Category Archives: Jamaican popular culture

Twenty Years Of Reggae Day

Last Tuesday, July 1, was International Reggae Day. One of the highlights of the celebration was a huge video installation projected on to the exterior wall of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. From Emancipation Park, it was quite a sight. Reggae posters from across the world were displayed, demonstrating the magnetic power of Jamaican popular culture, especially our music.

5-taj-francis-jamaicaI overheard a woman complaining with typical arrogance: “Mi a see picture from all bout an mi naa see nothing from Jamaica.” Mi naa lie. As soon as she said it, Taj Francis’ brilliant poster of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter, appeared with a big flag of Jamaica beside it. Seet deh! My lady laughed contentedly.

The moral of this little story is that we’re often so nationalistic we just can’t appreciate the global impact of Jamaican culture. It’s quite ironic. The fact that so many of the reggae posters came from outside Jamaica should be a cause for pride, not complaint.

We don’t seem to realise just how far Jamaican popular music has spread. We take our creativity for granted and we rarely stop to think about why so many people from such diverse cultures are attracted to the music produced on this little rock. And it’s not just the beat and the lyrics that fascinate foreigners. It’s also the academic value of the music.

ROOTZ RADICALS

Just last Friday, I got a telephone call from Christian Moll, a graduate student specialising in English/American studies and music at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was trying to find an external supervisor for his thesis on dancehall. Moll is also a reggae artiste who has been performing for over a decade. His band, Rootz Radicals, plays original music, both roots and dancehall.

http://rootzradicalzsound.wix.com/rootzradicals

Of course, I’m going to take on the project. It sweet mi so til! Twenty-five years ago, this month, I presented my first academic paper on dancehall at the annual conference of the UK-based Society for Caribbean Studies, ‘Slackness Hiding From Culture: DJ Rule’. I am indebted to DJ Josey Wales for the title. That pioneering work has inspired a younger generation of scholars, both local and international, to take dancehall culture seriously.

So we’ve given reggae music to the world. But sometimes we act as if reggae was stolen from us. We conveniently forget that the roots of reggae run deep into other black musical traditions. African-American R&B, fused with jazz and mento, produced ska – Jamaican jazz! Ska evolved into rocksteady, then reggae, and now dancehall. And we hear the riddims of religious revival music in dancehall.

Jamaican popular music is a ‘mix-up an blenda’ of musical traditions, both sacred and secular, that take us straight across to the continent of Africa. We don’t ‘own’ the music. Of course, this certainly does not mean that individual creators of song lyrics, melodies and riddims are not entitled to claim all the benefits of their intellectual property.

PROTECTING THE FUTURE

Unknown-1One of the tragedies of our music industry is that so many of the pioneering artists were cruelly exploited. Not by foreigners, but by unconscionable Jamaican producers who knew that for some never-see-come-see artistes, just hearing their tune on the radio was enough of a reward.

Leading up to International Reggae Day, there was an excellent conference held on June 30. One of the sessions focused on ‘Copyright Term Extension: Preserving the Past and Protecting the Future’. No matter how many of these conferences are convened, there are still so many players in the creative industries who do not know their rights.

Another session examined ‘Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space’. Like the exterior wall of the Pegasus hotel! Thanks to Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), art moved out of the gallery and into public space. Phase Three Productions, one of the sponsors of International Reggae Day, provided technical support for the video installation.

reggea-poster-map-1The 2012 IRPC attracted 1,142 entries from 80 countries. In 2013, there were 1,100 submissions from 78 countries. The 2014 contest was launched on International Reggae Day, and within hours entries came in from Slovenia, the UK, India, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Japan, Venezuela and, of course, Jamaica – as that anxious woman in Emancipation Park will be pleased to hear.

Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day, must be commended for her grand vision. Two decades ago, she recognised that the globalisation of reggae should be acknowledged and celebrated. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Sometimes, vision isn’t enough. You also need plenty backative.

I think it’s most unfortunate that six years ago when the bright idea of a Reggae Month came from out of the blue, somebody forgot that we already had a Reggae Day. It would have been so sensible to build on the foundation laid by Andrea.

