Despite her announcement after winning her second Queen of Carnival crown, Roxanne Omalo will not be retiring from mas anytime soon.
Omalo, 35, made the announcement to the media on the night of February 23 after the Senior Kings and Queen of Carnival competition during Dimanche Gras at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain. She won the title with her portrayal of Antourage Productions’ Mother of Dragons – Keeper of Light.
At the time she said, “I won’t be coming back. I played ten years in the industry. I say thank you to NCC (National Carnival Commission), thank you to Antourage Productions. I am retiring but with a bang too... I told my designer I have had enough. I think I have two titles under my belt as well as a lot of second places, so I think I’m now going to sit back and enjoy Carnival and even come up with my own kiddies band in my community of Mayaro.”
She said she wanted to retire because she was ready to have a baby, expand her family, and produce a children’s mas band. However, she said in the excitement of winning she announced her idea before consulting her Antourage team or her family.
She said none of them thought she should retire right now. She said her son, Jamel Cooseelal, expressed how much he enjoyed watching her play mas, and her best friend and sister, Josanne Omalo, discussed how she could accomplish her goals without retiring. Having seen another perspective, she changed her mind and apologised for the mistake.
“After sitting and talking to my family, the whole team, we think it’s not time as yet. I have a little more in me to give to the industry. But since I’m not God and can’t say for sure what will happen, I might take a year off if I get pregnant.”
In spite of her fleeting desire to stop playing queen mas, Omalo was proud of her win, especially since she did so with a broken right arm.
She explained that in January she joined a cross training group because she had put on too much weight during the previous months. As she was doing shuttle runs she stepped on a stone and fell. She broke her fall with her hand and fractured her arm, which had to be put in a cast for eight weeks.
“I said to myself, ‘I have one month and about three days to my first show, the prelims, on February 13. Let me see how I can strengthen this hand.’”
And so, in addition to following the doctor’s orders, she drank all sorts of natural products that were supposed to strengthen bones and encourage healing, and returned to training with the group. On February 11, she went to see the doctor, who told her the arm was healing well, braced the cast, and gave her the okay to perform.
She said on the night of the prelims the costume was not yet completed so she knew she would have placed fourth or fifth. She said the idea was just to get in the finals knowing that it would be completed in time for Dimanche Gras. She said she could have removed the cast before the show but did not want to take the chance that her arm would have been weak. So she left it on and “rocked that costume like mad.”
For the finals, her costume had pyrotechnics and sparks flew from the main dragon’s mouth. She thanked her boyfriend who believed the sparkler was attached too tightly to the material of the costume and loosened it. She believed if it was not for him, she would have had a similar fate to Ravi Lakhan whose costume, Diablo – Lord of Conflict and Terror, burst into flame after the attached sparkler was ignited.
A queen is born
Omalo recalled that her initiation to mas came on January 14, 2011, when she lived in Sangre Grande.
At the time, Varma “Leo” Lakhan, bandleader and designer of Antourage Productions, was her neighbour and friend of six years. She said Lakhan was involved in his uncle’s mas band and that year he wanted to produce a queen.
“I was passing to go to work and himself and his brother, Ravi Lakhan, flagged me down and said they wanted to talk to me. They asked if I ever thought about playing queen of Carnival. I was always a slim person and I thought, ‘Them thing is look so big, I not going an pull that!’”
However, she thought about it some more and took into consideration that the men were like family to her, and decided to try for their sake.
“Leo’s an aerobics instructor, a dancer and a perfectionist. I have been around him long enough to know that when he puts his hands on something it turns into magic so between that and him being my 'brother', I couldn’t tell him no.”
The Lakhan brothers immediately started to work on the costume. Carnival that year was on March 7 and 8 so they were able to complete their first queen, Serpent Sorceress. She placed fifth out of 45 in the prelims, and fourth in semis and finals. They were all elated to place in the top five on their first try.
After the success of the queen, Lakhan created his own band and Omalo was the sole queen for the first five years before the band added another four years ago.
In 2018, she won her first Carnival queen title with the portrayal Dance of Mystery.
Omalo said previously she did not participate in Carnival-related events even though she had no problem with them.
“Up to today I like Carnival because of Kings and Queens. It’s a different vibes I get there. I don’t go fetes for Carnival, and I don’t play mas on the road except on Monday when I have to pull the costume. It’s not me. It’s strange but my time to enjoy myself is the Easter weekend because to me Carnival is business.”
Part of that business and hard work was putting on mass and understanding how to move. She said every October she starts putting on weight and muscle so she can pull the costume which usually weighs anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 pounds. After Carnival, she diets and exercises to lose it all again.
“An individual normally can’t walk into that just so and pull it. They could injure themselves so it’s about you knowing your costume, understanding how to turn because of the size and structure of the costume. I don’t like to look like I’m struggling with it. I always have fun and I love my costumes.”
More than mas
However, Omalo’s life is not just about mas. She is also a mother and an entrepreneur with a deep love for her community.
She has two businesses. Triniweenie Enterprises Ltd produces vegetarian sausages and patties without soya and wheat gluten by using vegetables and ground provision. The products are sold in supermarkets including Massy Stores. She also came up with the formula for and manufactures Head of Hair regrowth and moisturising oil which is sold by hairdressers in Mayaro and Rio Claro.
She said her plan is to have one of the largest manufactures of vegetable products in the Caribbean or a private labelling company.
She told Sunday Newsday she moved back to Mayaro two years ago after the end of a 13-year relationship. The move provided opportunities to own her own property and expand her businesses with the support of her family.
She also wanted her son, Jamel, who was 12 at the time, to be closer to her family.
“Besides my sister and my present boyfriend, my son is my best friend. He’s in form three, we chat about life, I try to let him know things in life isn’t going to come easily. I’m thankful he’s not the type of child that’s influenced by the negative things out there or gets in trouble with friends.”