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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Telling the Difference: Junkanoo vs Carnival By Dr. Nicolette Bethel

What follows is an abridged version of what I published on my blog this week. Grateful if you would consider publishing it for a wider audience.
One of the most infuriating and insidious ideas that I have heard bandied about in the wake of this weekend's mega-party aka Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is the idea that carnival is the natural evolution of Junkanoo. It's the kind of statement that reveals the depth of the ignorance about ourselves that we as a society have cultivated; and the general (could it be stunned?) silence on the part of the Junkanoo community suggests to me that even the junkanoos themselves don't know the difference. People are happily burbling on about carnival being Junkanoo's next incarnation, about us "all being Africans, right?", about how carnival is the next stage in the development of Bahamian culture.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Dr Nicolette Bethel
First, a little history. We all know the story of Columbus. But we may not all still be so aware of consequences of the engine he set in motion: the expansion of Europe into all of the spaces of the world, the depopulation of the islands of the Caribbean, the repopulation of them with a motley crew of Europeans in the first instance, Africans in the second, and after the enslavement of those Africans, East Indians and people of Chinese descent. The age of European empires changed the population and the cultures of our region in ways we need to understand if we want to talk about Junkanoo and Carnival in the same breath.

Just about one hundred and fifty years after Columbus came to the Bahamas, the islands were settled by a different set of Europeans. These people called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers; they were republican, Protestant and British. There are few other Caribbean islands which have this distinction. Most of the other islands now part of the formerly British West Indies have a Catholic influence in their histories, as many English-speaking Caribbean countries (including Trinidad) changed hands from the French and/or the Spanish to the British. This part of our imperial history is critical to understanding where the differences between Junkanoo and Carnival lie.

We live in a post colonial world, and so we may no longer be aware of the critical impressions made on our territories by the European powers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries; but those impressions, established over four hundred years, resonate today and cannot be overlooked. There were three major imperial powers that held control over the Caribbean region, and their influence continues even today in the languages we speak, the social structures we inherit, and—importantly—in the cultural practices we celebrate. The major ones were Spain, France, and Great Britain. Spain and France both held indigenous celebrations that they identified as carnivals. These celebrations had pagan roots, and they were linked with the spring and with Easter or Lent, and they were all practised in a similar way: they celebrated fertility, sexuality and the disruption of the regular social order by dancing in the streets for several days at a time, by putting on masks and costumes, and by turning society upside down. These were Europeancelebrations, and the French and Spanish settlers took them with them to their Caribbean colonies.  
For those who are interested, this is where the Catholic carnivalsgot their names. Most of these festivals arelinked with the weekend directly preceding Lent (the forty days of fasting that leads up to Easter). The Catholic method of preparing for Lent, during which meat was not eaten, sex was shunned, and parties were cancelled in preparation for the death and resurrection of Christ, was to indulge in all of those sins and vices they would not be having for the next six weeks. This in itself traces back to earlier Roman and Greek spring festivals, and it is from these that the Trini term “bacchanal” comes; it refers to the Roman name for their god of parties and wine, Bacchus. The word "carnival" also comes from the Latin carne(meat) and vale(farewell); and the other name given to this time, Mardi Gras, is the French for "Fat Tuesday", indicating that on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the tradition was to indulge in as many sweet things as one could.
The British, on the other hand, having broken with the Catholic Church some time before they began to assemble their overseas empire, had done away with this habit. By the time they became an imperial power, the British were focussing their attention on Christmas as the main holiday in their Christian calendar. Easter was celebrated, and Lent observed, but the revelry associated with the pre-Lenten season was not a central part of the British customs by the time they moved into the Caribbean. The settlers' great feast took place at Christmas.