134_imgaWe could easily have dubbed July Reggae Month. It would now fit so well into the Government’s plan for ’90 Days of Summer’. There’s Sumfest, which, like its predecessor Sunsplash, helps to fill empty hotel rooms in the slow summer season. But we always have to keep on starting from scratch. We forget that protecting the future also means remembering the past.

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.

Dressed For Murder

dwaynejonesfacebook

Dwayne Jones

DWAYNE JONES probably thought he was dressed to kill when he stepped out to that fateful dance. He couldn’t have known he was going to be the prey. But he must have realised he was making a risky fashion statement. After all, the dance was taking place just outside ‘Gyal-tego’ Bay.

That’s the new name for Montego Bay in the twisted vocabulary of super-sensitive Jamaican males. And Mandeville is now ‘Gyal-deville’. It’s not a joke. It’s a very serious matter. Sexually insecure men are so fearful of appearing to be homosexual that they cannot go into a ‘man’ town or city. Only gyal.

images-1It’s the same ‘reason’ bad man don’t eat guinep. Dem don’t suck seed. And, despite all the bravado, they don’t succeed in hiding their weakness. If you have to go to such extremes to reassure yourself that you are a real-real man, something must be fundamentally wrong.

It’s the fear of being tainted by homosexuality that drives irrational males to commit acts of violence against so-called sexual deviants. In Jamaica, even cross-dressing is seen as a provocative sign of other crosses. But most male cross-dressers are not homosexual. And both men and women cross-dress for a variety of reasons. It should be nobody’s business but their own.

ABOMINABLE FASHION

The diabolical mob that murdered Dwayne Jones must have been made up of men and women who believe that cross-dressing is sinful behaviour. The Bible is to blame. Deuteronomy 22:5 declares: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

Portrait of a young man wearing a sarong, Hawaii, USAThe problem with applying the abomination rule to fashion is the indisputable fact that there is no universal standard of male and female dress. Gendered dress styles vary across cultures. In some parts of the world, men wear kilts and sarongs. They may look like skirts. But they are not ‘female’ dress. Many Fundamentalist Christian women don’t wear pants because that “pertaineth unto a man”. I suppose these pious women do wear underpants. Not to do so would certainly be an abomination.

The word ‘abomination’ turns up a lot in the Bible. But it’s not only homosexuality and cross-dressing that are abominations. There are lots of other sins that self-righteous fanatics conveniently forget. Adultery is an abomination. But if we were to stone adulterers to death in Jamaica, there would hardly be any of us left.

7-abominable-sinsProverbs 6:16-19 gives a long list of abominations that includes shedding innocent blood: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren”. That primitive mob outside ‘Gyal-tego’ Bay was clearly very selective about their abominations. Their feet swiftly ran to mischief, shedding Dwyane’s innocent blood.

CARIBBEAN FASHION WEEK

CFW-CARIBBEAN-FASHION-WEEKMost of us are much more sophisticated than those anonymous murderers. Take, for instance, the patrons at Caribbean Fashion Week. For the last several years, two male cross-dressers come to the event and no one would think of attacking them. In fact, I’ve seen other patrons taking pictures with them. They are part of the fashion scene.

The only judgemental response to them I’ve gotten is from a woman who heard one of them in the women’s restroom asking for toilet paper. “Fi wipe wa?”, she wondered. We have a wicked way of getting right down to the nitty-gritty. I did laugh at the observation. But laughter is a far cry from murder.

Layout1_1_P6O22CFWcpfsDAMFashion is often about transgressing boundaries. It’s about role play. In 2009, the Trinidadian designer Claudia Pegus stirred up quite a bit of excitement at Caribbean Fashion Week. All her models wore masks. At the end of the set, one of the female models returned to the stage and unmasked. She was actually a male cross-dresser. In an article in The Gleaner, published on June 16, 2009, the reporter noted the “awe” and “in some cases disgust” that the male model’s performance of female identity had provoked.

Some Jamaicans may be uncomfortable with this kind of masquerade. But Trinidad and Tobago is the land of mas. On Carnival Monday, cross-dressing men use pillows to create big buttocks and breasts. They wear wigs and dresses. It’s all playful. It’s not about an identity crisis. Men play women and women play men. And they even play themselves.

