Thursday, March 05, 2009

MEET THE QUEEN OF CARNIVAL, KADAFFI ROMNEY

Kadaffi in flight


Kadaffi Romney PHOTO: DEXTER PHILIP

Brian MacFarlane needed a special masquerader-someone to embody Manzandaba, an African woman who mounts a magic bird and time travels in search of her continent's stories.

At first Kadaffi Romney seems an unlikely pick. After working on Mac Farlane's 2007 offering "India: the Story of Boyie", she forwent the complimentary costume. Though she has come from a mas-playing family she's "never ever been interested in playing".

"I'm sort of a nomadic type," she says en route to the band's Ash Wednesday celebration of their third consecutive band of the year win. "I like my freedom.I love Carnival but I like to walk freely in the street, look at what I want, chip with whom I want and move on." She'd never donned an individual costume, let alone assume the massive constraint and responsibility of portraying a queen.

Yet she immediately agreed to the challenge after a unanimous decision that she should be the one. Someone on the team knew of her on-stage experience. Since age five she trained in dance, moving from the tuition of the legendary Beryl Mc Burnie to the Caribbean School of Dance. Richard Young's theatrical take on modelling enthralled her for several years. In 1984 she won the Miss Port of Spain title. When she was a girl she dreamed of becoming an actress and guesses, wrongly, that everyone else does. Ultimately the drama and challenge of becoming Manzandaba trumped her inner nomad.

"Your dreams don't ever die," she said. "For me it was about being on-stage. I knew it was going to be something theatrical. I don't know if anybody else could have gotten me to be their queen."

Like other queens she intensified her workouts in order to drum up the physical strength that carrying the weight of a towering headpiece, golden wings in the posture of full flight and a wide, wonderful skirt of tapestry would require. Romney's 5'11" frame is deceptively petite. An active life (she works as a sub contractor and joins her employees in painting buildings and climbing everything from 30' scaffolds to trees) and more intense workouts prepared her 150 lb frame to carry the weight of a wheel-less costume across the Savannah stage.

But unlike other queens, she had an intimate knowledge of the piece she would portray by merit of having worked on it.

"I was working on the queen and king. Of course it's hard work. Many times we overnighted at the camp, stopping work at five in the morning. Sometimes you do something and it has to be undone because Brian is not quite pleased with it or sees something else. As it goes on you get a clearer vision. The mechanisms might not be balanced. They might look that way on paper but when you're doing it you have to add more or take away," she explains. A team of six others worked on the evolving designs and she credits them with realising the final product.

And that wasn't the sum of her contribution. Romney was also responsible for much of the metal work that went into the masqueraders' head pieces, skirts and chains. These she toiled on at home. She honed the skills of working with brass, aluminum and silver while operating a jewelry business many years ago.

Because of her training in dance perfecting Manzandaba's movements wasn't difficult. The big stage experience was exhilarating. After the preliminary round they agreed that she would start slowly but then build speed, which she preferred.

"When you do slower movements it's actually more taxing," she reveals. "I felt like I wanted to speed up and break away. And when I did that I didn't feel the weight as much."

By Carnival Tuesday she was exhausted and a little sick but wouldn't let on. The wheels added for her on-the-road portrayal introduced an element of constraint. The heat and bustle of enthusiastic photographers and audiences made her feel a little claustrophobic. But the labour of love was almost over and Romney didn't complain or disappoint.

Would she do it all again?

"If Mr MacFarlane asks me I would. I don't know about any other band but once I'm in good health and strength, I'd most likely say yes," she says.

EXPRESS

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