Nirvana Empire Brings a Fresh Perspective to Grenada’s Spicemas

When asked about what kept her focused throughout the bacchanal, Sunshine Harley says, “Faith.”

“I’m a very spiritual person.I love my mas. I love having a good time, but moreover, my family will tell you, my close friends will tell you, I’m a very spiritual person. God first, and that’s what really keeps me going.

Since its conception, Nirvana Empire’s mission is to deliver. Whether it be ensuring masqueraders have a lively experience on the road, offering the pinnacle of customer service or creating undeniably gorgeous, head-turning costumes, the band, spearheaded by its bandleader/CEO, Sunshine Harley, is ushering in a new era to Spicemas.

At the St. George’s showroom tucked away on Kirana James Boulevard, Harley and her team made the magic happen for their 2023 staging. This year the theme was “Around the World,” and inside the mas camp, costumes decorate the walls. A vision actualized and it’s evident that Harley’s ambitions are clear. She’s fully driven by the desire to transform the interactions revelers have with their band and it only took one moment for her to gain perspective.

With over 25 years of masquerading experience, one bad experience in 2019 led her to start Nirvana. “[I] signed up to play mas for a band and they didn’t deliver,” she explains. “I found myself on Monday and Tuesday with no costume and before leaving to return to the States, I witnessed so many young females that were distraught from the whole experience. Me being a part of mas for over 20 years, I know what carnival represents, what it’s supposed to be, what the experience is supposed to be in and it’s definitely not people worried about [whether they’re] gonna receive costumes.”

Before her flight back home landed, she registered the band and Nirvana was conceived.

Despite its registration in 2019, the band was originally set to debut the following year but COVID-19 halted their operations. After another year of cancellation in 2021, the band finally touched the road in 2022 with a new challenge in tow: navigating the murky waters of masquerader doubtfulness. “After the pandemic came a lot of skepticism. What seems to now be the culture of Carnival is bands don’t deliver: designs are not what are advertised, that type of thing. You have that mixed with the two year setback from the pandemic, it was big adjustments. Nevertheless, when I embarked on this, my vision was more based on passion.”

With that passion, Harley has an imagined future for Spicemas in Grenada. It includes a more expansive market for locally designed and produced costumes—this labor is often exported elsewhere—but, with many Trinidadian designers also credited with the bulk of beautiful designs on the road and across the world, she decided to use Nirvana as an opportunity to try her hand at architecting the style of her own costumes.

“Initially, it was nailing down what we [would] portray from each continent: doing some research, looking up the different materials, gemming and stuff like that. I’m not a designer, which means I’m not an artist, but I knew mentally what I wanted,” she explains of her design process. “I did my little scribbles, my drawings, and my seamstress [Tizzy]—I had a zoom call with her as well—and kind of did a slideshow saying, ‘This what we’re gonna have for this continent.”

Of Nirvana’s seven costume offerings, Harley designed six of them. Tizzy, a Trinidadian-based designer and Nirvana’s in-house seamstress, sewed all the pieces and, according to Harley, brought them to life.

LISSE Nirvana Mas Costume
SYDNEY Nirvana Mas Costume
KOMODO Nirvana Mas Costume
NDEBLE Nirvana Mas Costume

Sustainability is also on Harley’s sightlines for Spicemas’ future. She shares, “One of our goals is to be a household band known for our customer service. Not just here in Grenada, but in the carnival industry, we lose sight of the cultural aspect, we lose sight of the experience, and we focus more so on business and, quote-unquote, money. What I would like to change is seeing carnival as the business that it is, not just a seasonal thing.”

She continues, “Our goal here is to continue to deliver a product that’s sustainable, that continues to be what masqueraders crave, and to continue to be innovative and advance with times. I started playing mas in a time where all these things that exist now, didn’t: there was no Monday wear, you wore your costume on both days, or some people [wore] the bra and shorts, and [their] panty.”

Throughout everything, there’s one other element that allows Harley to stay locked into her goal: social good. “Carnival is my primary focus. However, I wanted the band to be able to contribute to communities,” she explains.

Every year Nirvana Empire runs a back-to-school drive where they distribute backpacks with school supplies to students of all ages in various communities. This even occurred in 2020, the year they were set to debut, and through they may not have been able to road, but they did do good and ensured students had what they needed.

“We just did a recent project with G-CREWS, which is the water conservation project. We helped them with masqueraders saving water, we contributed to St. Vincent when they had the volcano. We try to give back in whatever way. I’m big on humanity and helping people. I feel like we’re all one day or one step or one hour away from being in predicaments…The mas part? I love mas. I want to play mas, so when I have a band that delivers, giving back at the end? That’s really my baby. My team knows how much it means to me.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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