Thursday, 22 November 2012


Brian Wong Won

Diable 2006
I first met Brian Wong Won on line  in 2007 just before the  Mas Jumbies début of 'Diable'. When the photos of the band were released on line  the costumes spoke volumes, Wong Won managed to harness the ancestral spirit of mas and convert it into a modern if not futuristic medium for Jouvert.

 Since then Wong Won's Mas Jumbies have produced Jouvert presentations that all draw from periods and characters of carnival's early past, giving the band a most unique look on the road for carnival Monday mornings. Come Carnival 2013 Mas Jumbies  present 'The Posey and Bedsheet Brigade', drawing influence from probably the most volatile period period in carnival history.

 But what influenced the artist to choose Jouvert as his canvas for expression in carnival?

Will Mas Jumbies  ever become a pretty mas band?

Lets find out as INSIGHT interviews Artist, Designer, and  Jouvert Band leader, Brian Wong Won.

MA : Who is Brian Wong Won?

BWW : An artist who is passionate about Trinidad’s history, and its rich carnival heritage.

MA : What is your first Carnival Experience that you can remember?

BWW : It was in 1974 at the age of 3 and I recall confronting a Midnight Robber with my late grandmother (Edna) on Phillips Street in front the La Peyrouse cemetery. We had gone around noon on a Carnival Monday with my dad to see my aunt in her band pass on Tragarete road; when we ran into a drunken Midnight Robber right in front the arched entrance to the cemetery. I remember his costume vividly; a large brimmed hat with white tassels and surgical instruments dangling down. He wore a long black cape and carried a large meat syringe in his black gloved hands. Quite sinister this visage, I was terrified of him. I do recall that he said his famous Robber Speech, if with a drunken stammer.

MA : Tell us a little about your art, a lot of it depicts scenes of carnival; did your paintings influence your decision to produce a band?

Fancy Sailor Band in Woodbrook. By Wong Won. 
BWW : My art is hard to put into a categorical box as it is neither traditional nor contemporary. It does have elements of realism, fantasy and expressionism. It rarely conforms to the cannons of traditional drawing and painting as the perspective is always skewed. There is no definitive delineation of grounds as subjects move in and out of the frame. The whole idea is create movement and life on this 2 dimensional surface. Carnival is all about movement and dynamism and via colour and perspective I achieve this. Carnival like art is a creative world of fantastical subjects from yellow bats trimmed in ermine to kaleidoscope fancy sailors.
The band, I regard as an extension of my drawing pad. It is the arena in which these long forgotten characters can come into reality, be it an avant-garde red devil or a historically accurate Dame Lorine. The paintings did influence the decision to create a band.

MA : Why did you choose Jovert as the avenue in which to express your creativity in carnival?

Diable on the road 2007.
BWW : J’Ouvert is the beginning of Trinidad Carnival.  So what better place to start? Besides J’Ouvert was quickly being watered down to a drunken street party; all the traditional characters have or were being forgotten. We were quickly losing the identity of this form of carnival and beginning to forget the significance of many of the “traditions” that we practice on J’Ouvert morning. For instance the “mud mas” that we so love had its origins in a kind of masque called “The unburied dead” and the application of paint harkens back to the Jumbalasi masque of yesterday. We needed to retain and preserve these masques, be it in original or reinvented modern form. J’Ouvert lacks the sophistication of the Carnival Tuesday characters; however it has an eloquent and simplistic character. Full of history if rather dark, J’Ouvert represented a side of Carnival that both sinister and debased.

MA : Tell me about Mas Jumbies and your presentations to date?

Jab 08.
BWW : This little band was formed back in the summer of 2006 and in 2007 we brought our first band called “Diable”. It was very small and was all black as a tribute to the Jab-Molassie masque. The costumes were very avant-garde. Perhaps too ambitious for simplistic content of J’Ouvert. Next in 2008 was another devil mas band- “Jab”, this time in 5 colours of black, yellow, blue, red and grey; avant-garde in design and nature, it was our 2nd largest band of 180 masqueraders. 

This band represented the 5 kinds if devils found in Trinidad Carnival. In 2009 we embarked on one of the most ambitious presentations to date with “Diabolus Imperium”, devil mas in all its glory and based on the 7 Deadly Sins. It was again avant-garde in design but looked very much like a Carnival Tuesday presentation. Our titles were all in Latin and there was extensive historical content. 

Lecho 2010
By 2010 we switched gears and went over to another tangent, this time it was the mas of the Jamet Carnivals, the washerwoman, the bationeers, the Pai Bananas, Folk dancers and the Congo bands, this presentation was called “L’echo”; voices of the past. The band featured yards of white muslin fashioned into belle style skirts, capri pants and frilled blouses. In 2011 another band was produced along the same lines of L’echo, it was called “Bourgeois” and was based on the mas of the early 18thc, the carnivals before the Emancipation of Slavery. This was yet another elaborate presentation, and we used the 18thc fashions as inspiration to the French titled and themed costumes. Bourgeois featured silk foulards and tricon hats and as a tribute to the Negue Jardin, the ancient Jab-Molassies made their debut.

