While the young and young at heart revelled in the paint, powder and water during J’Ouvert festivities in San Fernando, there wasn’t much for the older spectators who came out hoping to see traditional mas.
There was only defending champions Blue Boy who offered some political and social satirical portrayals for the judges and spectators at Harris Promenade on Carnival Monday, prompting concerns that the artform may be dying.
Blue Boys band leader Val Ramsingh, 68, said that after playing ole mas with the band for the past 37 years, he was worried that when he and his band mates retire, it will be the end for the ole mas in the city. However, he is committed to keeping it alive.
Blue Boys presentation of Mind Yuh Business was in honour of former band member, George “Bunny” Dieffenthaller, who died on New Year’s Day.
Dieffenthaller is also the father of soca star Kes. Tyronne Nanan, the defending J’Ouvert King, first took the spotlight, swinging an Oreo Cookie while holding the placard, “Row-Lee Address to the Nation”. Next up, Dave Jaggernath’s Savannah Grass showed that his grass was not meant to walk on, but to be smoked.
“We going to decriminalise that soon. Right, Faris?” said Ramsingh while narrating the portrayal. Even the departure of Sandals from Tobago was featured with masqueraders walking bare feet on the asphalt with the placard “All Tobagonians Barefoot. No Sandals.”
While spectators enjoyed the presentation, it was short lived as Ramsingh said some of his members had lost their way to the judging point.
He told spectators that ole mas was the avenue for the lower class to throw their insults and commentary on the lives of the bourgeoisie.
However, he said the band started off with 175 masqueraders but as the years went by it became difficult to sell 25 jerseys and this year the band only had 25 masqueraders.
“I remember Holly Betaudier forming the parang bandwagon when parang was dying. We need to do something like that to rescue ole mas and J’Ouvert. We are looking to remodel it, but we don’t want to dilute the brand. You do not dilute a brand so we are looking for sponsorship. We don’t want J’ Ouvert to descend into a street party. We are trying our damnest to keep this alive and it seems the powers who are in charge of this are doing everything to destroy it,” Ramsingh said.
In an interview, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello said the phasing out of traditional mas was something that has to be accepted. Regrello said there are new trends developing, whereby young people are not interested in “placard mas”.
“They are not bringing that humour that we used to know. They are more into the revelry and the pleasure and the enjoyment of Carnival and the music. In everything, there is give and take, and I will hold on to the tradition of what J’Ouvert used to be. If it is dying, there is nothing we can do about it as the young people are not interested in that anymore.
“The whole Carnival is changing, it’s evolving. What transpired in the years gone by is no longer exciting to some people. Young people are bringing a new approach, trends into what Carnival is. Look at the calypso tents for instance. Look what happened last night with the Dimanche Gras show. It does not have that captive audience as before. We have to go with the times,” Regrello said.