Random Acts of Color: The J’ouvert Experience

March 13, 2011
Oh no, where did they go? No, no, no, this can’t be happening! They were right behind me! Maybe I should look from the sidewalk…Dang, everybody is wearing the same thing! What do I do now? I only turned my head for a minute….Wait, let me try calling…no signal? What am I gonna do….


As I looked out into the darkness at the sea of red Digicel t-shirts I felt like a lost toddler in a mall looking out at a bunch of legs that all look like Mom. It had only been 5 minutes since our band, the Cocoa Devils, had started moving when my request for a beer from the drink truck turned into Home Alone 4 live from Trinidad. It felt like an eternity passed as I jumped up and down and waved my hands in the air, frantically running up and down the sidewalk hoping my girls would see me. My panic quickly descended into completely irrational hysteria as I imagined my mother having to identify my body covered in chocolate wearing a blinking cowboy hat.

And then it happened. My friends dropped out of the heavens like manna in the desert. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and they were 2 inches from me and I panicked. Either way, I had never been happier to see Cass, Mel and Nik than I did at that moment when I recognized their faces in the crowd. I ran over and from then on, vowed to never let them out of my sight again…until I heard someone scream..


So I started running as fast as I could. As if the cat was going to come after me. It made sense, you know? Dead cat!! Run for your life!! These are the types of things that go through your head when you are running on 2 hours of sleep and rum for breakfast. Nik had apparently stepped on a cat who had met his maker that day and I spent the next hour doubled over in laughter as Cass and Mel did their impressions of the infamous cat that caused post-mortem mayhem in our band.  I suspect the cat was doing evil things (or feline karate) before it died b/c their impression of it looked just like this:

The tomfoolery I experienced at J’ouvert will go down in the history books as some of my favorite moments in life. Because I’ve heard many Brooklyn Jouvert stories, I knew to expect paint, powder, water and people smeared in things that I wouldn’t touch if I were paid to do so. What I was not prepared for, however, is how being covered in paint, water, oil and mud invalidates all home training and causes you participate in shenanigans that could get you arrested in some countries. As the sun rose and it apparently became acceptable to down Johnny Walker Black like orange juice, it was like someone turned up the amp on the entire country. The sun revealed a rainbow of bright colors, smeared over a sea of cultures from across the globe, all celebrating the dawn of a brand new Carnival Monday. I danced with British angels, a Korean devil, an Indian woman I mistook for a man, and a older Trini man with a tree growing from his head (don’t even ask). It was like the colors of the paint had erased the colors of our skin beneath and blended into a bright shade of unified energy.

Over the course of the next 2 hours we climbed walls, whined on top of fences, powdered our noses in behind innocent buildings, and gave a good whine to a guy in a wheelchair. Yes you read that right, a wheelchair. I mean, I figured his friend didn’t wheel him out to the road just to watch right? It’s J’OUVERT DUDE!!?? What did he expect? (From the look on his face I think he appreciated the gesture)

For over a century J’ouvert has marked the opening of Trinidad Carnival. At that time it was celebration of ex-slaves who had recently been emancipated and the mud, paint and powder along with masquerading as devils and robbers were all ways to camouflage those who participated in what was a political expression of defiance. Today the tradition continues as a celebration of heritage and Trini playwright Tony Hall describes it perfectly from a local perspective:

“It is half-five, six in the morning, and the colour of dawn coming through and all these people all paint up in different colours, a riddim going and all of a sudden you feel this sense of suspension. You see all these people, all these people are your community and you realise, you feel a strong sense of love and you realise that what you are really doing is renewing a vow to love these people for the year coming.” 

J’ouvert 2011 sealed the deal on my return for 2012 and I vow to love these people, and their music, for many years to come.

Click here for more photos from J’ouvert 2011:

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  • Reply NaTonia March 14, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I cannot stop laughing at the cat! I keep reading that part over and over again! LOL

  • Reply melody March 14, 2011 at 3:53 am

    I cannot believe you found a pic of the cat!!!!!!! lmao

    I have since repented for the wheelchair incident

  • Reply J'Tia Taylor March 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    J'ouvert = Cardio + Drinking!
    Have a shot, have a whine!

  • Reply shells March 19, 2011 at 5:52 am

    another great post…BTW you got a pic of one of my friends and her j'ouvert buddies in the neon wigs. They were the Chicky Lickies: Pixie, Cocoa and Peggy.

  • Reply Dee March 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I was also in this jouvert band and it goes down as one of the best- security , drinks, vibes!

  • Reply Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Well Told!!! I feel like I was right there with you. Your stories in their vivid and full-bodied narration provide immediate access to cultures that some of us may never get to see firsthand, but due to your detailed account, won't miss out on.

    You have an amazing talent! My hope is that you continue to use it to dazzle and delight your public with introspective stories about cultures that previously have been plagued with only negative ones. And that you continue to give the public access to the happy that inhabits our planet, because then maybe we will all do a bit of a better job of finding the happy that resides right outside our respective doors.

    Bravo Tracey!

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