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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Herbie Hancock: Breaking the Rules | Mahindra Humanities Center

Every year after carnival, there are official and unofficial post mortems of the festival, and every year the cries get louder and louder as to the uncreative desert that seems to be expanding like the Sahara across the geography of Trinidad’s carnival, and her satellite carnivals.

At a recent UTT post mortem I attended there were observations made by some of the masters students on the lack of creativity in mas and music, the unoriginal concepts in design, and the various effects this was having on the festival, like the ominous elephant that the empty north stand has become.

Thinking about the problem post independent, post oil boom, generations are having with creativity across the carnival landscape, it is clear that we lost the creative edge. Creative and critical thinking seems to be a rarity in a society where it was once abundant. In an age when access to knowledge and information, is at our fingertips at almost any second of the day to help build on creative expressions, we have gotten stuck in the business language of spin, 'service', and 'experience', forgetting that creativity is what filled the stands in our recent past.

In the lecture 'breaking the rules', Jazz pioneer Herbie Hancock talks about breaking the rules as an avenue to creativity.  In a society like Trinidad's where rules and laws are broken on a daily basis it’s ironic that when it comes to mas and creative thinking, there are, or seem to be unwritten rules that ‘designers’ appear to be both  limited  and defined by.

In this era of  universal education, and a  growing middle class, the society is clearly not producing pioneers like before, designers today seem to lack the courage and imagination  to create new passages, or even develop on older traditions, our traditional mas seems to have no direct attachment or influence to our modern ‘expression’ and therefore has nothing to stand on except for repetition.

Hancock  explores these avenues in this lecture, he says breaking the rules was an essential part of his creative development. Observation and study of the environment can provide all the tools for new expressions in creativity, shattering the written and unwritten rules of the old yet building and reconstructing on some of the very foundations. George Bailey and David Rudder did it, The Mighty Sparrow , Peter Minshall, and recently  Machel Montanto all broke the unwritten rules and excelled, what’s stopping the rest?

Listen, learn, and enjoy.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

MAS ASSASSIN'S TOP TEN TRINIDAD CARNIVAL MOMENTS 2015

For the first time in years I was assigned to the bench for a carnival. The
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evil that is chikV caught up with me in January did battle with me for a week went its way and two weeks later came back with a crippling vengeance , I had little choice but to sit quietly and grumble to the virus, well played chikV well played..

So from the bench I watched whatever I could of carnival from the living room TV from social media, and the radio, and it is from there I will call my top ten aspect of carnival 2015.

1)Machel Montano:  
A friend said to me that ‘Machel saved carnival this year’, a feat that is super human in my book but in truth he arguably (if you listen to the 15 tunes the stations played most of the season) released some of the most popular tunes for the season and the hype generated for his concert was exceptional, his soca monarch performance sans all the usual special effects and monkey tricks was still that of a boss truly leaving his rivals still performing in the 1990s it seems.
For the road we all knew ‘like a boss was going home with the title, but it was his duet with Angela Hunte ‘Party done’ that was my favourite I hope she writes and performs with him again.
Hats off to the HD BOSS OF MONKS MM.




2) Destra’s ‘LUCY’:
Now I’m not  the biggest  Destra fan myself, but with one song 'Lucy’ Destra had all my support for one of the sweetest songs for carnival 2015. What made it so sweet in my opinion is that is the story of most of us that love carnival in Trinidad. Destra sang about the character Lucy, but how many of us were good boys and girls until we went to our first school fete or were on the road for jouvay when that spirit, that good vibe of carnival energy combined with the music changed us forever!





‘Lucy' easily could have been a groovy monarch winner, I pictured Destra finally winning an official title with a voice and a song that could not be beaten but at the final hurdle something went wrong,.
You know how some people fall apart at an exam, I get the impression competition does that to Destra, maybe she should forget the stress of soca monarch or get a new team when it comes to competition. But LUCY was indeed a big winner in 2015.


