Sunday, 23 March 2014

First Time J'ouvert

“Ah wanna wine, wine, wine, wine
Ah wanna grind, grind, grind, grind
With meh bumpa ‘bout
And meh foot cock out
Cuz it feels like the first time”
-          Destra Garcia, First Time

The idea of playing J’ouvert never appealed to me. For starters, I like being clean and there was nothing clean about dancing in downtown Port- of- Spain in the wee hours of the morning, covered in mud and oil, rubbing shoulders with smelly people. Witnessing the revelry as a teenager, only served to cement my belief in how disgusting an affair it was. I don’t remember the reason why I changed my mind, but as soon as the Carnival 2014 season started, I expressed an interest in playing J’ouvert. My friends were initially unenthused by the idea, but a month before Carnival Monday, they came around. 

What followed was a mad Internet search to find an appropriate band. The first one that came to mind was Red Ants, but I was greeted by a “Sold Out” stamp on their Facebook profile photo. Next, I looked up Chocolate City. However, I was put off by the ghetto vibe and rumours that the chocolate smelt like sh*t by 8AM. I went through about five or six bands, until I found out about, Jus’ Paint. The band promised premium drinks, breakfast, a 40 foot music truck, tight security, and an on board medic service, all for the price of $400. Plus, some liming buddies of ours were playing with them. It was no surprise that two days later, I purchased three packages. 

A few stuff from the package
On J'ouvert morning, the traffic started at Morvant junction. Initially, we- my mother, my best friend, the driver and I- took everything in stride. We talked amongst ourselves, shared anecdotes and some laughs, and sang along to the radio.  After 45 minutes spent in more or less the same spot, the light hearted atmosphere became one of dour silences, grunting and restless shifting in seats. I spent the time muttering reassurances, berating myself for not having left home earlier, reading, jogging the driver awake, and being assaulted by the pungent aroma of The Beetham Landfill. 

We had spent over an hour, sitting in traffic, only to be ushered through the checkpoint with the flick of a wrist, along with a lot of other vehicles. Basically, the roadblock was pointless and stupid. We made haste to St. James as the city came alive around us. Revellers were making their way to their bands, clad in colourful T-shirts and short shorts, whistles and/or cups hanging unceremoniously from their necks. The pulsating rhythms of the music truck pushed us along a street, lined on either side with food stalls. Patrons waited in line or sat on the pavement, having breakfast, while the cloying smell of oil and grease permeated the air.

The streets of St. James were home to a host of people; from the movers and shakers to those in between to the gunthas and ghetto Barbies. They were in varying stages of undress, sporting paint, mud, oil or abeer. For all the people present, there was no one from our band, like... anywhere. We tried calling our acquaintances, but no one answered, which was understandable. It wasn’t until we were close to Long Circular Mall that luck favoured us. Our band had been spotted!

A man, decked out in his Jus' Paint T-shirt, a pair of Superman-inspired boxers and rubber boots, welcomed us to the band by admonishing us for our cleanliness. This was followed by a proper dousing of paint and a blow of a whistle. The first order of business was getting something to drink, which proved difficult. Not only were the drinks situated on a mini truck that lurched forward at regular and unexpected intervals, leaving us in its wake, but we had to shout our orders over the boom boxes. I remembered being appalled at having to run behind a vehicle for a beverage, but you know what they say, “When in Rome...”

With my vodka and orange juice firmly in my grasp, I found a spot behind the truck. I wasn't worried because I had on my glasses, which meant that I would be able to judge the distance between myself and the truck's crushing wheels. Paint splatter be damned! The more I got into the groove, the more I realised that chipping in time to the music was no easy feat and required coordination that I lacked. Oh, and it’s OK to wine in front of a church, once you make the sign of the cross.

Getting in the groove; obviously, I'm very excited
Slowly but surely, the music invaded my soul, and I was gripped by this unyielding sense of euphoria. I wanted to climb on walls, jump and touch the clouds, and wine on every surface imaginable. What manner of sorcery was this? With all thought, worries and self consciousness gone, I gave into the sensations. I blew my whistle, yelled and screamed, hugged and wined on strangers, and sang at the top of my lungs. All of a sudden, running on the side of the mini truck to replenish my drink was exhilarating. I peed in a bamboo patch. And spoke Spanish... at random... to myself. I was even scolded by security for letting go in the middle of the street, hands outstretched, oblivious to oncoming vehicles. My crowning achievement was that I was able to do all that without a speck of paint landing on my glasses or face. 

As the final beats of 'Ministry of Road (M.O.R.)' petered out and we made our way to the breakfast area, I found that I was wholly satisfied with how the morning had turned out. Although we had only gotten two of the scheduled four hours of play, it was time well spent. In the breakfast area, we were met with the poor conduct of some patrons. There was shoving, line jumping, swearing cussing and pleas for order. One committee member was having none of it and stormed off. The doubles man put his hand on his head, equal parts frustrated and flustered. One woman tried to use her feminine wiles to get ahead. Another complained of how hungry she was and how long she had been waiting, her complaints beautifully decorated with different versions of the word, 'f*ck'. For all her hunger, she only took one doubles with slight. It was all hilarious to me.

Clean faced, fed, tipsy, and exhausted
With the excitement of the morning’s activities dying down around us, my crew and I sat on the pavement to eat our doubles, which turned out to be tasteless. I was still high off of the music and alcohol and vibes, which served me well on my trek to City Gate. I hadn’t realised how tired I was until I got home and went straight to sleep, without bathing. 'Low meh nah, all yuh!

Overall, it was a great first experience, and I can't wait for J'ouvert 2015. Until the next post!