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Mas in yuh mas

Mother-daughter duo rebels against high-priced, empty mas
Published: 
Friday, February 5, 2016

Mas has always been an expression of rebellion. That was its genesis when the enslaved Africans found a way to get back at the plantation owners, making fun of their lifestyle through masquerade. The diametres (better known as jamettes)—the lower end of the social scale—paraded in the streets to show off their fortitude.

Cut to modern day Carnival, and Mas Rebellion takes on this definition by presenting three ideals: that mas is not stereotypically for the slim and trim; mas is affordable; and mas is made in T&T with recycled material. Based on these, the mother and daughter team of Anjeli Gajadhar and Kier Roopnarine continue the protest of social issues just as when mas began almost two centuries ago.

“I don’t see the need for feathers. Mas should be something expressive—for the masquerader and player. It’s meant to evoke emotions. It could be scary, it could be disgusting,” said Gajadhar.

Not that Mas Rebellion evokes disgust, but the band that seems to have existed long before its maiden appearance this Carnival has channeled a timeless concept of the mask and masquerade. “If you are a hero, look good. If you are a villain, look good and scary,” said Roopnarine. “We want real people feeling comfortable in their skins.”

Titled Heroes/Villains, sections depict a variety of aspects of T&T’s storytelling and Carnival characters. Characters of the medium band include Ibis, Midnight Robber, Bookman, Lagahoo and blue devils—all made from recycled material. Ibis, for example, is made from recycled printing plates.

The Lagahoo’s mane is made from raffia. Blue Devils are made from plastic bottles. Hence the costumes were more cost effective than importing pieces from abroad, costing three times less than what other popular bands are offering.

Heroes/Villains is the first part of a trilogy, a comic book series that Roopnarine co-created and co-wrote when she was in her early 20s. Although the characters were not immediately in the forefront when the band was created, it was the concept of what a mas band should be that reignited their passion to play mas.

Both women come from a tradition of mas playing. Gajadhar was playing big people mas at age 12 with her family. She played black devil at age 14 and about every concept possible through the years. In 2008, she managed a section for D Crew, a spinoff from Trini Revellers. 

Roopnarine inherited her mother’s love for Carnival. Since her tweens, she played both kiddies and adult mas. The two women also shared the yearning to have something more in mas and eventually they both stopped participating in the revelry. In 2014, Gajadhar got to the point when she didn’t want to play. 

“I even considered going away that year,” she said. 

“And that is stunning for someone who loves mas. There were no costumes to look and say: ‘I need to play in that. I want pictures of me in a fantastic costume,’” Roopnarine said. 

In addition to which, having returned from studying molecular biology in the United States, the cost of costumes was too high for someone who was considering rent, car and bills in her budget. Instead of moping, they talked about what they saw as a true band. What sparked as an idea for a section turned out to be a full collection of costumes. 

“Now is the time to do it. If I’m going to take a risk, do it now—we have reached this far,” said Gajadhar.

Among the lessons they learnt while working on the band: “Murphy loves to lime.” And: “You know about yourself and where to find yourself.” 

They are grateful for the encouragement of friends like Darryl Dillon (co-manager of the band) who asked: “So why not?” Although they are putting the finishing touches before Carnival Monday and Tuesday, plans are already in place for 2017. Graphic designer Ayodhya Oudit is ready to lay down the illustrations.

“Part of me is waiting for Carnival to finish so I could do the new prototypes,” laughed Roopnarine. The other part knows that Carnival is an year round job: “The days of a few months to produce a band are gone,” her mother said. 
The rebellion continues.