Home / View Point / Guest Columns / The J’ouvert Rum Story: ‘What neo-colonials tout as opportunity is just exploitation with glossy packaging’

The J’ouvert Rum Story: ‘What neo-colonials tout as opportunity is just exploitation with glossy packaging’

Welcome to Dimension Alpha63, a timeline that closely mirrors ours but on a more highly evolved plane. It is a place where enterprise exists solely for the purpose of mutual upliftment of as many people as possible. 

Because why else right? Who is perverse enough to want otherwise? You see, early on in their liberation struggles, they happened upon the foundational causes of greed and domineering behaviour and were able to devise ways to quickly root it out. So, their progress regarding ego mastery was astronomically faster than ours.

Photo: Working together for mutual benefits.

In this dimension, just like ours, there are festivals that are remembrances of former trials and tribulations and the struggle to be free. However, unlike our dimension, everyone in Alpha63 is currently free. 

As a result, in their dimension, all 30 Universal Human Rights are applied with zero bias to citizenship in a Global North vs Global South country, age, gender, ethnicity, personal spirituality (organised religion is near gone), gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Reparations and returned land are already at the three-quarter re-payment mark for centuries of colonial theft, sabotage, oppression, and the resulting trauma. This sped up reconciliation between ethnic groups much faster than just symbolic mia culpas.

On Alpha63, deep healing from generational traumas is already in the 3.0 iteration and manifested two generations deep. Every year, fewer beings are born with propensities for personality disorders and are raised in such a way there are fewer emotional gaps to fill with unhealthy attachment, acquisitiveness, and predatory behaviour. 

Nobody allows themselves to be worshiped as a celebrity to the extent it negates the necessity of being a decent person and avoid foisting mediocrity upon others. While famous people do exist due to widespread respect and love of their work, fewer people exist who need to worship them because of low self-esteem and their own unrealised potential.

Photo: The cast of the superhero mega-hit “Black Panther” won for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a motion picture at the 25th Screen Actors Guild Awards.

In this dimension there is also a Michael B Jordan (MBJ) who is a well-known actor respected for his body of work. MBJ of Dimension Alpha63, despite coming from a larger geographical landmass with a lot more resources, does not see smaller island states as places to conquer or leech off their traditions purely for image and profit. 

It is also unthinkable for the Trini entrepreneurs in Alpha63 to do anything but seek mutually beneficial collaborations for their country. It helps that linear, extractive enterprises are not allowed approval anymore.

Even without those regulations, the culture is such that people would be ashamed to produce anything that was not innovatively meeting a serious need, forges backward linkages and works harmoniously with a circular economic model. 

While oppression and inequality are waning on the horizon, the festival of J’ouvert still pays homage to those who paved the way and it is celebrated in most English and French-speaking Caribbean islands, but with extreme possession, passion and poignancy in Saint Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, and most of all, Trinidad and Tobago.

MBJ Alpha63 heard rumblings about this festival. He saw some of the more diluted forms in his country during celebrations by the West Indian Diaspora in New York; but it was only when his co-star on Black Panther, Winston Duke, elaborated more on it during one of the late-night cast hang-outs that it truly hit home to him. 

Photo: Killmonger (left), played by Michael B Jordan, and Tchalla, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, square off in “Black Panther.”

As it often happens, once your energy centres on a thing, it becomes a magnetic nucleus that just draws complimentary components to you, or perhaps you just notice the connections and opportunities a bit more. It would not be long before the paths of MBJ Alpha63 and the Trini Entrepreneurs Alpha63 would cross.

The idea was simple: Trini Entrepreneurs Alpha63 has an incredibly unique beverage distilled in T&T to promote. It is made from local ingredients which meant backward linkages to rural communities that are following sustainable agro-processing practices. 

This is no same-ole, same-ole mediocre alcoholic product in a market saturated with more of the same. This is lightening in a bottle. A hard wine made with a carefully guarded blend of local fruits, spices, ginseng and bois-bande.  

