The best masman in the world celebrated his 72nd birthday last Tuesday. Peter Minshall spent the day at his Federation Park home quietly chatting with friends from all corners of the globe.
Minshall has stopped creating Carnival bands, his last victorious presentation being Tapestry, in 1997. Since his first mas, in 1976, designing Stephen Lee Heung's Paradise Lost, Minshall won the Band of the Year title on six occasions.
Informally chatting on the phone on Tuesday, Minshall was reminiscing and was his usual poignant self as he reflected on the current state of mas and T&T Carnival.
"Mas is art," he exclaimed. "We are just a little island, mimicking huge countries."
Saying back in the day George Bailey presented "spectacular pageantry," and, also complimenting the late Wayne Berkeley, Minshall said, "They all made valuable contributions, until Minshall, born amongst fancy sailors and bats, came along and painted a picture of our true selves."
I remember many years ago Minshall telling me that all he was doing holding up a mirror to us, reflecting who we truly were, thus the intrinsic form of his mas being inspired by indigenous and traditional mas of bats, clowns, midnight robbers, jab molassie and fancy sailors.
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In an interview with writer Les Slater, in the August 2012 edition of Caribbean Life, Minshall is quoted: "The incredible fancy sailor–there is not a form quite like it anywhere on the planet. It is unique and indigenous to Trinidad ... If I feel empowered at all from then to now, it is by the fancy sailor."
Suggesting that mas has depreciated through the years, Minshall opined, "Carnival today is a perfect relection of our society. It's all about beads and feathers, with no substance. People say the boat is sinking but at this point in time we'd better get ourselves some oxygen."
On his own origins, he explains,
"I was born during the war, and I guess my parents were also at war. I emerged from my mother's womb in Guyana and came to Trinidad as a baby."
As a child and young man, Minshall was your total Trini, attending Queen's Royal College, before migrating to London to attend the Central School of Art and Design.
A born masman, Minshall actually won his first Carnival competition at 13 when he portrayed an African witch doctor.
Subsequently, he set about transforming the form and shape of T&T Carnival for many years, first designing the winning Humming Bird for his sister Sherry Ann Guy, then winning the 1976 King of Carnival title through Peter Samuel Jr with an awesome, never-seen-before portrayal titled The Serpent.
Minshall would repeat this feat many times subsequently and who can forget Samuel in Minshall's creations as Devil Ray (1979); Midnight Robber (1980); The Sacred and the Profane (1982); Man Crab (1983); or, Callaloo Dancing Tic Tac Toe (1984).
Minshall created some of the most spectacular costumes ever seen in T&T Carnival, and street presentations over several years were the reasons the populace turned out in droves to watch mas. Bands like Danse Macabre (1980); Papillon (1982); The River (1983); Callaloo (1984); Rat Race (1986); Carnival is Colour (1987); and, the hattrick-winning Hallelujah (1995); Song of the Earth (1996); and Tapestry (1997) left spectators dumbstruck, with many a designer and bandleader copying his concepts and constructions.
Minshall cringes when he sees our copycat leaders and planners trying to emulate the more developed metropole by constructing huge building, some housing art galleries. Believing that art in galleries was for Europe, Minshall made the streets of Port-of-Spain his canvas and his masqueraders his palette.
I have played mas from my teen years with some of the best, beginning with Starlift steel orchestra, and including Wayne Berkeley, Poison, Legends, Ronnie & Caro, and Tribe, but my most unforgettable have been the years I played with Minshall.
Playing a blue-painted jab molassie in Noble Douglas's section in 1980, in Danse Macabre, was the most liberating Carnival I have ever spent, matched perhaps by 1982, when I played in Papillon.
The River was a mind-blowing experience as well and, having left Minsh, for a couple character-winning portrayals with Berkeley, I returned "home" and thoroughly enjoyed playing in The Lost Tribe in 1999.
I cannot forget seeing hundreds of gaily-coloured "butterflies" running through the Queen's Park Savannah and covering the Hollows. I have so many mementoes from Minsh that I have a mini Minshall museum at my home, including a cloth from 1997's Tapestry, an umbrella from 1998's Red, and numerous jerseys dating way back.
Two of the most remarkable, and celebrated creations of Minshall's lifetime were his "dancing mobiles" Saga Boy and Tan Tan, portrayed by Samuel and Alyson Brown. These two characters were revolutionary and were replicated by other artists at many prestigious international cultural and sporting events.
Minshall was awarded a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation in 1982 and his genius and art have been admired globally, his talents hired in 1987, for the opening ceremonies of the Pan-American Games, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; in 1992, for the opening ceremonies of the XXV Summer Olympics, Barcelona, Spain; in 1994, for the football World Cup Finals, Chicago, Illinois, USA; in 1996, for the opening ceremonies of the XXVI Summer Olympics, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; and in 2002, for a 12-minute segment (Fire Within) at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
For his work in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Minshall was awarded an Emmy Award, by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences 54th Annual US Primetime Emmy Awards, for "Outstanding Costumes for A Variety or Music Programme."
T&T Carnival has been blessed with many earthly deities, including Ammon, Bailey, Saldenah, Lee Heung, Hart, Berkeley and Mac Farlane, but Peter Minshall shines brightly as a god of mas.