MA : What is the presentation for 2013 called and what is it about?

The Posey & Bedsheet Brigade' MAS JUMBIES 2013
BWW : Following our traditional route that we established back in 2007 with Diable, MAS Jumbies again revives mas from the past. This time it is some of the characters from the Jamet Carnivals (1834-1881); the Post Emancipation Carnivals. This was the mas produced out of the barrack and jamet yard culture of Port-of-Spain; the era of the chantwells, the bationners and Pierrots. 

These characters were the ones that revolted against the Crown and the infamous Captain Baker at the famous Canboulay Riots of 1881. This was the beginning of our modern day carnivals as well as providing the precursors via the chantwells and tamboo bamboo bands to the calyposonians and panmen of the future. The “Posey & Bedsheet Brigade” has 5 sections of known and unknown characters; the Dame Lorine, Jamet & Jametman, Jab-Molasie, Pierrot-Grenade and the infamous Piss-en -let. Together we shall occupy the streets of downtown Port-of-Spain just as their ancestors did decades ago.

MA : Are you designing for any other band for carnival 2012?

BWW : No.

MA : Will Mas Jumbies ever cross over to a pretty Mas band?

BWW : There is so much to do in J’Ouvert; it is a question that I constantly toy in my head. Only the future and future masqueraders have answers to this question.

MA : What is it about the traditional characters of carnival that are portrayed in your presentations that you think having some kind of relevance in the 21st Century?

Bourgeois 2011
BWW : Carnival has always been used as an expressive vehicle to release tension ever since the early day of the late 1700’s when men and women caroused in masks. These characters though not in any relative relation to modern times, still provide an outlet for expression. For a time in history, we allow you to be a Devil, a Jamet or even a Dame Lorine. Carnival has always been about fantasy and through the power of the mask. This is realized.

MA : If you could change three things about Trinidad and Tobago carnival today what will they be?

BWW : The over commercialization of the mas, from a theatrical art form to a commercial commodity. Mas has lost its power, it has too quickly become a costumed street party. We have lost what mas was about, we play mas without knowing where and how it all came to be.

We need to put an end to the proliferation of pseudo designers that have now popped up like mushrooms on the decaying debris of Trinidad Carnival. Masqueraders need to take their mas more seriously both in execution and in what is offered to them. If we continue on the same route we shall never excel, we shall never realize the power of the mas like our forefathers experienced decades ago.
The Government needs to put more focus on the Carnival Arts, not just in Pan and Calypso, but Mas, the visual creative output of artisans and artists. Better qualified judges, better regulations and better prize monies.

MA : Who are the mas men, band-leaders or individuals, who have had some kind of influence on you, and why?

BWW : In carnival it would have to be the great Peter Minshall. I recall being at his mas camp with my aunt in 1976 where she made her “Fire Fire” frontline costume. This is perhaps where the “magic dust” fell on me and hence I have been eternally enchanted ever since. This is when mas was more than just sequins and feathers, when the power of mas was more powerful than any hurricane or typhoon. Mas that would move you to tears, that would give you goose bumps or make you run in horror.

Brian's work has featured on magazine covers.
 I saw early on and realized the true power of carnival, it was more than just costumes, this was a story that unfolded and the sections its chapters. And no other person in the world could get this done right time and time again, than Minshall. A true artist, I marvelled how he was able to effortlessly and subtly intertwined like a magician the flavours of the traditional characters into his modern designs. I was enchanted on the stories that would unfold from his bands. Who would have thought that the fragility of mankind could be dramatized upon the wings of butterflies or that the east via the samurai and the west via the blue jeans could be married together to talk about aids?  These were indeed global subjects being dramatized and illustrated via the artform of mas and through the simplicity of our local traditional carnival characters.

MA : Where will you like to see yourself and Mas Jumbies in five years?

BWW : Perhaps still doing what I love best, making mas and educating people on it. Our bands have always included historical and factual information on both the presentation and characters presented. I find it is a duty to provide the info and the masque being played. And with that in mind, you shall be able to play your mas exactly.  It is hoped that though the masqueraders that they continue to support our ventures, as this is done not for the few for but for the whole; that we never forget our roots and past as we forge on to the future. Perhaps we’ll eventually become a conventional band, but that is up to the masqueraders and the universal powers that be. 

MA : Brian thank you for sharing with us some of your views on mas, and giving us some insight  on your creative approach to what you do. Most of all thanks for the Mas, I wish you growing success with MAS JUMBIES in the years to come.

If  you want to be part of MAS JUMBIES for Jouvert  2013  take a look at their website,

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