Category Archives: dancehall culture

Sexual Falsehood Top To Bottom

ninth-280I got several emails last week from angry people trying to persuade me that Dwayne Jones was responsible for his own murder.  His crime was not cross-dressing.  It was deceit. But since the whole point of cross-dressing is to deceive, this distinction really makes no sense.

Some people passionately argued that the men who were deceived into thinking that Dwayne was female were the real victims.  And they had every right to take defensive action.  One woman compared the deceit to rape.  This is how she put it:  “There is an emerging way of telling stories nowadays that lays no responsibility on the victims whatsoever and I don’t get it.

“Dwayne was Jamaican.  Why did he put himself at risk like that? AND!!!! he also put the lives of other men at risk.  If no alarm had been made, some of those other men would have been labelled gay. Some of the men who were wined upon against their will may even have been traumatised for life.   As my friend was when his schoolmates from a prominent Kingston high school raped him”.

But the men who were ‘wined upon’ were quite willing to participate.  Dwyane did not wine on them against their will.  It was not rape.  It was consensual wining.  As far as the men knew, they were not dancing with a man.  Dwayne had become the self-styled ‘Gully Queen’.  It was pure theatre.

Simone Perrotta, Christian ChivuCross-dressing men are not necessarily gay.  And dancing with a cross-dressing man doesn’t automatically put a man at risk of being labelled gay.  Full body contact between Jamaican men is not always taboo.  It’s perfectly acceptable on the sports field. Footballers passionately embrace when a goal is scored.  It’s a ritual of the game.  I know it’s not exactly the same as wining in the dancehall.  But the body language is similar.  It’s just a different dialect.

BLOODY CLOTHS

Perhaps I’m expecting too much of Jamaican men.  But I think a self-confident man could have acted far differently to the outing of Dwayne.  A real man could have made a joke of it. He could have just said, “Bombo claat! Di bwoy good!  Im ketch mi fi true!” And even though Dwyane didn’t have a bombo, the profanity would have been enough of a judgement.

a-dictionary-jamaican-english-frederic-gomes-cassidy-paperback-cover-artThe so-called ‘bad’ word, ‘bombo’ is a perfectly good word of African origin, meaning ‘vulva’.  But like many other elements of African culture in Jamaica, the word has been devalued.  The word shows up in Eric Partridge’s 1949 Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English where it’s described as “West Indian; orig[inally] a negroes’ word”.

Our own Dictionary of Jamaican English, published in 1967, notes that in the Zulu language there’s a similar word ‘bumbu’, meaning ‘pubic region’.   So a cloth for the bombo, like a cloth for blood, is simply a ‘sanitary pad’.  How a clean cloth could become a very dirty word in Jamaica is a whole other story.

And talking of cleaning cloths, I got an informative email from a Jamaican living abroad: “When I first came to Asia, I noticed that many men carried a small packet of wet wipes.  I asked what it was used for.  I learnt only Muslims did this. I learnt that they used it in the bathrooms to wipe their penises to ensure there was no dribbling after they passed urine. Urine on clothing is considered unclean and it is avoided like the plague.”  So our male cross-dressers at Caribbean Fashion Week do have a point.

LETTING THE COCK OUT

rooster-prev1230259193QKMb3gAll of the angry email-writers stopped short of saying that Dwayne should have been put to death.  They couldn’t quite go there.  But none of them laid any blame on the woman who let the cock out of the bag.  I think she should have taken a less scandalous approach.  She could have called Dwayne aside and said something like this:  “Hey bwoy!  Yu mad! Yu no know dem man wi kill yu if dem find out?  Mind yu self!”  But she didn’t.

Dwayne’s deception is an extreme version of the sexual games people play all the time.  These days, women have mastered the art of deceit.  They completely reengineer themselves:  false hair, false eyelashes, false nails, false breasts, false bottoms, false everything.  You can actually buy panties in local stores with padded bottoms.  And men have been known to stuff their briefs, especially when the contents are very brief.  A most wicked falsehood!

Picking up a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ at a dance is a very risky business. You really don’t know if you’re going to get fish or fowl.  It’s a big chance you take.  And as for online dating, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.  People just lie, out and out.  I’m amazed by the statistics you hear on American television about all the marriages that dating services have arranged.  I keep wondering about the divorce rates.

Before

I got a most intriguing email about a Chinese man, Jian Feng, whose unnamed wife gave birth to a rather ugly baby, in his opinion. The child looked like neither parent.  Feng assumed the child was a ‘jacket’ and accused his wife of adultery.  But that was not her abomination.  The rather plain woman had done extensive plastic surgery to make herself beautiful.  Genes don’t lie so the baby came out looking like the ‘real’ mother.

article-2223718-15B43F0C000005DC-575_306x423Jian Feng filed for divorce on the grounds that his wife had deceived him. He won the case and was awarded US$120,000 – more than  the US$100,000 his wife had spent on plastic surgery.  I suppose if Feng had been a certain kind of Jamaican man he would have batter-bruised his wife physically.

But divorce, in this case, is emotional abuse.  Why couldn’t Feng have lived with the fact that his wife simply wanted to be beautiful?  In much the same way, Dwyane Jones just wanted to be the gully queen.  Death is a very high price to pay for that forbidden desire.

Vybz Kartel’s Book For CXC

images-3Vybz Kartel’s arresting book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, co-authored with Michael Dawson of People’s Telecom fame, gives a penetrating account of the deadly conditions endured by too many youth who are barely surviving on the margins of Jamaican society. Claiming the authority of the traditional warner man, Kartel compels his audience to pay attention to his prophetic story. You just can’t put the book down.

Kartel’s intention is not to entertain but to upset: “As strange as it may sound, I hope you do not enjoy this book. I hope it disturbs you. I hope after reading you realise there is something wrong with Jamaica that needs to be fixed. I hope you will never look at a ghetto person the same again.”

