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:  After all, Global Reggae is a big-big book that fly off Jamaica map.

A Letter To Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer

Mr Palmer,

I just can’t take the chance of greeting you in this letter with the usual salutation, ‘dear’. Crazy readers of our correspondence would immediately conclude that you’re my bosom buddy. Just take a look at what Bawypy spewed out on The Gleaner’s website last week in response to the publication of your letter to me:

“Ms Cooper you are not Kartels mother, you seem more to be his woman, ur obviously in love with him and you were wrong to bring him inna the university to chat crap and now you are trying to fool Jamaican people again, stop it! Neither you or Kartel is an intellect.”

Apparently, Bawypy had to be reined in. There’s a note beneath the post: “Edited by a moderator.” This is the very first comment that comes up when you go to last week’s column. There are at least 97 others. Most of them are probably just as sensational. I don’t need to know for sure.

But even readers who are presumably much more sophisticated than Bawypy could be misled by my use of the conventional greeting, ‘dear’. Take, for instance, Mr Damion Mitchell, news editor of The Gleaner/Power 106 News Centre. He really ought to know better. In an article published on Monday, March 5, Mr Mitchell rehashes my column and proceeds to make unfounded assumptions.

This is what the news editor wrote: “In a letter to his friend, university professor Carolyn Cooper, Kartel said … .” Now, Mr Palmer, you and I both know that we are not friends in any normal sense of the word. At best, we are acquaintances. And, even so, not to ‘dat’. The first time we met was last March when you came to speak at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Since then, I’ve not laid eyes on you.

Kartel in Jamaica Journal

It is true that we’ve emailed and spoken in the course of my academic work as an analyst of Jamaican popular culture. But these interactions cannot reasonably be regarded as signs of friendship. In fact, I’m sure you will recall that your very first email to me was rather unfriendly. After your appearance at the university, we did have more pleasant exchanges on two matters.

The first was about the business of publishing your lecture, ‘Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’. You’ll be pleased to hear that it came out last week in the latest issue of Jamaica Journal. Vybz Kartel’s picture on the cover of the high-quality, undersubscribed journal is likely to attract many new readers. The Institute of Jamaica must be congratulated for understanding the broad appeal of dancehall culture. If the French newspaper, Le Monde, can capitalise on your notoriety, why not Jamaica Journal?

The second issue we discussed was your endowment of the Adidja Palmer Prize to be awarded each year to the student with the best grade in the Reggae Poetry course I teach at UWI. You readily agreed to fund the prize. Given your present circumstances, the matter has been suspended. The grave charges that have been levelled against you would taint the prize, and so, must be taken into account.

I do not know if you are innocent or guilty. I trust that you will receive a fair trial and the truth will be revealed. If you are guilty, you must suffer the full consequences of your actions. If you are innocent, you will be vindicated. Justice must prevail.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Cooper

(P.S. I know that like ‘dear’, the closing salutation, ‘yours sincerely’, may also be misinterpreted by careless readers like Bawypy and Mr Mitchell,The Gleaner’s news editor).

Conclusion of Adidja Palmer’s letter

“Ms Cooper, please publish this letter so that the Jamaican people can see my point of view on this serious matter as my life depends on the outcome of this case.

“In closing I would like to let the people know that i am an innocent man and i have faith in my lawyers and know that i will be acquitted. Thank you. Sincerely yours Adidja Palmer.

P.S. I have enclosed a poem i wrote. feel free to publish it as well. Thanks Ms C.”

(A poem) Guilty before trial?

by A. Palmer

The police have found me guilty and i

haven’t gone to trial yet,

but they spread propoganda on T.V. & internet

Dem a beat it in the people’s mind

that i’m guilty and deserve death,

but the public knows how the police

operate, so mi nah fret.

So many people in court for allegedly

taking 4, 5, 6 pickney life,

So how they don’t discuss that on

‘CVM at sunrise’?

Allegations of extrajudicial killings

by security forces have already been issue,

but i’ve never seen them on t.v. so

much, talking about that, did you?

Me never kill nobody yet

but they say my music breeds crime,

that’s why they’re on my case they

want me imprisoned long time.

I am an artiste so i know things

will make the news,

but don’t crusade this ungodly way to

distort peoples views.

Mi swear my innocence before all

mankind and God,

why would i risk going to jail Leaving

behind 7 children, after mi nuh mad.

I am not the first man

The romans soldiers have sacrificed,

like me, that man was not guilty

That man was Jesus Christ.

A Letter From Adidja Palmer

Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer

‘Yu a Kartel mada?’ A dat one lickle yute ask me one Satday last month. Im dida walk an sell inna Tropical Plaza. ‘Weh yu seh?’ mi ask im. Im see seh mi lickle slow. So im ton i roun: ‘Kartel a yu son?’ Mi ask im, ‘Wa mek yu seh so?’ Im seh, ‘Mi see yu pan TV.'”

So I’ve now joined the band of aggrieved mothers who routinely appear on national news loudly protesting against the arrest of their sons who, supposedly, have been falsely accused of crime.

May Pen Cemetery

The youth must have seen the LIME TV interview at the Trench Town Bob Marley Tribute Concert in which I said I wanted to visit Kartel at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. Quite an ironic name! There can’t be much of a view of the horizon from that vantage point. The May Pen Cemetery, perhaps; but that place of final rest cannot possibly be an appealing horizon for most prisoners.

It’s not easy to visit the Centre. You need a TRN card – the TRN number on your driver’s licence is not enough. You also need two passport-size photos, certified by a justice of the peace. You have to submit a formal application, which takes two weeks to be processed. And the prisoner has to agree to be visited. Last week, I got the temporary TRN card, so the distance to the horizon is decreasing.

The man and the role

On air, I did express doubts about Kartel’s guilt, based purely on my assessment of the DJ’s intelligence: Vybz Kartel couldn’t be foolish enough to think that Adidja Palmer could get away with murder! That is certainly not an indulgent mother’s stubborn affirmation of her son’s complete innocence. It’s a recognition of an essential distinction between the man and the role he plays as a DJ.

At the now-infamous lecture Kartel gave last year at the University of the West Indies, I asked him a penetrating question: Does Adidja Palmer ever disapprove of Vybz Kartel? His frank response was, “Yes.” I think Palmer knows that Kartel is an unstable character. Stardom really does make some intelligent entertainers lose their grip on reality.

Like it or not, Kartel is undoubtedly an international pop star. This January, one of France’s premier newspapers, Le Monde (The World), carried a story on the DJ in its Culture and Ideas section. According to the journalist, Arnaud Robert, it was “one of the most-read articles on Le Monde website the week it was published”. The story is illustrated with a box of Kartel’s signature cake soap and a photo of the DJ, naked from the waist up, displaying the much-tattooed canvas of his skin.

Guilty with explanation

Truth really is stranger than fiction. The same week the youth asked me if I was Kartel’s mother, I got a letter from my questionable son. Over the three decades I’ve been teaching literature at the University of the West Indies, I’ve received ‘whole heap’ of letters from Jamaicans imprisoned at home and abroad. Many of them send poems, asking for help in getting them published. Prison seems to bring out the creativity of criminals.

