“Fanfare, pomp and circumstance,” said the operatic tenor John Thomas in a recent press release.
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The matriarch of children’s Carnival
Trinidad and Tobago has 53 regional carnivals all of which have a children’s carnival competition ensuring that the clean fun that is supposed to be mas takes its roots. There are many children bandleaders who, through their individual labours of love, produce bands year after year. It is through these bands that one gets the true sense of the art of ‘masquerading’. Among the many perennial children’s band leaders are Rosalind Gabriel, Lisa Mollineaux, Richie Barkarr, Dune Ali, Jacqui Koon How, Vanessa Forde, Gerard Kelly, David Williams, Lawrence Fernandez, Ruth Mendez, Christine Nunes, Cheryl Samuel and Albert and Leeann Bailey.
Winning-most bandleader of this dedicated group is Rosalind Gabriel who holds the culture of T&T near and dear to her heart, and is all set to portray the celebration of 2012’s 50th anniversary of Independence with ‘50 Years Gold’. She is considered the matriarch of Trinidad and Tobago’s children’s Carnival with over 30 years producing winning children’s Carnival costumes and bands. Some of the most creative and captivating costumes have been portrayed in her bands over the years with such notable presentations as Fantasea (1994), Cote Ci Cote La (1996), Panorama (2000), Nah Leavin’ (2004), A Pinch of Minsh (2005), Many Faces, One Nation (2007) and 2010’s Love Your Country. She has won the Children’s Band of the Year competition title an unprecedented 15 times along with numerous victories in other categories.
Recipient of the 2007 Hummingbird Medal (Bronze) for Culture, her 1999 presentation Carnival Time Again was chosen in 2003 to be reproduced on a Carnival postage stamp. Costumes from her 1994 presentation, Fantasea, were reproduced for the famed Sea World in Miami, Florida. She has been chosen on many occasions to showcase her costumes and T&T’s culture to visiting dignitaries and at special functions. Her costumes have entertained the vice president of China, the president of Chile, USA congressmen, dignitaries who attended the inaugural gala for the Caribbean Court of Justice, Prince Charles, Nelson Mandela, Warren Christopher, Colin Powell, Caribbean heads of government, and the prime minister of India.
Her ‘children’ also opened the Carifesta Games and took part in the Miss Universe Parade in 1999. In April 2004, she was involved in the welcome back festivities for cricket captain Brian Lara after his historic innings of “400 not out.” Regionally and internationally she has produced children and adult costumes in such places as Grenada, St Thomas, Curacao, Miami, New York, Brooklyn and Texas.
Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
A: I was born at 28 Stone Street, Woodbrook, grew up and got married from that location. Woodbrook and Trini to de bone!
What is your greatest accomplishment in Carnival?
My greatest accomplishment comes from the fact that so many people from here as well as overseas tell me that they never miss seeing my presentations from year to year. It never ceases to amaze me how many people make it their business to come and look at the band, and remember sections and costumes from other bands over the years. That a children’s band could bring joy to so many people I would have to say is my greatest accomplishment. I have seen many senior citizens with tears in their eyes as my band passes.
What are your favourite calypso/soca songs of all time?
Black Man Feeling to Party by Black Stalin, but I also love Good Morning by 3 Canal. And of course David Rudder’s Trini To De Bone.
What is your greatest fear in life?
Not completing the band on time, although it has not happened after all these years. I also get paralysed with fear at the thought of coming face to face with a snake.
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment so far would undoubtedly be what I have achieved in Carnival, and being honoured by my country with the receipt of the Humming Bird Medal Bronze.
What’s your most prized possession?
Nothing material really, but I love all my trophies from Carnival (laughing).
What’s your favourite getaway spot?
The Marianne River in Blanchisseuse; peaceful and tranquil, away from the hustle and bustle.
If you could hire any singer or band to perform in your living room, who would you pick?
Without a doubt, Neil Diamond who has been my favourite foreign performer for more years than I care to remember. However, David Rudder would be my choice for a local performer.
What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?
I do not believe that I have made the hardest decision in my life as yet. That will come when I have to decide to stop producing the band.
What would you say is your greatest virtue?
Being a good listener. Most times when you sit quietly and listen to someone with a problem, by the time they talk to you they end up solving the problem themselves.
What daily motto do you live by?
Offer up my day’s work to God and try to learn something new every day. Also what is most important to me is doing whatever I undertake to the best of my ability.
When and how did you get into mas, Carnival?
I got into Carnival because of my love for the creativity that surrounds the making of a costume or the creation of a band. A huge motivation is also that it is the culture of our country and that I am contributing to the building or continuance of what was started by those who were there before me.
Do you pattern your work after any other person or persons?
I try to be unique in the way I present my work, but it would be foolish to say that other great bandleaders and designers have not influenced my work. To name a few, Peter Minshall, Wayne Berkeley, George Bailey, etc.
Of all your productions, creations, presentations, which would you like a first time audience or viewer to experience?
Hmmm, I’d say joy at the beauty of mas when properly presented. Joy at being able to look at a costume or a section that says what it is and looks like what it is supposed to be. Something real…Carnival has gone too abstract, for want of a better word or description, if you know what I mean. I know you do because you’ve been in the business for a while too, albeit on the materials supply side. I remember as a child that I used to run to the corner to see mas passing. I want that people would go out of their way to come and see what I have to show off every year, and leave smiling and wanting to see it again.
Tell us about your inspiration to do the type of work you do.
My inspiration comes from Almighty God, who has not after so many years allowed me to run out of ideas. Inspiration also comes from nature and the environment, and sometimes could simply be something that somebody says that may trigger some thought. Inspiration comes from always thinking how can I make the current presentation better than the year before? It also comes from my passion for our culture.
Which of your work(s) do you rate as the most satisfying and memorable?
In 2005 my presentation was “A Pinsh of Minsh”, which of course was a band based on many of Peter Minshall’s past presentations. It was an honour to have his blessing for this band, and he said to me in a conversation that year on Carnival Friday “although I am not in mas this year, I am there because of you.” I never forgot those words.
At what schools/institutions did you receive your education?
I attended Holy Name Convent from junior school to senior school. I graduated from Holy Name and spent a year in a secretarial college called St Gene’s run by Joan de la Bastide, the sister of Mother Bernadette, the principal of Holy Name. In the 80s I attended the Academy of Insurance, which was situated in Diego Martin, and obtained a Diploma of Insurance.
If you had to interview someone from Trinidad and Tobago who you did not know and had to ask just one question, who would it be and what would be the one question?
I feel that it would be the minister in charge of culture, and the one question would be: “Why is Carnival always handled at the last minute and in such a slap-dash manner since it is the biggest contributor to our economy in the cultural sphere, and has placed us on the map worldwide?” I would like to add in closing that it is impossible to accomplish the accolades I have achieved alone, and that there are many craftsmen and women, too numerous to mention, such as designers, dressmakers, metal craft, artists, decorators, etc, who labour every year to help keep the standard of the band on top. Many thanks to all of them for their support and dedication. I most definitely cannot accept all the credit!