Tribute to ace costume-builder Michel Raffoul
Tribute to ace costume-builder Michel Raffoul

"The color and spectacle you see on the streets / When you jump in de burning heat / Well-designed costumes and decorated fabrics / Carnival queens' delight, oh how they look bright / Their costumes fit so right / While you forget the creations in the ice factory at nights /So this tribute is a must / For Albert Theodore and Clarence Douglas / Darnley Guye, Lawrence Sandy and Tom Webb."

The refrain continues after each verse in this 1994 calypso sang by Observer.

"No one cares…..the amount of wire he has to break \ To ensure his costume take shape / No one cares….so just after carnival down / His costume is just broken down / Still the costume builder, just keeps on building."

Indeed these songs represent so ideally the plight of costume builder Michel Raffoul who suffered from a rapid stroke on May 29th 2013 at the age of 50. Despite efforts to revive him, from his apparent brain dead state, in Barbados nothing worked. So Michel was sent back home to Dominica. He spent one month at the I.C.U at the PMH and then was transferred to the Agape Nursing Home privately run by Maureen Esprit.

Sadly Michel, who is now at the Dominica Infirmary, is in a vegetative state; he cannot eat, talk, move or even recognize persons. His body is now a skeletal representation of what used to be a strapping man well over 220 pounds.

His big brother Joseph Raffoul, with tears in his eyes, reminisced in my presence the virtual loss of a brother, unless a miracle of sort occurs. Michel had devoted almost 30 years of his life to the art of costume building; he spent sleepless nights at the Ice Factory and offering voluntary work for all and sundry.

Michel was taught most of what he knew by ace builder Darnley Guye; together they won many prizes for carnival queen costumes. He donated many crowns to the Calypso Association, costumes and props for calypsonian Brakes, Daddy Chess, Alex Bruno, built stages for Teyat Pawol productions, just to name a few.

'He never looked after himself …it was all about doing things for people," cried brother Joseph, tears running down his cheek. Many persons (including some ladies, I am told), often took advantage of his willingness to assist. When Michel supported you, you could do no wrong, he had your back.

"You doe see Michel now!" cried Joseph as he took out his cell phone to show me a picture of frailty, hopelessness, and a sad reminder of our own mortality… skin…bones…nothingness! I too was close to tears.

I recalled the days when he accompanied Darnley to Trinidad to source materials for costumes, or the times when he served as a coach and referee of volleyball games, a sport he introduced to Dominica and conducted workshops at many school including his Alma Mater, the St. Mary's Academy, or even when he was working with his brother on major sea defense works at Tan Tan.

Brother Joseph (and the rest of the family) misses Michel for the cup of coffee they shared almost every morning at their mother's residence and the many occasions such family bonding was interrupted by the telephone, by someone asking Michel to do something…something he could not say no to.

Michel has no children but quite a few parents saw him as a good role model and so he has several God- children. One thing his brother was quick to add was he loved life, creativity, carnival and the theatre. One remembers his on-stage cowboy performance in Daddy Chess' "Wild, Wild West'. He even toured Africa, the Cameroons with Teyat Pawol and was very much involved in costume bands and sound systems.

That week that he became ill he worked at the May Fest in Marigot and at a wedding at Portsmouth. After carnival earlier that year he said he had resigned in frustration; he told me that he was not satisfied that the administrators were giving the support or recognition that the designers deserved for their toil in the wee hours of the morning to create spectacles on our stages and streets. But so committed was Michel, he built a big shed at his home to serve as a training ground for young, aspiring costume builders. He did not heed the pleas of his brother, Joseph.

"Boy you have to slow down…you will kill yourself for people."

What a selfless, kind, talented individual and yet none of those organizations or individuals who benefitted from his dedication has responded in cash or kind. Not Government, the DFC, Calypso Association, colleagues in the music and costume building business, all justify the lyrics of the calypso: 'NO ONE CARES', only promises and lip service.

Nonetheless, Digicel has shown genuine concern throughout and gave some assistance to a man who was their former employee. Cuban doctors in the persons of Doctors Gonzales, Sanchez and Asana have been a great source of support. A mere handful of other persons continue to visit and register their concern from time to time. Hence, the only reason I captioned this article with an exclamation mark instead of the more definitive full-stop.

Dominica is fast becoming a country of ingratitude and artistes like Michel continue to be the least of the apostles. I am glad I had the opportunity to write this article; I ask my readers to listen to an interview tonight on Q95 with host Ferdina, where more will be discussed about the life of the forgotten man Michel Raffoul.