Playing Mas at Trinidad Carnival  

Playing Mas at carnival is the opportunity to express yourself as part of a vast street theatre. It ranges from the great costumes of the kings and queens to the paint and mud covering j'ouvert revelers. Beasts and demons make the rounds, fancy sailors, minstrels, midnight robbers and jab jabs conjure up carnivals past while the sexy bead and bikini extravaganzas wait until Tuesday before venturing out en masse.

The separation between the performers and audience is clear from the stands in the great savannah showplace but the distinction evaporates elsewhere as carnival day approaches.  One finds oneself in the midst of a continuously unfolding state of mind that blurs fantasy and reality.  In its midst, time of day or direction you move no longer matter.
Kiddies' Carnival  

Children's bands crossing the Carnival stage


The children's day to play mas 'Kiddies Carnival' on Saturday, is where this section begins. They were delightful parading over the stage under a clear blue sky. Traditional Indian and African themed costumes were popular.  The hours before the beginning of Dimanche Gras the next evening were spent roaming the savannah, taking in the crafts and food, and listening as the steel bands rehearsed for the evenings program. It was here where we met Shiron Cooper rehearsing with the BWIA Invaders.






       J'ouvert Morning


The  judging of the finals to determine the king and queen of carnival takes place during Dimanche Gras [LINK]. The costumes generally cost between 60,000 and 100,000 TT and it is said that 'Sky is the Limit' worn by the winner - 2003 King Curtis Eustace, cost 120,000TT. The elaborateness of the costumes is a sign of the esteem held in being named the King and Queen of Carnival and the fact that mas costumes have become a full time, year round industry here.  Dimanche Gras ended fittingly with the newly named King, Queen Alana Ward and Calypso Monarch Singing Sandra being mobbed by a pandemonium of devils, moko jumbies, fire breathing demons, press and well wishers.   

Paint and mud-covered revelers passing Independence Square on J'Ouvert Morning

The glory of the moment, the crowning of the winners is juxtaposed against the spontaneity and raucous energy of J'ouvert which is set to begin. It is now 2 a.m. and on the way downtown to the J'ouvert celebrations our newly formed crew stopped into the Mas Camp on Ariapeta in Woodbrook to recharge batteries and down a couple of beers.  Woodbrook and St. James are in the heart of the celebrations. The streets are pulsating, even at this hour, with music. The atmosphere is relaxed Vendors of food and drink line the streets to keep the revelers fortified. Stands have been erected in strategic locations to watch the bands that will pass seemingly continually for the next two days.  


Our J'ouvert begins at Independence Square, where a panel of judges decides J'ouvert King and Queen and Mayor Murchison Brown crowns the winners then retreats into the stands as the revelers start to roll past.  The Maratuntas Insects parade by dirty with mud and red and green paint while the music of Snake Oil blares from a truck. Space clears as a pair of Jab Jabs flicking whips stop in front of the stands to inflict pain on each other. Another Band, entitled Anything, passes wearing blue hospital garb. A large man dressed in diapers and sucking a bottle goes by in a make shift baby carriage, a mud mas band blowing whistles, the Maravel Monstrile, a large band parading to JuJu music, 'Fantasy Islands' in floral print clothes with crazy music.  Jessie a new friend, is trying to make sense of the chaos for me over the din, but soon she's nowhere to be found.




Ace photographer David Wears at work, feeling the J'ouvert bliss

As the sky grew pale it revealed streets filled at every turn with delirious revelers, and, it should be noted, a heavy police presence. Extra precautions were taken to ensure this year's events were trouble free. As the sun rises the energy of the revelers diminishes and we duck into the offices of the Trinidad Guardian to rest up and process some film. Outside Mas bands are forming up to march through the streets on carnival Monday but it is on Tuesday morn that the big bands come out in full force.  

Carnival Day

Traditional Indian King on Carnival morning

 Jumpin' Up on the Savannah Track

Tuesday, Carnival day, Hart's 'The Strip', Legends' 'Bedazzled' Minshall's 'Ship of Fools', Barbarossa's 'Comme Ce, Comme Ca', and Poison's 'Fleurs de Passion'  and dozens of smaller groups parade through the streets in full costumes. Trini to the Bone by David Rudder, Faye Ann Lyons "Display" and Destra Garcia's "Is Carnival" ring in the ears as the day progresses.  Judging for the various categories take place at the Queens Park savannah and all bands with the exception of Minshall's passed there. Hart's Las Vegas themed presentation crossed the stage first just after 8 a.m.The massive "jump and wine energy' of the large bands was  interspersed with smaller bands.

Whining and Jumping

Several bands chose Sailors themes giving the traditional theme a contemporary look, notably renowned designer Peter Minshall's Ship of Fools and Mt. Hope Connection's "A Sailor's Dream" and De Boss. Mystery Raiders' carried forward the tradition of using costume to voice opinion. Their "Ye Robbers of Marli Street" was directed at America a pointedly critical commentary on the soon to be launched war on Iraq. Marli Street is the location of the American embassy and access to the street has been restricted. The day wound down after the 10,000 member 32 section band Poison passed nearly 10 hours later.