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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Carnival Made In China: Trinidad's Annual Festival Faces A Generational Divide By KENYA DOWNS

Y.U.M.A. Mas Band unveils their elaborate costumes for Trinidad’s carnival in 2016
 to a sold-out crowd outside of the national stadium. Large, contemporary 
bands like Y.U.M.A.’s typically sell out months before carnival day.
The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago boasts one of the world's largest carnivals. Dating back to 1783, the pre-Lenten celebration blends French, African and Indian cultures, all leading up to two days of masquerading, also called “playing mas.”
And unlike its South American counterpart in Brazil, anyone can take to the streets in a glitzy, colorful costume, dancing through Port of Spain to the sounds of sweet soca music.
Carnival is big business in Trinidad. Hopeful masqueraders rush to shell out thousands of dollars for a spot in some of the country's most sought-after bands. That doesn't even include other accommodations like tickets to parties and musical competitions leading up to the great parade.

Acacia de Verteuil is coordinator for Y.U.M.A, one of Trinidad's most popular bands. Y.U.M.A's launch for 2016 carnival is a fashion show-like spectacle that culminates the end of band launch season.
“We have always strived to mix our mas in the sense of maintaining some form of tradition in terms of being a storyteller,” she says. “Carnival has always been about telling a story, about portraying something different.”
As popular as Trinidad's carnival has become, it’s that sense of tradition that many say is lost as a consequence.
Y.U.M.A. Mas Band unveils their elaborate costumes for Trinidad’s carnival in 2016
 to a sold-out crowd outside of the national stadium. Large, 
contemporary bands like Y.U.M.A.’s typically sell out months before carnival day.

For some, what was once a community-oriented celebration is now mostly mass produced. Steel drums are often manufactured in Japan. Top musical artists produce the season’s hottest tunes in New York and London. Even costumes are mostly supplied and pre-assembled in China.
Roland St. George, leader of the award-winning band D’Krewe, says now much of what makes carnival distinctly Trinidadian is actually outsourced to other countries.

“The profit margin is better for them to have it done [in China], mass-produced there and bring it across here without giving us the money,” he says.
D’Krewe is a year-round operation, supplying costume prototypes for carnivals around the world. Inside the headquarters, called a mas camp, workers are assembling by hand some of the most detailed costumes for not only Trinidad’s carnival, but Miami, New York and Toronto as well.
St. George has played the king of his band for decades and sticks to what’s referred to as "old mas" -- the traditional form of masquerade.
Carnival’s growing popularity worldwide is something St. George says makes Trinidad’s “new mas," -- or modern carnival -- a watered-down, commercial product.
The showroom of D’Krewe mas band.
 Workers assemble mannequins and costumes for the 2016 carnival season.

“There’s no creativity in it. They put together from a copy of what we have done before," he says. "How much skill can you put into a panty and a wire bra?"

"Carnival didn’t come from skimpiness, or nice female decorative bodies," he adds. "It came from decorative costumes, the street parade, the glamor and glory of saying ‘look me, look what I’ve created.' It takes away from that glamor of excitement of costuming.”
Tribe, Trinidad's largest band, has pioneered the transition into “new mas,” garnering just as much criticism as it does praise. But inside a showroom in Woodbrook, they're premiering a new, smaller band called The Lost Tribe. It pays homage to old mas while still keeping up with modern trends.

The Lost Tribe is attempting to reach a balance between masqueraders who miss the traditional storytelling of “old mas” but enjoy the glamour of “new mas.” Inside their small, private showroom, designers unveil their presentation for this new band as attendees choose their favorites.

“It’s taking that frame that we know and something that is nostalgic, and transferring it into a shape and form to something that is applicable to our contemporary generation,” says lead designer Val Maharaj.
Maharaj says it’s unfair to pinpoint carnival’s commercialization solely on costume design. He points out that as technology made the world more connected, all aspects of Trinidad’s carnival culture evolved.

Mostly importantly, the music became faster. Once primarily calypso, carnival became more soca based and incorporated more pop and techno influences. The experience of carnival became just as much about being free to party as it was the famous costume competition.

Fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee poses with Ava, her presentation for The Lost Tribe.
 The band aims to incorporate elements of old mas into contemporary costumes.
“So it would be naïve to think then that the costumes would have remained the same because the costumes then started to be designed for a specific niche market and a specific generation in the first place,” Maharaj says.
But older generations say this new mas is too much like Brazil’s carnival, made up of mostly jeweled bikinis and feathered headpieces – no longer an artistic expression that tells the story of Trinidad’s rich and unique history.
Not true, says Trinidadian designer Anya Ayoung-Chee, best known globally as the season-nine winner of Project Runway. She says old mas is still there, it’s just that new mas is more popular now.

Some of Trinidad’s most celebrated designers are Ayoung-Chee’s mentors. And she’s used that influence as the co-creative director of The Lost Tribe.
“I feel very privileged to have one foot in the camp of the contemporary mas and what it’s becoming, and having one foot in the genius of what mas once was," she says.
Ayoung-Chee designed costumes for both the contemporary masquerade of Tribe and the traditional mas of The Lost Tribe. And that’s the point she says: there’s room in the carnival business to satisfy everyone.
“I do think it’s possible to maintain the essence of carnival, not lose what it was entirely intended for, but letting it become something else. I really do think it takes, like everything else, living in the moment and going with the flow,” she says.
By now, most of the country’s biggest bands are completely sold out, but smaller ones where costumes are often more traditional and locally produced give last-minute revellers an opportunity to take part in the bacchanal.

“At the end of the day, we are selling Trinidad and Tobago and we need to make our products something that is sellable,” says Maharaj.
Despite longing for the days of old mas, Roland St. George agrees.
"Essentially, you cannot tell another man how to make his money," he says.
Come February, the streets of Port of Spain will be filled with thousands of locals, foreign-nationals, and tourists taking part in Trinidad’s biggest pastime, both new and old. Ayoung-Chee says it all serves the purpose of propelling Trinidad's culture to the world.

“I believe in the vehicle of carnival as the most effective way to tell the story of what Trinidad is about to the rest of the world,” says Ayoung-Chee.

And whether that costume is a reflection of the current era of beads, bikinis and feathers or traditional characters like sailors, dragons and kings, it’s an experience often called the “greatest show on earth,” one that has masqueraders saving up for next year long before they’ve even put on this year’s costume.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mas Man’ Film on Peter Minshall Continues Awards Streak

Mas Man, a film about artist-designer Peter Minshall, produced and directed by Dalton Narine, won the Long Beach International Film Festival prize ( for Best Feature Documentary on Oct. 11, in Long Beach, a city in Los Angeles County.

Dr. Daniel Walker, scholar, filmmaker and founding director of the illustrious festival, spoke about the film’s appeal and the jury’s decision.

“As a person who wrote a book about the political dimensions of festivals in Cuba and New Orleans, I know I had a high bar to impress, and the film did all that and more.”

A few weeks earlier, Narine had hoped Mas Man would fare well at the Fine Arts Film Festival in Venice, Los Angeles. “The film drew enthusiastic appraisal from the audience,” Festival director Juri Koll said.
Dalton Narine, producer/director, Mas Man, wins
Long Beach International Film Festival
 Best Documentary prize, the film’s 15th award
“Mas Man is, above all, a fine arts film,” Narine says, “though juries at fifty or so festivals around the world, had promoted it in every category imaginable.”

Still, with the film’s latest success, coupled with the tourism prize it received at Document Arts Fest in Bucharest, Romania (as well as its screening in Cannes) both in the past year, Mas Man has amassed 15 prizes across the board. They include Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography and special awards.

Narine says he pushed the film in the Los Angeles area because Don Mischer, a Hollywood producer featured in the film, was a key figure in tapping Minshall, the masman himself, for the Barcelona Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies in 1992.
Minshall reprised his role as an artistic director of the Emmy award-winning opening ceremonies at the1996 Atlanta Games, and Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, for which he received an Emmy.

That Mas Man made an auspicious debut is testament to its staying power.

Peter Minshall, remembered as Best artist/designer in
Trinidad's Carnival for three decades (Photo: Courtesy Dalton Narine)
A full-house screening in New York City’s Greenwich Village, proved that Narine and his crew could transform a pastiche of scenes that won the People’s Choice Award for Best Feature Documentary at the 2009 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival to the top tier of the New York Film Festival in 2010.
 “In Trinidad, we had a week to put it together,” Narine recalls, “just so the public would get an inkling regarding what the noise was about. It was a ways from being a film. Not even a work in progress. Call it ideas.”

