Photo Diary Mas Camps West Indian Labor Day Parade

Unmasked: Inside the Mas Camps and Pan Yards Where Carnival Is Built

A journey through the masquerade camps and steel bands that fill the West Indian Day Parade with pageantry and sound.

Photographer Alex Welsh
  • Reishelle Maynard-Richards, co-founder of Ramajay Mas. The mas camp is a family business, with her brother serving as co-founder and father, Percy Maynard, manning production.

  • Feathered headpiece from Ramajay's “Vikings” section.

  • Wire is soldered, bent in bras forms and then jeweled by hand, piece by piece.

  • Older craftsmen mend wire frames that will buttress the most elaborate costume, the 20-foot king of the band.

  • “For me as a bandleader and an owner, every year, so we try to keep on top of what’s happening in Trinidad. I don’t make a costume if I’m not going to wear it. It has to be something up to date, its modern, must try to be innovative. A lot of people think American doesn’t have to compare to the islands to Barbados, and Trinidad. It definitely does, because Caribbean culture is everywhere, you cant half-ass it.” - Reishelle

  • Reishelle's father, Percy, quietly crafts all the headdresses amidst the madness of production.

  • “When I was small, my mother used to sew and she played mas ever year, so I picked up some of my skills from her. But I learned how to make costumes on my own.” - Percy Maynard

  • Reishelle's daughter tries on a headpiece for size.

  • Sold out sections in the Ramajay Showroom

  • “It’s been six years since we launched Ramajay and back then there weren’t a lot of costume bands—with the elaborate headdresses and the feathers—there were more t-shirt bands. Now there’s some 15-20 costume bands on Eastern Parkway. Ramajay really brought back the costumes to Labor Day.” - Reishelle

  • Aisha L. Carr is the band leader and head of production for Sesame Flyers International, a 31-year old community organization that runs after-school programs, fitness programs for the elderly and a masquerade band for the parade.

  • Options grow thin as popular sections of the band quickly sell out.

  • Trophies from carnivals past line the shelves in back room of Sesame Flyers head quarters.

  • Masqueraders adorn their bodies with henna tattoos to complement their Bollywood-themed costumes.

  • Ladies wait patiently to finalize costume payments and details.

  • In the basement, volunteers are busy assembling costumes for Kiddies' Carnival.

  • Completed headdresses hang from the ceiling.

  • “This year it felt like things have come full circle, just about everyone from family to best friends, are either playing mas or working production with us.” - Aisha

  • The night crew of volunteers chat while working.

  • Hearts of Steel bandleader, Mike Martin Demas, keeps a watchful eye over his crew of steel pan players. "Hearts of Steel has been around for seven years. We are not big enough to enter the Panorama competition, but we’re striving towards that goal." - Mike

  • “This year we’re playing 'Spankin’' by Super Blue, Big People Party by Farmer Nappy and My Way by Frank Sinatra. Getting the songs right is all about repetition and taking your time with the players. They can only do the best they can.” - Mike

  • Supporters and random pedestrians hang out in the pan yards.

  • Players of all ages practice side by side in preparation for J'ouvert Morning.

  • Pieces of iron serve as homespun percussion instruments.

  • The iron, Congo drums and standard drum kit make up the 'riddim section.'

  • Locals “liming” in the yard.

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    Though the rest of the world only see the pretty floats and revelers in all of their feathered and glittered glory, for the folks working year round behind the scenes, the West Indian Day Parade is a labor of love that requires late hours and tons of man- and woman-power. In this photo diary, FADER Photographer Alex Welsh heads to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and visits Ramajay Mas and Sesame Flyers International, two masquerade camps (or mas camps as they are commonly known) headed up by Reishelle-Maynard-Richards and Aisha L. Carr respectively. Both camps will send out thousands of revelers onto Eastern Parkway in the festive original designs that they’re spending all day and night meticulously producing. We also pay a visit to the Hearts of Steel pan yard, where Mike Demas and his steel pan band are busy preparing the songs and arrangements that will fill the streets with music this weekend on the parade-opening J’ouvert morning.

    Stay tuned to The FADER for more exclusive mixes, interviews and premieres all week long as we celebrate Caribbean music culture with our Sell Off series.

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    Unmasked: Inside the Mas Camps and Pan Yards Where Carnival Is Built