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Reinventing bat mas
“I never planned for this to be an established band,” says artist Richard “Ashraph” Ramsaran. “Every year I say this is the last time. But the people won’t let me.”
“The people” are the loyal masqueraders who sign up each year with Cat in Bag Productions, the small but lively mas band led by Ashraph with the help of a corps of volunteer collaborators.
Launched in 2009, Cat in Bag has won a reputation for its innovative costumes, often using traditional materials, and its irreverent brand of social and political commentary, which draws on the tradition of old mas.
In 2014, Cat in Bag plans to release a colony of colourful vampire bats into the streets of Port-of-Spain. Suck It reinterprets traditional bat mas to make a pointed statement about the bloodsucking effect of corruption and graft in contemporary T&T.
The costumes include headpieces made of papier-maché on wire frames, created with the help of veteran wire-benders Kendall de Peaza and Clyde Bascombe.
Suck It follows Cat in Bag’s 2013 band, Sink or Swim, which referenced traditional sailor mas, and previous mas presentations based on several animal characters: chickens, snakes, vultures, and cows.
Entering for the parade of the bands competition since 2010, Cat in Bag has won several prizes each year since then, and attracts a following of masqueraders—many of them creative professionals—looking for a creative, intelligent, and eminently enjoyable alternative to larger and more commercial all-inclusive bands.
The 2014 presentation is Cat in Bag’s biggest yet, with nearly 70 masqueraders registered, while further requests to join continue to stream in via the band’s active Facebook page.
Many of the masqueraders have also put in time at the mas camp, helping make costumes—all of which is documented in a series of online videos shot, edited by Georgia Popplewell, a member of the team of collaborators. Other artists include Shalini Seereeram and Richard Rawlins and editor Nicholas Laughlin.