Caribbean carnival performers take stage to fight COVID disinformation

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] The United Nations (UN News) highlights performers in Trinidad and Tobago, who have been “tapping into traditional art forms ahead of the carnival on February 20-21 to encourage their communities to continue following COVID-19 health protocols as the country lifts restrictions on public gatherings.” See full article and videos of Kurt Layne (as Midnight Robber), Lesley-Ann Ellis (as Dame Lorraine), and more at UN News.

Dressed in black with a flowing cape and extravagantly oversized hat, performer Kurt Layne’s distinctive macabre ensemble blends influences from film depictions of the American wild west with West African culture. He cuts an imposing figure as he struts along a road bringing to life a traditional Carnival character, the Midnight Robber.

He recently performed in Tobago Carnival, where he took the opportunity to share his story about staying safe during the pandemic. His performance aimed at educating people was personal. “My mum had passed away from COVID,” he said. “I would tell anyone, and especially those close to me, to always stay on the right track in terms of keeping up with the COVID protocols.”

“Pow pow, I shot COVID dead,” he declared, grabbing the attention of a group of kids with his ‘Robber Talk’. 

Kurt Layne’s ominous delivery invokes the best of the character’s oral skill and energetic delivery to drive home a message of hope and optimism to his young listeners. “Join hands with we; each other do their part and for sure, we’ll have a great start!”

The twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 4300 died from the disease and the economy which is largely based on oil and gas production suffered as demand for fuel plummeted during the global lockdown.

The Caribbean nation reopened for public gatherings in April 2022 and six months later the inaugural Tobago Carnival was launched on the smaller of the two islands, where Kurt Layne and other traditional festival favourites performed.

Dame Lorraine, a temptress with exaggerated voluptuous curves, is another of the traditional mas (short for masquerade) characters found in Caribbean carnival celebrations. Played by Lesley-Ann Ellis, the character performs provocative dance moves wearing costumes inspired by 18th and early 19th century French colonial plantation owners.

Dame Lorraine isn’t associated with verbose social commentary but in this case Lesley-Ann Ellis works a calypso song into the traditional dance in order to focus on encouraging people to continue sanitizing hands and wearing protective masks. “This thing has to end so cough in your sleeve; stay your distance, let this virus leave.”

Both performers worked with the Verified Initiative which was developed by the United Nations with the support of the social impact agency Purpose to fight disinformation about COVID-19 and to provide trustworthy, life-saving information and fact-based advice about the disease.

In Trinidad and Tobago, guided by the United Nations Information Centre for the Caribbean Area – based in Port of Spain – Purpose worked with such local stakeholders as the Tobago House of Assembly to deliver messages that were relevant to the national cultural context. [. . .]

[Shown above: Midnight Robber, Kurt Layne, shares information about COVID safety protocols at Tobago Carnival festival.]

For original article and videos, go to

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