Narine credits not only Callaloo Company’s Peter Minshall and Todd Gulich, but also filmmakers Benedict Joseph and Danielle Dieffenthaller, editor Eduardo Siu, Pennelope Beckles,Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival founder/director Dr. Bruce Paddington, as well as Trinidad & Tobago Film Company and GISL for their contribution, particularly as the film underwent a period of gestation.
From left,Todd Gulich, managing director, Callaloo Co.,
Peter Minshall, an artistic director of the 1996 opening ceremonies for the
 Atlanta Olympic Games and Hollywood producer Don Mischer,
 on eve of the Emmy Award-winning extravaganza. (Photo: Callaloo Co.)

Back then, to accommodate festivals, it required Narine to transfer Mas Man to HD hard drive and Blu-ray.

“Today, the medium is Digital Cinema Package (DCP), and we had it mounted, at huge cost,  in Hollywood, where the film had a screening at the legendary Ricardo Montalban Theater at Hollywood and Vine.”

“Now, it is screenable at any movie house anywhere in the world,” Narine says. “I would love to have the 89-minute version shown at MovieTowne in this format. Of course, at the behest of Minshallites everywhere, we’ve been pushing a longer cut at 145 minutes on DVD.

Peter Minshall’s Papillon,
about the ephemeral nature of life,
a 2.000-strong portrayal in 1992 Trinidad’s Carnival
(Photo: Courtesy Callaloo Co.)
Mas Man has been screened in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean. The film received Best Caribbean Film award in 2012 at a red carpet festival in Antigua that included a couple of American actors, a filmmaker from India, and the chair of Columbia Universitys School of the Arts film division. It also prompted a stir of excitement in Jamaica media a few months ago.

But to Narine’s delight, a few Trinidadian students at US universities have studied the film as their thesis toward a master’s degree. And a group of UWI students chose the work for a class project a couple of years ago.

Mas Man, along with eight earlier Narine documentaries about T&T’s mas/pan culture, are available at, Crosby’s, Cleve’s, Paper Based Bookshop (located at the Normandie Hotel), The M Store (Piarco Airport) and Sanch Electronix, Curepe.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

1976 King of Carnival “The Serpent” portrayed by Peter Samuel. Paradise Lost will be shown at MovieTowne in Port of Spain on September 18 at 4 p.m. and again on Republic Day, September 24 at 11 a.m.

A new documentary on the 1976 revolutionary Carnival mas band Paradise Lost, the first local band designed by Peter Minshall, is premiering this month at the trinidad + tobago film festival! It will be shown at MovieTowne in Port of Spain on September 18 at 4 p.m. and again on Republic Day, September 24 at 11 a.m. It will also be shown as part of the CaribbeanTales festival in Toronto on September 14 at the Royal Theatre, 608 College St at 6.30 p.m. 
This film details the creation of the band that stunned Trinidad and Tobago and forever changed mas making in the country. Paradise Lost won 1976 Band of the Year for Stephen Lee Heung and King of Carnival “The Serpent” portrayed by Peter Samuel. The late Roy Boyke, photographer and editor of the annual Trinidad Carnival magazine had noted, “It is doubtful that the work of any single individual has had so searing an impact on the consciousness of an entire country.” 
Paradise Lost: The documentary traces this famous band from concept to creation, from designs to living embodiment in the masqueraders. It tells the evolution of Minshall’s art at this pivotal point in his career, how veteran bandleader Stephen Lee Heung sought out Minshall after a long relationship with artist and designer Carlyle Chang to take his band in a new direction.


Sunday, August 16, 2015


The universe radiates with energy
We are made of the universe
We work hard
We play hard
Our lives a constant flow of energy
And energy never dies
We are strong when we unite
In fusion we are Powerful
In fusion we are

 Every second of every day of our lives we release energy, like stones thrown in a pond, every one of our actions sends ripples of energy through time and space, constructing futures that affect us directly and those around us indirectly.
With only a thought and an action any one of us can change the course of our lives or history.

What kind of existence could we construct for ourselves if we combined our energies for a single cause?

What walls could we breakdown, what empires could we construct?

Combining our energies we could be the most powerful force on the planet, like an atomic bomb obliterating barriers and reshaping the environment in our favour. If we were to fuse like atoms the energies we release could be unstoppable.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe,
 think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” 
Nikola Tesla

  Less than seventy years later the Japanese economy is one of the strongest in the world the culture of the people and their abilities to harness their energy mean that not even an A-bomb could stop their progress.

