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Monday, July 23, 2007

Is the saying true; Imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Now I am quick to point out the costumes from Trinidad Carnival that have been "rewind and remixed", being used in other Carnivals both internationally and regionally. For those with a sense of humor you will realise it is all done in good fun of course, but I got to thinking about the whole idea of reusing Trinidad Carnival costumes in other Carnivals and what it means to Carnival both locally and abroad. Does it mean that Trinidad is the penultimate source of talent therefore other bands from other countries seek to emulate our creativity and costumes by imitating the styles and therefore we should be flattered? Or, does it indicate that Carnival has evolved into a business that goes beyond the shores of this little island of Trinidad and Tobago and bands have now realised the potential of exporting ready made costumes from Trinidad to other Carnivals regionally and internationally?And as a masquerader paying higher prices in Trinidad should we too benefit and be able to recycle our costumes as well?Finally, with imported costumes from Trinidad making their way into other Carnivals globally does that stunt the growth of regional and international Carnivals?

Taking the first point to task one can look at Passion Mas Troupe of Antigua and Fantasy of Culture from Virgina Caribfest who took two costumes that were popular in Trinidad's Carnival this year and restructured them to make a new, albeit strikingly similar costume. The former band reworked TRIBE's "Cow Mas" and the latter Island People's "Raiders of the Desert". One can only deduce that obviously these costumes made such an impression on the "designers" of these bands that they were copied. As a band leader in Trinidad, knowing that costumes do not have a patent or copyright, there is little one can do to stop someone from aping your costume and though it might be seen as "stealing" an idea there is little recourse to be had, unless bandleaders start exporting their costumes to stop the "theft" of designs. Which leads to the next point.

There are the bands such as Poison UK, Borokeetes and Campusboyz who are presenting costumes "as is" from Trinidad's Carnival. Poison UK is offering costumes from Pulse 8, Borokettes has one section that is Nubians from Island People with a revamped headpiece and Campusboyz has several sections on offer that are from the band Genesis. Very little is done to "disguise" the origin of the costume and Carnival savvy masqueraders can easily identify which Trinidad bands they originated from. Hence the reason I was able to identify this costume from "Unleashed" carnival band which participated in St Lucia Carnival as being none other than Pulse 8's "Wicked Waitress" with added fabric and feathers to the headpiece:

Wicked Waitress


Taking an educated guess I can only assume that when some bands end up with a surplus of materials and/or costumes from Carnival that has passed the only option to recoup what would be a loss is to market the costume for another Carnival outside of Trinidad. Also, some local bands might have a partnership or affiliation with another international band, like in the case of Poison UK and Sesame Flyers with Legacy, thereby allowing the recycling of costumes. In this case to be fair to the masquerader who would have purchased their Trinidad costume at a comparatively inflated price the fair thing to do, to me, would be to allow masqueraders with costumes from Trinidad's carnival to participate in other Carnivals where the costume is being reused.

The last point struck me when a blogger left a comment on Labour Day mas and the prospect of playing in "remixed" costumes asking the question if "is this is what our mas has come to?". How do other bands feel when they have poured their heart and soul into creating costumes only to be upstaged by products from Trinidad that have allegedly come by the way of China? I guess they feel how some Trinidadian bands feel when their "locally made" costumes are shirked in favour of the heavily embellished Asian imports, but that is a whole other topic which I have discussed before. Though I am proud of Trinidad's ingenuity and creativity when it comes to mas as well as our contribution to Carnivals all over the world it would be refreshing to allow other islands to emerge with their own style of costumes and showcase their local talents as well. Buying costumes wholesale from a Trinidad band does not support this thinking however.

So, I have not really gotten any answers to my questions, in fact the more I think of the whole issue the more points I can think of to both support and negate the practice of recycled costumes, however one fact that is clear is that Carnival IS a huge money making business and what this issue illustrates more than any other is who is really into it for only the money, consequently pushing culture, creativity, talent and innovation to the side; maybe the more apt saying would be "money talks, and bull shit walks"!

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