3) The Soca Drome
Last year I was totally against the socadrome concept, I felt it represented an anti carnival spirit separating ‘them from us’, a move of an elitist minority that wanted to profit on every aspect of mas. This year after seeing it on TV I think it should stay, the flow of bands at the Queens Park Savannah at least on television was exceptional without the monotonous constipation that is Tribe and Bliss, big and small bands alike crossed the stage early starting as always with Harts at 8am. By midday most  of the big competition guns had already crossed the stage and Minstrels, Gorillas,   Pan sides etc, all what seemed like sufficient time to cross the stage, and perform, on occasion I changed channels to see what the’ drome was saying’  and to me it was exactly what I did not want to see headpieces here and there and masses of flesh with the dash of an individual here and there, seasoned masquerades told me they hated it for the second year running , but for the sake of the viewing audience it’s a good thing, they need to move it to Chaguaramas that will be even better.






4) Olatunji Yearwood,
Last year I went to the soca monarch semis especially to see this artist called ‘Olatunji’,
I loved his Taliban tune and thought this guy could wreck shop if he did it right, however his 2014 performance in Arima for me was a great disappointment. But before the year ended and it seems even before the 2015 season began his song Ola  was had most of us caught up in its groove, this was indeed a big tune that dominated the carnival season all the way to the soca monarch final. Congratulations to Olatunji.


                                               
5) Groovy Soca :
 this was a big year for groovy  but I’m old enough now to now that this does not mean power is dead, it just means that 2015 was a groovy year , to be honest  if the title was around in the 80’s David Rudder would have been a groovy monarch, or Kitch or Lord shorty !
But groovy dominated the airways sweet sounds of Raze, Lucy, Cloud nine, OLatunji  and the list went on gave carnival a laid back vibe that was  a welcomed change to that of a power dominated carnival.

6) The All stars double:
As a child all stars was my favourite band  for two reasons All stars was my uncles favourite band and their name was all stars, the name gave me the idea that the pan side had to have the very best musicians in the country and so were unbeatable!
This year All Stars not only won Panorama but also for the second year won the prestigious carnival title of band of the year, a title I felt they deserved. Watching all-stars cross the stage was a dramatic scene of officers of various ranks, sailors’ big guns pan and powder. A display of mas most of us might have only heard about but never seen, reminds me of a saying to move forward we sometimes have to step back.


6a) Band of the year. Who really won?
The Tribal connection Pawnee section photo via facebook
While it has not exactly made ripples on the face of carnival there is a question among carnivalist as to what band actually won band of the year? Yes the official results placed the Massy All Stars with Ships Ahoy at a French Festival top of the large band category with 2,392 points, thus making them band of the year, however the winner of the ‘Mini ‘band of the year title Tribal Connection Cultural Promotions earned 2,518 points with their presentation ‘From the Dark Hills of Dakota’ earning even more than the overall winners but because of size were not the overall winners, an achievement,and an injustice in the eyes to some. 



7) Television coverage of carnival,
  TV coverage was mediocre this year, being stranded at home I did appreciate the live coverage of fetes and competitions throughout the season. However I was disappointed by absence of kiddies carnival on from the channels, I also understand that live feed s did not always give the international audience what they wanted or value for money at times.
On Monday and Tuesday Ctv Cnc3 and channel 4 all covered the festival, channel four covering the southland mas  and seriously has me considering mas in San-do now as Port of Spain  has become a bit of an old cliché. Coverage of the socadrome was in my opinion just as much a disaster as the venue
Itself people being interviewed could not hear questions because of background noise masqeraders were often lost in shadows, and because everybody wanted to get on camera you had to watch sometimes a section for maybe half an hour so you know I went back to the superior coverage at the savannah. It was good TV but it could be so much better.
Oh yeah Paul Richards of CTV seems to be their go to man for EVERYTING! One will think by now channels can afford specialised experts depending on what is being covered.



