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Saturday, July 2, 2022
Antigua T-shirt Mas. Photograph: Willam Simpson

Mas Revolution, Antiguan style


All seasoned, newer and potential masqueraders are painfully aware that mas has become a pretty expensive proposition. From Carnival Loans in Trinidad to the first £1000 costume in London, those reminders are everywhere. There are always cheaper options, and cheaper bands – although that’s relatively speaking – but there’s only one direction of travel, and we know that’s unlikely to change.

What began in 2009 in Antigua as a small addition to the opening of Carnival parade, which traditionally took place on the Saturday nine days before the mas, has now grown to the point that it’s displaced the parade it was originally part of. Now on Friday evening the latter does still exist, but Saturday afternoon is now reserved for T-shirt mas.

Some of the T-shirt bands are also mas bands; some are not. Some have a swimsuit option; some do not. But what makes this phenomenon really worth mentioning is the creativity and originality that’s involved. How is that possible, you ask, when most are just wearing the same T-shirt? Well, you may think you’ve seen creativity in the ways T-shirts have been cut up and restyled, for instance in dutty mas bands in London or on the road in Berlin, but that’s nothing compared to the ingenuity and inventiveness to be witnessed adorning the winers and chippers on the road in St. John’s.

As well as an avenue for individual creativity, this evolution has spawned a small, seasonal cottage industry, with dressmakers across the island commissioned to cut and sew. People are discarding the original hemming and overstitching generated in a mass production facility somewhere across the seas, and treating each T-shirt as a textile canvas with unlimited potential.

This is an affordable (around EC$200 / £57) way to be on the road, where you create your own costume and play ah mas. And there you have it. Is this not mas come full circle?