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.