Sep 27, 2012

Laventille, Trinidad | Part 3

Part 3: Laventille, Then & Now | Steel Band Clash 1959 | Desperadoes & San Juan All Stars | Information provided by San Diego Lee | Written by Santiwah!

This story is about the infamous Steelband clash that took place between Desperadoes and San Juan All Stars. San Juan All Stars had the reputation of being the 'badjohn' band of all steel bands. However, as you read my story you would see that every dog has his day and every 'badjohn' eventually gets his 'cutarse' aka a good beating... as they say in Trinidad "what eh meet yuh eh pass yuh". This story was put together from stories I was told as a child. I was very young but this story was told in every nook and cranny on the hill. I hope you enjoy this piece about Desperadoes of Laventille.

It was one of those years (1959) when Desperadoes played a pretty mass called “Noah’s Ark”. Now just about everyone knows the story of Noah and his Ark. Well this was the year that Desperadoes decided to give that story some life on the streets of Port-of-Spain. Just let your imagination take flight and think of the bible in living color but in this scenario as a carnival presentation.  Carnival presentations were very fancy long ago and in this story Desperadoes decided to bring just about every character to life. Now if you think of the Ark and every animal that was in it you can imagine the creative juices coming into play...a lot of hard work went into that presentation with the Ark as the center piece and the characters around the Ark.

Let your mind drift for a moment and  visualize about 1500 to 2000 masqueraders with all those characters, the animals,shepherds with their shepherd stick, beggars with their bag of belonging hanging on the end of a club stick, characters with long staff sticks and so on.  One of the main presentation was to release white birds representing the doves from the great flood when the band reached on stage at the Queens Park Savannah.This was the plan and the stage was set with what was considered to be one of the biggest bands to his the stage at the Savannah.

Now Desperadoes route usually is to come down the hill straight down Prince street and head first to Marine Square now called “Independence Square” which was the first judging point. After leaving this area they played and masqueraded until they got back at the foot of the Laventille road and Piccadilly street. This time they took to get to this point was around mid day. This meant it was time for a break to have lunch. After lunch they it was mas again and the chipping to the music took the band across Piccadilly street and then a right turn on Charlotte street that was the final stretch that lead straight to the Savannah. This was the time to play your self and enjoy your mas and nothing could stop that.

However, on the day, as faith will have it that route taken by Desperadoes became historic for what took place on that faithful afternoon. On that day San Juan All Stars (known as the 'badjohn' band) came to "town" (Port-of-Spain). Their presentation that yeas was a war mass (Battle Cry)and by all accounts they were looking for trouble. They were en-route to the Savannah taking the same route as Despers. Now just behind Desperadoes was Tokyo playing a sailor mass (sailor mas was very popular during this period and flour bags were in great demand). San Juan All Stars broke the formation of Tokyo and went straight through their band (that is Tokyo). Tokyo came out to play mas and did not want to fight, even though San Juan All Stars destroyed their mas presentation. They let them through, knowing full well who was in front - that band from Laventille was no push over and with the attitude of San Juan All Stars on that memorable day trouble was about to meet trouble... it resulted in the most memorable steel band clash in the history of Trinidad.

Just let your imagination take control and see the bands in play. San Juan All Stars,after crashing through Tokyo, was now between Desperadoes and Tokyo and they tried to break the formation of Desperadoes. That was a big mistake... all hell broke loose! San Juan All Stars Was demolished, their own weapons they had hiding in their tanks was turned on them. The women and children of Desperadoes were placed in the Ark for protection when the fighting was in progress(it really turned out to be a refuge just like Noah's Ark of the Bible). Think of all those shepherd’s sticks, staff sticks, beggars clubs and who knows what else was used to beat back San Juan All Stars.  As San Juan All Stars started to retreat they were now blocked by Tokyo with no place to run.  From accounts from eye witnesses, bloodied  members from All Stars were thrown over the General Hospital’s fence and some accounts stated that some badly busted up San Juan Allstars members were pushed through the gates of the hospital for medical care.

On that infamous day not even the vendors escaped the clash.  The vendors who are on side walk selling all kinds of bottled drinks either lost their supplies to people looking for something to throw or they used them as they too got involved in the fracas.  All those bottled drinks and empty bottles were used as projectiles. After all was said and done and those who were not wounded on Desperadoes side of the clash reformed and went on to the Savannah. I guess they did not forget to deliver the great spectacle of the release of the 'white doves' from the ark as planned.  That was the one year that Desperadoes expected to win band of the year for their presentation of such a fantastic theme.

Please be advised that I don't possess any knowledge regarding when or how that memorable fracas stopped; after all, I was just ah little child. As I mentioned before this account was told  as we limed on the street corners of  Laventille. This collective story came from relatives, neighbors and friends and folks who were there and either participated in the fighting or were simply there as onlookers.

I had a brief discussion with one of my dear friends in WACK radio shout box about this clash and was surprised to learn (from our conversation) that her uncle was involved in the clash but as a  member of  San Juan All Stars!  It should be very interesting to hear someone speak about the San Juan experience. I am sure we will hear about the 'buss heads' that were inflicted by the San Juan side. This is as much as I can recall and it was told from a Laventille perspective (Despers experience). Of course the story would have a different slant when told from the San Juan All Stars perspective.

Next - Part 4: Laventille, Then & Now | My Perspective 






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