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Monday, 22 August 2011

Spicemas: Character, Class, Jab Jab, Controversy & More

St. George’s, August 18, 2011 – Spicemas organizers are standing firm on this year’s theme which sparked debate among Grenadians at home and abroad.
The 2011 carnival theme was, “Uniquely Rooted in our Rich Ancestral Traditions. Spicemas: Home of 100,000 Jab Jabs.’’
“I am comfortable in saying that traditional mas is what stands out for Grenada. Jab Jab is unique to Grenada,’’ said Senator Arley Gill, Minister with responsibility for Culture.
He made the comment on “Beyond the Headlines,’’ the live GBN television show hosted by veteran broadcaster Lew Smith.
Sen. Gill and Grenada Carnival Committee (GCC) Chairman, Collin Dowe, both defended the chosen theme, despite criticism from some individuals and groups such as the Alliance of Evangelical Churches.
The Alliance called the theme “distasteful and disrespectful of the sensibilities of Grenadians who subscribe to Biblical Christianity.’’ It described Jab Jab as “a celebration and worship of Satan who was cast out of heaven in the first place because of his ambition and desire to claim God’s prerogatives.’’
However, historian Dr. Nicole L. Phillip is among many Grenadians who find no fault with the theme.
“Firstly, throughout the debate the theme has been misrepresented in its stating,’’ argued Dr. Phillip. “Critics, including the churches, claimed that the theme was ‘Grenada: the home of 100,000 Jab Jabs’. Simple research and inquiry, just by looking at the advertisements on television, would have informed them that the theme was: ‘Uniquely Rooted in our Rich Ancestral Traditions. Spicemas: Home of 100, 000 Jab Jabs.’’
She added that by “misrepresenting the theme, the critics have entirely missed the point of or substance of the chosen theme. In so doing it is difficult if not near impossible to make a rational judgment based on erroneous information.’’
According to Dr. Phillip, Spicemas is one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean.
However, she said that if Grenadians are to compete and establish a carnival niche, “an appropriate tag line needs to be used to promote this festival. It seems obvious that this was the thinking behind the theme chosen this year. Grenada can boast of being the only island that displays, year after year, from as far back as carnival has been recorded, unique aspects of traditional mas.’’
As far as Dr. Phillip is concerned, “the choice of the number 100,000 is simply a play on our population figure. It does not imply that all other aspects of carnival would be sidelined and there will only be Jab Jabs on the road. It simply emphasizes the need to highlight our traditional mas as being different and thus making the Grenada carnival experience one of a kind.’’
The Jab Jab debate has also dominated blogs on internet sites, such as the “Shoutbox’’ on
One blogger, Captain Queeg, wrote: “Nobody says to do away with Jab Jab; but should the rest of Carnival be virtually abandoned for it?’’
Another blogger said, “People choose to play Jab Jab; it’s their free will. Jab Jab bands do not get any subventions. But steelbands, calypsonians, mas bands and – this year – there was a special exposition in St. Mark for traditional mas. I therefore can’t agree that there has been any abandoning of other aspects of carnival in favour of Jab Jab.’’
RAA waded in, saying: “Jab Jab, like Rock n Roll, Rap and other new genres, were never initially accepted by the upper class, the religious and the mainstream, but instead, by daring youth. So the more Jab Jab becomes controversial, the more the youth will push it to the forefront.’’
According to Yokasi, “People play mas to suit their budget and we can’t legislate what people can or cannot play.’’ And D’Lecturer said: “In support of the Jab Jab beat, I must say it is not only Grenadian but gone international.’’
Carnival’s marketing thrust, including the GCC’s pay-per-view webcast and its internet site, has been bearing fruits, Chairman Dowe said.
“We have had excellent review of our branding and marketing of Spicemas,’’ he said. “Spicemas has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years.’’
Mr. Dowe and Sen. Gill said there was a “hiccup’’ with the extended route used at this year’s Monday Night Mas, when the parade’s lead truck broke down. But Monday Night Mas is “an asset and one of the unique features of Spicemas,’’ said Sen. Gill. “There is nothing like it in the region.’’
Mr. Dowe said future plans for Monday Night Mas include a better effort at starting the parade on time, and finding “some form of engagement’’ for patrons awaiting the arrival of bands along the Port Highway and Carenage.
Sen. Gill said strengthening people’s participation in Fancy Masquerade bands will require introducing programs in schools, “so children can grow up playing mas.’’
With respect to the growing phenomenon of numerous jouvert celebrations and the various parish carnivals and their impact on the national Spicemas festival, Sen. Gill said room must be made for “free expression and spontaneity.’’
At some level, he said, “you have to allow the parish carnivals to flourish. There must be some accommodation for the parish carnivals but the best must be on show at the national level.’’
Sen. Gill said the use of bleachers, provided by the Trinidad and Tobago government, for spectators viewing Spicemas on the streets on August 8 and 9 “brought character and class’’ to the carnival and “did not cost Grenada a cent.
By Lincoln Depradine
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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Island People goes back to drawing