As the European empires grew—as they began to build them, let us be frank, on the backs of the forced labour of millions of kidnapped and enslaved Africans—these differences became entrenched. What was more, they were passed onto the people they enslaved. The Africans, too, had festivals and rituals that did similar things with costumes and role reversals that the Europeans did. They were able to recognize an opportunity to celebrate them in the Carnivals of the Catholic New World. Because the Africans came from many different places and because they were stripped of their languages and most of their cultural heritage by the systematic cruelties of the new slave societies, it is not as easy for us to identify what those rituals were as it is for us to name the practices of the Europeans. Still; even the enslaved Africans were given one or two days off a year. But with a difference.
In the Catholic empire, the masters celebrated their carnivals as they had done in their homes in Europe. The Africans were given the same holidays as the masters took, and because the carnival traditions, especially those in France and Spain, involved servants playing masters and masters playing servants, those Africans may have even been encouraged to take part in the carnivals. Carnival as we know it today grew out of these cross-participations, out of this joining together of the Africans and the Europeans for these few days. Throughout the period of slavery, Carnival was celebrated by both groups, often together. In the Americas, the carnivals that grew and flourished—those that took place in New Orleans, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Port of Spain, Trinidad—were influenced in music, dance and costuming by the Africans, but cannot be called African in origin. Rather, they became what anthropologists and folklorists refer to 
as syncretistic celebrations. Syncretism is the word we give to an activity that combines African and European elements, often in such a way that the African is hidden, but still influential. Carnival / carnaval / Mardi Gras are syncretic festivals.

In the British empire, however, things were different. The enslaved people were given three days' holiday at Christmas. Rather than joining the masters in a big fete (the word is French, and it means festival or party), the enslaved celebrated in their own, African-based way. For whatever reason (we do not know the origin of the word, but the myth of the slave who started the festival is almost certainly a fabrication) these celebrations, which appeared across the British Americas, were called jankunu—or, to use the British spelling which was used until the end of the twentieth century, John Canoe. They were also called masqueraders and gombeys. They came out at Christmas; they had very particular characters and dances; and they were performed almost exclusively to percussive instruments—drums, bells, and scrapers. Whistles and shells added different levels to the rhythms, but the masquerades are almost always percussive. 
The jankunu festivals of the New World, then, are not syncretic festivals, as was Carnival. They are African in character; they are linked with Christmas, not with Lent, and they are products of the British presence in the Caribbean. They also tend to be far more serious, even frightening, events than Carnival tends to be. There are definite similarities between the jankunu festivals and the carnivals: the masks, the costumes and the dancing are among them, and are all linked to a strong African aesthetic. But there the similarity stops. In almost every case, Carnival took place in conjunction with the European masters, and jankunu took place in isolation from them.
The one exception during slavery was Jamaica, the richest sugar colony, where the Europeans splurged at Christmas and mounted a series of events as part of their jonkonnu festivals that suggested that the Jamaican planters were familiar with the Mardi Gras balls of New Orleans. It is partly because of Jamaica's centrality as a sugar island that j onkonnu was first described there; but the fact that it was first recorded in writing in Jamaica should not be assumed to mean that what we called Junkanoo began there and travelled to the rest of the Caribbean. It makes more sense to see Junkanoo as a simultaneous resurrection of West African kono (harvest) festivals across the Americas, and this would help to explain the occurrence throughout the jankununew world of figures of animals, cowbells, and the like, while in Carnival many of the carnival characters have connections with European figures.
What is also important to recognize is that in almost every territory where jankunu was celebrated—except The Bahamas and Belize— jankunu has all but disappeared. The John Kuners of the Carolinas are gone altogether. The Gombeys of Bermuda are struggling to survive. In Jamaica, the jonkonnufigures appear at Christmas but they do not attract a whole lot of attention. In the southern Caribbean, the Christmas masqueraders appear, but they do not get the same focus or merit the same admiration as the carnivals that take place in those same territories. Only in Belize, where what we call jankunu is practised as a central part of being Garifuna (indigenous Belizean), is it flourishing. And in The Bahamas, of course, where its evolution into a major street festival that can rival and even out-perform Carnival has yet to be wholly explained.
And so: our Junkanoo may not be indigenous, but it is certainly unique. It alone of all the jankunu festivals has not only survived, but grown, and moreover has become a fundamental marker of Bahamian identity. For some scholars, like Ken Bilby who gave what we used to call John Canoe the name that I've been using throughout, what we have done to Junkanoo is to move it from its core roots in African spiritual ancestral connections by engaging in a conscious hybridization of our own. But the fact remains that our Junkanoo is the one of all the John Canoes in the Americas to have grown stronger and to flourish.

