Words by Kamara Williams
While the rest of the world remains occupied with everyday affairs, it seems like everyone in Trinidad & Tobago has been pumping since the Carnival season began with a bang in December. The festival, taking place this year on Feb. 27th and 28th, is not only one of the biggest street parties in the world, it’s also preceded by weeks of fetes and talent contests leading up to the main event on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
The “Greatest Show On Earth” to some, Trinidad is considered the original and ultimate Caribbean Carnival, and it seems to evolve with each passing season. As the festival has expanded, so have the crucial elements that make up Carnival, which include masquerade band launches and preparations, and droves of international visitors coming each year to see what the hype is all about. Inevitably, Carnival has become more global and, with that type of attention zeroed in on Trinidad & Tobago, it’s only natural that Carnival Mas bands, collectives of costume producers and creators of niche Carnival “experiences,” are competing to belt out bigger and better outfits and all-inclusive road experiences each year. If you’re undecided who to play mas with, or just want to know who the fashion trendsetters of T&T’s Carnival scene are, we’ve put together a guide to help you figure out which band is right for you at Trinidad Carnival 2017.
Since its inception in 2005, Tribe has been known as the trendsetters of the Carnival Mas industry. Their debut band, themed Tribal Fantasy, was inspired by different tribes from across the world, with costumes selling out in what was then a record time of five weeks. Since then, Tribe has remained a driving force for innovation. They were the first band to offer an all-inclusive carnival band experience in Trinidad & Tobago, and even included branded sneakers as a goody-bag item in 2015. The band that bills itself as “The Ultimate Carnival Experience” is venturing into new territory yet again with an innovation that caters to those who can only spare one day to indulge in the vibes and energy of Carnival. Tribe’s “Play Mas For One Day” package offers patrons the option to be a part of the Tribe experience for Carnival Monday only. This package was created to provide an affordable option to masqueraders who may not want to pay for the full Carnival experience due to the economic recession the nation has been facing. “The TRIBE Carnival team wanted to provide an alternative option for people who may not want to pay for the full Carnival experience, but instead enjoy a more affordable one day of Mas,” says Aaron Fingal, Tribe’s marketing director. “This was just an option for people who still want a road experience.” The section entitled Sub Zero, designed by top Trinidadian designer Rhion Romany, is set to heat things up this Carnival Monday.
Who Plays: As one of the largest and most popular bands in Trinidad, Tribe draws the top creatives and influencers in Trinidad, and globetrotting feters from around the world. This premier band is for those who want to rub shoulders with the crème de la crème of Trinidad and Tobago and beyond, but are still prepared to have the most vibes and no behavior on the road.
2017 Theme: Zero Degrees – The Life Below
For 2017, Tribe explores the theme Zero Degrees – The Life Below. The costumes delve into the glaciered regions of the world with 14 sections including Winterberry, Shiver, and Tundra. This departure from the typical themes based on tropical weather sets Tribe apart from other bands, gave the design team a challenge to come up with fresh ideas, and gives masqueraders a chance to explore a new aesthetic for Carnival.
Standout Costumes: Though all of the costumes for 2017 are tantalizing, three sections stand out: Cardinal by designer Solange Govia, Husky by Anya Ayoung-Chee, and Wind Chill by Ruana Evans. Cardinal brings us the vibrant red of the cardinal bird and a sculpting bejeweled bikini most any woman would drool over. The backline costume is just as gorgeous as the frontline ensemble. It’s definitely going to be a stunner when it glimmers in the sunlight come Carnival Tuesday. Anya’s Husky has a tribal quality, making a strong visual impact with the perfect blend of print, color, feathers, and jewels. It exudes sexual appeal without being overt. Wind Chill caters to the glam girl who has been working on that Carnival body all her life. The wire-bra monokini isn’t for the timid, as it leans on the sexy side. The armor-like jewel work on the arms and chest of the costume and the bellowing feathered wings are some of the qualities that put this frontline costume above the rest. It’s sure to be a showstopper on the road.
Costume Availability: All costumes are sold out. But you should definitely keep Tribe on your radar. The brand is always evolving its road services including drinks, safety, and security and costumes in terms of style, material use, production methods, and designs. “Nothing is left to chance,” says Fingal.
Mas Camp Address: 20 Rosalino Street Woodbrook
Telephone/Fax: (868) 625-6800 or (868) 624-2245 or (868) 623-2851
THE LOST TRIBE
For those concerned that Carnival is being reduced to just pretty bejeweled bikinis, The Lost Tribe is here to meet your masquerader needs. An extension of Tribe bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary mas, The Lost Tribe arrived on the scene last year with seven additional sections under Tribe’s 2016 theme The Forbidden. These designs brought the drama and theater that some felt were lacking back into Carnival with standout sections like Ava and Pretty Mas. The Lost Tribe offers an excellent way to connect younger and older generations to keep traditional mas alive, while heading in a new modern direction.
