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Friday, 26 February 2010

Mas, pan feature at Hong Kong celebrations

Anthony Lau, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, second from left, receiving gifts from Ashton Ford of the T&T High Commission, London, left, along with Clarie Salandy, leader of Mahogany mas band and Albert Charles, leader of Ebony Steel Orchestra.
Ebony Steelband and portrayals from the London-based Mahogany mas band featured in the 15th annual Chinese New Year celebrations—The Year of the Tiger— held in Hong Kong between December 12-17. Ebony Steelband played David Rudder’s Calypso Music, while Mahogany’s presentation of the Winter was a big hit on a damp Sunday night parade at Hong Kong’s Cultural Centre. The band was popular among the large crowd which saw the characters portraying several aspects of the winter season in the United Kingdom as part of the overall programme that featured the four seasons, namely winter, spring, summer and autumn. 

The parade was described by Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) executive director Anthony Lau as one the world’s scintillating spectacles. It was a fusion of eastern and western elements, a procession of fantastic floats, colourful local and international performers, all of which were well received by the spectators. On the international, level there were presentations from Korea, Italy, France, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Belgium, Thailand and UK. The HKTB held a reception for the international performing groups and float sponsors at the Prince Restaurant, where Lau disclosed that the festival started 15 years ago and expressed the view that the parade has now become the city’s   
                                                                                  LEFT: Floats from Mahogany mas band on parade at the Chinese
 New Year celebrations at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
home grown tradition.                                                                       

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Carnival of consumption. by Mark Lyndersay

Dr Pat Bishop, looking both serious and festive, speaking to MATT members. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In earlier, less medically savvy times, it was possible to die of a condition called “consumption.” People who died of this condition actually were victims of tuberculosis, but nobody understood at the time that an invisible organism, acting in its own best interests, was creating the illusion that a human body was being consumed from within.
I thought about that while listening to Pat Bishop speaking to Matt at last week’s luncheon talk on Carnival, an intriguing hour’s worth of a distinguished mind teasing through the history and modern imperatives of a festival that’s been with us so long that we now take it for granted.

In considering a work of art, the painter and musical director noted, she asks herself, among other things, to whom it is addressed and to what extent the artis is expressed in the work.
Bishop was quick to acknowledge that her own perceptions of Carnival might well seem antiquated to modern tastes, but bemoaned a quite justifiable loss of “our sense of local capacity to do and be” while “looking abroad for validation.”
These observations parallell my own thoughts about this festival, which will find me today immersed in a joyous madness of blaring music set to an electronic metronome and feathers and beads imported from China and India, trying to make sense, at least through the frame of a lens, of this annual outpouring of creativity.

And let there be no mistake, Carnival is still a hotbed of creativity, even if its expression is often expressed in a troubling homogeneity of beats and designs at this stage of its evolution.
It is telling that the most sophisticated, evolved aspects of modern Carnival are those related to manufacturing, cost control, efficiences of repetition and lubrication of delivery systems. The pursuit of customer satisfaction is draining the mystique and opportunity for participation out of a festival that was born in the quirky fires of individual expression.
Carnival has come too far, assimilated too much and done too many intriguing wheels and turns to be dismissed as being in a terminal state of decay in 2010.

Which is not to say that, as a nation, that we should not be concerned about readily observed signs of lethargy and weakness in its collective corpus.
It’s now obvious that Carnival has become a festival driven by perceived and readily satisfied impulses in its highest profile consumers. Bandleaders freely acknowledge that any attempt to drift away from now decades old formulae of colourful underwear decorated with beads and feathers are vocally rejected by their customers.
The season’s composers can choose to write and sing clever turns of phrase set to mellifluous melodies in sparsely attended calypso tents or engage the services of a good producer and arranger to amplify beats and hook phrases into the music that is now the engine of Carnival.

Failure to please has always meant a failure to earn in any business transaction, but the immediacy of that disconnect in today’s Carnival is so sharp and unforgiving that it all but militates against any kind of serious experimentation.
Carnival has always been driven most successfully by the kind of innovation that enthusiastic reception encourages, but the rush to the future is so complicated by powerful influences that it’s important to evaluate and preserve the uniqueness that more than 15 decades of Carnival has bequeathed to us.

