Question: what do you get when you pile live music, Jamaican cuisine and tribal cooking techniques onto a 1950s London double-decker bus?
Answer: The Ja Joint.
Sounds like a hippie commune occupied by dread-locked Rastafari smoking ganja, right? Wrong. It’s a Queensland-based event company with the aspiration of connecting cultures through food and music, and it’s powered by the infectious energy of its founder, Carly Day.
Carly was born and bred in the UK’s Northampton, but it’s her Jamaican heritage, mixed with Chinese, English and Irish roots, that drives her to bring communities together. “I love food, I love music, I love people and I love culture, and I thought ‘how can I bring all those things together in Australia where Caribbean culture is a little further behind than it is in England’,” she explains.
After a rite-of-passage trip to Australia at the age of 22, Carly made Down Under her home. For the next five years Carly worked at RSLs and in other hospitality jobs, and kept her passion for music alive as a singer. About four years ago she answered the call of her Jamaican roots.
“I started off creating the base flavours of Jamaican cuisine as a product – there’s a certain flavour, called jerk, which is a mixture of chilli, smoked paprika, pimento [allspice], cinnamon, garlic and onion. The product was certified best by the Jamaican Consulate, and I sold it online but it wasn’t the right time because people didn’t know about Caribbean culture,” explains Carly.
Her next move was to educate Aussies about this vibrant culture. Carly’s experience of Jamaican food was seasoned by her Caribbean grandmother in the UK, who taught her how to cook this cuisine with its foundations in the idea of being resourceful, using the foods to which you have ready access, and the tribal philosophy of sharing food in an open house. Only a few years ago, Carly travelled to Jamaica to meet her 100-year-old great grandmother. “She lives on the family property in St. Ann, Jamaica, where Bob Marley is from. It’s a hilly farming life, and she’s still cranking in Jamaica!”
So armed with her rich cultural toolkit and her love of music, Carly established The Ja Joint, a music and food experience company. “We do events, weddings, parties, anything, and they range from cooking masterclasses to pop-up parties – we call it musical food theatre. It’s the chefs, me and the musicians as the whole experience with the diners. There’s no segregation between the guests and us – everyone communicates – and it has this really lovely community vibe. We do things in a really unorthodox way.” Throw in a restored 1950s London double decker bus and you have a “super soul-raising” event.
One of the The Ja Joint’s most recent functions was initiated by a real estate agency, encouraging people to move to a particularly remote area of Queensland. “The team and I rocked up with the double decker bus and ran the event for 150 people. We played cool reggae tunes, we got the smoker going, it was a truly tribal experience with lots of people who were interested in buying houses and many from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We try to break down those social barriers.”
This week-long national initiative of the Scanlon Foundation celebrates cultural diversity in workplaces. The concept is simple – between 20-31 March workmates bring in a dish of food that represents their cultural heritage to share at work. In 2016, 5278 workplaces took part across Australia with more than 320,000 Australians participating in festival events. Carly is hosting her own Taste of Harmony event on Saturday 18 March at a secret location in the Brisbane CBD.
“What’s interesting about Australia is that it’s built on so many different cultures – it’s one of the most multicultural western countries for its size – so for Taste of Harmony, people connect to their inner roots, bringing foods to the workplace that reflect their cultural heritage and they share stories through that experience,” reflects Carly.
Carly’s passion is to dive deep into Caribbean culture, broadening Australia’s knowledge of Jamaica beyond their knowledge of Bob Marley.
“What’s interesting about the Caribbean culture is that half the people there are Rastafari, and their food is amazing. They use loads of coconut cream, garlic and they’re all plant-based dishes,” explains Carly. “Rastafari are super clean-living vegans, often very anti-establishment. And I think Australians are intrigued by this idea. Perhaps that can be attributed to the way Australians live – they love nature, they love barbecues, they’re outdoors people and Jamaicans are like that, too. The simple life – all humans want that at the end of the day.”
Through The Ja Joint, Carly is living the Bob Marley dream of, “One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright.” Peace out.
Workplaces can take part in Taste of Harmony by registering at tasteofharmony.org.au.
This Caribbean version of the pork slider cooks low and slow. They may be almost a day in the making, but they're down the hatch in seconds!
Traditionally, jerk-rubbed meats were cooked over pit fires using the aromatic wood from allspice trees, but in Jamaica today you are more likely to see the meats barbecued in repurposed oil drums that are filled with charcoal.
Sometimes referred to as bulla cake, these sweet, flat rolls are spiced with ginger and, often, molasses. They are a popular snack for school children and can also be filled with butter or cheese.