The guerrilla mas band Vulgar Fraction returns to Carnival with a presentation called Playing White. Robert Young, bandleader and designer of the Caribbean fashion brand The Cloth, is intent on bringing masking back to mas.
“Mas is masking. The tradition of masquerade is about becoming something else other than yourself,” Young said in a media release.
He’s contrasting the mas made by artists, wirebenders, painters and artisans with mass-produced costumes, which he calls “identity mas” or “fashion mas” after an expression used in the French Caribbean.
In Young’s band, masqueraders have to get involved in making the mas. They do it at weekend workshops at his Propaganda Space, Erthig Road in Belmont.
Just as traditional sailor mas builds on the same foundation every year, Young’s costume elements of mobile white circles become a canvas for self-expression. Traditional sailor mas is a shape-shifter, he said, the Vulgar Fraction is too. It is a basic costume of parts that each masquerader can embellish and arrange uniquely, the release said.
Making mas is “a revolutionary act, an act of deciding to risk playing with your own creativity,” Young said.
“It is masking yourself and having the experience of being on the street and nobody knowing who you are.”
Vulgar Fraction members are fully masked on the road Carnival Tuesday.
It’s a tribute, Young says, to the egungun, a Yoruba word that refers to the ancestors as a collective.
In Nigeria, the egun is a masked dancer who embodies an ancestor’s spirit. Linking the concept with the traditional sailor mas of our festival, Young says his costume design is “a voyaging egungun mas”—travelling in space, in time and in the imagination.
Young came up with the idea for Playing White in a conversation with writer and academic Douglas Brunton and academic, photographer and cultural researcher Dr Kevin Browne.
Browne is the author of the forthcoming book High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Photography.
At the band’s launch tonight, Browne will join permaculture activist John Stollmeyer and cocoa entrepreneur and sustainability activist Gillian Goddard on a panel talking about “Playing White”, moderated by journalist Lisa Allen-Agostini.
The launch is free and open to the public. It starts at the Propaganda Space at 6 pm, at 24 Erthig Road, Belmont. Band registration will open at the event and T-shirts will be on sale.
For more info: Vulgar Fraction Facebook page and Instagram @vulgar_fraction.