In VICE's new documentary "Brooklyn's Dirty Masquerade," reporter Wilbert L. Cooper meets Jahzeel Delgado and Azia Toussaint at a smoky backyard party on J'ouvert. If you don't know, J'ouvert is the wild street party of the Caribbean Carnival that starts under the cover of night and goes until the morning comes up. While it's roots lie in the emancipation of enslaved Africans in Trinidad, it has become an important annual fixture in Brooklyn thanks to the Big Apple's Caribbean transplants. As New Yorkers with West Indian and Latin American heritage, Jahzeel Delgado and Azia Toussaint were fundamental in showing Wilbert how to embrace J'ouvert's true spirit.
It's easy to see why Jahzeel Delgado and Azia Toussaint would be the ones to show Wilbert a thing or two about being free at J'ouvert, considering the duo make unabashedly liberated music under the moniker Thirsty 4 P.O.P. I linked up with the "electronic trap" group recently to talk about how they celebrate Brooklyn's notorious street masquerade. Of course, it wasn't long before the talk shifted. Given the fact that a 22-year-old woman was fatally shot at J'ouvert in 2016 for rejecting a man's advances, I also asked the feminist artists about whether or not the freedom commonly associated with J'ouvert is even attainable for women. Here's what they had to say.
VICE: So, what does "Thirsty 4 P.O.P." mean?
Jahzeel Delgado: P.O.P. stands for the "power of the pussy." When I used to play basketball, that was the way we would break. So that always stuck with me, and it just continued to go with life.
So your music is focused on female empowerment?
Delgado: Yeah, we're talking our shit in our music because we did everything that society told us to do as girls—go to school, be a good girl, try the corporate situation—and it definitely didn't work. It's saying, "We're doing it our way." And we've been doing that since 2012.
Azia Toussaint: The end game is always the same. It's about equality and being fair and the world allowing us to be us in whichever way we see fit.
How did you get involved with J'ouvert?
Toussaint: I grew up in Crown Heights/Flatbush area. My mom's family's Haitian and my dad's family's Trinidadian. When I was little, I used to want to go to J'ouvert. My mom would be dressed up—mud, little shorts, basically naked—out on the street, up onto the parkway with my dad. But they never let me go. So when I finally was of age and I was able to go, I used to go all the time. This year, it was really dope. We had a lot of fun. We turnt up. J'ouvert night we started off with a backyard barbecue with lots of West Indian music, like reggae, calypso, soca. Everybody was dancing, whining. There were nutcrackers going around. There was liquor, light foods, fish cakes, stuff like that.
Delgado: I'm from Arlington, Virginia. I'm Colombian and Salvadorian. I played (mas) for the first time in 2012 with Azia. Ever since then, I've always gone. We live between Nostrand and Rogers, so I can't dodge it during Labor Day because they block everything.
There's this impression that J'ouvert and other Carnival celebrations are just an excuse to show off your bodies.
Toussaint: J'ouvert isn't even kind of like a rebellion. It is a rebellion. A long time ago when blacks weren't allowed to express themselves or have a good time, the slave masters would have parties and we weren't allowed to go. So they came up with this concept of "J'ouvert" where they create their own parties. They would put paint on to mock their masters and make fun of what their slave masters looked like. So that's where the paint and mud comes from, the powder faces… You might see people when the paint dries up, sometimes it dries up white or an ashy color and that essentially all comes from making fun of your slave masters and making it a good time. It's just about letting go, having fun, rejoicing, being free and one with the music. So you hear a lot of steel pans, a lot of drums. You get lost within the culture, the noise, the music. Whether it sounds good to you, sounds crazy, chaotic whatever it is, you'll get lost with the beat of the drum.
Do you feel safe at J'ouvert?
Toussaint: Yeah, Labor Day is my favorite time of the year because I'm a low-key nudist. So I like any holiday where you don't have to wear a lot of clothes and no one's going to harass you. You do get some guys who are over-excited and they might try, but that's not the main thing. You can be in a thong playing in the parade and that's the norm. I do feel safe. Some people may not be used to that environment. The culture is very raw and aggressive. But not aggressive in a way like, 'Girl, come here.' If someone's trying to dance with you, they're just dancing. It's not like they're trying to have sex with you on the floor. But then you do have men who take advantage—who can go that route. But that's not what it's about. It's about having fun, dancing, letting loose.
How does your music celebrate your culture and being a woman?
Toussaint: With T4P, we embody the power of one's self. Not only are we saying it's girl power because we're here to uplift each other, but it's really just being true to ourselves. We're both from two different cultures, but they're both very full. Our music touches on all of that.
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