This year, the Band of the Year competition at the Queen’s Park Savannah celebrates its 90th anniversary, as well as the 90th anniversary of involvement in Carnival by the T&T Guardian Newspapers. The newspaper, founded in 1917, got involved in the national festival in a significant way two years afterwards and, in 1919, sponsored the very special Victory Carnival, marking the end of the Great War in 1918.
As early as 1919, ninety years ago, the Guardian sponsored prizes for the Best Dressed Band (1st $60; 2nd $40; 3rd $20), Most Original Costume—$10, and the best queen of any masquerade band —plate prize. The Guardian also sponsored prizes in the musical category. The Guardian has also witnessed the dramatic move from full costuming to bikini and beads, which is the “in thing” with bandleaders today.
Through the years the Guardian has championed, celebrated and regaled the nation’s heroes of mas; icons like George Bailey, Harold Saldenah, Edmund Hart, Irwin Mc Williams, Harry Basilon, Bobby Ammon, Cito Velasquez, Stephen Lee Heung, Jason Griffith, Ken Morris, Thorne & Celestine, Raoul Garib, Carniff Bomparte, Theresa Montano, Edgar Whiley, John Daniel, Max Awon, Wayne Berkeley and Peter Minshall.
To quote from Michael Anthony’s Parade of the Carnivals of Trinidad and Tobago 1839-1989: “Although the Savannah competition was a novelty and offered more attractive prizes, it faced stiff rivalry from the long-established Marine Square competition.
“To promote its own competition at the Savannah, the Trinidad Guardian spoke of the ‘dust and heat of the town as against the pleasant coolness of the Savannah.’. “Beyond everything else, that first Carnival at the Queen’s Park Savannah proved to be an extremely joyful one.”
The Guardian has remained committed to T&T Carnival, from either producing mammoth fetes at its clubhouse on Wrightson Road, through the ‘60s-’70s; assisting artistes, steel orchestras and promoters, to its current 21st century patronage. The eighties was a glorious period of mas. Just as the sixties and seventies featured the main combatants—George Bailey, Edmond Hart, Stephen Lee Heung, Irwin Mc Williams and Jason Griffith.
The eighties saw ding dong battles between Garib, Berkeley and the ultimate mas man Peter Minshall. It would very politically correct to deem this as “the Minshall Era,” because of Minshall’s breath-taking theatrical presentations. He also provided a breath of fresh air in mas. One fondly remembers Paradise Lost, The River, Papillion, Rat Race, Carnival Is Colour, Santimanitay, Hallelujah, Tapestry, Red, Golden Calabash, Sans Humanite and Sacred Heart. Always one for full costuming, Wayne Berkeley also had a great run during the years 1973-1998. Berkeley is the most successful bandleader in T&T mas with 11 wins.
The close of the ‘90s saw the emergence of bikini mas, no doubt influenced by Brazil Carnival, erroneously deemed a better mas than ours, and women who wanted skimpy costumes. Minshall, fed up with the direction of mas, quit in disgust. Following Mavericks, Minsh and Berkeley, Trini Revellers returned mas to full costuming and scored a hat-trick of wins in the band of the Year competition. It seemed that Revellers would win forever, until veteran artist/interior decorator Brian Mc Farlane moved into the big league in 2006 with Threads of Joy. In 2007, with India...The Story of Boyie, and again in 2008 ,with Earth: Cries of despair, wings of hope, Mc Farlane convincingly ran with the spoil, his latter effort winning King of carnival as well.
Continuing its involvement in T&T Carnival and, after recent years of successfully funding the national Road March competition, this year the Guardian continues its input when Yangatang Humorous Tent honours Shirley King and John Agitation, two stalwart artistes who have made sterling contributions to the comedy arena and local culture over the past four decades. On Wednesday, both will be presented with plaques, donated by the T&T Guardian Newspapers, honouring their contributions to the nation. The Guardian radio frequency, The Vibe CT 105FM is also the most listened to radio station during the Carnival period.