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photo;Jeff Mayers
8) Queen of carnival 2015 Stephanie Khanai
If Carnival ever had a Cinderella story it was that of Stephanie Khanai in her winning costume
Sweet waters of Africa. In my opinion this moko jumbie queen crossing the sage with such an aquatic flow has not been seen since Minshalls queen of 1995 'Joy to the world' yet the queen of a small band with limited resources and budget  said to be inspired by the music of Ellah Andell effortlessly crossed the stage of the QPS and won the crown proving once again that passion simplicity and creativity can overcome the brute force of big budget any day.








9) The Photography of Maria Nunes, and LeslieRobertson Toney
The warship Bismark Photo by Maria Nunes
Some of the most detailed, dramatic, and visually stimulating photos I’ve seen this season came from the lens of Maria Nunes and Leslie Robertson Toney. Nunes took some iconic photos of all stars crossing the stage that made me wish i was in the midst of it all and Robertson Tony captured from her DSLR and phone moments of traditional and children’s mas that give hope that the culture is far from dead.





10) Arts in Action:
I had the privilege of accompanying the Arts In Action team to see them
perform and teach primary school children about environmental conservation through the performing arts, using almost if not all the disciplines of carnival art to educate and  entertain the younger generations to learn through theatre and group participation the importance of looking after the environment.

I think the use of characters influenced by local myth and legend topass a message on to the younger generations to be a fantastic approach to both cultural preservation and social studies and awareness.  

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Arts in Action performance

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The children being edutained

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Arts in action Performer. (photo mas assassin)


While chromatics has not made my top ten list this year I’m still going to close of this post with his summary of this season because nobody does it better than Mr Don’t Care!



Monday, March 02, 2015

Laventille Rhythm Section plays a lively sailor mas

Members of the Laventille Rhythm Section take aim aboard their “warship,” the Bismarck, at Queen’s Park Savannah, as part of the Carnival Tuesday winning big band of the year (costume) presentation by the Massy Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra, called Ships Ahoy at a French Festival. PHOTO: MARIA NUNES
While the dust from Carnival has settled, many will recall with a broad smile the infectious, dedicated mas played by a small group of revellers from the LaventilleRhythm Section: a knot of “sailors” with their own home-made float: a gunmetal grey warboat called Bismarck, which sailed with the Massy Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra this year to help them win the Large Band of the Year prize in the portrayal Ships Ahoy at a French Festival.