Hearing the cries of distress from their loyal followers, Island People mas band has come to the rescue by offering to revamp their 2012 Carnival presentation, Heroes to suit the tastes of their masqueraders.
“What were they thinking?” probably was the most pleasant of the overwhelmingly negative feedback received for the presentation after the band launch last Friday at a venue close to Bowen Marine Chaguaramas, which Island People called Westopia. Heroes is a presentation featuring 11 sections all depicting a variety of local “superheroes” ready to take flight as defenders of all things good.

Few sections got the nod from persons who viewed the presentation or saw pictures; some were critiqued for “quirky” elements of design and others were bashed outright and rejected. Comments began surfacing as statuses, comments or “tweets” on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites during the live launch and continued afterwards when photographs of the unveiling from various media outlets were published online.

Island People’s Colin Greaves said the band committee members noted all comments regarding the band as well as the e-mails received from loyal band members. “Persons expressed to us the designs were not what they had in mind. They explained while they appreciated things Island People has done in the past which were out of the box and different, what they were looking for was something more in line with what is contemporary Carnival,” he said.

As a result, the band will be doing something which has never been done before in Trinidad. “We will allow them to be part of the redesign process,” he said. He explained a special tab has been placed on the band’s Facebook page which band members can click on to access pictures of the different sections. They simply have to click the “Like” button if they want the costume to remain in the presentation. They can also make suggestions on how to improve the design. The two sections which receive the least “Likes” will be eliminated.

“We are happy to commit to replacing designs based on the suggestions of our loyal band members. We have never done this before but we have received an overwhelming response from our followers that they are happy and relieved that we listened to their cries for change and even invited them to be part of this,” Greaves said.

The tab named, “Save Your Costume”, received numerous kudos from persons commenting on the page who called the band “brave” for their solution to the problem but asked that the band include male costumes for critique.

This process of including followers in the redesign, Greaves said, is part of Island People’s push this year to create a more personable experience for their masqueraders. “This year we are focussing on providing VIP or Very Island People treatment for our masqueraders and having them voice their concerns and us actually hearing them is part of this. Since this incident we are discussing having more public involvement in the band in the future but for 2012 we have decided to have more questionnaires and online polls to get feedback from our masqueraders,” he said.

Greaves attempted to defend the original costumes which made up the Heroes presentation. “They are avant garde costumes, not the traditional large feathered backpacks or costumes decorated with shiny bling which are elements of contemporary mas. We tried to be a little different. You will see designs for super hero costumes internationally, there is no feathers or bling included but because it is for our Carnival there are some elements of this in the costumes.

“We wanted people to see the band and identify it with Island People and not just a pretty blinged out creation. But I guess our followers did not expect us to go that far out the box,” he said.

Greaves said committee members met with their designers who have agreed to revisit the designs and after taking the suggestions of the public will complete the new designs for viewing by next week, in time for the opening of the band house on Tragarete Road on August 25.

“We have been talking back and forth about what we will put out and we have agreed that we will maintain Island People’s uniqueness and originality that we are known for. Do not expect all bling and feathers but we will pull back on the reins. As we have seen some people are really happy with some of the designs so we know how far our followers are willing to push limits and to move out of box,” he said.

Greaves said the new designs will be launched within the coming week in a smaller event that the big launch last Friday.

They are working on having it streamed live so persons who cannot attend the launch can also view the new costumes. “And of course we would be welcoming feedback,” he said.
By Leiselle Maraj

Friday, 12 August 2011

No, don't stop the Notting Hill Carnival

The spirit of Carnival: to cancel this year's event
would be a shameful overreaction
Should the Notting Hill Carnival go ahead following the riots? Yes, of course it should. As a long-term resident of the area I am increasingly fed up with my front garden being used as a public loo (and worse besides). The noise, rubbish and sheer volume of people are intolerable and I yearn for it to relocate to Hyde Park, as former Mayor Ken Livingstone once suggested. But to cancel it this year would be completely the wrong thing to do - and for all the wrong reasons.

As football matches are called off and Parliament is recalled (a pointless exercise, simply to prove that not all politicians are on their sunloungers) we are in danger of losing our heads and over- reacting. A plethora of Facebook sites have been set up this week, including Stop the Notting HIll Carnival Now and Stop the Notting Hill Carnival for Safety Sake. The social networking sites are in danger of becoming anti-social sites.

