Carnival is always evolving, and bands across the region are today revolutionising the mas space. Jeneille Lewis meets designers and creatives ringing the changes
Chat to any older mas enthusiast, on any Caribbean island steeped in the ways of mas making, about the difference between Carnival costumes now and costumes decades ago, and their response is often the same. They will tell you about the “good ol’ days” – about the time they spent creating glorious productions out of anything they could get their hands on, burning their fingers with the glue gun, paying homage to historical traditions. They stress how different things were back then, becoming animated at the reality that young people these days “only want a bunch of bikinis and feathers”.
Carnival, however, is about movement and change – and bands across the region have undergone an evolution in the way they approach the Carnival experience. That’s evident in the way they build mas, play mas and market mas across the globe. Newer bands have remained true to the creative aspect of the festival by utilising young local fashion designers. Other bands have chosen to focus less on the costume itself and more on providing a solid, all-inclusive party experience. Regardless of the path that each band takes, their love of Carnival culture remains central to
it all. We caught up with four bands shaking up the mas scene.
The perfect blend
Krystal Jean Baptiste explains the inspiration behind St Lucia’s Fuzion Mas, a band for everyone
Q What is the concept of Fuzion Mas? Our vision was not to reinvent the wheel but to be part of the Carnival dialogue in a meaningful way – to blend traditional mas with the contemporary pretty mas, hence our name. There have been discussions for years in St Lucia and beyond that mas has become diluted and is not a true representation of Carnival. We disagree. We believe Carnival is inclusive, that there is a space for everybody. We needed to represent the full-figured woman, the creative with a flare for drama, the older gentleman who still wants to jam to a live band belting out familiar tunes.
Q How did you discover your passion for mas making? I have a passion for events, and had been involved with another St Lucian band for over 12 years. However, I longed to contribute to the landscape through my own lens, and assembled a competent team of like-minded individuals to start the band.
Q Did you pursue formal training in design? Though no one in the band has formal education in design and mas-making, almost all of our core members have years of experience with Carnival and the work that goes into a mas band from conception to the road. We have a passion for this cultural form and want to be a part of St Lucia’s Carnival history.
Q What is Fuzion Mas doing differently? We are the band of inclusion. There is a move towards VIP in most bands, but we have taken the bold step not to. A live band and a bouillon of local and international DJs is just a taste of the experience we offer. Forging meaningful relationships with other Carnival enthusiasts is also important to us as we continue to grow the band and, by extension, St Lucia Carnival. We’ve teamed up with some of the best in the business to ensure quality service, as well as giving new and emerging DJs, designers and artists a chance to hone their craft and stand alongside accomplished local and international acts.
Q Why are you doing things differently? It is very easy to sit on the sidelines and talk about what should and shouldn’t be done to make a product better – talk is cheap. If you want a change, if you believe you can add value, then do it. We believed we could make a difference, add our bit of creativity and talent to the mix, and we did.
Q How do you see the Carnival landscape changing in the future? It’s shaping up nicely in spite of the nay-sayers. Marcus Garvey wanted the United States of Africa, and once upon a time we also wanted the Caribbean confederation. Maybe through play we will be able to achieve this. There is a lot of exchange and collaboration going on across the islands through our shared interests in Carnival, and this sort of partnership will not only continue in the Carnival space but filter into other areas.
Q What would you like to leave behind for future generations of mas players? We are looking forward to 2019 with the theme ‘Butterfly Effect’. Every action, no matter how minute, will cause a ripple effect. Our hope as the band starts to leave its mark is that we continue to learn and grow, but we teach, we carry others along with us, we ‘infuze’ them with our passion for this cultural form. Let it not be said that Fuzion Mas did not play ah good mas.
A global groove
We chat to the top team behind Barbados’s innovative and internationally flavoured Krave the Band
Q What is the concept of Krave? Bringing the world to Crop Over – or Crop Over to the world!
