Sunday, March 01, 2009

'The next Minshall'

don't let the mas die: Brian McFarlane

Q: How do you feel about being called an

imitation Minshall? Just this morning,

Rachel Price was on the radio talking

about you. She said, "Ah not ponging Mac

Farlane, eh, but we've seen all this

before " and she talked about Minshall's "Tiger Tiger Burning Bright" and

A: Well, you can't escape that. I didn't think the lion looked anything like "Tiger Tiger". However, everybody has their own view on a topic. Yes, we may have had Africa in 1967 from George Bailey. But a lot of people haven't seen it. I was only three or four years old myself. The time was right for it again, what with Obama becoming the first black president. And it was right for me because while all the other bands were suffering with low sales, we had no problems. This was our biggest year ever.

So you made some money then?

Making money off of this band is extremely difficult, and I haven't really made money. A lot of people think, "How could that be true, and you continue doing it?" My brother and I argue about this all the time-he's the financial person in the ongoing business of MacFarlane Designs. In 2007, we lost a lot of money with India-it cost more than $4 million to produce that band. This year's band took about $2.8 million to produce. The market that wants to play full-costume theatrical mas is a very limited one-maybe 1,000 to 1,400 people.... Last year was the first year we kind of broke even with Earth. I'm hoping we make a little money this year.

Maybe, as a people, we're dying for some theatre in our lives

I think we are. There're so many people who are playing with the other bands who come through here prior to Carnival, and they will say, I not playing in this, you know. I like my skimpy costume. But I have to come and see what you doing. I'll never forget last year when we came out from behind Piccadilly, I think it was either Tribe or Island People, and we had to wait for them to pass. And as they were passing, they kept stopping and congregating in front of us, and out of their bikini bottoms or wherever they were pulling out their cameras and taking pictures of us, and their security had to keep pushing them to get them to go.

Just to go back to Rachel Price, who is my good friend: You say you've seen the mas with Minshall. You've seen theatre with Minshall . I don't think anybody could have looked at the band and said they saw Minshall's costumes. The band was not repetitious of Minshall at all. And they were very true to form and authentic of Africa.

[He relates the story of meeting a contingent from the South Africa 2010 World Cup committee, who were here to do research on making mas for the opening ceremony. They had heard about his band and came to the mas camp ] One of the men wouldn't let go of my hand. He kept saying, "You have honoured Africa so much." I met some African women on the road, and they had tears in their eyes. They said, "You have done Africa so proud. Everything is so authentic, so correct."

I think the criticism of you as a Minshall rip-off may be just ignorance, in a sense, because what Minshall was doing was theatre, and now you're doing theatre, and people just put the both of you in a category. If he was still bringing out mas, they wouldn't call you a Minshall wannabe; they would be seeing the both of you side by side, and that would just be fantastic.

Correct. And I often say it would be wonderful if one year Minshall and I did do something together. I think it would be incredible for the art and culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and I think the people would respect it so much.

Has Minshall ever said anything to you

about carrying on the theatre tradition,

doing his kind of mas?

No. actually, no. However, I continue to always give him the greatest honour and respect. He has put so much into the mas, and injected so much into the culture. I haven't heard from him for quite a while, actually. But Wayne Berkeley came to visit my camp just before Carnival and congratulated me. And then I met him backstage at the Kings and Queens (competition), and he complimented me on the king and queen. And I felt very humbled and honoured by that.

But really, there's no competition in your category

Well, it starts to look like there's no competition at this rate. I was told last night by a very good friend to stop knocking the beads and the bikinis. I'm not against people having a fun time-that's wonderful. Sometimes, in school you have somebody to make jokes off their head. I find that while we're doing that, we're having fun at our own expense. Because our culture is dying. [He describes Barbados' different festivals, and suggests we should follow their example of separating "bikini mas" from their traditional carnival.] So it's not that I'm against the people with the beads-and-bikini mas-I have a lot of friends who play in beads and bikinis. But I just feel, maybe, it should be at another time. Or, maybe, there should be more incentives put in by the Government for the people who really project the mas, so there will be more incentives for those who want to put out more. Maybe more money, a couple million dollars as the first prize

What's your background in design and art?

