Picking up from yesterday’s post about Touch D Sky moko jumbies we highlight three of the people who play a pivotal role in the organization. If you’d like to know more about the tradition of moko jumbies look here and here.
Last year Stephanie Kanhai made history by becoming the first woman to win the Queen of Carnival title masquerading as a moko jumbie. She has been walking stick, as she calls it for the past eight years. This year she rises to the majestic height of 6 feet. Stephanie was active in community dance groups and participated in The President’s Best Village competition. She even competed for the Ms. Emancipation title representing Ste. Madeline when she was 14-years old. She learned how to walk stick from Adrian Young and Jonadiah Gonzales who had started a group in her neighborhood.
When Stephanie made it to the semi-final rounds of the national competition last year it was an emotional experience for her. She fell and was disqualified 2013 (Rebellion) and did not advance in 2014 (). She says that she loves being a moko jumbie, the fun of it, the excitement of it means a lot to her, and it keeps her relaxed. I observed Stephanie portraying the Sweet Waters of Africa as she danced off the stage at Champs in Concert last year. This was her last official portrayal of the costume that allowed her to win the Queen of Carnival title. She had been through a lot, having fallen after she competed in the finals and was still managing pain in her knee. But at that moment she was pure joy. She couldn’t stop dancing. She said she didn’t want it to end.
Adrian, along with Jonadiah Gonzales, is the founder of Touch D Sky. In 2005 they started collaborating but returned to a former group. From 2009 consistently they performed as Touch D Sky Moko Jumbies, then simply Touch D Sky. When he was 4-years old, Young says he saw a pair of sticks by a gate and strapped them on. They were about 3 feet high and he didn’t even know who they belonged to, but he went up on them. He had been hanging around where other moko jumbies practiced eyeing their equipment when everyone was finished. By the second day he mounted 7 foot sticks by putting them on, holding onto the gate until he was able to walk around on his own. At that time he met Junior Bisnath, leader of Kaisoca Moko Jumbies and demanded a pair of stilts. After getting over the initial surprise of his brazenness Bisnath told him he could not just demand a pair and asked to see what he could do. Young obviously struggled in the higher stilts, but Bisnath sent him home with a shorter pair to practice. Now decades later, Young has performed as a moko jumbie for almost 25 years. He recently returned from a 3-year stint as a stilt walker with the renowned Universoul Circus around the United States.
Young was intended to portray the costume, The Walking African in last year’s competion as the king of TouchD Sky’s Crossing The River. Due to work and personal constraints he was unable to come. Despite the joy of welcoming his first child into the world on the same day that Stephanie Kanhai was crowned queen, it “tore him apart” he says, to not be able to participate. He says it was confusing to him, joyous because all of his dreams came through seeing Stephanie win made him unbelievably happy he was also sad at not being here to witness and participate..
Alan Vaughan’s role in the band, is to lead the conceptual and creative side and make the costumes. Members talk about ideas over a period of time – and the Moko Jumbies develop their actual understanding, interpretations and performances alongside the costumes. Alan says, “I also make the costumes for particular people, as I know how they move and who they are spiritually. The spiritual element is very important to us, and we pay a lot of attention to this part of the mas, because the actual performances are transformational moments where the Moko Jumbie is no longer the person on stilts, but actually becomes the portrayal.”
An important moment for me from the 2015 carnival was when Stephanie’s “The Sweet Waters of Africa” made it through from the preliminary round to the semi final of the Queen competition. I remember bursting into tears when I was telling someone – it was very emotional, because I knew how much it meant after her fall two years before. She was able to overcome that previous set-back, which had haunted her since it happened.
The final itself was an unbelievable roller coaster of emotion. We were late into the Savannah as two of the performers who were part of the presentation were delayed due to traveling from San Fernando. We had to run carrying everything across to the Savannah from Belmont. As we were putting Stephanie’s costume on I realized that we had forgotten her dress, and I had to race four blocks back to the mas camp in Belmont to retrieve it. She was actually in the line to go on stage when I reached back. STRESS.
But as Ella Andall’s “Oshun Karele” began playing, and Kristoff came on stage as a fisherman hauling a net, followed by Jonadiah as a shoal of fish, and dancer Greta Mendez, washing a great length of white cloth by the side of the river, turning and looking up in awe as The Sweet Waters of Africa appeared dancing a stately orisha step down the centre of the stage, I could sense that we had created something special. When she turned to face the judges and opened her arms the reaction from the crowd was incredible, and as she went off stage people were standing and waving handkerchiefs. Creating that kind of magical moment is what we had dreamed about for TouchDSky.”