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Randy Brewster

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

August 18, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.05

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KING: I am here interviewing Randy Brewster at his mas camp. And we'll start off the interview with just some preliminary questions. Mr. Brewster, can you tell us where you were born?

BREWSTER: I was born in Trinidad, the island of Trinidad and Tobago. I was born there. I came to the United States in 1961. And I resided here since 1961 'til now.

KING: Okay. How--when did you first get involved in the West Indian Carnival here in Brooklyn?

BREWSTER: That was a couple of years ago. That was the first year when they came 1:00on Eastern Parkway. They was going anti-clockwise down to Rochester. That's the first time that I was getting involved in it. And from since that 'til now, I've been involved.

KING: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit how you're involved? I'm sitting here and looking at all the variety of costumes and everything, but just for the record, what do you do?

BREWSTER: Well, I'll be honest with you--my real job--I'm a dental technician.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: But this is part of my culture. I brought it with me, and I'm staying with it. Because I've observed that what is taking place right now, all over the world--the Carnival atmosphere is popping up all over the world. Right now in the United States, in every State right now, has a festival. So the culture is growing to a very high climax. And as I see it, it's something--it's not going 2:00to die. It's just going to go on and keep on going because this is something we have to hand down to the younger generation. It's a very, a very important culture for anyone to get into, because there's wild skill, there's culture, there's art, there's--Everything that's surrounding you, there's art into it.

KING: How long has your group been in existence?

BREWSTER: Well, I have been in existence with the Black Culture right now, I will say, it's about eight years since I started the Culture of Black Creation.

KING: Okay. Can you tell me what it took to start the group?

BREWSTER: No, really and truly when I started this, when I named it, "The Culture of Black Creation," when I look around me and I see what was happening, everybody who was around me was only Black individual like myself. So, I said well since we are the Black individual who are putting this culture together, so 3:00I came up with idea, "The Culture of Black Creation." And since that we've been using the name, "The Culture of Black Creation" because it says a lot and it means a lot.

KING: Um hm. So how, how did you get started, I mean how does one start out? What did you do when you were in Trinidad? How were you involved in Carnival then?

BREWSTER: Well really when I started out, my first event in Carnival was playing Indian. This is fantasy; Indian [unintelligible] I started out with. Really when I was a kid, I used to go around by the different mas camps and watch them stick on things. And when I get back home, I used to go and take a little piece of cloth and tie it around my waist, and, every, every little thing. And so I really get involved in it. It is a friend of mines who really get me involved in it, because at that time he came around and said, asking the parents and different thing to let the kids and them play. And so we started out. So I 4:00started out. And from that, I've continued getting involved in it. And so far, I couldn't ever stop.

KING: So when you started out, what was the first thing you needed to do? Just have the space, or have the idea or do you have to start out with a certain degree of capital or--?

BREWSTER: No, when--in Trinidad, most of the time if you're starting out, most of us start out on a small basis. Some of us start out on a big basis. If you're starting out on a big basis that means to say you need like a backyard or room or something to build whatever it is you're going to construct. If you're not doing that, it may be you can do it in your bedroom, the living room, downstairs under the house, any part you can do it. You cannot do it then on a big basis. But when I started out, I started out on a small basis. So I really didn't need any type of capital or anything to start it out. My father, [unintelligible] gave me a couple dollars and tell me go and buy what I have to buy, and so I 5:00started out. And from that it was a non-stop, because every year I have to get involved.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Because you don't start something and every time you pass down the road, you hear the steel band practicing, you're seeing different material hanging up. It starts to give you that fever, that Carnival atmosphere fever. So that's the way I really get going. And when I came here in the United States, I really brought it with me, because when I start travelling around, and I started to see the different store, the different type of fabric, it was a non-stop, and I get right back involved.

KING: Um hm. So tell me, what's you're theme this year?

BREWSTER: Well this year we are playing tribes. The tribe is based on Indian, African, Aztec, Egyptian. This is the team that we are doing this year.

KING: Um hm. How do you come up with your ideas, I mean--or what--can you tell 6:00me a little what the process would be, like when would you start planning? Or when did you start planning for this year's Carnival? And how did you decide what your theme is going to be? What kind of research do you do?

