Let me share with you a story of a mas band which started because of a little girl’s love of carnival and a father’s determination to make her wish a reality. The co-founder of Tropical Mas band Dwyane Smith and his daughter Sasha would make their own costumes and play mas on the streets of Notting Hill from when she was very little (over 8 years ago). Sasha loved everything about carnival, the colours of costumes, the music, the energy. But that wasn’t enough for this little girl who wanted to be part of something bigger. She persuaded her father to think about starting a carnival mas band. This family joined various bands and gained experience in pan, the art of making mas, learning about band management and making costumes. The first section for this band came out in 2013 and Tropical Mas Band became an official mas band of Notting Hill Carnival in 2014.
As I didn’t know much about this band, Dwyane explained to me further. Tropical Mas Band is based in Greenwich and is part of the bigger company called the Tropical Mas Association. It’s aim is to create a place for children, adults and older adults to be creative and develop their skills through carnival. A summer camp will run for four weeks over the summer to do just that and will be open to the residents of Greenwich, Woolwich and Arsenal. Tropical Mas band is a small band of approximately 30-40 members of all backgrounds and ages. Carnival Sunday is more family oriented, carnival Monday is more about the costumes although t-shirts can be worn. Dwyane explained this band wanted to keep the costumes as inexpensive as possible to cater to his masqueraders. Music wise, quite a few genres will be played on the road so it will not be exclusively soca.
My friends Judith and Mel attended this launch with me and I must say I received a warm welcome. We see some familiar faces. Uk Soca Scene are there as well as Victor and Bim. The launch for this band is held at the All Bar One Bar at the O2 (a large entertainment venue on the Greenwich peninsular in London, England). I have never been to a band launch in that venue before so I was keen to attend. It’s a nice area with plenty of space. A red catwalk has been put out and there are banners to indicate that this is the time for Tropical Mas band launch. There are images using a projector highlighting the history of this band. The crowd seemed to go across the age range. I’d say there were some teenagers in the crowd as well as one or two older adults. As we enter, dancehall is playing. Some tunes I haven’t heard in a while such as ‘dancehall queen’. Throughout the night other genres are played. There was a bit of soca, some funky house and afrobeats. The crowd seemed to enjoy the music as there were some couples dancing, But I would have to say that dancehall/bashment featured most. That probably is a reflection of what the music on the road will be for Notting Hill Carnival.
For this year, Tropical Mas band has two sections. Both sections have three options for ladies; back, mid and frontline. There is no costume option for men. The first section is called Tropical Flair and flourescent green is the colour of choice. I am wondering whether this will be a popular colour for Notting Hill carnival as I have seen this colour as the primary colour for costume in one or two previous bands.
The second section is called Purple Rain. This model for the frontline appeared to enjoy being in this costume and was the most energetic.
And that was it! Launch done! Prices of costumes range between £75 and £150.00. There were some music technical issues between the showing of sections which meant that there was a delay. However, Dwyane told us a bit more about the band whilst we waited and there was some impromtu freestyling on the mic by I assume a member of the band.
For me, this launch was a good attempt and this band can only get better. I left this launch struck with the thought that with a passion for carnival and with the love of a doting father and family, anything is possible. I had hoped to meet the young girl who got this whole thing started but sadly it was way past her bed time. For a band which is looking beyond carnival and hoping to make an impact on its local community, for different genres of music on the road, for inexpensive costumes, Tropical Mas is your band.
For more information about Tropical Mas Band, please check their Facebook page. For more photographs of the event, please go to UK Soca Scene, VKams Photography and BQuavs photography. For video footage please check the Facebook page Ilovecarnivall.