
Without any further delay let's get started with the review.
To be honest, this aspect of the review is what held up the entire show. How does one constructively critique a costume without coming across like the designer and the band are under attack? It's Crop Over and bands and designers perceive every critique as a personal attack on their brand. If you
don't have your face halfway up their ass aren't brown-nosing them or kowtowing before them then you're immediately rendered an enemy. It must come with the territory we guess.
On the other hand, it's another thing to create a costume, release it, for somebody to come later on down the line, climb on a soapbox and give your creation a very public dressing down. The feeling must not be nice and in turn people get in their feelings.
Stop trying to sell people nonsense and we wouldn't have these problems.
Let's move on to our first point: the male costumes... oy vey.
To be fair to Xhosa, their male costume designs are never anything to shout and scream about. Whenever the pants have a good material used, then the overall design is very dull. If there is a good overall design, such as this costume from last year, men have to cross their fingers and hope that it won't cost an arm and a leg,
Half of the time the costumes look as though the band gets the first prototype and says, "Hell yea that looks great let's go with that one." The costumes always seem to fall short of being great. They always look like if they had gone through some refinement they could really say something. They never match the refinement or grandeur of the female costumes. Not that they need to but the male costumes should be able to toe the line between aesthetics and affordability while still being creative and on theme.
However that time is not today.
The Lignum Vitae costume...
While we like the concept of it and the attempt to go in a different direction with the design, it comes across feeling incomplete. The crown for sure needed more refinement and we wonder how they will be mass produced. The shoulder piece was definitely an interesting touch and the ripped pants, but the costume felt like it needed something else to make it great. It would have been interesting to see how this costume would have turned out if Xhosa had used alternative materials and employed a Lost Tribe type aesthetic with this costume.
The Reaper costume. Sigh.
This looks like a Farmer's Choice Picnic Ham and Assassin's Creed had an illegitimate child.
It's so strange with this costume to critique it because the female counterpart is quite nice and the colour scheme is unique. The designer has also consistenly created gorgeous costumes for Xhosa so it was surprising to see this one come down the runway. Again this comes down to a design issue with Xhosa. We like the fact that Xhosa was willing to think outside the box and approach new concepts and designs but this also feels unfinished. It feels like the costume is still evolving and doesn't know what it wants to be yet. Some of the elements don't work together, like the finny wings, the hood and the arm straps. Xhosa should have sent this back for more refinement because they could have had a really unique male costume on their hands.
The Phoenix Costume now... ¿Qué es esto?
There isn't really much to say. With such an exciting section name, great colours and exciting female costumes, it's sad to see that Xhosa released such an tepid, insipid male costume. Where's the excitement? How you gonna get an invigorating, fiery section name like Phoenix and produce
some warmed over garbage something so uninspired as this? A pants, a vest and a hat? Two enna arm bands? To add insult to injury Xhosa wants to charge $700 BBD for this. How Sway?
When we see costumes like this we have to wonder where is the masquerade element? Might as well let men buy an armband and done. They really could have produced something great because we do like the material used for the pants and the colours. For an idea which was supposed to represent rebirth and renewal, this idea just felt stillborn and that's the greatest shame of such a unique collection.
Xhosa has a notable penchant for bringing in foreign DJs, no doubt to lend to their ethos of being a pan-Caribbean brand that spans the Caribbean. However, while we applaud the effort at regional integration and synergies, sometimes things get lost in the mix. Lord Hype and Tony X are great DJs but they were not great that night at Xhosa. At a band launch party we would expect to hear a majority of soca for the night, perhaps a smattering of dancehall or popular hip-hop tunes to bring in a slightly different vibe. But to wash way de whole fete with dancehall and reggae? Issa fail.
Their set felt like being in McBrides circa 2006, where the DJs would use reggae and vintage reggae tracks to signal that it was closing time and patrons needed to go home. The reggae also brings a far more sedate vibe and not the high energy atmosphere one would expect from a Xhosa party. With a wealth of local talent on the island Xhosa could have saved money and hired a good local DJ to full out their roster. DJ Tami and Jon Doe can easily keep a party jumping with soca tracks alone so the concept is not impossible.
There were also noticeably more backpacks and fewer headpieces this year. Nuh kill cow really and truly, it's just interesting to see how the design of a brand evolves as the years continue. Perhaps Xhosa wants to set itself apart from the rest and wants to develop its own unique design style.
It was a nice touch to have a live performance but Marzville appeared on stage and disappeared faster than you could say
you better win Bashment Soca dis year Xhosa fuh Crop Over. It was almost as if he didn't perform because blink and you would have missed him. Arguably one of the biggest and most popular Bashment Soca stars it made perfect sense to get him to perform but he roll out like de Concorde. It almost felt like attendees were cheated of a good performance.
Xhosa was one of the first bands to debut a plus sized costume, to much fanfare, for two years running. Xhosa established itself as a cut above the other bands by being willing to be diverse with band launch body types and its masqueraders. How did Xhosa come and let other bands steal its shine by producing better looking plus sized costumes?
Xhosa had the jump on everybody by having nice looking costumes that were affordable, coupled with great party vibes and a good road experience. While we applaud them for having a plus sized costume yet again, it was a shame that there wasn't more energy and effort put into the design.
One thing you can say about Xhosa is that they know how to throw a party. They have perfected the art of throwing a amazing party and that was evident the night of the launch. Xhosa has successfully created a party atmosphere where patrons are primed, ready and come out to party with the costumes being a close second to the party; undoubtedly a feat many other bands would like to replicate. People did not stand up and stare at the stage until the costumes came out and then depart immediately after. They came expecting a party and expecting to party and they very well did, especially the people right in front the stage who partied from start to finish.
