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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mystique Masqueraders ...New Pick Up Date

Seems like not all Mystique Masqueraders got the following email from TRIBE:

Dear Mystique Masquerader,

Please be advised that we have rescheduled your pick up date to:-

Saturday 2nd February
between 1.00 p.m. & 7.00 p.m.

(Mystique Masqueraders Only)

Please email if you need any further details, or contact our Hotlines at

353-7983 or 353-7978,

Monday – Friday 9:30am-9:30pm

See you then
This SUCKS for Mystique masqueraders, who were due to collect tomorrow; Carnival Saturday is the WORST day to collect (I have been there before!). Not to mention that date is crunch time for any costume adjustments or matching up accessories and the like. I know many PISSED Mystique masqueraders who are very upset at these new developments!

Hope it all goes smoothly when collection time comes around and a special collection point is designated for the Mystique masqueraders so that they will not have to "fight up" with the overseas masqueraders en masse!

Million Dollar Business of Mas

On November 21st I wrote about "The Myth of the Mas Millionaire" after this quote from bandleader Mike Antoine:

'I don’t know of any

bandleader who has

become a millionaire

out of it. We are all struggling like

anybody else.’

—Big Mike Antoine, Legacy bandleader/designer

At that time I scoffed at Big Mike's notion that bandleaders are "struggling", as a consumer I know quite well that the price of my costume is not tantamount to the cost of making it , nor do I believe that the sponsors do not contribute heavily to all the niceties that come as part of our "ultimate experience"; many mas men are indeed millionaires!

Today the Sunday Express explores the business of mas and the fact that some bands will gross in excess of 10 MILLION DOLLARS after Carnival 2008; the article is long, but a VERY interesting read:

Mama, dis is business!
In the 2008 edition of Trinidad Carnival, some of the popular mas bands will gross in excess of $10 million

Sunday, January 27th 2008

KLENWORTH JONES, a journalism student at COSTAATT, looks into the books of the men who make mas.

Carnival comes with a price tag that changes for the better or for the worse-depending on whether you are consumer or producer-every year.

In the 2008 edition of Trinidad Carnival, some of the popular mas bands will gross in excess of $10 million. It is a moot question how much of this is profit and whether or not the taxman knows the answer to this question. What, however, is not in dispute is that for some individuals, mas has become a multi-million-dollar enterprise. The average cost of a costume for a female masquerader is approximately $3,200 whereas for male masqueraders the figure is in the region of $2,600. When one considers that the top-end bands can have in excess of 3,500 members and, that apart from the proceeds from the sale of costumes, there are multiple streams of revenue flowing into the bands, the picture becomes clear. Profit maximisation, one sees, is the name of the mas game.

Some popular mas bands now offer complete packages for their members, which typically include meals and snacks, air-conditioned rest and relaxation buses, all the alcohol that you can drink along with your costume. On its website, one of them, Tribe, describes its focus as "providing the ultimate Carnival experience for masqueraders by producing a superior product."

A number of bands now use the medium of the Internet to advertise their costume designs and register masqueraders as well as to sell their concept of the mas experience. Here is a listing of what two of the popular bands, Tribe and Island People, offer in their all-inclusive packages.


- Fully-stocked premium bars with unlimited supplies of ice-cold alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks

- A variety of food (breakfast, lunch, snacks, dessert)

- Private security team

- Complimentary shuttle service to the band (for latecomers)

- Goody bag (Carnival essentials and souvenirs)

- Tribe 'cool-zones'

- On-site paramedic team & ambulance

- Mobile restrooms

- Roaming photographers and, of course,

- a costume!


- Breakfast on Tuesday, lunch, munchies, finger foods & cutters both days.

- Premium drinks and cocktails on custom-made bars strategically placed throughout the band.

- The security detail has been revamped and increased to provide a more comfortable environment for all masqueraders.

- LTB (Locate the band) Service

- Shuttle to the band-all day Monday and Tuesday.

- On Carnival Monday, the band will be departing from the Hasely Crawford Stadium at 10 a.m. and at 7 a.m. from Cipriani Boulevard on Carnival Tuesday.