Q How did you discover your passion for making mas? Krave tThe Band was formed in 2013 by husband-and-wife duo Tracy Boyce and Avery Hackett. Tracy always had a passion for fashion and design; when we entered the Carnival arena, she discovered she had a hidden talent for creating fabulous costumes. She has no formal design training; she just enjoys creating costumes that make patrons feel confident and look beautiful.
Q What prompted this move into the Carnival landscape? Meeting with the National Cultural Foundation in 2012, we were challenged to come up with ideas for making the Crop Over experience more appealing to locals and internationals, to get people back onto the road and back into the Crop Over movement. From our travels throughout the region, we recognised the change that was taking place in the quality and creativity of costumes and the production of Carnival as a whole. We wanted to ensure that Barbados was at the forefront of this Carnival revolution.
Q What is Krave doing differently? Krave is the only Ultra-Premium VIP mas band in Barbados. We are also the only Bajan band to launch our costumes in the USA, with the aim of encouraging more foreigners to come to Crop Over, resulting in an economic boost. We knew we were taking a risk but it was definitely worth it. Krave is now considered the international band by many of our peers. We now participate in nine Carnivals throughout the Caribbean, USA and Europe. We’ve incorporated different experiences we’ve encountered while partying in places such as Las Vegas, New York City, Dubai and Miami. One of the first things we created was a mobile, double-decker air-conditioned VIP lounge, which provided clients with freshly prepared lobster and shrimp dishes, champagne, wines and signature cocktails on the road. These amenities were unheard of for Carnivals throughout the region.
Q What do you have in store for Carnival 2019? Each year we think outside the box to come up with themes – we want to provoke thought and talk. 2018 was our fifth year, and we wanted a strong concept: our presentation was ‘Year of tThe Savage’, and we won the Party Band of The Year title. Our costume prototype production for 2019 is well under way, and we are excited to share what we have in store. Trust us: you won’t be disappointed!
Q How do you see the Carnival landscape changing in the future? Carnival and soca is an untapped market. Carnival is becoming more popular on social media platforms, and soca music and videos are played on mainstream radio and television. Many of our soca artists have received awards and performed at international showcases. We believe interest in the Carnival movement is reaching an all-time high.
Q What would you like to leave behind for future generations of mas players? Carnival is life. It has a way of making people happy. As the Carnival movement continues to grow and spread, we hope future generations embrace it fully and keep pushing the culture forward.
Focus on fashion
Founded by Trinidad-born twin sisters Kathy and Karen Norman, K2K is making Carnival a year-round event
Q What is the concept of K2K Alliance & Partners? The brand has always focused on three pillars, each of which is an art form: the Look, which is art for the face; the Fashion, art for the body; the Mas, which is a moving installation. The brand also hinges on a 365-day concept. The Carnival experience is expensive but our garments can be dissected and used after Carnival season. Some are wardrobe pieces that can be paired with jeans, skirts and trousers; many are formal gowns, and can be worn for weddings and functions. K2K focuses on creating a sophisticated product, designed for multi-functional use.
Q Why was K2K formed? At some point in all our lives we ask ourselves: why are we here? What is our purpose? And how do we fit in? The brand was developed out of a need to answer those questions. It was also an attempt to help us re-connect with home. K2K made its formal debut on the streets of Port of Spain in 2012, originating from the desire to fill a gap, bridging traditional costuming with fashion.
Q What do you have in store for Carnival 2019? The theme is Through Stained Glass Windows, focusing on the need for prayer in times when segregation and hate seem to be more evident. The sections love (Amare), faith (Fidem), hope (Spero), light (Lux) and joy (Gaudium) speak to some of the positive coping mechanisms needed to balance global discord.
Q Where do you find inspiration? Everywhere. Our process is very organic, with themes for the next few years already put on paper. Our thematic trajectory is not some sort of hard-and-fast modus operandi, but rather something that evolves in the natural order of things – maybe a sort of modus vivendi.
Q How do you see the Carnival landscape changing? Carnival and costuming is not static. K2K’s focus is to provide continued diversity in the Carnival diaspora. Our emphasis is on creating timeless artwork that will remain riveting 20, 30 years in the future. With respect to themes, our goal is to create poignant stories that will still have relevance throughout the ages.
