Sunday, February 14, 2010

Smith’s last hoorah: ..ends 54 years of blood, sweat and tears in mas

Frank Smith takes his last walk on Queen’s Park Savannah stage at the preliminaries of the King of Carnival competition on February 4. Photo: Angelo Marcelle

In front of a cheering crowd, an emotional 81-year-old Frank Smith made his last appearance on the stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah, bringing an end to 54 years of “blood, sweat and tears in mas making.” Portraying Zambo The Witch Doctor, an African history creation, Smith went out in a blaze of glory at the preliminaries of the 2010 King of Carnival as patrons clapped, whistled and cheered when they found out he was the oldest participant in the February 4 competition. But little did the crowd know that this was Smith’s last walk on stage. Smith said that he had mixed emotions while bidding the crowd farewell. “I felt happy knowing that I had made a significant contribution to the arts and culture, while a sense of sadness gripped my body realising that this was my last hoorah at the Savannah.” Having competed in the King of Carnival contest since 1956, Smith was knocked out in the preliminary round of this year’s competition.

It was just days before the preliminaries while putting the final pieces on his king at his Dyette Estate, Cunupia home, Smith decided to throw in the towel. Smith’s wife Joanne, who lives in New York, was told the news by telephone. Smith said “old age and his creaking bones” have forced him to call it a day. Though he hobbles to get from one place to the next, Smith looks much younger than his actual age. He has vowed not to give up parading along the streets of Port-of-Spain on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Well-known for his wire bending skills, Smith started playing mas at age five. In 1956, he produced his first small band The Coronation of Haile Selassie which was published in Michael Anthony’s book The History of Trinidad and Tobago.
Not against panty and bra
The band was later renamed Bacchanalias by his children who play an integral role in producing a variety of costumes. Smith took credit for being the first band leader to hire deejay Fatman George in Tunapuna for his masqueraders to enjoy themselves. With the support of his children, Smith was encouraged to participate in the King of Carnival competition in 1956. “It seemed as though I was bitten by the King of Carnival bug because year-after- year I would show up at the Savannah just for people to see my work,” said Smith. Since then, Smith, who many describe as a legend, has entered every competition. Even though he has never won a King of Carnival title, Smith said it was the people’s love and appreciation that kept him going.
RIGHT: Skilled wire bender Frank Smith promises to parade on the streets of Port-of-Spain on Carnival Monday and Tuesday for his fans.Photo: Dilip Singh
Smith said he had no qualms about the bikini and bra costumes which have flooded Carnival over the years. “I am not against the panty and bra costumes. People have to remember we are living in a different era. Life is about change.” Having won three Small Band awards with the portrayals, Antarctica Sunlight, Redman Territory and Tribal America, Smith said he was handing over his legacy to his offspring. “This is the only way I can ensure that my legacy does not die.” He has passed on his wire bending skills to several students, among them Barataria RC School and Princes Town Junior Secondary School.

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