Cynics have been asking if Kartel really wrote the book. They clearly have not listened to his songs. There’s an organic connection between the two: “… After seeing the crowd’s response to my conscious songs, I wanted to tell more of the story that I could not capture in three minutes riding a riddim. So I started writing, still unsure at the time if a book was what I wanted to do.”

Each of the 10 chapters amplifies the core concepts of selected songs. For example, chapter 1 is based on ‘Thank You Jah’:

Psalms 127 Selah,

Except di Lord build di house,

Dey labour in vain dat build it,

Except di Lord keep di city,

Di watchman watcheth, but in vain.

Thank yu, Jah, it’s just another day, selah,

It’s just another day,

Thank yu, Jah, mi wake up dis mornin

Roll out di herbs before mi start yawnin

Tun round buss a kiss pon mi dawlin

Tell har seh, “Honey, mi ah touch inna di steet.”

In di street mi see poor people bawlin

Nuff juvenile no even nyam from mornin,

“Weh di black woman future?”, me aks him

“Weh di system a do fi she”?

Now big up di gyal dem weh fight it alone

An ah raise two, three pickney pon dem own,

Weh di man deh? No man no deh home,

Babylon have dem inna jail.

Big up di juvenile dem inna di street

Weh a seh dem haffi make it

An nah touch di chrome!

Dem no waan wi fi claim our own,

But Africa nah form no fool inna Rome,

Ghetto youth, we go on and on

Babylon waan wi gone,

Hungry from morning til night come,

Dem waan wi fi live our life so,

Dem a wonder if di youth dem a go stop, no!

A wonder if di ghetto a go drop, no!

Dem a wonder if wi ketch inna di trap, no!

A wonder if Jah tun him back, no!

SAVAGES SAVING SOULS

‘Thank you, Jah’ is a prayer that every fundamentalist Christian in Jamaica can identify with – up to a point. Kartel chants his gratitude to Jah in Old Testament lyrics. But the song quickly changes tune and tone. ‘Thank you, Jah’ becomes a damning judgement on the failures of modern Babylon. Kartel’s invocation of the psalm is decidedly ironic.

images-1The Lord is certainly not keeping the city of Kingston. Babylon labours in vain to build a city founded on injustice. The so-called ‘system’ brutalises poor people in Jamaica. The profound philosophical question the song raises is whether or not ‘Jah tun him back’. Are ghetto people the victims of divine indifference, as Babylon hopes? The song condemns the conspiracy of Church and State to keep poor people in bondage.

In the book, Kartel has ample room to elaborate on the inequities of Jamaican society, especially the apparent willingness of the Church to postpone justice until ‘Thy kingdom come’. He gives a quick history lesson to demonstrate the origin of the racism at the root of imperial Christianity.

Christopher_Columbus3-1Kartel demolishes the myth of European conquest as a mission to save the souls of savages: “Sometimes, I wish Gaza was around in those days when these men came off their ships, dressed in their stockings, short pants and funny hats to tell Portmore people they are heathens so they should come and work for free and these men in stockings will show them salvation. I am confident you could stay from the toll road and hear those sailors begging for mercy when the Gaza done wid dem.” Although Kartel doesn’t want us to ‘enjoy’ the book, there’s lots of humour.

THE GARVEYITE AND THE BLEACHER

In a telephone interview last week, Michael Dawson explained his role in the creative process. He sees the book as a recording of the ‘reasonings’ between himself and Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer. In his ‘Preface’, Dawson admits the ironies of the project: “Many people have wondered how this improbable collaboration came about. How could someone who is a known Garveyite collude with the ‘Bleacher’ to write a book? … How did my Campion background find common ground with the Gaza?”

Dawson gives an intriguing answer: “I realised what Addi was reluctant to admit; that deep down he realised he had the gift of being a lyricist and the ability to put it on a dancehall rhythm like no one else had. He feared, however (my observation), that being known as a conscious artiste would gain him a label that he did not want.”

It was the opportunity to lecture at the University of the West Indies that changed Kartel’s mind. Wilmot Perkins must be turning in his grave. The ‘intellectual ghetto’ has clearly served its purpose, promoting dialogue between town and gown.

images-2The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto should be read in and out of school. It ought to be on the CXC social studies syllabus. It raises complex issues of social justice in an accessible way. This book will engage the attention of every student, from Campion College to Gaza Secondary. And Adidja Palmer needs to be given a fair trial. Quickly! Otherwise, we run the risk of turning Vybz Kartel into a political prisoner, fulfilling the expectation of the book cover.

Who’s In Charge of the Rompin’ Shop?

Hot_Dancehall_Queen_by_answer973March is International Women’s Month.  It’s a good a time to talk about sexual politics in dancehall culture which is often dismissed by outsiders as misogynist. But dancehall culture can be seen in a quite different way as a celebration of full-bodied female sexuality.  Especially the substantial structure of the Black working-class woman whose body image is rarely validated in the middle-class Jamaican media!

The uninhibited display of female bodies in the dancehall is vividly illustrated in the lyrics of two foundation deejays whose endurance is legendary: Shabba Ranks and Lady Saw.   References to fleshy female body parts and oscillatory functions should not be seen just as devaluation of female sexuality.

32349In “Gone Up,” from the As Raw as Ever 1991 CD, Shabba, playing on the proverbial association between food and sex, notes that the price of a number of commodities is going up.  To a chorus of affirmative female voices, he asks women a rather pointed question and proceeds to give advice on negotiating a mutually beneficial sexual contract:

Woman, wa unu a do fi unu lovin?

(Wi a raise it to)

Before yu let off di work

Yu fi defend some dollars first

Mek a man know seh

Ten dollar can’t buy French cut

No mek no man work yu out

A body line, old truck.

