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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Stephen Lee Heung laid to rest

Five-time Carnival Band of the Year winner Stephen Lee Heung was cremated on Wednesday following a funeral service at St Theresa’s RC Church in Woodbrook.

There was a surprisingly small turnout at the church for the bandleader who had devoted most of his life to producing mas.

Among the few fellow mas makers that did come out to pay their respects to Lee Heung were Brian MacFarlane, Rosalind Gabriel and David Cameron, leader of the band Trini Revellers.

Also present was National Carnival Bands Association president David Lopez and NCBA secretary Renwick Brown.

Officiating was Fr Gervais Girod, who said Lee Heung was as dedicated to his faith as he was to the mas.

The eulogy was presented by Lynn Tang, who also spoke of Lee Heung’s passion for mas and for people.

Lee Heung spent his childhood at Piccadilly Street, Port of Spain then moved to Duncan and then Nelson streets.

Lee Heung got involved in mas in 1942, having been encouraged by his uncle to do so. Together with his wife, Elsie, who passed away some years ago, Lee Heung, who was not a designer, produced bands working with designers such as Harold Saldenah, Carlisle Chang, Peter Minshall, Wayne Berkley, Follette Eustace and Brian MacFarlane.

Lee Heung, who was 93 years old, succumbed to pneumonia on Monday at St Clair Medical Centre.

He died only days after the launch of a book celebrating his work in mas. The book, which is titled, We Kind ah People, was written by cultural researcher Ray Funk from the United States and features the photography of George Tang.

The book was launched on October 7 at the National Library.

By Wayne Bowman

Saturday, 18 October 2014

‘His first duty was making mas, not money’

   Death of Stephen Lee Heung

    By Michelle Loubon

Retired accountant Shane Lee Heung, son of the late veteran mas man Stephen Lee Heung, 93, said his fondest memories were accompanying his father to carnivals in New York, USA. He also said Lee Heung performed “ wonderfully” during Carnival celebrations and boasted a healthy dose of creativity. Both Lee Heung and his late wife, Elsie, shot to national and international renown with their spectacular Carnival presentations. 
On Monday night, Lee Heung succumbed to a chest infection and a bout of pneumonia at St Clair Medical Centre.
He is also mourned by his daughter, Maureen, a mother of three. Lee Heung went to God’s acre a few days after his book, We Kindah People, was launched at Nalis, Port of Spain.
Yesterday, family and friends gathered for a prayer session at his home at 4 Alberto Street, Woodbro­ok.

Veteran masman Peter Minshall comments:
Via a telephone interview yesterday, Minshall said: “There are bandleaders and there are masmen
Stephen Lee Hueng
artists. The bandleader is a producer. The artist in the case of mas is the conjuror, the magician, the person who makes art out of apparel which is showcased by huge numbers of people gathered to celebrate life. As a producer/bandleader, he never forgot his first duty was the making of mas, not the making of money.”

Reflecting on his collaboration with Lee Heung, Minshall said Lee Heung and Carlisle Chang had a “fall out”. 
He said: “I was in London, when I got the call from Stephen at 5 a.m. He said: Peter Minshall (1975), yuh want to do my band for next year? It was such an awkward place to be. It was strange and bizarre. It’s like tear-jerking. One of the most powerful presence in the mas was Chang. In the years after, my greatest encouragement came from Chang. I did mas as art. Chang once said of Jungle Fever. The Savannah looks like the grasses of Serengeti in technicolour. I owe a great debt to Stephen Lee Heung, masman par excellence.”

Edmund Hart comments:
Via a telephone interview, Hart, 91, said: “He produced the best costumes. One of his best bands was China: The Forbidden City. They won their first Band of the Year title in 1967 with China. We both did a show and we were roommates in Minneapolis. He was a nice friend even though we were rivals. We both belonged to Port of Spain Central Lions’ Club.” 
Lee Heung’s trek to the top started in 1964 with Kabuki, which placed third in the Band of Year competition to Silver Stars. In 1975, he was bestowed with the Hummingbird Medal (Gold). China was the first band sent abroad by the government to the Montreal Expo in 1967.


