Joël Jacota has been President of the Gathering for Culture and Carnival in the Pointe-à-Pitre Area (Groupement pour la Culture et le Carnaval en Région Pointoise, GCCRP) since 2008. The GCCRP organizes the carnival of the Guadeloupe island, a French Caribbean island, during a period of time that varies every year between January and March. Pointe-à-Pitre is the main city of the Guadeloupe island.
INTERVIEW – february 2016
What is the Pointe-à-Pitre carnival?
The carnival is the largest cultural event of Guadeloupe. It has always existed here, since our ancestors arrived. During the slave era, the latter would hide to celebrate the carnival.
The carnival period is very important in our community, if didn’t existed I think Guadeloupe would collapse. After the Christmas and New Year celebrations, people have the carnival in mind. Its duration varies; it can last ten weeks, but this year unfortunately it lasted only five weeks plus the five additional “fat days”. It is a very festive period, which people long for and prepare a lot. Whether the period is short or long, there are always numerous visitors. The carnival has an important place in our customs.
Today, if the carnival exists, that’s also because the GCCRP tries to make it an attractive event that can trigger economic benefits. Public institutions’ financial participation decreases, so we try to increase our incomes. And I think if we manage to create this attractive “carnival product”, we will have an even more wonderful carnival.
Who are the “carnivalers”, the participants?
The Guadeloupe carnival presents very diverse cultures: Brazilians, Haïtians, Dominicans, people from Saint Domingue… and even Britons made up a group to participate in this carnival! And of course, natives from Guadeloupe, who play traditional music, like for example the “skins music” where percussions are made of animal skins. Or cymbals music, with large pots like the ones you can see in some Caribbean countries. Or, traditional groups playing on toms and plastic pots. Music is an important part of our carnival.
This variety astonishes everyone in the Caribbean area. For example when we go to the Sainte Lucie carnival, every year in July, the locals are always surprised to see how we, Guadeloupians and Martinicans, can play our own music on our own traditional instruments, while their music is more modern, more “synthetic”. This diversity makes our carnival unique in the world.
And, this big event triggers questions; people wonder how such a small territory like Guadeloupe can have such a beautiful carnival! This year, we had to manage over seventy groups during the main day, between 12 and 10pm, with approximately 150000 spectators.
How did you come to lead the Pointe-à-Pitre carnival?
I’ve been passionate since I was a child! I want our Guadeloupe archipelago to become known in the world for its carnival, I want visitors to come between January 1st and mid-carême specifically to discover this cultural manifestation. I want tourists to arrive on the port for the carnival, instead of being surprised to be here during the event. I wish to work more with tour operators to create project in common, and even allow visitors to participate! They could see in advance the costumes that are planned for the show, choose their group, and parade with the “carnivalers”.
Why is it important to preserve the carnival culture?
Simply because it is a part of Guadeloupe’s heritage.
There were people to organize the carnival before me, and there will be after me. One person who especially marked the Pointe-à-Pitre carnival is Louis Colomb. He used to be part of the carnival organization, today he is President of the Guadeloupe Carnival Office (Office du Carnaval de Guadeloupe) and he releases a lot of studies on this cultural manifestation. He, and many other people, have and preserve a strong memory about the carnival. It is important to me that this memory and this heritage are continued. And, making our island a “carnival destination” contributes to this.
Do the participating artists perpetuate a traditional format or do they create new costumes and new music pieces every year?
We don’t give any preset theme for the “fat Sunday”, the main carnival day, and the groups come with their own creations. This year for example, a group represented a danger to our faun, the lion-fish, and it was beautiful.
The groups work in their communities, and they create a new show for each manifestation. Therefore the parades change over the years: what artists would show thirty years ago is quite different to what we can see today, and it will be different in thirty years too.
The GCCRP organizes several competitions every year to encourage the participating groups to make the most beautiful costumes and the most beautiful parades. They have the motivation to win the main prize: we invite the winning group, which is approx. fifty people, to the Sainte Lucie carnival during one week. The music and parade competitions winners also get 3000 euros. If we had enough budget, we would invite each competition winner in a different Caribbean carnival! This contributes to put some chilly in the carnival sauce!
We are looking for more financial support and trying to increase press communications to highlight our heritage. And when it will be known enough, maybe other artists, including designers, will come and work with the local carnival participants and contribute to elaborating the parades.
All groups make all details of their show on their own. We make sure that they don’t take external ideas. Everything has to come from a “made in Guadeloupe” concept and everything has to be made here!
How do you envision the future of the carnival?
Always stay Guadeloupian, while including groups presenting other cultures – like for example the Creole Brazil group that already participates.
We also want to observe what works in other carnivals, how other organizers work, and keep improving our event. And I’m sure that other carnival organizers also look at how we work to integrate good practices into their organizations! For example, we started a system to have the groups leave and arrive at specific places at precise times; and I encourage other organizing communes to do the same, as very often you see the groups come and leave whenever they want… When you see such beautiful costumes starting to parade at dawn, it is frustrating.
Do you have a message for the world?
We are a little away from Europe, but every day there is a plane taking off and landing in Pointe-à-Pitre. So I say, come to our place! It is beautiful. People mention violence a lot, but violence exists everywhere, not only in Guadeloupe. Some American medias now recommend Guadeloupe as an attraction, so I think metropolitan and European medias could do the same. Come spend a week in Caribbean islands, and you will see! Especially if you come in January, February or beginning of March, you will be happy!
PORTFOLIO – A CARNIVAL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE