The arts have always saved me. Whether I knew it or not, consciously or subconsciously - when something is wrong, I seek refuge in the arts. I’d go a step further by saying that Carnival has saved me on many occasions. As I sit here writing, I’ve come to the realization that over the years, Carnival was not just a fountain of merriment that I splashed in but more so a wellspring I immersed myself in, while washing away what worried me.
I think back to 2014, in the midst of my mother being ill and my own burnout-induced mental and physical breakdown; it was Carnival that pulled me through. It was what willed me to get out of bed, anxiety be damned and go for that first run. It was the soca music I was streaming leading up to Carnival that I knew I had to dance to on the road. It was the fact that one of my dearest friends at the time had designed her first section in a Carnival band and there was no way I would not play in it. It was the fact that I would get to spend two days in revelry with my friends who I had not been able to socialize with because for at least a month prior, I was shut-in at home or in doctor’s offices figuring out what was wrong with me.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way but do you also get a feeling of pure joy when you get to actively take part in cultural or artistic activities? And honestly, Carnival is the perfect cultural activity to participate in.
As I chipped down the streets of the capital this year, the joy on the faces of the masqueraders was evident. Where else and when else do you see people of all shapes, sizes, colours and ages beautifully clad in costumes, looking confident in that beauty. Whatever insecurities they possessed were left at home for two days. “Dey buy dey costume and dey come out to play ah mas!”
This joy is something we can bottle and sell! My friend Stacey Leigh Ross, a Trinidadian artist and lecturer based at the University of the Arts, London believes just this and is doing a practice based PhD on how Carnival can inspire compassion through joyful resistance. This economics of Carnival induced joy is definitely something that should be researched.
Studies like one by (Coulton et al 2015), which looked at the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of community singing on mental health-related quality of life of older people, sought to show just this. Being involved with the arts can indeed positively impact and help manage mental ill-health and support recovery.
I’ve said that Carnival has saved me in the past and on cue it jumped right in and did just that again this year. Whether by design or default I felt excluded from the usual group of friends I party and play mas with and it honestly bothered me. Added to that were a few big decisions I had to make about furthering my education and the future direction of one of my business ventures. So yes a lot was on my mind and I knew that I had to get my body on the road and leave all of that weight on the big stage. The only thing I carried on my shoulders was a large and beautiful K2K Alliance and Partners backpack. But we’ll get to that.
It has been shown that the arts can also help at a community level. I went into the Carnival season feeling that I had lost a part of my usual community and thus an important social connection.
Feeling this way, I got on the phone to a former work colleague and friend Sharon Mottley, one week before Carnival and told her I wanted to play mas with her band of choice, K2K Alliance and Partners. Earlier that month, on an outing with Sharon, we partied with Althea Norman, the mother of Karen and Kathy, the designers of the band and I instantly loved her vibe. So it was a no-brainer. And just like that, they accommodated me. I now had a costume.
In this week leading up to Carnival I also got to attend a few fetes while helping out my friend Tameika Fletcher-Birmingham with her Aya Styler activations. If innovation was a person - they would look like Tameika.
Tameika Fletcher and I at her Aya Styler lounge at A.M. Beach
Never in my wildest dreams would I believe that women coming to a fete would flock to purchase jewelry and even change their jewelry mid fete to wear what they bought. Tameika’s style lounge at A.M. Beach was so lush it became the unofficial spot for photos. Hats off Tameika…hats off.
The arts can have the ability to allow for the extension of support to existing communities. If you know me, then you’ll know that supporting the creative ventures of my friends is part of my own mental-wellness practice.
Fast forward to Carnival Friday, costume collection was a breeze and I got the chance to meet the twin bandleaders of K2K Alliance and Partners, who I’ve always wanted to meet and who I have the utmost respect for as creatives. K2K has held on to the title of Medium Band of the year since 2015 and at the time of writing this they had been named top Medium Band Downtown and Medium Band at the Savannah for 2023.
Amidst the accolades and the two walls of trophies behind them, as we spoke at the mas camp, they remained gracious and thankful for everyone who chose to join them on their Carnival journey.
Costume now in hand and my foray into prancing in the streets for two days secure, I had to now find an apartment at which to stay for the festivities. I usually stay in Port-of-Spain when I’m playing mas to avoid the hassle of the to-and-fro from Arima and back.
The gods must have been smiling on me, as I luckily got an apartment in Belmont for a ridiculously budget friendly price. It also turned out to be a first time Airbnb listing for the host. The universe was conspiring to make my Carnival great!
