J’Ouvert 2024 King and Queen crowned – Queen fed up, ole mas is dying

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Port of Spain Mayor Chinua Alleyne, centre, congratulates King and Queen of J’Ouvert 2024, Andre Villaruel, left, and Laverne Smith, right, at the Downtown Carnival Committee J’Ouvert competition on Carnival Monday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

EXPRESSING concern over the dwindling numbers of spectators, 2024 Queen of J’Ouvert Laverne Smith says the ole mas competition needs to be revamped as “feather and frills can only go so far.”

Smith earned the title with her portrayal of the recent resignation of Massy CEO Gervais Warner.

Dressed in corporate wear with a large Massy Stores bag in hand, Smith’s sign said “I could do de wuk.”

Commenting on the declining number of spectators, she said entered the competition because she felt it was dying.

“I am fed up. I love the frill mass and the feathers but this is our culture and this is very important. This is social issues. These are the issues affecting everyday life.”

This group was covered in mud and powder during J’Ouvert celebrations in Port of Spain on Carnival Monday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

She commended Port of Spain Mayor Chinua Alleyne for his efforts at keeping the competition alive but said the ole mas competition needs to be revamped.

“This is important. This is our history.”

She suggested a fear of crime might be one reason for the low spectator turnout but expressed hope that this will change and young people in particular will begin to enjoy the artform.

“One of the things I noticed coming into Port of Spain was the security. It had a lot of security measures. So (these measures) can get young people to be comfortable to come out and enjoy the mas, enjoy their revelry, knowing that they are safe and secure.”

She said she was excited having improved her placing every time she took part in the competition.

“The first time I play was 2020 and I came third. The second time I play was 2023 and I came second. Need I say more? So I’m really excited that I won this time. This is my third time and I’m really happy about it.”

Meanwhile, Andre Villarruel’s commitment to his craft paid off as he won the 2024 King of J’Ouvert title for the first time in 30 years.

Villaruel’s portrayal of “West Indies force a win” earned him the crown in addition to the title of most humourous ole mas portrayal. Villaruel said his act was inspired by the regional team’s recent win in Australia, their first in 27 years.

Dressed like a test-match cricketer with bat and ball in hand, he crossed the stage before turning to face the judges, squatting, bending over.

“I’ve played second and third lots of years, but I’ve never won it. So this is my first time winning it in 30 years.”

Villaruel said he didn’t know what the winning prize was as he was not interested in the money but rather the artform.

“We don’t play for the prizes. We play because we love what we do. We really love, love what we do and we enjoy it. The prizes are just incidental, for want of a better word.”

He said he was also buoyed by the thought of his family seeing him cop the prize live on television. “I’m imagining now that my family is looking at me on the TV and my grandchildren are seeing me. That’s nice and I’m enjoying that.”

Courts Sound Specialist took part in J’Ouvert celebrations in downtown Port of Spain on Carnival Monday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

Alleyne said there is always space for reform and renewal and added the Port of Spain City Corporation is working with the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and other stakeholders to bring Carnival in the city “back to life.”

“We have a brand new pan competition called Panamania where we’re encouraging all of the field bands to come to the downtown stand for this new competition. It’s an open competition and we’re doing all that we can to make sure that we continue to keep the mas alive, continue to keep the Carnival alive, and continue to keep the Lord Kitchener stand on South Quay alive.”