JONKUNNU CROSS-DRESSING

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Jonkonnu Bellywoman

We don’t have to go all the way to Trinidad and Tobago to appreciate the arts of role play. We have our own forms of traditional masquerade and cross-dressing. Just think about jonkunnu. The Bellywoman character is usually a man dressed as a pregnant woman. And she gets a lot of laughs as she jiggles her fake belly while dancing.

There was a time when jonkunnu maquerades were seen as an abomination. They were vulgar and sinful. In 1841, the Mayor of Kingston banned the ‘John Canoe’ parade – as the word was then spelled. The current spelling acknowledges the African elements in the ritual. The banning of the parade caused a riot. Angry revellers clashed with the Militia and the Mayor had to run for cover. He was forced to retreat to a ship in Kingston Harbour.

hygiene-health-safetyIt’s a real tragedy that Dwayne Jones wasn’t so lucky. There was no place of safety for him in ‘Gyal-tego’ Bay. A 17-year-old child was slaughtered because he was only trying to play himself. His murderers must be brought to justice.

A mob is made up of individuals who choose to suspend responsibility for their actions. As a society, we cannot afford to follow suit. In this season, as we celebrate Emancipation and Independence, we must liberate ourselves from those biblical ‘abominations’ that threaten to turn us all into truly abominable brutes.

Do All Household Helpers Steal?

417656_251659581637258_1041631005_nLast Sunday, the third annual ‘Dis Poem Word Festival’ was staged in Hope Bay, Portland. It was a beautiful setting by the sea. Conceived by Ras Takura, an enterprising poet, the festival was held in honour of the ‘Iancient’, Mutabaruku – poet, political philosopher and talk-show host on both radio and television. In the mystic ‘I and I’ language of Rastafari, ‘Iancient’ means ‘elder’.

Now Muta is two years younger than me. I don’t know about him, but I am certainly not ancient. Although I have to admit that I was once asked by a very imperceptive woman if Muta was my son. She clearly needed glasses. It sweet Muta when mi tell im. Im laugh so till! An im seh im know it must burn mi. All mi could do was laugh.

images-3Anyhow, I was quite happy to accept Ras Takura’s invitation to read at the festival in honour of the ancient. I’m not a poet. But since it was a ‘word’ festival, I figured I was free to interpret ‘poem’ rather loosely. I decided to tell a story I’d written two decades ago, which I’d dusted off for the ‘Kingston Pon Di River’ festival last year. Incidentally, the river winds its way to Hope Gardens on June 30.

417844_10201239447410234_62773901_nMuta likes to throw words at brand-name poets who keep performing the same works over and over. I figured I could get away with it as an amateur. In any case, this was a new audience. My story, “Live-een Helper”, is told from the point of view of both the helper and her employer. It raises the twin problem of theft and trust. It’s a big chance of trust you take bringing strangers into your home, even when they come with superlative recommendations. These are often quite fictitious.

CLASSIC JINNALSHIP

100dollarbillI once had a helper, Gloria, who helped herself to a US$100 bill and replaced it with a one-dollar bill which looked like it had suffered a very long minibus ride through Kingston at rush hour. It was all crushed up, bearing no resemblance to the rest of the notes in the envelope. When I confronted Gloria, she insisted that she had not made the switch.

She then asked me, “How much money yu did have?” Now this question is a classic piece of jinnalship designed to shift attention from the real matter at hand and to create doubt in the mind of the victim. Pure strategy! If you’re not sure how much money you had, how could you be so sure you’d been robbed? Fortunately for me, I had my bank receipt, which I promptly flourished. Gloria was not impressed. She insisted on her innocence.

CallingTheBluffWebBut nobody else had come in the house since I’d brought the money home the day before. I decided to call Gloria’s bluff. I called the police. In a most amusing turn of events, one of the officers who interviewed her offered to give me a US$100 bill that he just happened to have on him if I would agree not to press charges. He must have thought I was born yesterday! But I really couldn’t let them arrest Gloria for a hundred US dollars even though 20 years ago that was a fair bit of money.

lightfingers_smallI commended the officer on his generosity, telling him I hadn’t realised there were men of such compassion in the force who would sacrifice their own money to help out a poor young woman who found herself in a difficult situation. All he was asking in return was that Gloria come to the station for counselling. Miss Gloria had a very ‘healthy’ body, even though her fingers were rather light. I had no idea how the counselling would go, but it was none of my business. I had got back my money.

