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Colours again

By Terry Joseph
March 03, 2006

Among the more predictable noises of yesteryear Carnivals was a radio commercial voiced by Bob Gittens, opening with a thoroughly fallacious claim: "Carnival is colour," then quickly driving home the hard-sell "Colour is Kodak," a concept so brazenly misleading, it soon came to be taken as fact.

Consequently, a number of ill-informed commentators predicated their most stinging critique of the parade of the bands on this flawed premise, thinking it unassailable; coming from a globally-respected film manufacturer. The deceptive declaration was later endorsed by paint producers.

Although John Humphrey's band Snow Kingdom offered almost exclusively white costuming some 20 years earlier, attracting no ridicule, Peter Minshall's 1986 mas' band, Rat Race, wasn't that lucky, coming in for heavy jamming from "experts" who, almost universally, relied on Kodak's disingenuous line to justify pillorying the designer's extensive use of brown and grey which, to their minds, was certainly not "colour."

The truly extraordinary thing about this is that Carnival itself remained largely silent and when it did speak to the issue, those mumbled responses hardly constituted self-defence, for its argument had to include first principles like Negre Jardin (caucasian overlords portraying black "garden niggers"), or Jab Molassie, in which freed slaves daubed themselves with molasses to represent dark satanic entities; their perception of former masters.

A number of colourful depictions joined the masquerade as it evolved, chantwells and minstrels choosing their own flambuoyant outfits, replicas of bats, bears and gorillas assuming nature's original colour mix, while clowns, Native American Indians and other imported concepts or fantasy depictions like dragons used hues at will; Pierrot Grenade going the whole nine yards with strips of every conceivable shade.

After WWII, military mas became the prevailing theme, authentic portrayals again narrowing colour choices. Except for the French version, sailors dressed either in black or white, with aviators restricted to tan and brown, army depictions allowing no further adventure into the crayon box than camouflage in varying the basic tone. These bands could hardly be described as "a riot of colour," until fancy sailors surfaced, elaborate headpieces, swans' down and other decorations later allowing for unbridled choice.

Given the heat radiated by melton, the agreed fabric choice of black sailors, that section of the band was invariably small, white drill tunics overwhelming Carnival day visuals, masqueraders further whitening the picture, throwing powder on each other, ignorant of the fact that talcum, made from pulverised magnesium trisilicate, contains a high concentration of cancer-causing asbestiform.

European history portrayals merely copied the classic strip, mostly red and gold or blue and silver, with little variation except themes like the Crusades demanded sincerity to a different combination. Since the Band of the Year award was introduced (1955) and until social upheaval in 1970, presentations largely followed that rule, except for intervention by George Bailey's tribal influences, Harold Saldenah's journey to Mexico and Pacific Paradise and the entry of Stephen Lee Heung, whose China, the Forbidden City shifted the paradigm.

Between 1971 and 1990, ten of the 20 winning bands portrayed local themes (and colours), an approach introduced by Irwin Mc Williams, given heightened awareness springing from the utterances and demonstrations of Black Power advocates. Minshall cheekily presented Carnival is Colour the year after his Rat Race evoked much comment about lack of it.

Although bikini mas' was introduced since the mid-1970s, it didn't draw widespread derision until the band Barbarossa, led by Richard Afong, hit the streets in 1991; placing second in the large band competition.

The hat-trick of wins by Legends, beginning in 1999, entrenched bikini mas and Afong won the title with Untamed in 2002 (the next year's results were quashed). Trini Revellers, formerly a winning medium band, then ruled the roost until last year, Earl Patterson's Masquerade band taking second place all the while.

The new mas came with its own paint, using the human body as backdrop for splashes of mere accent that often barely covered legal demand, skin-tone becoming an integral part of the new colour mix, offensive to some but infinitely more attractive than if Poison, with its 10,000 masqueraders, decided to play the authentic version of Sailors Ashore.

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