J’OUVERT was a collaborative project that I started as I wanted to learn more about my familial connection to the Trinidad and St Vincent (island countries in the Caribbean), as well as forming a deeper historical understanding. The project is named after the early morning festival that leads into annual Carnival celebrations in Trinidad. As a child, my grandmother would send me postcards from home, she’d make an annual pilgrimage back during UK winter to visit old friends and attend carnival. This was early internet - so those visual memories had a lasting impact.
As an artist who’d only ever performed solo - I was craving to work with and learn from others. I wanted to work solely with Caribbean artists in the beginning, but it was somewhat difficult as we’re a rare breed in Australia - although the first performance was with an amazing steel pan player Alvin Rostant, who grew up in Trinidad and played all over the world. I worked with many different dancers, performers, musicians and a costumier in the few iterations performed of J’OUVERT.
The history of the steel pan is an interesting one - they were originally converted from 40-gallon drums dumped by US army in Trinidad during WWII. There was a period in time where drums were banned on the island - bizarrely, colonisers believed that secret messages were being transmitted through rhythm. They were used alongside song to spread important news quickly in village squares, and colonial forces didn’t like that as it was autonomy for the enslaved. What I find cool about the pans - and Trini culture in general - is that living in Australia where people don’t really ‘get’ Caribbean culture, they’ve influenced so much popular music we hear, and it’s the exact influence these slave owners were hoping wouldn’t happen.