Wednesday, September 19, 2007


ren·ais·sance (rĕn'ĭ-säns', -zäns', rĕn'ĭ-säns', -zäns', rĭ-nā'səns)

The act of reviving or condition of being revived: reactivation, rebirth, renascence, renewal, resurgence, resurrection, resuscitation, revitalization, revival, revivification. See awareness/unawareness.

Carnival 2008 is not yet upon us but it is evident that there are winds of change blowing across the surface of planet Carnival.
For the first time in decades Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is experiencing not just the presence but the growth of what I will call ‘Conscious mas’.

While most of us already know the history of carnival from Emancipation in 1838, and start of the Cannes brulees celebrations (known as Canboulay), and the development of the Steelband around 1945-50, not much of us can readily identify the development of mas from the 1830s to the present.

So here is a little summery.

Military masquerade.

The first kinds of Mas bands to hit the streets of Port of Spain
Post Emancipation, were military bands, these bands performed mock engagements on the streets and historical battles like the taking of Constantinople with great detail as reported in the Trinidad news of 1878. The earliest mention of such a band in the press is in 1882 with 150 people this was a large band at the time.

The heyday of this type of Mas was the late 1890s, “Artillery, Cavalry, Brigade, Scottish Highlanders, Admirals, Volunteers, and Lancers are among the bands organized …which participated in the carnivals of 1899,1900, 1901, and 1902….this was the period when the shantwell led his band in song on the carnival streets.”(Errol Hill)

When the United States Atlantic Fleet came to Trinidad in 1907, “Yankee Sailor” Mas established its place in Trinidad Carnival; this is followed by the development of variations of the mas such as Stokers, Fireman, and King Sailor.

Historical masquerade:
While Military mas did depict historical battles, Historical mas did not become a recognised competitive type of mas till 1927.

It is out of this period and type of mas that the Masman or designer gained recognition as an artist, and bandleader, names like Martin Hill, who produced bands like Roman Emperors, The Three Musketeers, The mummies of Tutankhamen’s Tomb, and Abyssinians, between 1928 and 1938. After the 1939 to 1945 war Hill presented Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar, Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin.
(ask any designer today who Richard the Lion Heart or Saladin was you will be lucky if they knew)

The 1930’s and 1940’s saw the development of Biblical and Oriental mas, masqueraders had to carry pictures to show what they represented, as biblical characters weren’t easily identifiable.

The 1950’s represented the birth of Carnival’s Golden Age, a period where innovation, imagination, research, and accuracy, produced the greatest bands, and the greatest names, in the history of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. This period starts with the name Harold Saldena, (1925- 1985) and ends in the 1990’s with Peter Minshall (1941- ), and Wayne Berkley (1940- ).

While the Golden age approached a glorious end in the mid 1990’s with Minshall and Berkley the master dramatist and master showman, both dominating and redefining, Mas, a new type of Mas or anti mas took hold in Trinibago’s carnival.

The ‘fun bands’ started around the mid nineties when the band Harts decided that they were no longer competing for the band of the year title, this band focused now not on the depiction of the theme but on the body beautiful, and the term ‘fun’.

From the mid nineties names like, Savage, Barbarossa, Poison, Legends, became super bands with members numbering into the thousands all sporting costume designs based on a formula of bikinis, beads, and plumes. Joining these names at the turn of the century were names like Island Events, Tribe, and Island People, all using the ‘formula’ to attract the younger adults of the time or the Oil boom generation.

Meanwhile the amazing creative carnival force, that reached its zenith in the 1980’s to mid 1990’s went into a rapid decline, the ‘fun generation’ arrogantly replaced the originality and dynamism of the deep thinking designers and Mas Men, for the mas marketing, socio-economic polarizing, strategies of the business bands.

The ascended fun bands in effect, eclipsed Mas bands, sending Trinidad Carnival into an artistic and creative period of Darkness.
During this period, Carnival observers could not tell one band from the other, because most fun bands, with over emphasis on the female form , and minimal use of thought, or originality, all looked the same, themes no longer had meaning because everything is portrayed with plumes and beads.

An art form that once could define the intellectual, creative achievements, and promise of a people, now reflects the repetitive style of an ignorant, lost generation.

While Mas bands like Trini revellers and Masquerade have held the fort for mas throughout these dark ages, since 2005 it seems that a Renaissance has been breaking on the horizon.

In 2005 designer Brian MacFarlane presented The Washing by Fire by Water, the band brought a much needed and welcomed change to the flesh fest that carnival had become.

Carnival 2006 saw the return of Minshall with the HIV aware themed Sacred Heart, MacFarlane brought ‘Treads of joy’, High Mas it seemed was on a come back. 2007 saw the environmentally aware Image nation presented Jungle.

J’ouvert 2007 also saw a return of high drama in mas the meaning and theatrics of J’ouvert that in general seemed lost in the traditional processions of mud, oil and paint, were revamped in Brian Wong Won’s MAS JUMBIES presentation of “Diable”.

With Carnival 2008 racing towards us, and presentations like MacFarlane’s, “Earth, cries of despair and songs of hope”, Mas Jumbies “JAB”, Image nation’s “Story of La Brea” and the new band Oracle led by Aaron Schneider with their conscious presentation “KNOW THYSELF Gnothi Seauton”, you have to ask yourself could Carnival 2008 establish a Renaissance of Mas in Trinbago?

I hope it is, for it is about time we elevate to new and higher plateau.

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