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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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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