|Taking Rebellion to the streets |
By Melissa Doughty Monday, January 25 2016
“THE EVENTS of the 2007 General Election spawned an alternate reality in which a drastic change to the history of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago occurred, leading to the formation of the United States of Trinidad. The following is an account of those events, and a look at the state of the United States of Trinidad in its current day, in the year 2069.” No, this is not part of the latest Hunger Games or Divergent script but rather the story which gave birth to one of TT’s newest costumed mas bands.
Mas Rebellion crafted a threepart story from which its 2016 Carnival presentation: “Heroes/ Villains” was born. The new mas band promises a return to costumed mas, one that tells a story.
In an interview with Newsday, its founders, Angeli Gajadhar (the band’s managing director/ band leader), Keir Roopnarine (the band’s creative director) and Daryl Dillon (the band’s operations manager) felt the time had come for mas to say something again.
Roopnarine and Gajadhar sat at the band’s 22 French Street, Woodbrook mas camp. The low soca in the background adding to the mounting feeling that Carnival was just around the corner.
“This band was born out of a story. A story that was written about ten years ago,” Roopnarine said. Although its aesthetic design contains modified versions of traditional folklore and Carnival characters, Roopnarine said these are heroes, set in the story, each with its own philosophical story.
“That story is something that a couple friends and I wrote about ten years ago, and in this story there is a rebellion or revolution, it doesn’t actually come to fruition though it does give rise to some superhero/vigilante type characters. We did not want to borrow from other cultures, we wanted to take from our own and so these characters and vigilantes are the soucouyants, The Bookmans etc.
“The only one that we kind of made up on our own is The Vengeful Ibis and she is, in our story, our Phoenix type character and I felt that the Ibis was an appropriate representation of what the Trinidadian rebirth bird might look like,” she said. The bands characters are the soucouyant, vengeful ibis, angelic ibis, blue devil clans, bookman, lagahoo, midnight and red devil clans. Gajadhar and Roopnarine said coming back to this type of mas, “sort of went against the current status quo. Pretty mas and BBF (bikini, bead and feather) mas is the mainstream Carnival band right now and we are not that.” Roopnarine said it is in the band’s mandate not to use feathers in their costumes.
She added the bands which popularised the bikini, beads and feathers (BBF) kind of mas were aspirational kind of bands and the ones people gravitated toward. Those bands, she said, became so popular it left a deficit in Carnival, today. Although, Roopnarine said BBF has its place in Carnival today so too does costumed mas.
Mas Rebellion caters to all shapes and sizes, literally. The void created a niche market– people wanting to play mas but not in BBF – which Mas Rebellion hopes to capitalise on.
The band’s own genesis was formed when Gajadhar – who had been playing mas since she was 12 years old– and Rooparine were looking for a band in 2014.
They were, however, dissatisfied with the options that were available to them. They decided to plan a trip but then Dillon came to them and said the group should do a section in a band.
There was also some difficulty in deciding which band they would be comfortable doing this with but found none. The group eventually settled on doing its own band in which certain criteria being essential to its existence.
Accessibility, aesthetic and ease were all major considerations for the Mas Rebellion founders.
The band made all of its costumes locally – another step away from the status quo. It took approximately two years for the band to get on the way and it was not an easy task but it was done.
“It was about a year of work,” Roopnarine said. The band launched November last year and expects to have between 600 to 1,000 masqueraders. Its costumes range between $1,590 to $6,600.
The band will tell this story across three Carnivals but don’t be perturbed the Rebels plan to tell their stories for many more years to come across TT ’s stages.