Carnival Countdown (Part 2)

Your complete guide to this year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the first of the new millennium. What happens, what to do, how to join in; costumes, fetes, mas' bands, steel orchestras, Panorama, calypso tents, soca and chutney, Kiddies' Carnival, Calypso Monarch, J' Ouvert...It's all here, together with the story of how it all came about and glorious pictures of last year's festival

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  • Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam in Harts' Local Motion. Photograph by Brian Weltman
  • Jab Jab. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • The Lost Tribe, Minshall 1999. Photograph by Bertrand De Peaza
  • Tan Tan, at right, is followed on stage by her entourage and Saga Boy. Photograph by Noel Norton
  • Tan Tan and Saga Boy, Minshall’s giant puppets. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • Paradise Lost, 1976.  Photograph by Noel Norton
  • Dame Lorraines. Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • Moko Jumbies. Photograph by Jeffrey Chock
  • Jab Molassies at Viey La Cou, Queen’s Hall. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Section of Stephen Lee Heung’s Paradise Lost, the first band designed by Peter Minshall for Trinidad Carnival. Photograph by Noel Norton
  • Photograph by Sean Drakes
  • Edgar Whiley, the legendary Bat. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Devil mas’ in Port of Spain. Photograph by Jeffrey Chock
  • Fancy sailors doing their giddy dance on the Savannah stage. Photograph by Noel Norton
  • Poison’s Razzle Dazzle, 1997. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Some of Harts’ bikini-clad revellers in Before 2000. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Harts 1996 Before 2000. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Masquerader from Local Motion, Harts 1999. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Friends in mudland– J'Ouvert morning, Port of Spain. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Children’s carnival now rivals the adult mas’ for most imaginative costumes. Photograph by Sean Drakes

Children’s Carnival

Kids show them

Most children love to play dress-up; in Trinidad and Tobago, however, they have an official forum for display, and they get to do it on the streets, just like the adults. This is where it all starts, that lifelong love of dressing-up and freeing-up that is an intrinsic part of being Carnival People. Tiny Trinbagonians can indulge their desire to the fullest, with often quite elaborate costumes and a total sense of abandon that’s adorable at that age. Look for them at many different venues, in the many Children’s Carnival competitions which take place in the weeks leading up to Carnival, and on the streets on Carnival weekend.

Children’s Carnivals have their own King and Queen Finals, a Band of the Year competition, and Junior Calypso finals and a Schools’ Steelband competition.

Children’s Carnival 1999

Junior Queen of Carnival

1 Kizzy Gift: Carmen Miranda — Toast To The Century

2 Michelle Xavier: Iere

3 Shari Derek: Legend Of The Cacique

Junior King of Carnival

1 Chad Jardine: Saddam’s Secret, a Chemical Nightmare

2 Keegan Forde: The Ganges and The Nile

3 Che Rodriguez: Hiawatha Peacemaker

Junior Band of the Year, Large (School)

St Joseph’s Boys and Girls RC: Take a look through my kaleidoscope

Band of the Year, Large (Non-School)

Rosalind Gabriel:

Carnival Time Again

People’s Choice

Rosalind Gabriel:

Carnival Time again

Open

Rosalind Gabriel:

Carnival Time again

 

Masquerade

Handing over the Mas’

In the masquerade bands more than anywhere else in Carnival, women outnumber the men. Building costumes in the mas’ camps, doing piecework in home-based workshops, “misbehaving” in the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday — women are both “making” and “playing” the mas’. They are the force upon which the stability and continuity of bands have been built. Pat Ganase looks at the legacy of Lil Hart and the Hart family’s influence on the evolution of “pretty mas”

The Harts’ band, which was started by husband-and-wife team Edmond and Lil Hart in the early sixties, has always featured huge sections of women. When Lil died in 1991, it fell to her children to continue the annual tradition, which had by then become a thriving business.

Of the children, Gerald and Thais (now Hart-Robertson) are involved year-round — designing, organising, manufacturing and marketing, promoting and playing in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other places where Caribbean-style carnivals have taken root. When Thais and her brothers, Luis and Gerald, produced Total Recall in 1992, they celebrated 31 unbroken years of their mother’s designs, a record no other bandleader or designer has yet matched.