- Sacha Headley and Food Express Ltd will be providing masqueraders with meals prepared so as to be tasty, lean and healthy.

- Unlimited drinks, unlimited fun, unlimited good times.

- Seven 40ft. trailer trucks powered by sound systems from the top DJ's in Trinidad and Tobago.

- Moving bathrooms with exceptional powder room service and amenities.

- Survivor packs / "goodie bag".

Other popular mas bands such as Trini Revellers, Legacy and even Rosalind Gabriel's children's band offer variations on the same theme, but nowhere does this new-dimension mas experience come cheap.

The real elements which factor into the production of a mas band will amaze you. What you see is definitely not what you get. No longer does the production of a Carnival band involve eager enthusiasts giving life to artistic expression in a make-shift shed in Woodbrook or East Port of Spain. It has developed into a very complex business enterprise. The management structure is complete with accounting; marketing and legal elements and the level of commercial sophistication required can rival or even surpass many traditional corporate entities.

It is useful to undertake here a more detailed examination of this developing phenomenon.

Management Structure

Traditionally, the mas band was controlled by a bandleader; names like George Bailey, Stephen Lee Heung, Peter Minshall and Raoul Garib come immediately to mind. Together with a group of designers, these men usually came up with a theme, conceptualised the mas, designed and constructed costumes and coordinated the activities of the mas camp until the wee hours of the morning in the pre-Carnival season. Today, the so-called "bandleader" is but a manager, a front man, a mere figurehead, the real driving force behind the band being the "band owner." The term is usually applied to a financier or group of financiers who hire a cadre of professionals to run the day-to-day affairs of the band. Let us hear what a member of the management committee of one of the big bands has to tell us.

The band, he says, is owned by a popular businessman, of Independence Square in Port of Spain. The band's management committee includes a bandleader, public relations officer and a team of designers. For this Carnival, the band will consist of 22 sections, down from 35 in 2007. The band itself will produce one section in 2008, the other 21 being franchised out to various section leaders who will each pay the owner a sum in the region of $70- $80,000 for the privilege. According to our source, in the final cost to masqueraders are included the cost of inputs such as security, music (live bands and deejays), raw materials for costumes and cost of design and labour, all of which are very high. Inevitably, the cost of "a costume" is adjusted to reflect these expenses.

Traditional-style band management is also very much alive but is seen mainly among the medium and small bands. Very much in the mould of his mentor Minshall, Brian McFarlane continues to be very heavily involved in the creation, design and management of the current holders of the Large Band of the Year title although a committee is charged with the logistics that precede the band's appearance on Carnival Monday. Among the successful traditionally organised bands, Trevor Wallace and Associates and The Kallicharrans from San Fernando are two of the names that stand out.

The reasons why traditional bandleaders hold on to the traditional Carnival arrangements are as varied as the people themselves. Those close to McFarlane say that the love of drama and the opportunity to tell a story through the medium of mas are what, in the main, drive him. This is not to say that there are no commercial considerations, but the mas product on Carnival days reflects the substance that the bandleader inputs.

Sources of income

Apart from the money generated by costume sales, there are multiple sources of income available to bands. A customer service representative for Island People Mas confirms that the band itself does not produce mas but that "independent contractors" pay a fee for the right to produce a section using the Island People brand. Usually, the general design is done by the band and the cost of inputs is borne by the franchisee but these arrangements are always negotiable. Written contracts spell out precisely the responsibilities of each party and detail a schedule for payments.

For Carnival 2008, the most expensive packages are from the band Tribe. Interestingly, the costumes were completely sold out in record time. The prices ranged from a low of $2,250 for a basic male costume to a high of $4,499 for a basic female costume. Add-on pieces such as wings or boys' shorts for women could increase the price by as much as $499 depending on the section.

For this Carnival , Island People Mas has a limit of 12 sections, each with a maximum of 300 members who will pay on average $3,200 for the experience. A quick calculation shows that in this year alone the organization will gross in excess of $10 million.

But masqueraders are not the only contributors to band income. The band owners also generate income from other sources. Both sources to whom the COSTAATT Star spoke concede that corporate sponsors contribute heavily to the major bands, in cash or kind. One of them explains that the management team of the band goes after companies to provide drinks, meals, music or cash in exchange for the display of their product or their name or both at band events or for exclusive association with the mas band.