I once got a letter from a young man locked up at the St Catherine District prison for murder. He did not pretend to be innocent. He was guilty with explanation, a peculiarly Jamaican plea: “Miss, my action was not premeditated we had an on the spot arguement which developed into a fight knives were brought into play he got a stab and die.”

What is so intriguing about this man’s account is his poetic use of the passive voice. He did not stab the man. The man ‘got a stab’. The grammar of the sentence absolves the stabber of responsibility. The knives that were ‘brought into play’ apparently acted all by themselves. And the victim was so inconsiderate that, having got a stab, he took it upon himself to die!

Using media to slaughter

In his letter, Adidja Palmer (definitely not Vybz Kartel in this case) most certainly does not plead ‘guilty with explanation’. He declares that he is completely innocent. ‘So mi get it, so mi give it':

“Dear Ms. Cooper,

Good day to you and i hope you are in the best of health and the highest of spirits, but I am not.

“Ms Cooper as you know i am in jail on numerous charges and i’d like to tell you that i am an innocent man who needs your help because i’m being painted as this evil ‘D.J. by day, don by night’ murderer who is society’s number one cause of crime and violence. The police is using the media to slaughter me and as such i don’t think i will get a fair trial. They are using the media to form public opinion of me that is so contradictory to the person that I really am. They (police) have tried my case in the public & found me guilty.

“Every single piece of alleged evidence, every new development in the case is thrown on t.v. as if this is a soap opera, but i can assure you that this is no movie to me. This is about my life and my freedom and i take them very seriously.

“My charges are merely allegations, but they are giving the public the impression that i am guilty and that is not fair to me or my family.

“I have been to court on numerous occasions and saw hundreds of accused men who are charged with heinous crimes like murdering children, killing police officers, burning & shooting whole families and i have never once saw police on t.v. discussing the development of those cases, much less every week, as in my case.”

To be continued. . .

The Roast Breadfruit Syndrome

I got some really interesting feedback in the media to last week’s column which was published in the Gleaner as well as posted  here on my blog.  The first was from Theo Mitchell who talked about the roast breadfruit syndrome – black outside and white inside.  His letter to the Editor was published in the Gleaner:

Brownings Think They’re Special

Published: Monday | January 9, 201217 Comments


Many thanks to Professor Carolyn Cooper for her article, ‘Dying to be beautiful?’, published in The Sunday Gleaner of January 8.

I’ve always espoused the view that Jamaica is delineated along the line of two distinct social groups – the black majority and the ‘brown minority’.

Prior to reading your article, I was making a bowl of oatmeal and something just hit me. It is what I call the ‘brown people syndrome’, as persons of that hue think that everything should be fast-tracked and handed to them. They should not wait in lines at the bank or follow procedures to get documents and/or procure service at any entity, especially if it is a public-sector entity.

As per your ‘Page 2′ friend, I think she suffers from the classical ‘brain-bleaching syndrome’. Your peers in the Department of Sociology would have no objection if I called her a ‘roast breadfruit’!

On another note, she is often critical of people’s deportment, and to be honest with you, she is always poorly dressed! Well, that’s her business.

I encourage you, Professor Cooper, to continue to speak the truth, albeit controversial and unpalatable at times. There are persons who read your articles with open minds; look forward to hear your views on contemporary ‘Jamaican issues’, and take careful note of what you say. We may not digest all that you’ve conjectured, but it’s all right to be off the mark at times.

I’ve always admired you and your work. I bid you and your family all the best for the new year.

Many blessings to you, ‘mother of controversy’.


A rather peculiar response to the column/post  came in another letter to the editor, published two days later, this time in the Jamaica Observer:

Dr Carolyn Cooper, end your misery — go ahead and bleach!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear Editor,

Professor Carolyn Cooper has a curious preoccupation with skin bleaching. I have formed the view that she doesn’t love her black skin and would secretly like to bleach, even while she pretends otherwise.

I started to believe that when she invited and elevated Vybz Kartel to guest lecture at the University of the West Indies, at the height of his controversial bleaching and desecration of his skin a la the Colouring Book.

My view was further strengthened by her article Dying to be beautiful published in The Sunday Gleaner, January 7, 2012, when she took on the Observer’s Page 2. The column smacked of unadulterated red eye and bad mind.

Dr Cooper must know, since she writes for that newspaper, that the winning formula in Page 2 was copied in what is being called “Something Extra” by The Gleaner. Her suggestion that the Page 2 is dominated by brown people could just as easily be said of “Something Extra” as the same people I see on one I also see on the other. Of course, Page 2 is far more creatively written and presented, which is further cause for more red eye and bad mind.

My suggestion to Dr Cooper is that she should just end her misery, go ahead and bleach her skin. Vybz Kartel might be in jail, but I’m sure he can arrange, even by phone, to give her the links to his source of cake soap and other bleaching chemicals.

Vanessa McFarlane

Read more:–end-your-misery—go-ahead-and-bleach_10544626#ixzz1jcs2rpJi

The most instructive response of  all came from the editors of the Gleaner.  On Wednesday, January 11, the Gleaner published the following statement:

Correction & Clarification
Professor Carolyn Cooper labelled the Jamaica Observer’s editorial policy relating to ‘Page 2′ social coverage as racist.
We wish to state that we have no evidence to suggest that this is [sic] basis of the newspaper’s decisions cocnerning [sic] its social coverage.
The Gleaner Company does not share Dr Cooper’s assessment of the Observer’s editorial policy.
We regret the publication of the offending words.

Dying To Be Beautiful?

Crazy as it may seem, some supposedly sane people are quite prepared to risk death in order to fit the current model of what it means to be beautiful. Whatever that is. Just think of all of those exploding breast and bottom implants!

This week, the Montego Bay campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica, raises the provocative question – dying to be beautiful? – at its very first scientific conference on ‘Body Image, Eating Behaviours and Health in the Caribbean’. Pre-conference seminars will be held at the Kingston campus this Wednesday and Thursday. The main event starts on Friday in the Second City.

The ‘Kingston’ and ‘Montego Bay’ campuses of ‘UWI, Jamaica’ exist only in my imagination. The reality is far more wordy and confusing: the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, now has two campuses: the Mona campus in Kingston and the Western Jamaica campus in Montego Bay.

More than six decades ago when the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) was founded as an outpost of the University of London, there was only one campus – at Mona.

Branding UWI, Jamaica

Three more campuses have been established over the years: St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago; Cave Hill in Barbados; and the Open Campus which hosts 42 sites, both virtual and physical, serving 16 countries across the Creole-Anglophone Caribbean. Since Mona is no longer the only campus in Jamaica, it would make sense to move with the times and change the name.

But sentiment often prevails over good sense. Many graduates of ‘Mona’ would not be happy to hear that their campus no longer existed – in name. All the same, UWI, Mona, really ought to rebrand as UWI, Jamaica, with two campuses – Kingston and Montego Bay. Eventually, there may even be a Mandeville campus! Would that have to be named generically as the ‘Central Jamaica’ campus?

Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay

Associating the Jamaican campuses of the University of the West Indies with easily recognised names of cities would actually strengthen the institution’s brand. ‘Kingston’ has much greater global brand recognition than ‘Mona’. And ‘Montego Bay’ definitely has more vibes than ‘Western Jamaica’. But whatever name you call it, the new UWI campus is certainly making a big impact in the west.

