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“You have no band without a beautiful flagwoman,” sang the late Lord Kitchener in 1976 and 41 years later the flagwoman remains an important ingredient that flavours a steelband. Pan lore is replete with outstanding steelband flagwomen, like Mayfield and Yvonne “Bubulups” Smith, and more recently Valerie Greene and Ordelia Garcia.

At Sunday’s National Panorama preliminaries at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, flagwomen had a field day as they led many steelbands on stage during the marathon, 18-hour tri-category contest.


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TOKYO "No Wuk for Carnival"

Is there any history as to which band was the first to have a flag?

Among the names of jamettes, few are known.  There was Princess from Belmont and “The Creeper” from Oxford Street. According to one source, “The Creeper would become friendly with the turnkey to get food and cigarettes to her panman when he was jailed.”  No one knew how she did it, but she found a way.  Hell Yard and Bar 20 steelbands had girls like “Chila or Jean, nice looking, like Helen of Troy,” said the old panman, smiling. - See more at: http://www.panonthenet.com/woman/2006/jammette.htm#sthash.Yxu59MDD....

When pan drove the mas Flag woman was queen...

Lord Kitchener’s former dancer and partner Valerie Green tells the Sunday Guardian not only about life after Kitch (as he was affectionately called) but about the impact of various dances such as Flag Woman throughout their long career. PHOTO: Anthony Harris

She recalls a deafening hush as the anxious crowd waited. The song Flag Woman dominated the 1976 Carnival season and won Lord Kitchener—Aldwyn Roberts—another Road March title. Despite having had a miscarriage, Valerie Green, Kitchener’s partner and dancer, felt she could not disappoint the eager crowd. She did her own unique flag dance while Kitchener delivered a rousing performance, with the Mighty Sparrow at his side. Between them, says Green, they “mashed up Dimanche Gras that year.”

Green, through that song and dance, is a living personification of the flag woman. To many, it seems that the flag woman is now a symbol of the steelband movement of long ago. For pan historian Dr Kim Johnson and Prof Gordon Rohlehr, such comments ring true. In separate interviews with the Sunday Guardian, both said they hoped the art would be retained, but did not see it featuring as a prominent part of the modern steelband movement.

Johnson on the decline of flag women

Johnson noted as a direct result of steelbands no longer being the major music provider on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, flag women no longer featured as prominently as they once did. Recalling past popular flag women such as Bubulups of Bar 20 (1940s) and Lil Hart, who waved for Dixieland, he said initially flag bearers and dancers for steelbands were not women but men, since women who featured in steelbands were often of ill repute.

“There was a sprinkling (of women) in the early days,” he said. The proliferation of women as flag wavers for steelbands occurred in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when steelbands became the main music provider for Carnival. “Large bands were steelbands and there was a large number of women. Steelbands dominated the road,” Johnson said. The flag bearer often cleared the path for the band to pass on the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

The decline of flag women began when steelbands no longer dominated the road. Although he hoped the art of flag waving would not be lost, Johnson did not see it being a part of the modern steelband, since it was too integrally linked to the steelband on the road. He hoped it could be revived, since many bands play on the road during borough days. “Professional dance might preserve the art of the flag woman, but it won’t be in the same way like before,” he said.

Rohlehr: They were part of the visual and bacchanal of Carnival

Prof Gordon Rohlehr said while he could not offer a concrete explanation for the decline of the flag woman, both the lack of the visual and a move away from the communal could be seen as possible explanations. He said flag women were a part of the visual and bacchanal that was Carnival, but the visual was no longer an instrumental part of Panorama and the steelband, since there was greater focus on the music.

Rohlehr also suggested the decline might be attributed to the move away from steelbands being largely communal. “The flag woman helped to identify particular bands from particular communities, but that element has diminished somewhat. Bands no longer have to belong to a particular community."

Diaz: Flag bearers were traditionally male

However, Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz, in a phone interview with the Sunday Guardian yesterday, said there were never a lot of flag women. “I can count the number of flag women on my hand,” he said.

Diaz said flag bearers were traditionally male and dispelled the notion that flag waving had become a lost art. “For nearly every band who has come forward, there is always a flag waver,” he said. Asked about suggestions to keep the art of flag dancing and waving alive, Diaz said if corporate sponsors wanted to assist in that regard, they were free to do so.


