Turning 50 was a huge moment for me. I celebrated for a full year, trying out many new things along the way. I gained a simple understanding of golf terms; I bought and wore my first pair of shorts (I am queen of the maxi skirt, tunics, and pant/jeggings); and I even volunteered with a mas band, handing out water and marshaling stragglers.
I have loved carnival in Antigua since I saw my first one in 1982. I was fresh off the plane and my cousin, Denford aka Lockup aka Kwasi, became my carnival tutor.
In those days, shows were packed every night and “Vegas” – a ramshackle row of vendors and liming spots – was erected just for the carnival season. My cousin and his crew loved to drink in an old American school bus repurposed as a bar. One infamous late night/early morning, we left one member fast asleep on a table. No amount of coaxing could budge him, so we just left him, and once he awoke, the names he used to call out his friends are words I cannot print here.
My second memory involves tying my shoelaces around my ankle so that I would not lose them in the J’ouvert jump up. I remember being hit by a bottle and lying semi-concussed in the back of a car to be met by my almost delirious granny. I woke up in time to join my cousin at Last Lap and we jammed behind a steel band – me, the bump on my head, and the sweet sound of pan jamming through the streets of St. John’s.
Jump forward three decades…
Although I have played mas once, I’ve spent many other carnivals either watching, jamming in the streets, or traveling. So when the mas band leader handed me a costume to wear on the Carnival Tuesday of my 50th year, I took it home, told no one, and came out on the road. Giddy with excitement, I enjoyed every moment. I don’t think I ever stopped grinning and telling anyone who would listen, “I am 50!” It was also the last carnival that I tried jello shots!
I have since graduated from being completely covered up to wearing a two piece. Moi! The woman who didn’t own a bikini and used to only wear shorts in the house. Cue “Operation: Rock the Road.” I swear I glided through the streets in that two piece. I felt empowered and beautiful. I didn’t even need any alcohol (well, one good drink followed by copious amounts of water).
I have discovered the joy of playing mas over 50. You are free to be, to enjoy every moment. I’m grateful for the energy and the family genes that keep me slim. I’m grateful to love dancing, a secret passion of mine; I can dance all by myself for hours, I hear every note, and my body just becomes an extension of the instruments.
I have also discovered that as a mas player over 50, one doesn’t have to drink until you drop or jam on the streets until the last pan stops. Nope, I have the choice to jam until we go on stage and then once we come off, I head to the camp, change, chat with other over 50s and head home, smiling all the way. Then I wake up the next morning a little stiff, but with a clear head and memories aplenty! Plus, I always make sure that I send my son a picture pre-heading out, so that he doesn’t end up in rehab at the sight of his mother in full carnival regalia.
If you have been thinking about playing mas and have found yourself standing on the sidelines, picking out your favorite costumes, I’d like to encourage you to be brave. Find a mas group that you like the vibe of and tailor your costume to suit yourself. And know that at this glorious age, it’s perfectly ok to chip along the road – we have knees and hips to preserve for next year, after all.
Happy Carnival Season from Antigua!