Soca News: Sunshine in the Rain
SOCANEWS recently visited us, and here’s an article they wrote about the experience:
This was not summer. Just walking the short distance from the mas camp to our red double-decker was enough to get us soaked and chilled to the bone. Not another umbrella carnival, surely? The title of Greta Mendez’s new film came to mind: Ah Hard Rain.
I hadn’t planned to be part of Ray Mahabir’s human Oil Slick. Twenty-four hours earlier I’d caught the tail end of Jouvert and was heading to Great Western Road, expecting to spend two days doing my duty to Soca News readers by photographing, and taking notes on, every band that passed the judging point.
However, the Powers That Be had closed the road to the public and press alike. That left two options: fight a losing battle with the crowds and the weather attempting to take pictures on the route or join a band. Suddenly, a Sunshine International Arts (SiA) T-shirt looked a very attractive option.
I got more than I bargained for, as somehow Ray found a costume that fitted perfectly. So I was going to be playing mas for the first time in 10 years. It was as though I’d hardly been away, as longtime comrades in mas from South Connections were now playing with SiA and, being a small and friendly band, it didn’t take long to get to know all the new faces.
Tuesday’s papers marvelled at how despite the rain, people continued dancing in the streets. Which goes to show: if you’ve never played mas, you really won’t get it. Sure, we’d all prefer to be sparkling in the sunshine, but when you’ve been waiting for Carnival for a year, when the most irresistible music on the planet is playing, when you’re surrounded by people as fired up as you are, and when you mix British stoicism in the face of bad weather with Caribbean dedication to partying, then rain isn’t going to stop play. Ever.
As Notting Hill 1986 and 2014 proved, rain washes all the part-timers off the streets and leaves you with the best crowd – the ones who want to enjoy themselves almost as much as you do. And when there’s a chill in the air, a little wine can keep you warm…
So it proved. As we came off Harrow Road into Great Western Road and joined the queue to enter the route, the rain drops glistened on our four extraordinary oil derricks that rose and swayed malignantly above everyone’s heads. Oil Slick is beautiful, and beautifully made, but it’s not conventional pretty mas – no sweet little butterfly wings here. Apart from our red queen and white junior queen, the predominant colour was black, relieved with gold and silver trimming – a brave choice, but one that worked. It had a kind of Jouvert darkness to it.
Celia, our wonderful midnight robber, menaced the judges with her robber talk about the power of oil to corrupt, provoke war and create environmental devastation. Then we got out of the dead ground of depopulated, ‘sterilised’ Great Western Road as quickly as possible, wheeled past Trini Hill (though few are left to wave the red, black and white these days) and plunged in amongst the crowd in Chepstow Road.
From here on, it was non-stop all the way. If the darkness of the theme matched the weather, then the derricks were surely channelling some kind of power into the band. No energy crisis for us!
The streets were deep in exiled professional photographers, not to mention thousands of cameras, phones, selfie-sticks and iPads that captured every step, every wine, every bit of joyous misbehaviour.
All too soon, just as we were approaching the top of Ladbroke Grove, the 7 o’clock curfew struck and the speakers fell silent. We exited there rather processing silently and pointlessly along Kensal Road to complete the route; many others behind us must have had a short day of it. With spirits so high, another three or four hours would have been good.
Still, we finished on a high note. Drivers were confronted by the startling sight of one of our oil derricks running down the Harrow Road and weaving crazily through the traffic. A mad sort of fete developed on the top deck of the bus all the way back to south London, with high-volume renditions of everything from the Hokey-Cokey to Kim. The look on Bayswater diners’ faces as “Who de hell is Kim?” blasted out from the top windows was a sight to savour.
Rain? What rain? It was sunshine all the way!
• A big thank you to Ray Mahabir and everyone at SiA for making me feel so welcome. See you same time next year.