Q What would you like to leave behind for future generations of mas players? History re-writes itself, over and over again, and while the story or the fashion sense is never identical, it echoes a familiarity of years ago. Everything will eventually become history, and T&T’s Carnival landscape will continue to evolve and maybe even repeat itself – so the present will become the past and the past the future. It is our duty as part of the Carnival fraternity to be part of that moving canvas. Although fashion in Mas is nothing new, K2K simply strives to continue that movement in our own way.
A breath of fresh air
Entrepreneur, Carnival enthusiast and dedicated mum Karen Veira explains her vision behind St Vincent’s Oxygen Mas
Q What is the concept of Oxygen Mas? We wanted to be fully inclusive and to cater to the needs of the masquerader. Our aim was to make Oxygen a one-stop shop: free entry to parties, free stockings and pasties, free beverages and food all day long! I wanted the experience on the road to be a street party unmatched by others, with the best DJs, local artistes, shots and snow cones, and lots of photographers to capture every single moment.
Q How did you discover your passion for making mas? I’ve been playing mas since I was five years old. I sashed first runner-up in the Miss St Vincent & the Grenadines pageant in 2006 and have assisted my business partner, Skinny Fabulous, in his Soca Monarch productions. I’m also part of several event promotion groups across the island. I have two passions: Carnival and event planning. So I have combined both by starting a mas band.
Q Did you pursue formal training in design? I have a BSc in Management Studies from the University of the West Indies, and I’m putting that to use. I do less of the designing and more of the management of the band.
Q How was Oxygen Mas formed? In January 2015, while pregnant, I had the idea of forming a mas band. Everybody thought I was crazy! Luckily I didn’t pursue it that year because my son was born on Carnival Saturday! In December 2016 the idea popped up again, and I was determined to see it through. I chose the name Oxygen because I wanted the band to be a breath of fresh air for the masquerader and to breathe life into Carnival. Vincy Mas was celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017 and with the opening of Argyle International Airport, we predicted an influx of visitors to the island for the June-July festivities. This was a major driving force.
Q What is Oxygen Mas doing differently from other mas bands? The primary focus of other bands in St Vincent was on costumes. We wanted to place an emphasis on road experience and customer service, while still providing pretty costumes. We wanted our masqueraders to feel like family. We wanted our food areas to be like an oversized restaurant, with seating, tables and tents for all; we wanted a costume-fixing station, pit stops for freshening up while jumping, and a trailer where masqueraders could rest if the sun got too hot or their feet got too tired. All of which we achieved!
Q Why do things differently? I’m a masquerader-turned-band-leader. I treat my masqueraders the way I want to be treated. We structure our road party for the enjoyment of our masqueraders. I believe that there was too much emphasis on winning prizes and not enough on the enjoyment of the patrons.
Q What do you have in store for Carnival 2019? For 2019 our theme is Atlantica, embodying the beauty of the ocean and marine life, both mythical and factual. The directive we’ve given to our designers is to pull inspiration from the colours found underwater and produce designs that are majestic and regal.
Q Where do you find inspiration? What inspires me to keep going is the constant drive to be a successful entrepreneur, to have something for myself that I started from scratch that can be handed down to my son.
Q How do you see the Carnival landscape changing in the future? I see it continuously evolving. As event planners we learn that we constantly have to reinvent ourselves; for Carnival to continue to grow and be appreciated by generation after generation, all stakeholders will have to do so. Vincy Mas is the Carnival world’s best-kept secret! In the future I see a merger between traditional bands (who focus on the literal interpretation of the costume) and non-traditional bands (party bands) and this, I think, will set Vincy Mas apart from other Carnivals.
Q What would you like to leave behind for future generations of mas players? I want masqueraders to always remember to have fun! Carnival is becoming so commercialised that band leaders are now seeing it as a business – eventually we may forget the true essence of the festival. It will then be the duty of the masquerader to pull it back – to remind us why we got into the business in the first place, to remind us of our love for Carnival.
