Thursday, December 18, 2008

AFRICA HER PEOPLE HER GLORY HER TEARS. MacFarlane 2009




It was inevitable the creative juggernaut that is Brian McFarlane, would have turned his attention to the black continent and mother of all civilisation that is Africa.

From his first band, the medium band of the year ‘The washing by Fire by water’ in 05, all Mc Farlane’s presentations (06, Treads of Joy, 07India, and 2008’s Earth), have established, McFarlane, as the latest master of the art form (mas).

Many critics of MacFarlane have accused him of bringing nothing new to mas, they say that he is only, ‘following the footsteps’ of Peter Minshall, I can’t deny, that I too have looked at MacFarlane’s past works and found many similarities between his, and that of Minshalls.

Whatever the similarities are, between Minshall and MacFarlane, it is with his 2009 presentation of ‘Africa, her people her Glory, her Tears’, that MacFarlane has stepped out of the shadow that Peter Minshall’s style and celebrated contribution to Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival has cast over the Carnival, since the late 1970’s.

Not since the genius of the legendary late George Bailey has a band leader taken on the challenge of portraying Africa, or at least aspects of Africa on the streets of Port of Spain, in the detail that McFarlane is undertaking.

It was in fact Bailey in 1957 at the age of 21 who designed and presented ‘Back to Africa’, “...perhaps the most celebrated band in the history of modern Carnival, winning the 1957 band of the year award. With this single presentation, Bailey changed popular perceptions of Africa, history, and Carnival itself.”

With one presentation Bailey forced Trinidadians to see Africa not as the dark, mysterious, cannibalistic land that colonialism and plantation racism lead them to believe, but a continent history and culture that contained royalty and splendour that equalled that of Europe.

Take a look at the record books yourself, after George Bailey won band of the year awards with African themes in 1957 and then 1969 with ‘Brightest Africa’ not one other designer or bandleader has been able to win the coveted title with an African theme.

Even the big names of big bands that dominated the last quarter of the 20th century, a period that was, it can be argued, the pinnacle of Trinidad Carnival’s creativity, did not even accept the challenge of presenting African themed mas directly.

Why?

Africa is a challenge, it is the second biggest continent on the planet, and made up of about 53 countries, and almost countless tribes, languages, histories, religions, and art forms, for any bandleader to, take on the challenge of Africa to any dept could take a trilogy.

And while medium and small bands may have taken on Africa over the years, it is the big presentations that grasp the attention of the Carnival world.

So it is at this junction that McFarlane has chosen the road less travelled. Minshall has never gone deep into the subject but has used African themes and concepts in his presentations, so Macfarlane is now in Bailey territory.

The band seems to be structured around a story of a woman that travels through time (or the spirit world) in search of a tale for her children, it is during this journey she meets a King and Queen (the first ancestors?) who offer her stories in exchange for a look at the future of their descendants, a future eventually destroyed by disease and death.

The story is a modified version of ‘where stories come from’ a traditional South African story about the origins of tales, MacFarlane’s version readapted for the presentation seems to examine Africa’s past, sad present, and dismal future, with characters i.e. the bird ‘manzandaba’ the King and Queen possible main characters or individuals for the road.

The sections of the band seem to be recreations of actual traditional African costumes, from all over the continent. According to a mas man friend of mine, “...is like he open a book on Africa...”In doing this Macfarlane, can be said to be paying tribute to the old school, and their traditions of the near perfect portrayal, like the Master George Bailey did in the 50’s and 60’s “… George thoroughly researched his portrayals and came as close to the original living thing as was possible.”

Africa her people her glory her tears, in 19 sections can only skim the surface of Africa, Macfarlane attempts by presenting tribes from as far north as Morocco to South Africa, in the south to give us a peek of Africa’s people, the story line will no doubt tell of just some of her many, many tears, and hopefully, the visual magnificence of the entire band will give us a tiny glimpse of her glory.

MacFarlane is without a doubt the high priest of 21st Century Mas. Every one of his presentations to date have been a visual spectacular, from the drawing board to the streets, his band launches alone make his Mas an almost religious experience. But I can’t help feeling that he is two decades too late, had Macfarlane been on the streets when names like Minshall, Berkley, Lee Hueng, Harts, and Garib, filled the streets, I feel his contributions would make more of an impact on the society.

Today MacFarlane is more or less in a league of his own, the only heavyweight in the heavyweight division, the only Mas band in a Carnival of blind fantasy. It is this absence of a main rival, a ‘Frazer to his Ali’, that makes, Africa is an impressive band but not an explosive band, I believe, that if Macfarlane did have a great rival to contend with, his 2009 presentation of Africa could be as legendary as Bailey’s.

All said and done MacFarlane’s Africa is a sure bet for another band of the year title in 09 in fact the first decade of the 21st century may come to be known to future generations as the MacFarlane era.


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