Playing Mas in a Caribbean Carnival is much like being in Mardi Gras. The costumes are extravagant, participants are rambunctious, and the crowd is full of energy! As they stand by snapping photos they give their two cents on each band as they dance by. Calypso is the soundtrack for masqueraders played from the trucks full of sound systems and their chosen deejays. Bandleaders scurry to keep their members energized, in order, and giving the crowd (and judges) their best moves.
At Houston CaribFest the parade may be smaller, but the energy and enthusiasm makes up for the size. While many are more familiar with the more traditional costume bands like the winner of 2011 Costume Band of the Year, Soca Lystics, there are also T-Shirt Bands that come out to represent. These bands are made uniform with their selection of custom t-shirts and themes. This year the two top bands were Session Starters led by Trendsetters Mas Camp’s own Lyndora Ponde and JamRock Band, with bandleader Danelle Harris.
Danelle’s band ushered in a new addition to the Houston CaribFest Parade of the Bands – representation from the people of Jamaica. Their 80-member band came in second place. The idea started with DJ Fatta Carey and grew into fruition with Harris’ dedication. She took her responsibility as Bandleader seriously. Those responsibilities included, well everything under the sun. She first had to determine what had to be done and divided those things into those she could delegate and items she would handle herself.
Her main focus was on making sure every part of the plan “was getting executed.” JamRock’s first meeting was in May and the group worked feverishly to get it all together. DJ’s Fatta Carey and Goldfinger of Mikey Faith Sounds along with Bronco of Nyam Cash, DJ’s Stone, Silva, Vybz, and SilentKilla provided the music for the band and nourishment was provided by Cool Runnings Jamaican Grill
Harris has attended Houston CaribFest for years. Outside of Houston her favorite Carnival has been Miami’s because “the whole city is involved. You could feel the energy of the whole city.”
To play mas Harris feels it takes, “energy, spirit, and pride in Caribbean heritage.” Her favorite type of Caribbean music includes Roots Reggae; Dancehall because of its energy; and she loves Soca for Carnival Season. Vybz Kartel and Movado are two of her favorite artists.
She has grown up here in the U.S. with a strong sense of Jamaican pride due to the encouragement of her family. “Most of the time people come here from the islands for economic advancement.” For those who stay with the culture they “bring their kids up 100% in the culture.” The divide between participation in the culture’s traditions comes when “parents stray away themselves.” Her father’s role with The Jamaica Foundation of Houston makes her steadfast in her determination to continue the growth of Caribbean culture in Houston.
JamRock isn’t merely a band. They are “a movement with a mission” bigger than the parade. Their mission throughout the year is to “bridge the generation gap” between the old and young and connect the rest of the large Jamaican population of the Houston area. As a subsidiary of The Jamaica Foundation of Houston, JamRock band has more events in the works. Harris invites all people of all nationalities and races who care about the affairs of the Jamaican people and wish to volunteer and get involved in the community to join now. Find JamRock Band on Facebook or e-mail them at [email protected]
T-Shirt Band of the Year went to another troupe new to Houston CaribFest, Session Starters. This group started in New York by Deejay Selecta Sixty-Two has gone on to perform in Carnival parades in Miami and Atlanta. Lyndora Ponde of Trendsetters Mas Camp organized and led the team here for Houston CaribFest Parade of the Bands.
Ponde, a native of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles portion of the Leeward Islands, isn’t new to this game. She had an impressive showing in 2004 and 2005 with “Gems of the Caribbean” and “Paradise in Caribbean Sunshine”. The focus of the first was on unity between the islands with each represented by a different precious gem. Trendsetters placed second at CaribFest Parade of the Bands in 2004 for this unifying idea. The next year the troupe scored Costume Band of the Year, as well as King and Queen of the Parade, with “Paradise in Caribbean Sunshine.”
Following a major automobile accident Ponde stepped away and ventured back in this year to lead Session Starters to victory. Session Starters was organized in four sections with descriptive names: Riot Squad, Rysh and Dutty Crew, Wrecking Crew, and Rum Sponge Crew. Dressed in their t-shirts adorned by each participant in their respective colors of yellow, orange, green, and blue the group proved the most spirited, creative, and passionate according to the judges. Ponde expresses her appreciation to those who worked hard including all members of the band, Melinda Charles, Donna Charles, Wadzy, Island Bakery, Blackstone International Sounds, Backyard Sounds DJ’s, and Caribbean Connection 97.5FM out of New York.
The work involved in putting it all together doesn’t get in the way of her love for it. There’s a lot of front work and it is important to delegate. Recruiting is a big part of making it happen. Coordinating costumes and bringing it all together takes about three months for a Costume Band. The least amount of time she’s had was about two weeks. She and her committee took different shifts working 24/7 to get it done.
What qualities are important in a member of a mas troupe? They have to “love music and have energy and stamina.” If you find her out and about you will see that she has these qualities without a doubt. She has been playing mas all of her life. “You have to let go. The spirit is like a heartbeat in time with the beat” of the music. Ponde feels that when you are dancing “you are free” in the music. Soca is her favorite. When it plays everyone is “connected by the music.” Her love for Soca runs deep. Ponde’s favorite artists include Burning Flames out of Antigua, Baron and Bunji Garlin. “His style is free. I love his spirit,” she says of Garlin.
Some Islanders who come to the United States to build a life are separated and adapt to an American way of life. But the music, the food, and family kept Lyndora close to the Caribbean lifestyle. “It feels natural”, she says. This feeling of the culture being so close to the motherland is what she believes attracts many African Americans to the Caribbean culture. “It’s the drumbeat in our veins from our ancestors,” as she so eloquently puts it.
As for the younger generations of American born descendants of Caribbean descent she agrees with others who feel that some are losing appreciation for their culture. “They are being drawn away. There are too many distractions.” Like others, she believes that instilling that appreciation in them should be a priority of the community. She practices what she preaches, keeping her children connected simply through living the culture every day.
Lyndora attends most Houston CaribFest events and when asked the best Carnival she has attended outside of CaribFest she says Antigua, where she lived for a time. “There’s nothing like it.” There is more to come from Trendsetters Mas Camp with a Costume Band planned for next year and the return of Session Starters as a T-Shirt Band once again. To get involved with Trendsetters Mas Camp, find them on Facebook or email them at [email protected]