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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Irvin McWilliams: ‘Localising the mas’ 32 spectacular presentations

Legendary Band Leaders of Yesteryear
We continue our 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 would transform our streets into a thematic visual spectacle of colour and living theatre.

Irvin McWilliams (1920-2007)
Mas legend Irvin “Mac” McWilliams, unlike the legends we have featured previously, Harold Saldenah (1925-1985) and George Bailey (1935-1970), lived to a relatively advanced age of 87 (1920-2007).
During his band producing years from 1956 to 1988 he provided T&T with some 32 spectacular presentations, many of which were based on themes of Trinidad and Tobago, its history and its culture.
The first of such local-themed bands was in 1961 Hail La Trinite and the last Stay up Trinbago in 1988. Such presentations one might say were learning tools for Trinbagonians as our folklore and culture were depicted through the vivid imagination of another legendary mas man adept at portraying things local and who was credited as being the first to present a totally local theme on the streets of T&T in his category.
While the title of Band of the Year eluded him for many years it was only until 1971, with the belief that “within our own shores there is untapped material for magnificent mas,” and his presentation Wonders of Buccoo Reef that he finally won the judges approval for the prestigious prize.  Confident in localising his themes he again captured the title the following year with the indigenous Anancy Story and capped off his third trophy in 1978 with the band entitled Know yuh Country.  This was a 3,500-member kaleidoscope of Trinbagonian cultural education described as “a folk festival…in the medium of mas with sections such as Pointe-à-Pierre Oil, Arima Dial, Caroni Bird Sanctuary, and Chaconia Gold Awards had their impact multiplied by the sheer number of costumed revellers. 
Portrayal of Buccoo Reef which won in 1971
“I won’t mind if other mas men do better than me, but it is essential that citizens know the things that make up their islands.”  In 1974 he ventured further afield regionally with his presentation Somewhere in the Caribbean, with costumes and sections including “Jamaican Ackee,” “Grenadian Nutmegs” and “Barbados Flying Fish.”  His bands won the People’s Choice Award on five occasions (1971, 1972, 1977, 1978, 1980) with an increasing number of female masqueraders.  Buccoo Reef also captured the King of the Bands title.  His King Albert Moore also captured the coveted title in 1965, 1968 and 1969, the latter portraying the immensely popular ‘Man in the Moon’.
Especially popular in the 1970s and early 80s, McWilliams was described as a simple and modest man of the people:  “I enjoy mas…I enjoy producing things people like and can play in…I get a kick out of it and as long as I can break even, I’m easy.” He was the first bandleader to use multiple mas camps to assemble costumes in their large numbers as bands grew, and was the first to start selling off costumes if registrants did not collect them on time. Irvin “Mac” McWilliams was awarded the 1971 Trinidad and Tobago Humming Bird Medal Silver for his contributions to Carnival development.
McWilliams Band of the Year Titles:
1971 Wonders of Buccoo Reef;
1972 Anancy Story;
1978 Know Your Country Carnival presentations: Click Here to Share
1956 King David and the Ammonites;
1957 Ten Commandments;
1958 Rulers of Persia;
1959 Feast of Belshazzar.;
1960 The Grandeur That Was Rome;
1961 Hail La Trinity;
 1962 Tribute to India;
1963 Festival of Mexico;
1964 Monarchs of the Nile;
1965 She and the Tibetans;
1966 Effigies of the Gods;
1968 Conquerors of Niniveh;
1969 Realms of the Kings;
1970 One Day in Persia;
1971 The Wonders of Buccoo Reef;
1972 Our Anancy Stories;
1973 Mama Look Ah Mas;
1974 Somewhere in the Caribbean;
1975 Root of All Evil;
1976 Toute Monde Ca Danse;
1977 Season Greetings;
1978 Know Yuh Country;
1979 Our Famous Recipes;
1980 The Rains Came;
1981 Among My Souvenirs;
1982 Dance Zulu Dance;
1983 We Money;
1984 A Woman's World;
1985 The Days of Moses;
1986 Mas Trinidad Style;
1987 The Wedding of Montezuma;
1988 Stay up Trinbago.
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