‘Everything a raise’

images-2Shabba makes it clear that he’s not advocating prostitution. The complicated relationships between men and women cannot be reduced to purely economic terms of exchange. He insists that men must assume responsibility for their sexual partner.  It’s a moral issue:

Is not a matter a fact seh dat unu a sell it.

But some man seh dat dem want it.

As dem get it, dem run gone lef it.

No mek no man run gone lef it

An yu no get profit

Everything a raise, so weh unu a do?

Shabba encourages robotic, domesticated females to stand up for themselves. They are often too timid to question the unequal exchange of services and resources in the household:

Have some woman gwaan like dem no worth

Hitch up inna house like a house robot

House fi clean, dem clean dat up

An clothes fi wash, dem wash dat up

An dollars a run an dem naa get enough

Shabba chastises irresponsible men who waste household resources on carousing with their male cronies:

IcyMint32x405g100ctNow yu have some man no want do no spending

Dem wuda do di spending pon dem bredrin

An naa buy dem darling  a icymint.

An icymint is one of the cheapest sweets on the market. The depth of the delinquent man’s failure is measured in very common currency.

Erotica or pornography?

Lady Saw would certainly not put up with this kind of cheap man. In a decisive act of feminist emancipation, she cuts loose from conventional social expectations. Marian Hall’s spectacular performance of the role of “Lady Saw” is not often acknowledged as a calculated decision by the actress to make the best of the opportunity to earn a good living in the theatre of the dancehall.

images-3     Flamboyantly exhibitionist, Lady Saw embodies the erotic. But one viewer’s erotica is another’s pornography. So Lady Saw is usually censured for being far too loose—or “slack”. Even worse, she is often dismissed as a mere victim of patriarchy, robbed of all power. But it is Lady Saw’s anansi-like personality that appeals to a wide cross-section of intelligent fans – both male and female.

In addition to the sexually explicit songs for which she is infamous, Lady Saw’s repertoire includes impeccable hymns, country and western laments, songs of warning to women about the wiles of men and politically “conscious” lyrics that constitute hardcore socio-cultural analysis.

pa-4942810In a radio interview in the “Uncensored” series on Fame FM, Lady Saw boldly countered charges of vulgarity with absolute self- assurance:

Interviewer: Lady Saw, you do things like, yu grab yu crotch on stage. . . .

Lady Saw: Uh huh. Michael Jackson did it and nobody say anything about it.

Interviewer: And you gyrate on the ground. I mean, do you think this is acceptable for a woman?

Lady Saw: Yes, darling. For this woman. And a lot of woman would like to do the same but I guess they are too shy.

Shyness is not one of Lady Saw’s virtues. In response to the question, “Some people are saying that you are vulgar on stage and your lyrics are indecent. Do you think they are justified?”, she dismissively asserts: “I think critics are there to do their job and I am here to my job . . .  to entertain and please my fans.”

Aphrodisiac Avocado

So who’s in charge of the rompin’ shop? In the case of Shabba Ranks and Lady Saw it’s a clear draw.  And, not so surprisingly, even the frontrunners of the reggae revival are singing rompin’ shop songs. Last Thursday evening, Janine ‘Jah9’ Cunningham gave a brilliant lecture at the University of the West Indies, Mona, tracing her musical journey to her first CD, New Name.

images-4One of Jah9’s sweetest tracks ‘bigs up’ her ‘humble lion’ who is almost seven feet tall and wears size 14.  He satisfies her with the ‘right remedy’:  avocado. The aphrodisiac qualities of this fruit are well known.  At the album launch at Redbones, she put on the mask of her sunglasses to sing “Avocado”.

Jah9’s lecture was the first in a series of ‘Reggae Talks’ that are being hosted by the Department of Literatures English. Protoje will give this week’s lecture on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre (N1).  No-Maddz, Cali P and Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson follow.  The public is invited and admission is free. The reggae dancehall rompin’ shop has many rooms.

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

 

 

 

 

“Talk Like Miss Lou, Mi No Talk Like Foreigner”

I don’t usually give in to the demands of domineering men.  But two weeks ago, in response to my last Sunday Gleaner column, “Out of Many, Fi Wi Langgwij”, which was also posted here on the blog, R. Oscar Lofters made me an offer I could barely resist: “I demand that from now on the professor writes her columns totally in Patwa. I refuse to read anymore of her columns written in English. Since Jamaicans all speak, write and understand Patwa, why waste time writing in a mixture of both”.

   I suppose Mr. Lofters was being sarcastic.  But the very thought that he might possibly be sending a serious message to the Gleaner’s Opinion Page Editor sent waves of pleasure rushing through my being.  Here was a man after my own heart who was up for creativity; a man with a lofty vision of what my mother tongue could do.  Mr. Lofters seemed to be celebrating the unlimited potential of the Jamaican language as a tool of communication worthy of the Sunday Gleaner’s editorial page.

Mr. Lofters doesn’t stand a chance in hell of having his ‘dream’ come true.  However much my brain was stimulated by the thought of submitting to Mr. Lofters’ seductive proposition, I knew it was all anti-climactic.  My hands are tied.  I’m not allowed to write a whole column in Jamaican. I’m restricted to one paragraph per week. It’s the Gleaner’s editorial policy from time immemorial, it would appear.  Well, at least from 1834 when the ancient newspaper was established.

‘You can’t do science in Patwa’

      In any case, I really don’t want to use ‘so-so Patwa’ each week even though I thoroughly enjoy the challenges of writing expository prose in my mother tongue.  It’s a language we’ve been taught to diss:  it’s ‘limited’.  Sceptics keep on making silly claims like ‘you can’t do science in Patwa.’  They don’t know that speakers of a language can make it do anything they want.  It’s not the language that’s doing the thinking.  And if you need technical vocabulary for new concepts, you simply make it up or ‘borrow’ from another language.