Steelband Flag Men and Flag Women - WST


A good question to ask is what really does the flag woman do for the art form?

Obviously she waves a flag identifying the band. On carnival day long ago, she helped to clear the way as well. But I want to submit in this brief essay that there is a deeper, even esoteric, meaning to the flag woman and what she represents.

Note first of all that the flag woman is  invariably, well, a woman. Occasionally there is  a man in the role, but it never seems right. Somehow it goes against the grain. Why is that? 

Note second of all that the flag woman is always overtly sexual in her dress and in her moves. Why is that? Obviously her sexuality does nothing to improve, and even seems sometimes to be a distraction that detracts from the music.

So what's going on here? I want, very tentatively, to suggest that there is an esoteric significance to the flag  woman and her role.

At one obvious level, this particular carnival character comes out of  the carnival, which in itself is a dance of sex hormones. (Lucifer is in his element with this and God does not approve. But that is another matter that on a societal level may well demand exploration given the societal ills that may be traced to carnival excess, or even carnival per se.)

But at a deeper level, I want to suggest that a good panorama piece parallels good love-making. (God certainly has no problem with that as such; Cf. Song of Solomon.) That may also be why arrangers are almost invariably men. The flag woman is there to symbolize the object of the exercise. A good arrangement must seduce with a good introduction, it must entice with a promise, state a theme, generate the thrill of expectation, and then fulfill. That btw was the compelling essence of "Jam meh up" recently talked about. Smooth is good at that, the pressure/release structure of his music. Bradley was also good at that. He knew how to work with the stops to generate a frenzy. The object, the (flag)woman, responds with delight, -- don't stop! -- awaiting the fulfillment of the desire expressed. The piece carries on, raises the tempo, builds almost to a climax, holds back, releases the pressure. The (flag) woman desires more, urges a repeat. The piece again builds up a pressure, releases it again, teases the woman some more. The woman is urged to a greater desire. And so it carries on. The pressure having been built, there must be a musical resolution, either as a resounding climax, or a gentler one expressing tenderness more than the urgency of a hot passion. Etc. 

A successful panorama piece will have these elements, just as a satisfying love-making session. Obviously, even if the skeletal structure remains more or less  constant, the variational possibilities are endless, in terms of how the dance of hormones may be fleshed out. Therein lies the essential allure of the art form. The flag woman symbolizes this essence.

The man better knows how to play the man's role in the symbiotic dance, which is why the role of arranger seems better to be occupied by men.

Can a woman also, as arranger, simulate the man's role as well as a man?  She after all knows what it's like to  be seduced, to be enticed, to yield in that final climax. But can she let herself go and give herself over to what the music demands? Or would the natural demureness of the woman cause her to hold back? I think that's the challenge for the female arrangers. None has yet gone all the way to win a Panorama title, so far as I can recall. 

The flag woman is a not so subtle reminder of the woman's role in the symbiotic dance of sex hormones. It is to symbolize the object of desire. The arranger and his music symbolize the taking and the consummation.

Just  a thought, for what it's worth.

- Big Sid

P.S. Btw, the female conductor conductor works well. Pat Bishop was excellent in that role. Jeannine Remy did a wonderful job with Invaders, playing "Toco Band", at whatever music festival that was. 

We must also look at the art-form in its birthing, starting from the drumming traditions where one catches the spirit, becoming possessed. The gyrations can be interpreted as the force of the spirit and the power of the music, this form of communication often times ending in a climatic experience for some and spirit blows for others.No pun intended. Here’s Bradley and Despers with both a flag man and woman…


You make a good point.

No folk art can be neatly categorized by mere intellectualization. At best we can approximate what is a complex reality. So your observation must for sure be added to the mix.

Despers had a male carrying the flag for years. All Stars also had a male -- "fat boy" (?) -- in the role for years, before sadly he passed. Actually he was good... some fat men can move with a certain grace. Duvonne Stewart is one that carried his weight well, but I see he has decided to slim down. I almost miss the old Duvonne, lol!

- Big Sid

The only REAL flag person I see today is Exodus flag man.

flag "person"? stop being politically correct, lol!


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