As she gazes at her trophies displayed high on a cabinet, Pat Carter can’t help but remark on how much she enjoyed that period when she ruled the stage as the crowned queen of the Kadooment bands.
Nine times she beat all others to walk away with the title.
She learnt how to play mas’ early, in primary school in her native Trinidad and Tobago where “we used to have a carnival frolic where children made their own costumes and jumped around before Carnival.”
When she came to Barbados in 1979, she found Crop Over and she had to get a piece of the action.
In those early years, she played in Tony Graham’s band, but she really announced her arrival on the Kadooment stage when she played queen of the band for veteran band leader Gwyneth Squires’ in 1987. It was the first time she had carried such a huge costume, and while the crowd at the National Stadium was applauding the performance of the “Spanish Dancer” prancing and dancing across the stage, the five foot, five inch, 127-pound figure inside was fighting a battle, trying to keep her feet planted on the stage and avoid being swept away by the wind.
“Even though it was heavy it was evenly distributed and when the wind took it from me, it took it from underneath like it wanted to lift you and carry you away,” Pat remembered. In fact it was a problem she experienced with all the queen costumes she has ever worn and laughs when she thinks of the times strong muscle power from men around her helped her to keep her feet on the ground.
Then there was the pressure from self-styled experts who thought they knew better than the wearer of the costume how it should be worn.
She does not forget that night on stage when she cried with a grin on her face because of a scary experience.
“The chief judge told me afterwards I was there dancing in the costume and there was this big grin on my face and all of a sudden I went serious and I stamped my feet on the ground.
“The wind had come and started to push me off the stage and I just went ‘clank clank’ on the ground. I didn’t panic. But that was a scary part of it, but it was a good experience.”
Pat went on to explore the spirit of the community band, playing mas’ for Speightstown band-leader Clement Armstrong for a few years, and even participated in the donkey cart parades.
But for the 25th anniversary of Crop Over, Gwyneth Squires turned to the one person she was confident would carry her queen’s costume all the way to the top.
Pat recalled it was the Wednesday before Cohobblopot when the bandleader for whom she had brought home the bacon said to her: “I would like you to carry the costume” leaving her just three days to train for the role. Moreover, it was a costume for which Pat had not been measured, but when Gwyneth took her to the room where the sections of the costume were hanging on the wall, it proved to be the perfect fit and once again Pat was a winner.
She won her last crown in 2004 playing in Squires’ band The Saga of Sam Lord’s Castle in a costume depicting the historic Barbadian building. Two years later she placed second in the Queen Of The Bands competition and after that settled for just playing mas’ in a band, eventually deciding to walk away from playing costume mas’ altogether.
Once out of the head to toe cover the queen of the band costume afforded, she began to feel a nakedness in the design of costumes.
Her conservative side had kicked in, as she told Easy magazine: “I wasn’t happy just jumping in a band like that because when I played queen I was covered from head to toe. But when you play in the band, you are in these pieces of things and I don’t like them and I keep saying that.”
For this interview, she is wearing long tights under a mid-calf length Indian-inspired tunic, a style of dress with which she is more comfortable.
But is she that conservative? “I am” she replies. “I would not even go outside in shorts out of my own house. I don’t like the exposure of my body. Because I was always covered up I find it very difficult to put on a pair of shorts and go down the road.”
She played mas in Trinidad in shorts, but she pointed out they were “nothing skimpy.”
Pat attributes her conservatism to her strict upbringing and mused that even though she would have been more daring in dress while she played mas’ in Trinidad, as she became more mature: “I just thought there were certain things I observed and I did not like.”
She is shocked by the amount of wukkin’up she has seen during Kadooment, since in Trinidad she was used to revellers wining and gyrating and behaving bad, but hardly the sexual simulation that is now common on the streets on Kadooment Day.
“It is the women and I think they need to look at themselves,” she observed.
“You know, you can do a nice little something, but I have seen where women actually lie on the street and open their legs. This is not nice and not for little children to see.”
She certainly wants to shield her granddaughter Kelly-Ann from the sight, even though the eight-year-old has been exposed to Kiddies Kadooment since age one. “I think I wanted her to be exposed to feel what mas’ is like. When she gets older she can decide whether she wants to continue to participate or not.”
Pat’s husband Gregory has always supported her playing mas’. Through her, he became a mas’ convert way back when they were both employees of Barclays Bank and the bank was a Crop Over sponsor.
Having participated in Barbados’ biggest party for decades, as expected, the former queen has some thoughts about the festival.
“Crop Over has changed . . . . I can tell you what I don’t like. Calypso semi-finals at the Gymnasium.” She prefers to see the calypso show treated like a big party as is the case in Trinidad.
“When you are in the Gymnasium you are closed in, you can’t eat, you can’t drink.”
She also wants to hear the Crop Over music playing from bars on the roadside along the route to Spring Garden. This way she believes revellers would be motivated to keep moving to music even when music from their music truck stops temporarily.
And while she has “no problem” with Trinidadians coming here to be part of the Barbados festival, she wonders why Bajans are not making more input into Trinidad’s carnival.
Perhaps of more significance is her concern about the omission of kings and queens of the bands from Cohobblopot.