From the first sip, MBJ Alpha63 exclaimed, “Dayum! This thing goes down smooth and then BOOM! Heart-shaped herb power like in Black Panther!”

“Dat is some good shit!” the Trini Entrepreneur Alpha63 beamed proudly. “This is have some real legs man! It started as an underground thing but I just know it is export-worthy. Plus, more sales of this will enrich and empower a whole village that is the centre of production for it.

Photo: Actor Michael B Jordan pours a drink at his New York bar.
(via BET)

“But right now, it’s just very unrefined and the packaging is glass which is good because we can recycle but it is more difficult to transport. We cannot afford to upgrade to that new hemp plastic yet. Plus, it has no brand.”

MBJ Alpha63: “Well, no ordinary kind of branding will do for this! This thing man, this is special! So how do people get hold of it now?”

Trini Entrepreneur Alpha63: “Right now, it’s an under the counter, no-brand need-to-know basis kind of thing. People have all kinds of names for it, ‘Gimmie de ting’, ‘Ah need a boost up’ but nothing really sticks,

“So far, our biggest sales period is Carnival time. Michael, when I tell you, is cases of this by the hundreds! Especially for J’ouvert morning! We can barely meet demand when…”

“Wait! Hold up! Did you say J’ouvert?” MBJApha63 interrupted, his brain was firing, and things were rapidly connecting, “J’ouvert is exactly how I feel when I drink this. This is crazy! I’ve never even been but this feeling like I want to just unleash!”

Photo: Revellers enjoy themselves during the 2016 J’Ouvert celebrations.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“Well…. it’s not like the brand don’t already have a grassroots connection with J’ouvert!” the Trini entrepreneur Alpha63 said out loud to himself. “So all we need to do, is bring you into the J’ouvert man!”

“But we need to do it the right way,” MBJ Alpha63 cautioned. “I don’t want to come off like some kind of Yankee coloniser from yesteryear, coming to play spokesperson about something I’m not even initiated into. That is the very opposite of my image and the kinds of roles I play. 

“One of the artists in the video Dukes showed me said J’ouvert marks a socio-cultural, human rights tipping point that Caribbean people, do not want to ever forget, even if we are living in a near-utopia right now, we must always remember or we will take this blissful age for granted. That hit deep man!”

“Yes! Yes! Of course!” Trini Entrepreneur Alpha63 agreed, “I’m right there with you brotha! I am not talking about naming this thing J’ouvert or trying to impose you on J’ouvert. That would be insulting and ridiculous. 

“I am talking about immersing ourselves into J’ouvert and letting it guide us to the right path for this product!”

Photo: Beware the Jab Jab…
(Copyright Dwain Thomas)

“Already there man!” MBJ Alpha63 reached out and they fist bumped. “We do it for real or we don’t do it at all! I want to capture my whole initiation into J’ouvert in a vlog. I also want to go to this village and experience this mystical brew from start to finish. Maybe we can even feature the village in the vlog too!”

The eyes of the Trini Entrepreneur lit up. This was more than he expected!

Trini Entrepreneur Alpha63: “They would love that! They don’t just do this beverage as their only means of income eh. They have some rainforest tours, they have eco-villas where people can stay and learn all kinds of ethnopharmacology, cultural practices. In fact, growing that was a major part of their sustainability drive and…”

MBJ Alpha63: “Sold! Book my ticket! We are building this brand up, deep and strong. I’m patient. We will need a four-year strategy. 

“Year one is sensing, connecting and troubleshooting and we trademark the brand and packaging. Year two, growing distribution through very carefully curated partnerships in the African American community, Caribbean and in South Africa where I have some contacts. Year three, we widen even more, maybe Asia; and year four, harvest! And I want the village as majority shareholders in this endeavour. 

