Friday, February 28

‘Mas’ bands to reflect multicultural themes at upcoming Carnival celebration

Graduate acting student Ulato Sam will dance in the Hollywood Carnival Parade with Winery Mas, a Caribbean "mas" band. The group will wear masquerade costumes dedicated to a larger cultural theme. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)

A parade of masked, costumed performers will roll through Hollywood to celebrate international cultures.

The Hollywood Carnival Parade is part of the Los Angeles Cultural Festival, a four-day celebration of LA’s worldwide cultures taking place from June 27-30. The Carnival performances are arranged and choreographed by “mas” bands, groups that wear specific masquerade costumes as part of a larger cultural theme chosen by the individual groups.

Graduate acting student Ulato Sam joined Winery Mas because the mas band reflected his Caribbean roots, as each group reflects a specific culture. During the Carnival parade, participants sing and dance on their respective floats until they cross the stage and are judged on their performance.

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Originally from Jamaica, Sam said he has participated in various Carnival celebrations all over the South, from Atlanta to Alabama. When Sam decided to participate in Carnival in Los Angeles, he wanted to find a band that was reflective of Caribbean culture as a whole rather than only his country of origin, he said.

“Jamaicans are known for (being) high energy we’re entertainers, we’re dancers,” Sam said. “But (the Caribbean) is several different islands, all with a unique history.”

But regardless of their background, Graham Goddard, founder and costume designer of Winery Mas, said anyone can participate in the Hollywood Carnival. Goddard said he encourages anyone with a notion of celebrating Caribbean culture to perform with his band.

Alumnus Daniel Johnson said he will also be celebrating with Winery Mas, but not as part of the main performance. Having learned about Caribbean culture through Sam, Johnson said he was intrigued by the idea of participating in this performance as a way to expand his cultural horizons.

“It’s completely different from what I’m used to, but I’m … kind of adventurous and interested,” Johnson said. “Being dressed and expressing love for the culture, I think it’s really good to see.”

Each mas band brings its own theme to Carnival, and this year’s theme for Winery Mas is “The Birth of a Kingdom,” Goddard said. On each float, the mas band has a DJ playing Caribbean music, but when the float crosses the stage in front of the Carnival judges, the dancers perform a choreographed skit.

Goddard said his band’s skit is a Disney-like story of a prince saving a princess from a kidnapper, with all of the other kingdoms coming together to help the prince in his quest. The theme, Goddard said, would be the power of the island nations to come together toward a common goal.

“If anyone is looking at this from an artistically conceptual perspective, they will see … a visual story being told with these cultural costumes being presented,” Goddard said. “The story will be part of the spectacle.”

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Various groups of dancers make up Winery Mas, but the group Sam and Johnson are dancing in is called the Winery Warriors, said Goddard. Each dancer’s costume primarily features black wings, shorts and shoulder armor. It is accented with neck chains, wrist bands and leg bands that have a platinum finish. The featured piece of the costume is a large, reflective mask that covers the performer’s entire face. Sam said he was particularly drawn to this aspect of the costume, as he feels it has a lesson to teach within the context of Winery Mas’ story.

“When you realize that every person is a mirror, you realize that every person is going to teach you something about yourself,” Sam said. “The hardest thing in the world to do is to look at yourself … and be objective.”

Goddard, who designed all of Winery Mas’ costumes, said he wanted to give each performer an opportunity to make each costume their own and modify it to represent their own culture. Sam said he plans to utilize colors from the Jamaican flag by adding green and gold in glittery or jeweled adornments to his already black costume. He will also bring a large Jamaican flag with him, but said he will have to be judicious with his dance movements, as draping the flag over his costume makes it hard to dance in the gyrating style typical of a Caribbean Carnival.

“As a Jamaican, I think I’m obligated to have a giant flag,” Sam said. “(But) sometimes the flag gets in the way of the fun.”

Johnson will also be performing with the Winery Warriors, wearing a costume similar to the one Sam will wear, he said. Sam said he is most excited about sharing the communal nature of the music and dancing, as it feels representative of the Caribbean island nations as a whole, with each group getting to share its way of expressing culture.

“It’s like seeing the breeze blow and a hundred leaves moving at the same time. Imagine two hundred, sometimes a thousand people coming down the road dancing in unison,” Sam said. “For a day … all our energy is towards Carnival, but by the same token you have different beats, different rhythms.”

E-mail Wilson at [email protected] or tweet @wilson_db

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