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J’Ouvert is It as Steelbands and ole Mas
own the streets of New York

D’Radoes panman greets the rising morning sun
with the sound of sweet pan

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                                                                                             2009 NY J’Ouvert in Pictures

J’Ouvert in Video

New York, USA - There is white powder in my hair, pink dry lotion and brown mud all over my person - compliments of that rude steelband known as Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation - which was dropping such wicked music, that they not only had their truck bopping in time with the music, but also had the normally stoic NYPD (New York Police Department) dancing - on the job!  Furthermore, we lost a valued member of the WST (When Steel Talks) crew to Despers USA’s sweet pan music.  She was last seen chipping down the road with that renegade band of Bandoleros from Bed-Stuy, which had the crowd in lock step.   Imagine that?

‘Secret service’ with the ‘President’

In addition, I must protest vehemently to the way this When Steel Talks member was treated.  I was ‘accosted and searched’ - twice - by three ‘Secret Service’ agents - with iron and scratchers in hand, pumping out authentic rhythmic calls and responses (a highly sophisticated form of African/Caribbean/New York communication) that you will never hear or learn in percussion school or college.  These ‘agents,’ protecting the person that of which had to be ‘President Obama,’ stopped me in my tracks, only to then demand that I take their picture with the president.  Indeed, WST had so much fun with these ‘SS’ men and others that - as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character said in the film The Terminator - “I’ll be back,” next year.

Ah, but we digress - let us start from the beginning.

Devils of all types visited J’Ouvert 2009

As I walked up Empire Boulevard towards Flatbush Avenue, one could see the moon shinning brightly over Prospect Park with clouds floating right below them - like the type you see in sci-fi movies.  It was quite dark - being as it was still in the wee hours of the New York morning.  And as I swung onto Flatbush, I bumped into some folks who were surrounded by a group of Jab Jab who seemed eager to live up to their namesake mischief makers, and enjoy tomfoolery and much fun at their victims’ expense.  I thought to myself “they [‘victims’] won’t be able to get out of this one.  They’re about to get a good, old-fashioned ‘hug’ from the friendly neighborhood ‘devils’,” and their white tee shirts were about to be white no more - but instead grubby from the body oils of these beautiful black devils.  But as fate would have it, just at that moment a steelband playing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” came down the road.  And as if on cue both Jab Jabs and potential victims of the Jab Jabs’ naughtiness, began to dance together.  Indeed, such are the great moments of New York’s J’Ouvert celebrations.

The Coming of Columbus: a joy for some;
a nightmare for others

New York’s J’Ouvert 2009 was the place to be this past Labor Day.  If you were not there you missed one of America’s most entertaining, live,  community-based performing arts mediums.  America’s got major talent - and no where is it displayed better than New York’s J’Ouvert celebrations.

Paint, mud, steelpan music and fun

Packed with skits of political satire, the ole mas participants displayed their witty understanding of community and world affairs through comedy, superior intellect, wittiness, musicianship and showmanship - fun, fun, fun.  No topic or person is sacred.  From Bernie Madoff, former financier and convicted felon - to the Swine flu; everything and everybody was lampooned.  Not even members of the New York-based USSA (United States Steelband Association) escaped the infamous spotlight of J’Ouvert’s real, live and direct reality news show.

‘President Obama’ was on hand

But let us not forget the heart, soul and lifeblood of J’Ouvert - the steelbands.  Hailing from every sector of New York and even Boston and Philadelphia - steelbands and iron men reigned supreme. It was a wonderful sight to see.  Band after band.  And even more wondrous to hear.  The bands were no joke this year.  Almost every band at some point was jamming a Michael Jackson tune, as this year’s ‘Bomb’ competition required the bands to play an MJ song.

Pink devils crank up the rhythm section

It was great to see Moods Pan Groove on the road and playing up a storm.  This great New York original was taking no prisoners on this particular morning.  Utopia Pan Soul too, and all their trouble-making ‘friends’ of infamous repute - Bernie Madoff, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il and Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich - among others.  2009 Panorama champions Sonatas Steel Orchestra and the 2008 winners ADLIB were cracking up a storm.  Pantonic, Harmony, Boston Metro, Philadelphia Pan Stars, Higher Levin and others captured the heart and reflected the pulse of the large J’Ouvert crowd.

Silver mutant-type, with ‘monster’ hand

So now as I look at my camera caked with pink mud, and bag ‘painted’ in a motley assortment of colors - I can only imagine and laugh at what the NYPD bigwigs thought as they looked down upon a variety of pink, silver, green, black and blue devils from high above in their helicopters while monitoring the crowd below.  I can hear them now.  “Headquarters, headquarters come in...  You’re not going to believe this...  I just saw Obama and a blue devil dancing down the road...”  Yes, indeed, only in New York J'Ouvert.


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