While there has been no concerted effort to preserve the details of Carnivals past, there is still room to analyse the processes, imperatives and influences that led to its most remarkable productions and talents.
Some of that work has begun at the UTT, but prior initiatives like the Carnival Institute have delivered little of the kind of understanding that’s needed to incorporate the valuable learnings of our history into modern Carnival.
Today, there will be pockets of resistance to what has become Carnival’s status quo, but they largely exist in pointed defiance and contrast to the larger will, or lack of it, that drives the most popular aspects of Carnival.

Dr Bishop spoke to journalists last Monday about “a multicultural heritage that makes us such a remarkable people.” Until we take the pulse of what’s happening today, codify, comprehend and build on a heritage that hovers on the edge of being permanently lost, everything that is new will continue to reflect a history that only spans our most casual, recent memory.

SOURCE:BitDepth 718 - February 16

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

After 30 years... Jagessar enthroned

Jagessar, Hinds and Kallicharran, families prominent and synonymous in mas’ circles in San Fernando and indeed, T&T. This year taking top honours as Queen of the Bands at the Dimanche Gras show last Sunday was Rosemarie Kuru-Jagessar the 58-year-old matriarch of the Jagassar family of Gransaull Street, San Fernando with her portrayal as “Waka-Nisha-The Sacred Water Bearer” from the Fancy Indian band ‘Sioux Nation’… The lavishly plume-adorned costume with layers and layers of feathers was designed intricately to portray an Amerindian legend from a past indigenous empire, the trademark of the Jagesssar brand of mas.
Said Rosemarie: “This year our costume was different from the rest…it is symbolic of the significance of water to the people of the Sioux Nation and ironically, relevant in a sense somewhat given the unusually dry season in T&T and the Wasa woes that we are experiencing.” 2010 was this petite dynamo’s (mother of four, playing mas for over 30 years) 16th time in the Dimanche Gras finals, her 26th time in the semi finals and her 28th year in the National Queen of the Bands competition!
While ecstatic over her victory she admits to having lost hope of ever winning the national title, but the Carnival fever that she caught in her childhood in the heart of San Fernando (Coffee Street) as well as family support have kept her going from strength to strength, and according to her, “Only the love for Carnival kept us going.”
As she jokingly told fellow San Fernandian PM Patrick Manning who came to look her up with his wife Hazel: “I beat them in the East, I beat them in the West….” much to the PM’s amusement. The former Naparima Girls’ High School student and Grant Memorial Elementary School student was honoured on Friday by the latter for her prominence and contribution to culture in T&T.
‘My Husband, the driving force’
As a child she painted her face and ‘ran away’ to take a chip down the road with friends. “Carnival has been in my blood and on my mind every moment and in everything I do. I’m always thinking of colour schemes that would look good in costumes. I think of materials, and designs. I live for the joy of creating and making mas."
Husband Lionel Jagessar has been the driving force and backbone behind the family’s mas’ productions for over 30 years and is the recipient of the Humming Bird Silver Medal. He is the band leader/designer and chairman of Lionel Jagessar and Associates noted for his wire-bending, carving, use of cane and moulding skills. He is also a self-taught sign painter and screen printer who designs using theme methods which have gained him recognition locally and internationally.
One of his creations occupies a place in the St Louis Art Museum. As a boy Jagessar was fascinated with the lifestyle and culture of the native American Indian. He learnt his craft at an early age from an elder brother, Errol. He too, Lionel, has featured in the grand finals at the Dimanche Gras on a number of occasions. In addition to being awarded the Humming Bird Silver for his dedication to culture, his awards and achievements include those from the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), the San Fernando Carnival Committee, the San Fernando Arts Council and San Fernando Senior Comprehensive (Tech Institute).
Coming stronger for 2011
Jagessar has been producing for several other countries, among them the United States/Labour Day, England/Nottinghill, St Marten, Tortola and Saba. Other bands in Trinidad have sought his experience, skills and mas’ producing services, such as Harts, Tribe, and Island People. Son Lionel Jr has been to the ‘Big Yard’ three times already in his relatively young mas’ career and is set to follow in his parents’ footsteps. Queen Rosemarie is also involved in events management, is an accomplished floral arranger and decorator and enlists the help of her family in her home-based business: “They all pitch in when I have to do event decorations such as weddings and other functions.”
The absence of a Carnival museum in the country is of great concern to her, along with the lack of proper staging facilities for what we like to call the Greatest Show on Earth. “We need a place to house and display our costumes throughout the year so that visitors could learn more about our Carnival, our country and our culture.” Asked about plans for Carnival 2011 the feisty 5’3” queen says she will be coming even stronger and will be up to the challenge of taking the title again knowing full well that so too will be the challengers.

