Learn About the History and Artistry of J’Ouvert at Brooklyn Public Library

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A report by Séan Devlin for Brownstoner

J’Ouvert, the festival that brings a Carnival-like atmosphere to Brooklyn’s pre-daybreak streets each summer before the West Indian Day Parade, is fast approaching. At Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch, you’ll be able to learn more about the festival’s origins, its artistry and have a chance to take in the art and music that make J’Ouvert what it is.

J’Ouvert originates with French settlers’ introduction of masquerade balls to the Caribbean in 1783. Banned from participating in their masters’ Carnival celebrations, slaves would hold smaller carnivals in their backyards. Once emancipated in 1838, slaves began participating in Carnival, blending in their own rituals.

Elsewhere in the world, J’Ouvert celebrations are tied to the lenten calendar, but in Crown Heights, it’s become tradition to hold it on Labor Day. While the calypso bands, dancing, and jerk chicken of Labor Day’s sunlit celebrations are a staple of J’ouvert, the daybreak jubilee also includes more esoteric elements. This year’s J’Ouvert Festival will begin a bit later than usual — at 6 a.m. — in an attempt to curb the violence that has been issue in previous years.

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On August 19 you can immerse yourself in the sounds and artistry a bit early with The Art and History of J’Ouvert: Tradition as Resistance, a program by Brooklyn Arts CouncilBrooklyn Public Library, The Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music and the Caribbean Studies Program at Brooklyn College, J’ouvert City International, and Something Positive Inc.

There will be two portions to the event – first will be a session to meet some of the artists involved with J’Ouvert and afterwards a celebration with music, dance, and mask-making. Featured performers during the event will include Kutters, Legend Stars, Oil Downers and La Troupe Zetwal.

The Art and History of J’Ouvert: Tradition as Resistance will take place August 19 at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at 10 Grand Army Plaza. The event will run from 2 to 5 p.m., and is free of charge. You can RSVP on Facebook here.

[Photos of 2015 J’Ouvert by Cheney Orr]

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