Moko Jumbie performance this Saturday at British Museum

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This Saturday August 15 at 12 noon, please join us for a special performance in the Great Court at the British Museum, Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG. As part of the Museum’s Celebrate Africa season and lead up to Notting Hill Carnival two Moko Jumbie sculptures by Trinidadian artist Zak Ové have been installed in the Great Court. This Saturday we celebrate this first commissioned work by a Caribbean artist with performances from Touch D Sky, featuring Stephanie Kanhai, reigning Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Queen. At 1pm and 2 pm join us in Room 25 for Tales of the Orisha; Myth, Legend and Lore with Storyteller Jan Blake and Master Drummer Crispin Robinson.

The Moko Jumbie is a key figure in the carnival and festival celebrations of the Caribbean. The moko jumbie is a dancer, healer and symbol of ancestral protection.

Spread the word and see you on Saturday!

Beauty of the Battle

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The learning is not just in the training, the hours spent memorising the lavways and the steps and the pain that comes when you lose concentration and you get hit with a stick on your little finger. The journeys to the gayelles are full of songs and anecdotes of past battles. Acid sings into the night, to dark roads that disappear suddenly off crumbling precipices: “Ah living alone, ah living alone in the jungle.”

Bois season is a time of fasting, from alcohol and meat and conjugal relations. From anything that distracts from the battle. The battle is waged in the mind long before the stickfighter enters the ring.

From a piece I wrote for the January 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.
Read the original article here: http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-131/word-of-mouth#ixzz3OKgtUeuD

The NCC Regional Carnival Committee’s 2015 Stickfight Competition dates are as follows:

23rd Jan – Biche
30th Jan – Cedros
11th Feb – Skinner Park
To book workshops and demos for schools and clubs with the Bois Academy of Trinidad and Tobago call Rondel Benjamin at 498-2609
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This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

On Becoming a Warrior of Huaracan

You eh see nothing until you see a man pull feathers from a dead cobo. That trip to Icacos on Sunday was a lot more than I had bargained for. 
About two years now I’ve been singing a song about how I want to play a Black Indian mas big big on Tuesday, because sometimes youse have to go back to the root to move forward. Anyway it so happen in the way that only Esu could manage that powers align and next thing you know it having a band called Black I and we wanted to link up with ‘real’ Black Indian to get a sense of the tradition to build on that and help inform the mas we, the Vulgar Fraction, going to play.
It was a rough journey. Andy who responsible for the band Warriors of Huaracan talk for the whole road. And I listen with a mixture of horror and fascination as he would be talking and then scream from a place that has no name and then break into a chant and then go back into a story about the clash of Indigenous beliefs, Congo magic and Orisa practice that then came to live in this Black Indian masquerade.
I had to walk away as he pull out the cobo feathers. And it took me a few days to realize that mas, like life is about ability to take even death and make it beautiful.
Mas is beauty and horror. Mas as a whole can’t and shouldn’t be a version of reality that edits out the blood and pain. 
I real excited to be becoming this mas this year. I real excited that this evening at 6 in Belmont I get to listen to the great Nari Approo talk about mas and all that it could possibly be. Come nah, if you able. 

Put the Mask back in the Mas

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

One jouvay morning in Port of Spain a couple years ago, an Egun priest told me that the ancestors were upset because we were playing mas with our faces uncovered. This year for Jouvay I covered my face and at Notting Hill Carnival yesterday I made the transition back to a mask.

I had the pleasure of wearing a piece of art made by Brianna McCarthy, one of Trinidad’s most exciting young mixed media artists.

The politics of beauty in Trinidad is problematic at best. Look at any band launching event and notice that black women, dark skinned Indian or African women are virtually non-existent.

I am really excited about the ways that Brianna’s work confronts this.

Her website says:
‘Her work takes on the intricacies and dynamics of representing Afro-Caribbean women who are portrayed as being strong, long-suffering, exoticised and picturesque beings against a backdrop of poverty, hardship, abuse and/or scorn. McCarthy’s constructions and representations revolt against and subvert the stereotypical trends of representing the black body.’  