Who Plays: It’s the perfect medium for someone who’s interested in the more cultural side of Carnival, while still wanting to be a part of the now. If you’re a design enthusiast, love a bit of drama, and don’t care to bare it all, The Lost Tribe is the right fit for you. As The Lost Tribe’s creative director and leader Valmiki Maharaj puts it, “The Lost Tribe provides culture lovers with a beautiful marriage between the roots and culture of Ole’ Mas and the modern, all-inclusive experience.” These sections may cater to an older crowd, but many younger masqueraders enjoy it as well. One thing that is guaranteed is that it’s not short on vibes, and an experience any masquerader should try at least once. “We have a lot of projects coming up,” Maharaj says. “In the first year and half of us being in existence, we started many foundation pillars that exist both in the carnival fraternity and reach outwards. The Lost Tribe was always intended to be a culture of hub of sorts and embraces many different facets of the arts.”
2017 Theme: Riddim
This year, The Lost Tribe is bringing the rhythms of Carnival to life with the theme, Riddim. It’s all about mixing music with mas and a way to literally see the sounds of the iron, the djun drum, and the bamboo, among other instruments synonymous with the season. Under Valmiki Maharaj and Anya Ayoung-Chee’s creative direction, the team of designers — including Shari Cumberbatch of Shop Shari, Keegan Simon and Shawn Dhanraj — have brought out the true essence of Carnival in these costumes.
Standout Costumes: The seven sections presented for 2017 each represent a different element of Carnival music and dance. These are Areito, Bamboo, Cutta, Djun, Dudup, Iron, and Jab. Djun, Dudup, and Iron seem to be the favorites so far. Djun, inspired by the Djun–Djun drum of the Laventille Rhythm Section, embodies the boldness of this instrument’s sound. The drama of the mixed print cape, along with the oversized necklace and towering headdress, exude a powerful tribal quality. The whole suit underneath adds a bit of sensuality while keeping things theatrical. This costume is sure to be a stunner on the road. Dudup is fashioned after the Dudup pan, the forefather of the steel pan. This costume has a warrior-like quality, with tribal-printed monokinis adorned with a flowing cape. The headpiece is the real star of the design, as it’s a vibrant crown of prints and color combined to create a visual impact. Iron is all about the iron, the heartbeat of any rhythm section. The dancing and movement that a good iron session brings out of a masquerader are seen in this design. The plunging metallic monokini, matched with the shards-of-iron backpack, strikes the right blend between sexy and artistic.
Costume Availability: Costumes are not available.
Mas Camp: 59 Alberto Street, Woodbrook
Telephone: (868) 350-6219
Although relatively new, having launched in 2011, Bliss has made its mark as one of the leading mas bands in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s essentially a smaller, more intimate Tribe, with a chic, glam-girl aesthetic. The costumes, never lacking glamor and jewels, are like little pieces of art and always have masqueraders lining up to get their hands on one of these amazing creations.
Who Plays: Think the type of band Kim Kardashian would play mas with. Though it’s known as the “Champagne Band,” for its luxurious image, Bliss never lacks the energy and vibes synonymous with Carnival.
2017 Theme: Al-Sahra, The Great Desert
This year Bliss is taking us the Middle East to cover the tales of Shahrazad, the ancient Middle Eastern storyteller. The designs reflect the sensuality and heritage of the Middle East. This theme could not be more fitting for Bliss, as it’s known for its heavily adorned designs.
Standout Costumes: Bliss’ nine-section band including Desert Sunset, Mehran, Mirage, Oasis, Ruya, Sahuri, Sarub, Shiraz, and Wildfire were especially beautifully made this year. But Desert Sunset, Mirage, and Wildfire stole the show. Desert Sunset by Solange Govia is an uber-sexy monokini. The peachy color compliments every skin tone and the strappy silhouette contours the body just the way every woman desires. To top it off, the multicolored wings billow in the wind, adding the extra drama preferred by glam girls. Mirage, also by Govia, has a dreamlike quality with its mix of pretty pinks and teals. The bikini, adorned with rhinestones and straps that fall away from the body, is especially flattering. This is a design fitting for the girly girl. Wildfire by Samantha Ammon steps outside the glamor girl aesthetic and offers something a little more daring. The design is reminiscent of a warrior princess with its gold armor-like bikini, armbands, and shin bands. Wildfire is for those who are a little adventurous, and enjoy taking fashion risks.
