Despite financial constraints and other technical issues, junior bands will be participating in various parades this year for the sake of the children.
Anra Bobb of Anra Bobb and Friends said her main problem was the price increase of most of the costume materials. She said because of the contraction of the economy some sponsors dropped out and those who remained could not donate much. But she is trying to keep the prices of the costumes low.
“For someone like me, who likes perfection, it’s a little difficult trying to balance both things. And when you look at the kind of prize money that you’re getting, it really makes you second guess yourself. But for me it’s about the love of mas.”
Since 1984, Bobb won both the south and national Queen of Carnival titles several times with Leslie Bobb and Associates, which she led with her late husband, Leslie Bobb. She said she gained so much she felt she should give back in some way. “It’s part of our culture. At least the children must see what a costume is and how to portray it before they get big enough to go to the bikini and beads.”
Carnival Babies bandleader Lisa Mollineau also refuses to let a lack of finances stop her.
She said she sent out numerous requests for sponsorship but has not yet received any responses. “Some of us don’t have other jobs that we could really fall back on a monthly income to put aside money to buy stuff. A lot of us take loans to offset the start and finance the bands.”
Mollineau preferred not to reveal how much it cost to produce the band and would only say it cost "a lot."
"It's so much that even with the subsidised prices we charge parents with three or four children playing it can be considerable. But we try to maintain an average of $900 to $1,500 per costume."
Registration for Carnival Babies, which as a large band caters for 400 masqueraders, started last November but Mollineau said very few people have made down payments to secure a costume. She said many people have called to say they will play with her but, because of the recession and the number of people who lost their jobs last year, bandleaders have no idea how many children will actually play mas this year.
However, she still intends to bring out the band that will portray Celebration Time. “Make or break this is my tenth anniversary and we are aiming to come strong as usual. I’m ready to hit the road for 2019.”
Bois Canot Productions bandleader Ruth Mendez seems to be the least affected by outside factors. She said with 20 years of junior mas under her belt, nothing is stopping her from bringing out her 2019 presentation, Down Memory Lane.
She said registration for her band has already started, but while people have expressed interest, they have not yet paid down money to secure costumes. She believes many are waiting on pay day for “the rush will start.” As a medium band, Bois Canot caters for about 125 children. The cost to bring out the band is an estimated $30,000 with costume prices ranging from $600 to $1,000.
Mendez said the problem with a long Carnival season is that people think they have a lot of time to decide with which band they wish to play. “It’s kind of stressful for bandleaders like myself because it gives people time to look around, until they realise the time is up and then there is either a rush or people pull out last minute.”
She said she has learned a lot over the past 20 years so she understands trends and finds solutions to previous problems. She started production last year, giving herself enough time to design, sew, and construct the costumes mostly by herself.
Mendez also said a lack of willing sponsors is not a problem, as Bois Canot has never been a sponsored band. She said her children are adults and she has no grandchildren to take care of, so she does everything out of pocket. Therefore, any prizes the band wins usually goes back into the band.
Asked why she continues if she is not making much profit, she replied, “I am an artist. It’s part of my life, part of my being. Carnival is one of the only ways I can show what I can do where art is concerned. That’s what keeps me going.”
Schoolbands are also eager to give their students experiences they otherwise might not have had.
Belmont Boys’ RC Primary School bandleader and designer, N'Koma Monsegue, said, “It’s all about keeping the culture alive and having the students exposed to it. It’s really demanding and tiring, but sometimes if schools don’t do things, kids don’t get the experiences themselves.”
Monsegue said the school started playing mas in 2013 and this year the presentation will be Mas in Space, where students will portray the brightest stars in the constellations. He said there are those who look forward to playing, and as the band continues to win prizes, new players show interest each year, including relatives of students and children from their sister school.
Allison Nelson, principal of Newtown Girls’ RC School, agrees.
“It’s a commitment to our children. We look at it as a valuable part of their education. Remember anything that happens in terms of the nation and our culture is a part of the Social Studies curriculum. What better way to teach the curriculum than to get them immersed in it?”
Tunapuna Boys RC Primary School played mas on the big stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah for the first time last year, and students are eager to do it again. One of the school’s bandleaders, Nicole Bailey-Jackson, told Sunday Newsday the band participated in school and regional mas before but decided to play mas at the Republic Bank Junior Parade of the Bands in 2018 and placed second in the mini category and eighth overall.
“It was amazing to see the children on the day. They were really enjoying themselves. Also, on our way to the savannah we pointed out some of the schools and landmarks they heard about, so they were also on tour of the city of Port of Spain. It was an enriching experience for them.”
She said the band usually presents themes that cement what the students learned in science and social studies and uses that knowledge in a creative setting. This year, the presentation is A Tribute to Icons Past. She said among their challenges were finances, sourcing skilled labour for costume construction, and time, as many of the staff stay back to work on organising the band and costumes after working all day. Fortunately, she added, because of the band’s participation last year, the school received a level of sponsorship from Republic Bank for which it is grateful.
St Agnes Anglican Primary School principal Lauralyn Alexander-Olivier said her school faced similar challenges. They include parental support to supervise the children on the day of the mas, transportation for children, getting materials at a satisfactory price, trying to cut the cost of the costumes as much as possible, and skilled labour. She said many of the parents are of a lower socio-economic background and cannot afford expensive costumes, so the school does its best to assist.
“We want as much participation as possible so we raise funds at the school level so we could subsidise the cost of the costumes where parents are concerned...A lot of the true value of our local culture is being lost. This is an opportunity for them to play mas and even stand a chance to win.”
In order to help with costs, as well as to educate the students, she said teachers make the costumes on a stage at the school so the students could see how costumes are made and participate if they want. This year, the band will portray Insects and Spiders and Alexander-Olivier hopes the school will do as well as it did last year, when it placed first in the small band category in the junior parade and won individual prizes at other competitions.