Until now, perhaps.

So where do we get the idea that there is no difference between Junkanoo and Carnival, that Carnival is an "evolution" of Junkanoo? The late twentieth century, which is the period of independence, has been a time in which Junkanoo artists and practitioners sought eagerly to make connections with others who were doing similar things throughout the Americas. Because of the African contributions to all these festivals, the visual aspects of Mardi Gras, Trinidad Carnival and Junkanoo have many connections, and during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Junkanoo leaders and participants travelled throughout the Catholic world learning and borrowing and adopting and fuelling innovation in our Junkanoo parade. But until now, we never mixed up the two festivals. Until now we understood that we could borrow aesthetic and structural elements, we could learn from one another, but we did not have to think that one was the junior of the other.

Until now, we have understood what Vola Francis himself has always observed, that Junkanoo is a spirit. There is more truth in that statement than perhaps even he understood; for the John Canoe festivals are almost certainly derived from the African practices of connecting with the ancestors. This is why our festival is linked with the nighttime, and why severing that link must be considered with caution. Rather than coming from the European habit of saying goodbye to the flesh, our tradition comes from the African practice of honouring the ancestors. And so there is still something transformative and spiritual in the Junkanoo that we practice. (People will argue with me that there is something transformative about Carnival too, and they will be right, but bear with me here.) As Gus Cooper was always fond of saying, there were two fundamental and critical elements that separated Carnival and Junkanoo. The first was that Junkanoo participants make their own costumes. They do not buy them. The process of making them is a critical one, and one that is linked deeply and ancestrally with this invocation of a spirit. It is an African spirit, and it is something that has nourished us from our beginnings. It cannot be replaced by the purchasing of a feathered costume, a commodity. That is play-acting; what our Junkanoo still does is akin to worship.

And the second one is that Junkanoo performers play their own music, live, on their feet, and dance while they do so. They do not have canned music played for them; they make their own music. This custom, that of making one's own costume and playing one's own music, is fundamental to the Junkanoo world; it is part, too, of what links Junkanoo to its African, rather than its European, roots. And Junkanoo music is a serious thing. Traditional Junkanoo instruments (which do NOT include horns, sorry) have always been both musical instruments andweapons of war. Before there was a competition there were physical confrontations on the street. That these confrontations were ritualized, often musicalized, is immaterial.Carnival today privileges its elements of play.Junkanoo still, as always, privileges the rhetoric of war.
Now we may not like these differences. We may want to ignore them, or to downplay them, or to wish them away. Nevertheless, they are there. Junkanoo and Carnival are not the same thing. One is not an evolution of the other. They come from different roots, although they look similar on the surface, and they convey different meanings. Our society may well have room for both of them. But let us have no more discussions that try to pretend that they are one and the same. They are, most emphatically, not.

Nicolette Bethel


Sunday, 7 June 2015


Atomic is you: An energized individual in a larger environment of energy. 

Atomic is your energy: that energy that enables action, that creates, that affects change, but never dies..

Atomic is Fusion. Ideas shared, goals collected, talents amalgamated, 
 Energies combined, and goals achieved.

