Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mas man of many firsts

What an entertaining experience! It’s been more than one decade since mas veteran Stephen Lee Heung created a costume and played mas but his memory was sharp on Friday, as he took the Sunday Guardian back in time. At his home in Woodbrook, Lee Heung’s frail appearance contrasted his colourful depiction of Carnival in the 40s.
In those days his masqueraders paid $20 for a Carnival costume, inclusive of drinks
Veteran mas man Stephen Lee Heung
 makes a point at his Woodbrook home last Friday.
and bandleaders received items—not cash prizes—for winning Band of the Year. “My costume was $20. Everything inclusive, not as how they do it now. We had a pickup and some beers and some rum. Vat 19 Angostura,” he explained. Though Lee Heung, who turns 90 today suffered a stroke many years ago, he seemed to be at peace.
He gingerly told stories about masmen hiding their costumes from each other until the big parade. He has not gone out to witness the Parade of the Bands since 1997, but views it regularly on television, he admits. In the days Lee Heung made mas, satin sold for 24 cents per yard. “(Mas) It has changed so much,” he said, softly and a bit muffled. “It had no beads in those times.” Lee Heung, who pointed to his exquisite Queen creation—Diana: Goddess of the Hunt—explained that Carnival long ago was about history and it told a story. However, he said now it was about fantasy.
“Fantasies have no story,” he said. A man of many firsts, Lee Heung started the sectionalised band in 1948, in which he had a large band of 108 masqueraders. “In those days bands were 50, 60 people. So when you had 100 people, you had a big band,” he said with a smile. He copped the Band of the Year prize that year with Reign of the Hanoverians, not taking home $300,000, but most likely a glass dish. It may seem amusing to have received just “thanks” and a household item but he recalled that back then people played mas just for fun.
With a grin he said, “Now if you stick a pin on something, you say pay me!” In the 40s women did not tantalise others with their bodies on the road. Instead, they remained on the trucks for Carnival while the men played on the road. Lee Heung said men felt women would slow them down. Now, woman is boss on the road. 
Times have definitely changed.
“I was the first one to encourage the girls to play on the road,” he said. Lee Heung, who will be partying today with some friends, also received the Hummingbird Gold in 1975. He won Band of the Year on five occasions and won other competitions including the Queen competition. Lee Heung’s last presentation was in 1996.

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