BREWSTER: Okay. Really and truly what has happened during the course of the line--most of the time, for example, we might be working here now.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Alright? And Jackie might come up .with the idea and say, "Look, we're going to play such and such next year." So long as the theme is made, we're going to stick with it. Now what has happened most of the time--we might come up with a team in here, with no one else except myself and Jackie in here knows what we're planning.

KING: Oh okay.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: What has happened most of the time, somewhere along the line, somebody has come up with a theme similar to it.

KING: Oh, alright.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: Alright.

BREWSTER: Because they never heard that's what we were planning to do, but 7:00somewhere along the line when, as the summer started to approach, and you hear everybody start releasing what they want to do, then there's something similar to what we already planned. So we cannot go back on it because Jackie already started doing the sketch and everything, so we cannot go back on it, because, it's not to say like we went to different meetings or anything and we heard what each one is doing. No, it's nothing like that. So this is where it started. It started with an idea. Everything with the idea and what you have on your mind. Somewhere along the lines; sometimes you might go into a book for research, but most of it--what you're doing, sometimes it comes out with fantasy and you try to bring it out to reality. Because you might have something on your mind, and if you don't want to bring to reality, you can't, so it just remains a fantasy. So what happened here--that idea was born the early part of last year, I think 8:00we came up with that idea.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright? And it was played around, played around 'til it started to come out to reality right now. Right now it's still fantasy. Until it hits the street.

KING: Okay. Okay.

BREWSTER: When it hits the street then it, then it--

KING: So what stage are you at right now, as I look around--you have a couple--Let's see what, two and a half weeks, two weeks?

BREWSTER: Well we're still in a working stage.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Right now. And when I say a "working stage", it's a big working stage, because right now, I'm working on the floor members. Alright? And as you observed, Jackie behind you, he's constructing part of the king's costume?

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: So when you feel you can interview him, because that's the guy you have to talk to.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: So, as you'll notice that is the raw wire you seeing there--

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: --in the art form.

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: And from that then the process goes through that I will have to carry 9:00you around and show you exactly how the process really goes. I don't think--if you've ever been into one like this.

KING: Ah ha.

BREWSTER: But this is behind the scene of Black Creation.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Maybe you don't get people to come in. That's why you see the--we have two security around here, two thugs. Alright? Because you see, I will enlighten you on what has happened. Years ago, in Trinidad, the kind and queen it still remains a secret. And no one does not know what the king portrays.

KING: Alright.

BREWSTER: Alright? The only way that you're going to get that information, as we used to call it--you're spy comes in. He's willing that he come in and help him.

KING: Oh, I see.

BREWSTER: But he's just coming around for a couple of days to find what you're doing, then after he can just slack off and you wouldn't see him anymore.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Then you get to understand he's with the next mas camp.

KING: Ah hah.

BREWSTER: Because he went and carried back that information, what we are doing, the colors we are using, and how we are constructing it. That used to go on 10:00years ago.

KING: Oh okay.

BREWSTER: Now it have changed a great deal, but you still cannot see the king and queen.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: You can let you walk into a mas camp, but the only thing you're going to see is the floor members.

KING: Alright.

BREWSTER: You'll see all the pictures and everything, but you would not see none of the characters drawings, except if they want to sell those characters drawing.

KING: Ah ha.

BREWSTER: But the king and queen, you would not see it.

KING: Is that pretty standard in most camps?

BREWSTER: Every camp, you would not see it.

CLAVERY: It's competitive. [Inaudible]

KING: Yeah, I can imagine. That's what I was just asking--the degree of competition.

BREWSTER: Because if you are going to have a competition--

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: Alright? You would not like to release, like you suppose you were playing poker and he have an ace in the hole, he doesn't want to turn that to show everybody.

KING: Sure, sure.

BREWSTER: So you have to keep that in the hole. So it almost the same thing that--you have to keep your ace in the hole until that day when you release it. Then people will say, "Boy, I think this costume is looking better than mine," 11:00or whatever the case may be. But when it goes, it goes the way you portray your costume.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Because you have visual impact, you have workmanship. You have all these things that if the judges do the right way, then they know exactly what they are looking for and how to judge a costume.

KING: What do the judges look for or what do you think they should be looking for?

BREWSTER: Well, you see most of the time they tell you they're looking for visual impact in a costume. Alright? Sometimes a costume have it, but some of the judges blind to it. Some, they tell you they're looking for workmanship on a costume, some of them is blind to it. They tell you portrayal of the costume, the way you portray the costume, the spirit of Carnival and most of time, sometimes they plan to it. So you really does not know what they're really looking for.

