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Monday, 31 January 2011

Guardian series of Great band leaders: Legendary Band Leaders of Yesteryear

Harold “Sally” Saldenah

…Saldenah leaves his mark on Carnival

We begin a series that takes a look back at the contributions to our Carnival art form of the famous large band leaders from around 1955, the first year of the official Band of the Year competition. For the purpose of this series, we take a look at that era following World War II when designers were able to and began to more widely use their creativity and artistry to portray mainly tangible and non-abstract costumes that transformed our streets into a thematic visual spectacle of colour and living theatre.

Harold “Sally” Saldenah (1925-1985)
Harold “Sally” Saldenah had a deep love of history and researched intensely his topics to ensure that he was able to re-create the moments in time in history. These historical epics are renowned for the magnificence, colour and splendour of their costumes. In the first of his six Band-of-the-Year productions in 1955 ‘Imperial Rome, 44BC to 96AD’, he designed and created costumes using velvet, leather and copper to portray centurions, gladiators, vestal virgins, Caesars and Nero, even his soldiers in short skirts to be as “real” as possible. Ken Morris was the one employed to fabricate the copper breastplates. He went on to become a master of the art of copper crafting. 
The use of foils and copper and having ‘sections’ in a band were innovations introduced by Saldenah.

His first major production was ‘Quo Vadis’ in 1953, based on the movie of the same name, and featured Roman soldiers with helmets made of papier mache painted to look authentic. Noble Khan, religious leader, ex-senator and long-time NCBA executive, who was the king of one of Saldenah’s winning bands, ‘Pacific Paradise’ in 1965, cites Saldenah and his chief designer Norris Eustace (brother of the late four-time King of the Band winner, Teddy; brother to mas designer Follette and uncle of nine-time King of the Band winner, Curtis) as masters of colour design, blending and crafting in their creations. The Harold Saldenah Award is given to the most colorful band each year in tribute to this.
Later, band leaders such as Bobby Ammon, Edmund Hart and Stephen Lee Heung were among those influenced by Saldenah and who went on to become legends in their own rights. ‘El Dorado, City Of Gold’ in 1968, the last of his six victorious presentations, in which he used a lot of foils, has been described as creating a glistening spectacle in the setting sun at the Queen’s Park Savannah. He won six Band-of-the-Year titles (1955, 1956, 1958, 1964, 1965, 1968) before moving to Canada in 1977 where he assisted his son Louis with his Toronto Caribana bands. Following that hiatus he returned to Trinidad in 1983 to produce the last three of his bands.
In 1976, to commemorate his 25th year as a bandleader, Saldenah produced his ‘A Sailor Is a Sailor’, recreating each of his previous bands in the form of a traditional fancy sailor.  In 1983, billed as the 200th anniversary of our Carnival, he returned to T&T to present ‘Masquerade to Carnival’, 40 sections in tribute to the history of the festival, with costumes celebrating the various traditional characters of mas.

The “Saldenah” legacy continues today in the mas arena, albeit in Toronto’s Caribana, with son Louis winning some 15 Band of the Year titles in his 30 years of producing bands there.  In 2009, he paid tribute to his father in the band ‘A Tribute To Harold Saldenah’. In 1972 Harold “Sally” Saldenah was awarded Trinidad and Tobago’s Public Service Medal of Merit Silver for Carnival Development.  He died of cancer in 1985.

The following is a listing of his presentations:

1953-‘Quo Vadis’; 1954-‘Conquerors of Kisra’; 1955-‘Imperial Rome 44BC to 96AD,’ 1st; 1956-‘Norse Gods and Vikings,’ 1st; 1957-‘The Glory That Was Greece’; 1958-‘Holy War,’ 1st (Tied); 1959-‘Cree Indians of Canada’; 1960-‘Siam 1250-1767’; 1961-‘Zambesi Head Hunters’; 1962-‘Julius Caesar's Conquest of Gaul’; 1963-‘Controversy of Time’; 1964-‘Mexico 1519 to 1521’, 1st; 1965-‘Pacific Paradise’, 1st; 1966- ‘Asia’; 1967-‘Epic of the Zulus’; 1968-‘El Dorado, City of Gold’, 1st; 1969-‘Psychedelic Latin America’; 1970-‘Atlantis-Land of Seven Cities’; 1971-‘Festival of the Tembu Warriors’; 1972-‘Fantasy in Jewels’; 1973-‘Fashionable Sailors from Paris’; 1974-‘Sun Kingdom of the Amazons’; 1975-‘Cult of the Leopard’; 1976-‘A Sailor Is a Sailor’; 1983-‘Masquerade to Carnival’; 1984–‘Name that Tune’; 1985-‘We Mas Have Class’.

Band of the Year Titles: 1955 ‘Imperial Rome 44 BC to 96 AD’; 1956 ‘Norse Gods and Vikings’; 1958 ‘Lost City of Atlantis’; 1964 ‘Mexico 1519 to 1521’; 1965 ‘Pacific Paradise’; 1968 ‘El Dorado, City of Gold’.

Nasser Khan

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