Superpower Jamaican Accent for the Super Bowl

       images-11Don’t mind the IMF.  Thanks to Volkswagen of America, Inc., we’re been reminded yet again that Jamaica is a cultural superpower.   According to Wikipedia, “A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests”.

       Of course, the meaning of ‘power’ in that definition is, essentially, political, economic and military.   Superpowers are the big guns of the world.  The British Empire in the bad old days of in-your-face colonisation was the first ‘modern’ superpower.  Britannia ruled the waves, captured lands far and wide and now evades reparations.  After all, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves – not even to fundamental principles of natural justice.

cold-war  Eventually, all across the globe, exploited colonies demanded independence and the sun finally set on the British Empire.  The Soviet Union and the United States of America both inherited the superpower mantle and aggressively fought for supremacy in the Cold War.  These days, China, India, Brazil and the European Union are all ready to claim superpower status.

Clearly, Jamaica is not in this big league. We’re not in the ‘Group of Eight’: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia the U.K. and the United States.  We’re not in the ‘Plus Five’:  Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.  We’re in no group.  We’re in a class by ourselves.

tumblr_m8xebjur1d1qaflnqo1_r1_5003

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson image

Long ago, Marcus Garvey gave us the formula for our greatness:  “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.  Follow always that great law.  Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement”.

Garvey also wickedly said, “The whole world is run on bluff”.  But he certainly wasn’t bluffing when he conceived the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).  Garvey had a grand vision of what black people could achieve.  Although he was born on a small island, Garvey was not insular. His consciousness was continental.

Peter Phillips and Miss Mattie

Like Garvey, Louise Bennett celebrated the unlimited potential of the Jamaican people.  In one of her most amusing poems, “Independance” – yes, “dance” – Miss Lou creates a raucous character, Miss Mattie, who gives a most entertaining account of what independence means to her.  It’s not the song and dance of constitutional arrangements.  It’s much more primal:

Mattie seh it mean we facety

Stan up pon we dignity.

An we don’t allow nobody

Fi teck liberty wid we.

 

Independence is we nature

Born an bred in all we do

An she glad fi see dat Government

Tun independant to.

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips

Miss Lou here wittily suggests that so-called ‘ordinary’ people like Miss Mattie are way ahead of politicians in their understanding of power dynamics.  Perhaps Peter Phillips should ask Miss Mattie to come along to the IMF negotiations.  She would not be afraid of proposing her own conditionalities.

Indeed, Miss Mattie has a rather expansive view of Jamaica’s geopolitical location:

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small,

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!

 

Moresomever we must tell map dat

We don’t like we position –

Please kindly tek we out a sea

An draw we in de ocean

 

Turning History Upside Down

black_britain   Miss Mattie shows up in another humorous poem by Miss Lou, “Colonization in Reverse”:

What a joyful news, Miss Mattie

Ah feel like me heart gwine burs –

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in reverse

Taking our cultural “bag an baggage” to the stepmother country, Jamaicans turned history upside down, reversing the flow of influence.

These days, our distinctive Jamaican ‘Patwa’ is the preferred language of youth culture in England.  Last summer, in a moment of deranged grief as the embers of widespread riot died down, the British historian David Starkey lamented the success of Jamaica’s reverse colonisation of England:  “black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”

http://http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/13/david-starkey-claims-whites-black

It’s not only England that’s been colonised by Jamaican culture.  It’s the whole world, as Miss Mattie would say.  Which brings us to the VW Super Bowl ad that had 4.6 million hits by Friday morning.

Why does it feature a white man from Minnesota speaking with a stilted Jamaican accent?

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8

a)   The man was born in Jamaica, migrated as a ‘yute’ and hasn’t been back in a very long time.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

b)   The man was born in the US to Jamaican parents and has never visited Jamaica.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

c)   The man was born in Minnesota, went to Jamaica on vacation, fell in love with the language and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

d)   The man was born in the U.S., has never been to Jamaica except on the Internet, fell in love with the culture and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

e)   The man is a pretty good actor who was coached by a Jamaican and tried his best to sound Jamaican.

In an excellent interview with Jamaican blogger Corve DaCosta, the star of the VW ad, Erik Nicolaisen, said, “I have been a lifelong reggae fan, and as a voice actor I have tried to put a little patois into my repertoire”.  Jamaican popular music has been a potent medium for spreading our language across the globe. As Miss Mattie confidently asserts, Jamaica is not in the Caribbean Sea; we’re in every ocean of the world.