KING: Hm.

BREWSTER: Because you might have everything going for you and when you figure 12:00out when you have it, because you look around you and you look at the rest of the costumes and you tell yourself you haven't got a costume year to beat this costume.

KING: This is the year.

BREWSTER: Alright? You have the impact, you have workmanship, you have everything, craftsman--, everything on the costumes, but when the time comes, you went on the stage, you portrayed your costume it was beautiful, you get your applause and everything, but somewhere along the line, the judges did not give it to you. They give it to somebody else. When you look at a costume, when you look at the costume, you say "Wait a minute, this is the costume that beat me? It's next to nothing". So that kind of pulls your spirit down. But when you're doing something like that, you don't give up your art work because the judges was biased or whatever the case may be. You don't do that. You continue to go on.

KING: Are there different judges every year?

BREWSTER: Well that one I don't know. Here, I really does not know.

13:00

KING: Uhhuh.

BREWSTER: You see in the Islands, they give you a judges sheet.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright? They tell you exactly what the points are--if it's thirty points on visual impact, whatever it is, they tell you exactly on the score sheet--what they're looking for.

KING: So you know exactly what they're scoring and how much.

BREWSTER: Right. But here they don't do it, alright? They tell you the judge if you're going in because you's the one who have to tell them what you're entering under. If you're going in under "originality" or the different categories that they have laid out for you on the score sheet, this have to be filled out and sent back to them ahead of time. So it will be in front of eight judges, when the name of the costume is called, they'll know exactly what score sheet they'll be looking for to start putting the points under. Alright? Really and truly, here I don't know. Because we made some costumes here and I would not say it in 14:00a way--when we finished with these costumes, we carried them all over. Alright? And if you see these costumes up 'til now, they're standing in good foundation. If you go by anybody else and you ask them "Can I see some of the costumes from the previous--?" They cannot show it you. If they do choose something, then it's like "It was by such and such." And I said, "I've seen better costumes than that. How come your costume is not like the other place?" And you won't tell them that, but you're saying that to yourself, because they would ask you to leave.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: But to avoid that you just keep it to yourself, because the art work here is to come out at your very best. Because if you're going to take this to put it in the museum, you want people to come admire it.

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: You doesn't want them to go there just pass them--

KING: Not look at it.

BREWSTER: --and not look at it. You want to just stop and look at it and 15:00continue going along the line. But here we have a private museum in here. Because every piece of work that we do here, we try to save it, because we never can tell what might happen one year. Well if somebody comes and says "Well listen, I get to understand you have some beautiful costumes we'd like to purchase from you" or "We'd like to work with it" or whatever the case may be, we have it. Alright, and it's something that I would like to hold onto, but one of my problems is: Sooner or later I have to get out of here, so what's going to happen to it? I have to destroy it. I will show you .I will show it to you in a while. I will show you what I'm speaking about. But like we were saying, and you're discussing concerning the way the judges and the bands go along. You see, 16:00the judges--I cannot say what the judges is looking for, because, if it's colors they're looking for, we give them that. Whatever we figure out they need, they's always have it, but somewhere along the line, I don't know.

KING: Hm.

BREWSTER: I really doesn't know.

KING: Now, have you ever won the competition?

BREWSTER: Yes, I have won several competitions for band of the year, king, king's first, second. You name it, I've done it. With the kids one of the years; second, third, I have done it.

KING: Now, do you go back to Trinidad on a regular basis?

BREWSTER: Well, I'll be honest with you; I haven't been to Trinidad in five years.

KING: You haven't?

BREWSTER: But the gentleman behind you, which is Jackie: He just like to give [unintelligible] his money. That's it.

KING: Okay. Well, just an editorial aside: You know, if you ever get to the 17:00point where you feel you have to destroy things, that's one of the reasons why the Historical Society is around and interested, because we're also looking for drawings and things that pertain to Carnival, because they're really a part of Brooklyn's history too, so, you know, just keep that in the back of your mind.

BREWSTER: Alright.

KING: We have a few materials that we gathered, I think, probably about six years ago when we were redoing our permanent gallery. We have a couple headdresses, at least three, and some sketches and various things that various people have, have donated to keep, you know, to preserve them. But, let's talk a little bit about what you do here. Do you sketch and do design or--?