On its website Island People Mas has listed its major sponsors in three categories, gold, silver and bronze. The lone Gold Sponsor is bmobile. Moneygram International Money Transfer stands alone as a Silver Sponsor while the Bronze Sponsors include Carib Brewery, makers of Stag beer; Angostura 1919 Premium Rum; Fernandes Black and Blue Waters. The list of major sponsors also includes some major corporate heavyweights, Telecommunications giants Cable and Wireless and Digicel, beverage distributors such as A.S.Bryden, Blue Waters, Coca Cola Ltdand S.M.Jaleel and Company Ltd.

Also featuring on the list are cloth stores Jimmy Aboud and Queensway. All these companies pay large sums to the band owner for the opportunity to be associated with the brand, not simply on the two Carnival days but also at all of their associated events.

Associated events represent a major source of income for the bands and more precisely, their owners. Over the years, the

associated events have become more sophisticated and their numbers have also increased. The packages offered and the way in which they are marketed reflect to a large extent the sophistication of the organisers.

The heavy input from sponsors and the huge patronage of these concept events have made them significant money spinners.The events can commence as early as July or August depending on the date of the next year's Carnival.

Private members only band launching, a public band launching and all-inclusive Carnival fetes are staged, with the brand featuring prominently. On its website Tribe Mas boasts that its 2007 ultra all-inclusive Carnival fete, Bliss, was the first large public event to use electronic tickets.

This new technology eliminates the scalpers, "stormers" and the producers of counterfeit tickets, ensuring that all or almost all of the profits are enjoyed by the producers of the event. The cost per ticket ranges between $300 and $700 and large contributions from major sponsors mean owners rake in sums in ranges that may surprise the taxman.

The multiple sources, of income that flow into the hands of popular mas bands have not entirely escaped the eye of the taxman. All the bands that are registered as business entities are required to pay corporate taxes. For those which gross in excess of $200,000 yearly, VAT registration is mandatory.

Bandleaders also pay full import duties and taxes on raw materials and imported pre-assembled costumes. In addition a public notice on the website of the Inland Revenue Division (IRD) strongly advises all bandleaders, music arrangers, disc jockeys, fetepromoters, calypso tent owners, landlords and caterers who intend to make in excess of $200,000 for the Carnival season to register with the Value Added Tax Division.

The Taxpayer Relations Department of the IRD outlines the procedure for accessing tax breaks for investments in cultural activities. The investor must be registered with and certified by the Culture Division of the Ministry of Community Development Culture And Gender Affairs. Approval of the investment is given and this approval of particular investments accompanies the tax return of the investor. The tax rebate is 150 per cent of the investment up to a maximum of $1 million.

The items that qualify for this tax relief are determined by the Culture Division. A call to this government agency revealed that cassettes, DVDs and music CDs from local artistes receive a concession on import taxes and duties. The tax rebates on investments in cultural activities are limited to investments in the performing arts. Officials at the IRD confirm that these claims are being made but were unable to quantify the number of people who access this facility on an annual basis.

The export of Trinidad Carnival is by no means a new phenomenon. Carnival a la T&T has long since been exported to several of the large metropolitan cities of the Diaspora and Trinidad-style Carnivals are now held in Kingston, Jamaica on the Easter weekend; in Bridgetown, Barbados; in Notting Hill, New York, Miami and Toronto. There the Trini experience is reproduced on some usually reduced scale and, not surprisingly, all the big names, Tribemas, Trini Revellers and Legacy, keep reappearing. One suspects that once expansion of the local Carnival peaks -current economic buoyancy suggests later rather than sooner-the large bands that have mastered the business of carnival will turn their full attention to the expansion of the export market for the mas.

In the meantime, however, mas making in Trinidad remains a very profitable enterprise for the new breed of Carnival entrepreneur. Amid the buoyancy of the current economic conjuncture, people with money are making more of it in ways and on a scale that the average man on the street would have never considered possible. I guess one could say, using an expression that was once very popular with the man in the street that the money men are making a small mas with the mas.

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