Party of the people
Meet Valmiki Maharaj, mas mastermind of Trinidad & Tobago’s The Lost Tribe
Q What is the concept of The Lost Tribe? Lost Tribe is spirit. It embraces Carnival as a whole and amalgamates the best of the modern-age ultimate Carnival road party and design. It pays homage to our culture and arts and nods to our history. It is extra in every aspect, from costume to road to playin’ yuh best self for two days in the sun.
Q How did you discover your passion for making mas? I don’t think I discovered it, I think it discovered me. Circumstance, life and a search for an avenue to express and create brought me to Carnival, where I found an oasis to grow. I’m still growing. I am inspired by the world and everything in it. I celebrate beauty in everything and everyone; I enjoy living life while being inspired by it; I hope that whatever I do impacts or touches someone in some way and makes someone smile.
Q Did you pursue formal training in design? No. I went to business school and am happy for it. It gave me a grounding that I needed as a creative and a critical eye that has helped me in my life.
Q What prompted you to do things differently? Carnival is an artform and costuming is my medium as an artist. Carnival is an expression. Carnival is of the people and everyone expresses differently.
Q What do you have in store for Carnival 2019? The Lost Tribe uses a mix of local designers, selected for their personality, vibes and talent. 2018’s SEVEN was a story of love; 2019’s TAJ is a story of love’s journey through obsession and grief – one that each of us will face.
Q What would you like to leave behind for future generations of mas players? I would like to leave a strong belief in self and country, and that Carnival is ours.
What goes into making Carnival the greatest show on earth? Jeneille Lewis meets some of the brilliant behind-the-scenes pros that make the magic happen
The Fitness Trainer – Tennyson Harrigan
“Typically, the general public start their Carnival-related exercise regimes six to eight weeks before the actual day. As for what they’re trying to accomplish, well: abs. Everyone wants their abdominal muscles to be visible! Men are interested in muscle definition – abs included – and tend to go for chest, shoulder and arm development. Women are more likely to go after a firm, toned look and bigger glutes, or they may be looking to shed some pounds.
“If you want a Carnival physique you need to practise proper exercise and dietary habits year round. There’s little merit in training for six weeks right before Carnival and then sporadically – if at all – for the rest of the year. Some people do manage to shed weight in that time frame, using extreme measures. But ultimately these methods are not the healthiest way to go about achieving results; some may even cause serious metabolic damage. Additionally, the weight lost through these ‘quick fixes’ tends to return as quickly as, if not quicker than, it was shed.
“Many people start at the gym but eventually stop because after a period of rapid progress they seemingly hit a brick wall. A lack of apparent progress and direction in training can be very demotivating. However, this can be remedied by a well-thought-out, systematic training plan. This continual progression keeps motivation and engagement levels high and, as a result, you find that clients become more consistent with gym as well as in other areas of life such as dietary habits, sleeping patterns and lifestyle, which all contribute to their overall fitness and wellbeing. Barbell training, with an emphasis on increasing clients’ maximal strength in the execution of the five primary movements (squat, bench press, deadlift, press, row), is the main methodology I employ.
“Everyone is unique in terms of their goals, body type, training preferences, dietary preferences, habits and lifestyle. As such, a unique approach is required for each individual. If there were one person I would like to train in preparation for Carnival it would be Rihanna. Firstly, she’s usually in decent shape, so already has a certain level of discipline and routine in place where diet and exercise are concerned; I imagine she’d be easy to work with. Secondly, because of her great influence over women, getting her under a bar would help remove the stigma that barbell resistance training makes women look manly, especially when it becomes evident how much her physique improves after a few months of training with me!”
The Photographer – Shane Leacock
“I don’t think I’ve quite identified my photography style as yet. I still discover new concepts that I like every day. I love nice tight shots; bright vibrant colours and candid shots; shots where subjects are fully relaxed and showing their true emotions.