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Saturday, 20 February 2010

South Queen calls for Carnival museum

Moko JumbieImage by -will wilson- via Flickr

Reigning south Queen of Carnival Rosemarie Kuru-Jagessar is calling for the establishment of a Carnival museum to display costumes that were exhibited in the national competition. Kuru-Jagessar said in an interview yesterday that the majority of people only got a glimpse of these elaborate costumes during their short appearance during the competition stages. She said many of them were eliminated after the preliminary stage and never see the light of day again. Pointing out that a lot of money, time and thought, were invested in these costumes Kuru-Jagessar said it was almost a sin to discard them without people getting an opportunity to appreciate their real beauty and craft.
“I see so many lovely costumes which do not make it to the semi’s so people do not really get to see them.” It is for this reason, she said, “I would like to see a Carnival museum where locals and tourists can see costumes, whether they win or not, on display long after Carnival.” She said they can be taken down and apart at the end of the year to clear the way for costumes from the season to come. Kuru-Jagessar, who copped the national title after 28 years, said she would like see her 2010 winning costume Waka-Nisha—the Sacred Water Bearer, displayed at the Piarco International Airport. “So people coming in or leaving the country could see it,” she said.

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JAY-Z ON Jonathan Ross

So while Beyonce palanced with fans at the Queen’s Park Savannah on Thursday her hubby JAY-Z did his thing on the Jonathan Ross in the UK .

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Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Masqueraders turned Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and venues across the country into a “palance party” as they gave Soca Monarchs JW and Blaze’s hit “Palance” a runaway victory in the Road March race.
Although, the Road March is still to be officially declared, there is little doubt that it is a sure bet for the title and prize of a car from the competition’s sponsor Vibe CT 105FM.

“Palance” enjoyed a heavy rotation from the start of the Parade of the Bands at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain at about 8.20 am when the large band Harts crossed the stage with their presentation “50”.

Since then, for every successive band, the DJs on music trucks played “Palance”, mostly alternating between the original version and the “road mix” made to be played especially for Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

The song echoed across the country to other main Carnival venues, such as Arima, Chaguanas, San Fernando and Tobago where it was undoubtedly the people’s song with its energetic melody, catchy refrain and accompanying dance as masqueraders swayed in a spontaneous choreography.

It’s the first time since Nigel and Marvin Lewis’ Road March “Movin” in 1996, whose instructions to move “left, right, down south and up north” were obediently followed by revellers, that a song has had a similar unrehearsed effect.

Masqueraders enjoyed every moment and took every opportunity to lean and stagger from left to right when the chorus of “Palance” was heard. One DJ on a music truck playing for Tribe masqueraders, took the opportunity to involve spectators in the revelry by encouraging those in the stands at the Savannah to stand and do the dance as well.

At Adam’s Smith Square, it was clear that “Palance” was the runaway favourite for masqueraders.

When the Belmont Jewels arrived at the square with their 2010 offering Pirates and Plunderers, one band member became visibly upset when the DJ stopped playing “Palance” in favour of another song. As he gesticulated to the DJ, urging him to play “Palance”, another band member tried to calm him down.

Even the steelbands got into the act with Sagicor Exodus playing “Palance” as they rolled past the square on their way to downtown Port-of-Spain.

