Tribute to bandleaders of yesteryear

Press Release
May 27th, 2013
By: Lincoln Depradine

The wire-bending era of mas drawn from the movies

“Mama, this is mas!’’ This is a refrain that was common among masqueraders and spectators through the 1960s and 70s.

Back then, the reference points for the individuals and groups that entered Carnival Monday’s pageant judging at Queen’s Park, and paraded on the streets on Tuesday for the coveted Bank of the Year title, were mainly depictions of world events such as the Vietnam War as garnered from BBC radio reports; and from movies shown at Empire and Regal Cinemas.

Find anyone who was a witness or participant of mas in the “ole’’ days, and you’ll hear repeated mention of certain band leaders. I’ll bet you’ll hear of Willan Dewsbury; Ken Sylvester; Away; Dorothy Patterson; George Coard; and Waterman.

Ben Hur, Barbarians, The French Revolution, Splendour in Africa, To Hell and Back, Pageantry in Cards, and other portrayals required creativity and imagination.

It also demanded manual and skillful wire-bending, welding, scissors’ cutting, and stitching and sewing to produce realistic-looking military tanks, guns and other paraphernalia.

Hundreds would pay their “band fee’’ to play mas in those days; hundreds more would line the streets to gawk in amazement at the costumes and the portrayals; and, later, to argue about which of the bands the judges “thief’’ or did not “thief’’.

George Coard, who lost the 1969 Band of the Year with Barbarians, still insists that he was cheated.
“We really got robbed,’’ he is quoted as saying in White Frock & Coals Dust, a 2009 publication. “The judges told us the reason we lost was because the masqueraders were too hostile.’’

One of the favourites for Dudley Hood, a retired mas player now living in Canada, was the presentation of The French Revolution.

The French Revolution was a nice mas,’’ he says. “I rounded up some fellars (panmen) from Crochu, Morne Jaloux and Mt. Moritz, brought them to my home and taught them the French National Anthem. They were able to play it as our Road March song.’’

Just like the other pillars of carnival – calypso and steelpan – masquerading, too, has changed. Like it or not, change is inevitable.

What is necessary is embracing the best elements of change and using that as a platform for a better Grenada summer carnival.

In the process, we also ought to pay tribute to our pioneers in pan, calypso and mas.