Tag Archives: Pete Lilly

No Extinguisher, Big Problem

imagesThose German men in that inflammatory Saturn ad should have had a fire extinguisher in their tiny kitchen.  Even if the Jamaican flag did ‘catch a fire’ like the Bob Marley and the Wailers album, there would have been no need to take it to the streets. The fire could have been extinguished immediately, and an international incident would have been averted.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t have had to issue a statement on the improper use of the Jamaican flag, including an appeal to the appliance manufacturer to “repair this most unfortunate breach”.  Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, JLP spokesperson on culture, wouldn’t have needed to call on Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to take up the matter at the highest diplomatic levels.

http://adpressive.com/saturn-electronics-commercial-banned-burning-jamaican-flag-030613/

All of the fuss over the ad is a classic example of life imitating art, or, more accurately, artifice.  The real-life protest mirrors the outrage of the masses of ‘Germaican’ fans in the fictitious drama who invest cultural capital in our flag and what it represents:  a nation of people who excel in all sorts of fields.

jamaican-bobsledder-1And beyond all reasonable expectations!  How could Jamaicans really think we could compete internationally at winter sports? Quite easily!  Bobsledding is no big deal.  We have a history of go-kart racing.  Freestyle skiing?  ‘A no nutten dat!’  Errol Kerr certainly carried our flag with grand style at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The high visibility of the Jamaican flag on the world stage, particularly at the Olympics, both summer and winter, is the very reason it was selected for ‘desecration’ in the Saturn ad.  Which other nation’s flag would have excited that extreme response?  Cynics will argue that our flag was abused in order to cut Jamaicans down to size.   They’ve missed the point.

Hate crimes

     images-3 The protestors in the ad can be forgiven for their righteous anger.  They don’t know the whole story.  Viewers of the ad have no excuse.  They know that the real culprit is a defective coffee machine.  That’s what caused the fire.   It forced the endangered men to turn a private matter into a most public affair.  Their cramped living quarters could not contain the fire so they end up trampling the Jamaican flag in a full view of surveillance cameras.

images-1The burning flag becomes national news.  A female news anchor announces, “Our top story today: rioting on streets, as burning Jamaican flag leads to country-wide protests.”  A diplomat in an international setting declares, “We all love Jamaica. These people are burning the Jamaican flag!” A baffled journalist at the scene of the ‘crime’ asks, “The question is:  why all this hatred?”  Of course, it’s not hatred at all.  It’s admiration.

Though I’m quite willing to concede that the Saturn ad was well intentioned, I must admit that I do find it troubling.  The burning flag is the least of the issues. The average Jamaican is not going to go out on any demonstration because the national flag got burnt accidentally.  I suspect that most of us watching that Saturn ad would just kiss our teeth and ask how come ‘di eedyat man dem never throw lickle water pon di flag an out di fire inna di kitchen, an no tek it outa road’.

What struck me most forcibly was the way in which the Jamaican flag got caught up in a specifically European culture of political violence. ‘How we get mix up into dat?’  When a black man is interviewed on the street, his immediate response to the crime is retaliation:  “If they burn our flag, I’m going to burn theirs”.  It’s now a racialised hate crime.

images-2Despite the apparent affirmation of the power of Jamaican identity as represented by the flag, the Saturn ad seems to be feeding on fears of foreign culture.

Burning Questions

2dabcbe173      Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly, co-editors of Riddim, Germany’s upscale reggae/dancehall magazine with a bimonthly circulation of 45,000, ask a penetrating question in their chapter of the Global Reggae book: “How did it come about that youths from European countries without significant Caribbean communities are able and motivated to recreate something that is genuinely Jamaican in origin but can, to a certain extent, even compete with what’s happening in Jamaica today?”

Ellen and Pete argue that German folk music had been taken over by the Nazis and so was discredited.  This music could not, therefore, be embraced as the source of modern pop songs.  So German youth tuned into the music of Britain and the United States to find a language to express their ‘post-Holocaust’ identity.

images-5Then they discovered Bob Marley who embodied the spirit of rebellion against ‘ism and schism’. So the Jamaican flag and the reggae sound track of the Saturn ad are both signs of German identification with a ‘cool’ culture.  But why “Murderer”?  I much prefer the ‘get in and get happy’ vibe of the VW Super Bowl ad.

Both ads celebrate German technology.  But the scenes of social chaos in the Saturn ad are problematic. The image of Jamaica is tainted by association with street violence. When the new coffee machine goes on and the only flames are in the street, the voice of authority declares, “The world needs better technology.  Saturn:  that’s what technology should be all about”.  But the ad is not all about that.

Bowing to the demands of literal-minded fanatics, protocol experts, humourless viewers, incompetent readers of signs etc. etc., the electronics company has done the decent thing. It has pulled the ad.  But the flames of dissent have not been entirely doused.  If Saturn doesn’t already do so, it needs to start manufacturing extinguishers.  For all sorts of fire!