At the end of the fifties, the Hart family was living on Victoria Square, in the area of Port of Spain known as Cobotown. (This was also the birthplace of one of the earliest “middle class” steelbands, Silver Stars.) In 1961, the Harts produced Was this Greece? That year, George Bailey, whose mas’ camp was a few streets away, beyond the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, took the Band of the Year title with Byzantine Glory. Harold Saldenah, Bailey’s rival from Belmont, the northern suburb of Port of Spain, played Zambesi Headhunters. The Road March was Sparrow’s Royal Jail:

I done tell me friends and me family not to worry/Anyone of them interfere with me, take it easy,/Don’t worry to beg the jury;/Save the lawyer fee,/And if you have any mail,/Send it to me at the Royal Jail!

Lil’s drawings were displayed in the dining room of the Harts’ home. Extensive research went into the historical themes. In 1962, the year in which Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from British rule, the Harts played Flagwavers of Sienna; George Bailey, at the height of his powers, produced another band of the year, Somewhere in New Guinea, with 450 members. Terry Evelyn’s Bird of Paradise was Bailey’s king, and was judged overall King of the Bands.

For the next few years, the Harts continued to explore historical themes: the Etruscans, the Maya, and Mesopotamia BC. But the challenge to be more “creative” was mounting. In 1963, Silver Stars’ and Russel Charter’s Gulliver’s Travels won Band of the Year. It was the first and only time a steelband ever won this prize. The impact came from the size of the band, some 2,000 “little people” and a giant effigy of a prostrate Gulliver carried through the streets. George Bailey produced The Realm of Fancy Bats and Clowns which was based on interpretations of two traditional carnival characters. Terry Evelyn was again King of the Band as Beauty in Perpetuity, a fancy clown that has become a carnival classic. During the same period, the Jaycees were producing a carnival queen show in which contestants paraded in evening wear and carnival costumes. In this milieu, emerging designers like Wayne Berkeley and Peter Minshall were experimenting with individual fantasy costumes.

By 1966, when Edmond Hart’s Playing Cards won the Band of the Year, a new era of Fantasy was launched. Traditionalists criticised the new genre as “anything goes”, bemoaning the passing of meticulous reproductions and historical portrayals. Kay Christopher played the queen in the Harts’ band and was crowned the Queen of the Bands. The King that year came from another fantasy portrayal, Snow Kingdom, designed by John Humphrey; Colin Edghill was the War God of the Snow.

After their first Band of the Year victory, the Harts’ bands became more interpretive. Over the years they have explored everything under the sun: Oriental Fantasy; Brazilian Fiesta; Life in the Waters; Butterflies and Moths; The Four Seasons; A Medieval Dream. In 1970 — the year of the “Black Power” street marches, a mutiny in the Trinidad Regiment, a prolonged state of emergency, and the rise of “black consciousness” — the Harts were winners of the Band of the Year with a presentation of Dante’s Inferno.

In the sixties and early seventies, the Harts had begun another mas’ tradition: launching their presentations with massive public warm-up fêtes on the two Sundays before Carnival. By 1974 — the year they played Mexico — the band’s membership had crossed 1,000. Were they getting too big? How big could a band become? Lil increased the number of sections in the band and the number of costumes in each section. To ensure that everyone in the band had music, Edmond hired DJs and brass bands on trucks.

In 1977, the year the Harts’ Tribute to Broadway took the Band of the Year in downtown Port of Spain, a few committee members separated to produce their own band, Mavericks. They also won their first competition, Medium Band of the Year, with Fantafrica, an African fantasy portrayal.

By that time, the Hart family had moved to another Port of Spain suburb, and camp and home were in two separate locations for the first time. In 1975, Whe Whe, based upon the popular (and illegal) local numbers game, was produced out of a Maraval Road mas’ camp. Subsequently the mas’ camp moved to Jerningham Avenue in Belmont, then to Alfredo Street in Woodbrook, before settling at its present location at Alcazar Street in St Clair.

Bandleaders have usually worked in loose-knit groups of family and friends, who pooled creative, administrative and organisational talents. In the case of Lil and Edmond, Lil designed, and Edmond organised. She selected the fabrics; Edmond cut out the paper patterns for the seamstresses. Edmond managed the business of the band, and his sharp tongue gave piquancy to the competition among bandleaders as he defended what others saw as his “middle class, ‘white’ social tribe.”

