As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Solid International Mas Troupe

The store was on our way home. Every day when we passed by its open doors we saw the vibrantly colored and glittering sequin costumes and we would be reminded that carnival was coming soon to transform Antigua as it does every year. Tonight we had come home a little earlier than usual, and had time I reckoned for one more stop, so seeing the doors open I called out a greeting and walked in. It was a store selling costumes for the upcoming carnival in Antigua. Renelle, a young woman in her twenties, was busy in the store making measurements on fabric to be sewn into costumes. I asked her whether she had ever taken part in the carnival parade or “played mas” as the locals say. She told me she had first played mas at the age of two and had continued to do so ever since. I asked her whether my kids and I could jump up with the band as well. She assured me that I could, in fact she said, her troupe even took orders for costumes over the web. Most of the store’s customers she said are locals and Antiguans who are coming home for Carnival, but they also have people from abroad purchasing costumes to come take part in the celebrations. All are welcome.

At this point I was ready to sign up but I didn’t remember much about carnival in Antigua from when I left so long ago. Not remembering enough to be able to communicate the fun aspects of it to my kids, I wondered whether they wouldn’t really know what they were getting into and whether they would balk at the last minute when they saw the whole spectacle and then leave me having paid for costumes that no one would use. I decided to find out more about what would be involved myself so I could tell them

Chandy Lewis, the owner of the store arrived at that point and very graciously took the time to tell me a little about what the kids and I might expect. July 25th he told me would be the opening day of Carnival and all the bands would take part in the parade on that day. By “bands” he meant “costume bands” he told me. The music bands were affiliated with the costume bands but the costume bands were the ones that were listed in the carnival proceedings. July 26th would be the kiddies’ carnival which my kids could take part in. He assured me that I could walk alongside them if I chose, but that I could also just drop the kids off. All the kids in his band he said would have full supervision and would be given snacks and looked after until released into their parents care again.

Aside from the kiddie parade August 3 is the one in which the big bands will show their full costumes. August 4 is the final parade called the “last lap”. For this final parade all the bands taking part in the opening, along with all the big bands in their full costumes will take part. His costume band, called the Solid International Mas Troupe, would showcase their costumes on August 3rd and August 4th.

I asked him what was unique about his band. He told me he is the youngest designer for a band in the Antiguan carnival. In addition, he told me, “all my stuff is local”. He designs and makes his costumes locally and uses a local music band named El-a-KRU featuring Tizzy, who I assumed was another local artist. “All young heads doing things” he said.

The comment about “young heads” brought up my recollection of the rants I had heard earlier in the day while picking up some shipped goods from Antiguan customs near the airport. One worker, an Antiguan gentleman in his sixties was going on amongst his co-workers about how all Antiguan people wanted to see in carnival these days was a woman’s more discrete parts regardless of whether any children (“any pickney dem”)  were present.

I looked at the costume jewels hanging down from the waistline of one of the costumes and while I greatly admired the article, I couldn’t help but consider whether part of the costume was missing. I asked Chandy if there was a generation gap when it came to carnival attire. He said “I make a costume that depicts what it depicts”. I wondered how one so young could have been so well schooled in such language of indirection as more commonly found in politicians. But he went on to elaborate “when we measure the costume we provide different options for the length of the costume, and whether you want to wear anything underneath it”. I gathered from what he said that the costume could be toned down or made racier depending on the client’s taste. He reminded me that he runs a business that responds to the market and that “the younger generation doesn’t want to see too much clothes”.

I didn’t see his custom creations. His off the shelf costumes were simple but dramatic. “The theme, he said “is awakening Africa 2009. Imagine yourself waking up in Africa … the things you stumble upon.” He recommended that I look up Antigua carnival on Youtube to prepare the kids for taking part. But he seemed to indicate that there is nothing to learn to do in order to participate … with the exception of learning to have fun. So perhaps the kids and I will take part, and for that day in Carnival 2009 we too will wake up in Africa.

You can visit Solid Internation Mas Troupe online at http://solidmastroupe.com.

The costumes leave plenty of room for the viewer's imagination to run wild.

The costumes leave plenty of room for the viewer's imagination to run wild.

Chandy in his laboratory mixing up fashionings of his unbottled imagination.

Chandy in his laboratory mixing up fashionings of his unbottled imagination.

The flamingo costume like its namesake, is delicate and made for strutting.

The flamingo costume like its namesake, is delicate and made for strutting.

The head dress of the sailfish costume very brilliantly evokes the proud dorsal fin of a sailfish.

The head dress of the sailfish costume very brilliantly evokes the proud dorsal fin of a sailfish.

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