LA’s JamRock Jamaican Jonkonnu Troupe will return to the streets of West Hollywood on Halloween Eve, Saturday, October 29th, 2022. Supported by a grant from the City of West Hollywood, the troupe will join hundreds of ghouls, goblins and night creatures as they take to Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, between 8pm and 10pm.
Jonkonnu emerged in Jamaica in the 1700’s and was immortalized by artist Isaac Mendes Belisario in his publication, Sketches of Character. The art form is steeped in African masking and celebratory traditions with an amalgamation of European influences, such as English mumming, Commedia dell’arte, and the masquerade balls of the European plantocracy. The practice is believed to have been named in honor of a powerful Akan leader who lived in Ghana in the 1700’s. Forbidden to engage in the elaborate and extravagant holiday balls of slave owners, Africans created their own celebrations to reinforce their traditions and reclaim their humanity. Traditionally played by men, characters such as Devil, Pitchy-Patchy, Jack-in-the-Green, Belly Woman, Cow Head and Horse Head, traveled across many plantations with live musicians and dancers in pantomime and performance. They mocked and parodied European lifestyles but also used characterizations to secretly comment on their dire condition. They would generally receive donations, food, and drink for the ‘merriment’ they brought to the enslavers.
But there was a dark side to the practice. ‘Belly Woman,’ for instance, played by a man, is believed to have been introduced to act as a decoy to protect enslaved pregnant women who were routinely forced to ‘entertain’ the slave owners. From the 1700’s, when first documented by Belisario, Jonkonnu became a regular part of Jamaican Christmas celebration. During enslavement, this was the only time Africans were given a few days of freedom from the sugar plantations and they used this time to innovate this unique practice.
The event billed as ‘Jonkonnu Romps in the Streets of WeHo’ is part of a renaissance of Jamaican Jonkonnu tradition, which has declined significantly over the last 50 years. It will feature original costumes by award-winning designer, Marie Kellier, and new music composed by Grammy Award winning musician, Doc Ric Wilson of Mandrill. Maintaining the unique characters that differentiate Jamaican Jonkonnu from other derivatives of the practice, it is part of a larger project, ‘History, Artistry and Presentation of Jamaican Jonkanoo’ by artist Marie Kellier. The project is supported in part by the City of West Hollywood Arts Division, Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA,) California Arts Council (CAC) and LA County Department of Arts and Culture. It is sponsored by International Eye LA. For information, (213) 761- 4475 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.