Half Moon

Last month, I was the keynote speaker at the End of Year Awards event for the Half Moon resort. The taxi driver who took me back to the airport enthusiastically sang the praises of the Montego Bay campus when he heard I taught at UWI. His granddaughter is a student there. She’s enjoying the challenging academic programme. This, after all, is not a university ‘fi stone dog’. But the thing he valued most was the fact that it was so cost-effective for her to live at home. The family didn’t have to go to all the expense of finding accommodation in Kingston.

‘A man is never ugly’

The UWI, MoBay conference is co-hosted with the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and Eating Recovery Center, based in the United States. The centre was established in Philadelphia in 1985 as a residential facility for women suffering from a range of psychological problems disguised as food issues: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. The centre now has several branches. Dr Jennifer Nardozzi, who practises at the Coconut Creek facility in Florida, is one of the distinguished conference panellists.

Traditionally, men didn’t have problems with body image. They were not expected to be beautiful. Their role was to be breadwinners. They didn’t worry about how much bread they ate. The Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta puts it beautifully in her satirical novel, The Joys of Motherhood: “A woman may be ugly and grow old, but a man is never ugly and never old. He matures with age and is dignified.”

Danny Padilla

These days, men have got on the beauty bandwagon. And they are suffering the consequences. Pumping iron as if it’s going out of style; skin-bleaching, cosmetic surgery. You name it; men are doing it. Nobody seems to be satisfied with the package they’ve inherited. And even after all of the ‘fixing’, some people will never ever be happy with how they look. Beauty is a moving target.

Racist editorial policy

The UWI conference covers a wide range of topics: the ethics and practice of cosmetic surgery; the social, psychological and medical aspects of skin-bleaching; healthy eating and exercise; medical and cultural norms that define body image; skin tattooing and plastic surgery; standards of beauty.

One of the highlights is the panel discussion with local celebrities which focuses on ‘Defining sexy: Fluffy or Skinny Women; Black or Brown Skin (to Bleach or no), Tattoo or no Tattoo?’ Vybz Kartel was invited to be one of the panellists but, of course, he’s now out of circulation. Perhaps he’ll get bail in time for the conference.

I was most amused to see that Novia McDonald-Whyte will be giving a plenary lecture, following a panel on ‘Standards of Beauty’. Her topic is not advertised. I wonder if she’ll be talking about the racist editorial policy of the Observer‘s notorious ‘Page 2′, which usually features almost exclusively ‘high-colour’ socialites.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Independence, we need to question our national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’? Is Jamaica really a multiracial society? Obviously, not! We are a black-majority nation with a small minority of other racial groups. Our national motto is clearly delusional.

Fabricated by the brown/white elite half a century ago, the motto symbolises the arrogance of those who consider themselves entitled to rule. Disregarding the black majority, the self-centred minority deliberately falsified the truth. They concocted a motto in their own image: ‘Page 2′. No wonder the black in the flag represented ‘hardship’. In the spirit of Marcus Garvey, I propose an emancipated motto: ‘One Aim, One Destiny, Full Freedom’. That should cover just about everybody.

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.

Clovis Draws Blood /Jraa Blod

When I saw last Monday’s editorial cartoon in the Jamaica Observer, I wondered if Clovis Brown had finally sold his soul to the devil.  I mean it metaphorically, of course.  I have no evidence that Brown’s taskmaster is demonic.  Butch Stewart, after all, is one of the outstanding leaders of industry in Jamaica.  Obviously, he’s a man beyond reproach. True, he must sell newspapers.  But, surely, not at any price!

Editorial cartooning has quite a distinguished history.  In some quarters it is a noble profession.  But in the case of Clovis, the genuine wit of the stinging editorial cartoon appears to have degenerated into little more than vulgar gutter sniping.

Caricature is one thing; sexist, racist and classist profiling is another. I will never forget the contemptuous way in which the supposedly ‘honourable’ Prime Minister, Mrs. Portia Simpson Miller, was demeaningly portrayed by Clovis during the last general election campaign.

Women seem to be particularly easy targets for this cartoonist.  Just think about last Monday’s sick joke.  Here’s the titillating, pornographic scenario:  The University of the West Indies, Mona is an open coffin from which arises ‘Prof’ Vybz Kartel, a grinning, bloodthirsty vampire.  And the generic patwah docta’ -whoever that is – seductively invites the kiss of death.

The murderous message in this necrophiliac cartoon is not even subliminal.  It’s right there on the surface.  UWI is a ‘dead yard’.  Jamaican popular music is a ‘nine-night sankey’.  And academic discourse on both the music and the mother tongue of the masses of the Jamaican people is a sure death sentence.

Still, I wanted to give Clovis the benefit of the doubt. I tried to imagine that his soul was, indeed, his own.  I hoped that his work was inspired by a much grander motivation than simply filthy lucre.  Art for art’s sake, perhaps?  Or art in the service of politics, even?

In any case, as Professor Kartel humorously demonstrated in his now world-famous public lecture at Mona (thanks to the Internet), the mechanics of selling one’s soul to the devil can be rather complicated.  Taken literally, all the precise details of the commercial transaction seem quite ludicrous:

“So this is a question now for the audience.  I would like to know how does one go about selling his soul to the devil? Does the devil have a bank account?  Alright. Do you first put an ad in the classifieds?  ‘Soul for sale in good condition’.  Leave a number to call, the devil calls you, and you work out the fine print of it.  He gives you a manager’s cheque for your soul; you go to his bank.  A popular commercial bank, I presume.  How does it go?”

Down-market, tabloid pedigree

I dismissed the selling-of-the-soul explanation and began to explore other possibilities. However generous I tried to be, I just couldn’t come up with a satisfying account of Clovis’ disturbing cartoon. Let’s suppose I’m the ‘patwa doctor.’  What had I done to make the cartoonist conclude that I would solicit the deadly embrace of a blood-sucking vampire?

My inviting a pop icon to speak at the University of the West Indies cannot reasonably be regarded as a death wish.  Universities across the globe do this kind of thing all the time.  Some of them even have departments of popular culture in which our own Jamaican music is taken seriously.

Here’s a good example.  Next month, I’m going to St. Lucia and St. Vincent to do some lecturing for the UWI Open Campus.  In St. Lucia, I’ll be giving the Patricia Charles Memorial Lecture in honour of the former Resident Tutor of the UWI Extra Mural Department who served the country with distinction in the fields of education and the arts.

The topic of that lecture is “Islands beyond Envy:  Liberating Nation Language in the Caribbean.”  In St. Vincent, I’ll be talking about “Pan-African Consciousness in Caribbean Popular Culture.”  ‘Patwah’ and popular culture, the subjects that engage my colleagues in the Eastern Caribbean, are the very issues that have provoked Clovis’ malicious cartoons.

