Friday, April 28, 2006

Passa Passa

December 2003

Last night, make that early Thursday morning, what in essence was Christmas morning, I took my flu-ridden self out of bed, out the door, into the streets of Tivoli Gardens for my first dose of “Passa Passa.”

Having reached there somewhere after four am, we were treated to a long “talk pon mike” session where the sound selectors allowed upcoming, and perhaps all too struggling artists to ‘bless the mike” with a sample of their pieces. I thought that maybe we had come too late and that the dance was over. I was to find out otherwise.

“Excusing” our way through the jam-packed street audience, I realized that this was by all means “the street dance” that my parents’ generation reminisce so sweetly about. We passed too many rough-looking creatures to make our “upwardl- mobilized” selves comfortable, but somehow, we managed to strike a balance by creating our own permanent “screw faces.” We had to hold the vibe.

Decked out and looking real cute the trio of us girls, seemed to be a sight for so many men of varied backgrounds who were (quite relievingly) prepared to simply admire from a distance.

The cliche “uptown meets downtown” is the phenomenon of “Passa Passa”, the weekly Wednesday night street dance in the streets of Tivoli Gardens. All animosity is put on hold as patrons dance up a storm to the latest music selected by the most engaging selectors I have personally ever heard. But I don’t get around much anymore.

“Fan them off, Thunder Clap, Signal di Plane, Pon di River, ” the selectors belted, guiding the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Old, young, rich and those who simply put aside their money woes, moved to the lastest dances in the dancehall. Yes, the dance is certainly back in the dancehall. And so is the expert selector who can keep a crowd eating out of his hands with the smoothest and most salient interjections coupled with the most appropriate songs.

The day is breaking, so I check my watch- 5:45 am and the dance is going on strong, in fact, it has just begun. All of a sudden, my too-protected-self simply lets go and allows the whole vibe to penetrate my being. From the looks of things, nobody is ready to go home. That was all good because, quite frankly, neither am I.

So we pranced and danced and inhaled the air that put us in a trance, holding this real “artical downtown vibe” until, people who looked like they were getting dressed to go somewhere started asking us “excuse” as they passed the sound boxes. It was quite a pregnant moment when an elderly lady, armed with her bible passed us by as we bubbled at the sound boxes, on her way to Christmas morning mass. We had to stop and ponder our carnality for a lingering second. The symbolism truly profound.

As soon as she was out of sight, we felt vindicated to continue in our revelry and that we did. We had breakfast at “Passa Passa” that Christmas morning; a meal of somewhat undercooked pan chicken and hard dough bread.

The sun came up on us at that blessed street dance and our true features were tested by the intensity. Not everybody holds up to daylight, and we were lucky to be given its stamp of approval, having checked ourselves through each others eyes. Of course, in the dancehall, image is everything.

So things have changed a little since my mother’s time. It seems like it’s no longer “bad blessing” for the “sun to come up on yuh face at a dance.” In fact, at “Passa Passa,” it must. Apparently, new tradition has it that one should leave the venue and head straight for work, making the necessary clothing modifications in the car. Thank goodness Boxing Day was a public holiday and I wasn’t slated to work!

The dance is back in the dancehall. I really got tired of seeing everybody standing and posing. Now everybody “a do the ‘Thunder Clap’”. Quite frankly, I love it!

So its 8:00 am and the dance is still going on strong. Our ride is ready, but we don’t like the vibe so we pass. We hitch a ride up Spanish Town Road to visit a friend, then jump on a bus heading straight downtown. We are a little self conscious, wearing party clothes in the bright morning, clearly “comin from Passa Passa” as many people inquired.

The dance was still going on… the bus had to drive though it. Of course, we made sure to “duck” our heads as we saw faces that we had danced with all night. We couldn’t simply be seen taking the “Chi Chi” bus from the venue, having looked so “uppity” in moments before. But we were still piqued for the adventure.

Since I will take temporary residence in a foreign country, it was most necessay for me to have the Passa Passa experience. Having danced unitl dawn and taken the bus home, I can assure that no matter how far I go, or how long I stay, I will always have to comeback to this blessed island home of “Passa Passa,” vibes, niceness, and so much more.

This is the Jamaica I love. Christmas 2004-“Passa Passa” here I come!


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