Still for all, I’m never going to give up writing in English.  I just love the quirkiness of the language.  I think of English as the world’s greatest patois.  Its vocabulary is a grand mix-up of basic Anglo-Saxon words and a host of borrowings from other languages such as Greek, Latin, Old Norman, French, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Yoruba, Twi, Maori, Yiddish and, these days, even Jamaican!

Native speakers of English are often not hooked on ‘correctness’ in the way that up-tight second-language learners often are.  They actually experiment with their mother tongue, making it do all sorts of interesting things.  Words like ‘bling’ and ‘diss’ have found their way into English – not just as slang – but as ‘respectable’ new vocabulary.

Vote of confidence

   Ideally, I’d like to write a bi-lingual column for the Gleaner as I did for the Observer in the 1990’s. Then, I insisted that in our culture English and Jamaican are happily married, with no prospect of divorce.  It wasn’t easy to get the conservative editors of that young newspaper to agree.  Youthfulness is no guarantee of creativity.  And old age is no guarantee of wisdom.

       That newspaper stopped publishing the column because of Motty Perkins.  No, it wasn’t Motty’s fault.  It was a case of collateral damage. But that’s a whole other story.  I’ve almost given up on trying to help the editors of the Gleaner see the value of a bilingual column. Until they ‘sight’ the light, I’m saving my pearls for my blog.

‘Nation Language’

“Talk like Miss Lou, mi no talk like foreigner”.  So Anthony B seh inna fi im song, “Nah Vote Again.”  Im a one conscious DJ weh know seh how im talk reveal im history an im culture.  Im naa put on no twang an a try gwaan like seh im come from foreign.  Im a one heartical yardie.  An a so im a talk.

Professor Kamau Brathwaite, one big-time history man an poet from Barbados, im call fi wi creole language dem ‘nation language’.   Im know seh yu language talk yu nation.  It mek people know weh yu come from, who yu be an wa yu a defend.  A di said same ting Anthony B a seh.

Professor Brathwaite write one lickle book, History of the Voice, weh come out inna 1984. Im talk bout how di ‘system’ never set up fi mek African people over ya so member fi wi owna African language dem.  An wi no fi put no value pon di new language dem weh wi mek up.  Seet ya:

“What our educational system did was to recognize and maintain the language of the conquistador – the language of the planter, the language of the official, the language of the Anglican preacher. . . . And in terms of what we write, our perceptual models, we are more conscious (in terms of sensibility) of the falling snow, for instance . . . than of the force of the hurricanes which take place every year”.

A true.  Christmas a come an plenty a unu a go buy Christmas card wid snow pon Christmas tree.  And unu a go sing Christmas carol bout ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.’  So unu no bodder gwaan like all a di foreign culture no deh ya pon top a wi, a beat wi dong inna di grong. A it mek IMF a tek step wid wi, cau wi love foreign tings so much.   Wi ha fi tek fi wi owna culture an fi wi owna language serious.  No true, Misa Lofters!

Seet deh now!  Gleaner never publish dis ya column sake-a it have een four ‘patwa’ paragraph.

Happy Birthday All The Same, Buju!

It’s Buju Banton’s 39th birthday today and it ‘hurt mi to mi heart’ that he’s behind bars.  Buju should be walking like a champion down Redemption Street.  Instead, he’s trapped in Uncle Sam’s conspiracy to derail his career.  It’s not an easy road he’s been forced to travel.

The Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison certainly understands the difficult path of the Rastaman as he ‘trods’ through creation.  In her poem, “The Road of the Dread”, she declares:

Lorna Goodison

That dey road no pave

like any other black-face road

it no have no definite color

and it fence two side

with live barbwire

And no look fi no milepost

fi measure you walking

and no tek no stone as

dead or familiar

for sometime you pass a ting

you know as . . . call it stone again

and is a snake ready fi squeeze yu

kill yu

or is a dead man tek him

possessions tease yu.

That poem, published in 1980 in Goodison’s first collection, Tamarind Season, uncannily predicts the way in which a snake-in-the-grass squeezed Mark Myrie, teasing him with the possessions of a dead man.  That trip to the warehouse to inspect a boat turned out to be a one-way street to catastrophe.

Spreading propaganda

Brought down by a paid informer, Mark Myrie seems to have carelessly forgotten what Buju Banton knows about the ways in which the political systems of the West work to spread propaganda against the innocent.  In his prophetic pan-Africanist chant, ‘Til I’m Laid to Rest, on the ‘Til Shiloh album, he details his sense of alienation in the Diaspora and his longing for repatriation.

‘Til I’m laid to rest, yes

Always be depress

There’s no life in di West

I know di East is di best

All di propaganda dem spread

Tongues will ha fi confess

Oh I’m in bondage living is a mess

And I’ve got to rise up alleviate the stress

No longer will I expose my weakness

He who seek knowledge begins with humbleness

Work 7 to 7 yet mi still penniless

Fa di food upon mi table Massa God bless

Holler fi di needy an shelterless

Ethiopia await all prince and princess

A decade ago, when ‘Til Shiloh was released, Buju’s bondage was metaphorical.  Today, it’s all too literal. Having foolishly exposed his weakness – running up his mouth with a stranger – Mark Myrie is paying a terrible penalty.  He’s facing the prospect of incarceration for fifteen years.

Myrie could have been given a mere three-year sentence if he had yielded to the temptation of a plea bargain.  But he has resolutely refused to concede guilt.  Some may say he’s foolish to hold out for justice.  But those of us who believe in his innocence completely understand why Mark wants his name cleared.

