I cannot even begin to explain how excited I was to be playing mas with Ramajay.  I was actually in New York last year for carnival, but due to work constraints, I had to leave on the Carnival Monday and subsequently could not take part.  With the Ramajay mas camp round the corner, I walked up, to watch them leave to go on the road and it left me wretched and almost tearful.  You see, I love carnival and I love to play mas more, there is nothing worse than being in the midst of a carnival and having to leave or not being able to take part. The costumes looked stunning and with extreme jealousy I watched the DJ’s start to spin the tracks, garnering the vibe from the masqueraders as they chipped off down to Eastern Parkway.  I vowed right there that I would come back next year to play with Ramajay.

I arrived in New York Friday 1st September and immediately went to pick up my costume.  Just to note, in the lead up to my costume collection, I had only paid the deposit and was nervous about securing my costume as most bands require full payment before collection.  After emailing countless of times to their advertised email address, I received zero response.  I assumed that they were in the midst of essential costume making time, but I mean no one responded to my 4 emails that month. It was only when I chanced at contacting them on Instagram that I received a response of “you can pay the balance upon collection”. This was not the norm for me, nevertheless I was assured of my costume and I was good to go!

Arriving to the mas camp, I could only attribute the scene to simmering with anger.  A ridiculous queue, vex faces and long waits ensued. I myself, rocked up and tried to blag it, stating that I came off a long flight, jet lagged blah blah and usually this works, but not on this occasion.  Irrespective of my woes, I had to put my name on a list to be called out when the costume was ready, this was 9pm. I looked at my cousin, we looked at the queues and decided I was coming back later at some ungodly hour, as this mas camp was staying open all night! As we left, one woman’s frustrations was laid bare for all to see. She screamed at them saying she had been there since 6pm, me quickly calculating that this woman had been patient for 3 hours. She was a better woman than me to wait that long, that’s all I can say!

We came back around 1am and it was lovely and quiet. We were told to go to this little booth window, which is where they ask you for the balance payment, IN CASH. Let me just explain, my costume cost $585, the deposit was $150, so I paid $435 hard cash. Believe me, I was not happy about this as you are not protected if you pick your costume and there is some discrepancy with it after. Questioning this policy, Ramajay cited numerous problems with up front payments, as masqueraders would reverse the payments at some point, so that they ended up not paying for the costume. Now in my dealings with reverse payments, it is because there is a genuine reason and the card companies found in favour of the card holder and refunded costs. However, to me, I felt that Ramajay did not want to be bothered with any administration, taxable monies or any issues with people wanting money back.   I have to add, that I did later learnt that Ramajay are not the only mas band that do this, there are many others that employ this method and require masqueraders to pay balances in cash. I personally do not recommend paying any sizeable amounts of cash upfront wherever possible, as you have no recourse to any discrepancies or refund. That said, what was I to do? I paid up the dollars through gritted teeth and picked up my costume, as I wanted to play mas.

Golden Rule: Try on your costume before you leave the mas camp.

As it was not until later on that evening when I tried it on and found that the wired option is really not for me and it fitted so badly. If you have bountiful breasts or some sort of augmentation work done, then great, but not too afraid to say that if you have breasts like mine then this option really does not work.  I sighed and went to bed dismayed, as I just thought about the cost, but luckily the mas camp was literally round the corner from where I was staying and trekked down there the following morning to find out what I could do to address the ill-fitting top part. As we played around with the wired bra, I sadly found that my boobs would not work in this top.  The flustered designer then asked me, “ have you not played in wired bras before”. Me, a resounding “No”… and in my head, I am thinking, “yes why did I select wired”? He subsequently went on to explain that most women have their breast augmented before carnival, so that they fit into their costumes.  I know this is true for sure in Trinidad. As on going into the mas camp and spying the many and various leaflets advertising ‘banks loans for your carnival outfits’ and plastic surgeons in the Dominican Republic who are all willing to mess around with any part of the body you like. It’s incredulous the lengths women will now go to, to ensure that they look perfect in their costume.  This cost is all for ONE DAY on the road?  The power of soca huh. However, why should I be discriminated against for not having augmented bountiful juicy breasts? Why was I so stupid to pick it? To be honest, they had 13 sections, it took hours to pick one.. silly me perhaps didn’t read the descriptions in full.  However, it was not fitting right and at that point the only alternative they offered me was a 36 D bra option. Were they freaking serious? I nearly became that screaming woman the night before and told them under no uncertain terms that they had to fix it. Costume designers were there so I asked them add additional pieces to hide my boobs from hanging out on either side.  For sure, I was a difficult customer, because I made noise when my $585 dollar costume did not fit right. I don’t have the privilege of pert breasts but when someone is telling you that you should get your breasts done to ensure that you could fit into it, I couldn’t stay mute for long. Not sure about anyone else but I have spent thousands this year on costumes. If I am spending more than £300 pounds on a costume,  I expect it to be well made. If I spend more than £500 on a costume it best be terrific, if not, y’all will hear my noise.

My Costume Section Number 10 – 18k Rose Gold

With the top fixed!

Look at the back – felt like I was going to party in string city! (you can leave your comments on this if you like)

So much string!!

The Headpiece

I can’t explain how heavy and uncomfortable this was. No foam around the headpiece, pure metal wrapped around on your head.  The weight was totally unbalanced and dragged your head back. I had to customise it to revise the balance and shift the load, once a few other girls who had issues saw what I had done, they did the same. It was marginally better.