We are Atomic
Our energies have combined

And we're about to explode. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Farewell to the flesh

Thursday, March 5, 2015
Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation, presents a chilling spectre on the streets of Port of Spain in Peter Minshall’s 1980 band Danse Macabre. PHOTO: DALTON NARINE
Wine, women and song
That was the theme of the day when the Romans were introduced to the debauchery of Bacchanalia a few millennia before Christ himself was ushered in with pride, pomp and His own cultish circumstance.
Mystic as well as mythic, the explicit celebrations conjured up nude men and maidens, accompanied by masqueraders dressed in animal skins, and soused to the ears as they belted out bawdy lyrics. Theatre in the extreme, indeed.
They crowned a mock king but even he couldn’t control the euphoria. Later, early Christianity would blast Carnival as a despicable event. How times have changed!
Today, the tradition continues to celebrate its resurrection as mas, or masquerade, in T&T’s annual big do. At least what registers as mas. (Well, such interpretation certainly won’t leave conservatives in a wining mood). 
A good thing, though, happened during the mas some fat years ago. 
I chanced upon the Ghost of Carnival Past, who seemed to be disoriented by a strangeness in the bacchanal. For whatever reason, the Muse of mas had been sidetracked since Mancrab violated the Washerwoman, the theatrical ‘uptick’ in a sense bringing a downturn to the celebrations. Much of mas and its derivatives had become generic. Notwithstanding Minshall, Berkeley, Derek and a resurgence of traditional characters, the mas had gone mouldy. Turns out that the freshest path it had taken has been the fleshiest. A pervert’s view that, as artist Christopher Cozier hinted, curved away from the trajectory of the Mancrab/Washerwoman tra la la. The song, not the singer, having changed. Look how it come a lyricist’s dream—oil wealth anew, and wanton women by the grappe. Yeah, like Yankees gone and Sparrow takeover.
Anyway, our curiosity to justify relevance and integrity on hold, it behooved the Muse to take your humbled one back in time when mas lovers swore by the encyclopedia, the new Good Book—for it became a repository of thematic ideas. Even the library lured and lulled potential history buffs.
Off we went, then, through three side streets and around two corners, where we bounced up Nirvana. Who awaited us inside a small office at the Film Department of the Information Division. No, no! Ministry of Publicity and Propaganda? Ah-yah-yie-ah-yie! Don’t go there! Come with us as we peruse ancient clips of George Bailey and Harold Saldenha and Desperadoes’ Leo Warner and Wilfred “Speaker” Harrison, et al. Frame upon frame of pageantry, colours accentuating each other in Van Goghian bold, and daubing images of hordes of revellers as they magically transform National Geographic, Britannica itself and many a brave designer’s fancy into a mobile playhouse.
Here the dance of Sally’s Cree Indians of Canada as it snakes along the Circular to the Belmont competition; and, in a Bailey triad of historical significance, there the mystery of the Relics of Egypt, replete with chariots and Sphinxes; over by so, Somewhere in New Guinea beckons; and coming down Cipriani Boulevard Saga of Merrie England titillates.
To Hell and Back and Back to Africa; Primitive Man and Extracts from the Animal Kingdom; Imperial Rome; The Glory that was Greece; and a whole mess of sailor bands putting on a show, their risqué and comedic acts mimed to the rawness of steelband music, the only Nativity in our multi-culture, blessed and cursed alike, just like the mas. And fancy sailors, too. Fascinators, Syncopators and Desperadoes, jitterbugs all, strutting and peacock-ing headgear, such as clocks and cameras and sharks and elephants, and crabs from the Mangue, leaving Cito Velasquez up front to bogart attention with his Gulliverous Fruits and Flowers. 
Not to forget the real Mc Coy traditional mas, like the Dragon.
Restrained by imps, and brandishing a satanic sceptre that features a polished wooden snake (with marble eyes), wrapped around – as if copulating – a piece of bois rubbed down with coconut oil, this once-upon-a-time stick fighter turned ballet dancer, who just can’t resist crossing canal water just so without making histrionics, operating largely Behind the Bridge before taking his act downtown and to the Savannah, to preen and/or expatiate upon Beelzebub’s prance. It’s a routine as fiendish as that of the robber barons, who leave little children tethered to the hearts of their mothers, themselves palming off biscuits to shush a brokered peace with the bad man spitting robber talk mined from Shakespeare and Melody and the gang at the Calypso tent. Better to stuff his sow’s ear purse than have the young ones traumatised for the remains of the day. 
Not to forget, too, the traditional/original beads and feathers mas. Yes, ah Indian was ah Red Indian. Fashioned from Hollywood, though more illustrative than Tinsel Town’s treatment of the Native American. Here he comes, roaming through the gloaming, beads jingling and voice hoarse to a whisper. An ensemble that will move you like a classic Ruso, for its trey of disguise, dialect and dance. 