Stamina Daddy and Mr. Mention

‘Til Shiloh was a decisive turning point in the artist’s stellar career.  It marked his transition from dancehall DJ to roots reggae Rastafari icon.  Buju’s first two albums, Stamina Dadda and Mr. Mention, both released in 1992, are classic dancehall.  Most of the tracks focus on sexual love.  Buju pays respect to the shape and flexibility of the well-endowed woman in tunes like Mampy Size, Bxtty Rider and Love How the Gal Dem Flex.  But it’s not only the woman’s body that Buju admires.  It’s also her intelligence and her capacity to make her way in the world:  “Unu move up inna life no doubt about that”.

The early albums also include the exceptional ‘bad-man’ tunes Gun Unnu Want and Man Fe Dead.  Assuming the persona of the Hollywood gangster, Buju Banton discharges dangerous lyrics with unbelievable bravado: “Di amount a gun wi have wi can’t run outa stock”; and “Gun shot fi bus up inna informer head”.

But there was also the occasional politically charged song that anticipated Buju’s later preoccupation with social justice.  In How the World A Run from the Mr. Mention album, Buju takes up the mantle of the Warner man:

Where food is concerned there is a problem

Uman can’t find food fi gi di children

While di rich man have di chicken back a feed di dog dem

But woe be unto dem

He who rides against poor people shall perish inna di end

Voice of Jamaica, released in 2002, featured even more tunes focusing on social issues: Deportees (Things Change), Operation Ardent and Wicked Act featuring Busta Rhymes.

On tour in France in the 1990s, Buju had a Damascus Road conversion.  At the launch of his Rasta Got Soul album at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Buju told a compelling story of the impact of Burning Spear’s performance:  “Di man deliver such a set dat if dem never call mi right weh, mi just run come back a Jamaica. So mi inna di dressing room now an mi start tink inna mi self, it start come to me, ‘Mark, you’re not ready for this. No, you’re not. Yu lickle Bxtty Rider an yu lickle Love Mi Browning weak. Dis bigger dan you, man.’”

The very next day, Buju turned to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry for a spliff and advice: “Lee, mi waan music, Iyah! Weh mi see di I dem a do, an mi see dem a play, mi cyaan, mi mi waan music, man.” This is how ‘Scratch’ responded: “Heh heh heh heh heh! Yu have to go out and make the music that the people can feel wid a humanistic approach.” The result was the masterful Til Shiloh.

Marcus Garvey

Til I’m Laid to Rest documents Buju’s trod across Africa and his ‘overstanding’ of Marcus Garvey’s vision of African Redemption:

What coulda bad so bout di East?

Everybody want a piece

Africa fi Africans, Marcus Mosiah speak

Unification outnumber defeat

What a day when we walkin down Redemption Street

Banner pon head, Bible inna hand

One an all mek wi trod di promised land

Buju go down a Congo stop inna Shashamane Land

Di city of Harare is where Selassie come from

In Addis Ababa then Botswana

Left Kenya an end up inna Ghana

Oh, what a beauty my eyesight behold

Only Ethiopia protect me from the cold

Keep the faith, Buju!  You’ll soon be walking down Redemption Street again.

Jamaican Men Love Oral Sex

Yeah, right!  And they believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Seriously, though, no matter how much our men protest in public, I’m convinced that deep down, where it really counts, Jamaican men love oral sex. I mean they just love to talk about sex.

That’s why a lot of our men simply can’t keep their mouth shut in the presence of an attractive woman.  They think they know exactly how to sweet-talk us.  And they don’t miss an opportunity to show off. In this context, someone has got to do the listening, willy-nilly. So there’s oral sex and aural sex.

I got a most entertaining response to the column, “I Have Outlived My Penis”, published two weeks ago.  It came from a man whose partial email address is ‘cunnilingus69@.’  To protect his identity, if not his virtue, I will not disclose what comes after the @.  No, I’m not saving him for myself.  There’s no need to.  I suspect that there are far more men like him around.  But they’re undercover.  They know they’re not supposed to admit that they do ‘it’.  So they pretend to be tongue-tied.  Or, at best, they speak with a forked tongue.

Engraving by Felicien Rops

This is what #69 had to say: “No, that headline is definitely not for me, and even if that was so, I am damn sure I can find a hell-of-a-good substitute!!!!! Good morning there rebel, eh. I really meant lady. I merely read the headline and without blinking, I said that that had to be you. And thank God I was not disappointed.

“Poor Ralph, well, if it ded it ded, nothing can be done about a dead penis. You seem to be forgetting that even if that man cannot stand firmly on his third leg that there is another part of his body that can become very stiff in a split second and one that most women eagerly enjoy, if not more. The tongue. No resuscitation is necessary”.

‘Dem bow’

Bowing, the dancehall term for oral/aural sex, wittily expresses both the physical posture and mental state of the devotee.  Literally, to bow is to bend or incline (the knee, body, or head) in worship, submission, respect, civility, agreement, etc. In the dancehall sense of the word, bowing suggests deference to the woman’s pleasure, a gesture no upstanding man is prepared to admit that he makes.  But, of course, women do bow as well.  It’s the golden rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  In some instances, bowing is not reciprocal, a clear case of ‘wash-over gold’ misrule.

Shabba Ranks

Shabba Ranks’ 1990 hit “Dem bow” is a classic chant of damnation against those who do, in fact, bow. The DJ condemns both cunnilingus and fellatio in graphic imagery:  “man under table” and “lipstick pon hood head”.  Oral sex is seen as deviant behaviour coming from ‘foreign’ to corrupt supposedly ‘pure’ Jamaican culture.  Like homosexuality, oral sex is vigorously censured in dancehall lyrics.

But the DJs protest much too much.  Their obsessive attack on certain sexual behaviours makes me wonder if they’re not running and a-running and a-running away from themselves, with apologies to Bob Marley.  If that’s not so, then it’s high time for the DJs to stop minding other people’s sexual business.  On that score, I must congratulate Beenie Man for having the good sense to bow out of the name-calling game.  And the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica must also be congratulated for bowing to reason and giving back the DJ a work permit.