BREWSTER: Alright.

KING: And how much time do spend doing this; because you're still working? Are you still working as a dental technician too?

BREWSTER: No, no I'm not. I'm not.

KING: Okay, so now you have more time to do this.

BREWSTER: No. Really and truly it's myself and my buddy which is Jackie. This is 18:00half and half. We're like Jay Street and Borough Hall.

KING: [Laughter] Okay!

BREWSTER: And Hoyt and Schermerhorn, alright? Now Jackie is the one who do the sketching and design and everything, so you will speak with him and he will, like, give more on it. Now, as I said before, whatever we are doing, we try to do it ahead of time and do it as neat as possible. And when Jackie's the one, he sits down there most of the mornings and he does the sketching and everything and we go from there. Sometimes we get together and we plan the colors. Sometimes he just goes ahead and he just do whatever he have to do Because like I says, it's Jay Street and Borough Hall, Hoyt and Schermerhorn, and to pass one, you have to run into the next one.

KING: One or the other.

BREWSTER: So that's what's happening here. And whatever you all are looking for, 19:00we might be able to help you all along that category; because I have sketches plus we have a lot of costumes here which it will hurt me to destroy, alright, plus what I'm looking at here I have to get out of here, so sooner or later I have to destroy it. As I said I'll take you around and let you see what it is, so it will give you a better picture of what I'm speaking about.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: And I know when you leave here and you'll get back here, you'll have to call your boss. You will have to call him and say, "Well listen, I went to that place. I think that that's of priority. You're not going any further". And you will be very happy when you leave here today to say, "Well look, why we couldn't find this guy before." I know what I'm saying. I know what I'm saying.

20:00

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Because if you observe--

KING: Yeah, I see it.

BREWSTER: --that copper piece here.

KING: Uh huh.

BREWSTER: Alright? That's the gentleman who did the design on that. He did everything on that.

KING: It's beautiful, what I can see from here.

BREWSTER: And there's a lot more you will see. And we wouldn't show you nothing for this here. We leave that as a secret.

KING: Okay. That's alright. I'll see it come--

BREWSTER: No, you have to go to Trinidad and see it.

KING: Oh, Trinidad. So do you go back?

BREWSTER: No, no this one. Alright let me explain to you what is happening with this what we're doing here. We is involved with the Westchester Carnival that they have in Westchester. After Labor Day we goes up to Westchester. Westchester, I'm representing Westchester. For the king and queen competition, they'll have it in Trinidad this year.

KING: Okay, okay.

BREWSTER: Alright? So the costume that you see being made here now you would not 21:00be seeing it.

KING: Okay. Now I follow you.

BREWSTER: Alright? It will be going straight from here parading out in the yard, and it will be going on the plane to Trinidad. It's two costumes, no; three costumes which will be coming out of here will be heading that direction.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: So what will happen, maybe we'll get some pictures back to you when we come back from Trinidad--you might see up in Trinidad--this is the costume that won king.

KING: Okay, alright.

BREWSTER: So after that it might be going over to Switzerland or someplace.

KING: Okay. So this is right after Labor Day that you're preparing for.

BREWSTER: Yeah. Because we'll be going to Westchester, which is the eleventh, and doing a show on the tenth with the New England Foundation of the Arts. I'm doing a show with them on the tenth.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: And after that we'll be getting ready to ship everything out of here. We might ship before, right after Labor Day, I might be shipping it out of here. Alright? But so far, it would not be seen on the Parkway.

22:00

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: No.

KING: Okay. Alright. A well-kept secret.

CLAVERY: You might have to get used to that. The competition is in Trinidad. We're not being involved with camp in the Parkway, so they'll see the costume maybe on TV, in the showing train.

KING: Oh, okay, okay.

CLAVERY: They'll appear in Westchester.

KING: Alright.

CLAVERY: It will be costumes and--

KING: --and then do that. I understand. I understand.

