At the risk of drawing the ire of Minshallites the world over, I feel I have an obligation to defend present-day Carnival from the persistent verbal onslaught emanating from the great “mas-man” Peter Minshall. There is no doubt his portrayals over the history of Carnival have enthralled thousands of spectators, from the Minshall-designed Stephen Lee Heung’s Paradise Lost, to Minshall’s own Papillion and Carnival of the Sea. These bands were indeed the work of genius, portrayals that overwhelmed audiences with their visual spectacle dominating the Port of Spain landscape “on de road”.
As the years went by and Minshall became the disillusioned and sorrowful soul he is today—the National Carnival Commission (NCC) can have that effect—he became also politicised and ever more arrogant. To the extent that to listen to him lately and in past years one would be forgiven for thinking Minshall’s “mas” is the only “mas” and all others are undeserving of space “on de road”. Harts, Tribe, Bliss, Poison, Barbarossa the list of the so-called bikini-and-beads brigade is long, but they also have a place in the “mas”, a place that is free of politics or, for that matter, competition, a place where people play mas to have fun and express themselves in their manner of choosing. This does not make it wrong, but simply different, as different as Minshall was when he took Danse Macabre on the road and back then the feathers and castor wheel costume “mafia” blocked his King and Queen on the Savannah Barber Greene.
There is space on the road still for the small and medium bands that still bend wire, and where the smell of contact cement easily overpowers rum in the mas camps dotted around Woodbrook, St James and lower Belmont. Can these “small” mas men engineer and produce a Tan Tan or a Man Crab? Probably not, but can they mimic the history, style and ideas of Minshall and Bailey and Berkley? Yes they can. And they do year after year. Year after year, they are still here, producing and playing their mas long after the mighty have fallen or just plain given up.
The uninspiring and defeatist attitude of he who is considered one of the greatest designers and mas men in our history insults the legion of those, perhaps less talented, but who invariably looked to him for inspiration, motivation and encouragement.
Despite your misgivings, despite your disdain, the mas continues, Mr Minshall. In the Blue Devils on Jouvert morning, with the now sadly defunct Brian MacFarlane (clearly a former disciple), every oil man, mud woman, every feather and bead is Carnival, changing, transitioning, perhaps not as pretty, perhaps no longer “theatre”, but always us screaming—shouting, waving our hands, bikinis and beads, not bat and sailor, Machel and Bunji, not Sparrow and Kitch.
Our leaders continually disappoint us in politics, in authority, in our daily lives. Lead us to the resurrection of “Mas” as “theatre”, Mr Minshall... bring us a band worthy of your renown and genius... or leave us alone.