Monday, 13 October 2014

A kinda legacy

 A review of 
We Kind ah People byGeorge Tang and Ray Funk 
by Mark Lyndersay

It’s hard to fault George Tang and Ray Funk for their ambitions here. We Kind ah People, a new book documenting ten of the bands of Stephen and Elsie Lee Heung is a first bold effort at placing the veteran masmaker in the pantheon of Carnival’s master bandleaders of the last century.
Celebrated band leader/designer Peter Minshall, left, with veteran
 photographer George Tang and historian Ray Funk
at the launch of the book titled We Kind Ah People which
 chronicles the legendary exploits of mas-man
Stephen Lee Hueng.
Venue for the event was the AV Room of the National Library and Information Systems
Limited (NALIS) on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: SEAN NERO
Of the 36 bands placed on the roads of Port-of-Spain by the Lee Heungs over 50 years between 1946 and 1996, this book offers less than a third.
But the ten bands documented in the book offer a rich look at the craft of the Lee Heungs that we haven’t had before. 
The bands, Terra Firma (1974), We Kind ah People (1975), Paradise Lost (1976), Cosmic Aura (1977), Love Is (1978), Hocus Pocus (1979), Cocoyea Village (1987), Columbus (1992), Safari (1993) and Festivals (1994) offer up designs by Carlisle Chang, Peter Minshall, Norris Eustace and Wayne Berkeley all engineered by the Lee Heung’s remarkably consistent production style. 
Despite widely differing designs, there is a surprising unity among the bands, sound craftsmanship interpreting the sketches of the designers in an era that predated costume prototypes at band launches. 
That process crafted bands from quite diverse designers that were stylish and precise as well as sensibly and economically executed.
The book doesn’t explain the gaps in coverage, noting only that “George was not able to take photographs every year,” but also acknowledging that they were largely taken “for his family and friends in the band.”
Fortunately, Tang was a craftsman who understood the limits of his medium and worked effectively within them.
What isn’t written into the book’s record is the monumental effort that has been invested in this work or the very different photographic circumstances under which the images were captured. 
Most of these images, if not all, were shot on colour transparency film, a medium that dramatises the contrasty extremes of bright Caribbean sun.
In many of the images, the faces and expressions of the masqueraders disappear beneath their costumes, identities swallowed in the shadows cast by grand flourishes of their designers.
George Tang’s camera records no other photographers, since in the Carnival he photographed, far fewer photographers roamed the streets and all respected the asphalt stage on which masqueraders performed.
In this era, each photograph was metered, every frame had to be bought and processed. A photographer operating on his own capturing the festival did so not only with his own dollar, but often with a budget.
There must have been wining, but Tang’s record of the time shows masqueraders chipping along, surging as they hit the stage and doing that curious thing once called playing their mas.
The photographs, like the man, are direct but unassuming. They confront the spectacle before them with casual ease, recording with clarity a collection of costumes that have largely disappeared from the public consciousness.
From the brilliant, often abstract fancies of Carlisle Chang to Minshall’s diaphanous Grand Guignol to the burlesque design abandon of Wayne Berkeley, the book offers for consideration a Carnival that will be undeniably alien to today’s masqueraders.
In the 18 years since Stephen Lee Heung last brought a band to the streets of Port-of-Spain, so much has changed in both the public record of the festival and in the costuming of Carnival that it’s almost impossible to recognise any evolutionary link between the festival of today and the event that the photographer recorded between 1974 and 1994. 
It’s possible to look at the glistening, angular brilliance of Carlisle Chang’s Terra Firma and the rococo styling and shiny piping of Folette Eustace’s Festivals and not be surprised, but anyone who looks at this record after being indoctrinated by the modern record of Carnival is going to be stunned.
Twenty years separate those bands, but they are clearly kin. In the 18 years since, everything seems to have changed about the costumes, the masqueraders and the very idea of a band when compared with this record of Carnival.
As a photographer, Tang’s work takes a qualitative jump forward between 1977 and 1978. The earlier images have the casual flow of snapshots but then the documentarian seems to decide that his work is a record of something special and his attentiveness to the specifics of the work intensify accordingly.
His shooting positions are more compellingly aligned with the position of the sun and his interactions with the band’s masqueraders are more deliberate and considered.
In one remarkable photograph, designer Stephen Sheppard, playing Alladin in Hocus Pocus, appears to glide along the roadway on his magic carpet, the roadside onlookers subtly blurred as he appears to speed by.
In another, a sexy showgirl in a tuxedo top with glorious legs in black stockings leads her section down Ariapita Avenue.
In this book, George Tang has captured a remarkable era of Carnival, the last era of massive costumes, capes, standards and headgear and yes, even cocoyea as the principal decoration of a band.
Writer Ray Funk works hard to craft a context for the work, writing informative chapter openers for each of the band and contributing an extensive history of both the photographer and the bandleader at the end of the book.
It’s a exhaustive effort to offer a context for the other 26 Lee Heung Carnival productions, but it’s also a reminder of just how much has been lost over the years through institutional disinterest in the visual history of the festival.
Funk writes well and engagingly, but the text could have done with some professional oversight and a copyeditor’s pruning, the occasional error a disturbing hiccup and the writer’s love fest with the sheer enormity of the Lee Heung legacy called for more grit and less helium.
The restoration work on the images is also somewhat, um, spotty, with several images in need of professional toning adjustment and crud on the originals needing removal.
Still, there’s no denying that where there was nothing, there is now something. Mr Funk and Mr Tang have sacrificed a great deal to produce this document and as a self-published Blurb book, it is likely to be both costly to reproduce and rare in number.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