Adam Stewart

Adam Stewart

As was to be expected, some very clever Jamaicans have produced a brilliant spoof on the VW ad.  It was Adam Stewart’s bright idea.  As CEO of Sandals Resorts International, he knows a thing or two about VWs.  The brand is in the family of companies.  The creative team at Sandals ran with Adam’s idea.  The satirical remake features a happy-go-lucky black man speaking English with a German accent. He dances off-beat and gets everybody in the nightclub to follow suit; he eats jerk chicken with sauerkraut and inspires the jerk man to do the same; he arrives to work seven minutes early and, when he is chided by his boss, cheerfully promises to return in ten minutes.

The Jamaican dub version of the VW ad slyly mocks German efficiency.  It also takes a crack at our own willingness to follow fashion. We often copy others who are copying us.  But since the inspiration for the original ad appears to be the perception that Jamaicans set standards that the whole world can imitate – whether it’s exceptional happiness or inventive language – it’s all in good fun.

The Jamaican presence at the Super Bowl wasn’t just the VW ad.  It was Beyoncé doing the dutty wine, to the invigorating beat of Sean Paul.  And to makes things even more like home, there was that nicely orchestrated power cut!  Jamaica is a superpower. Be happy about it. Yeah, mon!

http://http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx9m51_beyonce-super-bowl-halftime-show-2013-hd_music?start=81#.UREVG45D70c

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Superpower Jamaican Accent for the Super Bowl

  1. I agree entirely with Mr. Garvey’s remark that “the whole world is run on bluff.” I must remember that quote! To me, the world of advertising is all run on bluff, too. So I didn’t set much store by this ad, although he seems a nice guy and all that… I am so glad the tourism sector is having fun with promoting Jamaica’s “happy go lucky” stereotype. But is that who Jamaicans really are? As for the use of patois in England, I think that is exaggerated. According to my Jamaican/British son who lives there, it is just a fashionable pattern of speech among young people in urban areas, as part of their slang. And many other cultural “isms” are included in the slang – Arab/Muslim, for example. I think we are reading too much into all of this. Ads are all about stereotypes and that is what this is. Does that help the average Jamaican in any way? I don’t know…

  2. Pingback: Volkswagen und Saturn im Jamaika Fieber | House of Reggae

  3. The VW ad was NOT done with the intention of promoting Jamaica as a tourist destination. The simple fact of the matter is that it was geared towards the continous promotion of the car manufacturer, only that they had to find a new and interesting way to catch the attention of the the viewers and guess what they did. We have heard talks about Jamaica making use of or exploiting Ads that speaks about her time and time again, please remind me what was the outcome? That’s right absolutely nothing came out of those so called opportunities. My point is that it is Jamaica’s culture and Jamaicans need not wait on other nations to promote them, they would know how best to do it if they just really “put their backs into it.”

  4. Dr. Cooper, please allow me to respectfully take issue with you on a number of points. Generally, white Jamaicans as a whole live cut-off from our society, and truly believe that dark-skinned Jamaicans don’t know English and are undereducated buffoons who like to stare at white people, their gods. Your invocation of Miss Lou and referencing of the SuperBowl ad reinforce these stereotypes. The invocation is ironic because Miss Lou is Canadian, and therefore qualifies as a quasi-French satirist.

    Specifically, let us take issue with not being taken seriously, with seeing ourselves mocked as in that ad. I am not my accent. My national identity and the way I sound have nothing in common. Why should I be satisfied with a simplistic definition of myself when I’m anything but simple?

    Finally, I am against large scale sporting events because I believe they lull our collective consciousness into dormancy, allowing us to be brainwashed into accepting violence as an essential facet of human civilisation.

    Racism is violence, and a thigh slapping parody of our sound is a form of racism.

    • Miss Lou was a born Jamaican. Her Canadian citizenship was a convenience:=) And, of course, you are entitled to feel that the VW ad is racist parody. But a lot of us Jamaicans don’t see it that way.

  5. Dr. Cooper, please allow me to respectfully take issue with you on a number of points. Generally, white Jamaicans as a whole live cut-off from our society, and truly believe that dark-skinned Jamaicans don’t know English and are undereducated buffoons who like to stare at white people, their gods. Your invocation of Miss Lou and referencing of the SuperBowl ad reinforce these stereotypes. The invocation is ironic because Miss Lou is Canadian, and therefore qualifies as a quasi-French satirist.

    Specifically, let us take issue with not being taken seriously, with seeing ourselves mocked as in that ad. I am not my accent. My national identity and the way I sound have nothing in common. Why should I be satisfied with a simplistic definition of myself when I’m anything but simple?

    Finally, I am against large scale sporting events because I believe they lull our collective consciousness into dormancy, allowing us to be brainwashed into accepting violence as an essential facet of human civilisation.

    Racism is violence, and a thigh slapping parody of our sound is a form of racism.

  6. As usual, a thoughtful and patriotic reading of our national identity in the wider world. I remember the late Hon. Louise Bennett with much affection and pride. Thank you for reminding us of how much she’s done to mould our identity as a people. Out of many, one, and to you, One Love.

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