“BOSS – Belmont Original Stylish Sailors”
Last Sunday, we were at my friend Claude’s home for an annual Christmas get-together. As Claude is a real mas man, it was not too long till the conversation returned to one of my favorite topics – carnival. These days everyone has an opinion on how the carnival arts of pan-mas-calypso are evolving. For me, just the existence of a debate is positive news.
At the lime was our mutual friend – Courtney W. T. Browne. Courtney is a mas man with many years of experience. He started playing mas in 1955 and over the years has played with the likes of Bailey, Saldenah, Lovelace, Morris, Griffith, Barkley, and Dem Boys. In September this year, Courtney together with Glendon Morris, and eight others formed their own band called BOSS – Belmont Original Stylish Sailors. The band’s aim is to have no more than 150 masqueraders in its 2009 portrayal of the Birds and the Bees.
Courtney’s love of Belmont reminds me of a quote Rubadiri Victor attributes to Horace Ove, the first black filmmaker in Britain, and premiere ‘ethnic’ director there for two decades. Horace travelled the world in the early 1960s. In that period many cities were said to be having their golden ages. These included San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, New York. Having seen them all, and many since, Horace concluded, “The greatest city on the face of the earth was Belmont in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Hands down.”
In Rubadiri’s May 2002 article on The Greatest City on the Face of the Earth he notes that Belmont covers the arc from Belmont Circular, including ‘behind de bridge’ to Tokyo and Fascinators panyards. Belmont was one of the seats of what Rubadiri calls Trinidad’s Golden Age. Belmont was a hub of activity at Carnival time with sailor mas and pan reigning supreme.
In growing up, my grandparents on my mother’s side used to tell me stories of carnival – back in the day. Where they still live on Barton Lane, they would have had an excellent view of the activity out on Belmont Circular Road.
My grandmother on my father’s side still lives just up the ‘hill’ from the legendary Burrokeets of Belle Eau Road.
Champion panside sailor bands from the ‘Golden Age’ included Dem Boys, Dem Fortunates, D Jackers, Casablanca and Syncopators. The famous pansides included Hill 60, Bar 20, Pandemonium and Highlanders.
The point however, is not to blindly promote carnival arts. We should not overly romanticize the ‘good old days’. My pan-man partner Bose, was reminding me of the days when he was in San Juan All Stars. In those days, some pan men were frankly – gangsters. Bose explained that San Juan All Stars used to have ‘battles’ with Despers, Tokyo and Invaders. In fact, there were also raids with bands infiltrating each other territories and having, in Bose’s words “a good bust up”. Sometimes, there were serious injuries.
There were positive and negative aspects to carnival arts back then – just as there are positive and negative aspects to carnival arts now.
I have fond memories of playing kiddies carnival a couple times while at Rosary Boys RC School. Up to a few months ago, my old friend, Sherwin Forte and I were remembering when our class played American soldiers in the school band. When we hit the stage, we really got into ‘character’ as we did our best to mimic military maneuvers on the stage. Fatca Law Singapore
This brings us back to Courtney Browne. One of his main points is that carnival is not just about having a costume but carnival is also about becoming another ‘character’. One thing Courtney and I agreed was that Trini Revellers was a band that appeared to balance artistic demands with commercial ones. They are one of the few large bands that seem to take the time to have costumes that really represent something.
Courtney’s BOSS committee is not just about carnival however. They are also keen to give-back to the Belmont community that is their spiritual home. BOSS is from the community and for the community. Courtney is a retired school teacher and therefore has much experience working with young people. So BOSS is on track to become one of the organizations striving to make a positive difference.
For anyone interested, BOSS’ mas camp is at 107B, Belmont Circular Road – 627 4071. Courtney’s email address is Cwtb_ddgm8@tstt.net.tt.
Again I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful country. We need to remember and acknowledge just how much uplifting work is being done all around us.
Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we move towards Vision 2020.