Once upon a time Carnival was a space for women to claim power. These days I can’t tell if Carnival is a space of power or – given the size of the costumes, the expense of the make up and increase in gym membership from October to February – a space where women are forced to seek approval under the gaze of a society that is male and judgemental. 

So the mask is part of that confrontation that needs to take place.  I loved the fear, awe, intrigue, attraction that the mask caused. Men begged me to take it off, children cried, old people smiled and bowed.

Culture should never be fossilized fragments. It should always evolve to serve the needs of the people who practice it. 

But we always need rituals. And performance as ritual – we’ve lost that from our Carnival with the loss of the mask.

And that is what I loved most about about wearing Brianna’s mask – it was a very contemporary take on a very ancient practice of masking – for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of transformation, for the purpose of liberation.

It’s a key part of the obeah that is Carnival and it occurred to me yesterday that half of the reason why the Carnival has lost its power is because of the removal of the mask.

Nothing fantastic after Carnival

If it’s special
Then with it why aren’t we as careful
As making sure we dress in style
Posing pictures with a smile
Keeping danger from a child

If it’s magic
Why can’t we make it everlasting
Like the lifetime of the sun
It will leave no heart undone
For there’s enough for everyone

If it’s Magic, Stevie Wonder

 

Went for a walk in the city at dawn Ash Wednesday morning. Hopscotching over rubbish piles and discarded wings. Splattered blue paint on the roads. It looks as though the city has been hit by an attack of naughty pixies. The bloodshed is glitter, the casualties bruised and smiling at the encounter. In the early morning light the truth of your Carnival tabanca takes hold.

You see your reflection in the stagnant pools of water blocked from a free passage to the drains by bits of costume. Your old face is there. Not the new one you got on J’Ouvert morning. Post-Carnival you look like the person you remember, although the glow of Carnival catharsis has you feeling sweet.

You are still tired. The ache of Carnival exuberance has not left your body. But if you had to do it all over again tomorrow, you would. You would jump on your bad knee the same way. You would spread your hands and let go of all the hurt you feel about Trinidad. All the vexation at how abjectly dotish certain things and people can make this place.

Which is worse? The Carnival tabanca or the Trinidad tabanca? The heartache that fills you up when you think that Carnival is something to be swept away for another year. Carnival has left you like a lover in the middle of the night. And when you turn at dawn in search for the reassuring warmth of another body, all you find is the crisp coldness of linen.

And you have to depend on your own warmth. Wrap yourself around yourself. Into a tight little ball of self-sufficiency. There is no cure for the loneliness and emptiness that comes after. Leaves you wandering on the streets in the early hours of the morning for some evidence of what happened the night before.

The debris is the only proof that Carnival is not an elaborate fantasy of your own making. In the silence you can hear the ghost of big trucks. In the distance the Savannah shimmers, self-conscious in the haze of a new morning.

But the rumbling of Phase II is still in your ears. And the weight of the flag you carried on the stage still strains the muscles in your upper arm. You know the precise moment when you did that thing to your knee that created this occasional lancing pain that temporarily renders you incapable of putting pressure on your right leg.

Pan disappears again. Aside for the token moments it is trotted out. Panyards that could be the cradle of community development lie fallow or under-utilised. From Ash Wednesday I start counting the hours, months, days it will take to recover from Carnival before I start preparing for the next.

Carnival is successful for those who understand how to package things and make money. Carnival is special for those who create their best work whether or not they get paid.

When Carnival is over where does all of that creativity go? In the hours and months and days between Carnivals who bothers to teach Trinbagonian children about the geometry of making a fancy sailor hat? Or the physics of creating king and queen costumes that can structurally withstand the breeze in the Savannah? Or the obeah of keeping dancing while you try to untie your rolled up flag?

Carnival, aside from being a time of bacchanal and excess, could also be a time for us to explore a less one-dimensional approach to our culture. But of course this is not art and our Carnival artists are not scientists. Cars whizz past the point where mere hours ago the crowds made music with their chipping feet.

I miss that Carnival time. That point when you see your friend and start screaming for no other reason than your euphoria at this moment of Carnival perfection. The problem is that my Carnival tabanca is my Trinidad tabanca. Unfulfilled potential, lacking in vision, beautiful but flawed.