BREWSTER: Because let's say that I enter the competition here, alright, and I win, alright. What will happen then, they will have to be call--I will have to go to them frank and say "Well listen, I win. I know I won the competition, but you'll have to send the second runner up, because I already went into Westchester already, so they'll have to send the second runner up. So that's the only way you can do it. But, to avoid all of that, let everybody have the shift, 23:00because I'm already into the competition already, because what happened to Westchester, they don't have a competition.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: So they're just sending someone to represent them. They don't have a competition.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: So that's what we'll get. If they had a competition, then after what will happen, then each individual will have to go and enter the competition, and whoever they chose as the winner, then, but since they don't have a competition, I'm the one who'll represent them.

KING: So let me see if I'm getting this right. At different Carnivals or events; the people who win get entered into a larger competition.

BREWSTER: Alright. What is happening--

KING: --the king and queen of the world.

BREWSTER: Yeah. Alright.

KING: Okay. I'm starting to put this all together.

BREWSTER: Alright. What is happening for this year: It's the first time they're having this competition is taking place in Trinidad. It's kings and queens of the world.

KING: And it's the first time it's going to be in Trin--

BREWSTER: First time, yeah. First time it's being held any part of the world.

24:00

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: So, from Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, anywhere that have Carnival, they ask to represent--

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: --to send a representative to the competition, alright, it's a king and queen. Now, whoever wins from now towards Labor Day and after Labor Day, the first weekend after Labor Day they'll be still qualified to enter the competition in Trinidad. Last year after Labor Day, the last one was Florida.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: So the winner from last year will be going straight into the competition this year, because their Carnival is after, this day is taking place in Trinidad. So what they are doing now, that each king and queen, whoever the organization of the foundation, they are the ones who to say, "Well listen, 25:00these are the winners", all the information, they fax it Trinidad. But I, as an individual cannot do it on myself.

KING: I see. So it's kind of a sponsorship.

BREWSTER: I have to go through. I have to go through the organization.

KING: Right, right.

BREWSTER: Alright? Because if they do it that way, everybody will be going.

KING: Right, right, right. That was my first question. How many contestants can there be?

BREWSTER: Um, only--

CLAVERY: They invited a hundred and twenty countries.

KING: A hundred and twenty?

CLAVERY: So far [inaudible] seventy-five.

KING: Now, how does--how does the United States fit in with different Carnivals in one country?

BREWSTER: Alright. Now the only one that can do it right now is the West Indian Carnival Association. That's it for New York.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright? Like you'll get out of New York you go to Westchester, you have the Westchester Carnival Club.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: Alright? Then they any time you go to Boston--

KING: Right, Boston.

BREWSTER: Boston have their--so they, the Carnival--whoever organization, they 26:00will be sending somebody there.

KING: Miami.

BREWSTER: Alright? Yes. Everybody have--will be having a representative.

KING: Okay.

BREWSTER: But they have to go through the organization.

KING: Alright.

BREWSTER: As the individual group, I cannot do it.

KING: Okay, okay. Now I see what's going on. [Interview interrupted.]

KING: Okay, I'm back again. We just went on a tour of Randy Brewster's mas camp and I saw a lot of wonderful costumes and things that have been in storage in his basement here. And we're going to finish up the interview with a few more questions. Um, here's just some general questions that I ask people. What is, what is Carnival's significance to you?

27:00

BREWSTER: Well, I'll put it in a nutshell. Well, most people, some people put it in a way that it's to let out some of your steam. Some people put it in a way; this is to bring out your culture. And some people put it in a way, this is a way to really let go. When they mean let go, they say let go the steam that they have boiling up in you for all these days. This is your free time.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Alright? But I look at it right now in a different context. I look at it as individual bringing out the art that's been hiding in them for the past couple of years. Because I took you into the private museum that we have here and you have seen some art that some of us on the Parkway--some people see it 28:00and some haven't. And right now it is very hurtful to see that I'll--sooner or later I will have to destroy some of them. This is art that you really cannot go out there and go into a store and buy. You don't come that cheap. And you don't see it. Right now, there's no place in the United States that have somewhere that anybody could walk up the street and go in and say, "Let me go and look at the Caribbean Museum." There's nothing like that. And it's very hurtful to see after all these months, the pain, to see all this art work go down the drain, because I cannot say it, tell anyone, "Listen, we need some storage," because no one will do that. Because when I look around in Brooklyn, and I see all these 29:00closed up warehouses and everything and I ask people, the first when you ask them the price, that they quote to you all the time, it's locked up. They're not doing anything with it until the people start breaking and vandalizing it. And what happens: it becomes an abandoned building.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: But if we are looking for a space, you're not doing anything with it, well hey, come on reasonable, I'll say, "Well listen, I'll give it to you for 200, 300 dollars, because you're already not going to use it all during the year." But it don't work that way. So it's very hard to see that all this planning goes to waste. Very hurtful. So I really cannot describe it in a way that--my input into it now, because every time that I think about destroying this costume, I doesn't want to speak about it.

