I have a couple of new video clips (well not new but newly uploaded as I was working on an essay about my life in mas for submission and I needed to upload the videos) from Grace’s Merrymakers 2017 debut and finale during Antigua and Barbuda Carnival’s 60th anniversary. Seriously when I play mas again I want to not have to worry about all the behind the scenes stuff – though my mas was micro I have newfound respect for the leaders of mas I’ve played with over the years, because seriously when is their Carnival. I’m half-kidding. I had fun. We all did.
Some days you just need to go back to your happy place (yes, there were bumps in the making and showcasing of Grace’s Merrymakers; but playing mas is still one of the purest pleasures there is because when the music hits you, you feel no pain).
This is me and a couple of friends playing the mango tree faerie from my children’s picture book for the 60th anniversary of Antigua’s Carnival.
Video taken by my niece (who was one of my banner holders) during our appearance on the stage – first ones on the stage (no warm up) – Carnival Monday, pictures plucked from the Antigua Carnival’s Facebook – Carnival Tuesday album. The song in the video is Out Dey by Claudette ‘CP’ Peters which went on to earn her the distinction of being the first female soca artiste to win the Antigua Road March title (i.e. most played song on the road for the 60th anniversary of Antigua’s Carnival).
Yep, it may have been released in December 2016 but between being picked as one of the US Virgin Islands’ Governor’s Summer Reads and the tree faerie being Out Dey in de Carnival, it’s been the summer of Grace.
ETA: I’m also making this my Sunday Post (a meme run by the Caffeinated Reviewer) because, yay, I finished and blogged about Wide Sargasso Sea this Sunday. Read the review here. That means that I can add another book to my active reading pile and that book is – ta-dah! – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Don’t judge me. Okay, judge, whatever but another blogger decided to mail it to me after I told her how much the movie sucked – either this is a case of the book being better than the movie or she’s trying to prank me. Either way, there’s a hurricane coming and I need the distraction. You know how this post opens with needing to go to my happy place, well…there you have it.
It’s funny how quickly Carnival goes by. It’s like this two week alternate reality where everything else ceases to exist, and then, in a blink, back to reality. Within those two weeks there is pageantry, soca, calypso, pan, controversy, and, of course, mas including the epic Carnival Tuesday parade (all 10,000 plus steps of it). Carnival is mas, and mas is an opportunity to showcase our creativity and that, the opportunity it provides to showcase our creativity, is the purpose of this post.
See, I wrote a children’s picture book called With Grace (released last December), and the world of that story became the pattern that we drew from in crafting our mas – in great part because I wanted to see the tree faerie come to life.
We had more elaborate plans to start but adjusted to our reality and are grateful that with the help of sponsors (shout out to Titi Rent-a-Car, Townhouse Mega Store, and Pink Mongoose), we were able to bring the tree faerie to Carnival City.
I’m not going to pretend that I had any hand in the actual building – I am rather lucky that my friends (Helena Jeffery Brown and Augusta Scotland Samuel) who do have experience with costume building were interested in taking on this project.
Material was bought ,
Wire was bent ,
Shapes were drawn ,
Fabric was cut ,
& Details were added (these are for the headpieces and standards – because we might not have had a mango tree like we’d hoped but the standards made for a good stand-in).
In their skilled hands (plus seamstress, Ms. Blaize, who sewed the tops they then decorated), it all came together..
We had to do a product description for the stage and here’s some of what we said – “The fairy’s bodice is the colour of tree bark crisscrossed in green. Her skirt consists of green leaves, with stripes of gold, hanging from her body like leaves from a tree. Look closely, you’ll also see mango blossoms – between the fairy’s wings, pinned into her hair, and along the leaves making up her hand pieces. The fairy’s wings spread wide as she wakes, the orange pink hue of a ripening mango, made of bent wire in the tradition of Antiguan mas. Another feature of local mas, the standards – poles wrapped in leaves, in hues of green and gold – are the trees waving in the breeze. It’s mango season, Carnival season, a season of creativity in full bloom.”
On the Road
After all that, we were only on the road on Carnival Tuesday (shout out to Just Friends, for being so welcoming to us on the road); on Carnival Monday, given our size, we only crossed the stage. Shout out to our banner holders …and our back-up banner holders.
We were happy to have the opportunity to showcase what mas is about to us – not just fun (though it is always that), but the colour, spirit, and creative energy of our Antiguan and Barbudan people. As a writer, it made me happy to see a character I imagined (a character then illustrated by Cherise Harris and re-imagined by Jeffery) come to life as a part of one of my favourite events, Carnival, mas, Tuesday, the biggest live theatre event (for that’s how I’ve thought of our mas since I first witnessed it as a child). This year I also spied a smurfette and a mermaid (dope); so why not the mango tree faerie, a 100 Wadadli character. Again, thanks to our sponsors (Titi Rent-a-Car, Pink Mongoose, and Townhouse Mega Store) for supporting our vision – remember, support the businesses that support the arts.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Grace, of Grace’s Peak, loves her hill, and her home above the village, above the whole island. All her trees are lush and full of ripe fruits, except for the one at the far end of her orchard. She hates that tree. So when the smiling, barefoot, girl from the village asks Grace if she can pick fruits to sell at the market, it is from that sad, bare tree that Grace “generously” allows her to pick. Little does Grace know that the young girl’s kind, generous heart and her sweet special song will make the impossible happen, and change life at Grace’s Peak forever. Published by Little Bell Caribbean.
