Junkanoo culture is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. As a dance educator, professor, and the originator of CaribFunk dance technique, I have developed a curriculum that includes elements of Junkanoo in terms of the history as well as modeling the group structure as it relates to the students’ final project which includes them organizing themselves as a group (costumes design and build, music, and choreography) and performing. I am also working on codifying some of the Junkanoo movements and have added them in the technique.
Every year, post COVID, I have watched the live broadcast of the parade on YouTube, primarily on Aliv Network. I must confess that I do not wake up at 2am when the parade begins, I normally catch the tail end of it. This year was no different. I was a bit tired after just getting back from my family cruise (which I have written about—please see previous posts on FaceBook) so, I was extra late waking up this year. When I arose from my slumber, I was able to catch the last 20 minutes of the Saxon Superstars hyped up performance on Rawson Square, the central point of the parade. The spirit of Junkanoo was alive! My son woke up shortly after me, and we watched and discussed the parade. I was amped up and desired more of the pulsating rhythm and kaleidoscope of colors, so I decided to watch the rebroadcast which was about 7 hours long.
Jerome Sawyer hosted the event along with 4 other female reporters who were stationed at various points on Bay Street. They interviewed Junkanoo leaders, street vendors, and patrons—visitors and natives. Current Prime Minister Philip Davis was in the crowd and offered words of encouragement for the new year and former prime minister Hubert Minnis’s wife, Mrs. Sybline Patricia Minnis was smack talking telling the Valley Boy’s they had no chance and that dey did look bad.
The co-hosts shared pertinent information about the structure of the Junkanoo parade which includes the “Rest area,” “Gatorade/water stop,” “The holding spot/the hole” and how the participants get dey belly full and grounded for the parade—eating chicken souse. They also discussed the intricate and time-consuming elements of getting the groups mobilized, being sober versus drinking “hard water/iced tea” and how that affects or impedes performances, as well as the evolution and the shifts that need to happen to accommodate the large groups as well increasingly growing crowd.
Local comedians Sawyerboy and Mz Giggles assisted with keeping the crowd engaged with trivia and hilarious commentary. There were give aways and Bahamian rake n scrape music playing in between the groups, allowing for the upcoming groups to get set up with their massive group members, costumes, and musical instruments.
The costumes, music, and dancing does not disappoint, but there is an overt difference between the more seasoned/senior groups like the Saxon’s and Valley Boy’s. The Saxon Superstars theme was “People of the Islands: Let’s Explore The West Indies.” Their music was phenomenal, and their formations were brilliant. The dancers were in sync and moved up and down, through and in between each other with such precision, never missing a beat. When they made their way down the road, the crowd was on their feet and jamming! It was pure fiyah—majestic. The ancestral spirit was bussin’ t(h)rough di place and the heartbeat of the drumming and the horn section was beyond anything earthly. The orchestra of sound was mind blowing: Horns (trumpet/saxophone/trombone/tuba); Drums (goat skin and oil barrel); Whistle; Cow bells; Scrappers; and all kinds of creative assortments of horns and bells. My son and I were trying to mimic the beat of the drumming (unsuccessfully) on our mini djembe drums; he now wants to rush so, I gat to go figure dis ting out nah!
I was most attuned to costumes, interrogating the notion of aesthetics versus functionality and safety. I had some questions about the footwear of some of the dancers. I was concerned about the shoes of several of the female dancers while they engaged in rigorous and fast paced movement while dancing on concrete parading and marathoning. I also saw a male dancer who was barefoot on the concrete, slithering and contorting his body effortlessly.
Some of the movement of groups that performed at the beginning of the parade seemed too fast and out of sync. Arms were either flailing or not fully extended which didn’t allow for a fullness that mimicked the music. For some, the energy was low, particularly for the group with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader costume. Some of the formations were not clear/clean, and the foot work was dissimilar when it should be in unison. I am not sure if the elements had anything to do with this performance because, it was cold, which is a factor. Maybe there was not enough time to warm up. This was addressed by one of the interviewees. Overall, it was an amazing display of culture, offering an array of Indigenous, African, and Western influences. Most themes celebrated or acknowledged Bahamian history, independence, and future(s).
This is a multigenerational, mixed ability, and inclusive parade—women and men of all ages, races, nationalities, classes, and sizes bring it to Bay Street and shut it down. Even our former Prime Minister Perry Christie was rushing with his group the Valley Boys, dressed in his Sunday best doing the “Christie Shuffle.”
A member of the differently abled group The Chosen One’s discussed the need for (more) inclusion for people with disabilities and how Junkanoo is for everyone; to be invited to participate is not enough. Things must be put in place to accommodate the group members needs as well as those who want to enjoy it as an observer.
It was also great to see both the A and B groups performing together (one after the other), not segregated so that everyone gets an opportunity to shine and be seen.
Overall winners Saxons on Bay Street during the New Year's Junkanoo Parade.
Photos: Moise Amisial from The Tribune.