Wednesday, January 15, 2014

J'Ouvert


J'ouvert is an inseparable part of Caribbean Carnival and is a contraction of the French word Jour Ouvert, which loosely translates into dawn/day break.This year's 42nd Sugar Mas in St. Kitts included what many here say was the largest J'ouvert yet.




On the Day after Christmas, December 26th thousands of people all across the tiny island nation woke up before the sun rose and converged on Basseterre, assembled their troupes and started celebrating as early as 3 a.m.

This year four main troupes were assembled. Participants paid a small fee and were given a shirt, bandannas,  buckets of body paint, whistles, or other costume pieces and then were also given all inclusive unlimited beer and  jammed to unbelievably loud music and awaited their turn to march downtown for the J'Ouvert parade.

Even Santa stayed in town for J'Ouvert!
I personally went to bed early so I could wake up before the sunrise with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning.. I hadn't joined a troupe but I still wanted to experience the energy from them and of course take lots of pictures. I stumbled out onto our porch overlooking the city at 3 a.m. and could hear music blasting at one of the closest stadiums but then decided it was too early and fell back asleep. I woke up next after sunrise, but not to worry, the party was jamming downtown by then.

On my trip towards the downtown I saw plastic cups and various colors of body paint all over the road. The roads reeked with the smell of beer as if a brewery had exploded. I thought, "I'll bet everyone is feeling really good about now after partying for 5 hours already." I was correct.

There was a cruise ship in port for the day too, which made everything that much more exciting with a larger audience.

These cruise ship passengers will never forget this visit to St. Kitts.
I didn't have to get very close to the edge of downtown and when I heard the thumping of the speaker wagons who played their Soca music as loud as possible. These really are converted hay wagons, at least I presume they were. Most had generators piggy-tailed to the back of the trailer on built into the wagon for power. There had to be enough room for the band, DJs, and dancers too.



Seriously, how many speakers can you get on these wagons?

In fact, these speaker wagons are so tall that sometimes the people on the top had to duck telephone and power lines. Did I mention how incredibly loud the bass is from these things?? I had ear plugs shoved clean down to my brain I think and it didn't matter, I could still feel the vibration and reverberation of the music in every organ of my body.



Only in St. Kitts would you see an electric guitarist on the fender of a farm tractor!!



So this is how the J'ouvert parade worked. Each troupe marched into town followed by their band on their speaker wagon. Behind that followed a beer truck that was basically a truck turned into a mobile bar. The troupe's dancers would linger back to the beer truck, fill up, and then head back to the front of their specific troupe's parade group. I believe that their were five or six different troupes, so each had their own contingent and all of these separate troupes paraded around the same two block area for hours and hours. Eventually people would drop out or pass out, but some people endured on for the entire day until around noon. Crazy.


The most popular troupe for most of my friends and students was Generation X Troupe. I tried to get some pictures of them but I couldn't get very close and a lot of them had already went home after that many hours of partying.



I walked down near the circus and got up on a balcony for a better perspective where I got some really awesome pictures. The type of dancing at J'ouvert wouldn't be for everyone. It involved a lot of grinding and what I call dance walking, not the best environment for young kids, but plenty were present.

People gathered around the Circus. The liquid on the street isn't water, it's alcohol!


The bands and their wagons just kept on coming! All of bands were well known local bands like: Grand Masters, Kollision Band, Tombstone International, Small Axe Band,



The J'ouvert Troupes comprised of: Generation Extreme, The Red Devils (Hawaiian Style), The Carib Spartans, Small Axe and Shiggidy Shak Vikings, and Mas Jumbies Sugar Warriors.

I'm not sure which band this guy was supposed to be and I laughed like crazy when I saw him lying down on his truck. I don't know if he fell down or if it was part of his dance but his plywood sheet was pretty treacherous looking.




All of the local media folks were out, including ZIZ, who like me got a nice high vantage point at Ballahoo Restaurant.



I did get a photo later of some of the students from the St. Kitts and Nevis Carnival website.
Some Students with Carib Spartans Troupe. Courtesy: www.skncarnival.com



This guy above had the best costume in my book. He was with the Carib Spartans and all of his armor is made with beer bottle tabs or Carib labels. This had to have taken a long time to make. Way to go!


The above troupe is the Red Devils. This guy on the speaker wagon clearly had enough J'ouvert.


I enjoyed their beer truck bar.

And like the song says, "Around and around we go." The troupes went around for hours in almost a contest to see who had the most endurance. I personally stood mostly stationary and took photos of some interesting people, who were all having fun.

Celebrations tend to bring out the best in us and also the weirdest. Some of the characters at J'ouvert I just didn't understand like this one.


This guy gathered quite a crowd and had a cool costume. So the donkey had a sign on one side saying "Yu lost your head for Greed," and the other side said, "So pack your bags and go." I'm guessing it's pertaining to the political battle going on right now but I'm not sure. What surprised me was how calm this donkey was with the thumping music and all the people. A few jokers tried to jump on the donkey's back and made the headless guy pretty mad.


Then we had this guy: Diaper Man!

Courtesy: www.skncarnival.com
And finally the most creative award from Island Babble goes to this guy.


OK, you can see he has a monkey dressed in a Santa suit, but look closely on his back. Yes, there is a rooster on his back too and he could care less he was jamming right along dancing the whole time.


Courtesy: Ricki Richardson
A final part of J'Ouvert is the Wet Down. This is exactly what it sounds like and takes place at the end right before everyone packs it in for the day around noon. The fire department sprays revelers down with hoses while they jam to Soca music. It's quite a show and is great for cooling down the partiers as well as sobering them up. This should be part of every party!

Paint man is headed to the Wet Down. Now I know where all that paint came from that was on the road.





Every party has its casualties and J'Ouvert was no exception. Wt hat I do like about St. Kitts is that the police don't bother you as long as you're not bothering anyone else. These people would've been scooped up to jail more than likely in the U.S. At any rate, check out these J'Ouvert public casualties. I'm sure there were many more private ones the next day.

Independence Square turned into a scene from the Night of the Living Dead.
This lady couldn't quite make it til Wet Down.

The St. Kitts and Nevis Carnival Facebook page posted a great collage of their own. This one says it all.


All in All it was an awesome and eventful morning and day. It was a cool experience and maybe next year I'll join one of those troupes. Don't forget, J'Ouvert is only one of around half a dozen parades that took place during Sugar Mas 42 so keep your eye open for the next post.
Make sure you check out more photos here: St. Kitts Carnival Photos and to Keeth Frances Facebook page here:Keeth's Photos of J'Ouvert