The New Orleans Jazz Fest Features a Martinican “Chouval Bwa”

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival featured a chouval bwa, a carousel from Martinique.  Chouval bwa—wooden horse in Creole—is the name of both the hand-made Creole carousel and the live band that “moves” the manually-operated wooden merry-go-round. Musicians perform in the middle of the carousel on percussion instruments including a D’Bonda, a double-skin drum, a ti bwa, a bamboo played with sticks, and a chacha, an accordion-like instrument. They also direct the spinners to move the carousel at different speeds.

With the chouval bwa, people of all ages  at the festival shared in the culture of Martinique: “Now ladies and gentlemen, we begin slowly, slowly then faster, faster,” the announcer announced, “You’re gonna go on a trip to Martinique, a little French island in the Caribbean.”

The carousels were major draws to village fairs in Martinique until the 1950s. They had all but disappeared by the mid-1980s until Joselita and Claude Germany decided to revive them. Joselita Germany says, “To keep the tradition alive, we decided to bring it back. Many were hesitant, reluctant to get involved, because it was a lot of work. You have to get the wood, cut it, polish it. You have to be dedicated to it.”

“People who experience it, love it,” said Murial Wiltord-Latamie, a spokeswoman for the France Tourism Development Agency, who traveled with the group to the festival. “The music gives them strength to move the carousel. There’s no electricity. It’s the music that feeds their energy and thus the carousel.”

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival featured a chouval bwa performances are scheduled through Sunday.

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