‘Mask Fo So’ for SVG Connect

Verna Arthur (right) and JoAnn DeShong at a fundraising cake sale.
Photo by Nelson A. King

Verna Arthur, the Brooklyn-based founder and bandleader of the two-year-old SVG Connect, says it will be “Mask Fo So” for this year’s J’Ouvert in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“As part of our costume, revelers will be wearing masks, and they will be playing mas; hence the double entendre, ‘Mask Fo So,’” Arthur, a Vincentian-born cultural figure in New York, told Caribbean Life on Sunday.

“While female is the larger group of people who participate for carnival, last year, we had a large percentage of men from New York; persons we didn’t expect to play J’Ouvert played,” added Arthur, who coordinates the annual Cultural Symposium for the Brooklyn-based group, Club St. Vincent, Inc., of which she is a former president.

“They enjoyed the pan, while chipping on the streets of Kingstown [the Vincentian capital],” she continued. “We want to double that amount this year.

“It is our hope that, with the 150 anticipated revelers and the heightened sounds of Starlift Steel Orchestra, other band leaders will be provided with the impetus to embrace pan for future J’Ouvert,” Arthur said.

In trying to recruit new revelers and raise funds for “Mask Fo So,” Arthur and two of her members – JoAnn DeShong and Claudette Thomas-Butler – were on hand Saturday, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, during the New York launch of Vincy Mas 2018.

Saturday’s launching ceremony took place simultaneously with the official launch at home.

“Carnival is an event deeply engraved in our culture, so yesterday’s event [Saturday] was important in displaying the bands’ portrayals for 2018 and in reminding us of the pending events,” DeShong, also a registered nurse, told Caribbean Life.

“It is also important for us to come together as a family in celebration, so that traditions could be passed down for generations,” she added. “SVG Connect’s goal is to contribute to the J’ Ouvert experience.

“We were encouraged last year by the positive feedback,” DeShong continued. “So, this year, we are hoping for robust support for our J’Ouvert presentation, ‘Mask Fo So.’

“We are promising a delightful experience, with sweet steel pan music, reminiscent of years ago,” she said. “Please joint us. It will be ‘fun fo so.’”

Arthur said SVG Connect started in 2016 after she held discussions with Errol “Sardo” Sutherland, who, until recently, was manager of Starlift Steel Orchestra.

She said Sutherland had brought her “up to speed” with plans for Starlift’s 50th Anniversary in 2017.

“One of the key elements, which I found missing was a J’Ouvert band; and, with the anticipated rush of people heading home for Vincy Mas, I had to find a J’Ouvert band for them,” Arthur said. “Thanks to our 2017 revelers.

“I later decided, in keeping with Starlift’s 50th anniversary, which they dubbed ‘We 50’, that the name of the portrayal will be ‘the Graduates: Class of 1967,’” she added.

“I came [returned] to New York and mobilized a small group of five — Claudette Butler, Enisha Dopwell, JoAnn DeShong, Silma Millington in SVG [St. Vincent and the Grenadines], and yours truly — to make our contribution to Vincy Mas, which was also celebrating 40 years in the June/July sun,” continued Arthur, who, in the past, had brought J’Ouvert bands to Vincy Mas.

She said SVG Connect, with last year’s collaboration with Starlift Steel Orchestra, placed 3rd for J’Ouvert bands in Vincy Mas.

“Though the larger percentage of revelers were grown and sexy, our band also comprised young adults, who said they had a great time and a deep appreciation for the pan,” Arthur said.

She said fundraising drives, including Saturday’s and a May 26 trip to Atlantic City, will help to defray costs for “Mas Fo So.”

Arthur also disclosed that Majestic Shipping and Logistics is already “on board” as a sponsor, and that others “will be finalized shortly.”

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