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Show me your velvet…

An example of sailor mas. Source: www.traditionalmas.com

YEAR after year, as a true born-and-bred Trinbagonian, I long for those days when Carnival truly displayed our ingenuity by producing good Calypso (humourous, satirical and social commentary and, of course, the double entendre), genuine ole mas, exciting stick fights, masquerading jab jabs, blue and black devils, red Indians, groups of singing minstrels, midnight robbers and the freedom of expression in the ole mas’ dances. Today you see or hear few of those things.

Carnival band portrayals—by leaders like Harold Saldenah, George Bailey, Neville Aming, Cito Velasquez and Raoul Garib and more recently Peter Minshall, Wayne Berkeley and Brian Mac Farlane—are memorable presentations of eras past, rich in history, art and costuming, which brings to mind the request made by spectators “show me your velvet” with the masquerader only too happy to oblige.

Back in the day, flowing costumes, intricate headpieces and almost perfect replicas of breast plates ruled the roost and it was a pleasure to behold.

I would dare say, the Carnivals of yesteryear were very different from the Carnival of today and in no small measure. Where has the art of wire bending, artful copper shaping, shoe/boot making and tailoring par excellence gone?

The mas was different, not feathers from China and bikinis from the United States. All these things were made or improvised right here in Trinidad.

Remember that ole mas character who asked for a penny to see what was in a box or coffin replica, or the old time sailor masquerade who went about sprinkling powder on all the females around or those jab jabs in full colourful costumes cracking their long whips or the midnight robber in his long, black gown and wide-brimmed hat ‘extorting’ money from laughing spectators accompanied by all the fancy speech now classified as ‘robber talk’.

I understand that throughout the years Carnival must change but isn’t it incumbent on us to keep these pockets of our culture alive? Where have all the ole mas dances gone, with many of the nation’s problems on placards with stinging or funny slogans?

There was the time when Carnival dances meant having a good time eating, drinking and showing your prowess at dancing—real good dancing—each group having a table to themselves.

Today’s good time is to stand in front a stage, raise your hands or wine on somebody and most importantly take instructions from the ‘stars’ on the stage—jump up, wave your flags now, and face long lines for drinks and food. The result- “That was fete boy, I had a ball!”

Well this is 2019 and things have changed…a whole lot and who am I to tell today’s partying crowd what to do. It is just difficult to understand why our cultural history has been allowed to fall prey to money and modernity.

I suggest to the authorities that some elements of Carnival must be kept so that the younger generations would have a sense of our cultural past when Carnival meant enjoying oneself and not the money-making enterprise it has now become.

Please have a safe and enjoyable Carnival.