Thais is matter-of-fact about the “demographics” of the Hart tribe: “People choose to play where they feel comfortable. If you ask why people play with Hart, or any other band for that matter, they will say ‘that’s where my friends play’ or ‘we like the costumes’ or ‘we like the music’ or ‘it’s a personal choice’.” She has never played, or made mas’, with anybody else. When she was small, she used to watch mas’ in the Savannah, and would run and hide — as did all children — from the dirty, the ugly, the terrifying. “I don’t like dirty mas’. I wouldn’t want to play it. In the same way, I suppose, some people play J’Ouvert and stop there.”

All of her knowledge of making mas’ is inherited from Lil and Edmond. “In Mummy’s bands, people played mas’ to enjoy themselves. The costumes had to be light. Our people didn’t want backpieces or large costumes. Colour was always important.”

Harts’ bands were always customer-friendly. Thais says that the demands for costumes are different now; women generally want their costumes skimpier, but a costume with a long skirt might sell faster than a short skirt. The image that most women want to project is sexy, carefree, untrammelled, glamorous. Simplicity, even in an epic like Antony and Cleopatra (1982), is a hallmark.

The essential Hart player hasn’t changed much, says Thais: “We have grandparents, parents and children of many families registering with us. Three generations in the band now. Plus returning Trinis and their visitor friends.”

Hart bands are also very media-friendly. Television and press cameras revelled in the images of carefree, sexy women, waving, wining, “getting on bad.” In the late eighties and early nineties, the Harts’ themes included: Mas’ Sweet Mas’ (commemorating 200 years since the French introduced their masques); Tribes; Time for a Tale; Islands in the Sun; Local Sights & Delights; Witches’ Brew; and in 1991, Come Leh We Dance. After waiting sometimes six hours on the Savannah track leading up to the main stage, Harts’ women could be depended on to pack the stage and perform: the 1997 production was simply On Stage.

Since they started, Thais and Gerald have effected an almost seamless transition — Happy Hour (1993); Earth Crisis (1994); Superstitions (1995) and Before 2000 (1996) — though Thais insists that differences are noticeable if you compare one of the bands of the early eighties with today’s.

The late eighties saw many others patterning themselves after the Hart “style”, looking for fun, beautiful bodies and sexy costumes. Savage, Barbarossa, Poison and Legends are “large bands” which have adopted the “mas’ is fun” philosophy and made mas’ into a commercially viable enterprise.

Mas’-making is no longer confined to Trinidad and Tobago. The carnival export market has changed much since Edmond became involved with Jamaica Carnival when Byron Lee started it some 10 years ago, and it continues to grow. The Harts export costumes to some countries; to others, simply ideas, designs and management. Thais designed a Trinidadian-style band for the first Carnival in Melbourne, Australia in 1996. But Trinidad always takes precedence. By July-August in each year, drawings are complete. Registration begins in the Alcazar Street camp. Fans can also find the Harts on the Internet.

When Lil Hart started making drawings for bands in 1960, she was not yet 30. It was an adventure for a creative young woman who could work from home. In 2000, there is a lot more responsibility for Thais. Many of her production systems are inherited from her parents, but organised now along commercial lines. The expectations of over 3,000 mas-players must be satisfied. She frequently remembers things Lil used to say, about the use of colour, patterns, accessories. But the world has changed in 30 years, and, she says, “Carnival must be a lot more organised in the interest of the masqueraders.”

 

Dancing the mas

From King Sailor to Dame Lorraine to “hard wine,” at the heart of Carnival there has always been the dance. Pat Ganase explores . . .

The King Sailor Dance, it has been said, is the only indigenous dance of Trinidad and Tobago. It was performed at the height of the sailor traditions in mas’, mainly by men costumed in wide flared trousers. It featured knees bent to the sides and forward movement achieved by a quick heel-to-toe slide, alternating feet, accompanied by a side-to-side rocking of the torso — you could get seasick just looking! The sailor frequently carried a long pole with which he “stoked” the ground in front of him, mimicking the actions of sailors who manned ships’ furnaces.

The movement of any mas’ has always been dictated by the shape of the costume. There was the bump and tilt of the burrokeet, as if the masquerader were sitting on a donkey’s back. Similarly, Dame Lorraine with her — or his — well-padded behind would swing the hips and teeter on too-high heels. For “police and thief”, it was a dance of hide-and-seek. Edgar Whiley’s family band of bats (born after the rabies scare in the 40s) waved wide, flexible life-like wings that would drift in a breeze, compensated by the masquerader’s shuffle into the wind. The chip-and-shuffle of Wild Indian mas’ probably evolved because the headpieces were so high and heavy that it was the best the masquerader could do!