Photo: Successful American actor Michael B Jordan.
(via Flckr)

“By the way, Dukes told me there is something called Ole Mas and it is like cosplay but political and social parody. He said many of these Ole Mas creators often find themselves destitute when they too old to compete, because they make no real money off this. We need some kind initiative where a fund goes to support them.”

*********

Four years later, the intoxicating, aphrodisiac, energy drink, Tief Head™ is an internationally renown brand with MBJ Alpha63 as just one of its popular faces who help to promote it and the ritual of J’ouvert, as a zealous new convert. The marketing materials always show him flanked by authentic J’ouvert artists, giving him their approval. 

Juneteenth J’ouverts explode all over the USA as another way to celebrate emancipation. People believe the brand! An entire Tief Head™ Pilgrimage to T&T Carnival begins to take place. 

There are fully-booked Tief Head™ Tours of the little rural village which is now thriving and hosts its own Academy Of Nature Studies, which people all around the world pay to attend. Talks of a whole music festival called Tief Head™, devoted purely to J’ouvert music aka Rapso, Riddim Section with specially invited hip hop, reggae and Afro-beat artists is in the works.

Photo: Rapso group, 3Canal.
(Copyright fetedelamusiquetnt)

Not a single J’ouvert creator, keeper, or devotee felt the slightest bit of insult.

Back To Dimension 2021 AD Earth

I return from my little imaginary trip to a place where enterprise is not at odds with ethics and empathy. Back to the here and now where the complete opposite happened.

From the first rumble of controversy, I have been looking at this through all the various arguments. The etymological one regarding ‘J’ouvert’ and who originated it was not the clincher for me. The fact the name was free to be used because it had no IP/TCE protection nor trademark and these neo-colonials took the opportunity to trademark it, was infuriating but also not the clincher for me.

The low Trinbagonian self-esteem that made people believe an African-American actor could carry a brand called J’ouvert with zero connection to the festival and with no Trinbagonian or Caribbean J’ouvert artist accompanying him—even though our Trinbagonian and Caribbean artists rack up millions of views and likes and sell out stadiums for concerts abroad—was of course demeaning, but not the clincher either.

Photo: Actor Michael B Jordan’s ill-fated launch of J’ouvert Rum.

It was when I looked at this issue as someone involved in marketing, that the real root of the problem revealed itself. How can you market something if you clearly do not understand the market?

Sure, we aren’t Dimension Alpha63 but a shift in global consciousness is escalating, faster than we think. Certain things the powers that be used to try to pull, is not going to fly anymore. But it seems the decision-makers and people with capital in our Trinbagonian society are oblivious, then act all taken aback when indignation follows their selling out.

They continue to underestimate the will and voice of the people and most of all the age that we live in. Is it arrogance or just having the mindset of intractable dinosaurs?

This is the age of hyper-vigilance on social justice and decolonisation. It is the age of accountability culture and public outrage affecting change. How come the Trini-Entrepreneur and their marketing team did not realise this? 

We are in the age where authenticity is the most important brand currency. You need to build a brand up from a real place and real relationships these days (or at least appear to be doing so) or you will get dragged.

Photo: We’re listening…

Even if they did not know, wouldn’t standard best practice in product development, focus group testing and consultation troubleshot the name and avoid any possibility of outrage before the product was launched?

Did that team know about brand personalities? If an actor has carefully curated his career choices to embody strong, black conscious resistance against ‘The Man/Coloniser’ and as a champion of the disaffected, how on earth can you put him in the embarrassing position of playing ‘The Man/Coloniser’ who provokes the disaffected to protest?

You see how quickly Michael B Jordan realised this was not a good for his brand image. By the way, can we give props for one of the few sincerely worded apologies we get to see these days from someone with power. He earned a second chance and a welcome to come do the thing properly, authentically with us.

What do you think?

As for the Trini-Entrepreneur/marketing team/PR person who handled the crisis communications by betraying the brand and saying it has no meaning. Are you trying to tell us you created a brand with a name with no meaning? The condescension and insult to our intelligence will not be easily forgotten.