At High Street, San Fernando, masqueraders, almost on cue, leaned from side to side, whenever Palance played. A few contrasting melodies floated through the overpowering refrain of “Palance”, such as Groovy Soca Monarch finalist Rikki Jai’s chutney soca hit “Barman”.

Several traditional bands chose to go with songs to reflect their portrayals such as Belmont Jewels which played three-time Road March winner Christopher “Tambu” Herbert’s hits, such as “Play Mr DJ”, a song of a much slower tempo than the frenetic “Palaaance, Palaaance” chorus.

The late Road March king Lord Kitchener’s “Sugar Bum Bum” also enjoyed moderate air-play. So too did, “Wining on anything” by Buffy, Fay Ann’s “True Lies”, Destra Garcia and Machel Montano’s previous hit “It’s Carnival” and Shurwayne Winchester’s former Road March “Dead or Alive”. The popularity of “Palance” surged over the Carnival season as the song has been used in several commercials, the most high-profile of which is the humorous KFC ad, featured the heads of JW (Jason Williams) and Blaze (Ancil Isaac Jr), who are also radio and television personalities, in cartoon-styled characters.

Palance - JW and Blaze from ForceFed Blog on Vimeo.

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Photos of Brazil Carnival 2010

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


KURT Allen convincingly won the 2010 Calypso Monarch competition on Sunday night with a lively song, “Too Bright” that hit profligate politicians.
Allen had a strong message, delivered in an amusing way, with a high energy performance that really reached out to the crowd at Dimanche Gras, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.

In the process, he dethroned veteran and eight-time monarch Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, beat back a field of 13 other contenders and collected the $500,000 first prize.

The calypso competition began as an open contest and stayed so all night as each of the four or five favourites gave great performances, but by the end of Allen’s final-placed rendition, his name was on everyone’s lips. Few would dispute his win.

It is the first time an International Soca Monarch, won by Allen in 1999 with his hit “Dust Dem”, has been crowned a Calypso Monarch.

Allen was a Calypso Monarch finalist in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997, before switching to soca for a decade, only to return to the Big Yard as a kaiso finalist in 2008. Allen had also composed the song, “Heroes”, which won the 2001 Calypso Monarch crown for Denyse Plummer, with a wrangle over prize money mediated by the then Junior Culture Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters.

(Peters, a UNC MP, last week won the 2010 Extempo Monarch competition).

On Sunday, Allen beat keen rivals such as 2009 monarch, Chalkdust, and turned the tables on Winston “De Fosto” Scarborough who had beaten Allen into second place in the political commentary class of calypso at Kaisorama last Thursday.

Allen, in his song, hit the Government for its high spending on projects, while citizens suffered: “They keep the blimp in the sky, Look at the crime rate higher than Selassie I.” He hit the Government for spending billions of dollars to host two international summits while many people don’t have a water-supply: “They build a wall, to make sure Obama don’t see the squalor at all.”

Of the Udecott controversy, he moved the crowd as he sung, “If they should make (Dr Keith) Rowley the Prime Minister, Calder Hart go end up in Carerra.”

He also hit the Opposition figures of UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and chairman Jack Warner portrayed on-stage by actors.

Allen’s performance ended with him entering the Red House to eject (Prime Minister Patrick) “Manning” who ended up sleeping on a park-bench in the University of Woodford Square, to the laughter of the crowd.

In previous performances, Allen dressed as a scholar but for Dimanche Gras he adopted the persona of a homeless man.

In trademark fashion Chalkdust came with a new song, “When mas was mas”, changing from “Eye Problems” which he competed with in Kaisorama, when prophetically he placed behind Allen.

With “When mas was mas”, Chalkdust amusingly likened politicians to traditional Carnival characters, comparing the high-spending ruling PNM to a band of Midnight Robbers, and the squabbling Opposition UNC to a band of Wild Indians. But he did not appear to be well rehearsed and a costume change on stage took a little too long, and as a result he lost the crown and placed sixth.

