I Find Mehself in A Jouvay Band

title taken from Iron Bazodee bySquare One

Boston Carnival 2013

Boston Carnival surprised me.  How could a town known for beans and esteemed colleges host a festival so massive that it brought out just about every West Indian in the city? 

As someone who has experienced the energy of Trinidad, Toronto, and New York Carnivals, I made my way to Boston on Friday afternoon with relatively low expectations.  I was encouraged by a friend and Beantown resident to give this Carnival a chance.  Fine.  I started the weekend with the “Energy in the City” concert at the Reggie Lewis Center.

I must say, jumping up on a track is so much better for my ailing knees than the hard floors I’m used to.  I almost missed the show because in Boston, parties start early.  Yep.  I was still getting ready when I was told that we had to go or we would miss show time.  Eh, when in Rome.  We arrived at the converted gym around 10:30pm to see the party in full swing and artists already taking the stage. 

Hypersounds, Statement, and Boston’s own Jadine warmed up the crowd.  The party turned up another notch when the sexy dreadhead Lyrikal took the stage singing his hits “25/8,” “All Over De Gyal,” and his latest smash “Conquer Meh.”   The excited waving and singing along to the popular tunes showed me that Bostonians know how to get on! 

There was no lull in the enthusiasm as the crowd waited for the next artist.  Before she even took the stage, Alison Hinds belted out “Possseeeeeee” and the whole place erupted with cheers.  Flags, rags, and hands flew into the air as everyone sang along with the soca queen.  Of course, what would an Alison Hinds performance be without an incredibly lucky gentleman being called up to demonstrate his wining skills for the diva?  Three men vied for the position, but only the strongest survived and was granted the opportunity of a lifetime.   

The final act of the night was the King of the Dancehall, The Doctah, Mr. Sim Simma himself: Beenie Man!  I felt like I was travelling through a time warp with each track.  I jumped up to “Memories” like I did when I went to my first Caribbean party as a freshman in college.  I sang along to “Girls Dem Sugar” remembering the first time I saw the sultry video featuring R&B singer, Mya.  I did my two step to “Let’s Go” and I went nuts to “Sim Simma!”  Just when I thought the party was over, all three headliners came to the stage and had a final clash, culminating with Lyrikal and Beenie Man serenading Alison Hinds!  Lucky lady!

How did I get to the front of the j'ouvert parade?

Fine.  The party had vibes, but could Bostonians really bring that kind of energy to the road on Saturday? 

When my alarm went off at 5am, I was reluctant to get up.  Not because I was tired from partying the night before (come on, that’s never an issue), but because I was sure there would only be a handful of people on the streets at that hour.  I showered and dressed and waited for my friend to take me to this so-called “j’ouvert.”  As we drove toward Blue Hill Avenue, I saw people emerging from houses in shorts, tee shirts, sneakers, and – in case I needed a clear sign of where they were going – shower caps!  We arrived at the start of the procession, where the steel band was already assembled and playing music.  I had just started chipping to the rhythm when I was suddenly asked by Michael C. Smith, publisher of Boston Carnival Village  magazine, to assist the Boston J’ouvert Carnival Committee.  Someone had not shown up and they asked if I would help hold up the banner… at the front of the parade.  Why not?  I’m such a team player.  Besides, how often does a girl get to lead a j'ouvert parade?

On the streets for j'ouvert

Halfway through the parade I was relieved of my duties and allowed to frolic with the other j’ouvert bands.  And so I did.  I wined up on painted men in the Colors Band and I bounced around with the Grenadian massive before ending up chipping and wukkin’ up behind the steel band in Branches.  Corn soup and rum kept my feet moving all the way up the hill to the end of the parade route.  Oh, then I realized that we parked at the beginning of the route… so that was a fun hike.

After only a brief rest, I got myself ready for the main event – the parade of bands.  Again, I underestimated Boston.  The costumes were bright and colorful.  The masqueraders were excited and willing to stop every few steps to allow spectators to take their pictures. Best of all, the crowd came out to not only watch the street parade, but to wuk up behind the trucks once the masqueraders crossed the stage.   

Masqueraders on the road

One thing that I really appreciated about the parade is how the crowd and the masqueraders were able to interact.  The parade route starts on MLK Boulevard and turns on to Blue Hill Avenue.  I was able to jump with my friend, who was playing with I-Mas band all the way until the aforementioned turn where the barriers and police indicated that only revelers were allowed from this point on.  That made sense.  Although I love to mix in with the masqueraders, they did pay their money to show off and cross the stage.  I proceeded to chip alongside the band on the outside of the barriers.  I watched as the women twirled, wined, and bounced across the stage showing off their shiny costumes.  About one block after the stage, there was an opening for the spectators to cross the avenue and head into Franklin Park, where there was food and fair on sale.   How simple is that?   The police maintained order as much as possible, but when the mud band came down the road, it was every woman for herself!

Yes, Boston surprised me.  I had not anticipated the level of energy that the city had to offer.  Hmm, maybe there’s something in those beans.  All I can say is that you know where to find me in late August 2014.  Leh we go!