A RATHER DISTURBING STORY

images-4When one of my friends heard my story, she asked me how come I don’t know that all helpers steal, no matter how well you treat them. I protested. I may be naïve, but I refuse to believe that there are no honest helpers left in Jamaica. To prove her point, my cynical friend told me a rather disturbing story. She knew of a helper who had been working for two days a week at the handsome rate of $4,000 a day.

Things were going along quite well until her employer started to get the uneasy feeling that money was disappearing from her purse. But she really couldn’t believe that the helper was stealing from her. She figured she must be just forgetting exactly how much money she had. One morning, she decided to count the money in her purse, which she then placed in her handbag. Sure enough, at the end of the day, a thousand-dollar bill was missing.

images-6Her helper vigorously denied that she had stolen the money. The brazen question she asked in her defence was, “Why I would take only $1,000?” Pretending not to understand either multiplication or addition, not to mention subtraction, the helper seemed to claiming that such a small sum was beneath her dignity. If she was going to steal, she would steal big. But if, over the course of a year, she stole only $1,000 each time she came to work, that would amount to more than $100,000! One-one coco full basket; one-one thousand dollar empty purse.

images-7And, I suppose, the helper’s justification of her systematic stealing would probably be that if her employer didn’t miss the money, she really didn’t need it. It could be put to much better use. My friend told me that when the helper realised she was going to be fired, she had the nerve to announce that she needed the job. But, of course! If you are well paid and can also get away with theft, you have a very good job indeed! Sounds a lot like politics.

Alpha Boys’ School Get New Logo

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator, Jamaican Language Unit

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator,
Jamaican Language Unit, UWI

There are two spelling systems used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

ABS-NEW-LOGO-REDBig press conference keep up a Alpha yesterday fi show off di new logo fi di school. A long time now Alpha deh bout.  Inna 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll buy 43 acre a land pon South Camp Road.  An she set up di Alpha Cottage fi look after poor people pikni. Fi di first, she did ongle tek een girl.

Inna 1884, Miss Ripoll decide fi start tek een boy pikni weh a gi trouble.  So dem seh. Plenty time a no di pikni dem a gi trouble.  A trouble tek dem.  Any way, Alpha school tek een di pikni dem an try wid dem fi keep dem outa trouble.

Inna 1890, govament gi permission fi Alpha turn ‘Industrial School’ an gi four shilling an eight pence fi di week fi di pikni dem, one-one. Dem time deh, a twelve pikni inna di school. Di pikni dem learn from book an dem learn fi use dem hand.  All a di pikni dem ha fi learn a trade.  Di school have a print shop, a woodwork shop, a tailor shop an a music shop.

lAn a music build up Alpha name over di year dem! A nuff-nuff big-time musician come outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nuff-nuff more!

SKATALITES

holy-trinity-cathedral-jamaica1Di Alpha band start up inna 1892. Dem deh time, dem dida play drum an fife.  Den inna 1908, di school get some brass instrument from di Roman Catholic bishop. An a deh so dem buss out!  Come on to 1911, di band so good, di boy dem lead di march go a North Street fi bless Holy Trinity Cathedral.

An a so dem a gwaan.  Inna 1953, Alpha put on di first military parade fi honour di Queen coronation.  An dem keep up one big show, “March to Nationhood”, fi celebrate independence inna 1962.  Di Skatalites band form inna1964, an a four a dem come from Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So hear how Alpha get new logo.  By di way, ‘logo’ a di pet name fi ‘logogram’.  Dat deh word mek up outa two Greek word – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos mean word an gram mean enting weh draw or write, all like di letter dem inna di alphabet.  Dat simple mean, logo a di picture fi di word.

Freestylee-500pxMichael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, one top-a-top Jamaican graphic artist, im draw one beautiful picture fi represent Alpha:  one lickle yute a blow im horn.  An yu can see seh di pikni feel im owna strength an know im power di way im a hold di horn.   Michael did put di picture inna di show weh dem did keep a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” weh im did organize wid a next graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, weh come from Greece.  When di head a Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, see Michael poster, she know seh a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha leave an licence fi use fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

images-3Big pres kanfrens kip op a Alpha yeside fi shuo aaf di nyuu luogo fi di skuul. A lang taim nou Alpha a gwaan.  Ina 1880, Mis Jessie Ripoll bai 43 ieka a lan pan South Camp Ruod.  An shi set op di Alpha Cottage fi luk aafta puor piipl pikni. Fi di fos, shi did ongl tek iin gorl.