Also, for news on Antigua’s Carnival, go here.
Note, Trigger Warning, & Disclaimer: This is a re-post of a fictional piece that ran on a website called The Crier (under a different title) – the problem with online pubs is sometimes they up and disappear and so does that publication credit. This one I didn’t write for the credit (well, I don’t write anything for the credit) but because I wanted to speak to an issue that casts a shadow over one of my favourite events, Carnival – that blurry line between over consumption and consent, rape and silencing, self-blaming and victim blaming (for the record, no amount of perceived “vulgarity or lewdness” is an invitation to rape). As with so much else, I’m writing to explore the things I’m trying to understand, and to talk back to our society. It is a work of fiction, but it does reflect a reality it would do us well to confront. Any resemblance to actual events, people, or locales is coincidental.
When she wakes up, she is alone, on the back of a float, pieces of her costume missing and other pieces askew, and the mas yard is all but abandoned. She can hear voices but it’s dark and she can’t see anyone. It gives her a disconnected feeling, like she’s not quite in her body.
Last she remembers, she had a glass in her hand and music in her bones.
They were jigging up High street, wet and high, dancing the way toddlers do, no sense of their own body, just happy to be moving. And she remembers feeling in that moment like she could do this forever and be happy.
When a body eased up behind her, she leaned back in to it after a head tilt to see, as much as one could see in the waning light, if he was wearing the same mas colours as her – to make sure he wasn’t some random guy tiefing a wine.
It have people who, when they play mas does get tired, does need to pee, does complain they foot burning them. Not her. And though she was the kind of can’t mash ants girl who never let no man pass his place with her – the very cliché of a stoosh bank employee, Carnival was different. Is like Shorty sang back in her mammy time, the time of the leggo tourist, Lucinda, and all dem so, Carnival is fantasy.
A fantasy of body suits and shiny things, music and rum – the very act of Carnival itself a masque or an unmasking, she supposed, depending on how you chose to look at it.
Time jumped because next she know herself she was at the top of High street, sun had long set, and they were turning toward the mas camp. Still a good hour of jumping and wining to be had.
She looked around for her friends, impossible to find anybody in the dark. She felt for her cell, but what was the point in all this noise. She briefly considered sending a text but couldn’t hold on to the thought long enough to follow through. She went instead to the moving bar to top up her vodka and cranberry. Then she kept on dancing, like the thousands of bodies around her, going where the music and good feeling took her.
Last thing she remember was a hand snaking familiarly ‘round her waist.
She aches and not just in her legs and feet, in places not touched by the music.
She can’t find her phone and walks instead toward the voices.
“Girl, ah looking all over for you!” One of her friends recognizes her before her eyes adjust enough for her to make out any details in the dark. Her friend stops an inch shy of hugging her, studying her. “Mmmm like somebody get some!” She opens her mouth to ask who before she realizes she is somebody. And she wants to ask then what her friend sees when she looks at her. What’s so blatant to her even in the patchy half-lit mas camp. What does it mean that she can’t remember any of it?
She showers so long when she gets home her mother has to come and tell her to stop wasting the little Government water allowed them.
And when she lies down, she can’t sleep. Her skin feels like it is being zapped with electricity. She can’t remember a face. She can’t shake the feeling that she has been violated. She can’t put voice to what she is feeling.
A man on the radio calls them jezebels, these girls with everything hanging out at Carnival time, delilahs, luring men with flesh and the promise of flesh. She turns off the radio. It is the usual post Carnival nonsense, as if the society feels it has to do penance for blowing off some steam, even though life is a constant pressure cooker. She doesn’t usually have time for the hypocrisy of it, as if woman is sin-self, as if man don’t have no mind of his own, as if wining and jumping have to be about anything but you and the music, as if a woman, any woman who dare to have some fun, just asking for it.
Her body breaks out in goosebumps and the staticky feeling catches her again right there on the highway on the way to work and she has to pull off lest she ‘cause an accident because she feels in that moment like she is going to come apart.
She still hasn’t found her phone. Even so, the bank doesn’t take kindly to workers calling in sick the day after Carnival – two days holiday is plenty, the way they see it, never mind that revelers spend every waking moment of those two days on the road, taxing every inch of their bodies before returning to being bone-tired, hung over citizens.
“You okay, miss,” somebody pauses his car alongside hers to ask.
