Carnival: People, Music, Freedom & Expression

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Sunday March 12, 2017

From Vice

Trumpeter Etienne Charles Connects Jazz and J’ouvert
By: Alexis P. Williams

The raucous festivities at Carnival may seem like the last place one would expect to hear the sounds of jazz. However, if you listen closely to VICE’s new documentary “Brooklyn’s Dirty Masquerade,” the sweet trumpet of Etienne Charles sets the tone for reporter Wilbert L. Cooper’s cultural immersion into the lively Flatbush street festival known as J’ouvert. With a commanding blow of his horn, the Trinidadian immigrant guides Cooper on a journey from Flatbush fetes to streets filled with multicolored masqueraders basking in the glory of their independence.

Although Charles likes to preserve the traditions of Caribbean Carnival from the steelpans to playing mas, the improviser also managed to modernize the music of the century-old street party with what he calls “Creole soul.” By exploring the rhythmic African cadences of Orisha chants to the contagious and vibrant beats of Caribbean soca, Charles’s trumpet tells the story of a prideful people who live in harmony with their history. I spoke with the 33-year-old artist recently to learn not only how his melodic oration gets crowds on their feet, but also how a generation’s worth of storytelling is hidden beneath the flamboyant sounds of Carnival.

VICE: How does your Trinidadian heritage impact your music?
Etienne Charles: My music’s a reflection of me, so everything that I grew up hearing is in my music. I grew up in Trinidad, so all the sounds of Trinidad are in my musical DNA. My parents are big into Carnival. My dad used to play in a steel band, and my mom plays mas every year, which means she puts on a costume and goes into the street, so that’s always been a big inspiration for me…

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