It is from that snipet of history that atomic theme was born. The energy we poses and release in our lifetimes never die,  even long after we die our actions go on affecting and consturucting the world around us. Sometimes unknown to us our energies can clear a path or form obstacles creating a an environment in which we exist.

Ripples &waves:

What does expelled energy look like? Often it is depicted in ripples or waves expanding into a limitless space of light or darkness, it is this ripple / wave motif that the designer used throughout the costumes.

On the female costume the motif curves   like the curves of a woman her energy is soft but strong, constant, and rhythmic.

On the males the motif is bold and sharp, masculine in nature. Strong like that of the shock wave of an earthquake or an explosion

The headpiece is based on that of the helmet of the samurai, the front of these helmits often symbolically depicted an aspect of the animal or force of nature that the samurai wished to attack his opponent with.

So to does our headpiece symbolise the unleashed energies of an atomic explosion with its energies reaching out beyond its physical manifestation.

The costumes main colors are the high energy colors red, yellow and gold.

Red is associated with passions sexuality, courage, and willpower and stamina
Yellow is associated with joy intellectual and physical energy, creativity, humor and personal power.

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

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

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

We are Atomic
Our energies have combined
And we're about to explode.

For Jesell Spencer Knight.1981 - 2014
 whose energy lives on...

S.A. Armstrong
Addicted  Designer

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tribe ties final carnival knot

Tribe Carnival tied the fi nal knot of its bejewelled rope around the mas industry with an emphatic no-expenses-spared three-tier presentation, on Saturday night, at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
The Dean Ackin-led mas makers paired the Bliss brand with their marquee Tribe mas during a theatrical, simultaneous-showing on a two-level pyramid designed stage.
The clattering bois and screams of live stick fighters atop a dramatic DJ-played Afrikaans rhythm pulled the massive “Soca Monarch-sized” crowd into the opening of their Forbidden (Tribe) and Secret Garden (Bliss) presentations.
Both were consistent in design, staying true to their respective brands of bubble gum bright elaborate feathered head pieces (Tribe) and detailed gem studding with matching custom-made jewelry accessories (Bliss).
With all the talk of evolving design in mas Tribe/Bliss has stuck to what they know best, selling the experience of carnival. The Woodbrook-based band seemed more focused on the glitz and glamour of creating a larger than life occasion than actual costume design.
The dramatic musical score, dynamic electronic visuals and stunning firework display outshone the costume design. Widely popular DJ Private Ryan, hovering above the crowd from the stage's upper level, also did his part to add to that grandeur with his trademark cuts and samples on pop dance music during an hour-long set following.
Tribe also delivered on décor transforming the outdoor venue into a raving club with pulsing lights and fog machines. And this time around they threw in a glittered curve ball.
Earlier, Ackin hosted a backstage limited release, media-only showing of the band's new nostalgic line: The Lost Tribe. The presentation, which challenged the band's young design team to create costumes using no feathers, was the most refreshing part of the night.
“It is said T&T has lost touch with our culture and who we are as a people. We are a lost Tribe searching for home,” Ackin said of the presentation that features not a single feather.
The influences of mas design greats Peter Minshall, Wayne Berkeley and Stephen Derek were hard to miss in the display. In 1999, Peter Minshall presented a band called The Lost Tribe.
Lead by creative director Valmiki Maharaj, with consultation from fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee, the experimental project, a refreshing innovation in design from the band, is the latest step in their apparent quest to corner the market. The question is would this lost Tribe, from the previously criticised “too commercial” band, now find a home in the heart of the mas purists?
Judging from Saturday's display and keeping in mind their new-found alliance with mas veterans Harts, Tribe is poised to dictate the direction of mas for the foreseeable future.
Ackin's willingness to entrust the creative to young upcoming talents like Maharaj and his 29-member design team is heartening.

    It also signals the changing of the guard with the emergence of talents like Maharaj, Ayoung-Chee and Leah-Mari Guevara

    Michael Mondezie

    Sunday, June 07, 2015


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

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

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

    We are Atomic
    Our energies have combined

    And we're about to explode. 