30:00

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Because I know you saw what we have in store and I know you appreciate the art work that you saw. And my friend, he will explain you a little more than I will.

KING: Okay. Let me ask--you know--you have children, right?

BREWSTER: Yeah.

KING: Are they involved in Carnival?

BREWSTER: Yeah, my daughter's involved, yeah.

KING: Okay and how is she involved?

BREWSTER: Well right now she, she started out as usual. She started out when she was two years.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: In Trinidad, the first year she played was Indian. And that's the mistake that I made, because when she came back up from Trinidad, she came back and she was running right around the band, shouting like an Indian, "Ooh, ooh," and making a certain noise. The Sunday we had to go up to Long Island and find where they're selling tomahawks, [unintelligible], anything concerning Indians 31:00for this tribe. And from that she's been involved in the festival. Well right now she's playing queen of the band this year.

KING: Um hm. Now how large, again, did you tell me your band was?

BREWSTER: Well we're [unintelligible] for about six or seven hundred.

KING: Six or seven hundred?

BREWSTER: Yeah. That's what we're [unintelligible] for.

KING: And how many people do you have working here with you?

BREWSTER: Right now it's six of us.

KING: Six of you?

BREWSTER: Yeah, but at the present, right now, you're seeing two of us.

KING: Two. So six of you are making costumes for six hundred people.

CLAVERY: Hmm!

KING: A little chuckle in the background.

CLAVERY: [Unintelligible]

BREWSTER: But, after you've observed the detail that he's going through with these costumes, some people appreciate it and some wouldn't.

KING: Do you--I know I asked you some of these questions while we were off tape and going on the tour, but I just wanted to get some things on the record. Have you ever worked with any young people about showing them what you do and 32:00teaching them the skill that you have learned?

BREWSTER: Yes I have a workshop that I've been doing for a couple of years that I've been involved. This is the first year that I really don't have a workshop.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: This is the first year, but every year I really do something with the kids. But not because I'm--haven't got the workshop, but I'm still producing costumes for the kids this year.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: I'm going to have the kiddies' band out there as usual, looking good as usual and plus that we do workshop besides. When it is all over, we still do workshop with the New England Foundations of the Arts.

KING: Right. So what's--how do you function? What's your role come Labor Day? Okay, it's time for the parade. How do you get ready?

BREWSTER: Well really and truly after each individual picked the costume out, its one word we tell them to meet at Utica and Rochester. That's where everybody 33:00gathered from, because when you, as an individual leave from where your mas camp is, you have problems. Because sometimes what is really happens, when the truck is leaving, heading to the destiny, you get pushed further and further down the street, because the time they leave, they will not let them come through any side street, nothing. They send you straight over to Rochester in the back street and then filter in.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: When you do get up there, you might see six or seven other trucks trying to get in, so you start to get filtered for last.

KING: Now is there an assigned order, or is it first come, first served?

BREWSTER: Well really what happens, it used to be something like that, but I really does not know what takes place in that order up there. I don't want to 34:00say they don't have it. I don't want to say yes, but somewhere along the line, what has happened--I think it happened last year--they tried to send most of the advertisement truck out down first. And then the costumes come right after. So I really does not know if they're going to be doing it in the same order or what's going to happen.

KING: Um hm. What do you think, if anything, is unique about Brooklyn's Carnival, that's unique to Brooklyn or the West Indian Carnival here in Brooklyn, opposed to the other Carnivals in the United States, opposed to Trinidad or other Carnivals you've attended?

BREWSTER: How do I think about it?

KING: Yeah, what--do you think anything is unique about it, or special, I mean I know to some degree or to a large degree this Carnival's very different than Trinidad's or Miami's, but is there anything, because it's in Brooklyn?

