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Moko Somõkõw

It’s a bright, dry Carnival Monday morning at Granderson Lab, Belmont. With the Queen’s Park Savannah several blocks away, the would-be stillness of the early day is undertoned by the distant, barely-audible thumping of the Savannah’s massive, bass speakers. It’s as though the chaos of the day to come is being foreshadowed. In a few hours, Moko Somõkõw will hit the road in full force!

Alan Vaughan, designer and one of main visionaries behind Moko Somõkõw, sits at a work station, lit by a sewing machine lamp. He’s been at at work since the small hours of the morning, driven to get everything right in time for the band’s moment to cross the Savannah stage. Shervon Clarke, a teenage stiltwalker, is wordlessly decorating and repairing his and a few other sticks. The sound of his staple gun punctuates the whirring of Alan’s machine.

In Alan Vaughan’s own words, Moko Somõkõw’s portrayal for this year is, “…retelling the story of Sundjata—which is famous throughout West Africa—and placing it here in Trinidad. Derived from ‘The Epic of Old Mali‘, King Sundjata returns from exile to reclaim his kingdom and found a great empire. In this mas, his spirit returns to Trinidad, to re-found a righteous country.” He continues, “The story also resonates because it is about overcoming hardship, and exile from one’s own country, and then returning to unite the various peoples through defeating the forces of evil and exploitation. This was our metaphor.”

With the band, Alan aims to highlight another aspect of Trinbago’s African ancestry. He says, ” ‘Africanness’ is often related here to Yoruba-derived culture, yet this is only one of many original cultures of the Africans who came here which are often overlooked. There was a large Mandingo, Hausa, and Fulani population in Port of Spain, with a Muslim heritage.”

‘Moko Somõkõw’ is derived from the Bambara language (‘moko somɔgɔw’) and means ‘Moko Family’. The masband intends to be “a collection of individuals who [like] the idea and [want] to play a mas together.” The final lineup features moko jumbies from #1000mokos (now called ‘Sticks in de Yard‘) and Future Jumbies. Daddy Jumbie, also known as Adrian Young, is band leader.

Across both Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the stiltwalkers will come to include (in alphabetical order): Damir Ali; Daniel Bascombe; Alexei Chang Kit; Kriston Chen; Shervon Clarke; Lester Doodnath; ‘Jada’; Joel Joseph; Brother Jumbie (Adriel Asseveiro); Daddy Jumbie (Adrian Young); Doctor Jumbie (Windsor Frederick); Future Jumbies (Jab Jab Jumbie and Sun Sun); Veynu Siewrattan; Hakim Sherry; and Alan Vaughan himself. The support crew will consist: Catherine Chang Kit; Akilah E-R; Skye Hernandez; and Josh Lue Chee Kong.

Of his career, Alan Vaughan—who had been designing mas since 2012—says, “All my mas presentations in Trinidad have been with Moko Jumbie. This is because, for me, it is the special spirit which inhabits the sticks—I feel very strongly that the spirits come to us through the sticks. This is not about dressing up.”

By the end of the 2018 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, ‘Moko Somõkõw: The Magnificent Return of Sunjata’ would go on to win fourth place overall in their category of competition.