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J’Ouvert paints the Ivory Coast

Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Members of Phagwa Mas (JouvayFest) are joined by African performers in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivorie.

Even as mega movie Black Panther fuels Pan Africanism worldwide, T&T continues to influence culture in Africa. Last Saturday morning, people lined the streets of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to experience that nation’s first J’Ouvert street procession.

In the forefront was a contingent of Trini-US artistes (Pagwa Mas) and mas people, joining eight performing companies from the African continent.

With musical accompaniment by the JouvayFest Rhythm Band, which includes the steelpan, a brass band and Ivorian drummers, the colourful parade wended its way to the Palais de la Culture, Abidjan’s version of the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Pagwa Mas, a J’Ouvert band out of Brooklyn, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and this is its second visit to Cote d’Ivoire. Formed in 2008 by Richard Pacific, the band has placed first on four consecutive occasions in J’Ouvert competition, in Brooklyn Carnival. Other players of Pagwa Mas are coordinator RoseAnn Baptiste, Donna Dove, Adelagun Harrington, Village Drums of Freedom’s Anthony “Jomo” Crick and Michael Manswell, also the director of Something Positive Dance Company which was founded years ago by the late Cheryl Byron.

Pan players in Africa are Jahlani Andrew Roberts, Wayne Bernard and Kendall Williams; and the drumming contingent is Dirk Harewood, Anthony “Jomo” Crick, Marcelle Williams, Akila Afrekhan and Crick.

Baptiste explained: “Market d’Arts Spectacle d’Abidjan (Masa) is celebrating its 25th anniversary and this is the tenth edition of Masa to be held in Abidjan. The event is held biannually and ends this year on Saturday, March 17.

“JouvayFest collaborated with the organisers of Bonoua — Popo Carnival, Ivorian Drum group, and Ivoire Marionettes for a wonderful cultural exchange. We were well received and embraced from the music, to the costumes and characters. Our opening experience was magical and humbling.”

Dove designed the costumes for JouvayFest and dance choreography was by Michael Manswell, with Dirk Harewood being the musical director. The group’s Production Manager was Sandra Bell of Journey Agent, with Afromondo’s Alex Bociel being the booking agent.

On Sunday, speaking from the Grand Hotel d’Abidjan, Dove told T&T Guardian: “Pagwa Mas is committed to taking Trinidad and Tobago J’Ouvert and culture to the world. We are influenced by the work of Peter Minshall as we use white as the foundation of our costumes and make art by adding colours in the parades and festivals we participate in.

Our brand for global tours is JouvayFest.

“We also went to Morocco in November 2017 for the Visa for Music Festival and the response there was like ‘wow’. Those Muslim people were all over us, taking picture like crazy.”

Continued Dove: “We have three young pan players in our fold, including Kendall Julien, one of the three young pan players who arranged Kes’ Hello for Skiffle Steel Orchestra this year at the Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama and helped them to place second. What is unique about these three talented young musicians is that they were born in the United States (of Trinidadian parentage).

They are here in Africa with us and simply amazing everyone who hears them play.”

The JouvayFest contingent returns to the US next Sunday but, before we depart, our pan trio will perform at a show in Abidjan.

The Ivory Coast continues to sizzle as its Carnaval de Bonoua, themed “Strategy for a Durable Impact on Arts, the Culture and Tourism for the Economy of Cote d’Ivoire,” is scheduled for Monday, April 2.

The JouvayFest crew is currently in talks with culture bodies from Ghana and Nigeria to participate in similar events in the future. Dove added:

“We have been invited back to Morocco and as well to Abidjan in 2020.”


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