I have postponed part two of my interview with
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (’till next week when we are sober
and contrite with ash) to continue a conversation with Peter Minshall on
the mas. I feel like a hypocrite because I have repeatedly battered the
stale bikini, beads and feathered costumes, the shouting ‘music’, the
noise pollution, the profanity of wining children, the absence of a
Museum of Costume, or a Music Literacy Academy, because, this year, I am
in possession of a bikini, beads, and many feathered headpiece.
Wanting absolution I called Peter Minshall who
belongs with our great heroes—dead and alive—who shaped our collective
destiny and identity. Minshall who is of us as much as Eric Williams,
Ellis Clarke, CLR James, Sam Selvon, Pat Bishop to Derek Walcott and VS
Naipaul. Minshall who produced Paradise Lost, Zodiac, Carnival of the
Sea, Dance Macabre, Papillon (with masqueraders wearing ten-foot
butterfly wings revealing the ephemeral nature of life).
Minsh who produced the River Trilogy. Minsh who
forced us to our sacred, neglected, illiterate, corrupt, talented and
profane selves with Rat Race, Jumbie, Sans Humanite, The Lost Tribe,
This is hell, Ship of Fools. Minsh who breathed life into Tan Tan and
Saga Boy merging puppet and puppeteer in a brilliant piece of
engineering. Minsh who reflected our hope with his baroque Hallelujah,
the Song of the Earth, and Tapestry and Picoplat.
Minsh with a Trinity Cross, acclaimed, showcased,
feted internationally but not enough, not until we produce a Museum of
Minshall. I can’t bear the idea of the 17 year olds being denied
Minshall, glimpsed at Machel Montanos show in ‘Lord and Lady Fete’
(which he was painting while we spoke) and at the Panorama Finals in his
costume designs for Phase II in his tribute to Pat Bishop in the
diaphanous metallic silver material floating like a silver cloud over
pan men and women in white formal dress.
Speaking to Minsh I feel the same way as I did when
I interviewed Derek Walcott or I may have done if Tolstoy was alive. The
presence of immortality. Minshall on J’Ouvert: “I went out to J’Ouvert
as Dame Lorraine in my sister’s debutante dress, with a pillow in front
and behind at the age of 14 to join a cluster of grossly sexually
exaggerated big breasted and bottomed women mostly played by men (the
hairiest chested macho footballer, judge, policeman) parodying and
celebrating female sexuality.
“It was natural to be a judge by day and on
J’Ouvert to go out on the streets in your wife’s nightie. This was not
gay, not cross dressing, but as natural as the yellow brown savannah in
dry season, the equivalent of Shakespeare’s plays where men played
women’s parts. In putting together this mass that not cost a penny,
wondering down from cascade to the corner of Park and Frederick streets,
with every inch of skin covered, playing Dame Lorraine, I experienced an
empowering sense of transformation.
“I was liberated of my race, my age, and my gender.
I became an entity, a spirit partaking in an extraordinary ritual at the
opening of the day. Rivers of people adorned, pigmented in mud, an
acknowledgement of the power of creation and death, feet shuffling in
perfect rhythm on pitch, accompanying steel drums playing Bach. It’s
biblical, universal, drawn from all corners of the earth primal,
restores us collectively to our essential selves.”
On his most memorable band, The River: “The River,
all its sections, Caroni, Maraval, Oropouche, Dry River, came to me one
afternoon while doing yoga. I saw the washerwoman, with the openness of
a loving heart, bleached white petticoats, clear unpolluted water from
mountains to the valleys sustaining tribes of all continents. The Man
Crab, represented greed, technology, pollution.
A mile long, 15 feet wide white canopy over
masqueraders showcased the colours of our skins—from vanilla, to cafe au
lait, to melted chocolate. Every 15 feet hand there hand held standards.
People from each section were dressed in white in the fashion of their
ancestors—from Haute Couture, to bele dancers, to saris. It was theatre
in two parts.
“ On Monday, it was an all-white band. On Tuesday,
each person was given a cotton pouch with the colour of spectrum. They
were supposed to spray themselves on stage to signify that somewhere
Mancrab had killed the washerwoman, polluted the earth, put greed into
people’s hearts. Someone’s costume got splashed. They did it better than
I could have conceived. Mas only takes place with the permission of the
people, and becomes its own creature on the road.
“They destroyed themselves in front of the Royal
Jail. Colour ricocheted up through the band. Tall beautiful girls,
women, men began painting themselves. When they got on stage...power...
I had hoses of every primal colour shoot up like an arc to the sky
falling on the masqueraders. The mile of white became a mad riot. Man
crab fashioned an elusive rainbow with greed and material things with
power to entice and corrupt. They nailed it. Mancrab won the day.”
On Integrity: “On Tuesday morning of the year, I
brought out (1989) Sans Humanite I was in Woodbrook, where big angry
women had gathered because they hadn’t got their costumes, the most
expensive. I, frazzled, came to beg forgiveness. I was accused of doing
obeah, being part of a cult, somebody said, ‘you will get Aids if you
play with Minsh.’ And a woman with a big voice replied “is not **** I
*******Minsh, is Mas I playin.” But talk started when a man from New
York said he was going to beat my arse, and a big black woman came to my
defence saying, ‘If Minsh decides to play s*** I will be the toilet
It was then I realised that white or not
she trusted in my integrity. People can see it a mile off in a judge, or
a politician, or a white American people who voted for a black
President.” The mas reveals our lack of, or showcases, our integrity.
Minsh had it nailed. Again.