Traditional mas veteran Narrie Approo stands among Black Indian masqueraders. Approo died on Thursday at 94. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes –
Black Indian mas stalwart Narrie Approo has died, on the heels of the passing of kaiso jazz pioneer Clive “Zanda” Alexander on Thursday.
Approo, 94, the founder of Last of the Black Tribe mas band, died around 11 pm at a home for the elderly.
He was the recipient of the Hummingbird Medal Silver for Culture/ Community Service in 2018.
He was born in Harmony Hall, San Fernando, but his family moved to John John, east Port of Spain by the time he was five.
Anderson Patrick, chief of the band Warriors of Huracan, explained that the Black Indian was not just a band but a 175-year tradition based in family and community. With every new chief, the band is renamed, and so Last of the Black Tribe became Warriors of Huracan when Approo passed on the Okenaga (King) title to Patrick in 2011.
“Black Indian is part of the First Peoples, so we have a whole tradition and culture. So Narrie and my father, who was also a masman, were responsible for my involvement.”
Patrick said in addition to being the chief of the Black Indians, Approo used to work with the Port Authority and was a barber and a trained boxer. He also used to mould masks for others, build wings and make full costumes for bat and devil characters.
Masman Narrie Approo in a Black Indian portrayal. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes –
He said Approo loved Doberman and German Shepherd dogs, and was a “birdman” who trained and cared for many types of birds.
He was patient, but also a perfectionist. If he made a costume and the measurements were not exact, if he could not fix it, he would throw it away and start from scratch. He was also strict when it came to punctuality.”
Curator, visual artist and former mas designer Kathryn Chan, said her friend Approo was a committed masman who crafted and performed his own costumes and taught others to do the same. He played many traditional mas characters including sailor, devils and imps, midnight robber and black Indian as well as characters from movies.
“He was a masman who perfected his craftsmanship. He would use materials from his environment and transform them into beads and sequins and make the most incredible detailed costumes. And he would write his own speeches. He also loved opera.”
She said in February 2021 there was a ceremony at UWI because she, librarian Lorraine Nero and others had handed over the first part of Approo’s archives to become part of the West Indiana and Special Collections at the Alma Jordan Library, UWI. She is also compiling a bibliography of everything ever written about, every song or recording ever made of him.
A statement by the National Carnival Commission described Approo as a talented masquerader, cultural representative and a gifted pan player.
“For many decades, Mr Approo, a true son of the soil, set one of the highest standards for consistency and commitment to mas. Starting his mas journey at the tender age of five, he would then go on to preserve and promote the ‘Black Indian’ mas after induction into the Warrior of Huaracan at the age of 11. It is no secret that Black Indian mas is where it is today in great part, and thanks, to Mr Approo.”
It sent condolences to his family and friends, adding that his death was a significant loss to TT’s cultural community.
“The NCC will continue to celebrate and remember these titans for their invaluable contributions that have helped shape and define our culture, and in so doing, help preserve their legacies for the future.”
Also giving his condolences in a press release, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Randall Mitchell said, “Another icon has left us but his legacy will live on. Narrie Approo will be remembered for his skill in wirebending and beading and his ability to make elaborately designed costumes which thrilled onlookers during Carnival. This type of artistry and flair will certainly be missed.”