2009 mas remembers the pandemic
Yvonne Baboolal 6:40 pm
Published: February 14th, 2009
lEFT: Irmele Marien of Germany, right, works with other volunteers at Mac Farlane’s mas camp. RIGHT: Mas camp manager Tony Tankai, right, and painter Enaldo Bynoe. Photos: Jennifer Watson
Brian Mac Farlane gets his inspiration to create Carnival costumes after midnight in a sort of trance-like vision.“I get my inspiration between 2 am and 5 am during deep sleep,” the T&T mas designer told Sunday Vibe last week as he attempted to explain the phenomenon.“I will awaken and be in a subconscious state but still asleep. That’s when I see these images in front of me.”
It was during one of these trance-like states when the image of the 1994 King of Carnival, The Conquest, presented itself before Mac Farlane. The Conquest, based on Greek mythology, told of how Perseus slayed Medusa, an evil woman with a head of snakes who could turn a person who looks at her into stone. Mac Farlane, a Roman Catholic, describes his gift as “God-given.”“That’s why I give thanks and praise,” he said.
Africa is the name of his band this year and it was one of the many ideas in Mac Farlane’s head long before he played mas many years ago. At his “art factory” (mas camp) on Rosalino Street, Woodbrook, last week, volunteers were putting the finishing touches on 1,200 costumes for 19 sections of the band. The reception area was filled with the pulsating rhythm of the song Out of Africa by Tony Prescott and Surface, composed specifically for Mac Farlane’s band.
Designs of each section adorned the walls, reflecting religious ceremonies and hunting and mating games in different African countries. The Goli Mask Dancers, which comprise one section, are found in the Ivory Coast and appear in times of danger as intercessors with supernatural forces, the writing below the design explained. “There’s a power in the movement of the material,” Tony Tankai, manager of the mas camp further enlightened.
Will these masks, used by Africans in religious ceremonies, intercede with supernatural forces and engage the spirits of ancestors as they parade through the streets of Port-of-Spain?Questioned about the involvement of the occult in his mas, Mac Farlane, somewhat defensive, said during his research for the band, he discovered that a lot of African ceremonies were religion-based. But the idea of the occult was out of the question.
“The occult? I don’t look at it in that light at all,” he said.“We all have our beliefs. It’s important that we have a belief. I can’t put anybody down because of his beliefs.” As a matter of fact, the underlying theme of the band, Africa, is the Aids crisis in Africa, Mac Farlane said. “In 2008, 12 million children in Africa were orphaned by Aids. It’s estimated that by 2012 the numbers will increase to 25 million.”
Will the masqueraders from Africa be trained in the portrayal of their costumes? “They will play mas to the best of their ability,” Tankai said. “Only those in the last section, Africa—Her Tears, Her People, Her Glory, which will deal with the Aids pandemic, and which will be revealed on Carnival Tuesday, will have some sort of rehearsal.”
Huge piles of fig leaves were in the shed at the back of the camp to make the upper part of the costumes for the section Sachiango, hunters of Zambia who wear a patchwork of animal skins, leaves, natural grass and bird feathers to blend in with their habitat. A large heap of coffee tree wood lay in a corner, waiting to be used as standards.“We try to use material that is as natural as possible,” Tankai said.
Painted burlap (crocus) bags, which will be used as Dama Dama headpieces, hung on a line. Volunteers were putting the last touches on masks and jewelry made from papier mache. Work on Africa started shortly after Carnival 2008 when Mac Farlane and other band members met and mulled over the concept. By October, the mas camp was opened and production had started.
Twenty-five volunteers, comprising art students and others interested in costume-making, work every day at the mas camp, sometimes going late into the night. Irmele Marien of Germany, an anthropology student who decided to do her thesis on Carnival, was making arm bands for the Yaki Dancers section in the mas camp last week.
“I was told there were more reasons to join this band than others,” she said. Sunil Salick, who came from Penal, sat in a corner making papier mache masks. Felisha Bahadur, a 22-year old UWI student of San Fernando, packed earrings into a box. Dreadlocked, with a ring in his chin, Christopher Hunt, an artist from Barbados, came to T&T to work and play with Mac Farlane’s band. “My heart tells me to play with this band,” he said.
Mac Farlane productions
• 2005: The Washing—By fire, by water• 2006: Threads of Joy• 2007: India• 2008: Earth