They were here again – the Paparazzi! We strolled confidently towards the melee, the crowds parted, camera shutters clicking. They began “I want one of you together”, “She wants her picture with you”. We obliged, we were ready!
It was our 14th time playing Mas at Trinidad & Tobago Carnival. We recognised the looks of wonder and amazement on the faces of the crowd, reflecting our own feelings that first time on the street. The colour and movement as each Band advanced, the beat from the music truck vibrating in our bodies, seeping into our souls. Now we were back, feeding our addiction.
This year, more than ever, we were experiencing the seamless melding of people from all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds at Carnival time, even political differences cast aside in favour of satisfying the human need to play! Just being present in the throng of masquerades filled us with hope for the demise of prejudice and bigotry, not only in Trinidad and Tobago, but worldwide.
It was 0800 on Carnival Monday – we would be “on the road” for at least another 8 hours. The band was due to leave the Mas Camp at 0700 but people were still gathering, some carrying their costumes, other adjusting them fervently. No problem, this was “Trini time”.
The streets of Port of Spain made up our “track” along which we would dance or “chip” or walk, accompanied by the music trucks, the drinks trucks and thousands of spectators. This was people-watching heaven – girls in beaded bikinis and feathered head-dresses, men showing off their six pack bodies, Jabs Jabs watching Dame Lorraines watching Midnight Robbers. People of every shape, size, colour and age – all with one objective – to have a time!
The years had taught us that we didn’t have to do the whole thing – we could stop along the route for a cool beer, a roti, a shark and bake. We had learnt it was best to line our stomachs before we sank more rum, but the sweet liquor helped our legs move faster!
The DJs on the music trucks shouted encouragement to the band as we snaked along the Savannah towards our ultimate goal – the Stage. My husband and I wined on each other, on strangers, costumes and banners glinting in the Caribbean sun, sipping our rum a little faster – the judges were waiting. Then we were part of a wining frenzy, people gyrating in ways we didn’t even have the genes for – this was Carnival, what a Bacchanal!
We topped the rise that became the Stage, a chain of smiling security men holding us back, yet curiously, spurring us on. Then the chains broke and we were free – to dance, to jump and wave, to be who we really were, a year’s tensions to release.
We did our best to impress the judges – spinning like dervishes, smiling like movie stars, moving with our best rhythm. As every individual put their soul into the performance, the whole band moved together triumphantly, encouraging each other, smiling in confident anticipation of our success as “Band of the Year”. We were part of something bigger than ourselves and it made us feel stronger! As we neared the far end of the stage, we doubled back a little, circled a little wider, not wanting to stop the feeling.
Soon it was over and the trance was broken. We came back to our senses, aware of the blazing sun and heat again, conscious of the onlookers, and of the kiskadees, in the treetops, cheering for themselves.
It was time for drink and street food and later it was time to look in wonder at the photographs that testify our transformation into “Party People”.
Next day, in Port of Spain, everything is as normal – people about their business, returning to work, observing Lent, as if the party had never happened.
Carefully, we pack away our costumes, to bring back home, to keep the feeling, the reminder of the release, of how we can sometimes be. We are back to “normal” too, until next year…
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