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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 



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