Braata Jonkonoo offers brawta to Labor Day bacchanal

Jamaican born actor, singer, and producer Andrew Clarke leads Braata Folk Singers during one of their concerts.
Jamaican born actor, singer, and producer Andrew Clarke leads Braata Folk Singers during one of their concerts.
John Eli Photography

“Jonkonoo come out early.”

In Jamaica, the above statement could be regarded as a demeaning assessment of one’s appearance. It is actually patois for subtly commenting on an individual’s conspicuous attire. Interpreted to mean that a person might be over-dressed, looks ridiculous or maybe inappropriately fashioned, a critical eyewitness might jab at the style by making a parallel with the Christmas paraders who traditionally dress to scare children for pounds, shillings and pence.

The reference jokes down confidence and usually insults hairstyle, make-up or clothing deemed inappropriate for any season other than around December 25 or Dec. 26 holidays.

Jonkonoo is defined as a “Christmastide tradition that tapped into its West African spiritual roots through combination of costume, music, and dance. The tradition appeared in Jamaica during colonial times and later spread to other Caribbean islands, Bahamas, Bermuda and North Carolina.”

Pronounced Junkanoo, jonkonoo or John Canoe, for the first time this Labor Day, Braata Productions is bringing out Jonkonoo, early.

Intended to add to the bacchanal, according to Andrew Clarke, the founder and artistic director, the group’s appearance is enabled by funding from Assemblyman Brian Cunningham “to host and participate in a number of cultural events in Central Brooklyn.”

Because the Brooklyn held, West Indian American Day Carnival Association’s annual fete fits into the required qualifications and the fact the performance group comprise a diverse representation united by a mission “to showcase, celebrate and preserve traditional folk culture” meets the standard — for the first time Braata will join revelers on Labor Day at Eastern Parkway.

The performance ensemble consisting of talents from various Caribbean islands will pay tribute to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago nations which in August are celebrating 60 years of self- governance.

They plan to integrate the traditional holiday practice into the Eastern Caribbean pageantry which is dominated by masqueraders, soca, pan and calypso music.

“We will have a float along the route,” Clarke explained, “it will feature life-sized effigies from both island as well as music from both islands from a deejay as well as the Braata folk singers.”

He said the float will culminate with a jonkanoo parade in front of the Brooklyn Museum.

Akin to jourvert, some will recognize mimicry associated with colonial deprecation. Jamaicans in particular will likely relate to characters named Belly Woman, Pitchy Patchy and Actor Boy.

Most revelers will regard the integration of the jonkonoo tradition as another progression to appreciation of Caribbean heritage and culture.

Distinctive to the characters are music performed using cowbells, fife, bugles, horns, goatskin drums, costumes, street parade and dance.

In Jamaica ‘brawta” interprets to mean “extra niceness.”

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