I got a most insightful email from Mrs. Lesley Crane-Mitchell, Outreach Officer for the Open Campus in St. Lucia.  With her permission, I reproduce it here:  “I loved the exchange between yourself and Vybz Kartel on your blog re the skin bleaching issue. Perhaps you could do a related lecture while here.  A provocative title including the name Vybz Kartel would go down well with young people.  We need to raise UWI’s profile within the schools.  It might be good for them to see that UWI lecturers can also be “cool” – or is that phrase no longer in vogue?J”

Mrs. Crane-Mitchell knows how quickly ‘hip’ terms go out of style.  She also quite perceptively recognises the fact that the profile of the University can, indeed, be raised by engagement with popular culture.  At least for young people.  On this score, the Open Campus is streets and lanes ahead of the seemingly Closed Campus at Mona.

There, Clovis’ three derisive cartoons on Kartel’s lecture have, apparently, elicited complete embarrassment at the unwelcome attention.  The administration doesn’t seem to realise that the campus could ‘get a forward’ from association with the DJ, as Kartel himself might put it.  An unprecedented audience of over 5,000 came to hear the lecture.   I don’t think the powers-that-be even begin to understand what that means.

And as for that dismissive patwah docta’ label!  Clovis does not seem to know that Creole linguistics is a perfectly respectable academic discipline.  I might even have become a ‘bonafide patwa dakta’ if I’d been aware of linguistics as an option when I first went to university.  As it turns out, my Ph.D. is in English literature and I teach the subject for a living.  I also ‘hug up’ my mother tongue, Jamaican.

And why is Kartel pictured as a vampire?  His misapplied ‘cake soap’ may be far less deadly than other chemical products many of us routinely use.  Having tried in vain to find a rational explanation for the vicious, blood-sucking cartoon, I’ve concluded that ‘Clovis head tek im.’

Quite frankly, I really don’t care if the cartoonist decides to put me in a nappy and reduce me to a crybaby – or whatever other infantile ‘diss’ he may conceive.  That’s a small price to pay for speaking out against the way in which the Observer seems to be revelling in its down-market, tabloid pedigree.

In the 1990s, I used to write a column for that newspaper.  In those early years, the Observer aspired to be a quality broad sheet, in spite of its tabloid format.  These days, the pretension of professionalism appears to have vanished, particularly in the editorial cartoon.  Now it’s all about cheap laughs.

And Vybz Kartel has bitten back. It had to happen. There’s a wicked cartoon on the Internet, attributed to Kartel. Clovis stands on the sidewalk wearing a tee shirt that reads, “Bruk Pocket Hungry Belly Badmind Clovis.”        Sobbing, he confesses, “That’s why me envy Kartel so much you know.  He getting all the money and the girls while I’m in a boring underpaid overworked job.  Nobody knows me or cares who I am while he gets all the fame and money.  Even my mom an me auntie an all of me female cousin dem gone with him . . . .”  Kartel cruises past in his Benz with all of Clovis’ beloved female relatives.

I suppose all is fair in the cartoon wars.  But the truth is that Clovis Brown is well-known.  And even if he hasn’t quite sold his soul to the devil, he does make a good living.  It’s just a pity that his take on life is sometimes so vampirish.


Wen mi si di kyaatuun iina laas Monde Jamaica Observer, it kom tu mi se Clovis Brown mosi sel im suol tu di devl don, don, don.  No riil-riil sel; bot suo tu spiik.  Mi naa no evidens se Brown baas a no devl.  Aafta raal, Butch Stewart a wan a di tap-a-tap big man dem wa a ron tingz iina Jamieka.  Yu no ha fi aks if im de pan a levl.  Chruu, im ha fi sel nyuuspiepa.  Bot dat no miin se im naa no prinsipl.

Yu si di kyaatuun dem iina nyuuspiepa, di wan dem we dairekli shuo wa di edita a di piepa a difen;  a lang taim nou dem de bout.  An a siiryos bizniz.  Fi som piipl a wan rispektibl jab fi jraa kyaatuun.  Bot yu si Clovis.  It luk laik se im naa juk pan prinsipl.  Fi im juok dem a go rait dong iina di gota.

Tek piipl mek papishuo fi gud riizn a wan ting.  Bot wen yu a go kyari dem dong siek a dem blak an dem a uman an dem no kum aafa no ai tiebl, dat a wan neks ting.   Mi no nuo wen mi uda eva figat di bad briid wie Clovis did angl di so-kaal ‘anarebl’ Praim Minista, Mrs. Portia

Simpson Miller, iina di laas jineral ilekshan kyampien.

It luk laik Clovis lov kyari dong uman.  Unu si laas Monde kyaatuun.  It sik mi stomok.  Si ou im set it op.  An it ruud yu si!  Yunnivorsiti a di Wes Indiiz op a Muona a wan kafn.  An di kafn opn.  ‘Prof’ Vybz Kartel im a git op outa fi kafn.  Im dis a kin im tiit laka wan vampaiya a luk blod.  An di ‘patwah dockta’’ – a so Clovis spel i  – a inviigl di vampaiya fi bait ar. Nobadi niem no kaal so yu ha fi ges a uu dat.

Yu si di mechiz!  Morda.  An slaknis:  yu nuo dem av som wikid piipl we lov seks ded sombadi.  A it dat.  Yu no ha fi a go roun an kom roun fi si wa di kyaatuun a se.  It rait de so, big an brait.  UWI a wan ded yaad.  An fi wi Jamieka myuusik ina dem ya taim a nai-nait Sangki.  An fram yu a tek di myuuzik an di langgwij a di masiv  siiryos – fi stodi a yuunivorsiti – dat a dairek det sentens.

Stil far aal, mi a chrai si if a dat Clovis a se fi chruu.  A kudn dat.  Mi se, im no sel im suol.  It bilangs tu im.  Mi se a no suoso moni im a wok fa.  Im a aatis.  An im a jraa kyaatuun chruu im lov fi jraa. An paraps, a palitiks im a difen.

Aal di siem, Professor Kartel don shuo wi iina im lekcha – we im gi op a Muona an we gaan aal uova (siek a di Intanet) – im mek juok an shuo wi se it no mek no sens fi a taak bout sel suol tu di devl.  Wen yu tink bout aal a di likl inz an outs fi du di selin, it kaina soun fuul-fuul:

“So dis a wan kweschan fi unu.  Mi waan nuo ou yu uda sel yu suol tu di devl.  Di devl av bank buk?  Aarait.  Ou yu dwiit.  Fos tu bigin wid:  yu tek out wan ad iina Gliina.  ‘Wan gud-gud suol a sel.’  Yu liiv yu nomba an di devl kaal yu an unu sekl op di ting.  An im gi yu wan bank chek fi yu suol.  An yu go a fi im bank.  Mosi wan a di papila komorshal bank dem, ii?  A ou it go?

Wan skyndal nyuuzpiepa

So mi se ‘naa.’  Clovis no sel im suol.  So mi staat aks miself a wa mek im dwiit.  Mi chrai mi bes fi si wid im.  Bot mi jos no andastan wa mek Clovis jraa dat de bad-main kyaatuun.  Aarait.  So if a mi a di ‘patwah docta’’, a wa mi du mek Clovis disaid im main se mi a go beg vampaiya fi kom bait mi, kil mi ded?

A kudn chruu mi invait wan big taim DJ fi taak a Yuunirositi mek Clovis tink se mi waan ded.  Yuunivorsiti aal uova di worl invait aatis fi taak.  Som a dem aal av dipaatment we dem stodi tide kolcha an tek fi wi Jamieka myuuzik siiryos.