In olden times, the mas was all over the place because it felt free to play yourself, not free up, or wine down like rats in the sewer. Ha! God knows the rodents wouldn’t have tolerated such slackness. Indeed, thousands of them, unnerved by the mere notion, haul they tail and scurried across to French Street to sign up with Rat Race, Peter Minshall’s purview of the land and its lubbers. Lubbers, not lovers. Keep up with your humbled one or lose yourself in translation.
And nobody - no one - had ever translated stilled art like Wilfred Strasser, famous for The Penny and Simon Bolivar costumes, such verisimilitude eliciting oohs and aahs from the Carnival Sunday night congregation of mas worshippers [though Minshall’s La Pietà (Tapestry), Michelangelo’s 15th-century work depicting the body of Jesus on Mary’s lap after his Crucifixion, would later vivify Strasser’s ghost.]
Yet one shouldn’t dismiss East Dry River’s Worrell - as I, a young Casablanca masquerader, knew him in the late ‘50s - who paraded as an inky likeness of the symbolic soldier in Memorial Park, the selfsame cenotaph that ole mas-ters like Belmont’s Sheppy danced past on the way toward satirising (S)hitty Council and The Seven Ages of Man, everybody laughing at themselves, gil gil gil. Donkey years before Minshall danced the streets with his own mirror, for sure.
Yeah, the Sixties crowd would recall the identical statue that, in 1959, was moved to shout from its platform, “Oh, God!” to Desperadoes’ Noah’s Ark and Velasquez’s Fruits and Flowers as they limped to the Savannah following an attack on Charlotte Street by San Juan All Stars, whose war mas banner screamed Battle Cry, of course. And, in 1963, the soldier in the Park raving, “Oh tool, boy,” over Bats and Clowns, colour by Bailey, singular precursors, all, to the new phase in the Carnival that perhaps engineered the “Look at me” arty mode of mas. But Minshall’s time would come, and not a moment too soon, because the truth was ready to turn the corner, any corner. Just turn and it right dey.
Ah, The Ghost. 
In such company, how sated was your humbled one? Does guava cork?
A chant of “We want more” was floated by the dragonflies of yesteryear buzzing around our heads. So the Ghost of Carnival Past and I crossed town to a popular photo studio where Stephen Lee Heung’s Paradise Lost was museumed.
Milton’s legendary poem served as designer Minshall’s big-big-big-time launch on the road. It was 1976, mas in Panavision, a technique of cinematography that afforded the band a wide-angled view of a brand new Eden of costumery and storytelling. I remember jabbing at the old muse’s elbow. “This band was the best I’d watched in all my born days.” Hardly surprised, was he. 
Back on the pavement, we reached Maraval Road in two-twos. Less than a blink and we were combing TTT’s copious (in those days, yes) files for Callaloo Company classics, such as Jungle Fever; Danse Macabre (including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the finest collection of characters, my heart tells me); Carnival of the Sea (Devil Ray, Splash, Oil Slick…), Papillon, River, Callaloo and The Golden Calabash.
Fully arrayed were other spectacular presentations, like most of Edmond and Lil Hart’s bands, especially Flag Wavers of Siena, some Raoul Garib gems and Wonders of Buccoo Reef, a depiction by Irwin McWilliams that still mystifies for its pre-Cousteau ecology theme.
Fast track to the general mas in the post-Mancrab era. It’s Saturday. Time to catch the Children’s Carnival celebrations. Show off the new kids on the block to the Muse. Even boast about the cleverness of the generation for perpetuating the art form through the youth movement. Carnival Past embracing Carnival Future.
By dawn the following morning, though, the old fella looked drawn out and  withdrawn. Hours earlier, he’d struggled to bring himself to fathom Panorama, to little avail. He’d scoped out supporters of various steelbands who thought theirs had won. 
As we drove past the hospital on the way to champion Renegades Pan Theatre, a weak lamp-post bulb barely picked up a shell-shocked figure bearing the cross of defeat as he stumbled to his own panyard down the street. It was All Stars’ flag man.
As we drove past the hospital on the way to champion Renegades Pan Theatre, a weak lamp-post bulb barely picked up a shell-shocked figure bearing the cross of defeat as he stumbled to his own panyard down the street. It was All Stars’ flag man.
The Muse sighed, then unravelled his emotions about a competition that had become so grand, its scale of importance left so much melancholy for the losers.
But, there it was in the rearview, larger than life, bigger than the imagination—the crowds, the psychedelia, myriad drums, a million notes, stellar egos, stylish arrangements, tongues tripping like trapped mice. How to regard the breadth of this Trini cacophony—this post-modern circus for the Pontius Pilate in all ah we?
