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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Interview with a band leader - Mervyn Skeete

Connections band leader Mervyn Skeete has a long history with not only Caribana, but (Trinidad) Carnival. Mervyn got involved with Caribana due to an unfortunate loss of his closest friend, he said. Mas making was an outlet which detracted him from his loss. He started off with Mas Toronto and was the first person to have won a major competition in the King and Queen contest for the band (Male Individual of the Year-1999). It was designed, built (with assistance) and portrayed by Mervyn.

He then took over TCC (now Connections) band leader's responsibilities in 2006. Prior to that he assisted master craftsman Geraldo Vieira with his production of Kings for Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, during which time they captured 2 King of T&T Carnival titles.

Mas making didn't run in his family, but because of his engineering background, he was encouraged to design large costume frames which led to him designing and producing a male individual in Toronto, he said. He won the Caribana 1999 Male Individual award. This opened up a great deal of opportunities for Mervyn, designing and producing costumes here in Toronto and later in Trinidad where in his first attempt in 2003 and second in 2004, his designs and productions placed 2nd in consecutive years at the prestigious Dimanche Gras competition, a feat never before achieved.

From then to the present, his productions have continually been in at least the semifinals in Trinidad and have won numerous category titles. The production most liked by many of Mervyn's assistants he said was "Fusion...the Spirit of Togetherness," which placed 5th. He mentioned "A Musical Ensemble...Pan and Brass", which also placed 5th and which picture was used on the front of the recently concluded Commonwealth Summit brochure in Trinidad and Tobago.

A Musical Ensemble

When I asked Mervyn where his design ideas come from, he said the first step in designing a costume is to determine the theme which is being played by the band in which you're involved in. That governs everything he said, then research is done and ideas will flow, and that's when the development and form take place. The name is secondary.

Visions - Thru One's eyes - Toronto Caribbean Connections, 2008

How different is designing in Trinidad and in Toronto, I asked? "Well fundamentally the basics are the same", said Mervyn, "and the one major difference is the competition, in terms of whom you'll be competing against. In Trinidad, the field is much larger therefore more competitive. Most times the contestants taking part amount to, on an average, 45, both in Kings and Queens, and run through 3 stages which include the final, which constitute the 10 best costumes, which is no easy accomplishment."

With regard to materials and supplies, Mervyn says he uses the one guideline which has proven successful for him over the years: always try to source different materials which are not common to the Toronto market. This impacts on the costumes and makes them different, which is a marketing advantage for those who prefer something different, he said.

Connections 2009 Gem Stones - Smoky Quartz

"Having said that, there are those critics who would disagree with my policy, which is "make it right here in Toronto." I believe the importation of costumes is having an adverse effect on the skill of costume designing and production. Some designers have found it financially rewarding to order costumes from abroad." This to me, said Mervyn, is a formula for disaster and will lead to the demise of the art form of costume designing, but to each his own. Some of us prefer to admire our work, others prefer to make the big bucks generated from someone else's designs. He said it should be noted that "whether produced locally or abroad, materials and availability are becoming more and more distressful to come by, nevertheless, what I can guarantee though, is that all our costumes were produced locally and that there will never be a complaint with regard to improper fitting, costumes falling apart, and the untimely delivery which is common with the imports." Further, he said they can also assure masqueraders of having a good time in a family like oriented band.

Toronto Caribbean Connections Fusion - Primrose Path, 2007

Connections is planning on going to Hamilton or Brampton and Barrie, which will give his masqueraders an extended wear of their costumes. In addition to that, they are offering a student and a group rate. "To top it off", said Mervyn, "we have an offer for all those from Toronto who intend to play mas in Trinidad for Carnival 2011. We'll be doing a section with d'Harvard Revellers and will be offering a TT$200.00 discount on each costume purchased." Details can be provided at their mas camp.

Everyone has an ideal Caribana experience, so what would yours be, I asked. One would hope the powers that be will eventually recognize the value of the designers and producers contribution and reward them accordingly, Mervyn said, and consequently, this will encourage the stakeholders to seek a much better organized festival which will culminate somewhere in a controlled environment where one can enjoy the benefits of a family like gathering filled with entertainment.

Mervyn envisions looking down the road, in years to come, and provided that the funders of the Caribana festival take cognizance that the existence of this festival is of vital importance to the community at large and treat it as such, then we will surely be what I have always hoped that our society will be... a truly multicultural society.


tara said...

great piece that gives a behind the scenes look to making mas :)

Mastumes said...

Great interview and an insight of how the designer thinks and what is produced arising from those thoughts. With thoughts and an ideology as such...mas is here to stay if we can get others who are involved to think likewise. Good interview Kara. Please check out other band leaders for a further insight.

Unknown said...

Excellent article, leaving one more knowledgeable as to the intricacies of being involved in carnival presentation s.

Alison Francois said...

Excellent article, leaving one more knowledgeable as to the intricacies of being involved in carnival presentation s.

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Mardi Gras, Hamilton

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