Monday, October 05, 2009

BRIAN MAC FARLANE'S RESERRECTION THE MAS:TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO CARNIVAL, 2010: A CLOSER LOOK




Looking at last year’s Brian Mac Farlane presentation of Africa, I felt that he finally broke away from the gravitational pull of the creative colossal that is Peter Minshall, and spun off into his own trajectory, forging a reputation, based not on the past exploits of other masters, but creating different visual expressions that did not somehow fall under Minshall’s shadow.


Mac Farlane’s presence and contributions alone puts his name up there with the illuminated masters of the past and while no Mas or Mas Man can claim to be the originator of this style, or the sole developer of that method or this expression, the Trinidadian psyche at Carnival time demands something new every year, new music, new expressions...new mas.
And while the fun bands in their assemblage always seem to copy, borrow and swap from each other to the point that without a name to the band you could not tell who is who, Mac Farlane proudly stands alone, with only the legends of the past to compare too, a challenge he accepts and has risen too superbly.



Carnival 2010 sees Brian MacFarlane present ‘RESERRECTION THE MAS’ to the table. And in the finest tradition of Mas, MacFarlane uses the presentation to address the issues of the society he lives in. This year he has woven the demise of the principles of Mas to the demise of the environment we live in, and even had an incredible launch on a sand bank in Buccoo Reef Tobago, in a dramatic symbolic depiction of the death and rebirth of these two concerns.



In explaining the concept behind the presentation, Mac Farlane said as an artist he has a responsibility to address issues of the society, globally and locally.

“Mas as we know it has died and our wonderful reef has been affected by many issues. One tenth of the reef is dead forever. I believe that as artists, the responsibility is very heavy on our shoulders that we express and bring to the forefront issues of the society. Why would we even call ourselves artists if we are not responsible?

“The concept Resurrection, The Mas, is an attempt to resurrect traditional mas characters in their purest form”



Like Africa, I saw Resurrection as another stroke of genius on MacFarlane’s part, not only has he followed up on his acknowledgement of the origins of the our masking traditions in Africa, he is now recreating our development in Resurrection, like he said “an attempt to resurrect traditional mas characters in their purest form”

With Resurrection, MacFarlane has gone back to the days of the Dame Lorrain, the Dragon and the Black Indian, the Jab- Jab and the Jab Molassie.
This is  Jamette Carnival  of the mid to late 1800’s, a time when Mas like Calypso was used by the lower classes  to mock, ridicule and strike fear, terror and disgust  into the hearts of the ruling classes. Carnival and Mas was not simply a celebration of freedom, or a big stress reliever as it is today, it was the voice of the people, organised rage and rebellion, against a ruling class that denied the black masses a voice over hundreds of years.



In his book ‘Rituals of Power & Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago 1763-1962 Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool PhD states “Devils of Trinidad were not themselves, but were reacting to the teachings espoused by Christianity and the upper classes which informed them that should they commit crimes and sins...against their neighbours such as theft and envy, they will go to hell at death and meet devils. Realising that the real devils were the Whites, and laughing at Christian teaching to a certain extent, the Africans masqueraded as the Devil”
These traditions that started in barrack yards of the poor ex slave communities, it is here that the Carnival started, stick fighters circled each other in battle to popular kalenda songs “The evidence shows that Cannes Brulees, besides being celebration of freedom marked o the organization of masquerade bands...Cannes Brulees band not only gave vent to the feelings of the African but...brought to the fore rituals based on West African secret societies, stick fights of African origin  that were not really  intended to maim or kill but to establish superiority and claim  to certain geographical areas and turfs.” (Liverpool pg228)
This concept however of reviving the spirits of Carnivals past to regain and inspire the dynamism and creative energies of the Cannes Brulees in contemporary times, is not a totally new one. Mac Farlane in my opinion has once again chosen a path or concept set by Peter Minshall.


Why do I say this?
Two little reasons.


One is the fact that in 1991 the year after the 1990 triumph of TAN TANA , Minshall did not bring a band, but he was working on one, and even had a very late band launch. In the Daily Express Magazine on Minshall “The Greatest show on Earth Trinidad Carnival Minshall: The Man and his Mas.” Under the heading, ‘Heralding a new age’ there is a 16 year breakdown of Minshalls creations, about the year 1991 it says this, “...Jan 13 patrons of the packed Mas Cap Pub rushed into the street to see seven ghostly  characters...wearing illuminated masks...They were Peter Minshalls manifestations of the disturbing signs of  the times...Todd Gulick, Minshall’s assistant said Minshall had worked 20 hours a day on what was probably going to be his latest mas; CANBOULAY, but the designs came too late for the launching...the spirits of Canboulay that made their magical appearance and then disappeared that Sunday night do exist somewhere.” (Page 81)



My second reason is a conversation I had with an individual in ‘the know’ just a couple days ago,when I told him about The Mac Farlane theme this year, he said this
Strange that MacFarlane's title is Resurrection. In the documentary Minsh says if there's going to be another band it'd be Rezzarek, meaning Paradise Regained. Remember he started with Paradise Lost.

Brian Mac Farlane’s Resurrection is yet however another victory for the presence of  High Mas in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

At a time when the original Cultural traditions of Trinidad’s Carnival, like the environment are being blindly overrun by big commercial  business,  and the lemming like mentality of the present generation, these sections will produce  an impressive  flashback of  traditional costumes among armies of eastern themed, bejewelled bath suits  on the road during Carnival  2010. 
This  will no doubt be  supported by Devils, Jumbies, Tamboo Bamboo, and other characters, instruments, and traditions of old, and provide yet another visual spectacular for the spectators and the rest of the world, and will at least give some of us insight of what we were what we could be and what we have become.
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