Tek far instans.  Neks month, mi a go dong a St. Lucia an St. Vincent fi du kopl lekcha fi di UWI Uopn Kyampos.  Iina St. Lucia, mi a go gi wan lekcha fi memba Mrs. Patricia Charles.  Shi did in chaaj a di UWI dipaatment iina St. Lucia we put aan kuours outsaid di waal a di 3 big kyampos a Jamieka, Baabiedoz an Chrinidad an Tubiego.  Mrs Charles du plenti gud wok iina edikieshan an di aats an a it mek Yuunivorsiti a ana ar wid fi ar uona lekcha.

Mi a go taak bout “Islands beyond Envy:  Liberating Nation Language in the Caribbean” (Wi no ha fi groj nobadi:  Wi gat fi wi uona langgwij).    Iina St. Vincent, mi a go taak bout “Pan-African Consciousness in Caribbean Popular Culture” (Afrika de iina wi kolcha).  Siit de:  ‘patwah’ an tide kolcha a wa di yuunivorsiti piipl dem iina dem oda ailan waan ier bout.  Di sed siem ting we mek Clovis a jraa im bad briid kyaatuun dem ya so.

Mi get wan sensibl iimiel fram Mrs. Lesley Crane-Mitchell.  Shi a di afisa we rispans fi riich out tu piipl mek dem kom a di Uopn Kyampos iina St. Lucia.  Shi gi mi pormishan fi shuo unu we shi rait:  “Mi lov di ping pong wid yuu an Kartel pan yu blog bout bliichin.  Paraps yu kuda du wan lekcha bout dat wen yu kom.  Wan tapik wid Kartel niem uda kech di yuut dem.  Wi ha fi big op UWI ina di skuul dem.  Mek di styuudent dem nuo se di lekchara dem a UWI nuo wa a gwaan out a ruod.  Dem kuul.  Dat wod stil in stail?J”

5,000 piipl kom fi ier Kartel

Mrs. Crane-Mitchell don nuo se slang chienj op kwik kwik.  An shi nuo se Yuunivorsiti kyan get rietingz if dem uopn dem duor an tek iin schriit kolcha.  Di yuut dem wi gi dem rispek.  It luk laik di Uopn Kyampos wie paas di ‘Lak Dong’ Kyampos a Muona wen it kom aan tu dis bizniz.

Op a Muona, it luk laik Yuunivorsiti imbaras kyaan don chruu Clovis jraa im chrii sowa kyaatuun a tek di kyampos mek papishuo. Di tapanaaris de so no nuo se dem kuda get a faawad (az Kartel uda se) fi bring di DJ fi lekcha.  A 5000 piipl kom fi ier Kartel!  So moch piipl neva kom wan taim tu notn a Yuunivorsiti.  Mi no tink di tap-a-tap staat fi andastan wa dat miin.

An az fi di pap-doun ‘patwah docta’’ fuulishnis!  It luk laik Clovis no nuo se piipl a stodi patwa langgwij iina yuunivorsiti lang taim.  Siiryos ting.  If mi did nuo bout langgwij saiyans wen mi did go a yuunivorsiti, mi maita bi wan bonafaid patwa dakta nou.  Mi neva nuo.  So a Ingglish lichricha mi du mi Ph.D. iina.  A it mi tiich nou.  An mi og op fi mi haat langgwij, Jamiekan.

Den a wa mek Clovis ton Kartel iina wan vampaiya?  Im kieksuop, we som piipl naa yuuz ou it supuoz fi yuuz – fi wash kluoz – maita no moch wosa dan plenti a di chemikal dem we som a wi a yuuz die iin, die out.  Eniou, sins mi kudn fain no gud riizn fi di bad-main, vampaiya kyaatuun, it kom tu mi se Clovis ed dis tek im.

An tel yu di chruut, mi no kya if Clovis put mi iina napi an chrai ton mi iina krai-krai biebi, muunshain daalin.  Ar wateva ada lilkl fuul-fuul dis im kom op wid.  Dat a no notn.  Mi ha fi taak out bout ou Observer dis a gwaan laik wan likl nyuuspiepa.  A so di piepa likl, a so  . . . .

Iina di 1990z, mi did rait kalam fi dat de nyuuspiepa.  Dem taim, doa di piepa likl bit, dem did a gwaan laik se dem big an dem braad.  Ina dem ya taim, it luk laik dat de spirit gaan.  Az fi di kyaatuun dem pan di edita piej.  Dem dis a juok it out.

An Vybz Kartel bait bak.  Bot mos.  Yu waan si di wikid kyaatuun pan di Intanet, we Kartel supuozn di jraa. Clovis stan op pan di saidwaak a wier wan tii shot we se, “Bruk Pocket Hungry Belly Badmind Clovis.”        Im a baal an im admit se, “That’s why me envy Kartel so much you know.  He getting all the money and the girls while I’m in a boring underpaid overworked job.  Nobody knows me or cares who I am while he gets all the fame and money.  Even my mom an me auntie an all of me female cousin dem gone with him . . . .”  Kartel kruuz paas iina im Benz wid di uol a Clovis’ fiimiel fambili.

Kyaatuunis Las May, lef, an Clovis win awaad

Wel, di naif we stik shiip stik guot.  A so di kyaatuun klash go.  Stil far aal, Clovis Brown is wel binuons.  An ifn ef im no sel im suol tu di devl fi chruu, im naa sofa.  Im a liv gud. Bwai, iz a piti im kyaatuun dem jraa blod somtaim mek im kom iin laik wan vampaiya.

Mi Deh Pon Di Gaza!/Mi De Pan Di Gaaza!


Haaretz photo

Four months ago I got an email from an Israeli journalist, Nirit Ben-Ari:  “I am writing a feature article for the weekend edition of Haaretz on dancehall reggae in Jamaica.  It is so interesting and mind-boggling!  I read your Noises in the Blood (the part which is available online, because unfortunately the book is not available in Israel), and it was a fascinating read.”

Nirit’s first question was, “Do you think that the choice of the name ‘Gaza’ represents a political awareness and identification with the underdog?” I agreed and elaborated:  In Jamaican dancehall culture, Gaza is a symbol of resistance to oppressive political powers.  ‘Mi deh pon di Gaza’ (not quite ‘I am in Gaza’) signifies a constant struggle for survival like that of the Palestinians who are relentlessly fighting against Israeli domination. ‘Gaza’ is not so much a place as a state of mind.

You hear this, for example, in Vybz Kartel’s ‘Black Child – Pon Di Gaza’:

Mi see car for sale but mi cyaa buy none

Mi see house for sale, too

Tell mi when dah money deh a go come?

Ghetto yute lef school and cyaa see no future

Ten years from now tell mi

Wa a go happen to mi daughter?

If every day wi till the soil

An Babylon no share di spoil

Every day wi a suffer

Where is the love for the black child?

Mr. Chin done have him own

Dem treat wi like dog an wi still no get no bone

Tell mi, where is the love for the black child?

How mi fi live offa four grand a week, Lawd Jesus?

Dat a just fi mi son sneakers

Lawd God, mi bridge di water

Cyaa pay di bill mi ha fi back di light meter.

When mi get pay by Friday,

Everyting done by Satday

When mi tek one step forward

It come een like mi tek three step backward.