Going on the road

Let me give all you a heads up before you go on the road with Ramajay or any other band for Labor Day. Like all carnivals most mas band cannot get themselves together in time for a fulfilling on the road experience. Ramajay information said to meet for a 10.30am set off. I almost laughed when I read that and I left my cousins home at 12.40pm on the Monday, we got to Eastern Parkway at 1.15pm and the band actually set off at 2pm. Despite the lateness, I thought great, “let’s go”. Nope, we walked for approximately 45 minutes until we got onto the route, Eastern Parkway.  The music then came alive and we started to chip down the road. Restrictions to carnival meant that all bands could not play music until they reached Eastern Parkway.

Ramajay also had an incredible 13 sections and one music truck on the road that day. En route the generator that was powering the sound broke down so often I lost count. We often had long gaps without music.  There were 13 sections trying to hear the music as well as the density of the crowds. I really didn’t get it, so many sections and just one truck and this was touted as an ultra premium band?

Feathers, feathers everywhere….

Although I had a few hiccups with my costume, it was actually a spectacular array  of beautiful costume designs. They are getting smaller though with more skin on view each year. However, it’s the feathers that are really annoying me now. The concept for its use came from Brazil, but when you do not have the space to really show off it all its glory, it becomes wasted man-hours. I mean, what do bands think what we will do with them after carnival? I could not really dance because the feathered headwear was just too heavy, others were too wide and literally I could not move around too much as I was bumping into people or other masqueraders.  One lady, had a customised costume in Perrier Jouet with a beautiful train, but it kept getting trampled upon due to the crowds, such a waste and nothing was done to ensure that it could be showed off as the crowds were just too much.

Security is tight but…

Security was the highlight, you could not miss them. At least 6 police officers escorted our truck plus undercover NYPD officers within the band, as well as the uniformed ones.  The officers in the front took care of the band and ensured that we were safe – a few were friendly, the rest did their jobs, however the NYPD’s in band, did their job with the biggest smiles. I mean what would be so bad in ensuring the safety of hundreds of scantily clad women? Who in their right minds would not want that job?

It’s tough job but someone has to do it..

However, the stewarding was an impossible task. The thousands of people who descend upon carnival and try to get in the bands is crazy.  The fact is that we were a big band and no amount of stewarding was keeping the crowds out of the band. I can’t blame the stewards, the band was just too big to control – 13 sections remember, with inadequate facilities to control the crowd. With all the masqueraders, feathers and crowds there was little room to move and dance. If you went to the back you could not hear the music, the front was reserved for the big costumes and the middle was a free for all.  I spent quite a bit of time on the outskirts just to be-able to have a bit of space and dance. Unfortunately, I did not get to see other bands on the road but for me,  the DJ’s were OK and “split in the middle” and “we jamming still” ruled the road, but I didn’t get it at times, as it felt like I was in a Jamaican dance with the frequent changes of music and playing the same old tunes.

Essentials – The Rum and Food

I really didn’t try and even trouble the food, I saw it…the chicken was the same colour as the rice. If you are in any doubt about my reasoning for not eating ‘road food’ read my The Pelau Chronicles post. People eat because they are drunk and hungry, or need to sober up. It’s very telling when you have to buy from street vendors.  Rum as usual ran out at about 3pm.  Why do bands run out of Rum all the time. There are songs about it. We drink RUM!

The end is nigh…

The end of carnival is actually defined by the time you cross the stage. The band got itself ready at 4.45pm, I was in the 10th section and with 13 sections to cross, the final section finally crossed the stage at 5.30pm and the band promptly locked off the music.  I kid you not, I did not even know it was done, I had to ask a fair few times what was going on. I was told that we were late so rushed the route. More emphasis on winning a trophy than the masqueraders experience. So weird as it was like you were left in the wilderness and so the trek back began.  I was on my own but never once felt fearful. The only panic time was the fact that I could not get any roaming  on my phone, as I had lost my cousin for over 3 hours and no clues to where I was.  However, all prevailed  as roaming kicked in ..messages sprang alive and suddenly I was en route to meet cuz trotting through Brooklyn. As a seasoned traveller,  you know how to ensure your safety but the people were friendly and in the carnival vibe so with some directional help along the way and a few offers of a bed for the night, I made it to meet my cousin back on Eastern Parkway.

Labor Day Carnival ends at 6pm promptly.  Most bands have to make it across that stage before that time or the music is shut down. The trucks are cleared off the road pretty quickly and the masqueraders literally disappear.  Whilst carnival ends at this time, there are block parties on every corner, so you can rest assured that the party nah done yet..Brooklyn stays alive all night!

I can’t say that I will play Ramajay again. Disappointed is the word, but all bands seem to do the same every year. Either they over subscribe, provide too many costume options to fulfill or are just not organised. Whatever the case, all big bands seem to suffer the same fate i.e disorganisation. Although I have to give credit to Ramajay they were not disorganised, rather more oversubscribed. Ramajay have a reputation for being the band on road to jump with, winning trophies and this comes at a price. We, the masqueraders are feeling that effect from the pricing and big band labels. Advertised as an ‘ultra’ premium band, we are subject to this premium pricing. Ultra premium band – really? What was the premium, where was the ultra part? I am still guessing and mostly feel that Ramajay is just using its popularity as opposed to title of being the best ‘ultra premium’ band.