Led by Trevor McDonald, this small section in All Stars truly “played a mas,” for they stayed in character all day long, to the delight of all around. 
As photographer Maria Nunes, who chronicled the band on Tuesday, observed in her photo blog the next day: “All you could do was smile and marvel at the cannon that blew powder...the radio phone made of a juice carton that blew powder out of its antennae...the two telephones attached on either side to the deck of their battleship Bismarck that they spoke on all day...the radio tower for the ship complete with plastic bottles for either end...the mechanisms they made to make the cannon blow powder...the name of the cannon ‘Look Trouble Now’...the time they must have taken to make this mas and make sure all their elaborate powder puffing mechanisms worked...oh my goodness...all they did was fill my heart with joy. They were the spirit of Carnival for me yesterday.” 
The T&T Guardian visited the revellers at their “headquarters” at Marcella Street, Laventille—the backyard garage of an old house, where the friends have been gathering to lime for years. 
The float, say the men, was inspired by the German battleship Bismarck launched in 1939. 
“The Bismarck name came from an old man I met liming in a bar in Diego Martin,” said one of the men, Koro Hills. 
Bismarck was among the largest and most powerful battleships ever built by Germany for World War II, with a revolutionary design for its time. 
At the Battle of Denmark Strait, Bismarck destroyed the battlecruiser HMS Hood, then the pride of the Royal Navy. This lethal power captured the imaginations of the Laventille Rhythm Section revellers, who, in true Trini fashion, adopted the Bismarck’s myth of sinister, steely invincibility, while enjoying hours of seriously silly fun with the idea. 
They built a second deck on their “warship” (its maiden voyage was actually in 2014 under another name), and improvised a bigger, altogether more impressive powder gun than the more modest one they’d built last year. Their ammunition? Tubs of baby powder, of course! 
Their gun or cannon, Look Trouble Now, took its name from a line in Machel Montano’s song Like a Boss; the Rhythm Section players all loved its bouncy energy. 
Last year, their boat gun was a smaller affair, through which a hose channelled pluffs of powder. “But we went to ‘Senate’ and we got a lil money to improve the artilleries...” said Colin Mitchell, explaining that the ‘Senate’ referred to Trevor McDonald, the president of Laventille Rhythm Section, who stood behind everybody quietly, in red shirt, buzz cut hair, neat moustache, and a proud smile. 
“We don’t ask for handouts,” emphasised Mitchell; “We dip and we take out from our own pockets to do what we do.” 
“Yes, we sponsor our own selves. We don’t wait on people,” confirmed McDonald. 
A core of four people conceived of the Bismarck mas, with engineering help from Koro Hills, a multitalented welder, joiner and carpenter. 
Said Koro: “Ormand Morgan first came to me with the idea of taking an old fridge on the road, make it look like a boat, and roll it on wheels through town...we could discard it later...But I thought, I can’t afford to build something and just throw it away...So I decide I going basic, the real thing...”
So he built a realistic looking ship from wood, on a wheels base, in 2014, and added the top deck this year. He even says that if you add fibreglass and an engine, it could function as a real boat. 
“My partner Wayne ‘Diving’ Mitchell came up with the top deck and big gun idea this year. Then they came to me to fabricate it,” said Koro. 
Kelvin Serrette was the wiring man. “It’s a simple 12-volt car battery, hooked up to some fog lights, and a motorised ‘boom’ gun....and we ran some switches,” he said. 
The big gun was made from a length of four-inch PVC pipe, with a hole for inputting powder ammunition, and an air conditioning car blower fan to help blast the powder. Powder was not the only ammo—there were also tennis balls! • Continues on Page A30 
The boat’s steering wheel was made from a U-shaped piece of one-inch thin PVC pipe, with battery powered triggers to pump powder through the big “boom” gun. 
For the whole of Carnival Tuesday, from 9 am to 9 pm, the Bismarck crew shot strategically timed, impressive blasts of powder, and talked on their “phones,” planning battle strategy. Their equipment never once broke down. 
“Diving’s leg hurt him the next day, you know...whole day he firing!...Man was standing up on the top deck, and meanwhile a partner on the phone was controlling the targets, while the man operating the ‘boom’ taking instructions: Coro saying, alright 90 degrees, or 45 degrees, y’understan? And FIRE!” 
Included in their crew was a musician and mas man “imported” from Tobago, Anson Beckles, part of the Laventille Rhythm Section, who blew his trombone to add to the mas. 
Their mas had everyone from little children to big people coming up to touch their boat on the street, wanting to play with the boat like a huge toy on the road. It was very interactive, as people came up to spin the satellite radio, ride along or take photos. 
The Rhythm Section mas players welcomed it all, stopping with a smile for anyone interested, letting hundreds of people explore and become part of their fun. 
What made them decide to play with All Stars for the second year in a row?
“Well actually, we used to be playing with MacFarlane...But he ended up pausing...” explained a member, “And Carnival is in our blood, so we decide we not staying home. We want to do a creation. And come out with Carnival still. Because it inside ah we blood, as T&T. So that’s what made us go and join with All Stars. 
“We didn’t have to go with All Stars. We coulda go with Exodus, with Despers, with a band from South. We just feel to go with All Stars...And why not All Stars? We think of ourselves as stars already...all of us are blinking stars! ...So...”—it was a case of a constellation of energies meeting.
But really, the Laventille Rhythm Section players had already played all other kinds of masquerades in past years—except for sailor. They really wanted to play a sailor mas. And it was easy with All Stars, you just paid your very reasonable $100 band fee, and were totally free to come with your own style. 
“Ah was scrubbing deck last year,” said Mosely, with some pride. 
“This year, on the Avenue, so many people’s children wanted to play on the boat. So we gave them the green light, we lifted them up on the boat,” shared Mitchell. 
Many people from their own community joined them, too, all decked out in white sailor’s uniforms. “They enjoyed themselves. You know, you just see a happy enjoyment?” 
Laventille Rhythm Section’s sailor mas parodied soldiers fighting a war. 
“But a war in a nice way, man...” said Mitchell: “—because is just love coming back at you. You pelt (baby powder) bombs, you get love.
Source: Trinidad Guardian

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy Dies at 83


One of the most iconic figures of science fiction and the Star Trek universe has crossed over to the final frontier. Leonard Nimoy 'Mr Spock' may your memory Live Long and Prosper.

