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 

Sep 26, 2012

Laventille, Trinidad | Part 2

Part 2: Laventille, Then & Now | Desperadoes, Some History By San Diego Lee! Information:San Diego Lee | Written by Santiwah

My story about Laventille will not be complete if I did not mention the pride of the hill - Despers! The Story I want to lay out is part of the history of the Band Desperadoes. Please note that I will use the words 'Despers' and 'Desperadoes' in my story but take note that they both are references to the same steel band.

I remember Desperadoes as a very young kid; I was around the age of six years I believe. Everyone knew that there was something special about Despers.  The beautiful part of Desperadoes in those days is that when it was carnival time there was only one band. Yes I said one band. I guess you may be asking if there was more than one band named Desperadoes. Well the answer is yes and no! Let me explain... When it was carnival time it was simply Desperadoes the band but during the off season the band was split into two parts. One on the lower part of Laventille road and the other half was way up the hill going back to an area called Red Hill. Let me add this to the conversation (a little history)... the Redhill area is the continuation of Laventille road leading into Morvant.  Anyway, my oldest sister’s house was next to that pan yard.  The banner for Desperadoes mass presentation was stenciled on the side of her house and that name was imprinted there for years from the painting of that banner. I am not talking from here say but from what I know and yes,  it was on the wall of my sister's home that the banner was emblazoned!

To continue down memory lane... when carnival time arrived, the arranger and pan tuner worked with both halves arranging the same tunes with both sections.. upper Laventille and lower Laventille sections of the band. This also included the tuning of the pans.  This is a very interesting part of history that most of you did not know but will from this day on, the pan tuner’ s name was Carl Greenidge and if you don't know that name then you will surely know the name Robert Greenidge! Yes that Greenidge... he was the uncle of Robert Greenidge. Now when Carnival Monday and Tuesday arrived the band on the upper part will begin it’s decent into Port of Spain collecting masqueraders along the way as they travel down the hill. Masqueraders will be waiting at junctions exiting from many alley ways. Some of these masqueraders waiting 'down de hill' did not wait and headed towards the band to get that extra masquerade time as the band travelled down to Port of Spain.

When the upper half of the band reached the lower part of the hill they joined up with the second half becoming one united Desperadoes.  Damn, that was so sweet!

Desperadoes was one of those steel bands that played mostly "pretty mass" as we used to call it in those days. During that period people looked down at the residents of Laventille as nothing but poor and destitute people which, in my view, was utter nonsense! However, the masqueraders that played mas with Desperadoes made that band one of the biggest to parade in Port-of-Spain during that period. Now regardless of what people thought of the residents of Laventille they always "found money" to play mass with the band.

Desperadoes is one of the best steel bands in the World. I am proud to have grown up in the period that shaped the identity of Despers. The great Rudolph Charles left his mark on Desperadoes and the band has continued to make the people of Laventille proud. Laventille and Despers will continue to prosper even today with the name of Laventille tarnished because of a few miscreants who live on the hill.

Next - Part 3: Steel Band Clash!

Sep 14, 2012

Laventille, Trinidad | Part 1

Part 1:Laventille, Then & Now | Introduction | Information:San Diego Lee | Written by Santiwah

The following short story was written by my friend who prefers to go by the name of San Diego Lee. This is part one and hopefully Lee will subsequently send follow up stories about the Laventille he knew and grew up in before migrating to San Diego, California. 

Part 1: Laventille, Then & Now
How many times have you heard someone say that the 'ole time days' were better than what the young people are experiencing today? Well when I was a child growing up in Laventille, Trinidad my hometown did not have the bad reputation that has given it the notoriety as one of the worse places to visit in Trinidad. That reputation comes because of violence now ravaging the country. I miss the 'good ole days' when I lived and roamed freely in my home town of Laventille. 

Now to continue my story I must make one confession. I never knew the boundaries of Laventille as a kid and to this day, after leaving Trinidad for decades, I still don’t know where the boundaries are located. Laventille has changed and so too have the boundaries... I believe. The village has expanded and grown in terms of the areas that they are now recognizing as Laventille. 

Here is a little background information about the area. Laventille road starts at Piccadilly Street and Prince Street and winds its way uphill all the way back to several areas that include Morvant, Never Dirty, Barataria and some say as far as San Juan. You can walk to Gonzales, Morvant, Belmont and what is also known as the second Laventille “the other Laventille” as we call it; the one on the Eastern Main road (maybe that is where my WACK Radio shout-box friend Lai Lai grew up). As a kid I roamed all these areas. Laventille road comes to a fork at the top of the hill and that road takes you down to Picton road - a place we called "John John". It then goes back to the Eastern Main road to the Tokyo area, yes the steel band Tokyo. Tokyo, if you don't know is an old rival of Desperadoes steel band. 

Farther up the hill there is another main road named St. Babbs. This road will take you 'straight down' (Trinidad vernacular) to Belmont by way of Belle Eau Road. There are many alley ways that take you into all those and other neighborhoods such as Gonzales and Belmont. Are you confused now and can you you tell me the boundaries of Laventille? That is my predicament! 

As a kid I went to school in Gonzales, a short walk from Laventille. I used to roam all over Belmont, Port-of-Spain and even as far as the Queens Park Savannah. Gosh, whenever I reminisce about my childhood and the many rendezvous in the vicinity of Laventille it brings tears to my eyes. Those were the 'good ole days' and I wished the children growing up in the area today could have experienced life the way I knew it in the Laventille that, once upon a time, I  loved so much. Much has changed and today Laventille has a bad name... this is sad.  

Laventille then and now... now cannot compare to the time I lived in Laventille. Yes progress has brought better roads and homes but the hospitality of the people cannot be compared. I shed a tear when ever I read the daily newspapers from my homeland. Let us all prayer that peace and love can prevail not only in Laventille but my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago.

Next - Part 2... Some History on Desperadoes





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