Yet, if it’s in we blood, as composer/arranger Ray Holman believes the man in the street believes, who am I to equivocate?
Back in the car, we had a good laugh, the Muse and I, when a soul man DJ popped up on the radio to bray: “In a competition like this there are no losers. It’s a victory for culture.”
Speaking of which, Dimanche Gras, a well-intentioned, though most boring Carnival event performed on a titanic stage situated between parallel streams of pappyshow and we-culture, an iceberg audience bobbing and weaving like flotsam and jetsam pushing south, past the abattoir (no metaphorical offence given) near the estuary of the Dry River - well that show came and went like death on a slow boat to China. Wouldn’t you know that the Kings and Queens packed sparklers to doll up their acts like cheap lipstick, and the Calypso contest left even the house lights on doze? A collective nod-off it was. We got the hell out of there, sanity intact, and waited for tomorrow, please God.
The intent was to lime till J’Ouvert woke up, though she never really sleeps as much as recover from a pre-party buzz, hit, whatever; drink-ah-rum, even. So we had was to put that event in a nutshell, as well. The mudders and painters coming down like the ol’ Dry River in heat and no bands such as Sheppy’s or Carl Blackman’s to love up. No Blackman ole mas trilogy of The Wedding, The Christening and The Funeral coming out from Darceuil Lane, Belmont. No pan to rev the engine. No Bomb classic to explo. Ay, man, the DJs with their big trucks had hoarded all the dynamite. They’d sucked the energy out of the room. Out of Carnival Monday, too. Dem and the masmen.
And so we broke “biche” that dreary day. Twas the T-shirt and no bra(ss) festival, you hear me.
Tuesday jumped up early, and I took the Ghost of Carnival Past to Woodbrook to view the mas, gay nineties in style. He took it all in snide: how noisy the soca, how pelvic its mind; so ear-splitting the jam, so head-spinning the wine; how lissome the women, how tight their gear; how few the man tribe, how light their care. 
The Muse watched as one largely pawpaw-skin mas follow another pawpaw-skin mas, leaving him depressed over the schlock - and concerned about the future. 
Brothers and sisters of the soca road march era, the Ghost of Carnival Past swore up and down, like Britain, a cuss-bud ol’ lady from the 50s forever uniformed in a tattered Union Jack smock, that it was the same band passing and passing and passing. In his day, he said, his brow furrowing like the graveyard, masqueraders achieved more with less.
By noon, we’d seen enough waylay waylay. But at nightfall we returned for las’ lap. Even that was out of step and character.
Wading through the frenzy, we met a journalist from Singapore. His views of Trinidad in the Carnival?
The Good (and raunchy): “Rich, poor, black, white and people of colour all go down on the ground to party. That’s where they show their equality.”
The Bad: “Too much liming.”
The Ugly: The Ghost of Carnival Past put up his palm to the visitor’s face, interrupting him. There was a sense of staleness, he said. Ideas and themes brought off too much static. Maybe, he brain-farted, a pause to reflect on Carnival history might help alter direction. He cited the Bailey era when masqueraders participated in the production of mas, organising and choreographing their own colour plate. When lil boys would flock Samaroo’s on Observatory Street, Behind the Bridge, for swansdown to trim Native American costumes and diamond-shaped miniature cuts of looking glass to add decorative art. And a Callaloo stew turning its nose up at the stench next door - the faux-mas, the cook brewing the best the world would come to appreciate; when .... And the old muse paused, looking for the appropriate words to boil it down like bagee. 
“The most frightful thing about Carnival,” he said, taking the shortcut, “is the Carnival machinery.”
The Carnival machinery. Government, masmen, PanTrinbago, The Savannah Stage. Why not parade the mas and pan around the Savannah? Which, by the way, was an idea I floated in 1970 in a newspaper piece.
Anyway, the Muse was dead serious. Like a heart attack.
Because, just so, Boop! the apparition drop down, like Kaisoman Spoilo had bragged about himself all his life in his songs.
 Look ah want to fall, the Ghost. Dead as a herring. Piss and vinegar leaching out. All the flesh in the mas running from the Muse’s brain like maggots. The maggots turning away from all that flesh, bath suits, bikinis, baubles, bangles, beads, and faux feathers and trinkets, to boot. Was as if, like speed, flesh really kills.
You ever see more? Flesh had callously victimised Old Carnival. The brain could take it no longer, the rudeness. The slackness. And yet, that’s how the ting began – well before the manger materialised into carol. Bacchanalia was cool then, but bacchanal? 
Ha! Till death do us part, pardner. We’re in the moment.
Farewell, then.
To the flesh dem. 
And so it hang, so it swing, brothers and sisters in the Carnival. Yuh could blame yuhself. 
Or the business. But don’t blame mas. Eh-eh. 
Even though all mas is devil mas. 
Thank you.
 source: Trinidad Guardian

