Teaching carnival arts: HB Mama Dread’s Masqueraders

Jan 24, 2018
















“We don’t need titles and trophies, we do this for the smiles and enjoyment of every single person that takes part… and to stand for something more than just feathered headpieces and glitter bikinis.”


HB Mama Dread’s Masqueraders are a carnival troupe who aim to cement Leeds West Indian Carnival as part of the city’s cultural legacy by engaging local adults and young people with carnival arts – in the design and production of carnival costumes and dances.

In 2017, LCF awarded the troupe with an Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund to support their ‘We Are All Migrants’ project. Helping to give local children and young people access to the arts, the project also shared a story of migration to Leeds and of the artistic, cultural and political importance of carnival.

We caught up with Guy Farrar, project manager of the Masqueraders:


Can you tell us a little more about the project?

This project specifically worked with 40 young people, including 25 girls. It helped them develop dance and performance skills, as well as developing their self confidence and self esteem.

The boys and girls were part of HB Mama Dread’s Masqueraders (HBMDM), a Leeds based, volunteer-led carnival troupe that has existed for around 20 years. It participates in Leeds West Indian Carnival and helps develop the carnival arts skills of its members and troupe participants.

We collaborate with others and draw attention to and comment on social and contemporary issues. This year we presented images of the joys of migration. Through our collaboration with the David Oluwale Memorial Association, we also drew attention to the tragic story of a Nigerian migrant, who was chased by the police and drowned in the River Aire in 1969. We produced leaflets and postcards to give out to the crowds to explain this.

Fortunately, with the Ann Maguire Arts Education grant from Leeds Community Foundation, we were able to employ Nillanthie Morton of RJC Dance to choreograph dance pieces to soca tunes chosen by the troupe. But we had to rehearse in Unity Workshops’ car park due to the space we needed! These rehearsals, together with weekly workshops, enabled HBMDM to grow as a ‘family’ of participants and performers.

This was the first time in 19 years that we rehearsed and performed dance routines at carnival.














What’s the most rewarding moment from this project? Do you have a particular story or quote you could share?

Watching a group of adults and young people coming together through the dance rehearsals and performance – everyone was really affirmative and loved it when young people led the dance rehearsals and routines. As one member said:

“S was really proud to be leading us and teaching all us grown-ups. She deserves her own special thanks cos her confidence and enthusiasm got a LOT of people dancing who’d never danced before. Big up the car park (rehearsal) experience!”

Using social media to connect the troupe of over 150 members was also a great way to get members’ feedback from the carnival day. Here’s just some of the comments we received:

“It united us all.”

“We don’t need titles and trophies, we do this for the smiles and enjoyment of every single person that takes part… and to stand for something more than just feathered headpieces and glitter bikinis.”

“I love being part of the troupe because it makes me feel happy and proud. It made me feel so excited about carnival day. I like meeting new people at the dance rehearsals and learning the dances. I have a lot more confidence and would like to be Mama Dread’s princess one year.”

“We did ourselves, the carnival movement and the city proud.”


What difference has the grant from the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund and Leeds Community Foundation made?

By supporting our troupe and its young people in particular, we have been able to think bigger.

We employed a dance choreographer, we had more elaborate costumes, we had a Carnival King, we had a bigger troupe. But most of all, when you combine these things together, we helped grow the Leeds carnival family.

We introduced more people to this unique multi-cultural, Caribbean-led event, showed how you can tell stories through costumes and dance and demonstrated how much hidden creative work happens behind the scenes.

What’s coming up for you?

We are now thinking and planning for the Leeds 2018 Carnival – it’s HBMDM’s 20th year.

Since August, we have also performed at the Carnival Word Junction in October at the Reginald Centre and the Leeds Carers leaving event in October at Leeds Markets. We have been asked to join the Mirfield Carnival Parade in July. Look out for us in August too!


Keep up to date with HB Mama’s Dread’s Masqueraders on Twitter and Instagram 




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