    Thursday, May 21, 2015

    A Blissful leverage

    After Lil Hart died in October 1990, her children took over the running of the iconic Carnival band, Harts. Pragmatic by nature, her son Luis was always looking for ways for the band to up the ante. For a while, he felt the band needed to introduce highly visible security because outsiders were coming in the band and ruining the masqueraders’ experience. It was something that his father Edmund had resisted, but in 1991, Luis finally brought in security for the band. It was a new thing in Carnival, but now, it’s a basic requirement for most bands.
    In 2016, 25 years after the Hart children took over the band, they will be making another hugely significant step when they join forces with rivals Tribe Carnival, by way of Tribe’s companion band Bliss. This means that Tribe will be managing some elements of Harts’ back end operations like road management, distribution and technology systems. There will also be a new all-inclusive section produced by Bliss in Harts.
    One of the key benefits of this arrangement for the bands is the leverage they will have with suppliers when negotiating prices for materials and other supplies.
    Tribe/Bliss bandleader Dean Ackin, left, chats with Luis Hart of Harts Carnival about their plans for 2016 at Tribe mas camp in Woodbrook. PHOTO: FRANKA PHILIP
    The T&T Guardian caught up with Luis Hart and Tribe/Bliss bandleader Dean Ackin at Tribe’s offices in Woodbrook. Hart explained that while he was very keen for this arrangement, he first had to convince the rest of the Harts family and their close band associates.
    “Over the years, I’ve taken my family through a lot of changes kicking and screaming. For example when I wanted to put security in the band, I had to argue that the outsiders were ruining it for the band,” Hart said.
    “I had to explain to my family that we weren’t giving up our identity, in fact we were adding to it. We’re enhancing what we’re giving. We owe it to masqueraders to give them something better.”
    The news that Tribe will be managing Harts was initially met with some scepticism on social media sites, but Hart and Ackin said the feedback they received from Harts masqueraders has been largely positive.
    “I think they understand the concept,” Ackin said. “Once they realised it wasn’t a merger, they were cool.
    “Tribe is its own band, with its own clientele and experience. Harts has its own clientele and experience. The bands aren’t coming together, it’s the management that’s coming together,” Ackin stressed.
    This arrangement came about because Ackin and Hart share similar ideas about the business of Carnival. The two men are friends and they have been speaking about ways of taking Carnival forward for several years.
    “We relate very well, we both understand the brand of what Carnival is,” Hart said. “You can talk about it being culture from now until whenever, but the truth is, it runs on principles of business. That is 
    where we’ve come together, and we’re going to see how best we can move forward with it.
    “When we order materials, we can leverage and now get better prices for the quantities we’re buying,” Hart said. “Carnival is an expensive endeavour and you won’t believe the effort that we (the bands) take to keep our prices the same. We are trying to see how we can minimise that impact on the masquerader.”
    Another benefit in this coming together is the production element. Harts has an established production factory which has served the band for many years. This production team makes the headpieces, collars and harnesses.
    “We will share that technology. We can do stuff for Tribe. The work like headpieces, collars—we can do that for them. We will be sharing that workforce,” Hart said.
    One area in which Harts differs from Tribe, its companion band Bliss, and other large bands, is that it isn’t an all-inclusive band. Most of the masqueraders in Harts pay to access the drinks carts, and those who don’t, patronise streetside vendors.
    “In recent years, we’ve been getting people saying they want the all-inclusive option but there are still many people who love their carts. We realise that is something we needed to fine tune, so we can get the best of both worlds,” Hart said.
    “By introducing the all-inclusive section that will be produced by Bliss, Harts masqueraders will now have that additional option.”
    Essentially, what Luis Hart, his brother Gerald and their team hope to achieve with this Tribe and Bliss collaboration is a better all-round experience for their masqueraders.
    Hart said he expects that the link up will give his people a more finished, polished experience while keeping the family feel they’ve been used to.
    On their Facebook page, the message to loyal band members about the collaboration with Bliss was, “The music, energy, fete and fun you’re accustomed to will be even more intense as Bliss will only be adding to the Harts experience as we take Carnival to the next level… As always, it’s 100 per cent fete and we will always strive to make the Harts Carnival experience a better one for you.”
    Luis Hart puts it quite succinctly: “If we give people the most beautiful costume and they don’t have a good time, they won’t come back; if you give them a crocus bag, they have a ball and they get what they want, they will come back again next year. So sometimes the experience on the road may be even more important than the costume, so we are striving to give our people the best Carnival ever.”
    Franka Philip

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