Written by: David Lawrence
Jab Jab, the mass of the downtrodden, the music of the simple man has now ascended into prominence and respectability on the carnival scene. Jab has been around since the origin of carnival, Jab Molassie in Trinidad and Jab Jab in Grenada. The origins of carnival can be traced to the festivities leading up to Lent in the French colonies where the bourgeoisie of these islands masqueraded in expensive elaborate costumes and danced to the music of well-tuned orchestras. The ex-slaves, being of little means, participated in these festivities by smearing themselves with the ashes of burned cane, and oil or grease. They used the beating of biscuit tins, oil drums, and the blowing of conch shells to create music as they satirically enacted scenes from the days of slavery.
The word Jab was derived from the French word “Diable” meaning “devil”, so a masquerader playing Jab Jab is playing the devil. Jab is a satirical representation of the evil inflicted by the white colonialist on the slaves. To complete this imagery, Jab Jab was outfitted with goat horns, thick chains, and other artifacts to tell the story of the day. Two noticeable spin-offs of Jab Jab are the Blue devils, who are still around today, and the less played, more macabre-looking red devil. These are characters of J’ouvert where they would perform their ghoulish acts to scare young children, the uninitiated or the squeamish.
With increase prosperity in Trinidad after its independence, carnival evolved and the emerging black middle class could afford to spend money to play mass. Many started to adopt the views of the white ruling class and perceived Jab Molassie as dirty mass, the mass of the poor, and even as devil-worshiping and shied away from it in favor of the pretty commercial costumes. With time, the numbers of Jab Molassie revelers were reduced to just a few bands on a J’ouvert morn.
But not so in Grenada, the playing of Jab Jab remained strong and vibrant throughout the years. J’ouvert morning in Grenada is about the celebration of Jab. He reigns supreme on that island and is embraced by the multitude. In Grenada, to play a Jab is to embrace one’s heritage. Jab mas has become a symbol of Grenadian culture and freedom. Jab Jab is more than a carnival character he has become associated with strength, virility, and manhood and is the main character in many of the local songs, for example ‘Tombstone” by Mandella Linkz.
The music that has accompanied the playing of Jab Jab mas, the banging of drums, and the blowing of seashells, though primitive in sound, has been very effective in making masqueraders dance, jump or move in unison. It remained a potent force in music throughout the years and has created success in many songs that incorporated it. Penguin: ‘Look the devil Dey’ (1982), BlueBoy: ‘Jab Jab’ (Road-march 1992), and Shadow: ‘Play De Devil’ (1995) are a few that comes to mind. But these incorporations were like an eclipse of the moon; they weren’t that frequent until Grenda’s artist Tallpree went big internationally with ‘Old Woman Alone’ in 2000.
Grenadian artists have since then experimented with the Jab Jab beat, making it one of the most compelling beats on the planet today. I experienced the power of this Jab Jab beat when covering the 2019 International Soca Monarch Finals. When that music is playing, you get the feeling like you’re in a musical hurricane. You cannot stand still; the rhythm or the crowd would throw you down. Normal power soca makes one jump to the beat, but this jab jab music compels you to run ‘wid’ it (Mr Killa: “Run Wid It” on the “Planet Riddim”). Those who think what the Grenadians did in the international soca competition was a fluke better think twice. For “The children of D cane” are at it again perfecting the music of Jab. Apparently, they don’t only want us to run ‘wid’ it, soon they would want us to fly ‘wid’ it.
Today Jab Jab and his music is an integral part of Caribbean carnivals globally. The jubilation, the ease, the power of the music, and the cost-effectiveness of this form of entertainment, make many want to dirty their skin in homage to Jab and revel in the fun it brings. Thus, Jab now has no boundaries; he is played by all classes and skin color the world over. For to a play a Jab is to remove all attire and prestige of wealth and grandeur of self and throw all caution to the wind and run with the music. There can be nothing more liberating than this.
Grenada’s 2019 Jab Music
The 2019 International soca Monarch competition will be remembered as the crowning of Jab Jab. Not only because of Mr killa win but for the frenzy created throughout the competition by the Jab Jab rhythm. Three of the finalist: Mr Killa, Mandella Linkz, and Natty & Thunda all created havoc with this beat
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