BREWSTER: Alright. I will put it this way: Brooklyn, we have a West Indian 35:00background in Brooklyn, I'll have to put it that way. Now they have a lot of people here who cannot afford to take the kids and them on trips like to Canada or take them to the Islands or whatever the case may be. So what we did, we bring the culture to them, the Carnival atmosphere to them on the Parkway. For parents who is living in the neighborhood who can walk from the house to the Parkway instead of jumping in the train. Let's say if you have six kids and you have to pay for each individual, it's not to say they give them a half fare or anything like that. It's nothing like that. The transit is going to make money. So, what makes it good about Brooklyn is that each individual can walk to the 36:00parade. When it is all over they can take a nice cool walk back home, because the whole family, everybody comes down, there are friends, family, alright? Canada, because I've heard a lot of people say, "Oh Canada, Canada is beautiful," and different things. It is controlled in Canada and the same is not controlled here.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Alright? What happened to Canada; Canada don't get the crowd that we get here.

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: Alright? Because what happened, it have some people who don't have the requirement to get across the border. They would like to go, but they don't have the requirement to get across the border.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: So if you have the requirement, it's: stay right here in this and walk up and you will come out here. So that's why we have that crowd of people coming out here. The people can afford the proper requirement to get over there will get over there. So if we take this crowd and said, "We're going to open up the doors and let you all go across there," then they'd run into the same amount of 37:00people that are running here, they would run through, because everybody would like to see what this is all about. But the problem that lies here in Brooklyn: people does not stay out of the bands.

KING: I've heard that time and time again--

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: --people are jumping in and--

BREWSTER: Right. What happened--it happened to me several times, that a person will come running through the band, a guy will come down with his bike and riding through the band, which is bad. Now, where you tell him not to do it, he tell you, "Hey, take this parading and push it someplace else." This is a part of culture. Not everybody can do it. Because if I give somebody and tell them what it is, I show it to you, still you do mess it up.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Some people don't appreciate what we are doing. This is nothing like the Macy's parade. Macy's parade--you have seen Macy's parade; you see a big 38:00balloon up in the air. Far as I'm concerned that is no art, because a machine put that together, alright?

CLAVERY: But other than that [unintelligible] they produce the same thing every year, we don't.

KING: Right, right. Macy's is the same thing year after year after year.

BREWSTER: So when you're seeing the kids and them enjoying themselves in the Macy's parade, we have to look at this now. This is something new that we's bringing to the people in Brooklyn. So it will take a little time before they can really get the hang of it and the younger one who born and meet it, they'll appreciate it later on. But the older folks don't appreciate it, because the same way like, alright, my daughter was born here.

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: She born. She was at Macy's parade, but she really don't care for it. She'll sit and look at one or two things, and it--but she really don't care for 39:00it. But if you see costume-wise and you're hearing that soca music and everything, she's ready to shake a leg, because it don't have the rhythm that she wants, alright.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Because what we have to look at, the Macy's parade and Carnival atmosphere is two entirely different things. What we have out there as people will know it is a "gumbi'', a street festival, which is a Carnival atmosphere. When people say Macy's parade that is a parade because you have people marching in order, it comes like you have a marching band coming out of the army, and alright they have to march in order. With what we have out here in Brooklyn is a "gumbi", a street festival, where people let loose, enjoy their selves. In the Macy's parade, that's what you have to do. Then you see all these set of big balloons coming down one behind the next. This is a parade. What we have here is 40:00a "gumbi", a street festival. That's what we have in Brooklyn. And every year you'll see something entirely different.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Because if you bring back anything that we produce this year, somebody will have a picture of it and say, "I saw that last year." So you cannot do it. You can't say I'm going to a competition with it because somebody's going to say: "Take that thing off the street because it was here last year." It comes just like, where the culture runs. Calypso, every year they have to make a new tune. Alright, there's not like, you're telling all these guys. No. Calypsonians have to make a new tune every year. And even if it is that you made one, you have to make two or three tunes every year, because what he sing last year, he cannot come back to push it to people that don't want to hear that.

41:00

KING: Because they're going to remember it?

BREWSTER: Forget about it. Forget about it. Tell him, ah, ah, they don't want to hear that and you would not have time to finish that tune, because they begin to insult you on the stage. So this is what makes the culture atmosphere so beautiful, because the changing of the costumes, new design, the Calypso is new, the steel guys bands, have to play these tunes, and every year they come up with different arrangements. So this is what makes this culture so powerful. We, as Black people, does not know what we're holding in the palm of our hands. This is [unintelligible]. Look here. You see around here? This is it right here.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: If he see what we do, he's going to find out what school we went to. There was no schooling in this. There's no schooling in it. This comes natural as it were. Some people was born with their art, some wasn't. Some people are 42:00born with a perfect study high school student who do a lot of designing, some is not. So this is one of the culture that I will have to live with the rest of my life.

