Kejan Hayes writes from Port of Spain
It’s 9pm on Carnival Tuesday night.
A marked police van approaches Ariapita Avenue, the Las Vegas strip of Port of Spain. Meanwhile, thousands of left-over, still overly energetic revellers are crowding the sidewalk, spilling out on to the street, drinking, dancing, screaming.
The police van parks and 20 officers emerge, their arms locked. They march down the avenue instructing DJs to turn off their music and order the remaining masqueraders home.
It’s the same scene on almost every street in Port of Spain.
"You feel to die"
In the mas camp of popular carnival band Tribe, at that very moment, 27-year-old designer Valmiki Maharaj is celebrating the end of another successful season. But celebration soon gives way to exhaustion.
“The days after carnival are when you’re most tired. For at least a month after, it’s a go-slow period, yet you feel to die,” he said.
“You don’t realise the stress you’re under until Ash Wednesday, when you don’t have a costume to get up and fix and you’re no longer running on adrenalin.”
The first few days after Carnival are spent in lengthy post-mortem meetings, where everything from the security to the catering is discussed. The next following weeks will be spent meeting with every manager, every artist , every designer, every angry member of the public who has called with a complaint.
“Sometimes we have to call them back and apologise and make amends,” Valmiki recalls. “The most important thing is to make sure that they’re happy and willing to return next year.”
For Tribe, returning masqueraders are hardly a problem.
Their band is already one of the largest in the country, with approximately 5,000 members and growing. Every year, new customers are clamouring to cross the elite velvet rope that is Tribe Carnival.
“Literally Ash Wednesday I have people calling me for costumes for the following year. It’s crazy," Valmiki says.
I'll be back
When Tribe tries to secure the returning masquerader, they’re aiming to please the “hot-footed” feter.
Jean Paul Mollineau calls himself a carnival addict. He has played mas since he was in high school.
Now in his mid-20s, he does not subscribe to the band loyalty that most Trinidadians do, despite whatever bumps and bruises they have experienced over the years.
Jean Paul speed-dates through bands, jumping to a different band every year, hoping that one day he will find the right fit.
Over the years he has played with Harts, newly formed band Young Upwardly Mobile Adults (YUMA) and six-time band of the year champion Brian MacFarlane.
Brian MacFarlane’s band has been his choice for the past three years, but ultimately he felt they were too expensive for what was being offered. For years, the band has shied away from the “all-inclusive” thrill, on which other bands thrive.
For Jean Paul, the offer of free drinks all day is not a sell when choosing a band. But even so, he reckons the price is a bit steep.
“As a male masquerader, all you get is a pants and a bib, and that’s what sets it apart for me,” he said. “We’re getting less for more and people are paying for luxuries as opposed to getting a good costume.”
When carnival ends, Jean Paul takes to the blogs to share his experiences, including the pros and the cons of the latest band he joined. He then begins scouting for all the latest underground news coming out of the carnival circuit.
Trinidad's “traditional” media tend to avoid the carnival scene until the band launches begin during the months of July or August. So the carnival junkie usually turns to the social networks or to a particular website, Trinidadcarnivaldiary.com
TCD is run by anonymous blogger “Saucy”, a well informed, yet slightly controversial source for the news behind the news in the carnival industry.
She is usually among the first to give glances into bands’ presentations for the next year, offering a critique here or there where necessary.
Her home page comes with a disclaimer: “This blog is not intended to influence anyone to play with any one Carnival band over the other.
" Even though I may be privy to information from many sources, this does not influence my views and opinions; the views expressed are solely mine. This is a place to come and get a little carnival info (how ah buy it is how ah selling it), look at some costume pics, "listen" to me talk about mas and occasionally vent or speak my mind. Use with caution!”
Saucy’s blog and the social networks such as Facebook as Twitter are fast becoming the best source of carnival information, just short of going into the mas camp yourself.
Last year, one band, Island People’s Heroes, received such an onslaught of negative reviews online for its presentation that the designers went back to the drawing board and presented a new line to masqueraders.
There were even rumours that the band would not return in 2013 because of the bad press. Saucy herself quelled the rumours by blogging about their presentation for next year .
While she blogs, the designers will keep working, Valmiki reveals his and most other bands are already in top gear, preparing for the band’s launch this summer by preparing for the photo shoots, getting the websites up and running and beginning the constant liaising with China to begin the process of creating the costumes.
“People don’t know that next year starts before the carnival the previous year.
"The 2012 carnival was in February, I started designing for 2013 in 2011. We don’t have a full year between carnivals, so we need to make sure our prototypes are finished in time," he says.
“People feel Carnival is a seasonal thing. They don’t really think that it happens so far ahead. You don’t get bored, definitely.”