art in all its forms

art in all its forms

2/21/10

A new kind of mas?

Cobo Town on Carnival Tuesday around the Savannah. Photos courtesy Georgia Popplewell.

In between the bikini and beads of this week's Carnival, a band of cobos slinked, darkly. On Carnival Monday, band members held standards bearing individual slogans which band members had painted themselves in red paint. On Tuesday, standards were ditched, with band-members wearing beaked headpieces and large flowing capes, all black.  There was no music truck, only a small music cart.

The designs were straightforward and efficient. But in the sea of everything else that passed for mas this Carnival, they stood out. Curious onlookers were struck by what they called "real mas". 

The artist Ashraph's band 'Cobo Town'--which this week placed fourth in the small band of the year competition--was not a re-invention of the wheel. But because mas has now degenerated into a mercenary "all-inclusive" experience with little or no edge or individuality, it simply stood out.

As I chipped along through the streets of Port of Spain in the band I found it ironic that onlookers were looking in awe. Clearly, they had grown unaccustomed to seeing so much fabric on masqueraders. 

But worse, some, who have perhaps forgotten the roots of the mas and the great bands of yesteryear, might not have realised that mas used to be just like this; cosy, fun, do-it-yourself; punk. Instead, they looked on in awe at what they perhaps thought was a new kind of mas; a new way of enjoying Carnival. 

The costumes were relatively cheap (though they contained more design elements than any of the thousand-dollar costumes of the bigger bands) and people mixed and matched to fit.  It's a wonder there were not more bands like it this year amidst the global economic downturn. 

Could Cobo Town, then, become the blue print for a new trend? Clearly the band has demonstrated the possibilities for people to come together and make their own mas, like they used to (and in some places still do). 

While not a new kind of mas, the band certainly presents the intriguing prospect of a new process that is long overdue in Trinidad's waning Carnival: re-discovery. With relatively little resources it demonstrated the possibilities of the mas in a festival now being stymied by its own mercenary tendencies.
COBO TOWN was brought out by Cat in Bag Productions which you can find hereVISIT Ashraph's mas camp hereCHECK a sign from the band hereREAD more about this year's Carnival here. RECAP the Dimanche Gras here. RELIVE the Soca Monarch Finals here

2 comments:

  1. Andre, as an old Minshallite who used to make mas in the Camp, I get the feeling from Ashraph's mas that it's a return to mas making and making a statement.
    I don't have a problem with bikini mas as it clearly has a following and everyone should have what the like but I am sure if people (even young ones) were presented with clever options, they'd love the idea of mas like Ashraph's.
    I feel more artists need to get into making mas and do their thing, not imitate anyone but use the concepts they've learnt and mastered to bring new fresh mas that will appeal to a wide variety of people.
    Big up to what Ashraph and the team have done.

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  2. I have no problems with bikini and feather mas. What is questionable, however, is the packaging of this mas in such a mercenary way that it almost belittles the masquerader. In other words, what the hell is with all that rope??? Carnival is supposed to be about freeness...

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