South Calypso Monarch Brian London, who came on stage after Chalkdust, connected with the crowd saying his rivals fell short of his standards for “A Calypsonian” (exemplified by Gypsy, Brigo, Crazy, Valentino, Poser, Mudada and Luta who joined him on-stage), teasing that De Fosto uses an obeah man. He placed second.

De Fosto had a great night, with “In a palace state of mind”, mockingly “pleading” with Manning to also build him a mansion, for which he copped the third spot. Newcomer Mr Shak, who placed seventh, has been this season’s sensation, with “Rogue”, an amazing ditty about the life of a crooked cop, that has topped Kaiso House, although on Sunday the pressure of singing in first spot made him rush his words a bit instead of controlling the crowd.

Allen, 40, told Newsday he felt thankful to have won. “This is a victory for calypso; this is not a Kurt Allen victory.” He said the win has now given him a mandate from the people to launch some of his plans to help calypso. “This is a victory for the youth in calypso and you are going to see that in the next couple of months.”

Asked what he had done special on the night to connect with the crowd, he said, “I would have to say that has to be the work of the Divine, because me and my humble self just came out with what I always do every night, but sometimes the magic comes alive.”

What had stood out that night? “I think that the new lyrics that I brought to the table — because this song has been played for a while on the radio- and I think the people expected something different and something new on the night.”

Allen said he has been singing for 29 years. “I started to sing calypso at age 11 years at Curepe Junior Secondary School and I guess that’s where I got my roots. I won Junior Calypso Monarch, Young Kings and Soca Monarch.”

He said he had taken a break from calypso after 1997 until 2004. “I do work for the Caricom Secretariat with my organisation, Caribbean Vision, so I’m no longer based in Trinidad, so I was not here for that period. I came back because of my passionate love for the art-form, calypso.”

He said on Sunday, his daughter, well-known youth speaker Choc’late Allen, 16, had been in charge of the musicians while his wife had done the stage-lighting. “It was a family affair. My cousins, aunts, uncles, everybody was here to support.”

He said the song was first written a couple years ago in Jamaica and he had planned to use it last year if he had made it to the calypso final.

“This was going to be my surprise song for Chalkdust because I knew he always comes with a brand new song. So this song was really done last year, but I didn’t make it to the finals so I used it this year.”

He planned to invest time and money to develop youth in calypso.

The results:
1. Kurt Allen, “Too Bright”
2. Brian London, “A Calypsonian”
3. De Fosto, “In a palace state of mind”
4. Kizzie Ruiz, “Aide Haiti”
5. Roderick “Mr Chucky” Gordon, “A People’s National Movement
6. Chalkdust, “When mas was mas”
7. Selvon “Mr Shak” Noel, “Rogue”
8. Nicole Greaves, “Aide Haiti”
9. Sean Daniel, “God is Love”
10. Sandra “Singing Sandra” Des Vignes-Millington, “No child shall be left behind”
11. Ann-Marie “Twiggy” Parks-Kojo, “Give Thanks”
12. Devon Seales, “A wind of change”
13. Carlos “Skatie” James, “A Cry for Life”
14. Michael “Protector” Legerton, “My vision”
15. Anthony “All Rounder” Hendrickson, “Female life guard”

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Curtis wins ninth crown

CURTIS EUSTACE on Dimanche Gras night won a ninth King of Carnival title, breaking legendary mas man Peter Samuel’s twenty-one-year-old record for most wins in the competition.
Shortly before midnight, Eustace was crowned King of Carnival after carrying his costume, “Sprits of Mandingo-An African Legend” across the stage at the Northern Greens, Queen’s Park Savannah. His record breaking performance was the culmination of a King and Queen of Carnival competition which was plagued by heavy winds and which saw the quality of costumes affected by the global economic downturn.

Two kings, including the favourite going into Sunday’s competition, fell and several queens had difficulty navigating the stage due to persistent, strong winds.

Eustace, though, had no problems carrying his 35 feet high, 38 feet wide silver, red, white and black costume on stage accompanied by dramatic music from German composer Carl Orff’s oratorio “Carmina Burana” and Machel Montano’s 2007 Road March hit “Jumbie”.

