“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.

Fi Wi Nation, Fi Wi Language

Anthony B

‘Talk like Miss Lou, mi no talk like foreigner’.  A 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 naa try fi cross over.  Anthony B know seh fi im language a ‘nation language’ as di one Kamau Brathwaite from Barbados seh.

Professor Brathwaite a one big-time historian an poet weh did teach right ya so pon di Mona campus a University a di West Indies.  Im gone a New York University. Professor Brathwaite call fi wi Creole language dem inna di Caribbean ‘nation language’.  Becau im know seh yu language talk yu nation; it mek people know weh yu come from, who yu be an weh yu a defend.

Kamau Brathwaite

Professor Brathwaite write one lickle book weh im call History of the Voice.  It come out inna 1984. An im livicate di book to Mikey Smith, one dub poet weh wicked people did stone up a Stony Hill.  Kill im dead.  One a Mikey well-beknownst poem a di one weh him call ‘Me Cyaan Believe it’.  Im dis a bawl out fi all a di people dem weh a suffer.  Yu fi hear im seh ‘Lawwwwwwwwd’. It stretch out same like how people a suffer, long-long time.

An Mikey talk bout di belly-pain woman ha fi bear:

Doris a modder of four

Get a wuk as a domestic

Boss man move een

An bap si kaisico she pregnant again

Bap si kaisico she pregnant again

An me cyaan believe it

Me seh me cyaan believe it.

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Inna History of the Voice, Professor Brathwaite call up di ancestor dem.  Im go back inna di 1950, dem time, an im go a Carriacou, one lickle island, part a Grenada.   Di people dem kip up one celebration every year weh dem call di Big Drum.  Dem honour dem old-time people.  One Black American writer Paule Marshall, who fa people dem come from Barbados go a New York, she write one nice-nice story bout di Big Drum ceremony.  Di novel name Praisesong for the Widow.  Mi teach it inna dat deh same course mi did a advertise – ‘Looking for hot sex and romance’.

Di people dem pon di lickle island a Carriacou know dem nation an dem nation language.  Inna fi har novel, Paule Marshall show wi seh di people dem from Carriacou weh live inna Grenada, dem know English good-good.  But as soon as dem go dong a wharf, fi ketch di boat go a Cariacou, a so-so patwa dem a chat.

Conquistador at work

Brathwaite talk bout how di system never set up fi mek wi member fi wi owna African language dem.  Hear how im put it: ‘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.

‘It insisted that not only would English be spoken in the anglophone Caribbean, but the educational system would carry the contours of an English heritage.  Hence . . . Shakespeare, George Eliot, Jane Austen – British literature and literary forms, the models which had very little to do, really, with the environment and the reality of non-Europe – were dominant in the Caribbean educational system. . . .

‘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.

Hard core stuff

Earl Lovelace

Still for all, mi know seh tings an times change.  An wi a study plenty Caribbean writer inna fi wi school inna dem ya time.  Tek for instance Earl Lovelace.  Im a one storyteller from Trinidad and im spend time inna Tobago when im a pikni.  Im write one deep-deep novel, The Wine of Astonishment, weh deh pon di CXC syllabus.  Pure patwa inna dat deh book.  It sweet yu see!

 If yu a read dis ya blog soon a morning, yu can ketch Mr. Lovelace up a Philip Sherlock Centre fi di Creative Arts a UWI. Im a gi di Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture dis morning, 11:00 aklak. Di lecture set up fi honour EddieBaugh, di fos West Indian professor inna di English Department a UWI.  Lovelace a go talk bout ‘Reclaiming Rebellion’.  An im new novel, Is Just a Movie, a go launch.  Pon Tuesday, from 11:00 aklak to 1:00 aklak, Mr. Lovelace a go talk to literature student bout  The Wine of Astonishment under di big tent, side-a di undercroft. All di school dem weh waan come ha fi email di Department a Literature inna English fi book space: litsengmona@gmail.com.  Di phone number a  927-2217.

Den mi get one good joke last week from one man weh email mi bout ‘Governor General Gives Throne Speech in Patois’:  “I am extremely disappointed in you when you wrote that ‘there’s no Jamaican I know who makes love in English. In the height (or depth) of passion, no self-respecting yardie is going to moan and groan in English’. OK, so far so good. What I was expecting to hear from you (as an experienced person in this area) are some of the types of sounds that are made by people making love. Hard core stuff. That’s my disappointment. Can we your loyal readers expect it?  LOL. Have a wonderful day”.

Hear weh mi tell im seh, “DWL.  How about ‘woi, woi, woi’ for starters”.  Im send back one sweet-sweet answer.  Not like some a dem sour people pon di Gleaner website weh always a complain bout mi column.  Mi no know weh mek dem ha fi a nyam up demself so.  Hear weh my faas friend im write back seh: ‘You are a delight. I can always rely on you. You’re simply the best. I almost died laughing. You will kill me, I need not hear anymore. (Although).  You’ve shut me (to hell) up. Period’.