He waits through the inevitable eruption of horns behind him.
And she considers telling him, this stranger, the truth, that no she isn’t okay, that she thinks maybe she was raped, but – between flashes of unsympathetic police, accusatory headlines, online chatter, and streetside side eyes, and her own uncertainty about what was and was not – she just nods and he nods back and moves on.
-by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Neither image nor text is to be reposted or used in any way without permission. Feel free to share the link, of course.
5 Things I liked about the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of the Caribbean Beat (because apparently I can’t read anymore without taking notes)
1. The article on Neila Ebanks was easily my favourite read. Wish I could see her dance. If I had to pick one or two things from the article that stayed with me…one would be the story of how she started dancing. Painfully pigeon toed as a child, when American doctors suggested to her mom that they break and re-set her leg bones, the Jamaican doctor suggested she take up dance instead “to re-orient her legs.” How cool is it that a less invasive approach opened up a whole new world? “Every time I dance,” she said, “I have to give thanks for the act of dance because it changed my body.” I knew the arts were good mental and spiritual therapy and as her story proves it can be good physical therapy. Then there’s also the part of the story where, while studying at the UWI, she had an epiphany “I decided I don’t want to do this I want to dance” – its’ a scary and yet exhilarating thing for a Caribbean artist especially to realize that because everything about our environment tells us that while art is life it is no way to make a living. I can relate to this struggle and the realization that follows it as a writer, right around my UWI years too.
Neila Ebanks talking dance on youtube
2. I’ve never met Shakirah Bourne but I’ve read and enjoyed her writing and via her blog and social media posts her spirit as well. That comes through in her Caribbean Beat feature. You’ve got to read the whole thing but the part that stuck with me was how clearly definitive she is about her writing (wish I had that level of clarity); and the part that speaks to the Caribbean perspective,the importance of that perspective in Caribbean literature – why it matters: “Art should never be restricted. All I ask is that our stories be ours. If we don’t tell them, who will? It is important for Caribbean people to have characters that reflect their identity and culture.” I agree with this 100 and 1000 percent and reflect it in everything from my own writing to the mission of Wadadli Pen. “I want that when an audience hears or reads my story, they hear my Caribbean voice.” Exactly!
Shakirah’s Tedx talk
3. “Carnival is one of the few times we let down our masks more than we put them on.” – This is one of the quotes from Fédon Honoré in the Midnight Robber article; interesting article and a revealing insight.
4. The new poems by Kei Miller – I liked his book (Fear of Stones) and really liked the way he manipulates words in these poems and the sharp bite of lines like “Here, landmarks shift;/they become unfixed/by earthquake/by landslide/by utter spite” and the built in humour of lines like “the long and short/to Three Miles, Six Miles, Nine Miles, Eleven Miles, whose distances, incidentally are unrelated”. Really need to read more of his stuff. Read the full poems here. And see Kei read from the collection of which these poems are a part while it was still a collection-in-progress
5. And how much do I love it whenever a little Antigua and Barbuda gets in (not as often as I’d like)– read my article Need for Speed about female drag racers in Antigua and Barbuda.
It’s a weird phenomenon, isn’t it? Carnival. For a heartbeat, old and familiar and circular arguments about politics and the economy are completely ignored and the lid let off the pressure cooker.
As the biggest platform for performing and to some extent visual artists, lyricists, and composers in Antigua and Barbuda (and arguably the entire the Eastern and Southern Caribbean), there is no denying its role in the development of the creative arts in Antigua and Barbuda. I mean, because of Carnival, we have Obsti, Swallow and Short Shirt and after taking the walk to the always romantic land of nostalgia with them on Calypso Monarch night, no Antiguan who loves calypso would want to live in a world where those three icons didn’t exist as we know them to. I add as we know them to because their talent is such, they would have found their way to the arts some how or other, right, even without Carnival? Maybe. But thanks to Carnival, they are iconic. Away from cricket, the musical artistes that make their name on the Carnival stage are our celebrities and the annual competitive process gives some impetus to the creative spark that lives in them regardless.
But in this moment, I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here instead to talk about how, like Bob said, when music hits you, you feel no pain. More than that, the music is a pain killer blotting out the pain you already had.
If you’re outside of the Carnival, it’s easy to wonder where people get that kind of energy, where they get the money to waste on bathsuits and baubles, and why bother. Here’s the thing though when the parade is coming up the road on Carnival Tuesday, whether you’re in the mas or not, though it’s more fun to be in, you forget, and you become a kid all over again. You just want to dance and feel good, and, with or without the aid of spirits, you do. The thing Carnival reminds us about life perhaps is that it’s to be lived and felt, it reminds us what it is to be in the moment. (Just ask Nikki in Oh Gad!)
Now if we could just take that in the momentness into every day life, minus the misbehaving, sweet or otherwise, perhaps we wouldn’t need the Carnival. No need for time outs.