But most fascinating of all were the motions of the “hierarchies of hell.” These bands featured imps and devils complete with wire tails and wings, horns and pitchforks. Water in the “canal” (roadside drains) presented an obstacle for the dragons. These creatures teetered side to side as they raised their legs high to “cross water”. The Beast, a dragon tethered with chains around neck, arms and legs, would be pulled this way and that by his captor imps. More senior devils, among them the Bookman with his large tome, papier-maché face, and pointed horns and beard, performed more priestly gestures. While the head of them all, Beelezbub, condescended to be drawn, pushed or pulled on his own float.

Not part of the mas’ per se, but very much a part of Carnival, is the dance of the flagwoman. As Kitchener sang in his praise song to the steelband movement’s most motile muse: “A flagless band is like a ship without a compass.” Even to this day, every steel orchestra is led on to the Panorama stage by its flagwoman (or flagwomen), who, as her name suggests, waves a large flag and wines non-stop for the duration of the performance. To wave a flag takes a certain stamina and strength of shoulder, and flagwomen have traditionally been women of ample proportions. One of the most famous was Jean-in-Town, the legendary “jamette” who was a Renegades fan all her life, and who maintained that to be a “jamette” was not to be a loose woman. (The word is derived from the French diametre, the half-world, and at first “jamette” referred to men.)

By the time steelband took to the streets, however, the main motion for the general mass of mas’ players and others was a steady, untiring “chip”, at a pace dictated by those pushing the pans. When the brass bands and the DJs and music trucks arrived on the scene, dance movements began to be motivated entirely by the music.

When exactly did “wining” start? Perhaps it took hold seriously in the seventies — the decade of liberation — around the time when the late Rafael de Leon, The Roaring Lion, speaking out against the looseness of the calypso, foretold not only the fate of calypso, but of the dance in Carnival: “Today’s calypsonian is no longer a person who goes on stage to report on the goings-on of the country, or the world. On the contrary, a calypsonian in these days is anything and everything except a calypsonian. He is an acrobat, a clown. He might even be Tarzan on stage. And all of this is called showmanship. Does this have a place in a calypso show? A calypso stage now has to be built large enough to prevent the singer from falling off when he starts flipping and shouting.”

The years after 1976 were a landmark period. In ’76, Kitchener, already acknowledged for his tremendous versatility, “got down” on his Flagwoman, a winer girl of renown. He sang:

A woman really have the tactics to send you bumping;/Try to get the rhythm when she start wailing,/When you see she get that fever is plenty trouble;/Whether you are spectator or masquerader, you bound to say this:/Flagwoman, wave it, baby/Flagwoman, get them groovy!

In 1978, Kitch returned with Sugar Bum Bum, his wicked enticement to “slow wine.” It didn’t take long for calypsonians to get any and everyone to “jump jump jump”, or “jam together”, to “put your hand in the air;” to “get something and wave”, to “bump and wine”, to “doh back back on me”, even to do the donkey, horsey, or doggie, and to move “up north, down south.” 1997’s most persistent command was to “hold on to the big truck.”

Add to this the dominance of women in the Carnival, their desire for more revealing costuming — easily acceded to by most bandleaders — and the “freedom” that Carnival brings for many of them. It is freedom, in fact — rather than licentiousness — that women are exercising when they parade the streets, barely costumed, with a band of friends and a fierce “don’t get in my face” demeanour. So while the behaviour of women during Carnival may be perceived as seductive or inviting, it is usually simply a question of self-satisfaction. And while others may be appalled by the new “wine”, Orisha priest Molly Ahye looks benignly on the phenomenon. She believes it’s about time for women today — as it was for the mythic Greek bacchantes — to reclaim their own rituals. Exactly how, we are still seeing, not only in Carnival but also in forms such as the East Indian “chutney,” which is said to have evolved from the women’s night celebrations preceding a Hindu wedding, at which even the most elderly “wine” with agility.

