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Raffique Shah


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Ass in the Lion's Skin

By Raffique Shah
February 14, 2010

I planned to stay away from Jouvert for the fourth consecutive year. But I am tempted to return, if only to portray an 'old mas' character, what with so many themes tickling those of us who have a sense of humour. Really, when you think of the prospects our politicians offer, it's hard to resist not making an appearance on stage downtown.

I gave up on what, for me, was the best segment of the national festival ( runs a close second to Panorama semis) after it degenerated from a sea of sweet-steel to insensitive DJs polluting those glorious mornings with 'Dub' or whatever else they think pass for music. What began as a 'gap-filler' between steelbands from Tragarete Road through Park Street to downtown, soon escalated to a din that drowned out that pre-dawn, scintillating sounds of pan music.

What irked me, as I imagine it did others, was the way this intrusion became the norm, not an exception. How well I remember George John, among others, chipping behind Invaders...old friends greeting each other in those magical, musical pre-dawn moments. Tragarete Road, wide, accommodating, was transformed into a mile-long musical strip. One could dance with Invaders, move behind to chip with Starlift, catch the pride of Diego Martin, Merry Tones, and finish off the Jouvert with Boogsie and Phase Two.

Or if one preferred the choked arteries of downtown, one could try to squeeze into the throngs that chipped, jumped or pranced behind All Stars, Despers or Renegades on Charlotte or Frederick Streets. Being a 'Gades' fan long before its glory years under maestro Jit, how can I ever forget 'Dr Rat's' lanky frame manning the bar-cart (of all things!)?

Sometimes Darcus was at his side, sloshed, spaced-out, on music-and-grog. In the post-1970 period, Jerry, Knolly, Mansa and the Village Drums of St James introduced drums-and-rhythm to the Jouvert fare. In fact, they also successfully blended Afro-drums with Indo-tassa, rocking Independence Square, producing vibrations that shook downtown as if extended tremors emanated from some earthquake.

Yes, those were the glory days of Jouvert-until 'Dub', and later mud, took over. Uppity people who at one time stayed away from the Camboulay bacchanal found their space with mud bands. In the old days, to be fair, grease-as in the kind used to lubricate machinery-was quite common among revellers, not just those playing 'Devil Mas'. Now, with brand-name mud ruling the roost, the middle-to-upper classes found their niche. Again, nothing is wrong with that. Jouvert is a time to free up oneself, and they enjoy painting themselves with multi-coloured mud, thanks to Wendell Manwarren and the '3 Canal' crew.

Indeed, if I may borrow from an article on the economics of Carnival I wrote last week, Republic Bank's Ronnie Ramkissoon referred to one benefit of the festival as putting Trinidad Carnival at the top of the 'Happiness Index'. On Jouvert morning, if the IMF monitoring team were to use their 'happiness-meter', the damn device would probably explode in that sea of sensuality.

I'm sure the Jouvert euphoria has not diminished with the changing face and forms of the festival. What I do miss out on, though, are the hilarious characters that once dominated the first few hours of the festival. Time was when one could look forward to individuals who used their imaginations and spent lots of time crafting characters that would make you laugh months, years, after Carnival.

In 1991, for example, in the aftermath of the July 1990 attempted coup, another friend, Gabby, came up with an excellent character-idea. Holding a dog that bore the name 'Abu' plastered on its flank, he threatened to move through town shouting, 'Abu! Bark! Abu, Bark!'

This year, with the politics being as 'jokey' as one could never have asked for, the field for character-type 'Old Mas' is fertile. I envisage a few creative individuals coming on stage portraying 'Manning Watering He Lawn'. The permutations here are innumerable: 'Hazel Stop De Water-Flow'. Gary Hunt's flagpole would probably be deemed vulgar by the judges. But even Gary would enjoy the spectacle of his massive 'pole' draped with a national-colours-condom: 'Gary's Pole Position', or simply 'Hunt's Personal Pride'!

The character that could cause me to enter the 'Old Mas' fray, though, is 'Ass in the Lion's Skin'. I can see it clearly now, better than Protector's 'fudge' from Johnny Nash's smash hit of many decades ago.

An old, emaciated jackass draped in a lion's skin, braying, 'Hee-haw, hee-haw! If you see me and a lion fighting...' Next to him swirls a stout pussy-cat clawing his face to shreds, shouting, 'Out the way, you dead ass!' This band would not be complete without 'Jumping Jack' pummelling the ass, singing...or stammering, 'Ten to one is murder!'

With a little help from Peter Minshall, this latter 'Old Mas' band could upset MacFarlane for 'Band of the Year' title. A character like 'Oh-Lhando Shafting Bas' would be hilarious (Minsh, check me for translation!). Or 'Lights Dim for Oh-Ma', as darkness descends and the bright lights fade. Think, too, of 'Mickey-la Inheritance Gone with the Wind of Change'. Or another bearing the title, 'Et Tu, Moonie?'

Put some fun-and sweet music-back in the Carnival. Play mas!

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