Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Tale of Two Socas: J’ouvert and SOS!

J’ouvert! Drunken Excitement! (Part One)

Jamaica Carnival 2008 had, indeed, splashed its way into the heart of Kingston's unofficial business district! Even now, I can still hear the excitement...

I hurried to the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel from the Oxford Road based Mas’ Camp, where I stopped and waited for the mass of paint covered bodies which swarmed up Knutsford Boulevard like mosquitoes in sugarcane season. I was a little afraid of the crowd. Brimming with all the excitement of entranced mice enroute to their doom at the piper’s behest, they marched up the road, routinely stopping to ‘take a whine’ against some unsuspecting light pole. When that was not available the ground provided a convenient alternative. This was the scene at the J’ouvert fete, on the eve of the conclusion of Jamaica Carnival earlier this year.

I had attended the event, however, only by way of what a friend claimed, at the time, was the need ‘for a stress release!’ Doubtful about whether I would achieve this objective, I played along in the interests of being a good host. My friend is a student here from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was also shortly after my confirmation (as a practicing Catholic), which you can imagine was a very important moment for me. Occasioned by great amounts of self conflict, I became convinced I would burn in the ‘Hell Fires’ for agreeing to participate in such ‘debauchery’. Truth is, I accepted the invitation because I genuinely love Soca music, though, I was too tired to enjoy the night out.

A riot of colours and sweaty bodies were crushed together behind the music trucks. Their gyrations, coupled with the combination of electric lights and the ethereal glow of the early dawn was surreal. After the all night vigil of partying and drinking (I don’t drink, so this does not apply to me!), complemented by the excitement of the painting part of the ritual, the promoters gave orders to ‘fly de gate’.

Like ghouls let loose to roam the streets of Kingston freely, the revelers were unimpeded in their eagerness to paint the town red in the early morning. They pushed through the gates and made their way into New Kingston. Two silent sentinels wordlessly bore witness to the unfolding bacchanal, their ‘controversial’ nakedness dwarfed by the raunchy displays of flesh and frolic at the gates to the Emancipation Park.

I watched from a safe distance careful not to mingle with the buzzed excitement of the curiously energetic revelers, as they basked in the cool morning air. “How come they have so much energy at this hour?” I wondered.

Traffic was everywhere, as the floats lazily wound their way up Kuntsford Boulevard and onto Trafalgar Road. Burdened by their heavy music cargo, they blocked traffic for miles. Police were redirecting early morning motorists. Cars honked their horns loudly sounding their approval, as they vicariously joined in the festivities.

The raucous hedonists were impervious to reality now. They whined and drank their way into intoxicated oblivion, their very audible carousing disrupting the pristine morning air. Camera crews ate it up. They bustled about recording everything in sight. Careful not to be photographed, I kept out their way, as onlookers, revelers, vendors and the ubiquitous taxi-men, all, jostled to get in on the action.

Soon, I gestured to my friend to indicate my readiness to leave. However, not before another friend – a professional dancer, came over to hug me. We exchanged pleasantries, all the time keenly watched by her body builder boyfriend who was in close proximity. Before long they too were gone with the music, drifting 'down de road' behind the Zoukie trucks, ensnared in the wake of their mesmeric tunes. Comatose, from lack of sleep and standing all night, I tiredly drove home for a long day's rest…

Save Our Soca! Saving Our Lives! (Part Two)

My most recent encounter with Soca music came at the invitation of another friend who suggested that I accompany her to the ultra, exclusive Save Our Soca (SOS) party, which was held for the second time this year in June, in what is traditionally referred to as an ‘Upper St. Andrew’ community. Waterworks played host to the evening of jamming by hardcore ‘socaphyles’, who ditched their regular Sunday activities to dance the night away. This was an invitation only party that, surprisingly, started at four in the afternoon!

Several cars dotted the tree lined avenue, which gently meandered its way up a sloping hill to a two storey house nestled in a cul-de-sac where the party was held. The warm Sunday evening air pressed down on us, as we made our way to the venue. A ‘good little Catholic’ like me, I thought, had no place being at SOS, which, incidentally, also stands for “Soca on Sundays”.

Initially, I wondered whether I would get home in time for work which I eventually did. However, after some consideration, I went along for the ride. We covered the distance from where we parked to the entrance of the house in a series of anxiety ridden run-walk-jog steps. Periodically, my friend reminded me to “get out of the road!”

Finally, we were greeted by the pumping sounds of Soca coming from the back of the house. A small group of people met us at the entrance. The man and two women double checked our names on a list and gave us our arm bands. They informed that the bar was all-inclusive and that food was also available at a price. I noted the instructions but decided that they would be of little value to me. I was not hungry and did not drink. Still, I certainly looked forward to the music.

Our hosts directed us to the back where the party was already in full swing. There, several smartly dressed patrons of all ages stood around, drink in hand, chatting to each other. Some seemed to be catching up on random items of news; while others dissected the earlier concluded ‘clash’ between Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell at the National Stadium the day before. (See post below!). Others looked on in silent curiousity. They too seemed eager to see what was in store at the Sunday evening fete.

I threw myself into the party. Sweating and prancing around the dance floor endlessly. The energy of the music was great. The fifties Calypso and Pan Music was certainly a good way to take the edge off an otherwise stress filled day. There was just one problem - Soca Monarch King Shurwayne Winchester was in very short supply! How could that be? I wondered, even as several camera phones, not unlike the paparazzi, snapped away at the revelry…(If any pictures turn up with me anywhere sweating profusely, I am totally professing Amnesia like Shaggy and Rik Rok say in: ’It wasn’t me!’)

One of the evening’s highlights was a guest, dressed in a fire engine red mini dress and black pumps, who decided she would outdance me. Now, you should know that, I have danced for many years in a studio, notwithstanding my recent hiatus from those activities and the obvious weight gain concerns since. Though I do not regard myself a professional, it has been said that, I ‘do not to have any bones (in my body)’. That being said, I took up the challenge to join in the ‘wuk up’. Our excitement was infectious. Soon others were looking on, as we cavorted around the floor, laughing mischievously at our various antics. I left the party soaking wet – literally, my misgivings, finally, banished to outer reaches of my mind!

'SOS' started a little over two years ago for those who had returned from ‘playin’ mas’ in Trinidad and needed ‘therapy’ during the Carnival off-season. It quite possibly saved their lives. As for me, I was just happy to have taken a break! No alcohol needed just good music and a great party with wonderful people…definitely what the doctor ordered!

Picture courtesy of the Jamaica Star shows socaphyles at J'ouvert 2008.

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