There were similar calls to cancel the Carnival after the July bombings in 2005 but it went ahead. Just as we shouldn't give in to terrorists, so we shouldn't capitulate to a bunch of opportunistic hoodlums who barely number a few hundred. If we can't even organise a Carnival, what sort of message will this send to the world about the Olympics?

Yes, it will be a drain on police resources - but it is a drain every year and it's up to the police and the organisers to liaise and make sure it passes off without major incident.

In fact given that more than a million people attend, it is astonishing how little disorder there is at Carnival. Gradual improvements have been made such as earlier start and finishing times. Scale it back further, if we must, but don't let the killjoys win the day. For many people it is the highlight of the year; hundreds of steel drummers have spent months rehearsing. It would be a shame if all their hard work went to waste.

We should not forget that huge swathes of London stayed riot-free. And as the residents of Clapham and Croydon demonstrated, far more people are willing to clean up the streets than trash them. Our streets should be reclaimed by those who love them. And there is no better example of this community spirit than the Notting Hill Carnival. Let the steel drums ring out. But please, please when it's all over, can it be relocated next year?

* Mat Collishaw, a former Young British Artist, complains that the world of street art is overrun by the middle classes and is full of the privileged few who are affecting a political conciousness. I can only assume he means Banksy. I wonder if he approves of the graffiti painters who daubed "Welcome to Hackney" on the walls and hoardings after the riots. Not all of them came from privileged backgrounds - but does that make their street art any more artistic?
Sebastian Shakespeare

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Golden era of Mas

Farewell: Anthony Chow Lin On, right, relatives and friends carry the casket of his father
 Alwin Chow Lin On at St Finbar's RC Church, Diego Martin yesterday.
In the eulogy to his father Alwin “Chow Lee” Chow Lin On yesterday at St Finbar’s RC Church, Morne Coco Road, Diego Martin, Anthony Chow Lin On (Chinese Laundry) said Chow Lee’s personal dream was to one day go back to the golden era of Sally (Harold Saldenah), (George) Bailey, (Peter) Minshall and others, who were his heroes and influences.

He spoke of his father keeping many notes and in later years writing his experiences and thoughts about pan and Mas, every note ending with Sankofa, almost like a call to arms, a revolution.

The Sankofa is a symbol which represents the idea that one must take from the past what is good and bring it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge. Sankofa belongs to the Akan language spoken by the Akan people, ethnic groups of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

He then explained how his dad felt about the golden era of Mas through one of his notes, quoting: “Trinidad and Tobago must become the vanguard of our Carnival culture, with the Carnival City where you can see all the great costumes like “Man Crab”, “The hat I had for Christmas was too Big”, “The Cray Fish”, “Bachac Pushing Ganja”, “Beauty in Perpetuity” and “The Sacred and the Profane” all dancing at the Carnival City and also displayed at the museum all year round....wouldn’t that be great?”

Chow Lee was born and grew up in Sangre Grande as a typical shop keeper’s son, then moved to Port-of-Spain where he attended St Mary’s College but left after fourth form to work with his uncle George Pantin at his accounting firm.

After a few years Chow Lee returned to Sangre Grande to run the family business and that is where he got his early experience in Mas, stick fighting, and steelband. He was the founding member of Cordettes Steelband in 1962, and at the funeral, a number of ex-Cordettes members reunited to play a soothing rendition of Baron’s “Words” during which, a number of people quietly wept. Chow Lee even went on to be a past Pan Trinbago president.

His love for Mas began with Elsie and Stephen Lee Heung’s “Paradise Lost” in 1976. It was the first time he got to work on costumes and he came out with a wealth of knowledge and experience working with Peter Minshall. A year later came the birth of Zodiac of which Chow Lee was a part, organised to produce Minshall’s designs. That they did for four years before handing over the band to Minshall.

Chow Lee has been known to bring Minshall’s designs to life through his clever engineering of the structures of the queen and king costumes, many of them going on the take the national titles.

He also had a great knowledge of the concept of fibreglass back packs and, drawing on his as well woodworking and carving skills he also manufactured costumes locally, as well as for Mas in London.

Then there was his restaurant businesses Char B Que and Atlantis where he exposed his culinary skills but, said Anthony, his significant achievement was to the art of Mas. Among the personalities who attended the funeral service were Peter Samuel, Pelham Goddard, Dr Bernard Picou, George and Joey Ng Wai, Howard Chin Lee, Johnny Soong, Canute Spencer, Frank Martineau, Earl Crosby, Rachel Price, Earl Patterson and John Humphrey.

By Joan Rampersad Saturday, August 6 2011
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