 

Bleaching in Black History Month

images-2It’s Reggae Month and Black History Month, combination style.  Unless you have superhuman stamina, you cannot possibly keep up with all the events.  I’m not even trying.  I’ve selected a few and that’s it.  I have a day job and I simply cannot ‘bleach’.  Neither in English nor Jamaican.

Incredibly, the English words ‘bleach’ and ‘black’ seem to share a common origin.  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, they both appear to come from a prehistoric language for which there are no written records.  This tongue has been reconstructed by linguists who see it as the ancestor of many of the modern languages of Europe and Asia.

cartelIn this ancient mother tongue, the word “bhleg” meant “to burn, gleam, shine, flash”.  The flash of fire became brightness as in ‘bleach’; and the burning produced darkness as in ‘black’. I can just imagine how pleased Vybz Kartel would be to realise that there is linguistic evidence for his paradoxical claim that bleaching is not necessarily a sign of self-hate.  It might actually be a most peculiar manifestation of blackness.

Seriously, though, I gave a paper yesterday at the International Reggae Conference held at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Scholars from across the world came to Jamaica to reflect with us on “traditional and emerging expressions in popular music”.  I focused on Vybz Kartel’s insightful book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto.  And I mean ‘nuff’ insights.

images-3Co-author Michael Dawson, of People’s Telecom fame, admits that, “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”?  In the chapter “No Love for the Black Child” Kartel gives a sarcastic answer:  “Ironically, I lightened my skin and everyone condemned me.  All of a sudden there is an outpouring of love for black skin”.

Kartel elaborates the ironies:  “Some of my executioners are women with false hair, multi-coloured contact lenses or others who have been using various agents to ‘cool down’ their skin.  All of a sudden, after 500 years they start to love the Black Child?  Or is it me you hate?”

Adulterers and Homosexuals

images-4One of the most popular sessions of the conference was the Annual Bob Lecture, delivered by Alan ‘Skill’ Cole.  It wasn’t really a formal lecture, as the title made clear: “Bob Marley:  The Man That I Know”.  The talk was an intimate, wide-ranging celebration of an exceptional friendship.

This is how ‘Skill’ puts it in the programme notes: “I trained him . . . and we lived a life consistent with being a good athlete. . . . . We would wake up around 4:30-5:00 and train; eat, then go to the studio; then go sell records; come back, play some football and, in the night-time, write some music”.

skill4I missed a fair bit of the talk because I had a class. One of the moments I found most touching was Cole’s nostalgia about going to bathe with Bob some nights at a spring just above Papine.  I couldn’t help thinking that these days, two men bathing together would be a sure sign of ‘deviant’ behaviour that should be both bleached and burned.

Healthy relationships between men have been contaminated by fears of homosexuality.  In Black History Month, as we attempt to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, we really do need to look again at some of the Old Testament judgements that are completely irrelevant in the modern age. The book of Leviticus condemns adulterers but we conveniently ignore that inconvenient fact.  Why can’t we do the same with homosexuals?

Reggae Ambassadors

Another big event for Reggae Month is the launch today of the book Global Reggae. This is how Kwame Dawes describes it (and I didn’t pay him a red cent): “Carolyn Cooper has skilfully edited a book of startling visual design and intellectual depth that manages to demonstrate, through complex and varied voices, reggae’s astounding impact on the globe. The term ‘essential’ is used a lot these days, but sometimes it is a fit and righteous word to employ. Global Reggae is essential reading for anyone who is seeking to appreciate this great cultural phenomenon.”

GlobalReggaeCoverAll of the contributors to the Global Reggae compilation are authorities in their field: Kam-Au Amen, Peter Ashbourne, Erna Brodber, Louis Chude-Sokei, Brent Clough, Carolyn Cooper, Cheikh Ahmadou Dieng, Samuel Furé Davis, Teddy Isimat-Mirin, Ellen Koehlings, Pete Lilly, Amon Saba Saakana, Roger Steffens, Marvin D. Sterling, Michael Veal, Leonardo Vidigal and Klive Walker.

It was the Third World Band who popularised the idea of the “reggae ambassador”.  And they tell a now familiar story:

“So everywhere I jam it’s the same question

‘How can a big music come from a little island?’

When the music play[s] it leaves them in a state of shock

The big-big music from the little rock!”

The self-concept of Jamaicans certainly cannot be measured by the small size of our island. We’re much more than a little speck in the Caribbean Sea.  And it was Shabba Ranks who so vividly said that it is the talent of reggae and dancehall artists that enables them to “fly off Jamaica map”.

Dj_Afifa_Banner_by_Dr_JayBone_DesignzThe launch of the Global Reggae book takes place at PULS8, 38A Trafalgar Road, and starts at 6:00 p.m. The public is invited and admission is free.  Guest speaker is Michelle ‘DJ Afifa’ Harris, a doctoral candidate at the University of the West Indies, Mona and a very talented selector. Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Jah 9, Protoje, No-Maddz and Cali P will perform.  If all goes well, the event will be streamed live on the Internet at UWI TV and will  be archived here:  http://tv.mona.uwi.edu/.  After all, Global Reggae is a big-big book that fly off Jamaica map.