KING: Of all your talents, what is your favorite thing to use as far as if you--as you've discovered in working with your band? What's the thing that brings you the most joy?

BREWSTER: Well, the most joy that I get, working with the kids.

KING: Umhm.

BREWSTER: Alright? The reason I said working with the kids; what has happened when you were in to view as an individual working with kids. When you complete something and you're watching the project and it's fond to you, you admire it. Alright? When you put on these costumes on the kids on that day, because when 43:00the nighttime comes, they don't sleep. The lie down to sleep and they're trying to sleep, but they cannot sleep because they're anxious to put on this costume to come out there. "Mommy what time it is? Mommy what time it is?" and they'll keep on going the whole night until when they look through the window, they start to see daylight. "Mommy let's get, let's get out of here," because they're anxious.

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: Alright?

KING: Right.

BREWSTER: Because you don't promise a child a costume and don't give it to them, because it happened to me several times. The parents come, they said they're going to get them involved, and never bring them back. So as the time is getting close, they come down to me, and they come through the door: "Uncle Randy, where's my costume?" The mother's standing outside, but she sent the child inside and said, "Go and talk to your Uncle Randy." So when they come in there I say I have no costume for you, the child go through the door crying. So what I have to do now, I have to tell them, "Come back, I'll try and see what I can do." This is my joy, working with the kids. Because what happens, during the 44:00course of the Kiddies Carnival, let's say I knew staff on the street speaking and the kids coming down. What will you do if you saw some kids coming down? You're going to move aside and let them pass. Alright. If you're standing in the street and adults coming down, you're going to stand right and let them pass around you. So that's the difference between the kids. Even yourself, you see some kids coming up from the school and you stand there, the first thing you're going to do, you're going to step aside and let them pass. But if you see the adults come, you're going stand there and let them pass around you. So you see the difference, having the kids involved and having the adults. The kids--all they need from you: soda, something to eat and some water and give them some music, that's all they want. The adults, they might want to get a drink and different things, but the kids--that's why I love working with the kids. That's my joy right here.

KING: Okay. Well I think we're going to close this portion of the interview. Do 45:00you have anything else you'd like to say?

BREWSTER: Well, the only thing I would like to say to you and your organization, all I can say is welcome aboard and I hope working with you all as close as possible to achieve whatever you all have to achieve. And in my closing point, I need somebody to give me a workshop. Thank you.

KING: Okay. Well this concludes the interview. I really thank you for allowing me to interrupt your day and I really appreciate you taking me around. This is really illuminating and some fantastic costumes and I look forward to seeing things in the parade and hearing about the king and queen costumes which I can't see, since it's a secret. But this is the end of the interview now.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Randy Brewster

Randy Brewster was born in Trinidad and came to New York in 1961. His first involvement in Carnival in Trinidad was playing "Indian." He was a founder of the Culture of Black Creation, a costume design and production shop serving New York, Westchester and Trinidad. His partner/designer is Francis "Jackie" Clavery. At the time of the interview in 1994, he worked as a dental technician.

In the interview, Randy Brewster recalls his early involvement with Carnival in Trinidad. He discusses developing carnival themes and the intrigue involved in keeping them secret with some elaboration on the judging criteria in Trinidad versus Brooklyn. He then describes the process of sketching and design in conjunction with his production partner, Jackie Clavery, and they discuss the hierarchy of carnival competition. Brewster discusses what Carnival means to him and regrets the lack of costume preservation. He describes the scope and logistics of the production process and discusses both positive and negative aspects of the Brooklyn parade; including the difference between a parade and a carnival or street festival (gumbi). He notes the emphasis on novelty each year and the pleasure he gets from watching youth involvement in the Kiddies Carnival, including that of his own children. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.

The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.

Citation

Brewster, Randy, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, August 18, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.05; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Brewster, Randy
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Topics

  • Art
  • Arts
  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Children
  • Costume designers
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • Multiculturalism
  • Parades

Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Canada
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Trinidad

Transcript

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Finding Aid

West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records