He was flanked by eight fibre glass tubes, containing giant skulls representing those of dead African slaves, as a skeletal figure with red eyes danced above him, bowing up and down for the judges and the crowd. In a black and white body-suit, Eustace gyrated, carrying his costume with confidence.

Eustace had twice come close to breaking Samuel’s record, coming in second in the competition in 2008 with a costume entitled “Chromatic Chaos” and in 2009 with “Apollo’s Lust”. He first took the title in 1997 with “D’ Matador” and followed with victories for “Dis Is We Carnival (1998); “D Rough Rider” (2000); “Jab Molassie” (2002); “D’ Sky Is D’ Limit” (2003); “Drums of Freedom” (2004); “War Chant-Rise of Tatanka” (2005); and “D Wrath of Tutamkumhan” (2007).

Samuel last won the title in 1989 with “Lord of the Flies”. His other legendary wins, stemming from a long-standing collaboration with mas legend Peter Minshall, included: “The Merry Monarch” (1987); “Callaloo Dancing Tic Tac Toe Down The River” (1984); the audacious “Man Crab” (1983); “The Sacred and the Profane” (1982); “The Midnight Robber” (1980) and “Devil Ray” (1979). Samuel also took the title in 1976 with “The Serpent”.

“It’s finally the national record,” an elated Eustace told reporters after he was announced as winner. I think I pleased the crowd. I think I did a good job.”

Samuel congratulated Eustace yesterday and told Newsday, “Records like mine were meant to be broken.” He, however, would not rule out a return to mas to reclaim his record, simply saying he had “no immediate plans” to do so.

Many noted yesterday an exacerbated decline in the quality of costumes in the competition, which they linked to the global economic downturn.

Eustace said his costume, from the band “Spice Carnival”, took two and a half months to put together and cost approximately $75,000. At the same time, he said, the top prize money for the titles of King and Queen of Carnival is $120,000. “The mas materials are getting out of the loop right now,” he said. “But the prize money they are giving out for Dimanche Gras has remained constant.”

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Queen Rose

FOR THE first time this decade, the Queen of Carnival title has been captured by the South Queen of Carnival, Rosemarie Kuru-Jagessar, after a final which saw competitors plagued with mishaps.

Kuru-Jagessar, a Carnival veteran known for her consistent portrayals of traditional Indian mas, took home the crown as “Waka-Nisha: The Sacred Water Bearer” at the Dimanche Gras, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain on Sunday.

It is Kuru-Jagessar’s first victory as a national queen. Elaborately decorated with blue, white and black plumes, the costume is symbolic of the significance of water to the people of the Sioux nation, a topical theme given the water woes being experienced by many in Trinidad and Tobago.

Hours after being crowned Queen of Carnival, an emotional Kuru-Jagessar was still unable to express her feelings about winning the prestigious title.

Kuru-Jagessar was greeted by cheers and applause from spectators and judges alike as she led her band, “D Sioux Nation” at High Street, San Fernando yesterday. Speaking to Newsday afterwards, a breathless Kuru-Jagessar, who has played mas for 28 years, said she cried when she realised she had copped the national title for the first time in her career. “It was really emotional. When I heard my name, everybody started to scream and bawl and then I just started to cry,” she said.

Kuru-Jagessar said to make matters worse, her husband, veteran mas man Lionel Jagessar, had not accompanied her to the Dimanche Gras as he stayed in San Fernando at their mas camp to finalise preparations for the band’s appearance on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

“But I feel really proud that I was able to bring the crown to San Fernando,” a tired, yet elated Kuru-Jagessar said. “You just have to believe in what you want and go for it.”

The veteran’s victory at the Dimanche Gras, comes with a purse of $120,000
By Andre Bagoo and Richardson Dhalai 


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Monday, 15 February 2010











1. Kurt Allen
2. Brian London

3. De Original De Fosto Himself
4. Kizzy Ruiz
5. Chucky
6. Chalkdust
7. Mr. Shak
8. Nicole Greaves
9. Sean Daniel
10. Singing Sandra
11. Twiggy
12. Devon Seales
13. Skatie
14. Protector

15. All Rounder

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