by Latoya Burnham
Su-Ellen St. Louis and playing mas are as inseparable as Crop-Over and soca music.
From the time she began to speak, apart from the delightful Trini accent, you can hear the excitement trembling in her voice at the thought of yet another festival and leading her band “down de road”.
Su-Ellen has been playing mas with the band Wednesday 2000 for the more than a decade now. She was introduced to mas in Barbados by her now ex-boyfriend, since she had maintained that any time she got involved in Grand Kadooment, it must be with an all-local band. So 11 years ago she became a member of Wednesday 2000 and has not missed a year since.
She was playing mas for about three years before she was invited to lead the band and over the years that has meant jumping in high wind, rain, even jumping seven months pregnant. It is that image of her that most Bajans will remember from two years ago – watching a woman in an orange and red costume with a gauzy material camouflaging her mid-section, waving a white flag.
“The first thing I notice was that a flag person is supposed to help control the band, helping clear the way and direct the band; helping keep the member and them in the section, while at the same time having fun. So this is just me in general, seeing people happy, having fun and getting down de road safe,” she said, when asked what led her to consider a position of flag girl.
Su-Ellen is a dancer with Danse Nationale Afrique, so she said that aspect of her performance on the road, as well as the Stadium “stage” came easily. The endurance needed to get a band from wherever the starting point happens to be down to Spring Garden, is also something she is used to and she admitted that her feet nor flag touches the back of a truck til’ the band is on Spring Garden.
“As a flag person, you cannot allow you flag to droop or drop your flag. Your flag is a very significant thing. Every country has a flag and you see how people carry that flag, with pride? You see when they are marching they can’t dip the flag? It is better for you to hit the ground first.
“That is how it is for me. From the time I hold that flag, it is a significant indication for me to carry my band down de road. I am not going to drop, put down my flag and you will not catch me on a truck until I reach all de way down to Spring Garden.
“I don’t have much preparing to do. I look at it as a performance and it is like a long runway so I just do my thing. When I have that flag in my hand it is like all over. I am basically transformed into this long catwalk going down the road and this is just what I do. I have not missed a year, every year. I even jumped with my belly big.”
She warned though that playing mas pregnant was not something for everyone to attempt and laughed gaily when asked about the experience: “First thing first, my doctor had advised me, ‘don’t stop what you doing’. I’m a dancer and exercise is always good for the baby. Nevertheless, everybody’s pregnancy is not the same so I would not advise everybody to do it.
“For me, I was just aiming for a healthy, happy and bouncing baby, be it boy or girl. I looked at the road that year as exercise for me. I wasn’t jumping and having myself exhausted. I was basically chipping because that is what Trini do. We chip and we tek we time and go down de road,” said Su-Ellen.
Despite the stares of disbelief she received on the road, she said her experience that year was “simply beautiful”.
“I had a lot that were against me; I had a lot that were for me and then I had a lot that just could not believe I had done it, but I was actually very proud of myself because I took it as an exercise process and I said for myself and my son, I just decided I am going to do this. I am going to do Crop-Over with my belly.
“For me it was really a beautiful thing. It’s really a blessing from God you know and I wanted to cherish that moment so that was me cherishing that moment,” she said, her face all but glowing at the memory.
Her dedication to her position with the band has reaped her some rewards. She had won Flag Person of the Year once, placed second three times and third once.
Mas in Trinidad, beyond the two-day factor that separates it from Barbados, has a different vibe, she said, and she explained that the costumes as well were different – in some cases smaller; in others, more creative, “but nevertheless I think the level that I am seeing now in Barbados is definitely stepping up”.
“I am loving what I am seeing – a lot of colours, creativity and I just love that. Every time Crop-Over comes around I always see something different, especially with the Wednesday 2000 band. What I really love about this band is because they create and make their own costumes. That is what drew me to them.
“I always say if I was to play in a band in Barbados, I want a local band because I am accustomed to being elaborate and this big thing back home and I want something local to feel the real Bajan in it. That is what really drew me to it.”
“Living in Barbados is a different experience. It is slower than home and I love it. I like taking my time and setting my own pace. I fell in love with Barbados, the beaches and the people. They down to earth and very realistic.” firstname.lastname@example.org