CARNIVAL 2015 RESULTS



These are just some of the results of Trinidad's carnival 2015 for more information see the website of the NCBA

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Memories - George Bailey Trinidad Carnival's Greatest Bandleader. A Film by Aldric G. Bailey

Take a look at this short film by Aldric Bailey that look s back at the life, works and achievements of the legendary mas man, band leader George Bailey and the legacy of that creative hub called Buller Street.

A Film by Aldric G. Bailey

"In 1959, Your Uncle George, the most famous of all the bandleaders, had produced Relics of Egypt... 
To me, Relics Of Egypt, was a continuation of Cecil B. De Mille's "The Ten Commandments"
and then he went on to win 3 more consecutively, that would be '59, '60, '61 and '62
But... In your Uncle's band... 
There was a... an individual who to me is the greatest individual in the History of Carnival, throughout The World... 
Because he is the first and only person ever, to produce a costume, that transcends all civilizations...
Which is really the concern of all men... 
Stipulated when the reknown English poet Keats, said, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats - English Poet 1795 - 1821
Well, the individual, Terrence Evelyn, more popularly known as "Terry", produced a costume called, "Beauty in Perpetuity"
Obviously it would be difficult nay, nearly impossible, to produce a costume like that even every ten (10) years, but, to me, that is where we went, (I don't want to say "wrong") but we didn't try at least to keep up, with what that fella was saying... 
That the most important thing on the Earth is "Beauty" 
That is what, I think, we have lost...
Carnival needs, people like your Uncle, Evelyn, get Minshall, back into the arena...
Because no one I t hink, would like to go to Madrid, and go into The Bullring, and then you are told, "The best Bullfighter isn't facing the bulls"
Which is what we are really seeing here... People come to Trinidad and Minshall isn't producing a band and he is alive, people come here and Evelyn is not on the stage and he is alive...
[It] comes back again to what I had mentioned, what Uncle George say... "Tears of The Indies"... 

I, again, like I say, I'm on the outside looking in... and I was born in a time when, with respect, you know 15 Buller Street... I don't need to tell you, there used to be the empty lot behind... Several costumes, have gone over that wall to make their way up to the savannah to compete, King and Queen of the Bands...
I've lso heard stories of 15 Buller Street, being a Mecca of craftsmanship, Everything used to take place from screen printing to leather craft to papier mache to macrame to, you know, all of these crafts... 
It was like... ummm... A University of sorts, a repository of creative genius... 
That is where, when your Uncle decided to play The Realm of Fancy Bats and Clowns, it was from that, call it, potpourri, that Evelyn would choose to play "Beauty in Perpetuity"... so... you have to give...
Something went on in 15 Buller Street, it's there that Evelyn I understand, would sit down and be making these circles and circles...
So 15 Buller Street needs to be investigated and I don't mean 15 Buller Street alone, but all who came out of 15 Buller Street, like, the young boy, Stephen Derek, who is a, who is the main product of your father... So that... That's why I told you in the beginning Aldric, I really don't know..."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We Kind ah People The Trinidad Carnival Masquerade bands of Stephen Lee Heung by Tang and Funk.

It is argued in some circles that Trinidad and Tobago does not have an intellectual culture. While there is a culture of political tribalism and plenty debate along such lines in the public discussion, there is not a critical popular public discourse on the history and social significance of  art forms such as mas, thus there is hardly ever any discussion on or about the people who made Trinidad carnival the greatest show on earth.

And even less books on the subject.

While there are articles on various mas men and band leaders written in magazine and news paper articles there are not much books written on the works of these artist or the impact and importance of their contribution to carnival history and the history of the wider society.