New book features mas of Stephen Lee Heung

A new book of unseen historic photos of Carnival is being celebrated at a book launch that will offer amazing unseen film footage of Stephen Lee Heung’s bands including the only known footage of Paradise Lost, the first carnival band designed by Peter
A masquerader from Stephen Lee Heung’s 1976 band Paradise Lost
 which was designed by Peter Minshall. PHOTO: GEORGE TANG
The book We Kind ah People, The Trinidad Carnival Masquerade Bands of Stephen Lee Heung with photography by George Tang and text by Ray Funk will be launched at the AV Room at Nalis at 6 pm on October 7, a release said. 
Stephen Lee Heung is one of the great mas bandleaders whose legacy is unparalleled. He briefly led small bands in the 40s but it was 1964 that he formed a major band, hiring Carlisle Chang as his first designer and immediately leaped to the top ranks of bands like those of George Bailey, Harold Saldenah, and Edmund Hart. 
From 1964 to 1996, Stephen Lee Heung was always considered a leading bandleader. He won band of the year six times, was awarded the Humming Bird prize and often had king of the band or queen of the band. His late wife Elsie was an integral part of the band every year and the book is dedicated to her. With hundreds of photos this book is part of the needed legacy on documenting great masquerade bandleaders of the past. 
The stunning photos are by Stephen’s cousin George Tang and have remained unseen for these many decades. “Discovered” by Ray Funk who met Tang through his son in law Mark Loquan, the composer of music for the steelpan and founder of the Music Literacy Trust. They worked together to produce this first book of his photos with Funk contributing a detailed history on Stephen Lee Heung’s bands. 
Tang photographed 20 years of the band’s history from 1974 to 1994. These photos represent key years from the bands designed by Carlisle Chang to those of Follette Eustace including Band of the Year We Kind ah People to several Wayne Berkeley designed bands like Cocoyea Village and Follette Eustace’s bands like Columbus and Festival. 
The organisers of the book launch said it will be a bit unusual because it will be as much a film show as it is a book launch. For the first time, the public will have a chance to see a part of the film that Tang took. The plan for the book launch is to show the silent film footage and have Tang and others talk about the bands. It is hoped that many people who were part of the band will come to the launch.
For the legions of Minshall fans the book will have special interest because of Tang’s documentation of Paradise Lost. The book includes a number of amazing photos from that year and the book launch will feature this footage of Paradise Lost that is the only known footage that has survived for that year.
Ray Funk is a retired Alaska judge who has been coming to Trinidad for Carnival for almost two decades. He started with a love of calypso that has grown into a passion for pan and an obsession with traditional carnival characters and classic mas bands. He writes articles for the Trinidad newspapers, co-curated an exhibit on the globalisation of calypso, and gives annual presentations at Nalis during Carnival and now presents rare historic film clips each Carnival for the T&T Film Festival. 
He also co-wrote and produced a major study on the Calypso Craze of 1957 that has just been released by Bear Family Records in Germany as a box set with a large coffee table book, six CDs and a DVD. It will soon be available in Trinidad with a launch planned for next Carnival. 
Because of limited seating and expected high demand, reservations should be made. 
E-mail with a name and the number of seats requested. 
We Kind ah People will be available from Paperbased at the Normandie Hotel in Trinidad and later this year on Amazon. For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Ray Funk at or call 868-714-8555.



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