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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.


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.

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.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Caribbean Origins of the Dancing Inflatable Man

Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at The Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode. This week's edition—about inflatable men—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.
You see them on street corners, at gas stations, at shopping malls. You see them at blowout sales and grand openings of all kinds. Their wacky faces hover over us, fall down to meet us, and rise up again. Their bodies flop. They flail. They are men. Men made of tubes. Tubes full of air. Depending upon your tastes, they are either full of ridiculous joyful exuberance or the tackiest thing in the world.

 A number of cities across the U.S. have actually banned the use of tube guys. An ordinance in Houston enacted in 2008 proclaims that a dancing tube guy “contributes to urban visual clutter and blight and adversely affects the aesthetic environment.” Some may see them as visual clutter now, but they have ancestry in stunning works of Caribbean art.

'Air Dancer'

 The tube guy origin story begins with celebrated artist and “mas man” Peter Minshall. He made a name for himself in Trinidad and Tobago (and beyond) for his Carnival bands, featuring larger-than-life puppets that dance through the street to the beat of Calypso music. In the early 1990s, Minshall had gained fans among members of the planning committee for the Olympics. In 1995, he found himself in a stadium in Los Angeles working with a bunch of different artists, trying out different ideas for the opening ceremonies for the Atlanta Games the following year.

 As Minshall tells it, he was trying to do something using inflatable tubes, but it wasn’t working. And then Minshall realized that if they were made to look like people, they would dance just like people did back home in Trinidad and Tobago—limpid, loose, and graceful. Minshall and his team had conscripted a Los Angeles–based artist named Doron Gazit to realize the vision of the tube guys (or, as Minshall calls them, “tall boys”).
                         fly guys ' 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

Gazit was tapped for his experience working with inflatables, which he had done since his youth in Israel. So Gazit and Minshall’s tube guys made an appearance in the 1996 Olympic opening ceremony, and that was the first the world had ever seen of these inflatable men. But how did they go from a thing we saw at the Olympics once—an art piece—to a thing you see at every used car lot in America? After the Olympics, Gazit applied for a patent for “apparatus and method for providing inflated undulating figures” in 2001.

He then began licensing its use through his company, Air Dimensional Designs This became a point of tension between Gazit and Minshall; Minshall had been unaware of Gazit’s intention to patent and monetize the inflatable figure. Gazit, for his part, says that he applied for a patent because he put a lot of research and development into making the “Fly Guys” (as Gazit calls them), and he was already starting to see other people rip off his efforts. These days, Gazit has mostly moved on from these figures, though he does continue to work with inflatables. You may have seen his set design for BeyoncĂ©’s 2013 Super Bowl halftime show:

However, Gazit’s company does continue to license its patent to various companies that manufacture and sell vertical inflatables. One such company is LookOurWay, which sells both “AirDancers” and “Air Rangers.” Turns out that vertical inflatables also make for good scarecrows. Farmer Gary Long, who helped develop the Air Rangers, says that bird damage in his orchard of honey crisp apples went from 20,000 pounds a year to zero. 
This episode was produced by Sam Greenspan, with additional reporting from Sam Dean,


Saturday, November 01, 2014

40 years of Hip Hop by KRS-One

A most valuable lecture on Hip Hop consciousness, culture, products, and celebrity, by the living legend ‘KRS ONE’. Every now and then I post something hip hop on my blog, and it’s because hip hop culture and carnival culture are descendants of the same root culture, and are both subject to the same type of external entities that commercialise them, corrupting the magic of the original art forms. Listen to KRS ONE if you will, replace hip hop with mas or carnival if you must, see the parallels and connect the dots.

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