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‘Big men in diapers and baby bottles’
There I was, trying to explain to some young people this weekend about Juvay after one of them asked me what section and band I was “marching” in and what costume I was going to wear. And I just could not get through to them that Juvay, real Juvay, as it used to be, not J’Ouvert, not Jour Ouvert, was not organised, not planned, not soca and not female .
Juvay was disorganised. Juvay was spontaneous. Juvay was pan. Above all Juvay was male, rough, boisterous, dirty and loud.
I first played Juvay in 1958. Shuffling, chipping in the middle of a group of adults in a steelband, downtown Port-of-Spain and hearing them sing “The doctor say yuh pay as yuh earn, but the Sparrow say you paying to learn!”. The picture is in black and white. Most Juvay memories are in black and white, the colours of early morning, before the sun is up, when we most intensely feel.
In the sixties and seventies you met Juvay in a steelband. After putting on your oldest clothes, our group, mainly men, family and close friends of any persuasion, ethnic, religious, political, local and foreign, would go looking for a steelband coming down Tragarete Road, the tenors thrilling out, the base heavy and steady, the steel, clamorous and incessant, the shuffle of muted feet on roadway, the sense of camadarie, moving downtown with it, chipping steadily, sipping rum, hugging up old friends. Pan, steel and rum. That was Juvay.
Sun coming up over the Laventille hills for Juvay became a sort of magic moment in the years we played. It took about two hours for a slow moving steelband to move from the Oval, down Tragarete into Green Corner, where the darkness melted away from the sun rising over Laventille and the sense of belonging, of oneness, of a ferocious gaiety and wanting to hug up every Trinidadian, overwhelmed you.
Juvay was satire, often of the bitterest sort. The Pope came to visit Trinidad in early February 1985. Carnival was two weeks later. We ended up in “Outvaders” that year. “Outvaders” was made up of a motley collection of carts and vehicles and unbelievable characters that spontaneously formed at the back of Invaders every Juvay and played their own tunes on bottle and spoon and hard iron. The rhythm was always enthrallingly infectious and tantalizingly contagious. At some time in the proceedings, someone, dressed as the Pope, leaped up onto the tray of a small truck and proceeded to bless all and sundry for the next two hours while his “subjects” danced and pranced beneath him.
I once played Juvay in a dressing gown and hand-held cross, blessing people in Park St and not for the first time, there must have been many who thought I was a priest. My uncle wore my father’s red and black football jersey until it fell apart and swore he had never washed it. There was the old woman’ outfit complete with bonnet that Sil Dopson, a true, true veteran of Juvay, played in for too many years to count and the guys who came out in diapers and baby bottles filled with rum, some in a baby carriage pushed by a big-busted momma. Others dressed as “Baby doll” in negligee and high heels.
Juvay was sweet madness. Not any more. Juvay is now organised, planned and DJed to boredom.
I realised this at exactly 10 minutes past six on Juvay morning 2005. As we hit South Quay I heard a DJ, with a distinctly American accent shout out, “Get in yore seccction!”
“Get in yore section!” Juvay morning and a foreign man bawling “Get in yuh section!” This is the very antithesis of what J’Ouvert, the freeing up of our spirit, is about.
The Juvay is now sterile and artificial. There is no passion, no spontaneity, no originality. The masmen of the streets, the individuals that made Juvay, are gone. Mass mas rules the day.
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