Costuming that modifies, or informs, or follows through the movement, has been the forte of the more theatrically-minded masquerade designers. Peter Minshall explored the movement of wings (Paradise Lost, Zodiac, Papillon), of cloth (River, Callaloo, Tantana), of giant head masks (Danse Macabre, Jumbies), and of extensions to the human form, as in moko jumbies (stilt dancers) and puppets, notably Tantan and Saga Boy, the Gigantos of the Barcelona Olympics. Most others opt for the barest minimum — decorated bikinis — to accentuate the sensuous or staccato movements of the human body. Minshall’s creations have been the exceptions to the rule of Carnival, where the universal dance is “a good wine,” or “a hard wine” (or, as the Barbadians say, “juk waist”) singly, in couples, in conga lines or synchronised sections.

In this decade, it’s the young and agile, among them Machel Montano, Ajala, and the Bajans, Edwin Yearwood and krosfyah and Alison Hinds and Square One, who call the tune as they prance and perform acrobatics across the stage. So, be ready as Alison calls it, to “jack up the world!” in the new century: an unexpectedly rude command coming from the — usually — more staid Barbadian celebrants of Carnival wine.

Glossary

Bumsie (also bamsie): bottom; rear

Burrokeet: costume which creates the effect of a person sitting on a donkey

Jam (also juk): a big fête or crowded party

Jamette: woman of the night; not necessarily “loose”, just daring

Juk (also chook): to push, shove, or a sudden forward movement of the pelvis

Saga boy: well-dressed young man on the make

Tantan: woman all dressed up in “dandan” or finery

 

Pan power

Schools in Pan

Tony Hall takes a lyrical look at the evolution of the steelband

Listen to the guitar man

If you want to understand

6:30 p.m. In Dixieland yard amongst the fretwork of iron frames for pans, standing in the weeds, put there by the gods, two young girls, one barely a teenager and the other much younger, hunch into the bowels of their tenors. They have come together over Kitchener’s guitar man. Their sticks gently tickle the chrome strings. Do fast, do fast. The others coming soon and I want to know this part by the time they reach. There is no tension in the wrists. The learning process here is one of each one teach one and so on. Everybody here is a teacher, everyone a pupil. What you first hear from these girls begins as noise. Then it graduates to music. But this is neither about noise nor music.

The leader comes. He has to run two or three older boys who tried to frighten the girls away with a live snake they caught and brought into the yard in a cardboard box. That damn snake in the garden again.

Fisheye say is about family. And if Fisheye say so, is so. He see it all from the green beginnings of the clash. All the cut-lash. From bamboo to steel. From the imperial Grand Stand to the new middle-class North Stand.

One night, late, on the hill, two young boys want to give him some pressure, Trini foolishness nuh . . . They don’t know who he is or what? He pull out from his socks his evergreen, white-handled razor and point to it. If you look close, you will still see a speck of blood on the cold, gleaming steel.

The first time I ever hear Lord Humbugger and the Alexander Ragtime Band, boy Humbugger was in black tails and up front conducting like he mad. I run back up the road like a wild horse, and tell my boys behind the bridge. Fellas, we have work to do. I just hear a steelband. I never hear nothing like that in my life. Tragarete Road will never be the same again. A steelband? What stupidness you talking? I telling you. All all you know is bamboo. These fellas have more than that. Come and see.

When any one of the boys went in jail, we use to go on Frederick Road outside the Prison headquarters and circle the place with pans, playing music. The fellas use to know we with them, outside. That was illegal. If they catch you, you might end up sharing space with your partner, inside.

Joe, a Desperado, pull up himself to his full seven feet, and with his characteristic cap sitting on his head, he say that before we let them come up the hill, they should have to get a chop on some part of their body. An initiation, nuh, into the secret order. A kind of tribal marking. A blood sharing. Joe, a gentle, brown man, say he himself will sit at the gates to the hill and ceremoniously administer the ritual chops on his willing or unwilling initiates.

The arranger comes into the yard. We need more room to form up the band in the back. I want to hear the whole band together so I will know who doing what.

I like to see these little children in the band. Look how this one yawning. Is a good experience.

Who is that in the darkness under the mango tree. Joe? Is you? I just listening. I just listening. Seeing how it coming together.

Nice! Nice!

The Gods are here tonight, boy. The Lord call them. Kitchener know, you know. This band going on the road in Scarborough Monday and Tuesday. We will circle the town with guitar men, women, children. We will cleanse the town with music.

You know it was in the 1940s that Big Bossy stop playing pan. That was a time during World War II when they ban Carnival. I was about nineteen or twenty. No pan on the street. People didn’t like the steelband man. Well, Big Bossy use to like to take a risk.

