In Brief: Also referred to as “Yankee Minstrels”, this mas is based on American minstrel shows popular in the late 1800s, in which white singers painted their faces black and adopted other conventions representing “negroes”. The local minstrels of Trinidad are generally black persons who adopt a similar set of conventions. As such, they are an imitation of an imitation (black performers, pretending to be white performers, who are pretending to be black performers), which is a convention often appearing in Mas. In addition to original songs, they sing standards from the time when blackface was en vogue, including Swanee River and Who’s Sorry Now. They accompany themselves on the guitar and the rattling bones played between the hands. They may have a dance routine as well.
Videos Not From the Archive:
This clip from “Swanee River” (1939) portrays American Minstrel show performer Edwin Pearce Christy (1815-1862).
Mas Origins and History: The exact date of the entrance of this mas into local Carnival seems to elude any other description than the turn of the century.
Costuming: As with the vast majority of Carnival, since the introduction of the mas, it has had an increasing variety in its costuming norms. New costuming versions of this mas include Vaudevillian costuming, or even a group that appeared in suits that were split down the center to create a half black, half white suit.
Sounds and Speech:
A sample text, reported by Daniel J. Crowley is as follows:
We are the Minstrel Boys from Texas
You can bet we have the caress,
You know we bound to shine
Especially when we have got the taste of Minstrel Boys
Your cheeks are so rosy, and your lips are blooming,
Just like the flowers in May.
You will be happy, Confidentiously
Just stand besides me
Just stand besides me
Wait Darling, and you will see
Movement: Groups of Minstrels will often have a dance routine, or choreographed movement in a vaudeville style that goes with their song(s).
Other Behavior: n/a
Variations and Developments of Note: The tradition of blackface has been played on with variation my mas performers. For instance, some mas players will wear only white makeup on their lips and eyes, underscoring the skin tone beneath is black. Others will play this mas in whiteface, either as a social commentary on the mas itself, or blurring the lines between the Clown mas and the Minstrel mas.
Tennessee Cowboy Variation: The Tennessee Cowboy mas wears a more southern inspired costume, for instance, “a loud plaid shirt, neckerchief, khaki tourers, and big-brimmed straw hat, and carries a toy gun”. Songs that would be selected to match this mas would also be American country standards such as “Home on the Range”, and “Cheatin’ Heart”. Tennessee was famed for neither cowboys, nor ranges to sing about, but is famed for an Appalachian musical tradition.
References in Arts and Popular Culture: n/a
Related Characters: clown.
Bands and Individual Performers: n/a
Other Information: n/a
Interviews and Scholarship: n/a
Crowley, Daniel. “The Traditional Masques of Carnival.” Caribbean Quarterly, Trinidad Carnival Issue. Ed. Philip Sherlock and Andrew Carr. 3&4 ed. Vol. 4. Trinidad, B.W.I.: U of The West Indies, 1956. 216-217. Print.
“Carnival.” Carnival. Trinidad and Tobago National Library and Information System Authority. Web. 22 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nalis.gov.tt/Research/SubjectGuide/Carnival/tabid/105/Default.aspx?PageContentID=81>.