Sunday, January 31, 2010

Making mas in Woodbrook

Bois Cano bush and breadfruit leaves

Every Carnival season, from early January, the Bailey’s house on quiet Buller Street, Woodbrook, is transformed into a mas camp...literally. Red, blue, gold and yellow pieces of costumes fill almost every space in the house and yard of the house that mas veteran, Albert Bailey shares with his daughter, her husband, their two children and a grandchild. The Baileys are bringing out a children’s band, Dancers of Africa, and are helping make costumes for Stephen Derek’s band, Call Dat George. The only place that is left almost untouched is the kitchen, where Bailey’s daughter, Lee Ann, a caterer, prepares food for the mas camp workers.
“I sleep anywhere, on the floor, the recliner,” Lee Ann said. Lee Ann, who decorates the costumes, also plays queen for Derek’s band. The one bedroom where a bed was left in it is shared by Bailey and his grandaughters, Giselle and Alendra. One of the workers stays fulltime in the Bailey’s mas camp/house for the duration of the Carnival season. Huge parts of costumes already completed, rest against the walls of the bedrooms while the living room looks like an incomplete Carnival band. The excitement and happiness the season brings for the Baileys were evident when the Sunday Guardian visited last Tuesday.
Keeping Bailey tradition alive
Bailey, brother of mas icon, George Bailey, who died in 1972 at age 36, said he was working with Derek, his “student,” to bring out a band which pays tribute to his deceased brother. His camp, like Derek’s, is one of the few in Woodbrook, described as “the mecca of mas making,” where costumes are actually made and not imported. It was from the Bailey brothers that Derek learnt the art of wirebending. The frame of a big costume, already skillfully bent by Bailey, stood in one corner of the front yard on wheels, waiting to be completed. Only a small group worked on producing the costumes for Call Dat George and the eight-section children’s band, which has ten separate characters.
“I have a very powerful group of four,” Bailey said, sitting among pieces of mas in his porch. “I don’t need more. Everybody knows what to do and gets to work.” Alendra, the designer of the children’s band, added: “We started working on January 7, and in three weeks finished all this.” Alendra’s passion is to continue the Bailey tradition of mas making. “Forty-three years mas making has been going on in this house,” she said proudly. “Dr Eric Williams and Prime Minister Patrick Manning visited here.” Boxes of ostrich plumes and pheasant feathers lay on a table in a shed at the side of the house, where Mervyn Johnson, 75, glued shenney braids to what will be the arm of a chair in a large costume. Johnson, of Brooklyn, has been coming to the Bailey’s camp for “forty-something years” to make mas. While Bailey uses bois cano bush and breadfruit and palm leaves, he buys the ostrich and pheasant feathers from abroad because they are not available locally, he said.
In the porch, Debra Joseph glued sequins onto a jacket for a costume.
“I grew up in the Bailey camp. I started at 14 and now I am 51, and I am still going with them.” Joseph, a grandmother and Finance Ministry worker, said she takes her vacation every year to work in Bailey’s camp. “I take up residence here for the season,” she said. Odette Emmanuel and Giselle Campbell, taking a lunch break, were eating breadfruit oildown and fish in the living room. Campbell had been putting blue braids onto a shield, and Emmanuel was putting blue lame on a fan. Emmanuel, a grandmother, of La Horquetta, and part-time employee, works most days in Bailey’s mas camp until 4 pm. “Thirty-two years I around,” she said.
Praying hard
Bailey, 73, who began playing mas at age ten in 1946 with a Woodbrook band called “Hell’s A Popping,” has been bringing out winning bands for the past 37 years. He had been with Peter Minshall before but “had to get out because it was taking over,” he said. Bailey describes mas today as “Carnival in the flesh.” He said while local mas was veering more to “the flesh,” Brazil, which was famous for its topless dancers, is going back to costumes. He refutes the notion, however, that Carnival comes from the devil. “Something as beautiful as Carnival has to come from the good side,” he said. “In fact, I pray very hard for the success of my band.”
Trinidad Guardian
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