Photo: A blue devil on the loose.
(Copyright Office of the President)

The more I think about it, the way this product was marketed revealed a disconnect that makes it very difficult to believe there were good intentions to provide ‘opportunities’ that some are crying over.

It would be easy to confuse me for some idealist activist who is about protectionism of culture for protectionism sake. You would be wrong. As part of the Accela Marketing team, I recently completed creative strategy on a Caribbean Development Bank and Export Saint Lucia project that was about the commercialisation and marketing of the Carnivals of Dominica, Saint Lucia and Grenada.

Those money-focused, very corporate people already understood that if they were going to invest millions in those Carnivals, IP/TCE protection of unique, cultural facets of the events—Jab Jab Mas, Sensay, Bwa Bwa, Short Knee, Dennery Segment etc—was the starting point before they could fully promote and profit from the creative product.

They understood that the real keepers of the ritual are the ones who must be included in the project. We started with stakeholder consultations that brought the Keepers Of The Ritual to the table at the research and conceptualisation level.

Photo: A reveller in the Toronto Caribana Festival.

They understood that it was not about trying to ‘Americanise’ the product to make it appeal to culture-challenged Americans. Instead, it was about finding the niche markets of Americans as well as the Canadians, British, French, Germans, Scandinavians and citizens of African countries who already vibe with the authentic thing or are seeking it out because they want to connect with the real deal. 

Some people understand we are in the perfect age to be proud of our roots and that pride makes others respect you more not less. All I can say after working on that project for a little over one year is: Trinidad and Tobago, when it comes to this, we stickin!

But I am optimistic because I see a growing pushback against what neo-colonials tout as ‘opportunity’, when it is just exploitation with glossy packaging. I saw it happen with the white elephant of Sandals.

Aren’t you glad now we don’t have to subsidise the electricity, water and sewage and import duties for an all-inclusive hotel in Tobago that is empty due to Covid-19; and will not making any return on investment any time soon, nor employing anyone, nor paying into income tax and NIS. 

We are nowhere close to Dimension Alpha63, but we are at a turning point. We know how to use our voice, our outrage to stop what we don’t want! 

Photo: The Sandals Resort in Antigua.

Where the huge gap remains is in actualising what we do want. The ideal we are secretly longing for, but we don’t yet know the how of taking it from vision to reality. 

I am here to tell you to ignore the cynics who tell us it is far-fetched and make you depressed, discouraged and desperate. Please, keep focusing on the highest possibilities! Envision it with as much detail as you can. 

Make it a magnetic nucleus. See what happens!

About Jessica Joseph

Jessica Joseph
Jessica Joseph is currently the Creative Director of Accela Marketing St Lucia/Canada. She is a multiple ADDY Award Winning Trinidadian national, Pop Cultural Anthropologist and Humans Rights Activist. She blogs on Huffington Post and alieninthecaribbean.blogspot.com.

Check Also

Tye: T&T’s governance model ‘breeds deep mistrust’—as such, ‘forced vaccinations’ would be a mistake

I certainly empathise with the government as they are navigating difficult decisions in the management …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 comments

  1. Brilliant perspective, one which highlights the seriousness of ignorance and the devastating effects that it can have on small island states like ours which are already not taken seriously. I was one of those wondering if we had over-reacted, but then I got to wondering what the Bahamas tourism board would have done to him had he called his rum Junkannoo. It surprised me that we still have not moved to secure ALL our intellectual property yet. No one is going to respect us unless we make them. That is as real.as it gets.

  2. Thanks for this. Needed!

  3. Righteous indignation that refuses to be bottled up or otherwise contained. Letting it all come out.

    But I for one am not at all certain that you are right about this: “the condescension and insult to our intelligence will not be easily forgotten.”

    Like Dimension Alpha63, sister, Trinidad and Tobago is NOT a real place.