Beenie Man

Beenie Man has been much derided for his decision to make an uneasy peace with gay rights activists.  Bounty Killer has charged Beenie Man with selling out.  In an interview reported on the OutAroad website, Killer is alleged to have said, “Me can’t ever put a dollar over Jamaica and its culture. If it wasn’t for dancehall and its culture I don’t know where or who I’d be today. Mi nuh sorry fi nothing that I said or sang; I am sorry to know it offended anybody but that’s how I see it. My views and beliefs, all I can say is that homosexuals fi stop try ban we shows and dancehall must leave dem alone to God still and let peace reign.”

Bounty Killer

Bounty Killer’s ‘leave dem alone to God still’ concession is not as innocuous as it seems.  In Jamaican parlance, leaving someone to God is a fate worse than death.  All the same, Killer’s conciliatory posture is definitely an act of bowing.  He does concede that dancehall DJs should stop acting on God’s behalf and leave judgment to Him/Her. This is a major advance in dancehall sexual politics that must be resoundingly applauded.

‘Marriage have teeth’

The Gleaner’s front-page story, “Lesbians Legally Wed”, published on June 4, 2012, was just as sensational as the lyrics of any of our homophobic DJs. The editors of the Gleaner turned a private affair into a public scandal.  Perceptive readers objected:    “The title of this article is a misleading lie.  ‘Lesbians legally wed’ infers along with the picture that the legal wedding was held here in Jamaica.  Shame on the gleaner for junk journalism”.

The floodgates were opened and the predictable responses came pouring in.  ‘Fire bun!’  Fundamentalist Christians in Jamaica (and elsewhere) take the Book of Leviticus literally and insist that homosexuality is an abomination that must be purged.  And, unlike Bounty Killer, they are not leaving judgement up to God.

On top of that, marriage is seen as the divine right of heterosexuals. But marriage is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  Jamaican proverbial wisdom warns that ‘marriage have teeth an bite hot’. I think gay people should have equal rights to be bitten by marriage. And that’s not about oral sex.  It’s the whole penal institution.

‘I Have Outlived My Penis’

Ralph Thompson on the Calabash stage

That’s the far-from-flaccid opening line of the poem Ralph Thompson performed on the open mike at the Calabash International Literary Festival, held two weekends ago in Treasure Beach. The calabash was full to the brim and running over with all sorts of literary delicacies. And some delightfully indelicate offerings as well.

Rigor mortis of the penis is not exactly the kind of stiffness the average Jamaican man advertises. Most men who can’t stand firmly on their third leg tend to cunningly conceal that fact. By the time the deceit is uncovered, it’s usually too late for the disappointed partner to withdraw strategically. Some pretense at resuscitation must be made, however futile.

But, of course, Ralph is no ordinary man. He’s a poet. And he’s licensed to form the fool. The poet often wears a mask and speaks out of both sides of the mouth. You can’t assume that he or she is speaking autobiographically. No self-respecting Jamaican man, poet or not, would publicly declare, especially in front of a huge audience, that he, personally, is suffering from penile failure. Fun is fun and joke is joke. A confession of that delicate nature would definitely be taking a limp joke too far.

No lead in the pencil

My suspicion that Ralph was putting us on was confirmed when one of his friends (who must remain nameless) gleefully told me that it was he who had given Ralph that potent opening line. That may be true. But Ralph turned the single sentence into a witty poem. His punchline was deadly: writing had become a substitute for sex. The penis as pencil – with or without lead! Retooling becomes high art.

Willie Nelson

As it turns out, the confession of the death of the member is a clear case of ‘thief from thief, Massa God laugh’. A quick Google search revealed that the joke is a Willie Nelson original:

My nookie days are over

My pilot light is out

What used to be my sex appeal

Is now my waterspout.

With a name like Willie, Nelson must have taken firm measures all his life to ensure that his namesake remained lively. But, alas, not all ends come good. So even if it’s only tongue in cheek, inevitably it’s time for true confession. All the same, Nelson’s willie cannot be taken at face value. Like Ralph’s, it seems to be just lying low, waiting to spring poetically to life.

‘Di world no level’

What’s good for the poet should be good for the DJ too. But ‘jackass seh di world no level’. And it’s true. Every ‘chune’ a DJ chants is interpreted as a literal statement of fact by dim-witted cynics. Unlike the poet, the DJ is not allowed to wear a mask and play roles. So Buju Banton sings a humorous song about sending a driver to ‘drop this arizona round a Albamarle’. And it becomes a true confession of the artiste’s involvement in drug trafficking!

Bruce Golding

Bruce Golding, the driver whose licence has now been revoked, chose to ride the ‘riddim’ of Buju’s hit. It became a very popular Jamaica Labour Party campaign song. Nobody in the party seemed to be bothered by the song’s ‘criminal’ message. Driver was taken for what it was: a clever song about the trade in ganja, a widely used recreational drug. Admittedly, for Rastafari, ganja is ‘creational’, infusing them with divine energy.

Peter Tosh, like many reggae artistes such as Toots Hibbert and Bunny Wailer who have been imprisoned for possession of ganja, made a lifelong plea for decriminalisation:

Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it

Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too.

So you’ve got to legalise it,

And don’t criticise it

Legalise it, yeah, yeah,

And I will advertise it.

Cala-Clash

The high point of the Calabash festival for me was hearing Ronnie Kasrils reflect on his extremely risky work as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), which he joined in 1960. In his memoir, Armed and Dangerous, published in 1993, he writes about what it meant for him, as a white South African, to participate in the freedom struggles of black people. He also wrote a biography of his wife, Eleanor, who shared his lifelong commitment to social justice. He called it The Unlikely Secret Agent.

Kasrils also talked about the role of reggae artistes like Peter Tosh in chanting down apartheid. We sometimes forget the global impact of our artistes who are often dismissed at home as mere criminals.

