Monday, 13 February 2017

Feathers and Pan

As a visitor to the West Indies, you can't think of Trinidad without thinking Carnival! Steel (pan) bands, parades, stunningly costumed men and woman strutting out dancing ... and rum, lots of rum.

So when we heard that Jessie James from Members Only was organizing an evening tour of pan rehearsals and Mas Camps, we booked.  On arrival at our first destination, Jessie began talking in another language - competitions for Dirty Mas, Pretty Mas, Jóuvert, Kings and Queens, Soca music and Panorama, He cited prize money for the winners of each event of up to One Million TT dollars.

Mas is short for masquerade procession. Dirty Mas is a dawn parade that starts around 2:00am, the first of the carnival processions, where dancers are covered in everything from mud to motor oil to liquid chocolate. The Pretty Mas procession is held the following day, and is where the very best costumes and finery are on show. Our first stop was where Jóuvert or dirty mas began - participants pay a fee to join the group, wearing the team shirt they dance with locals and tourists around town, drinking rum and juice and having paint and whatever thrown at them.

Next stop of the evening tour was to a costume factory, where more of the carnival mystique was explained.  At one shop the theme was an Arabian Wedding and there were many different styles of costumes, all with prices displayed.  Only then did it dawn on us that Carnival in Port Of Spain, Trinidad, is now a fully commercial venture.  Organized by government and business to attract tourists, who travel from all corners of the world to not only watch but to pay real money to dress up and be part of the Carnival.

The costumes are splendid, just what we had expected, just not the price tag that excluded most of the locals from participating unless they were sponsored.  We visited two costume shops and then were dropped outside a workshop to see where some of the costumes were being made. As soon as we started peering in, the door opened and we were invited to look, touch and even try on some of the fabulous feathers. Lots of hot glue gunning with feathers, sequins and lycra.

Four Special Pans Are The Guitar Section.
After dinner we settled in to listen to a rehearsal for the Silver Stars pan orchestra. This was a large pan orchestra, with over 45 players using many different types of steel pan drums.  There was also a large rythm section, with various drums, congas and percussion instruments.

As it was a rehearsal we listened to the same 12 minute composition, over and over.  The conductor was focussing that night on building dynamic range into the performance, working various sections of the orchestra at different times so that they could develop the necessary  crescendo required in one part of the composition.

Eventually the whole band played together, covering the entire piece.  Finally the conductor gave the orchestra it's head and said "ÖK, lets do it with feeling" - never have we felt music like this. Check the link here to a prior Silver Stars rehearsal.

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