In the Old Testament, there is a story told of King David dancing through the streets of the City of David in a procession filled with musicians, elders and other officials, celebrating the placement of the ark of God in a special place he prepared for the holy object.
Entitled Genesis 1: Creation, the 12 sections of the band will tell the story of how the world was created according to first chapter of the Bible. But Carnival and the Catholic Church have been inextricably linked for as the festival traditionally takes place in the days immediately preceding the Lenten period of fasting, prayer and reflection.
Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating certain foods, including meat. The 40 days of Lent, recalling the biblical account of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, serve to mark an annual time of turning. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of. The consumption of this, in a giant party that involved the whole community is thought by some to be the origin of Carnival.
During two weeks all class boundaries was erased by the nonpublic law of festival: the rich and poor were equalised in rights, children headed families, slaves could sit freely with their masters at the table and demand from them a subordination, and for reason to not spoil the merriment – everybody hid their faces behind masks.
At the launch of Genesis 1 held on Tuesday at the Queen’s Park Cricket Club at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, Father Harris said, “There is no need for alcohol and lewd dancing for people to enjoy themselves on the road for Carnival.”
The Word is a Roman Catholic organisation, chaired by one of Harris’ parishioners, Derek Walcott. Speaking to Newsday at the launch Walcott explained, Father Joe Harris had the vision six to seven years ago and he said to me, ‘Derek we have got to get to involved in Carnival.’ He said we’ve got to bring God back into Carnival and make his presence felt there because when good people do nothing, bad things happen.”
Already, the band launch garnered attention with persons on social networking sites like Facebook commenting on the irony of the situation: a Church whose higher ups have spoken out against the “ungodly behaviour” displayed during the Carnival season is now taking an active part in the festival.
The same type of attention, albeit without the technology, was probably received be Anglican priest, Father Clifford Hendey, when he announced to the country over 40 years ago that he played mas. This spawned the 1967 calypso “If The Priest Could Play” by Cypher. Years later Canon Winston Joseph, who was the priest at All Saints Church also regularly played Carnival, first with Garib, then with Harts
Walcott explained, Genesis 1's aim is to recreate the values and creativity which Carnival lacks at present. Although the concept of a Roman Catholic band was discussed years ago, the two men left the country at different points to pursue their studies. When Walcott returned, preparations to launch the band took full effect.
The idea of a Roman Catholic mas band is not a new one. The Antiguan band, Vitus, has been in existence for 17 years and has regularly won the band of the year title in that island. It was created by the then bishop of the diocese, Archbishop Donald Reece.
Father Joe shared with us that the Church led by Bishop Reese of Antigua was doing this already. We got in touch with him and he shared with us why he started this thing. He saw values going down, he saw creativity going down.
Where were the steelbands? Where were the moko jumbies, where was the mas? Every year you see the same thing over and over just in different colour beads and bikinis. He shared what was being done in Antigua and we said it was time to get on board,” Walcott explained.
The Word intends on placing a limit of 1,200 masqueraders to ensure that those playing with the band fully understand the message portrayed. Walcott said however, there is mounting enthusiasm and excitement surrounding Genesis with persons from other Caribbean islands already expressing a desire to play mas with the band.
"So many people have been calling and are enthusiastic about getting on board. Grenada say they are coming to play mas and they want a whole section. There has been a lot of enthusiasm, even outside of Trinidad and Tobago so we do not know if we will be able to stick to our limit,” he said adding marketing for the band will not take full effect until after the Christmas season ends for Catholics this Sunday.
All inclusive packages range between $1,000 and $2,500 and include costumes, non alcoholic drinks, security and music on the road. In keeping with their intentions of re-introducing culture to Carnival, the band will be accompanied by three steel bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
“We have the Valley Harps, Simple Song of Arima and the Archdiocesan steel band, rhythm sections and one DJ. We will be playing all beautiful music produced over the years because we want to remind people what good calypso is,” Walcott said.
The band already has the blessing of Archbishop Edward Gilbert, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago.
“We went to him and shared what we are trying to do and he said, ‘Derek this is something that I want to encourage you in, to bring the message. Do not worry if it is not a great success in the first year, continue to bring the message’ he told us,” Walcott said.
Iconic mas makers have also come on board to provide their expertise towards producing Genesis 1. Walcott said Rosalind Gabriel, who is known for her winning children’s band looked over designs produced by the band’s designer, Lisa Bhajan, to ensure what was on paper could become reality. Also on board is mas man Wayne Berkeley who is producing the band’s Queen, Eve and another “surprise” popular mas man creating the King, Adam.
Raoul Garib, Augustine Chin, Francis Woon Sam and other experienced mas men will also be contributing to the band's sections.
Pictures from Carnival Jumbie