Babylon yu naa go get weh

Yu ha pay fi wa yu do to ghetto yute

Yu black bredda dem just hold di faith

Selassie I have a plan fi yu

When one ghetto youth drop out

Ten more born cau di journey continue.

Ten years from now tell mi

Wa a go happen to mi daughter?

If every day wi till the soil

An Babylon no share di spoil

Every day wi a suffer

Where is the love for the black child?

Mr. Chin done have him own

Dem treat wi like dog an wi still no get no bone

Tell mi, where is the love for the black child?
Eeh?  Not nice

Mi a lead out fi di ghetto yute, mi no care

That’s why when mi reach inna Jamaica house weh day

Mi tell dem, every ghetto yute have a talent

Babylon, why yu want fi see dem fail?

Dem naa no job, dem own di future

Is not di morgue, or is not di jail

Dis is not a threat is a warning

Babylon yu naa go get weh

Yu ha pay fi wa yu do to ghetto yute.

Mi black bredda dem just hold di faith

Selassie I have a plan fi yu

When one ghetto youth drop out

Ten more born cau di journey continue.

Ten years from now tell mi

Wa a go happen to mi daughter?

The prophetic warning of these lyrics is identical to the judgement of Bob Marley’s ‘Babylon System’:

We refuse to be

What you wanted us to be.

We are what we are

That’s the way it’s going to be.

You can’t educate I

For no equal opportunity

Talking about my freedom

People freedom and liberty.


We’ve been trodding on the winepress

Much too long

Rebel, rebel.

Babylon system is the vampire

Sucking the children day by day.

Babylon system is the vampire

Sucking the blood of the sufferers.

Building church and university

Deceiving the people continually.

Me seh them graduating

Thieves and murderers,

Look out now

Sucking the blood of the sufferers.

Tell the children the truth.

Observing Mental Slavery

Ever since 1992 when I first conceived the idea of a reggae studies centre in Jamaica that would attempt to tell the children the truth that is recorded in our popular music, ‘mi deh pon di Gaza!’  It has been an epic struggle to demonstrate the academic legitimacy of the enterprise.

Last week Tuesday’s malicious cartoon in the Observer is a classic manifestation of the mental slavery I’ve been fighting against.  Making a mockery of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Clovis represented Vbyz Kartel’s guest lecture at the University of the West Indies, Mona as a sacrilegious act, undermining the academic integrity of the institution.

There I am, with my bleached-out face, leading the donkey on which Kartel is riding. Poor Professor Shirley, with that quizzical look on his face, is obviously wondering what he’s doing in the midst of the rabble.

At a time when the University is suffering from severe budget cuts, Clovis insinuates that reggae studies is a complete waste of resources.  So a nerdy male student asks, “Is this mi parents spend millions fi mi fi com’ university com’ learn?!”  Ironically, this is the same language that is also derided in the cartoon.  ‘Patwah Docta’ is branded across my pubic region thus confirming the lower reaches of the Jamaican language.

There are other ironies that I’m sure our Israeli journalist would appreciate.  Kartel’s legal name, ‘Palmer,’ is of French origin.  It was the name given to a pilgrim who had visited the Holy Land and who brought back a palm branch as confirmation of the journey.  Similarly, a Muslim who makes the pilgrimage (or hajj) to Mecca takes the title ‘Alhaji.’

So in my subversive re-reading of the cartoon, the students who throw palm branches at Kartel’s feet are paying due homage to Mr. Palmer who has visited the Holy Land of the University of the West Indies.  Unlike Ragashanti, who is left outside the gates of the hallowed institution because of bad behaviour (as in Wednesday’s Observer cartoon), ‘Di Teacha’ is allowed to enter.

There are positive stories that do encourage me on my own pilgrimage ‘pon di Gaza.’  A colleague told me that she overheard her sons and their friends discussing last week’s column.  A couple of them who had been thinking about dropping out of U Tech decided they couldn’t.  If Kartel was going to get a degree they had to finish.  These are middle-class youths in Mona.  I keep wondering about the impact of Adidja Palmer’s admission to university on talented ghetto youth who want to ‘own di future.’

Mi De Pan Di Gaaza!

Fuor mont abak, mi get wan iimiel fram wan Izrieli nyuuspiepa raita, Nirit Ben-Ari:  “Mi a rait wan tuori fi di Haaretz wiiken piepa bout daansaal rege iina Jamieka. It so inchrestin an it mek mi ai dazl! Mi riid yu buk Noises in the Blood (di paat we de pan lain kaa, laik a spait, yu kyaan get di huola buk iina Izrel.  Di buk huol mi.

Di fos kweschan Nirit aks a, “Yu tink se wen piipl se ‘Gaaza’ dat miin se dem andastan di palitiks an dem a difen di sofara dem?” Mi agrii wid ar an mi spel it out:  Iina Jamiekan daansaal kolcha, Gaaza stan fi rizistans tu Babilani.  ‘Mi de pan di Gaaza’ (dat a no siem laka ‘mi iina Gaaza’) miin se evri die yu a put op a fait fi sorvaiv laka di Palistiniyan dem we a fait fi dem laif gens di Izrieli dem. ‘Gaaza’ a no wan plies; a wan stiet a main.

Tek far instans Vybz Kartel ‘Blak Pikni– Pan Di Gaaza’:

Mi si kyaar a sel bot mi kyaa bai non

Mi si ous a sel, tu

Tel mi wen da moni de a go kom?

Geto yuut lef skuul an kyaa si no fyuucha

Ten ier fram nou tel mi

Wa a go apn tu mi daata?

If evri die wi til di sail

An Babilan no shier di spwail

Evri die wi a sofa

We di lov fi di blak pikni de?

Mr. Chin don ha fi im

Dem chriit wi laka daag an wi stil no get no buon

Tel mi, we di lov fi di blak pikni de?

Ou mi fi liv aafa fuor gran a wiik, Laad Jiizas?

Dat a jos fi mi son sniika

Laad Gad, mi brij di waata

Kyaa pie di bil mi ha fi bak di lait miita.

Wen mi get pie bai Fraide,

Evriting don bai Satde

Wen mi tek wan step faawad

It kom iin laik mi tek chrii step bakwad.

Babilan yu naa go get we

Yu ha fi pie fi wa yu du tu geto yuut

Yu blak breda dem jos huol di fiet

Selassie I av a plan fi unu

Wen wan geto yuut jrap out

Ten muor baan kaa di jorni a gwaan.

Ten ier fram nou tel mi

Wa a go apn tu mi daata?

If evri die wi til di sail

An Babilan no shier di spwail

Evri die wi a sofa

We di lov fi di blak pikni de?

Mr. Chin don ha fi im

Dem chriit wi laik daag an wi stil no get no buon

Tell mi, we di lov fi di blak pikni de?

Ii?  Nat nais

Mi a liid out fi di geto yuut, mi no kya

A it mek wen mi riich iina Jamieka ous we die

Mi tel dem, evri geto yuut gat a talent

Babilan, wa mek yu waan fi si dem fiel?

Dem naa no jab, di fyuucha a fi dem

A no no maag, an a no no lak-op

Dis a no no chret; a waan mi a waan.

