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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Carnival Story

Few people know the roots of bands such as Poison which has now "birthed" new bands such as TRIBE, Island People, Pulse 8 and Dream Team. The following is an archive taken from the NALIS website which gives a bit of history into the fascinating dynamic that is Carnival!



By Terry Joseph

Episode 12


March 3, 2000

Page 35

While pan and traditional calypso suffered from the post-1970 direction of the Carnival, which demanded more frenzied music and sound reproduced at deafening levels, mas meanwhile enjoyed an unprecedented boom.

Growth had been steady since the turn of the 1930s, when historical mas was a regular feature of the Tuesday parade. Mas had also diversified. J'Ouvert had defined among its mas options yard-sweepers, babes-in-arms, ghosts, cow mas and the dreaded blue devils and jab molassies (a mas that originally required the entire body to be covered in molasses). Bats and midnight robbers had also braved the daylight.

For the Tuesday competition at the savannah in 1932, presentations were judged in 19 categories (including best-decorated bicycle). The first prize overall was $60. Public participation had taken a leap by 1933, causing the authorities to schedule special trains to bring spectators and revelers into Port of Spain for the Carnival day parades. Patrick Jones put on a fireworks display that Carnival Monday night, which frightened more than a few people and the first amplified sound was heard at the Queen's Park Oval.

The growth pattern continued after the break for World War II. In 1956, more than ten bands crossing the Savannah stage fielded in excess of 300 players each. Among them was a young bandleader called Edmond Hart.

At the time he was rubbing shoulders with legends like Harold Saldenah, Irwin McWilliams, Stephen Lee Heung, Harry Basilon, Horace Lovelace, Bobby Ammon and Errol Payne. Men, who dominated the masquerading population, wore breastplates made from real metal (fashioned by the likes of Ken Morris) and carried regal capes of heavy plush velvet, when playing historical mas.

By the early 1960s, steelbands, which had concentrated on military mas up to that time, began to make their presence felt in the pretty mas league. In 1963 they were matching creativity with Saldenah's Controversy of Time, Bailey's Bats and Clowns, Edmond Hart's The Etruscans, Archie Yee Foon's Field of the Cloth of Gold and Irwin McWilliams' Festival of Moscow. The steelbands had answered the challenge majestically.

Cito Velasquez presented Splendour of the East that year and Desperadoes charmed the audiences both at the Savannah and Downtown with Land of the Zulus.

But it was Pat Chu Foon's designs that took the top mas prize. His drawings for Gulliver's Travels had been converted by the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra into a prize-winning presentation. It was the only time that a steelband would win the top prize at the Savannah and this one was particularly significant as it beat four-time winner George Bailey into second place.

By 1977, changes to the 1956 picture seemed to represent much more than 21 years of artistic evolution. Breakaway factions from the better-known bands were now producing their won full presentations, competing against their former mentors.

Morris' band split to also give us the Home Team; Raoul Garib had left Stephen Lee Heung to bring out his own band; Bernard "Frenchie" Clamens and Neville Hinds had parted company with McWilliams and Hart's band had spawned Mavericks.

Consider now that out of Hart's has since come Young Harts Ltd, Barbarossa, Poison and Legends, four of the largest bands at last year's Carnival. The 700 players that Edmond Hart fielded in the 1950s had grown to more than 17,000 over the period, comprising one-third of last year's Port of Spain parade.

These were not the only changes. The sheer weight of numbers, coupled with a number of social factors, had meanwhile altered the way mas would be played thereafter.


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