Venturing out at night in the middle of curfew. The band making a little rounds up the hill, Calvary Hill. And you know, the police use to leave their base from Besson Street and come up with Blue Marias. We playing on the hill good, good, good. Pan sweet! All of a sudden, the scout in the back (we had one front and one behind) the scout in the back say, “Police!” We grab we pans and start to run down the hill. Police hot on we heels with baton in hand. That time nobody want to risk throwing away their pans because if you get away from the police with your pans, Big Bossy will surely buss you tail. This time I was the bad luck one. They catch me. Take my pan. Mash it up. Beat it totally out of sound and I gone down. I spend six months in jail because I couldn’t pay the $100 dollars fine. That was plenty money in those days. We had no sponsors.

Circle the place with pans, playing music. The second coming.

Well, I get out. Old Mammy Coryatt, that is your Great Grand Mother on my side. Well she throw me out the yard. She say she don’t want no jail bird steelband man in she place. So I had to take my pan and crawl back at night under the house like a wet fowl. After that we had to fight. After that we had to fight. Fight for space. Space to breathe. Space for the music.

11:30 p.m. All of a sudden the leader say: Look girls. Time to go. Already? Yes. Is eleven thirty. Mummy come. Don’t forget to take your pan home. And remember come tomorrow, early at about four o’clock for me to see how far your reach. OK? OK.

(Reprinted from Road Works, with permission)

 

Traditions

From Belmont to Barcelona

Pat Ganase traces the evolution of the mas’

The modern era in mas’ began in the 1920s. The Trinidad Guardian newspaper was the first to hold organised competitions for costumed bands in the Queen’s Park Savannah, and the city’s leaders encouraged the involvement of bands sponsored by firms like Cow & Gate, L. J. Williams and Glendenning’s.

The carnival of the street remained intact, of course — the folk who played their individual devil mas’, the dragons, jab molassies, pierrots; and the men who dressed as women — Dame Lorraines and Baby Dolls. But on the new stages, the new masqueraders — the upper classes experiencing their first brush with public revelry — were glamorously costumed as playing cards or chorus girls dancing above the crowd on the trays of trucks. When their feet touched the ground, these masqueraders were cordoned off from roadside spectators by lengths of rope.

Carnival was suspended during World War II. So when VE Day arrived in 1945, it was not only victory but also the release of suppressed energy which gave the observances such spontaneous abandon. The celebration — a cacophony of dustbin covers, biscuit and pitch oil tins, and the thump thump of the tamboo bamboo — was one of the birthing grounds for pan. It also heralded a new freedom on the streets and the end of many colonial strictures, including those which had sought to “ban the drum”, regarded as the instrument of primitives.

So the Carnival returned with a vengeance. By the mid-fifties, the big bandleaders were making and experimenting with their own versions of mas’, traditional, historical and fantastic. In 1956, the People’s National Movement, under a youthful Dr Eric Williams, won the first government elections; George Bailey brought out his first band of 200 masqueraders, Timus, Leopard Kingdom; and the Mighty Sparrow’s landmark calypso Jean and Dinah took on the issue of the American presence in postwar Trinidad:

Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina/Round the corner posin’/Bet your life is something they selling/and when you catch them broken/You can get it all for nothing;/’Cause the Yankee gone/And Sparrow take over now.

The historical portrayals of the late fifties and early sixties went after authenticity. Common folk became carnival kings in robes of velvet and ermine. Harold Saldenah used “real metal” in the weaponry of his Imperial Rome (1955), and beaten copper breastplates for his Mexico and El Dorado. Saldenah was a master of craft, metalwork and colour, as he explored the civilisations of Rome, Greece, Siam, Mexico, North Africa, the Pacific, Atlantis, and Central America. Also at the height of their powers were master wire-bender and decorator Cito Velasquez and copper maestro Ken Morris. Saldenah would win several Band of the Year titles, with presentations like Imperial Rome (1955); Norse Gods and Vikings (1956); The Holy War (1958); Crees of Canada (1959); Mexico 1519-1521 (1964); Pacific Paradise (1965); and the most glorious of all, El Dorado (1968).

George Bailey’s Bright Africa in 1969 was his crowning achievement and the culmination of a brilliant career that began in 1956. (It’s interesting to note, too, that Bailey’s African consciousness in mas’ pre-dated the Black Power movement.)

