SVG pan champs for Brooklyn J’ouvert

Mixed section of Starlift Steel Orchestra with young female at the fore.
Photo courtesy of Starlift Steel Orchestra

According to Verna Arthur, co-founder and coordinator of the Brooklyn-based Youroumei Productions, Starlift will breathe new life into the Caribbean festival by providing music to masqueraders and revelers in the lone Vincentian J’ouvert band in New York.

“Youroumei Productions has had the 20th Century Steel Orchestra, our New York-based Vincy Steel Orchestra perform for us in the past. However, with Starlift coming directly from SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), it will add a particular nuance on the road for J’ouvert – that undescribable feeling that most of us experience when we touch down at E.T Joshua Airport (in St. Vincent and the Grenadines),” said Arthur in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview.

“Starlift’s performance would provide and add Vincy flavor on the road,” added Arthur, public relations officer of the Brooklyn-based Club St. Vincent, Inc., one of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ leading educational and cultural groups in the United States.

She said Club St. Vincent, Inc. and the Brooklyn-based, SVG-owned KBB Shipping and friends are collaborating with Youroumei Productions in the portrayal of “Starlift, The Stars are Lifting,” the same name as the popular Vincy steel band.

Arthur said 13 Starlift members and a rhythm section will provide “that pulsating Vincy sound on the road for J’ouvert.

“Some members from 20th Century Steel Orchestra and other Vincentians have already stated that they will be beating their iron,” she said, giving themselves the dual dub, “The Vincy Rhythm Section” and “The Engine Room.”

Arthur said Youroumei Productions is aiming for at least 100 masqueraders and revelers, adorned in silver and white, and possibly gold.

She said while the band caters primarily for Vincentians, other nationalities are welcomed, disclosing that some Africans have already registered.

Arthur said J’ouvert is generally a “very hard sell to Vincentians in New York,” but she hopes nationals will “come out in their numbers to support Starlift.

“We are appealing to the Vincy massive, who may otherwise play in other bands, to sit out of these bands this one time and represent SVG in full force,” she urged.

In addition to the costume band, which will be judged, Arthur said Starlift will be competing in two competitions during the New York J’ouvert – Bomb and Calypso.

“I have full confidence they will win one if not both competitions,” she said. “We would like to have a very large band to reflect nicely on the road.”

Starlift Steel Orchestra was established in 1967 as a result of efforts of several persons from Old Montrose in the Vincentian capital of Kingstown.

Among the pioneers were Simeon “Spitta”Antrobus, Teddy “Mice” Johnson, Hugh “Paddy Hugh” Williams, Gideon “Socks” DaSilva and the indefatigable “Walton “Tanny” Peters.

Later, Starlift said members “would cross social and economic boundaries,” coming from as far as Barrouallie on the Leeward side of mainland St. Vincent, and Canouan and Union Island in the Southern Grenadines.

The panorama champions said many members “have gone on to make invaluable contributions to the development of SVG and its cultural landscape,” including Peters; calypso maestro Alston “Beckett” Cyrus; former Calypso Monarch Errol “De Man Age” Rose; Ken Isles, and the late calypsonian Dan Simon.

The band has a current membership of about 125, with the majority being young people, the youngest of whom is six years old.

Arthur said she and another Vincentian cultural figure, Jasmine Hinds, formed Youroumei Productions in the ‘90s.

“There was a need for a J’ouvert band in New York, and that’s how Youroumei productions came into being,” Arthur said.

“We wanted to keep it very close to our Vincy roots, hence the name Youroumei Productions,” she added.

On J’ouvert Morning, Arthur said the band will move from its camp at the Vincentian-owned Standard Shippers, 3616 Clarendon Road, between East 31st and 32nd Streets in Brooklyn, and head for the starting point, at Grand Army Plaza, along Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn.

For information on costumes, call Arthur at (718)758-2416, KBB Shipping at (718) 363-2310 or Sandra Millington at (718) 692-4540.

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