My Journey To Becoming a Carnival Artist (Part 2) – Ray Allan Mahabir
my culture, my history and my passion
Ray Allan Mahabir July 2020
To Read Part 1 of Ray’s Story, Click Here
…Well, A ‘Mas Man’, That was my new dream and to tell you the truth, I never thought that it was going to happen. It was not easy to obtain, but Britain and the diverse cultures of the communities of this place inspired me to work towards that dream, and I have achieved it. So do dreams really come true? Yes, but only if you are willing to work hard for it.
I designed for South Connections for the next 3 years and then was offered the position of carnival director for Brouhaha International carnival. The director of Brouhaha, Giles Agis, was another person who believed in me and my talent as a carnival artist and help me elevate my career allowing me to travel Internationally to showcase the art of carnival. Brouhaha’s carnival project gave me the artistic license to create. In 2008. I had the opportunity to create the UK’s single largest carnival production I created the production “MaMa Look aH Mas” – “de old time court yard, Viey La Cou was my opportunity to involve folklore and characters from carnival in my work
My work has always involved the artistic practice with the traditions of Caribbean Carnival culture, including the traditional characters. One in particular is the sailor mas. This has always fascinated me – the movement of people always intrigue me. I am proud of the rich diversity of Trinidad and our culture and carnival. Looking back at my past work, sailor mas played a significant part throughout my carnival career. I’m also interested in the movement of people and their travels, sailor mas is the true representative of this. Between 2005-2007 I delivered the trilogy, Crossing Waters, to commemorate 25th March 2007, the 200-year-celebration of the abolishment of the slave trade in the British Empire. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1807. In 2007 I was commissioned by the new International Slavery Museum Liverpool to have one of my costumes in the contemporary element of Caribbean carnival representing ‘FREEDOM!’. I chose to create the sailor mas to be displayed.
As a carnival designer what is important about what you are creating is knowing the true meaning of masquerade (Mas) and how wearable art works. Mas is a unique and important art form that allows any individual to become a performer – this often shows when someone is wearing your creation and they are able to glow and shine as a true star! Mas costume can transform the everyday person and take them to a new destination they wish to be in. My work has been referred to as the Couture of Mas! My original work dealt with the body and movement – the importance of making your work move as much as possible with the least amount of effort. The inspiration of my new work comes from the people who wear the art, as well as a strong and necessary focus on how best to achieve a lasting visual impact with minimal resources. I want the art of carnival to be an amazing experience for new and seasoned performers who respect the art of carnival and can learn to grow the culture. I started my career as a Mas player and from this I learnt how important the design of the costume you wear is. When you wear a costume you feel comfortable and spectacular in, it can transport you to a higher level.
In November 2000 on my first trip I fell love with the place and wanted to get more involved in helping people. my work in the UK was about working with underprivileged people but now I wanted to do more! helping more people who are in need. On my return trip to India I spent six months looking for Indian charities to get involved with. I also was lucky to get offered a placement to assist a local charity in Jaisalmer! That led to the beginning of this wonderful and inspiring project, Mulana-“The Art of People”. On my return to the UK I developed Sunshine International Arts (S.i.A), a UK based arts charity. After coming to the UK to live I found what I call my “new village” – Loughborough Junction, Brixton, London – the home of Sunshine International Arts.
S.i.A has become an award winning NHC carnival band and my work has taken me throughout the world, delivering and presenting the arts and culture of Trinidad Carnival. In 2012 I developed the community arts centre called C.A.F.E – which stand for Carnival Arts For Everyone. Made up of railway arches, Here surrounded by my art and warmly enveloped by the arches, I feel at home and safe and I am able to think clearly and create – whether it be in my workshop or in my kitchen. Now I go back to my first dream of being a chef, you see C.A.F.E also means I can have carnival and food in one place – the two passions in my life. The very essence of the railway arches and the personality of the Junction is such an inspiration – how could I not be creative here? How can one not find inspiration here?
Loughborough and its residents have also been such an inspiration in the way that they interact as a family, that I have even taken the concept of camaraderie and support from this village across the oceans to India and most recently Kenya. My mission is that the everyday person now has the opportunity to come face to face with Carnival culture and to be able to get a hands-on experience with traditional carnival and the life of a carnival artist. They now have the opportunity to learn about and embrace the history and traditions of Carnival. It is always nice to meet “non-carnival people” and be able to chat with them about what Carnival truly is, to dispel any misconceptions and to share my culture. It is always heart-warming and rewarding to see the excitement that this can bring to people when they choose to delve just a little deeper into what Carnival truly represents.
Some people do say that I talk a lot, but hey, I’m passionate about what I do, how I do it and where I do it. When you come to C.A.F.E, I can guarantee you an informational and pleasant experience and I can chat with you about food, culture, art, Carnival and some good Trini ole talk. You choose the topic and let’s start chatting!
In the end, working here, at Loughborough Junction, Brixton, and opening C.A.F.E has given me new energy and extra inspiration to explore, develop and create within my carnival genre in such a way that no other place could have inspired me to do. At Loughborough Junction, tucked safely into the arches, I live amidst my carnival and food passions daily. Yes, I am living my dream, and Britain allowed a boy from the country side of Penal, South Trinidad to full fill my dream and become a Mas Man.
I was taught, at a very young age, that one has to work hard to obtain one’s dreams. Decades later, I continue to work hard because although I have achieved my childhood dreams, new adventures and new dreams await me. So I have to say that yes, we all need our dreams, and yes, dreams do indeed come true, especially when you are surrounded by inspiration on a daily basis.
In 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic I feel we are back on another restart. 2020 has taught us all the simplicity of life and what are the most important aspect of our lives. Most of all we have realised we don’t need too much to be happy.