But for many mas’ aficionados of the contemporary era, Paradise Lost (1976) remains one of the hallmarks of Carnival at the end of this century. It was the first band ever designed for the Trinidad festival by Peter Minshall, and the high point of the career of Woodbrook bandleader Stephen Lee Heung.

A contemporary of Bobby Ammon, George Bailey, Harold Saldenah, Cito Velasquez, Edmund Hart and John Humphrey, Lee Heung launched into Carnival on his own in 1964 with artist Carlisle Chang as his designer. Their first band was a Japanese epic, Kabuki. This was followed by the grand court cultures of the world: Versailles, Crete, and China, the Forbidden City, which won this formidable Sino-Trinidadian partnership the Band of the Year title in 1967; Primeval Rites of Spring; One Thousand and One Nights; Yucatan; East of Java.

In 1975, Lee Heung was in London for the fledgling Notting Hill Carnival, and he was attracted by the work of a little-known Guyana-born Trinidadian designer who was slowly making a name for himself in the London theatre. In 1974 Peter Minshall had designed and produced a costume called From the Land of the Humming Bird, the Individual of the Year winner portrayed by his sister Sherry Ann Guy in the Trinidad Carnival of that year. But could he tackle a band of thousands with the same drama and finesse that had made a tiny 13-year old float on iridescent wings?

Minshall remembers well. “I had just finished the band for Notting Hill. Then Stephen approached me to design a band. What about Paradise Lost? It was the opportunity I was waiting for.” Minshall started to design in September 1975, and his theatrical training came together with every instinct he had about Trinidad Carnival. Inspired by John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, the band comprised four parts, like a symphony: Pandemonium, the Garden of Eden, Paradise, and Sin and Death. The king was a gilded serpent from whose body sprang a wondrous tree of life. New materials, new forms, colour overlaying colour, Paradise Lost drew on old-time Carnival characters, bats especially, but also burrokeets, jab molassies, devils. The band also gave the public its first glimpse of what would become a Minshall signature: the masterly use of fabric, this time in the creation of a dazzlingly dramatic Burning Lake. “A whole new kinetic form — the carnival band — was born,” says Minshall. “You have music, you have colour, it is not mechanical, it is alive, human forms, and incredible spontaneous creativity.”

Some say it killed the existing notion of traditional historical “cloth” mas. But Paradise Lost presaged a new understanding of mas’: costumes that move, without wheels, supported and motivated entirely by the masquerader. It is possibly the most productive partnership ever between bandleader and designer in the history of Trinidad Carnival, though it was to last only a year. In 1977, Lee Heung, with Norris Eustace as his designer, produced Cosmic Aura to win the Band of the Year prize. And in 1978, Minshall, with new partners the Zodiac Associates, produced his version of the cosmos, Zodiac.

Minshall’s career as mas’ artist, in tune with the contemporary art forms of the whole world, has taken him to his own pinnacles. His productions have never failed to excite, surprise, and cause controversy. Among his mas’ productions are those that challenge society’s notions of “what is mas’?” The landscape of whitened bones in the dun-coloured Danse Macabre. The spectacular man-sized butterflies of Papillon parading among the trees of the Savannah. Or River, where an all-white throng was transformed into a tidal wave of colour in front of the very eyes of spectators. Minshall also questioned the Rules of Carnival with his “two-band clash” in Golden Calabash. He has been castigated for daring to mix religion and mas’ in Hallelujah! He has been called genius, Jim Jones, Svengali, and — probably the most painful epithet of all — white, and even “not from Trinidad” (he was born in Guyana.)

Through his creations, the art form that is mas’ has travelled to world stages, notably the Barcelona and Atlanta summer Olympic Games. Twenty-five years after his debut, Minshall’s mas’ continues to be born of passion, pain, and sometimes all the considerable joy that an overheated small island in the bottom of the Caribbean Basin, can afford an artist.

SHOW VENUE DATE TIME

Launch of Carnival Queen’s Park Savannah Jan. 8 9 p.m.

Caribbean Soca Party Paddock, Queen’s Park Savannah Jan. 15 TBA

Fire Services Fete Fire Headquarters, POS Jan. 15 9p.m.

Chutney Soca Monarch Samar Entertainment Centre,

Preliminaries Chaguanas Jan. 22 8 p.m.