Ina 1884, Mis Ripoll disaid fi staat tek iin bwai pikni we a gi chrobl.  So dem se. Plenti taim a no di pikni dem a gi chrobl.  A chrobl tek dem.  Eni wie, Alpha skuul tek iin di pikni dem an chrai wid dem fi kip dem outa chrobl.

Ina 1890, govament gi pormishan fi Alpha ton ‘Industrial School’ an gi fuor shilin an iet pens fi di wiik fi di pikni dem, wan-wan. Dem taim de, a twelv pikni ina di skuul. Di pikni dem lorn fram buk an dem lorn fi yuuz dem an.  Aal a di pikni dem a fi lorn a chried.  Di skuul av a print shap, a udwok shap, a tiela shap an a myuuzik shap.

images-4An a myuuzik bil op Alpha niem uova di ier dem! A nof-nof big-taim myuuzishan kum outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nof-nof muor!

Di Alpha ban staat op ina 1892. Dem de taim, dem dida plie jom an faif.  Den ina 1908, di skuul get som braas inschroment fram di Roman Catholic bishop. An a de so dem bos out!  Kom aan tu 1911, di ban so gud, di bwai dem liid di maach go a North Schriit fi bles Holy Trinity Cathedral.

SKATALITES

SkatalitesAn a so dem a gwaan.  Ina 1953, Alpha put aan di fos militeri paried fi ana di Kwiin karanieshan.  An dem kip op wan big shuo, “March to Nationhood”, fi selibriet indipendens ina 1962.  Di Skatalites ban faam ina1964, an a fuor a dem kom fram Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So ier ou Alpha get nyuu luogo.  Bai di wie, ‘logo’ a di pet niem fi ‘logogram’.  Dat de wod mek op outa tuu Griik wod – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos miin wod an gram miin enting we jraa ar rait, aal laik di leta dem ina di alfabet.  Dat simpl miin, logo a di pikcha fi di wod.

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, wan tap-a-tap Jamiekan grafik aatis, im jraa wan byuutiful pikcha fi riprizent Alpha:  wan likl yuut a bluo im aan.  An yu kyahn si se di pikni fiil im uona chrent an nuo im powa di wie im a uol di aan. Michael did put di pikcha ina di shuo we dem did kip a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” we im did aaganaiz wid a neks grafik aatis, Maria Papaefstathiou, we kom fram Griis.  Wen di ed a Alpha, Sista Susan Frazer, si Michael puosta, shi nuo se a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha liiv an laisn fi yuuz fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek djuu!

http://www.reggaepostercontest.com/

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

ABS-NEW-LOGO-FINAL-CRVA big press conference was held at Alpha yesterday to unveil the school’s new logo. Alpha has been around for quite some time how.  In 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll bought 43 acres of land on South Camp Road.  And she set up the Alpha Cottage to care for the children of the poor. At first, she took in only girls.

Then in 1884, Miss Ripoll decided to start taking in boys who were giving trouble.  Well, that’s what was said. Many times it’s not really the children who are giving trouble.  It’s actually a case of trouble finding them.  Anyway, the Alpha school took in the children and worked with them to keep them out of trouble.

In 1890, the government recognised Alpha as an ‘Industrial School’ and gave an allowance of four shillings and eight pence per week for each of the children. In those days, there were twelve pupils in the school. The students got both academic and practical training.  All of them had to learn a trade.  The school had a printery, a joinery workshop, a tailor shop and a music school.

images-6And it’s music which established Alpha’s reputation over the years! A lot of great musicians have come out of Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart and many, many more!

SKATALITES

The Alpha band started in 1892 as a drum and fife corps.  Then in 1908, the school got some brass instruments from the Roman Catholic bishop. And that’s when the band took off!  By 1911, the band was so good, the boys led the procession to North Street to dedicate the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

skatalites-logo-blk-300x264And they just kept on going from strength to strength.  In 1953, Alpha put on the first military parade to mark the coronation of the Queen.  And they mounted a huge show, “March to Nationhood”, to celebrate independence in 1962.  The Skatalites band was formed in1964, and four of them come out of Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling and Don Drummond.