Bob Marley’s Fiery Legacy

So if a fire mek i bun

An if a blood mek i run

Rasta deh pon top Can’t you see?

So you can’t predict the flop.

Gotta lightning, thunder, brimstone an fire, fire

Lightning, thunder, brrrr brimstone an fire

Oh ya, fire, oh ya

Kill, cramp an paralyse

All weak-heart conception

Wipe dem out of creation, yeah!

These incendiary lyrics are not the words of Sizzla, Anthony B, Capleton, or any of the ‘fire bun’ Bobo dreads whose metaphors inflame today’s dancehall consciousness. The rhetoric is vintage Bob Marley: Revolution, from the 1974 Natty Dread album.

Three decades after his death, the revolutionary Tuff Gong Rastaman is now completely made over and repackaged as the poster boy for the Jamaican tourist industry. The Jamaica Tourist Board’s decision to adopt and adapt Marley’s One Love to market the island as a vacation paradise is understandable.

It is very difficult to use blood and fire to promote the Jamaican tourist product – unless one is advertising a sizzling jerk meat festival. So it makes commercial sense to construct the fiction of Jamaica as an out-of-many-one paradise. But this is not the truth that Bob Marley begs us to tell the children.

From the grave, Bob Marley cannot rise up in protest against the ways in which his intellectual property is being exploited by Babylon. Dead men sing no songs. Re-releases, yes; but no new songs. If Marley were alive today, he probably would be singing the very same range of songs as he did before he was cut down prematurely – songs chanting down Babylon in its many guises, and songs of love and reconciliation.

But the passage of time often produces selective memory. Bob Marley is now set up on a pedestal. His grounding in Kingston’s concrete jungle and his militant songs of social protest are conveniently forgotten. From that height of near divinity he is routinely summoned to cast down judgement on the generation of vipers that are the contemporary dancehall DJs.

In his lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Vybz Kartel perceptively reminded his audience that reggae used to be called ‘rebel’ music.  And he positioned dancehall as the ‘forwarding’ of this legacy of rebellion. But for many nostalgic reggae fans, any attempt to dare to suggest continuities between the work of Bob Marley and that of the DJs is simply sacrilegious.

Trench Town to Hope Road

Literal genealogy would suggest that it is to Bob Marley’s biological children that we should look to find the Marley musical legacy in its purest form. But their lives of privilege are far different from their father’s: rural upbringing with a religious mother; urban drift into the concrete jungle of Kingston; brief migration to the United States to do factory work; return to yard roots; unprecedented rise to international superstardom.

Bob Marley’s ideological heirs are far more likely to originate in the new generation of sufferers who have not yet managed to travel the social distance from Trench Town to Hope Road and up into the hills of material security. And ‘is nuff a dem’. Suffering is the generic condition of the impoverished masses of the Jamaican people who ambitiously strive to improve their circumstances.

In the words of Bounty Killer:

Mama she a sufferah

Papa im a sufferah

Can’t mek mi children grow up turn sufferah.

Skill at creating and performing lyrics about their own reality will give a few of this generation access to unimagined wealth. But most are alienated from Babylon and its culture of scarce benefits and spoils. In failing to remember Bob Marley’s own fiery chanting down of Babylon, Jamaican society does him, and his potential beneficiaries, a grave injustice. Cut off unnaturally from the contemporary generation of DJ chanters, Marley is made inaccessible to them as a credible role model of social protest.

     Marley’s biological children understand the need to bridge the ideological and rhythmic divide between their father’s generation and their own. They have experimented with his music, cutting and mixing it with dancehall, rap, and R&B, making it over for consumption by their contemporaries. Chant Down Babylon, produced by Stephen Marley, is an excellent example of this innovative trend.

In response to his critics, Stephen Marley is philosophical: “The people that say the music shouldn’t be touched is those that know that music and get it . . . . But all them people that listen to Tupac and the gangsta rap, them no get it. The ’70s, that culture and that time, was a very revolutionary essence, which a lot of older people had the opportunity to grasp and be affected by. It’s different now. . . . Now you have a whole heap of different things to show to the youth today; them get more of a thug mentality. But we are the living testimony of my father, and what you don’t know, me can tell you. And I can tell you in my heart, my father woulda dig this record.”

I would be the first to admit that some of our less-inventive DJs ought to take lessons from Marley in the use of symbolism. Marley often drew on proverbial wisdom to chant down Babylon – throwing word without naming names; throwing corn without calling fowl. By contrast, the youths not only throw corn, dem call fowl, dem catch the fowl, dem wring off di fowl neck, dem pick the feathers and dump the carcass in a pot of boiling water on the fire.

But each generation must tell its own complex truth. And, truth be told, if Marley were a youth today, he would sound a lot like Capleton, Sizzla and Anthony B.