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Dem Live A Foreign Vol. 6 - Getting Ready for Carnival/Jouvert - Part 1

Updated: May 21

I have been involved in Carnival all my life, growing up getting ready for Carnival was always an exciting time in my house. Design in Mind Carnival Band was a family affair, coming from Ilford, East London we would take our children and adults from the community to Notting Hill Carnival on both days. So my family house was a hub, where costumes were made and collected, vans, trucks and coaches were delivered and food was prepared for the day by my mum. It was pure activity, with soca music playing and the odd shot of rum to keep us going was organised chaos until we were in Ladbroke Grove and on the road.

My passion is to tell untold stories from the diaspora through film and photography; however my conversations with David at Red Light Busking demonstrated that there was a lack of information and education about Carnival history, so I implore you to read on, you never know you might discover something new.

My first experience of J’ouvert was at Trinidad Carnival in 1993 when I was 25, to picture the scene. There’s big talk about meeting our London crew, most were players from Ebony Steelband, who had come to soak up the culture, and experience playing with esteemed Trinidadian steelbands, they also had a trip to record an album with Billy Ocean at his studio in Grenada. Anyhow, I digress: the plan was to meet at 3am at the top of our street in Woodbrook, Port of Spain, a short distance from our home. So in my excitement I decided to wear an all white outfit, cycling shorts, crop top, and sparkling white trainers. I was bright like a beacon, however not a soul told me to put on old clothes, stuff you don’t mind getting ruined. Well if you saw my crew's faces when they saw me, I was like a walking target for dutty mass bands. They were saying, ‘Girl you good! Or Wow they're gonna get you tonight!’ Had I known I would have stayed in my whites and got REAL DUTTY!!! However, my inexperience told me not to do so. I ran back home changed into my old clothes and came back to join the parade of oil, mud, paint, drums and pure freedom.

I must say that my first adult experience of carnival in Trinidad at the age of 25 was the most magical, spiritual in unity with our ancestors I had ever felt. The Canboulay tradition which is basically a ceremony symbolising cane-burning that Africans of Trinidad devised to celebrate their 'freedom from slavery' in 1838. The "Cannes Brulees", means "burning cane", and this commemorated the putting-out of cane fires during slavery. After slavery it became one of the most important and deep-rooted festivals of the black people and was marked by raunchy dancing and the lighted flambeaus carried in the street; a precursor for the Carnvial celebrations we see today. In the celebrations J’ouvert takes over from the Canboulay with Ole Mas characters such as the Jab Molassee with black oil smeared all over their bodies, their horns, fighting sticks and red tongues. Most of all the beat and rhythm of the drums, the iron sent me into a trance with my body moving and spiritually feeling the energy of the Ancestors as they danced with us. Out of this World!!

Keep your eye’s peeled to your inboxes tomorrow for part 2 of this series where Jo Alexander deep dives and takes us into the traditions and rituals of J’ouvert…

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