It’s that time of year again! Mas camps all over Brooklyn are gearing up for the 44th annual West Indian-American Day Carnival.
Among the masquerade bands are veterans, D.C. 1199, nestled in the heart of Flatbush, where team members are working feverishly around the clock to create some of the most extravagant costumes to be seen in the Labor Day parade.
1199’s designers Clyde Bascombe and Keith Joseph gave Caribbean Life the scoop on their plans for this year’s parade.
The theme for the 1199 presentation — in the medium-sized band contest is, “Let The Show Begins.”
“We have a children’s section that is based on little stories like Tinkerbell and other fairy tales, and pirate stories,” said Bascombe.
“The adult section features follies and burlesque and French reviews,” he added.
“These are things we captured to help with our presentation,” Joseph said.
What are you trying to portray with Let The Show Begins? It sounds very fantasy-like.
“It’s not really fantasy. We have a bit more clothing than what the French burlesque dancers wear, because our clientele demands that we put more clothes on our costumes.”
From where do you get inspiration for your costumes?
“Inspiration comes from the past sometimes, as well as from different cultures. One of our previous presentations was inspired by Meso America. We just try to be very unique as we go along.”
How long does it usually take to prepare each costume?
“Well, not necessarily each; but it usually takes months in order to [complete] a full presentation. We start like … let’s say, April or May, beginning with little pencil work, butting heads, and changing things around. Then launching the band comes into play. So it’s sketching, [creating] prototypes, then everything else falls into place.”
Would you say that’s a day in the life of preparing for the Labor Day parade?
“Well, the typical day for all of us at 1199 is getting together and initializing different aspects of what it takes to put a band together: getting a place, materials [doing] on-line research, etc. We are quite busy around here.”
How many floats will you have?
“We have two major costumes: a King, and a Queen. Then there are the character costumes: one female and one male. We also have children’s King and Queen and Jnnior as well as the usual frontliners. We have our work cut out for us.”
Who’s providing the music?
“Xcaliber will be playing for our band this year. They weren’t with us last year but we are happy to have them handling the music situation…as of now at least.”
How would you compare the carnival in New York to … let’s say … Trinidad?
“There’s no comparison. It is what it is. I’ve gone to Toronto and Miami carnivals as well; most of these things are just what they are. I would not compare any of them to one another because they each serve their own purpose. I also went to St. Croix carnival and they had marching. It was amazing! I enjoyed it so much.”
Speaking of marching, do you feel that’s an element missing in New York’s carnival?
“Not really. But I would like to see organizations expressing costumes a little more. We should raise the bar for mas. You know … add more beads, feathers .., the works. People want to feel beautiful in what they’re wearing.”
What are you looking forward to this year?
“We have reached the point where we try to make things that people will appreciate. Participants in the band are active in costume creations.
“Last year we had Goddess of the Water and it was stunning. This year we’re going to do a “clowns come to town” kind of thing, with carriages and horses in one of our presentations. We are definitely looking forward to that.”
Describe the carnival experience in one phrase.
“It’s so hard to put it in just one phrase, but I will say, I enjoy this.
“Carnival is very hard work and we look forward to our results. When we see successful results we have fun, hug each other and are extremely happy it paid off. This mas camp is like a school in many ways. It’s a 1199 experience.”
How important is it to pass down the tradition of making costumes and taking part in carnival to the younger generation?
“I am a very creative person and I haven’t given back as much as I’d like, to continue something like this.
“Is that good or bad? I don’t know because it’s not something financially lucrative. There’s a lot more that I should have given over the years and would like to give now. However, it never did happen that way, due to the lack of a proper setting.
“We do carnival with youth every year but they don’t really grasp the details like making a little hat, stitching embellishments, and using different materials.”
What is your opinion on that?
“I totally agree. The mas should be promoted within youth culture. If the tradition isn’t passed down it will eventually fade. We have to find a way in which to export that information to the kids. That’s a big challenge.”
Any last words?
“We enjoy doing what we do. We can’t wait for the day when people go to carnival and truly appreciate the bands, the costumes, and the festivities.”