Babilan yu naa go get we

Yu ha fi pie fi wa yu du tu geto yuut.

Mi  blak breda dem jos huol di fiet

Selassie I av a plan fi unu

Wen wan geto yuut jrap out

Ten muor baan kau di jorni a gwaan.

Ten ier fram nou tel mi

Wa a go apn tu mi daata?

From Haaretz article

A di sed siem profisait an profisi iiina Bob Marley ‘Babilan Sistim.’  Jojment:

Wi naa ton wiself

Iina wa unu waan.

Unu si wi; a so wi tan

An a so it a go tan.

Unu kyaan edikiet Ai

Fi no iikwal apachuniti

Chat bout fi mi friidom

Piipl friidom an libati.


A lang lang lang

Wi a chrod pan di wainpres

Ribel, ribel.

Babilan sistim a wan vampaya

A sok di pikni dem evri die

Babilan sistim a wan vampaya

A sok di blod a di sofara dem.

A bil choch an yuunivorsiti

A disiiv di piipl dem kyaa don.

Mi se dem a gradiyiet

Tiif an mordara,

Wach ya nuo

Dem a sok di blod a di sofara dem.

Tel di pikni dem di chruut.

Mi a obsorv mental slievri

Fram1992 wen it kom tu mi se wi fi set op wan senta iina Jamieka we uda chrai tel di pikni dem di chruut we rikaad iina fi wi myuzik, mi de pan di Gaaza!  Wat a fait fi shuo se fi wi kolcha a wan siiryos ting fi stodi.  A no wan juok bizniz.

Unu si laas wiik Chuusde bad-main kyaatuun iina di Observer! Dat a wan gud egzaampl a di mental slievri mi a fait gens.  Clovis tek Jiizas mek papishuo wen im dida raid pan di dangki iina Jeruusalem.  Azkaadn tu Clovis, Vybz Kartel kom iin laka Jiizas chruu im kom gi wan ges lekcha op a di Yuunivorsiti a di Wes Indiiz.  Dat a fi mek it luk laik se Yuunivorsiti a sin fi put Kartel pan di siem levl laka Jiizas.  An yuunivorsiti gaan tu notn if Kartel kyan a gi lekcha. An si mi, wid mi bliich-out fies a liid di dangki we Kartel a raid.  Puor Profesa Shirley im, wid dat kanfyuuz luk pan im fies, laik im a wanda a wan im a du a miks op wid di uop iip a uol niega dem.

Yuunivorsiti a sofa fram bad-bad bojit kot.  An Clovis wid im bad-main self a mek i luk laik se rege stodis a wan wies-a-moni sinting.  Unu si ou im tan bad! An ku pan di buk-worm miel styuudent im  a aks, ‘A dis mi mada an mi faada spen so moch moni fi mi fi kom yuunivorsiti kom laan!’  Di bes juok, dat a di sed siem langgwij wa Clovis a laaf aafta iina di kyatuun.  ‘Patwah Docta’ rait aaf big-big dong aanda mi wieslain fi shuo se a dong de so fi wi Jamieka langgwij fi tan.

Dat a no di ongl juok.  Mi shuor se di Izrieli nyuuspiepa raita uda lov disya wan. Kartel liigal niem, ‘Palmer,’ kom fram French.  Dat a di niem yu uda tek if yu go a di Huoli Lan.  Yu bring bak wan paam branch fi shuo se yu did go de. Siem laik out wen di Muslim dem go pan di jorni  (di haj) to Meka dem tek di taikl ‘Alhaji.’

So wen mi ton roun bak di kyaatuun pan Clovis mi si se di styuudent dem we a chruo dong paam branch fi Kartel raid uova, dem a pie rait an propa rispek tu Misa Palmer chruu im visit fi Huoli Lan – dat a di Yuunirositi a di Wes Indiiz.  Ragashanti get lef outsaid di giet a di huoli instityuuushan bikaaz a bad bihievya.  Nat di Teacha.  Im get fi kom iin.  Dat a Wensde Observer kyaatuun.

Varun Baker photo

Mi du get pazitiv vaibz fi di chrod pan di Gaaza.  Piipl tel mi stuori fi kip mi op. Wan uman we mi wok wid a yuunivorsiti tel me se si hier ar son an dem fren a taak bout laas wiik kalam.  Kopl a dem did a tink bout jrap out a U Tech.  Dem mek op dem main se dem kyaa jrap out.  If Kartel a go get yuunivorsiti digrii, dem ha fi finish.  Dem ya a migl klaas yuut iiina Muona.  Mi kip aan a wanda, if Adidja Palmer disaid im main fi go a yuunivorsiti fi chruu, wa impak dat uda av pan geto yuut wid talent, uu nuo se ‘di fyuucha a fi dem.’

UWI Erects Rampin Shop

Las May’s cartoon in last Wednesday’s Gleaner humorously insinuated that the University of the West Indies was about to erect a rampin shop because I’d invited Vbyz Kartel to give a lecture on his life and art.

Las May Gleaner cartoon

And there was Wilmot Perkins, prophet of doom and gloom, ominously declaring, “See’t . . . proof that UWI is an intellectual ghetto!”  Of course, opening up the university to popular culture is the very opposite of enclosing the institution in the narrow confines of a ghetto. But that subtlety appears to have been lost in the broad humour.

Spill-over audience at the Undercroft, Varun Baker photo

Erecting an academic romping shop might seem like a complete contradiction in terms.  The life of the intellect is often presumed to be purely cerebral.  And romping, as in Spice and Kartel’s shop, is definitely a lower order, hands-on sport:  “Every man grab a gyal . . . and every gyal grab a man.”

But the best of universities really are romping shops in which passionate, creative energy flows freely. That ‘eureka’ moment of insight when a difficult mathematical problem is solved, or a dense passage of prose suddenly releases its meaning is practically orgasmic.

In fact, we often use sexy images to talk about academic concepts. Like conception.  We conceive ideas in much the say way that we reproduce.  Men tend to think that their ideas are all seminal.  But since ‘so-so’ semen can never produce a child, I always add ovular with a stroke. An egg is essential for conception.

Jamaica in a pothole

Las May’s cartoon, with its implied criticism of my decision to invite Mr. Adidja Palmer to give a lecture at UWI, anticipated Clovis’s cartoon published this Tuesday in the Obsever.

Clovis's Observer cartoon

Both cartoons reminded me of the controversy provoked by my asking Ninja Man to be the first speaker in a series of talks by reggae/dancehall artists that the Reggae Studies Unit launched in 2002.

Ninjaman performing at Curefest 2007

The DJ chose as the title of his presentation, ‘Ninja Man’s Programme to Elevate Jamaica.’ Skeptics questioned his capacity to speak with authority on the subject.  Decent citizens bombarded the University administration with strident complaints that the decision to invite the DJ to lecture was a clear sign that the walls of the ivory tower had been irreparably breached.  On Friday, October 13, the Daily Observer converted into national news a routine press release announcing the DJ’s presentation.

Ninja Man did not come after all.  In response, the October 15 Sunday Observer published a deliberately misleading cartoon:  a notice on the chalkboard in a lecture room, presumably on the UWI campus, announces Ninja Man’s talk, scheduled for 5:00 p.m. A clock says 7:00 p.m.  The teacher looks impatiently at her watch.  Two students are fast asleep and one of the remaining two says to her, ‘Him not coming again Miss Cooper, maybe him gone border clash.’