So this is how Alpha got its new logo.  By the way, ‘logo’ is an abbreviation of ‘logogram’, which is made up of two Greek words – ‘logos’ and ‘gram’.  Logos means word and gram means an image, like a letter of the alphabet.  Simply put, a logo is a picture representing a word.

Michael put his picture in the show that was kept at the National Gallery for the “International Reggae Poster Contest”.  He co-organised the contest with another graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, from Greece. http://www.graphicart-news.com/

When the principal of Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, saw Michael’s poster, she knew instantly that that was it.  And that’s how Michael came to give Alpha permission to use his ‘gram’ for their ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

Cali P to give ‘Reggae Talk’ at UWI

Cali-P-20110131CThe very popular ‘Reggae Talks’ at the University of the West Indies, Mona continue on Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall lecture theatre (N1). First it was Jah9, then Protoje, then No-Maddz. This week’s speaker is the Swiss reggae artist Cali P who now lives in Jamaica.

In an exclusive interview with Gleaner writer Jordaine Delahaye, Cali P, whose legal name is Pierre Nanon, said, “I started writing lyrics and singing in Switzerland when I was 14. There were positives and negatives living there. Looking on it as a whole, I had a lot of moments where I really didn’t want to be there because I felt unwelcome. Not being white there makes people treat you like a foreigner at all times, and that can get really annoying”.

Born to a Swiss mother and a Guadeloupian father who is a Rastaman, Cali P knew where to turn to escape the alienation he felt in the land of his birth.  He feels much more at home in his adopted country.  The title of his talk, which will focus on his artistic development, is “musicCALI-sPeaKING”.

Protoje to lecture at UWI

Protoje20130220CThe Department of Literatures in English, University of the West Indies, Mona continues our series of ‘Reggae Talks’  on Thursday, March 28  at 7:00 p.m.  This week’s  featured guest is Protoje.  He will speak on the topic, “Music From My Heart”.  The venue is the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre in the Faculty of Humanities and Education.   Copies of his latest CD, “Eight Year Affair” will be on sale for $1,000.  The public is invited to attend and admission is free.

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.

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson Exhibits at the University of the West Indies Museum

FreestyleeATUWI-f.eps copyMichael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson’s reggae posters inspired the design of the Global Reggae book which was recently published by the University of the West Indies Press.  As editor of the book, I suggested to the Director of the Press, Mrs. Linda Speth, that we needed a funky image for the cover.  She agreed and I went searching on the Internet.

There I found the work of ‘Freestylee’ who describes himself as an “artist without borders”.  He readily agreed to let the Press use the image of the selector I’d selected for the book cover.  He recommended that we ask Maria Papaefstathiou to design the book.  She’s the co-organiser with Michael of the International Reggae Poster Contest:

http://www.reggaepostercontest.com/

reggae-poster-exhibition-march2013Maria did a brilliant job incorporating other posters by Michael into the design of the book, especially for the chapter headings.  These posters are now on show for the month of March at the University of the West Indies Museum in the Regional Headquarters, Hermitage Road, Mona.  Opening Hours are Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 4:00.  Admission is free.

Taking Dennis Brown’s Name in Vain

   Image    The Crown Prince of Reggae has been royally dissed. D Brown’s duppy must be well vexed.  I expect he’s somewhere over the rainbow composing a wicked tune, and even wickeder lyrics, about the disorganisers of the tribute concert in his name. The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JARIA), Leggo Records, Sounds and Pressure and the Dennis Brown Trust are all going to be haunted for quite a long time.

       Since the inception of ‘Reggae Month’ in 2008, Dennis Brown’s name has been inextricably linked to the celebrations.  His birthday on February 1 has been a convenient date to launch the month’s activities. And the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert is a high-profile event. This year, the concert has been postponed two times.  First, it was lack of sponsorship; then security.  This is a very bad sign.   ‘Reggae Month’ seems to be in trouble.