Costume Availability: All costumes are sold out, and understandably so. But you can always adore these costumes on the road come Carnival Tuesday.
Mas Camp Address: 18 Rosalino Street Woodbrook
Telephone/Fax: (868) 625-6800 or (868) 624-2245 or (868) 623-2851
Started by a collective of top entertainment industry leaders in 2011, Fantasy is the ultimate high-profile band. Known for its insanely beautiful costumes and excellent road experience, you can always count on Fantasy to bring the quality. This year is no different, as the band has belted out 17 amazing costumes for masqueraders to indulge in. We can only imagine how beautiful and massive this band is going to look as it unfolds on the road.
Who Plays: With such an amazing selection of well-crafted designs, Fantasy always attracts all the hottest masqueraders. Seem amongst the band’s crowd are socialites, models, and even members from the corporate world of Trinidad and Tobago and beyond.
2017 Theme: 1001 Fantasies
Fantasy is taking us into a dream world for Carnival 2017 with its 1001 Fantasies theme. As Carnival is a time to escape reality and find euphoria, this theme is especially appropriate. The costume designs embody this feeling and are sure to inspire a few fantasies as well.
Standout Costumes: With a theme like 1001, there is plenty of room to be extremely creative and that’s exactly what Fantasy’s designers did. It’s hard to choose which are the best design among the many stunners, but there are some undeniable beauties that deserve an extra mention. Carnival costume designs could be a bit typical at times, but Morgiana by Shawn Dhanraj gives a slightly different silhouette that has masqueraders smitten. From the section leader all the way to the backline, costumes are impeccably designed. It’s a breath of fresh air in terms of color and design. Sultana, also by Dhanraj, is the epitome of glam, encrusted in jewels from head to toe. As a pleasant surprise, Sultana comes in two colors, fuschia and bright yellow. But the focal point of this design is the cascading bejeweled vines down the side of legs, a happy medium between sexy and exotic.
Scheherazade, by Richard Anthony, is a stunner with its amazing use of color and shape. The explosion of oranges and pinks in the headpiece is the first thing that catches the eye. Scheherazade is for anyone wishing to go all out for Carnival in every way. It’s a definite head-turner and will be even more stunning under the Caribbean sun come Carnival Tuesday.
Costume Availability: Female backline costumes are available in the Zulaika, Tamina, Fountain of Youth, Sands of Time, Isha, Lapis Lazuli, Sultana, Moroccan Dreams, Jewels of Arabia, Bukhara, and Omnia sections.
Mas Camp Address: Alberto Place, #6 Alberto St., Woodbrook
Phone: (868) 221-4966
YUMA has been heating things up for the past six Carnivals with its vivacious masqueraders and costume designs. Popular among a young crowd of “Young Upwardly Mobile Adults” (also known as YUMANS), Yuma isn’t afraid to step outside of the box. This was evident in last year’s theme, Indulge, based on different types of sweets and candies such as jawbreakers and icebreakers, solidifying their presence as a forerunner in the mas-making scene. This year we expect to see the same unique creativity and high energy we all look for from Yuma.
Who Plays: YUMA is known for celebrating the youth so naturally this is the band for the upcoming generation of masqueraders. The band is popular among university students, young entrepreneurs, and beyond. Though it is a band for a younger crowd, older revelers who know how to bring the Yuma vibe are also seen on the road with the YUMANS.
Theme: The Origins (From Whence We Came)
For 2017, Yuma is taking us back to our beginnings with 14 sections based on tribal heritage with sections such as Zulu, Cherokee, and Navajo. In true Yuma spirit, the costumes have a special use of color that is youthful and inviting. We can’t wait to see them in motion this season.
Standout Costumes: Yuma makes it hard choosing which tribe to be a part of for 2017, but the sections Kente, Iktomi and Boudica are a cut above the rest.The boldness of Kente makes it an instant favorite. The use of Ankara print, which is popular at the moment, is another element that wins the heart. We can only imagine the impact this design with its oversized headdress and all is going to have in the Savannah winds. Iktomi has a sassy quality that women identify with especially during Carnival time. The peaches, purples, and turquoise perfectly complement each other, combining to create one stunning creation. Boudica is for the bombshell with a bit of a daring attitude. This costume exudes drama and is sure to create a moment on the road for anyone that flaunts it. This all-female section is definitely going to heat things up.
Costume Availability: Male, frontline, and backline costumes are still available in the sections Anhinga, Kenté, Boudica, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Golé, Inti, Taureg, Cai, Navajo, and Maquarri.
Mas Camp Address: #12 Alcazar Street, St. Clair, Port of Spain, Trinidad