Kaiso House Opening TBA Jan. 26 7 p.m.

Chutney Soca Monarch Rienzi Complex, Couva

Semi-Finals Jan. 29 8 p.m.

Junior Calypso

Preliminaries (East) TBA Feb. 5 TBA

Junior Calypso

Preliminaries (South) TBA Feb. 6 TBA

Panorama Launch & Kaiso Paddock, Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 6 1 p.m.

The Opening Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 9 8.30 p.m.

Chalkie Says Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 11 8.30 p.m.

Carnival Youth Festival Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 12 TBA

David Rudder in Concert Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 12 8.30 p.m.

Junior Calypso

Preliminaries (North) City Hall, POS Feb. 12 TBA

WASA Fete WASA Compound, St. Joseph Feb. 12 9p.m.

Chutney Soca

Monarch Finals Skinner Park, San Fernando Feb. 12 8 p.m.

Junior Calypso

Preliminaries (North) City Hall, POS Feb. 13 TBA

Junior Calypso

Preliminaries (Tobago) TBA Feb. 14 TBA

Rudder and Lydians Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 16 8.30 p.m.

Single Pan Bands

Preliminaries City Hall, POS Feb. 17 7 p.m.

Calypso Queen

World Contest TBA Feb. 17 8 p.m.

Single Pan Bands

Preliminaries City Hall, POS Feb. 18 7 p.m.

Rudder and Lydians Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 18 8.30 p.m.

Conventional Bands

Preliminaries Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 19 1 p.m.

Junior Calypso Semi-Finals TBA Feb. 19 TBA

The New Sparrow Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 19 8.30 p.m.

Conventional Bands

Preliminaries Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 20 1 p.m.

North Zonal Finals Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 23 7 p.m.

Not for Men Only Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 23 8.30 p.m.

Ex-Tempo Preliminaries TBA Feb. 24 TBA

Rehearsal for Calypso Finals Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 25 TBA

Symphony in G Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 25 8.30 p.m.

Calypso Fiesta Skinner Park, San Fernando Feb. 26 1 p.m.

Shadow Plus Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 26 8.30 p.m.

Brass Festival PSA Grounds, POS Feb. 26 9 p.m.

Junior Kings/Queens Adam Smith Square, POS Feb. 27 10 a.m.

Pan in 21st Century Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 27 1 p.m.

Junior Calypso Finals Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 28 TBA

Junior Panorama Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 28 1:30 p.m.

Music Week Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie Feb. 28-Mar. 3 8.30 p.m.

Kings/Queens Preliminaries Queen’s Park Savannah Feb. 29 8 p.m.

Anyhours TBA Feb. 29 9 p.m.

Individual Traditional/

Conventional characters Victoria Square, POS March 1 8 p.m.

Customs Fete TBA March 1 9 p.m.

Ex-Tempo & Category Finals Queen’s Park Savannah March 2 1:30 p.m.

Tears Fete TBA March 2 9 p.m.

Kings/Queens Semi-Finals Queen’s Park Savannah March 3 8 p.m

Single Pan Bands Finals Downtown, POS March 3 7 p.m.

Soca Monarch Finals Queen’s Park Savannah March 3 8 p.m.

Traditional Carnival Characters Downtown, POS March 3 2 p.m.

Over The Hill Boys TBA March 3 9 p.m.

Junior Parade of Bands Queen’s Park Savannah March 4 8 a.m.

Conventional Bands Finals Queen’s Park Savannah March 4 8 p.m.

Nostalgia Victoria Square, POS March 5 1 p.m.

Dimanche Gras Queen’s Park Savannah March 5 8 p.m.

J’Ouvert Adam Smith Square, POS March 6 4 p.m.

Parade of Bands POS March 6 8 a.m.

Monday Night Mas’ Victoria Square, POS March 6 8 p.m.

J’ouvert Bomb Competition Downtown, POS March 6 4 a.m.

On de Road (Music Mas’) All areas March 6 1 p.m.

Parade of Bands POS March 7 8 a.m.

On de Road (Music Mas’) All areas March 7 9 a.m.

Berger Last Lap Harvard Roundabout, POS March 7 6 p.m.

Champs in Concert Queen’s Park Savannah

(Trinidad) March 11 8 p.m.

Gospel Kaiso Queen’s Park Savannah March 18 TBA

Champs in Concert Shaw Park, Scarborough March 18 8 p.m.

(Tobago)