Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 6th 2014 Contents B3
Alice Yard ---Page B4
Since February, it has been my
privilege as a journalist to meet a
great many artists: actors, dancers,
choreographers, playwrights, direc-
tors, designers, painters, illustrators,
They offered advice.
Designer and bandleader Robert
Young told me about "the niceness"
of Trinidad in Carnival season, hos-
pitality that can turn spectator into
Choreographer and dancer Make-
da Thomas talked of "the Carnival
"If you re a Carnival novice, you re
in pain," advised Tony Hall, play-
wright and bandleader.
I listened, but I did not hear.
I had a plan for Carnival: to watch
the art I had seen prepared in its
intended setting on the road. It did
not work out.
7 am J'Ouvert morning
Despite a befuddled detour
through the streets of Belmont, I
watched nearly every possible iter-
ation of messiness set to music. I
am ready to go home. A bass line
heralds another band. The sun is out
now; maybe I can get a picture or
A painted head lunges into my
camera s view. "You are too clean,"
My first J Ouvert was a blurry,
drum-driven delight. But not a
story---I couldn t see a thing through
the paint on my glasses.
No matter. I had plans. I returned
to my lodgings, got hosed down in
the yard, and took a nap.
2 pm Carnival Monday
The day is half done and I am just
starting out. I learn that brushing
powder-covered teeth is an alarming
experience, and I hit the road.
The Savannah is a traffic jam of
beads and feathers. I watch a drunk-
en sailor try to thief a wine from a
woman carrying a baby.
I remember Saleemah Paponette,
who plays black Indian, describing
what she liked about her mas:
"Sometimes it gets a little hot,
because of the colour, but you get
to keep yourself covered. You don t
have people treating you as though
you are up for grabs."
There are no black Indians visible
at the Savannah. It is time to move.
4 pm Carnival Monday
Where is everybody? The streets
around Piccadilly Greens are desert-
ed. I watch the East Dry River s
A man passes with a warning:
"The Great Alligator will come for
you." Time to move again.
At George Street, I am reminded
of Narrie Approo, the veteran mas-
"Everything is practice," he said.
He told me the story of the first
time he played imp, in the 1950s.
He was on George Street, getting
into his costume. "I heard a horn
coming down the road---Clarence."
Clarence Young was a friend of
Approo s, but on this day, he was a
rival. "A tall, thin fella---the man
could dance---what! Like a snake. If
you see that man bend."
Approo was young and impetuous.
"I don t care who I am meeting---
it is mas! I don t care what kind of
mas I am playing, so help me God,
if it s a competing mas, I want to
compete with the best."
The half-dressed imp rushed out
on to the street; wiser heads ducked
"What are you afraid of?" thought
Approo, "He won t kill you. Some-
body has to be better than some-
Clarence was better than Approo
that day. "I wasn t in his class. I
couldn t dance---it was the first year
I was playing."
Everything is practice. Approo
started rehearsing for his next Car-
nival in June. He practiced the imp
dance, mixed in some of the moves
he had seen Clarence use against
him, and innovated: "I used to beat
a Shango drum, so I took a little
Shango and a little movement from
some Indian things, and I made a
He was ready for a rematch. To
his surprise, however, on the Sunday
before Carnival, Clarence requested
a meeting. Approo was nonplussed.
"Why does he want see me? He
shamed me last year, I want war
Still, he went. "I had practiced. I
was not afraid---I was good now, you
know." Not only good, but prepared:
Approo had bought himself an axe
handle and fashioned a realistic blade
to fit to it. It sparked when he
dragged it on the ground.
"I created all kinds of antics for
when I would meet him," he recalled,
"I created my own thing."
It was the year Tokyo played Cyra-
no de Bergerac. Approo picked his
way past articles of the costume
when he arrived at the designated
meeting point. Clarence greeted him,
and produced the familiar props of
his imp mas.
"He brought out the scale and
weight, and asked me what I was
playing," Approo remembered. He
suspected a trick---"I thought he was
trying to tie up my foot"---but it was,
in fact, a gift. Clarence was playing
Cyrano; there would be no imp bat-
tle.The next year, the two men played
black Indian together.
Everything is practice, but Carnival
can wrong-foot even the best pre-
Noon Carnival Tuesday
Woodbrook is alive with flesh and
sequins. The day before, I saw too
little; today, too much. But also not
enough: none of the bands I want
to see reveal themselves in the
parade, but I do learn there are a
surprising number of ways to make
6 pm Carnival Tuesday
vagrant," says Robert Young, after a
brief conversation with a stranger.
On Erthig Road in Belmont, a large
aluminium contraption is in the final
stages of assembly: it will become
the centrepiece of Japan-based visual
artist Marlon Griffith s mas presen-
tation, Positions + Power.
A bedraggled parade of costumes
mingles in the street. There are bats
from Cat in Bag Productions Suck
It, black Indians from Young s Vulgar
Fraction s Black I, someone who
appears to be playing a ballerina who
had to work on her wedding day.
One woman has had her neck and
shoulders delicately spotted with
white dust, as though she has been
beset by floury mice.
She is Claire Tancons, curator and
scholar of international contempo-
rary art, about to be transformed
into artwork herself; the powder pat-
tern is part of Positions + Power.
The band is in a hurry: light is need-
ed for the final preparations, but the
mas must be presented after dark.
Perhaps the observer was referring
to Young s companion: sweaty, teeth
stained by an obstinate coating of
powder, wearing worn-out shoes
coated in paint and glitter and dust
of the East Dry River.
I saw nothing that I planned to
see. I gathered no stories. But I
learned a lot. Call it practice for next
Over the past two months, Barbados-born, New Jersey-resident writer AUSTIN
FIDO has written a series of articles attempting to get behind the mas---from concept
to design to production and performance. This is his final piece in the series.
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