Monday, 2 March 2015

Arts-in-Action makes Mas with the Environment 2015

“I can’t believe what my eyes just see,
A blanket of smog all over the city.
The humans are destroying our planet.
Forgetting that they have to live in it.
But Papa GD, what are we going to do?”
While adult masqueraders spent the 2015 Carnival singing and dancing to the music of Machel Montano’s Like Ah Boss, scores of primary school aged pupils were making and playing mas to Papa GD’s I Can’t Believe My Eyes. So who is Papa GD? He is Papa Green Definition; a 21st-century re-imagining of the Papa Bois folklore character, who in his capacity as “protector of the environment” was sent to ten primary schools across the East West corridor by Arts-in-Action, as part of a Carnival arts environmental awareness project titled Mas Movement for the Environment. 
A release from Arts-in-Action said in Mas Movement, which is funded by the German Embassy and produced by the Cropper Foundation, Arts-in-Action presents Papa GD and his masked ally Eco Girl, who battle the evil forces of Kaptain Korporate (KK), an industrialist who seeks to build a Fun Zone which allows children to do and have whatever they want, while polluting their environment. The characters embodied traditional Carnival forms for example, Pierrot Grenade and stick-fighting. The performance-workshop catered to pupils from Standards One to Three, and dealt with climate change issues through mas. It is the conflict between Papa GD and Kaptain K which stimulates the children’s participation and involvement in the conflict resolution process; they must choose to either destroy or preserve the environment.
The teachers of these schools were also engaged in AiA workshops. These focused on applied creative arts strategies that they can use in lesson planning with a climate change focus, while exploring how to create their own environmentally conscious mas presentations with their pupils. The most outstanding mas, would be awarded prizes for their environmentally themed portrayals.
The schools that took part were St Joseph Government Primary, Mt D’or Government Primary, Diego Martin Girls’ RC, St Joseph Girls’ RC, Rosary Boys’ RC, Nelson St Boys’ RC, Nelson St Girls’ RC, Arima Boys’ RC and Laventille Girls’ RC.
• For more information on Arts-in-Action’s programmes call 289-4AiA, or e-mail 

