Moko Somõkõw

It is a bright, dry, but cool Carnival Monday morning at Granderson Lab, Belmont. Though still, the distant thumping of massive bass speakers are vaguely felt soundlessly pulsing through the ground and every wall. The throbs foreshadow the mayhem and cacophony to come once Moko Somõkõw hits the road in full force, aimed at leaving Belmont to cross the Queen’s Park Savannah Stage before continuing along Tragarete Road to Adam Smith Square, then eventually to South Quay, Port of Spain.

Alan Vaughan, designer and one of main visionaries behind Moko Somõkõw, sits at a work station, lit by a sewing machine lamp, perhaps exactly as he had been since he’d begun today’s work in the small hours of the morning. Shervon Clarke, a teenage stiltwalker, is quietly and diligently at work decorating and repairing his and a few other sticks, the sound of his staple gun punctuating the whirring of Alan’s machine. Across from Alan—and very much in contrast to his measured voice and calm affect, is Tracey Sankar of Crick Crack Traditional Mas—frenetically rallying her group together as they shake off the exhaustion of J’ouvert to get dressed as a group of Dame Lorraine and other traditional Carnival characters.

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’ means ‘Moko Family’. The masband was intent as being “a collection of individuals who liked the idea and wanted to play a mas together.” The final lineup features moko jumbies from #1000mokos and Future Jumbies. Daddy Jumbie, also known as Adrian Young, is band leader. Across both Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the stiltwalkers include: Shervon Clarke; Alan Vaughan; Veynu Siewrattan; Lester Doodnath; Hakim Sherry; Kriston Chen; ‘Jada’; Alexei Chang Kit; Daddy Jumbie (Adrian Young); Damir Ali; Doctor Jumbie (Windsor Frederick); Daniel Bascombe; Joel Joseph; Brother Jumbie (Adriel Asseveiro); and Future Jumbies (Jab Jab Jumbie and Sun Sun). The support crew consists: Fayola Edwards-Rose; Catherine Chang Kit; 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.”

‘Moko Somõkõw: The Magnificent Return of Sunjata’ would go on to win fourth place overall in their category of competition.