Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 12th 2014 Contents MARK LYNDERSAY
Rawle Gibbons can count his conver-
sation with Ronald Alfred as one of the
coups of his career.
The chat, part of the Masters of the Mas
project launched in 2010, is an initiative
of Jouvay Ayiti, a collective that gathers
the resources of Arts-in-Action of UWI,
the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies
of Tunapuna, Scherzando Steelband of
Curepe and Studio 66 of Barataria.
Alfred is not known as a talkative person.
He is a giant of a man, broad-shouldered
and barrel-chested, but you wouldn t see
that immediately when he works as the
king of The Original Whipmasters.
In the band, he wears vivid yellow with
brilliant accents of colour, shards of mirror
and wisps of swansdown decorating his
costume, which tinkle merrily with every
Alfred shrinks into that costume, his
massive frame blending in among the
colourful, masked imps that constitute the
band, their presence a mix of tinkling bells
and slashing crack of whips. And none is
louder than the explosion of the Whip-
master King s massive braided rope, a sound
that pressures the eardrum even across
Ronald Alfred spoke for more than an
hour with Gibbons on February 3 at the
Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource
Centre, the whipmaster agreeably coaxed
into discussing the history, inspirations and
antecedents of the band.
Cross-lit and bearing up a bit hesitantly
under the insistent view of twin video cam-
eras, Alfred offered a recounting of his
knowledge of this remarkable band, which
stands as an almost untouched instance
of traditional mas; its practices and tech-
niques handed down from generation to
generation across most of the last centu-
ry.It s a sacred tradition for the Alfreds,
who have introduced each of their children
to Carnival from the pram.
"My whip hangs in my house," Alfred
told the audience in the centre s auditorium.
"It ain t in no bag or in some corner."
The whip, the symbol of the band s dis-
tinctive approach to the jab jab masquerade,
is something of a coveted item and curiously
enough, not one that Alfred hesitates to
He teaches schools the tradition of the
mas and makes 75 each year for the children
who attend his master classes. At Christ-
mas, he creates another 100 for the com-
munity surrounding Whipmaster Drive,
the family s home in Couva, and finally
makes another 57 for the band members.
It s a labour of love for Alfred and his
family, who don t charge people to play
mas with them but demand something
more precious and far rarer than cash, a
dedication to the ideals of the masquerade
that is their life.
At the end of the talk, Ronald Alfred
rose from the tiny chair in response to a
request for a demonstration.
As the video crew scrambled off the
stage and the Whipmaster King put his
mask on, the power of his masquerade
seemed to fill the room, along with more
than a dozen members of the band, their
jingling bells a musical susurrus that was
soon punctuated by the cracks of whips
large and small.
The power of the jab jab mas, a spectacle
of colour and gentle bells that holds the
terror of the deadly clown with each snake s
strike curling of the whips, undimmed by
something as clinical as a documentary
recording under unkind fluorescent lights.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Chief of the Original Whipmasters of Couva, Ronald Alfred
and interviewer Rawle Gibbons take questions from the
audience at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource
Centre. PHOTO: MARK LYNDERSAY
The other end of the whip
The conversation with Ronald
Alfred is part of Jouvay Ayiti's 2014
production of a devil Mas band
titled Impersonation (spelt
IMPsPersonsNations). The group
tries to interview veteran mas
performers who have worked in the
style of each year's band. The next
scheduled talk is with Blue Devil
masman Tico Skinner at Studio 66
on February 24.
The recording of the Whipmaster
talk will form part of the project's
archive and a copy will be given to
the Rudranath Capildeo Learning
Resource Centre for use in the
Schools Broadcasting Service.
The T&T Guardian's 2012 story on
the band is here: http://ow.ly/tqkBg
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