Local Lives 11

Tempted to taste
Photographs and story by Mark Lyndersay

Trinidad and Tobago’s J’Ouvert celebrations bring out the primal in its revellers. Though the event has come some way from its more outrageous earlier incarnations in which the idea of a pretty band was a far more ludicrous notion than a grown man in women’s underwear or diapers, it still inspires ideas that might be considered forbidden in more polite circumstances.

J’Ouvert, literally “day open” is the first formal expression of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival and its origins are shrouded in history. It is the earthiest of the two days of celebration, with mud, oil and fire the most visible costuming in bands that still follow tradition.

After flirtations with colourful costumes, today’s J’Ouvert innovators have returned to basics, scantily clad bodies covered with mud and mettalic paint, and in the case of the North South Crew’s band, chocolate.

Zarin Morean is now in his fourth year of producing the band Chocolate City, with the 2010 presentation, “4 ForePlay.” Morean mixes the essentials of modern Carnival band success, identification wrist bands, roped security details and all inclusive service, with a thick brown liquid that he advertises as chocolate.

It certainly smells like it, and looks like it, but in the hours I spent with the band, I saw no one tasting it and I never mustered the nerve myself.
There’s something about the substance, which replaces machine oil and fine sand mud in the J’Ouvert arsenal of physical desecration that simply doesn’t scream food, especially when you get it in a transparent squeeze bottle.

The result is that what might have been a chocoholic’s wet dream becomes something of a nightmare of decadence, the rich smell of cocoa permeating the band as the players flay strings of the thick brown substance like gelatinous whips across the backs of friends and squirt patterns on the heads of their companions.

The North South crew, which produces variants of the band for Point Fortin’s Borough day and Labour Day is now a team of 15 people who pull together the considerable resources that put delicious smelling band on the road each year.

“We’ve had no problems with the chocolate,” Morean said. “It’s like the chocolate brings a kind of calm on all the wildness. Each year after the band is on the road, all I hear about is weddings and christenings.”
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