JP club’s costumes highlight Caribbean carnival

August 17, 2012
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The annual Caribbean festival returns to Franklin Park next week, and dazzling costumes made by a Jamaica Plain club will be a big part of the fun.

The Trinidad & Tobago Social Club at 16 Glen Road makes hundreds of bikini-style costumes bedecked in sequins and colorful feathers. The club has won top performer honors at the festival, known as Boston Carnival Village, 12 times.

It’s all a way to “keep our culture alive,” said Luidgi Felix, a club member and one of the costume designers.

Carnival is a major festival in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations. A big part of it is the wearing of elaborate costumes, known as “mas,” short for “masquerade.”

Every year, the Social Club holds “mas camp,” a months-long, all-volunteer effort to create up to 300 costumes. Only about 15 people make all of the costumes.

“You definitely have to have a passion for it,” said Felix, who is an engineer and grad student in daily life. “It takes time, very tedious.”

The costumes are made for the club’s own “band,” or large group of performers, as well as for individuals who can shop and get a fitting at the club. The cost is about $190 to $250 for a costume.

The Social Club also creates some gigantic costumes, up to 30 feet tall and requiring multiple performers to carry, that are used in the “King and Queen Show” at the carnival. Those pieces can run up to $8,000.

Most of the costumes are for women, even though men participate heavily in mas in the Caribbean.

“It seems like a lot of men are shy here,” Felix said.

The women, it seems, are not. The costumes have become more skimpy over time, Felix noted.

“I guess [as] they say, ‘Sex sells,’” he said. “Women are just buying [the costumes] and loving it. Every year, we sell out.”

The Social Club’s band will perform in most of the festival’s major events. That includes the King and Queen Show on Aug. 23 at Roxbury’s Reggie Lewis Center, which also features a concert by Jamaican singer Aria and other musicians. On Aug. 25, the band will join in the parade from Roxbury to Franklin Park, then performer for Caribbean judges at the main Carnival Village to soca and calypso music.

The club’s band also travels to other events, including New York City’s Labor Day parade.

Besides the mas camp, the Social Club is a gathering place for the Caribbean-American community and a home to some club members. The club is aiming to boost its volunteering at other organizations, Felix said.

For more about the club, see tntsocialclubbos.com. For a full schedule of Boston Carnival Village, see bostoncarnivalvillage.com.

A model shows off a colorful costume made by JP’s Trinidad & Tobago Social Club for next week’s Boston Carnival Village, the annual Caribbean festival in Franklin Park. (Courtesy Photo)