On Saturday July 25, 2014, Johanna “Joan” Pierre along with the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) went around the borough of Brooklyn to inspect several bands before they go “on de road” for the West Indian Day Carnival Parade. Some see WIADCA as the guardians to insure that this happens. One of the ways that they do that is through inspection of every camp to make sure they meet standard and criteria of what it means to be a mas camp band.
Under the stern and watchful eye of Pierre and the members of WIADCA, every costume was inspected, looked over and looked over again. The question that was on the reporter’s mind was “What exactly are they looking for? What is this all about?” After our expedition of the Mas camps, a sit down with Joan provided some very enlightening and telling answers. First off, bands are checked to see whether they are certified to be a band. There is a certificate form to be filled with WIADCA. Joan explained that, “It’s not enough to have an open space and two or three costumes in a window just so they can have a party every Saturday until the police shuts them down. They must be certified, we must know their intentions and they must meet the criteria of a mas camp. Especially, for the new camps.”
But Freaks, Dingolay, Ramajay, and Sesame are not that new. D’Midas and Antoine International definitely are not new camps. She said with the older, established camps it’s not so much about certification. With these camps, it was revealed that what is being examined is the content of the costumes or rather the lack of content. The group assesses whether or not the costumes are too revealing. There is a certain amount of skin that is allowed, but not to the point of nudity. When asked whether the organization always inspected for this. The answer was no. This was a recent, but necessary move due to the influx of complaints coming in from the neighborhood residents after the parades in the recent years, many of which are West Indian.
According to the members, 2011 was the turning point with barely there costumes and dancing that mimicked more sex acts than the display of Calypso dancing; going as far as to climb on the judges table and gyrating. Joan expressed her displeasure, “This is not Brazil. There’s no reason for that at all! What I see on the Parkway is not representative of Caribbean culture. We need to get back to Caribbean culture.” When asked what happens to those bands who do not meet that particular standard she replied, “They won’t get judged. We basically make notations of what we see, take it to the judges and then the judges in their discretion when they see the costumes at judging make a determination.”
Three of these bands who were visited and who will be judged are Boom Mas, Freaks Mas and D’Midas International NY Inc. Brilliant, imaginative, creative, dynamic! These are just a few words that describe the artistic abilities of these incredible designers of these camps. Make no mistake this is art in its purest form. In traveling with WIADCA from Mas camp to Mas camp one’s pride for Caribbean heritage could not help but swell.
This year Boom Mas’ band portrayal is entitled “Je Taime Karnival” or “I Love Carnival.” The premise is that each costume will represent everything people love about carnival. The names of the costumes also reflect that with Carnival Passion, Carnival Lust and Temple of Soca. The mas band leader, Gussy, believes that there are many different facets of carnival. He admittedly came up with this concept because of his own love for carnival. In his own words he said, “This is why we do it every year.” Boom Mas is located on 3816 Church Ave. in Brooklyn. Freaks Mas’ band portrayal is Taste of Confectionz. Upon hearing the name one would just think, sweets and candy, but Ray Bruce, the band leader explains that there is a deeper meaning. According to Ray, people have to remember that many Africans were brought over to the Caribbean to grow and tend to sugarcane. This is part of the history of the Caribbean people. The names of some of the costumes are Raw, Paradise Plum and Candy Couture.
“Freaks Mas” is located on 4515 Ave. D in Brooklyn. D’Midas International’s band portrayal is entitled” A Blast from D’Past.” If you look at that title it is an indicator of the premise behind this year’s costumes. Glenn Turnbull was feeling a sense of nostalgia and decided to bring back costume favorites from years past, such as Fire Bender, Earth Bender, Forest Bender, Ice Cycle Bender and Snow Maiden. Glen wants to pay homage to old school Mas. D’Midas International NY Inc. is located on 1619 Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn.
Caribbean carnival is a colorful, creative, infectious and scintillating feature of Caribbean culture. For many it is the last opportunity for the release of all the expressive and joyful emotions, before the beginning of Fall. The purpose of the carnival parade is to showcase and celebrate West Indian culture, arts, history and traditions. The question is whether this is being accomplished. Many would say that the answer is given with the three Mas camp bands in this article. One is showcasing the love of carnival, the second one is showcasing the history of carnival and the third one is showcasing the honor of tradition in carnival. Is this not what the West Indian Day Carnival is all about?