That’s precisely why Justine Henzell, who has inherited the film-making genes of her father, Perry, is producing a documentary for Jamaica 50 in which she includes coverage of reggae across the world, in the spirit of the iconic movie The Harder They Come.

Admiral

It was the Jamaican High Commission in South Africa that put Justine in touch with the hugely popular selector, Admiral, whose African Storm sound system plays every Thursday in Soweto. He was invited to clash with a local Treasure Beach selector, Andrew, at Cala-Clash  which is always a big hit at the literary festival.  ‘Admiral mash up di place.’  The week after Calabash, he was a guest selector at Stone Love.

This really is a small world. Kwame Dawes went to a conference in South Africa where he met Ronnie Kasrils. He was completely absorbed by the life story of this remarkable man. When Ronnie heard of Kwame’s Jamaican roots, he told him that his son, Andy, had been invited to Jamaica for a literary festival.  It was Admiral. Kwame immediately invited Ronnie to come as well.

Andy Kasrils grew up in exile in London and discovered reggae through his Jamaican friends. In 1987, following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the ANC liberation army ‘MK’ in Angola. On his return to South Africa, he started a dancehall show on the Voice of Soweto community radio and has not looked back. By the time I got around to buying Ronnie’s book on his wife, he’d left the festival. So I asked Admiral to sign it for me. He was most amused when I explained the meaning of our proverb, ‘If you can’t catch Kwaku, yu catch him shirt.’

Busy Signal And His Knight in Shining Armour

Clovis Cartoon

Busy Signal is no damsel in distress.  True, he’s in extraordinary trouble:  jailed and facing extradition.   But Busy is definitely not a damsel.  ‘Im a man’.  All the same, I’m sure the DJ is relieved that Queen’s Counsel K.D. Knight agreed to represent him in his extradition case.

Armed with the weight of his expansive legal knowledge, brightly shining Knight jousted very skillfully on behalf of his client.  The QC has insisted that even though the DJ has waived his right to contest the extradition, he should only be facing the absconding charge mentioned in the warrant.

Incidentally, when was the last time you saw QC and DJ in the same sentence?  Things are picking up for dancehall culture.  There was a time when DJs were pariah.  No self-respecting attorney-at-law would take up a DJ’s case.  But things and time do change.  Even DJs are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  They are entitled to a fair, even if expensive, hearing.

Patricia Meschino

In a Billboard.biz article posted on May 22, music journalist Patricia Meschino gives a summary of Busy Signal’s court case in the U.S.  “Minnesota District Court Case No. 0:02-cr-00054-JMR-FLN: USA v. Gordon, with a Glendale Gordon being charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, three counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine (level 4) and a third charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The ‘Level 4′ is an indicator of conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms.

“A former resident alien of the US, Gordon purportedly removed his ankle bracelet tracking device and fled to Jamaica prior to sentencing”.

“Nah Go Jail Again”

As I listened to the plaintive words of Busy Signal’s Nah Go Jail Again, I wondered what would happen if cocaine were decriminalised in the U.S. again.  Yes, again.  There was a time when cocaine was a perfectly legal recreational drug. It was not until 1914 that the Harrison Act was passed in the U.S. Congress, making it illegal for the drug to be dispensed except with a medical prescription.

  Given the widespread demand for the substance, the trade ended up in the hands of criminals.  It’s a familiar story.  Trafficking in alcohol was a crime in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933.  Criminalisation of the drug created wealth.  It is alleged that even a supposedly respectable family like the Kennedys had relatives who amassed a huge fortune selling bootleg liquor.

In his song Nah Go Jail Again Busy gives a haunting account of the trauma of incarceration.  He confesses why he had to flee the U.S. prison system:  fear of generic violence as well as the specific threat of sexual abuse:

Mi seh thugs deh pon dah side yah and di stiff deh pon di other,

Caan diss no man weh a do life inna dem yard ya,

Get beatin from the warden if yu go round di order,

Yu caan drop no soap pon di border like Shebada

Caan have a next man a plait yu hair,

Caan have a next man a spot yu rear,

Caan have so much money and food pon yu commissary

And a gwaan like you naa share”.

There are pull factors as well as push.  The prospect of making it legally in the outside world motivates Busy Signal to cut and run:

Seh wi naa go a jail again – oh no!

And wi never gonna fail again – oh no!

Like a ship wi a go sail again – oh oh!

You would a never see mi call mi friend fi bail again

 

Naa see mi a courthouse no more – oh no!

No bracelet up inna house no more – oh no!

Mi step out and hold mi own fi sure – oh oh!

Real hustlers a road a mek money galore”.

Reggae Music Again

  Since stepping out of the U.S., Busy Signal has been holding his own for sure as a very successful dancehall/reggae artist.  His latest album, Reggae Music Again, released in April, is a stellar achievement.  In a BBC review, Lloyd Bradley, author of Bass Culture:  When Reggae Was King, describes the album in this way:

“Busy Signal’s deserved reputation as a hardcore dancehall deejay often overshadows his bringing a fresh tunefulness to the genre in recent years, expanding its scope and extending songs’ longevity.  With Reggae Music Again he builds on all the clever musicality of 2010’s D.O.B. to produce an album that, appropriately for the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, immerses itself in reggae music heritage”.

Busy Signal is the cover story for the current issue of Riddim, Germany’s upscale reggae/dancehall magazine, with a bi-monthly circulation of 45, 000 copies.  Last Monday, I got an early morning call from Ellen Koehlings who co-edits the magazine with Pete Lilly. She was distraught at the news of Busy’s arrest.  Just when the artiste is riding the high wave of success, it looks as if his ship ‘naa go sail again’.

