Entertainment

Confessions of a j'ouvert virgin

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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I lost my virginity courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc...my j'ouvert virginity that is. Let me explain.

I was invited to cover the 2019 staging of the Crop Over festival in that Caribbean isle from July 30 until August 9, and on Friday, August 2 I lost my innocence chipping through the streets of Bridgetown to the sounds of sweet, sweet soca music.

Let me confess from the onset that I am no socaphile. The last time I feted for carnival in Jamaica The Mighty Sparrow was on a show at Jamaica Pegasus. That was about 10 years ago and Byron Lee was still alive. However, I have always had a healthy appreciation for the music that is calypso and soca and the spectacle that is the costumed road march. Part of my appreciation and ultimate respect comes from the work that early proponents of calypso and soca put in to bring the music the a certain level, in the same way that Jamaica's early musical exponents worked to bring the music to the world- renowned level that it is at.

That said, I arrived in Barbados and was immediately struck by the across-the-board acceptance of the festival. Crop Over is not just an event, it is a movement and a culture.

It is that widespread acceptance and participation which allowed me to put aside my inhibitions and take a plunge for the experience. I wasn't ready to don a costume and hit the streets as part of the uninhibited bacchanalia for the grand parade, but thought I would take baby steps, use the cover of darkness to slowly release. So I decided to jump in my first j'ouvert band, Jambalasse.

In Jamaica and the rest of the region it is known as j'ouvert, in Barbados it is known as foreday morning... same concept, different name. A street party in the early hours of the morning complete with paint, mud or powder.

Jambalaase represents the ancestors and it must have been those ancient spirits which guided through what turned out to be quite a memorable experience. As we made our way the streets were bustling with persons making their way to other similar events. The uninitiated like myself would learn that the use of paint starts long before the bands hit the road. On arrival, patrons were directed to a paint station where you could start the process in a decorative way. I will say that nobody ended the morning with their decorative paint work.

At this warm-up fête held in the car park of the country's Port Authority band members were also encouraged to 'hydrate' from the drinks truck, and a were served the popular Trinidadian snack doubles, which featured two flat breads known as baras, filled with curry channa (chick peas) .Speaking of patrons, the cultural institution that is Crop Over again showed itself in the demographic of the players. Every generation was represented.

The route took trucks, music, revellers paint and drinks through the streets passing famous landmarks including Kensington Oval cricket grounds and the distribution point for the famous Barbados Mount Gay rum.

All along the route that very inclusive spirit was evident as spectators of every age lined the route in the wee hours just to observe and encourage.

As the hours passed there was more paint, more rum and less inhibitions, all set to a pulsating soundtrack.

Speaking of the music, during my time in Barbados there were certain staples which were on everyone's playlist for Crop Over 2019. During the six hours on the road these were in heavy rotation: Lead Pipe's Sometime, Breathe by Mole, It Ain't Me, Machel Montano's Fast Wine, and Savannah Grass from Trinidad's Kes and The Band were on repeat and appreciated each time they were played.

Intermittent showers did nothing to dampen the vibe of the event, which chipped its way from the city centre on to the famous Spring Garden now renamed The Mighty Gryner Highway in honour of one of the country's pioneering calypsonians.

At 5:30 am we ended the experience with breakfast. Jambalasse ended at one of the many beautiful beaches in Barbados. This was a great way to get rid of the paint which was now everywhere and the salt water was a great way to revive, restore and renew the body after the the hours of activity.

I can now definitely say I am no longer a j'ouvert virgin.

 


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