Carnival is everything we could be but can’t be bothered to go through the effort of attempting. This eerie, post-apocalyptic kind of quiet is jarring. Just as jarring as hearing Fantastic Friday now. In the aftermath of the Carnival. When you struggle to find anything fantastic.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian February 16, 2013

Police and the Pan pushers.

Overseas
We from the West Indies
Anytime we start to party
Dem does run and call police
Well now we come back home
People playing stiff like stone
We does move this party from zone to zone

Savage, Bunji Garlin

 The moon is rising over the hills and the air is alive with the sound of sweet pan music. But police are stalking the perimeter of the stage like a flock of belligerent cobo. Guarding the stage like a La Basse carcass. I start to wonder if this stage is where our culture comes to die. Where the regulation and competition transforms former beauty into a lifeless, embalmed thing. A shadow of its former self.

 I’ve been here before.The last time I remember the police being so hognorant at Panorama was when Papa Patos was at the height of his unpopularity. The Guard and Emergency Branch were on a rampage. One scraped my arm and tried to grab my camera because I was trying to get evidence of his brutality.

 Since then, pan and other people-centred elements of the Carnival have continued to die slow painful deaths. Even as the season gives birth to new children. I do not join the new life in the Greens. The new life that does not have any connection to its past. We are on the track to celebrate the life that once was. Dragging our band’s pans towards the stage.

 The belligerent cobos swoop down. Assault rifles and batons at the ready. The moon shines on. We pull the racks forward, breaking into a run at the bottom of the ramp to get enough momentum to take them up and onto the stage.

It’s not an easy thing to push pan. But I’d rather take my jamming in the pushing than the playing. Spending weeks living in a panyard drilling a song into your brain every night for two months. Living, breathing, eating, dreaming this song. This ten-minute piece of heaven while there is a fete going on just next door where maybe five people out of the 10,000 care about your sacrifices to make it to this point.

 Pan is a community effort. Pan Trinbago, which has instructed the police to move dread with pan lovers, didn’t seem to get that memo. Meanwhile on the Greens: pockets are picked, young women get groped by tusty men over-stimulated by the sight of so much of Trinidad’s finest. Women are being attacked on their way out of the Savannah, by strangers and lovers too. Women getting slapped up by jealous boyfriends.

 The ring of belligerent cobos push us back. Shout at us. I want to spit in their faces for doing their jobs so well.

 Earlier in the evening, my neck craning over a barricade looking for a friend, a police officer told me I couldn’t stand where I was, although I was causing no obstruction. I ignored him and continued to look. The officer’s voice gets more insistent and as he makes as if to physically remove me, I walk away, feeling the mad blood rising. Not wishing to end up in an unnecessary altercation.

 “Family,” the man on the track addressed me. “Family, he doh know who is you or what?” Who is me? A Trinidadian. A Carnival lover. A panatic. It’s hard to keep a sense of humour. It’s hard not to want to pelt a bottle just to see what they will do. Start a riot just out of curiousity to find if they would really use those assault rifles in a crowd.

You shout stupidness at the officers. You know the arrangement your band is playing so you sing it back, you pam pam pa da the song into the officers’ faces. Officer Screw Face is properly scowling at us. Looking damn vex that we were still having a good time. He stretches his arms out to his sides to meet the batons of his fellow Corporal Stupidees.

 He pushes us back more. We resist. We do a Hafizool on them. Except that we have more moral authority to stay on the stage. We are qualified to be here. We know this arrangement already. Like I could whistle you the full eight minutes and 13 seconds of This Feeling Nice. It’s not just now we reach in this thing, officer.

 There is a tiny German woman up in one officer’s face. He keeps his cool, having enough presence of mind to know that a big black badjohn police hitting a little white woman in Carnival is a bad scene. I don’t take that chance. Knowing that Rasta is usual suspect. I stay behind, shouting my insults outside of baton range.

 Boogsie’s arrangement is sweet. But there is a part three-quarter way through, where the pan rumbles menacingly. Like Shango’s thunder self. It is a warning. Phase II gets top marks. Pyrrhic victory. Carnival is a battle that the people are losing more and more every year.

Published in Trinidad Guardian February 2, 2013