I expect that Busy Signal’s endorsement contracts will be cancelled.  Pepsi-Cola Jamaica has already pulled the Pepsi Bubbla advertisements in which he appeared.  I suppose Red Label Wine will follow suit.  As soon as an artiste gets into trouble, advertisers immediately distance themselves.  Innocent or guilty, the DJ becomes an outcast.

Busy Signal’s case raises a number of questions.  How, if at all, can the legal systems in the U.S. and Jamaica accommodate reformed criminals – whether they are DJs or not?  What purpose would be served by sending Busy Signal back to jail for the crimes of his youth?

Conventional justice demands that the guilty pay for their crimes, I know.  But in what currency?  Is incarceration the only legal tender? Is mercy nothing but counterfeit justice?  Does reformation not count at all?  It would be such a tragedy if the artiste’s musical career were to be permanently disconnected.

Squandering Resources On Reggae Poetry

In response to last week’s post,  ‘Passive resistance at UWI, Mona’, which was also was published in the Jamaica Gleaner, a disdainful reader who goes by the name of ‘Pauline Principle’ took a rather unprincipled position: “I am shocked that in these hard times, scarce resources are being squandered on a reggae poetry class that will bring zero value to the job market. UWI needs to review their courses before they become irrelevant. Those who want a reggae poetry class should be allowed to do this at a community centre or at an evening course but not with the aid of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Ms Principle does not appear to understand the principle that knowledge of one’s own history and culture has intrinsic value. And she seems to conceive the job market in rather limited terms. It’s singular, not plural. The diversity of opportunities in the creative/cultural industries completely escapes her. Ms Principle clearly has a very old-fashioned view of culture. It’s something you do as a hobby. Culture couldn’t possibly be serious business.

Five years ago, the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, introduced an undergraduate degree programme in entertainment and cultural enterprise management (ECEM). It was the brainchild of Kam-Au Amen, the very first graduate in cultural studies at UWI. As coordinator of the Reggae Studies Unit, I negotiated for institutional support to get the programme approved.

The ECEM degree is now the second most popular one in the Faculty of Humanities and Education, right behind Media and Communication. Unlike Ms Principle, enterprising students know that they can design jobs for themselves in the creative/cultural industries. They don’t have to sit and wait to see what the job market may or may not throw their way.

Humanities serve no purpose?

It’s feedback like Ms Principle’s that makes me wonder if I should really be spending time and energy week after week writing this column. Instead, I could be working on another book (on reggae) that would be appreciated by those of us who value intellectual enquiry in the humanities. All the same, I have to admit that supportive readers usually take up the fight against my detractors with great passion. I don’t have to get into the fray.

‘Jacandood’ made an excellent point: “Pauline, I am wondering why you choose to undermine the value of the Reggae Poetry class. I bet you don’t feel the same way about Shakespeare being taught at the university.” ‘Jacandood’ knows that courses in the humanities, such as music and art, are usually required in many undergraduate degree programmes. As he put it, “The purpose of tertiary education is to mould rounded individuals.”

Carlton Reynolds, who thoroughly enjoys abusing me, couldn’t resist counter-attacking ‘Jacandood’: “These ‘humanities’ are reserved for people who want to make up credits … usually serves no other purpose … you dare to compare Shakespeare to those reggae lyricists! If Prof is using the reggae lyrics to teach how not to write, then that would be a good thing!”

All I could do was laugh. If only Mr Reynolds knew! Shakespeare, in his time, would not have been on the curriculum of any self-respecting university in England. Latin, not English, was the language of instruction. Shakespeare’s plays were not written for academics but for fun. Full of sex and violence, the plays had mass appeal; just like the lyrics of our dancehall DJs. Translated into modern English, the ‘vulgar’ language of many of Shakespeare’s plays wouldn’t make it past the censors at our Broadcasting Commission.

Contempt for our own culture is at the root of our collective failure to engage in serious academic work on reggae. Most of the influential books on reggae have been written by non-Jamaicans. The author of one of the textbooks for my Reggae Poetry course is Swami Anand Prahlad, a professor of English at the University of Missouri. It’s calledReggae Wisdom: Proverbs in Jamaican Music.

Don’t be fooled by his name as I was. Professor Prahlad is African-American. His great-grandmother was among the first generation of freeborn blacks. He fell in love with the proverbs he was taught as a child. Eventually, he found his way to Jamaican culture. Making connections across the African diaspora is a recurring theme in his scholarly work.

Journey to Jah

Liberty Hall, Kingston

Most of the films and documentaries on reggae and dancehall are also produced by non-Jamaicans. They see value where we don’t. Last Thursday, Liberty Hall hosted a panel discussion for a feature documentary, Journey to Jah, by two German filmmakers, Noël Dernesch and Moritz Springer. The main speakers were the German reggae singer Gentleman; the Italian reggae singer Alborosie, who made sure to tell the lively audience that he has a Jamaican passport; and Terry Lynn, a brilliant poet and techno reggae singer from Waterhouse, who has made it big in Europe.

Each artiste told an arresting story of how they crossed cultural borders to find their creative inspiration. For me, the most powerful speaker was Terry Lynn. Rejecting the role of sex symbol, she made the decision early in her career to not be trapped in stereotypes. Even though she loves dancehall, she didn’t want to be stuck on the same ‘riddim’ every aspiring DJ has to ride. So she liberated herself to explore the techno scene. The title track of her first album, Kingstonlogic, is a brilliant take on Daft Punk’s Technologic.

All the same, things are picking up for ‘local’ writing on reggae. The Calabash International Literary Festival is on next weekend, branded Jubilation! 50. It’s still a secret if the festival is back for good. The opening session on Friday night, ‘Music is My Passion’, features four authors of books on reggae. Two are Jamaican, one has Jamaican roots, the other is an adopted Jamaican. Reggae scholarship is coming back home.

http://www.calabashfestival.org/2012/index.html