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Epic of Monk Monte

The reigning seven-time National Road March Monarch and five-time International Power Soca Monarch, Machel “Monk Monte” Montano on Ash Wednesday in Tobago presented a sneak peek of his Epic Mas band’s 2015 presentation. This is Montano’s global mas production entity.

Local promotions outfit, Candy Coated Events hosted the Wine Down Cruise and the EPIC team, where
SIMPILY EPIC: Caesar’s Army will host a section in EPIC MAS Band.
 The costume is designed by Janelle Forde aka designer J Angelique,
 second from left, with models Kandi King,
Soowan Bramble and Leah Marville
Montano treated guests to a presentation of costumes and music set against the sunset backdrop.

Scores of patrons showed up to the event ready to lime and unwind after Carnival, but had no idea that they would be treated to a show with the reigning Soca Monarch himself. Montano treated them to a surprise performance that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

As Montano worked the audience, several models debuted the costume designs for the Caesar’s Army (another local event production outfit) section in the Epic mas band. Needless to say it was quite an impressive display that left everyone talking about the upcoming Hollywood carnival out in Los Angeles in June later this year.
Epic began as a section of 80 masqueraders at The Los Angeles Culture Festival’s Hollywood carnival in 2014. The presence of legendary masman Peter Minshall’s world famous puppets, Tan Tan and Saga Boy along with celebrity masqueraders such as Anya Ayoung Chee, Leah Marville, Damien Dante Wayans, Eva Marcille, and promotional group Caesar’s Army, Epic left an unforgettable mark on the three-year-old Hollywood carnival.

For 2015, Epic is expanding its footprint in Hollywood by becoming a full-fledged mas band with four sections.

They are aiming towards 300 masqueraders, more celebrity guests and the inclusion of popular section partners from Trinbago and Los Angeles. Epic Mas Band will have a full premiere at the launch of the Los Angeles Culture Festival on March 13, while the Hollywood carnival officially takes place on Saturday June 27.

Even as they are set to expand, the Epic team has already set their sights beyond LA, committing to participate in Saldenah’s Mas Band presentation “The Chronicles of Machel Montano” at Toronto’s Caribana festival in August 2015. The section will be titled “Like Ah Boss.”

Central to the success and impact of Epic is the involvement of international Montano as the band’s ambassador. Montano spends part of the year in Los Angeles and through Epic and Hollywood carnival, he is committed to exposing the West Coast of the US and the world at large to Caribbean culture and music.

Said Montano: “Hollywood carnival 2014 was a dream come true for me. I was inspired by its potential in 2013 and began working with the LACF to spread the word on a global scale about the infectious feeling we’ve created by lighting up Hollywood Boulevard.”

Early supporters of Epic and the Hollywood carnival, Jules Sobion of Caesar’s Army and designer Anya Ayoung Chee were also full of praise for the T&T invasion on Hollywood carnival.

“From chipping down the Hollywood Boulevard alongside Tan Tan & Saga Boy to the showcasing of our amazing culture to the throngs of spectators that lined the streets, the overall experience was amazing… The Romans will definitely be there in full force for 2015,” Sobian said. Ayoung Chee added, “LA Carnival and the entire Epic weekend were fantastic... It is a great honour to be part of a movement bringing Trinidad Carnival to the world.”
The Epic costumes are being designed to be reused as club wear, beach wear and even for other carnivals.

This duality of purpose of the products is key to the new approach to mas.

The costume designers are all from Trinidad and Tobago and includes, Anya Ayoung Chee, Janelle Forde, Sandra Hordatt and Marie Collette.



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