The dismissive cartoon did not accurately reflect what happened.  A capacity audience of several hundred students, faculty and members of the public engaged in lively conversation about the meaning of Ninja Man’s work when it became clear that he was not going to appear.  The discussion lasted for well over an hour.

The following week Ninja Man did come to talk as the opening act for Louise Frazer-Bennett.  He observed:  ‘Jamaica a go dung into a pothole.  And we need . . . not me, not you, not some of us . . . we need the whole country to come together and mek a start.  The Prime Minister himself need help.’  Ninja Man’s startling image of the state machinery crashing in a pothole vividly turns the everyday horrors of Jamaica’s steadily deteriorating roads into a powerful symbol of total moral recklessness.

Rude bwoy dancehall

Kartel lecturing, Varun Baker photo

As was to be expected, Kartel’s lecture at the academic rampin shop proved to be both entertaining and analytical.  One of his most perceptive insights focused on the politics of reggae and dancehall:

“Whereas reggae spoke to the Garveyite message of one love, dancehall generally speaks to the Bogle message of rebellion which, in my opinion, is why it is sometimes feared, scrutinised and demonised by our post-colonial masters and their subordinates.  My music is controversial. But so was reggae which, interestingly, was labelled ‘rebel music’ back in the day.

“So reggae was also controversial before it was fully accepted first by the lower class of people where it originated; then by the upper class of society after it had garnered international recognition.  So, basically, it went abroad and came back to us and we accepted it.  Cau you know Jamaican love foreign tings.  Yeah.

“Seriously, though, much of what dancehall is saying today is not much different from the rude bwoy era of reggae music.  For reference I would like to quote two Bob Marley songs:

‘I want to disturb my neighbour cause I’m feeling so right

I want to turn up di disco blow them to full watts tonight.’

Or the more politically poignant, ‘Cause I feel like bombing a church now now that you know the preacher is lying.’

“The point that I am trying to make is that ‘the stone that the builder refused shall become the head cornerstone.’  And right now dancehall has become that disregarded stone.  Because, look into this.  Thirty odd years ago Bob Marley was despised and ridiculed by the upper echelons of society as a dutty-head Rasta bwoy, ganja-smoking . . . .  Now, now that same Bob Marley is poster boy for the Jamaica Tourist Board wid im big spliff inna im mout same way.  Alright.  Fast forward to Vybz Kartel.”

Part of the 5000 strong audience, Varun Baker photo

For an excellent account of the lecture which attracted an unprecedented audience of 5000, visit Annie Paul’s blog:

In all the interviews I did before the lecture, the same question kept coming up:  What do you expect to accomplish? Kartel has decided to apply for admission to the UWI to do a degree in business management. He will certainly show us how to run the rampin shop.

Kartel To Lecture At UWI

I got an instructive email from Vybz Kartel last Wednesday in response to my letter to the editor published that same day (‘More on Kartel and bleaching’). I reproduce it here with his permission. Since the email was sent on his BlackBerry, the punctuation was a bit informal, so I did just a little editing for clarity.

“Ms Cooper, firstly, I’d like to wish you a pleasant goodnight (or morning depending on when u receive this email). Secondly, I’d like to say that I am the author of the song. Russian didn’t write a line. And if you’d paid as much attention to the dexterity exhibited in the song as you have to the perceived subliminal messages of self-hate blah blah blah etc etc, you’d have figured that out.

“Thirdly, neither ‘di gyal dem’ opinion or urs matter to vybz kartel. What matters is that my songs get so popular (as is the case with the one u and ur colleagues ‘a look a fawud offa’), I can provide for myself and my family which I have been doing and will continue to do so, especially with the help of people such as urself who, by giving so much energy to vybz kartel via articles like this, make vybz kartel ‘the talked about one’. Which is all I need to capitalise on the prize. I hope you people write about me every day of the week. Thanks and have a goodnight.


Clovis cartoon (Jamaica Observer)

I sent an equally frank response:

“Mr Palmer, great to hear from you. I’ve wanted to link with you for a long time, so I’m glad you decided to get in touch with me. I don’t know if you saw my column on Sunday, as well as yesterday’s letter to the editor. Here’s the link to that column:

Spice and Kartel in di Rampin Shop

“I certainly agree with you that the more we talk about Vybz Kartel, the more popular we make you. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I’m quite proud of all the DJs who have been able to make a very good living from their craft. Mi know nuff people grudge unnu, but I am not one of them. I don’t know if you saw my column in which I strongly defended Rampin’ Shop when other people were attacking you and Spice. Here’s the link to that column:

“Thanks for clarifying that you are the author of the lyrics that Russian performed. So, in a sense, I was right that those are all your words. Then, as you say, I know my opinion doesn’t really matter to you. But, for what it’s worth, I think you’re such a powerful role model for young people, I’m hoping you would think about reclaiming your original skincolour, which I thought was quite fine. Yes, I know, that’s just my opinion.

“I see Michael Jackson is a role model for you. But he really was a tragic figure. My opinion again :=) Michael was such a cute, little black boy. And he turned himself into a monstrosity.  Just look at the history of his face:

Michael Jackson was rich enough to manufacture himself but ‘im never turn out so right’. Something went wrong in the factory.

“Even if he’d had vitiligo, he didn’t have to end up looking the way he did. Anyhow, mek mi know what yu think about all of these opinions. And, given your appreciation of the role of the media in feeding celebrity, I figure you won’t object to my reproducing our email correspondence in my column on Sunday. So let me know if it’s OK with you. And in response to your P.S., ‘pretty’ is a word usually associated with females, as distinct from ‘handsome’, which usually refers to males.

“Then I teach a course on Reggae Poetry at UWI and the first assignment I give students each year is to select any reggae/dancehall song they like and analyse its literary qualities. As usual, some of the students selected your songs this semester. It would be great if you would come to one of the lectures and talk about your creative work. I can just see the headline, ‘Vybz Kartel lectures at UWI’. DWL. Looking forward to your response.



Public education

Mr Palmer readily accepted my invitation. So Vybz Kartel is going to lecture at UWI this Thursday at 7 p.m. on the topic ‘Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’.

The Department of Literatures in English and the Centre for Gender and Development Studies are hosting the lecture, which takes place at the Undercroft of the Senate building. The public is invited to attend.

I’d actually like to see Vybz Kartel register as a student at the University of the West Indies and apply his considerable intellect in another sphere of influence. How many young men on the corner might consider the option of formal education if they saw Kartel in university!

Another cultural event this week to which the public is invited is the launch of the book Herbs of Jamaica, written by Ivelyn Harris, a seventh-generation Maroon herbalist. The launch takes place on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Institute of Jamaica on East Street.

Ms Harris has spent over 30 years documenting the healing properties of Jamaican herbs. These natural products have been tested by the Maroons for more than 300 years. Herbal remedies can improve sexual stamina; heal rashes, sores, stings and bites; relieve menstrual, urinary and prostate problems; and a host of other ailments. I wonder if there’s a herbal cure for the mental slavery, which is so vividly manifested these days in the plague of skin bleaching.