“Carnival Monday and Tuesday are fantastic! A typical Carnival day for me is waking up at around 7am and hopping around from band to band, trying to capture the full vibe, the partying, the cultural aspects. I average around 12,000 steps and around eight bottles of water! I just try to capture the happiness, excitement and joy of the patrons.
“Shooting on Carnival days, with thousands of people around, hot sun and tight angles can be a bit of a task. Sometimes the hardest decision is choosing which lens would be best. Ideally you would have two cameras, to have a full focal range. But that means carrying extra weight.
“Lighting is difficult too. The best time to shoot is early mornings, from 6am to 9am, and evenings, around 4pm to 5pm. Unfortunately, to best capture the full essence of Carnival, you may find yourself shooting under the midday sun, when the shadows are really harsh. I try to stick to the basics. I let my models stand facing the sunlight where possible, to avoid shadows. Another trick: I use surrounding objects – trees, the drinks truck – to block out the sun. This gives me a cool area to take nice photographs.”
The Hair Stylist – Kimbalene Blake
“Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago is a hectic season for all businesses in the service and fashion industries. My secret to surviving the madness is: rest, rejuvenate and revitalise!
“Women in Trinidad & Tobago are very passionate about Carnival; being part of that experience is so fulfilling for me as a hairstylist. I am usually fully booked by August for Carnival hair; then there is a waiting list. During pre-Carnival styling consultations I ensure I receive a preview of my clients’ costume headpieces beforehand. On Carnival Monday I begin styling at 4am and end at 10.30am, styling an average of 15 clients. On Carnival Tuesday I begin at 2am and end at 10am, averaging 18 clients. These start and end times have proven quite effective, and allow me to have adequate time to prepare myself for the greatest show on earth as well. Other hairstylists often ask me how I manage in-salon Carnival appointments as well as Carnival shoot bookings. My answer is always the same: schedule, schedule, schedule and then stay on schedule! Clients can be very demanding but the key to having satisfied and happy customers is to maintain professionalism at all times.
“My hairstyling technique is unique: classy and trendy – that’s my signature style. I love creating up-dos and chic hairstyles. I’m also a huge fan of edgy, soft hair that flows. Bounce and volume is everything! Hair trends for Carnival 2019 are super fierce! Herringbone braid, sleek ponytails and coloured hair extensions. Whichever is the longest length, that’s the fiercest of them all. There are so many creative techniques available now to spice up these hairstyles.
“My one major hairstyling tip is: freeze, freeze and more freeze. Freeze hairspray is my best friend. It is tough on sweat, water and the heavy movements induced by sweet soca music.
“If there were one person whose hair I’d like to do for Carnival it’s Beyoncé. It’s every hairstylist’s dream to touch Queen B’s hair. Locally, I’d love to work with Nailah Blackman. She seems fun and adventurous. Styling her would certainly boost my creativity.”
The Makeup Artist – Narvely Labastide
“Carnival is crazy-hectic but there is a method to the madness. Clients usually book Carnival makeup appointments a year in advance. I typically only rebook longstanding clients but I do have an amazing assistant who works with me to accommodate additional clients. We usually start around 1am and work throughout the morning, finishing our last client by 10am. I also specialise in brow shaping so I try to balance my makeup and brow clients. I would love to do Rihanna’s makeup – the face on that girl is like a playground.
“Skin prep is key to ensuring the longevity of your makeup. I typically use a range of mattifying primers and sunblock to prep the skin. I airbrush the foundation with a silicone base formula because it’s longer lasting than traditional foundations in extreme conditions. I also provide each client with a mini personalised touch-up kit that includes a little translucent powder and lipstick.
“For Carnival 2019, I envision a lot of pretty, glamorous makeup. Gems are a trend of the past. Clients are leaning more towards a more timeless look rather than colourful, costume-matching makeup. My personal style is pretty simplistic. I tend towards a bronzy eye, sculpted brow, minimum-to-light coverage on the skin and a popping lip (usually a deep berry colour) or a plain ole gloss. Versatility is key, but clean and timeless is my go-to aesthetic.”