Traditional mas practitioners wary but willing to participate

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A jab jab band at South Quay, Port of Spain during Carnival 2020. – FILE PHOTO/SUREASH CHOLAI

Traditional mas practitioners are confused and wary about the plans surrounding Carnival 2022 and the NCC’s Taste of Carnival calendar. While most have decided to participate, others will not be participating in the festival for various reasons.

Moko Somokow band leader Veynu Siewrattan said the band had decided early on that it would not be presenting anything this year.

“We decided that without a firm position as to what was happening and because of all the uncertainty, it was difficult to plan, so we decided to plan for 2023. It’s a pity they didn’t say something earlier, as it would have given people a chance to try to participate in the programme.”

Practitioner Tracey Sankar-Charleau, famous for her portrayals of traditional characters such as La Diablesse and Lagahoo, said she had not been asked to participate in the traditional individuals programme, as she understood that only selected performers were being chosen.

“I still haven’t been paid for my participation in Carnival 2020 as well as Dimanche Gras in 2018. I’m focusing on commissioned work that I’ve been asked to exhibit in the UK. If we can’t congregate and have to social distance, how can they stage Dimanche Gras? Putting a costume together costs thousands of dollars, but how can I be sure I’ll make back any part of that money or even break even? We don’t even know what our appearance fee will be.

“I’m sure the pods will be full of people wining and gyrating, and it’s very much for the privileged. I’m waiting to see who will get sick afterwards. I’m also not sure how I would keep myself safe in that environment, because everyone has to use the same set of toilets, so why would I subject myself to that?”

She wondered how the government was able to find funds for the event, as it had previously announced that no funds were allocated for Carnival.

Couva Whipmasters bandleader Ronald Alfred said the band has not yet been approached to participate in the programme and had only seen the traditional individuals event being advertised.

“Initially we heard individuals, then a parade, so we’re not sure what’s happening. We’re all vaccinated, so if any jobs turn up we will go, although it wouldn’t be the full band, just a small amount. We’re going through the ritual of fasting and preparation still, we don’t skylark with that.”

Alfred said the band had only survived the pandemic with sponsorship from First Citizens Bank.

Next Level Devils leader Sterlyn Pierre said the blue devil group received a call from the NCC in December asking whether it would participate in state events.

“We were going to do our regular thing going house to house in Paramin, but we will also participate in whatever shows they have.”

Jab-A-Mien co-manager Kirstin Shade said while the devil band would be willing to participate in the event, the whole process was very last minute.

“It leaves us with little time to prepare and find resources, and we’re still uncertain as to whether these activities/programmes will be funded. The portrayal of the traditional must be continued to preserve the country’s history, but it also costs to get it done and done well.”

Bois Academy TT executive director Jamie J. Philbert said she was waiting to see what happened, as the stickfighting organisation has not been contacted directly about the event slated on the Taste of Carnival programme.

“I hope that whoever gets involved and whichever stickfighters participate, that they are treated and compensated appropriately.”

Independent stickfighter Keegan Taylor said he was glad to see that something was being done on some level.

“I’m happy that stickfighters have an opportunity to demonstrate their skill after more than two years of not having any type of activity. I don’t have any information on how the money will be spent. I saw it’s a stickfight showcase rather than a competition, so I figure guys will be going up there playing a little stick, dance, drums, gallery, etc.”

He said much more needed to be done by government financially outside of Carnival to continue building the institution of kalinda in TT.

Canboulay co-organiser Dara Healey said the group was still in discussions with the NCC to see what was happening. She said they had begun practicing last year because they wanted to mount the production.

“Now that we are able to operate in a safe zone type of environment, we want to explore all the possibilities for expanding the audience for Canboulay and sharing the story of 1881 and the tremendous efforts made to make sure Carnival was not stopped. We always knew that once there was a possibility that theatre and our industry would still be allowed to function, even within a limited parameter, we would want to continue to share the story.”

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