The new date for the tribute concert is March 3, more than one month after Dennis Brown’s birthday. It’s like celebrating Christmas in January. There’s only one good thing about the postponement of the tribute.  Well, it may turn out to be a cancellation after all but let’s be optimistic for now.  In any case, the ‘cancelposting’ of the show proves that there’s nothing sacred about ‘Reggae Month’.  It doesn’t even have to be February!

Bob MarleyI suppose the rationale for dubbing February ‘Reggae Month’ was the fact that    the King of Reggae and the Crown Prince were born on the 6th and 1st respectively.  But instead of holding the whole month hostage to those two birthdays, I think we should free up February from all of the reggae-related events that have been compressed into the shortest month of the year.

I’m proposing that we celebrate the birthday of Dennis Brown and Bob Marley in February and that’s that.  If we want a ‘Reggae Month’, let’s find a less hectic season.  Cynics are already saying that ‘Reggae Month’ was intended to upstage ‘Black History Month’.  You know how ambivalent we are about blackness in this country. Be that as it may, there are eleven other months from which to choose.

International Reggae Day

images-6 I think July is an excellent candidate for ‘Reggae Month’.  There’s Sumfest, our international reggae festival, in the last week of the month.  And we shouldn’t forget the heroic efforts of our own cultural activist Andrea Davis to establish July 1 as International Reggae Day (IRD). The brand was launched in 1994 – almost two decades ago – as a “marketing platform for Jamaica’s creative industries and global Reggae culture”.

In a billboardbiz article, published on July 1, 2011, music journalist Patricia Meschino underscores the worldwide reach of Andrea’s vision: “Enabled by the proliferation of internet usage in the mid-90s and the rise of social media in the late ’00s, IRD now encompasses a vast international network of online newspapers, magazines, radio stations and other web based platforms, each tailoring their content on July 1 towards examining the power and potential of the island’s signature rhythm while highlighting the finest in Jamaican and international reggae, made by veterans and upstart artists alike”.

images-5 In the early years of the media festival, Andrea’s company, Jamaica Arts Holdings, promoted high-level workshops and full-scale concerts.  Celebration of IRD has become much more virtual over time largely because of lack of sponsorship for live events.  It’s a familiar story.  In the case of the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert, we may very well have to settle for a virtual, if not virtuous, staging this year.

‘Reggae Month’ Sound Clash

images-7    Whatever we decide about the scheduling of ‘Reggae Month’, we will still have to resolve the problem of clashing events.  In theory, JARIA’s calendar is the definitive guide to what’s on.  But it seems as if organisers of events don’t bother to consult JARIA.  They just do their own thing.

Before setting the date of my Global Reggae book launch, I checked with JARIA.  The only other event on their calendar for the 17th was the Jamaica Music Museum’s ‘Grounation’, scheduled for 2:00 p.m.  It was unlikely to clash with my 6:00 p.m. launch.

Then, out of the blue, the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert was rescheduled at exactly the same time.  Not even JARIA appears to have consulted JARIA!  Or, if they did, they must have decided that the launch of a book on the globalisation of reggae in ‘Reggae Month’ wasn’t all that important.  Then again, they may have assumed quite wrongly that people who read books don’t go to reggae concerts.

Seriously, though, the clash wouldn’t have mattered all that much really.  Patrons obviously do have the right to choose.  Except that Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Jah9 and Protoje, who had all graciously agreed to make a cameo appearance at the launch, also needed to perform at the rescheduled Dennis Brown tribute, based on their earlier commitment.  Fortunately, No-Maddz and Cali P, the other ‘brand-name’ performers for the book launch, were not on that ill-fated show.

GlobalReggaeCoverWhen Ras Michael apologetically telephoned to let me know that he couldn’t make it back to PULS8 in time to do the invocation, I have to admit I called down judgement on the engineers of the clash.  I hadn’t realised how potent my words were.  Within an hour, Ras Michael called back to say that the show was cancelled.

Of course, I don’t actually take any responsibility for influencing the decisions made by the organisers of the tribute concert. It’s not my ‘judgement’ that mystically caused postponement.   ‘Me woulda never diss di Crown Prince’.  Hopefully, Dennis Brown will be honoured appropriately some time this year in a tribute concert that lives up to his name.  Respect is most certainly due, whatever the month.