Mas and steelband history was made this year in the Band of the Year competition, staged by the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), when a steelband won the coveted title for the second time since the competition was inaugurated in 1963.
When the NCBA posted its official results on Wednesday night on its Web site, it revealed that Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars' presentation titled Sailors Ashore at a Tropical Fiesta topped the competition.
Exactly 50 years ago, another steelband, Junior Pouchet's Silver Stars teamed up with Russell Charter to produce the winning Gulliver's Travels. Costumes for that presentation were designed by artist Pat Chu Foon. Gulliver's Travel's also copped the Band of the People's Choice Award. The 1963 runners-up to Charter and Silver Stars were Cito Velasquez (Splendour of the East) and Desperadoes (Land of the Zulus), respectively.
All Stars hit the main stage on Carnival Tuesday with almost 2,000 masqueraders in tow. Accompanying the legendary Duke Street steelband musically were Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille, St James Tripolians, Harlem Syncopators, Tunapuna Rhythm Section and the Road Marching Band Rhythm Section, the latter actually having a live horn section comprising residents of St Mary's Home.
Ecstatic about his band's win, All Stars' manager Beresford "Berry" Hunte said: "We worked very hard for this achievement and it's a good feeling to win. I am elated though this win doesn't make up for losing Panorama. It's two different things. They just cannot leave All Stars out of Carnival. We have been in Carnival for many, many years, and if we have to go to the Socadrome to be recognised that we'll also do."
All Stars, playing Shirlaine Hendrickson's Excitement, was edged out of first place in this year's National Panorama final by Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove, by a mere point. This result unearthed much controversy and debate in steelband circles, especially amongst All Stars' loyal fans.
As is the norm, this year's Carnival was immersed in controversy. One of the major questions being asked is: "How did Ronnie & Caro's River Come Down and K2K's Vie–The Rise of Sanctuary, not make it among the top six placings of the Band of the Year competition?" Both bands handsomely won the Downtown Band of the Year titles for Large and Medium mas bands, and both paraded before the judges at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
Insisting that the results were legitimate, NCBA chairman David Lopez, not disclosing the names of bands, said yesterday, that some were penalised by the Parade of the Bands auditors for infringing the rules of the competition.
Officially, runners-up to All Stars were Paparazzi Carnival (Centerstage); Legacy (Nature's Touch); Trini Revellers (The Sultan's Palace); Dream Team (I Am); and, Showtime (The Awakening of Mas).
Just Wee & Friends, produced by Earl Crosby and Annmarie Placide, won the Medium Band of the Year title with Ziegfeld Follies, ahead of Mas Passion (Tabanca); De Core (Reclamation); D'Krewe (Saga of the Open Seas); and, Image Nation (River of Life).
Another controversial result was the National Calypso Monarch competition, won by Chucky (Roderick Gordon). Following an astounding performance at the semi-final at Skinner Park, Mr Shak was touted to be the eventual winner. He placed third in the final, behind Chucky and Kurt Allen.
This year's Carnival saw several changes and innovations on all fronts. One of the main innovations was The Socadrome, a new mas venue at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, produced by five bands–Tribe, Bliss, Yuma, Harts Int and Mas Passion. The latter two never made it to the new venue. The Socadrome was supposed to have taken approximately 20,000 masqueraders and some 100 music and service trailers off the main Parade of the Bands route.
Many are claiming that this new venue caused a critical shortage of mas and masqueraders to the Downtown venue on South Quay and other mas venues in the inner city.
While some Woodbrook residents along the extended parade route were earlier adamant that mas should not pass through their neighbourhood and some continued to protest, many were seen dancing in the verandas and galleries to the music of the bands.
There was also controversy about the traditional parade route for bands, inclusive of downtown Carnival, a dispute which included Port-of-Spain mayor Tim Kee and the NCBA.
This resulted in two separate parade routes for the Carnival Saturday parade of junior mas bands, one beginning at Adam Smith Square, Woodbrook and the other in downtown Port-of-Spain.
It is less than one year to Carnival Monday 2015, scheduled for February 16. Already the main stakeholders of Carnival have begun plans for next year's festival. One such person is composer Kenneth Charles who already has two songs for next year's Panorama competition. They are titled Love Me and Pan Composers. Last year, Charles' Hammer Time, sung by Nicole Greaves, was the Panorama pick of Witco Desperadoes. This year, he wrote Pan Scandal, also sung by Greaves and played by three steelbands.
With the attendant bacchanal of this year's festival one can only hope that the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and its special interest groups have already commenced serious dialogue for producing the 2015 Carnival.
Yesterday, Lopez added that, contrary to popular perception, his organisation doesn't begin planning Carnival two months before Carnival Monday. He said: "We are perpetually in planning mode. For instance, now that the two days of mas have passed, we are very much into work ensuring that winners get their prizes."
The final major Carnival 2014 production takes place tomorrow at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain when Pan Trinbago stages Steel Plus. Formerly branded as Champs in Concert, this show features most of the champions for the festival including the National Panorama winner Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove.
Other senior steelband champions expected to perform are Pan Elders, Pan Jammers, San Juan East Side and Super Novas. Also on the billing are junior pan champs bpTT Renegades, Providence QRC and St Paul's Anglican.
Calypso is also a major component of Steel Plus and on the billing are National Calypso Monarch Chucky; Extempore Monarch Brian London; Chutney Soca Monarch KI; and, National Junior Monarch Ronaldo London.
Mas is also in the brew and among the champions to appear are King of Carnival Wade Madray (Quars al Sahara � Desert Sting); Queen of Carnival People Marchan (Zamara, Mirage of the Oasis); and the junior king and queen.
Kelly Green & Harmony will provide musical accompaniment at Steel Plus.Tickets, general seating at the Grand Stand, priced at $200 are on sale at Cleve's Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain; Crosby's, St James; Kam's, Long Circular Mall; Pan Trinbago South/Central Regional Office, Park Street and San Fernando; and Queen's Park Savannah Ticket Booth, Port-of-Spain, on the day of the show.
What is patently obvious is that there is need for urgent debate and planning for the future of Carnival. Debate actually begins today when the George Sonny Goddard Steelband Town Hall Meeting is held at Port-of-Spain City Hall, Knox Street, today at 1 pm.
With Goddard's son George Gerald and Emile Borde, son of pan veteran Hugh Borde, at the helm of this initiative, myriad challenges facing the national instrument and its future will be debated.