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Playing a serious mas
Jouvay Ayiti launched its first J’Ouvert band, Haiti: Mudder of Civilization, in 2011. After the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a team met at the Lloyd Best Institute to find ways to respond to the situation. Marvin George, outreach co-ordinator for Jouvay Ayiti said, “We wanted to do something beyond sending clothes and food to Haiti. We took the word ayiti, which is the original Taino name for Haiti, and we looked to J’Ouvert as the seat of creative work. J’Ouvert offers a space to make a mas that can be topical, a mas that responds to the realities of our environment.”
Thus, an aim of Jouvay Ayiti is to use the creativity of street mas and theatre performances on stage to respond to and address key concerns in Caribbean societies. Jouvay Ayiti is a collaborative initiative spearheaded by the Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA) at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus. The team comprises UWI, the Lloyd Best Institute, the Curepe Scherzando Steel Orchestra, and the Studio 66 art support organisation.
This year, the team behind the Jouvay Ayiti project will present a J’Ouvert band entitled Mamaguy, Pappyshow in a Family Bacchanal. The 2013 band will tackle ideas of politics and development. “Rawle Gibbons, who is a senior theatre arts lecturer at UWI, came up with the idea that we could talk about the nation with two characters: Mamaguy and Pappyshow. If the nation had parents, that is who they would be. Mamaguy and Pappyshow are the parents of all the bacchanal we are experiencing. Mamaguy and Pappyshow will help us respond to some of the farce that is happening around us,” George said.
In theatre, a farce is a comedic work that uses absurd situations and exaggerated characters. George admits to seeing evidence of the ridiculous in our society: “What is happening in Parliament politics is unbelievable and improbable. The things that happen and how they are presented to us all seem like a sick comedy—and that is not a partisan sentiment. People are saying things we never expect them to say. In a way, we are watching a dark comedy.” Jouvay Ayiti sells an idea rather than costumes. Interested masqueraders are invited to interpret the idea or theme of the band and make their own costumes. For 2013, Jouvay Ayiti asks us to consider such questions as: How do you see yourself inside the bacchanal?
What do you have to say about the bacchanal? What does Mamaguy, Pappyshow in a Family Bacchanal mean to you? George is aware that some people may choose to confront their own personal bacchanal through their mas portrayals of the theme. “It is not a People’s Partnership or PNM mas. People can pick up on other politics—something personal that could end up in the mas,” said George.
The idea of masqueraders making their own costumes stems from the first incarnation of the band. “Our stimulus for masqueraders was a challenge. We asked people to imagine they went to Haiti and found something precious in the rubble. That precious object would be their mas costume. We also asked people to imagine that an earthquake hits the rest of the world and the world must turn to Haiti. What we would find out from Haiti would be the mas. We decided we would produce mas for the road and what happens on the road would manifest itself inside a theatre production for the stage.”
Jouvay Ayiti activities are incorporated into UWI coursework and students from the St Augustine campus and other islands can be found participating in the making and performing of the mas. Costumes from the 2011 band became part of a theatre production called Here’s My Ass; Now Try to Whip It!, the title of which is an English translation of a pro-Aristide Haitian protest statement. In 2012 Jouvay Ayiti presented the band 50 Years: Mud, Fete and Tears with the accompanying stage production Nation Dance. Ideas of independence and regional integration, among others, were addressed. They won the J’Ouvert band of the day title in the Downtown South Quay Carnival small band category.
Jouvay Ayiti also puts focus on education and fostering public conversations. Workshops are scheduled to teach fundamental skills in mas-making. On January 26 from 10 am to 4 pm, a workshop focusing on the use of found and organic materials in costume construction will be held at Studio 66 in Barataria. “Jouvay Ayiti started workshops, realising that if we are asking people to create their own costumes then we should provide a complement that assists them in whatever they are going to create.” Informal sessions called Masters of the Mas have also been planned to bring audiences and veterans of Carnival together. The Mas Historians session will be held on January 25 at the DCFA on Agostini Street, St Augustine, and a session paying tribute to Bill Trotman will be held on February 1 at Studio 66. Both events start at 7 pm and admission is free.
About Jouvay Ayiti
• For more information about Jouvay Ayiti or to register for the workshop and sign up to play with the band, e-mail: [email protected] or call 320-0041.
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