For example in my personal  collection of books, you can find, fashion books on Mugler, Lacroix and Rabanne, art books on Giger, Warol and Chagall, stage set and costume design books on Taymore and Ishioka , and yet, I have only ever got my hands on published books on  Wayne Berkeley and Peter Minshall. when it comes to mas, despite the fact that mas and mas bands go back to the  emancipation period in history.

Cover: We Kind ah people
In the period known as the golden age of carnival alone, there is a pantheon of mas men whose work,
talent, productions and philosophies have given  Trinidad carnival the reputation of being the greatest show on earth. As individuals, these artists may have each compiled a body of work to rival any master of art or fashion in Europe or America. Yet there are a lack biographies or documented collections on these men and women and their works.

‘We Kind ah people the Trinidad carnival Masquerade Bands of Stephen Lee Heung’, by George Tang and Ray Funk, Is however a recently published book that has in a small way documented some of the work of the late bandleaders productions.
The book takes the reader on a photographic voyage through some of Lee Heung’s presentations, from 1974 through to 1994, giving some insight of each of those presentations and the people behind them.

1987 Cocoyea Village. Pg63 in the book.
The Lee Heung name and presence was an important part of Port of Spain’s carnival genealogy and the history of Trinidad carnival. If Lee Heung and associates was a football club or basketball team it would be an all star team. Lee Heung’s band probably more than any other band boasts some of the most eminent names in mas, to come out of, or work under any one banner.

Reading this book I got the impression that Stephen Lee Heung, a product of the golden age seemed to have the eye of a strategist, choosing talents to design and work with, that ensured the Lee Heung name was in winners row (top 3) for most of four decades, securing both the lee Heung legacy and the establishment of those that worked under his organisation.  
To understand the creatively epic period in which Lee Heung existed in, and the rich intellectual environment that that flourished during that time, there is a passage in the book   that explains the production  of the band ‘Japan land of Kabuki’ in 1964 his first band after an absence of several years, the band came,

...third after George Bailey and Harold Saldenah...some were seriously impressed including the then Trinidad Guardian arts reporter and later Nobel prize winning poet and dramatist Derek Walcott...”

As a source of information on Lee Heung and his presentations, the book is informative, while it is not a biography, the book does provide a little information on his origins, that he came from a mas family, but nothing on what were the external influences on him. The book also reveals his efforts in exporting mas around the globe. 

With about 158 photos in 120 pages there is a lot to see of the Lee Heung legacy but it is also evident that  there is still a lot that has not been revealed especially of the 1980s which would have been designed mostly by the late Wayne Berkley.

While photos of George Tang , are beautiful and capture the spirit of these past carnivals they lack the quality seen in books such as  the late Noel Norton’s  book, ‘20 years of Trinidad carnival’ the photos seem dark, sharpness and details are lost in shadows, however because of the scale of the costumes standards and headpieces shields and capes there is still that impact of the spectacular.
The images also provide evidence that the 20th century was definitely the zenith of expression and creativity in Trinidad’s carnival and if we dig deeper into this period the assent of the golden age probably goes hand in hand with the intellectual rise of the wider society of TT.

Synopsis
Comparing  the themes and costumes of Lee Heung to those of popular bands today, it is clear that the carnivals of, History, geography, literature, Royalty and nationality has been overrun by a light weight quasi fantasy mas, with the dominating emphasis on an invisible ‘service’ and not the tangible art form that could be photographed and admired.   

Because 'We kind of people' is published by Tang and Funk in Hardcover, it comes at a somewhat high price of TT475, this can be seen as hefty when compared to Michael Anthony’s ‘The Carnivals of Trinidad and Tobago’, or Hollis Liverpool’s Rituals of power and Rebellion, two titles that come with considerably more history within the pages of the books.
 (Maybe a soft cover edition may be a good idea)

That being said we kind ah people does ‘ hold it's corner’ for what it is and will make a valuable addition to any personal library of carnival literature or carnival study collections.






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