I checked in on Sunday evening and rested myself in preparation for the ritual that is Jouvert. A ritual that has seen me jump with 3Canal since 26 years ago, when I ran away to Port-of-Spain to experience their “Blue” presentation. This year I did Jouvert solo, clad in my black shirt and mask over my face…and no it was not influenced by Kim or Ye LOL.
After all these years, 3Canal has had the ability to retain its "jouvayists." It is a ritual for us and it is a community that is made up of our country's most creative minds who are most involved in the arts and culture.
With writer, journalist & social media content creator Rachael Espinet and Kevon Walker of The Burg vintage shop
With Jouvert well conquered, the next item on the list was Monday mas in K2K, which kicked off at 12 noon. When these designing sisters of K2K say that they do fashion on the road, it is no lie. Our Monday wear was a military green, athleisure style parka with orange embroidery, as homage to their theme this year - “World Wars - In the time of Salome.” As a first timer in the band there was no point that I did not feel the family vibe in the band and eventually felt like family myself.
K2K masqueraders on Carnival Monday
Carnival Monday is also the time it's easier to see friends in other bands and this year I saw people I have literally not seen since primary school. That’s the thing about Carnival, it brings everyone out. The people who live abroad, the people who seem to only leave their house for mas and those who make their living during the festivities.
K2K meets The Lost Tribe! I ran into my friend, Elize Rostant, Program Manager at Walkers Reserve, Barbados
It warmed my heart to see all of them; those masquerading for the first time, the seasoned players, those working the ropes, DJing, doing photography or videography or designing sections in bands. I was happy to see and reconnect with each and every one of you.
The arts can play an important role in creating a space for social connections to flourish and our very own, “Greatest Show on Earth,” provides the platform for these re-connections, year after year.
Monday mas now over, I got a call from Sharon that evening saying that Althea had allocated a section leader backpack for me.
Now if you’ve seen K2K presentations in the past, you know that wearing one is a commitment because of the size of some of them. But of course I would not say no to wearing more creativity on my back. So a large backpack it was!
A little after 7am on Tuesday I strolled a few short streets from the apartment to Jerningham Avenue to meet the band. Talk about a production on the streets. It looked like the backstage of a fashion show or theater production, with a team of assistants mounting and fitting backpacks for each masquerader, blessed enough to be wearing one. They get a gold star from me for this!
Now dressed, we were instructed by the bandleaders to proceed to the Savannah. Sharon and I spotted CCH Pounder, checking out our K2K Alliance & Partners costumes. Ms Pounder and her friend were happy to take pics with us and of us. T'was a lovely way to start the morning.
Sharon Mottley and I with CCH Pounder
CCH Pounder is a Guyanese born, American actress who has been in numerous film and television productions over the years, including ER, The Shield, NCIS, Prizzi's Honor, Face/Off, End of Days, Orphan and, Avatar to name a few. And yeah she comes to T&T all the time and plays a mas! She’s Caribbean to the bone!
With K2K''s bandleaders, Karen and Kathy Norman
K2K’s execution on the road is precise. The level of detail was superb and the masqueraders were committed. Kudos to the road team who throughout the day assisted and at times carried our backpacks for us. K2K feels like that line from the Cheers theme song, “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” Kathy, Karen and their mother, Althea gave individual attention to masqueraders on the road, all day long. They kept checking on us.
In the 17 years I’ve been playing adult mas, it was the first time I felt this seen and this taken care of by the producers. I know I’ve gained a community and I will be back next year.
K2K remains very bespoke and very niche but fills a void in the Carnival. At times I felt like we were obligated to put on a show for the few spectators on the streets as they had little else to see in terms of carnival costuming and the spectacle that mas should be.
We did our part and posed graciously for every picture with every excited child and gobsmacked visitor to our shores. In the midst of this magic I finally got the wording for my MPhil research proposal, which I’ll share in a subsequent post but it does involve the arts and our youth.
Apart from the sheer joy of playing this year, I was keenly observing the way the band was run and getting inspired by their creativity. In the midst of the colorful melee, I got the answers I needed for my business dilemma.
Again, Carnival saved me! It’s much more than jumping for two days on the street. It’s a time for fellowship and restoring connections with others and yourself. It’s a time to show the world who we are while reminding ourselves of your own magic. It is a time to inspire and be inspired. Carnival is love!
Thank you Tameika, Sharon, K2K and everyone else for helping me to remember my own magic and for making this Carnival the Carnival I needed it to be.
Kevon Foderingham is the Executive Director of creative arts and social change non-profit - For Common Good Platform. A speaker, author, designer and artist with a socially engaged practice; Kevon also provides creative consultancy services for non-profit and cultural organisations, through East Yard Enterprises. Some of his most recent clients include Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Bridge Initiative (NEW FIRE Festival), and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, to name a few.