Trinidad and Tobago claims it but: 'J'Ouvert belongs to the region'

Screenshot of Instagram story posted by Michael B Jordan's celebrating the launch of his J'Ouvert rum. -
Screenshot of Instagram story posted by Michael B Jordan's celebrating the launch of his J'Ouvert rum. -

Wherever there is a Carnival, there is a J'Ouvert. Cultural activist Rubadiri Victor said there are more than 300 Trinidad-style carnivals around the world, and the Caribbean islands' carnivals evolved together.

For the past week, citizens have been up in arms against US actor and businessman Michael B Jordan, who decided to name his new rum brand J'Ouvert. His business partner trademarked the name, saying J'Ouvert meant nothing in a foreign language.

Jordan was accused of appropriating Trinidad and Tobago's culture. He later apologised and swore to rename his rum.

While some locals felt victorious about stopping Jordan from using the word J'Ouvert, other people in the region noted that TT is not the only country that has J'Ouvert.

Victor, who has a J'Ouvert band called Generation Lion, said: "Wherever there is a carnival, there is something that resembles a J'Ouvert...Africans across the diaspora borrow from one another all the time, cross-fertilise work and all these things. Even though we are the metropolis of the form, we evolved together borrowing from each other and including one another."

In this file photo, clultural activist Rubadiri Victor (left) and Kirk Langtan of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago carry the headpiece of Jagessar's 2020 Queen ' Shamaran' to be put on display in Woodford Square. - Photo by Sureash Cholai

He said TT is a migrant society and people from other islands would come for work and a better way of life, and their artistic talents helped develop TT's Carnival culture.

"Some of our greatest contributors and heroes, be it Peter Minshall, Sparrow or Ella Andall were all born in other territories. That's a part of being a metropolis, not just a financial metropolis but a cultural metropolis. Cultural forms come here to succeed."

Sparrow, whose real name is Slinger Francisco, was born in Grenada. The Pierrot Grenade Carnival character evolved from Grenada's Pierrot and the name comes from the country. Victor said Grenada's whole carnival is made up of J'Ouvert, and because of it, is more authentic.

"Grenada's carnival is J'Ouvert. It ain't have no pretty mas. The power of Grenada's carnival is almost black devil mas all day.

"In the last decade, the people who have been pushing the resurgence of J'Ouvert are Grenadians. It is powered by that jab rhythm. They have embraced that festival for what it is. They haven't tried to water it down."

He said other countries made the decision to have pretty mas, but Grenada didn't, and the profits of cultural tourism and music development have benefited.

"It has paid dividends. Their music has taken off. In Trinidad we have this impulse, this status quo, to make things bourgeois like in music, production and mas. Jamaica and Grenada were the opposite. It leads into blackness of it and it is paying. They are authentic, with crazy crazy J'Ouvert, like what we used to play 25, 30 years ago."

 Slinger Francisco also known as Sparrow

J'Ouvert, he said, is an "African impulse" that accompanied Emancipation celebrations.

"The form it took in Trinidad was particularly sophisticated in its anarchy and revolutionary power. J'Ouvert is primordial. It is a primordial festival. The reason why J'Ouvert works is because it is the most elemental form of human art and worship.

"It is the naked human body covered in mud and masked in dye, dancing communally to drums. Trinidadians, for all kinds of reasons, are the ones who kind of hooked into that power, the sacred and sensual power of J'Ouvert and jealously guarded it for a century-plus."


"Trinidad and Tobago claims it but: ‘J’Ouvert belongs to the region’"

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