The space was well laid out and well lit especially coming to the venue. We liked the fact that there were parking attendants, as parking will always be a challenge at the venue. Xhosa properly utilized the space to the right Goldilocks proportions: not too small, not too big, just right. It perfectly encapsulated the crowd and gave everyone enough space to move around and enjoy themselves.
We also loved how Xhosa's theme tied perfectly back in with the section names. Finally, somebody gets it. Perfect theme is perfect. Hallelujah. Alhamdulillah. Ain't Kadooment God good?
When Xhosa produced great looking costumes, they were a joy to see coming down the runway. Some of our favourites were Phoenix, Aja and Lignum Vitae. Keisha Als Phoenix design was a nice touch, we liked the use of the materials to create a costume that was sexy, daring and unique. Aja especially had a range of design options which all looked spectacular. To Xhosa's credit, Humzee consistently provides them with quality designs, much to the delight of its masqueraders. With Lignum Vitae we liked the colours used and the design, even though it also felt like it could have used some extra tweaking that would have put it into the realm of fantastic.
The models were also another fantastic touch. The use of dancers to model the costumes made comeplete sense because who doesn't want somebody who knows how to move and dance on stage. They know their bodies, they know how to dance and to move and they know all their angles. Win win. The dancers also brought their own energy and vitality to the stage, while looking great in the costumes. They definitely kept the hype alive during the costume presentation and made it a high energy affair. The only critique to this was that when dancers and regular models were paired up, once the dancers started to show up and show out it left the regular models just looking blah.
We were also pleased to see body diversity and different skin tones come across the stage as well. Xhosa is no stranger to using different body types and a range of skin colours to showcase costumes and we were glad to see this trend continuing.
One thing Xhosa also got right was that as the costumes appeared on stage, they appeared on Xhosa's social media channels along with the prices. It was refreshing to see prices and information go up so quickly because normally masqueraders, both local and foreign, have to wait so long to find out any information. Xhosa fully captured the hype post launch and let people know how they were going to spend their money to secure the costume they wanted.
Xhosa deserves its props for a well executed costume selection and display. Thank you for bringing Crop Over into the 21st Century by launching the prices and information immediately after the costumes appeared on stage (granted there was a little faux pas where people were told that prices were in BBD which was later changed to US but hey nobody's perfect). Overseas patrons especially were glad to know what coins they had to get in order to secure their costume selection.
As a complete aside, when we look at Crop Over, there are some factors we are starting to see that make us wonder about the direction and future of the festival. This is not a critique on Xhosa but a critique on Crop Over as a whole. Looking forward to the future of Crop Over, Kadooment bands must walk a tightrope act between good design, affordability and profit. You can't get something for nothing but you also can't, to use a Barbadian phrase, rub shit in people mout and tell dem is pudding. Especially when you look at Crop Over from a global perspective. We have bands offering backline costumes for $1000 BBD. That's $3000 TTD, which is a backline in some Carnival bands where they get two days, from 8 AM to 8 PM, jumping bout and palancing on the streets of Port of Spain, with food and premium drinks included. Meanwhile in Barbados, if the band leaves the stadium late the police will hustle you down the road so that everything can finish once the sun sets. That's not a whole day jump and certainly not value for money.
The facts are that Barbados is safer and more secure than many other Caribbean islands, has better beaches, better customer service, clean water, safe roads, a great climate and stable political and social landscape, more tourist activities and generally punches above its weight when it comes to holding its own in the tourism arena. However, our comfort in our superiority is a false comfort because there will soon come the day when our overall prices rule us out as a destination for budget conscious millenial travellers looking for a great experience without having to break the bank, even though we may have a more superior overall package. People want value for money and will think long and hard if something is seen as too expensive, even if the experience is said to be great.
Crop Over is our greatest national festival, a testament to our history, heritage and culture and is one of the oldest festivals in the Western Hemisphere. It must be protected at all costs and we must make the steps now to ensure that the festival remains competitive in the future. This cannot be a charge laid at the feet of the Kadooment bands alone. It really is an area where the bands and the Barbadian Government have to sit down and work out an arrangement that best suits everyone and ensures that the festival remains competitive in a global market. Bands need many tax and VAT exemptions as well as duty free concessions, just to start with, if they are to remain competitive on prices. It's not cheap to bring out a band so many band leaders are taking financial risks where one bad year could spell the end.
The time is now to take a good hard look at what we want from Crop Over and how we expect it to grow and succeed over the next 5 - 10 years. It cannot be like a wild plant growing willy nilly, we must tend and care for it to make sure it blossoms into its full potential and we can all reap a bountiful harvest from its fruit. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and take our good fortune so far for granted. We must work and build on the successes of our predecesors to ensure that the future remains bright.
All that aside, it is fully clear that Xhosa knows what it has to do in order to secure the trust and belief in the brand from its previous masqueraders as well as potential future ones. Social media gaffes aside, the brand appears to be earnest in its attempts to woo masqueraders and has repeatedly gone to lengths to not just tell, but to showcase that 2018 will be a different year for them. They have learnt quickly from their mistakes, even ones made this year and have stepped up their communication and even offered discounts and a free event to past masqueraders. Xhosa is constantly signalling through its actions that it is ready for Crop Over and it will be full steam ahead for the rest of the festival.
Xhosa knows what it has to do: continue to step up its communication, lock down production and make sure that their service quality is par excellence. It is a good solid brand that had one near fatal misstep but is so far on track for a stellar recovery. They've come much further than many expected that they would and the brand knows it has much further to go to reach the heights of greatness that will secure people's belief in Xhosa once again.
Time will tell if Xhosa can and will deliver on its promises for Crop Over 2018. From what we're seeing, we're hoping for the best.