Young Upwardly Mobile Adults (YUMA) is more than just a Carnival band, it’s a family filled with loyalty and support. The band, which is in its tenth year, has expanded its horizon and is adamant about giving young people the opportunity to showcase their talents.
Following the death of co-founder Louis Stefan Monteil in March, the band mustered the courage to move forward and launch its Carnival presentation for 2020, Fete, which will honour a decade of hard work, innovation and jubilation on the road.
On August 7, Business Day sat down with two of YUMA’s directors Sean Burkett and Tanya Gomes, as well as two of YUMA’s communications committee members Acacia de Verteuil and Shevonne Reece, at its new location on Tragarete Road, Port of Spain. The discussion surrounded the intricate operations of this international band that remains true to its TT roots.
YUMA had a humble beginning, Burkett said. “In 2010 Stefan wanted to fill a void in the mas fraternity. One of the things that we found was that there were small bands, medium or large bands but there wasn’t (something) that was in between. People came to us (saying) that they wanted something that was a little more than medium but still wasn’t too big.” Monteil and Burkett decided to fill that gap.
“Yuma began with four directors but it was at a time when people wanted to venture down different career paths so it ultimately came down to Stefan and me. The Young in YUMA represents giving people a chance. All the way leading up to this year we would have introduced a new designer into the mas fraternity whether within or outside YUMA.”
But Gomes advises potential masqueraders to not let the “young” dissuade them. “You could be 50 and play mas with us. There’s a misconception that we are only about youth but it is really about giving people a chance. At our band launch on August 3, of our 48 models several were new, some of them had never done a band launch before. So every year there is a quest to reveal something new and do something different,” said Gomes.
This year YUMA has ten sections plus four collaborations.
The band is also celebrating its tenth anniversary with the Faces of YUMA campaign, aimed at showcasing the cross-section of talented women within the band. There are four Faces of YUMA: Marieange Bovell, Achsah Henry, Chloe Joseph and Halle Crawford.
“Achsah is an absolutely brilliant mind. Marieange is bright, energetic and loves taking care of kids. Chloe is a chemist and Halle is building a name for herself with her own entrepreneurial brand. They have different career paths but they contribute immensely to the band,” Burkett said.
Asked by Business Day about YUMA’s daily operations and the impact of Monteil’s death, the team recalled his intimate role in the organisation. He was a visionary, they said, who would read a lot and analyse trends. “His whole vision was not just Carnival but showing that there was another side of TT and a different way of interpreting that. We wanted to highlight and showcase positivity. Hence the reason we are always championing new things. He would see months or even years ahead that something was developing,” Gomes said.
YUMA has various teams that work together to ensure that goals are met. “This is no fickle organisation,” said Acacia de Verteuil. “This is not a part time endeavour. We are like any entity and entail all of the components that it requires. Obviously, now with all the traditional and non-traditional forms of communications we have developed a corporate communications team, marketing YUMA beyond Trinidad because we have footprints regionally and internationally.”
The YUMA Team operates daily with approximately 56 committee members. Not all of them are full time but everyone contributes to the end product.
Just before his death, at a meeting to discuss branding, one of Monteil’s wishes was to change the logo.
He wanted YUMA to do something new, Gomes said, to take the brand beyond Carnival. “We are looking into merchandising, podcasts, blogs, film/photography and there are different things that people need to understand about what Carnival is. The band goes beyond Monday and Tuesday, it’s 365 days a year and our vision is to go more global,” Gomes said.
As a tribute to Monteil, his initials have been incorporated into the new logo. “Incorporating Stefan’s initials into our logo is something that took time to do but it was for us to know that he is always with us. It’s something subtle because he was never the type of person who liked to be out there,” Burkett added.
The band's move this year from Alcazar Street in Woodbrook to Tragarete Road was also linked to Monteil. “Stefan was so intimately involved in everything that we did. He wanted us to have a place more comfortable for the staff and visible for customers.”
And YUMA’s footprints continue to spread throughout the region and internationally.
“From a regional perspective we have been in St Lucia where we actually co-own Just 4 Fun, the largest Carnival band there. Same for Jamaica, where we co-own the largest band there, Xodus. We are also in Miami Carnival, and have affiliates in London, Canada, Los Angeles, Germany and now Japan,” said Gomes.
“Stefan wanted to extend our reach and St Lucia was our first overseas venture five years ago. We have grown since then,” said Burkett.
The band caters to an average of about 3,200 to 3,500 masqueraders. “We do not go above that. It’s manageable. Even with that kind of crowd people feel a sense of home and we feel comfortable that we are able to deliver the type of Carnival experience (they want). Everyone gets space within the band.”
Asked about the band's involvement in Carnival internationally and how it affects revenue, Burkett said the band is profiting and there is plenty interest from tourists. As it pertains to foreign exchange on a local level, he said the band has to be proactive in its planning. “(The forex crunch) forces us to have a strategic plan so that we can attain US from the bank whenever we need it.” The band’s presentation for its ten-year anniversary is aptly titled Fete. “We (know) we are the Carnival experience and we want to commemorate this with one big fete,” Gomes said.
Coming up with ideas for costumes for the next season, she said, starts sometimes even before the current season ends.
“There is no rest. We begin conceptualising ideas for the following year on Ash Wednesday. Sometimes the theme is even developed before we go on the road. We do a lot of research. All of our themes have been unique or we take what is trending right now and put our own spin on it. That’s what we did for Fete. We wanted to take part of our culture and share it with the world.”
Most material for costumes is sourced locally as it reduces the organisation’s spending on shipping and Customs duties, and the producers import only if it becomes necessary. “Our local producers – seamstresses, wire benders and even those who work with the feathers – support local. It works out better for us.”
YUMA was part of the foundation for the development of the Socadrome, located at the Jean Pierre Complex. The Socadrome started as an idea in 2014 between Tribe, YUMA and Bliss, which had courted some controversy from the then National Carnival Commission (NCC).
Burkett said under the current administration, however, the NCC, with chairman Winston Peters and CEO Colin Lucas, “have really grasped what we attempted to do.”
“It’s wasn’t to compete with the Queen’s Park Savannah but to give our masqueraders an alternative. Logically, if there are 80 bands each having 30 minutes on a stage, practically that’s not going to happen.
“The only other place that could have facilitated us in terms of time to construct and safety would have been in the Socadrome. We do have support from NCC in terms now. What we would like is to have further conversations about the terms of Carnival. Other carnivals have caught up and tapping into consumer trends and wants and needs. TT needs to make the experience more streamlined and convenient.” TT will still remain the mecca of Carnival, Burkett said, but over the last few years visitor arrivals have been dropping. He believes Carnival needs to be more attractive and he even boldly suggested cutting down how expensive the Carnival product is.
YUMA is also involved in “Yumanitarian” efforts, including school books distributions and beach cleanups.
“Carnival does contribute to the economy of TT – the numbers of models hired, makeup artists, fete promoters everyone having a part in the function of the engine. This is not a fickle business. We are truly trying our best to contribute to the development of our country,” de Verteuil said.
As it looks to the future, Burkett said the priority is to learn and grow. “We accept any challenge. On March 18 we lost Stefan, on March 22 we buried him and on August 3 we continued his legacy. It took a lot from a large group of people. A band cannot be delivered by one person alone. Really and truly it takes the collective work of everyone to achieve our goals.”