Masmen looking forward to Carnival 2022

B. Nandi Jacob

By Bianca Jacob-Stephenson

As Covid-19 crept then ran roughshod through the global population, Toronto Carnival came to a halt rendering the festival of masquerade, music, and mayhem mute after 52 years.

It is tempting to assume that the hiatus evoked a sense of loss and dread in bandleaders, particularly two of the most prominent masmen: Louis Saldenah and Marcus Eustace. For these bandleaders, masquerade is in the blood and links generations. Saldenah learned from his father Harold, a Trinidad and Tobago mas pioneer of many accomplishments. The elder Saldenah was the first to separate a band into sections, for example. In 2019, the younger Saldenah commanded 5,200 masqueraders to his 20th Toronto Carnival Band of the Year victory. Eustace is the son of Tedder, a Trinidad and Tobago based leading bandleader. The elder Eustace, along with his sons Curtis and Ted, has won a collective 16 King of the Band titles, with costumes designed and built by Marcus. His Toronto-based son, is co-bandleader of Carnival Nationz with Bryce Aguliton.

Despite their love for the masquerade, both bandleaders seized the same blessing from the two-year cancellation. “Honestly, I am not missing the festival,” Saldenah said. “I saw that the pandemic affected everyone. I told my team ‘People’s health comes first. Dead people can’t play mas.’” With acceptance came release. Saldenah willingly stopped production and embarked on his first summer out of a mas camp in 35 years. “I played a lot of golf. I went by friends and had a few drinks, and I played poker,” he said. Saldenah also visited Niagara Falls for the first time in decades. “I was also able to enjoy doing nothing. I had lost that,” he said.

Louis Saldenah just want to have fun

Eustace echoed similar sentiments about the respite, despite the importance of carnival to his family’s legacy. In 2019, Eustace designed and built his brother’s carnival king portrayal: “What Lurks in the Night,” sending him to top honors in Trinidad and Tobago. He had planned to extend his winning streak to the Toronto Carnival 2020. Then the city paused. “I’ll be honest. I’m not really missing the festival,” Eustace said. “For the first time in 30 years, I am enjoying Canadian summer.” Noting his love for the water, Eustace counts lake fishing, jet-skiing, and boating as among his current pleasures, along with a “little Friday night soccer.”

Now both bandleaders are preparing to lead their masqueraders in 2022. When 2019 festival was cancelled, Saldenah was deep in preparation for his theme, “Streets on Fire.” Noting the irony, he declared it a fitting theme to portray next year. Saldenah also plans to bring standards back to the band. “I did not use standards for six years. Now, I am looking forward to seeing masqueraders waving standards to add to the excitement and pageantry,” he said.

Eustace is also forging ahead with his planned 2019 offering, “Queens and Goddesses.” He has also used the hiatus to reflect and grow his artistic vision. “I had not yet created prototypes for the costumes when the pandemic started. Now, I am looking at some expert designers from Trinidad, and the work that is being accomplished in Miami. They are taking the elements of design to another level. We have to step it up in Toronto, again,” Eustace said. 

Both bandleaders are looking forward to the 2022 Toronto Carnival. “Two years is enough, I want to see the festival happen,” Eustace said. Saldenah said he missed his team. “We are a close-knit family band. Some p

Marcus Eustace Victoria Walker and Bryce Aguiton

eople have been with me for 15 years. Everyone knows what I want to accomplish, and they work hard to execute that vision. They do the work, and I get to look good,” he said.

After such a long break, they both expect Toronto Carnival 2022 to be epic.