Nil. I went to St Anthony's College. I left in Form 3, just totally frustrated. I was quite sickly as a child. I suffered with serious allergy attacks which would keep me at least a week, a month away from school, with extremely high fever. They couldn't find out what was wrong with me, and my parents took me away.

I never had any formal training. When I came out of school-I left at the age of 15-I immediately applied through some friends to Miami Dade College to do design. I sent a few pieces of art that I had done. I was accepted, but unfortunately, my parents couldn't afford to send me. So that was out.

I just tried on my own. I got involved working voluntarily with Raoul Garib's mas camp, and after two weeks, the designer, Chris Santos, who is a good friend of mine, said, "You know, you have such a great talent for colours and fabric and a good eye for design," and they put me to work with the kings and queens and bigger costumes.

I met someone at the mas camp who used to do wedding cakes. I used to lime by them after hours, and after three months-he never showed me how to ice a cake, but I picked it up and I did my sister's wedding cake which was fabulous. And then I started a whole career doing wedding cakes and that also took off in a great way. I hosted an exhibition in 1993, in West Mall, of wedding cakes. Everybody was overwhelmed by the whole setting, and the management asked me to put in a proposal for Christmas the following year, and since then, I've never stopped. Every year I've been doing malls. Not only in Trinidad but in Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Lucia. I just went from one thing to the other, so it was all self-taught, from books

But I keep saying it is a God-given talent, and I'm aware of that. There's no doubt about it.

What's happened to your past kings and queens?

They've all been dismantled. There's nowhere to store them. It is a tragedy. By now, Trinidad and Tobago should be hosting a huge warehouse/museum-type thing that holds these things.

Well, there are a lot of things that are sad about our culture. I am longing to have a meeting with Mr Chin Lee and the minister of Culture-she seemed very enthused by a lot of my ideas when we met before Carnival. And we need to come off the street. Actually, you will be the first person to hear this, but I have no intention of going back around the Savannah like we did this year. I've done it, I've made the hat-trick, I'm not doing it again because I think it is deplorable. I think it is an insult to the art and culture. When I came off the stage, I was so angry, so irate. All the media from all over the world and the local media were all around me, and I just let loose about how ridiculous this facility is, and what an insult it is-not only to me but to everybody. The man in the street can't see properly, only a select few get the seats to see it. All this media and they had nowhere to go.

We're told we're not allowed to go back in the Savannah. But I'm saying now, we want the Savannah back. The Savannah was given to the people by the Pasche family. It was not given to the Government-it was given to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And this is our art form, and we want to go back in the Savannah . And if they don't give us it back, I will find somewhere else to project my mas.

What are you coming up with to wow Obama?

We're doing the cultural opening and closing ceremony at the Summit of the Americas. The cultural part speaks of us as a people and a nation, and it all speaks of the Caribbean as a unit. So I'm hoping to involve artistes from the Caribbean as well, once the budget permits.

You've had an inspiration for next year's band?

Oh yes, yes, yes. I'm not going to tell you [he laughs] but it's coming back home. It's going to be local. I always try to do a very unique and different launch. This year, our launch was at 5.30 in the morning in Chaguaramas, and people came out. We had 120-something media from all over the world-it was excellent, fabulous. I'm thinking of doing it next year in Tobago. Not as early as 5.30 .[he smiles] We did it on San Fernando Hill last year for global warming because I wanted to bring recognition to what had happened to that hill since the 1800s when it was being destroyed. And taking it to South, I think it's only fitting that I should take it to Tobago.

You are so different in the sense that you

take on this culture, and you pushing it

and you fighting for it...

[He laughs] That's funny.

It's a bit unusual in that sense. Same

thing with Minshall. Which is why I think

people also compare you.

Coming back to the Minshall thing people compare, and you asked me if it bothers me to be dubbed another Minshall. There are two ways to look at that. It's a great honour to be called another Minshall. But at the same time, it's always nice to know that you are your own person. And people are beginning to recognise me for who I am. Yes, you may say I'm another Minshall because there's nobody else doing what Minshall did. And who else do you compare me with? You can't compare me with Tribe or Island People and Harts. So who else you compare me with? I'm not saying I'm the only person doing the theatre. Frank Reid is still doing the Red Indians and Jab Molassies. I remember seeing five Indians coming off the stage and I went and shook their hands. I told them, "Don't ever let it die." We need that to continue. That is what Carnival is.


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