Greek lessons for Andrew Holness

Our new prime minister needs to learn Greek very quickly. And it’s not just about language. Andrew Holness needs to take extra lessons from Alexis Tsipras, prime minister of Greece. He can learn a lot about how to keep election promises. Or not!

Tsipras came to power with a mandate to fight the austerity measures imposed on Greece by that rapacious three-headed monster, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB). This was in January 2015.
Tsipras’  Syriza party declared that it would take the Greek people out of the wilderness of poverty into the promised land of prosperity. It was going to be an epic drama, worthy of Greek mythology.

But a January 26, 2015 BBC report on the Greek elections quoted the sceptical president of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, who cynically hoped that the new Greek Government would, “not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford”.

Weidmann put goat mouth on Tsipras. By July 2015, the Greek prime minister was forced to accept new austerity measures in exchange for an €85 billion bailout. The terms were punishing: higher taxes; cuts to social services and reform of the pension system. This meant raising the retirement age and slashing pensions. The lenders also insisted that the energy market had to be liberalised.

462746814.jpgThe end result: no prosperity, pure poverty. Almost one-third of the 149 members of parliament in Syriza revolted, refusing to support Tsipras. It was a matter of principle. The party had won the January elections on an anti-austerity ticket. It was now bowing to the demands of international lenders. Tsipras was forced to resign.

A snap election was held in September and, again, the hopeful Greek people gave Tsipras their vote of confidence. But, by November, a general strike was called by trade unions in protest against impending austerity measures.  Remarkably, the government supported the strike against its own desperate agreements with the international lending agencies!


Unlike Syriza, the new JLP government has not declared war on those creditors who are holding a big stick over our heads. Andrew Holness has promised to honour the commitments made by the PNP in negotiations with the IMF. But, as in the case of Syriza, a promise is a comfort to a fool.

The former JLP government, under the doubtful guidance of the old and new Minister of Finance Audley Shaw, completely discredited Jamaica in their dealings with international lending agencies. Like common thieves, they took the money and ran.

What’s going to happen if the IMF decides that Jamaica simply cannot afford the JLP’s expensive election promises? Are we going to default on debt repayment again? Will the JLP confess that its tax-reduction package was nothing but a con job to secure votes?

Believe it or not, unemployed people are expecting to get $18,000 per month payback from Andrew, starting in April. That’s what happens when politicians make election promises in a language that is Greek to the majority of the people.


That English expression, “it’s Greek to me”, turns the mother tongue of the Greek people into an incomprehensible language. Even before it was used in English, there was a Latin version: Graecum est; non legitur. Literally, “Greek it is; not readable”. That’s what the monks in the Middle Ages used to write when they couldn’t figure out the meaning of the text they were copying.

Of course, for the Greeks, their language is not a puzzle. They learn it in the womb. It comes to them naturally. They do have to study the intricacies of the language as a subject in school. But Greek is their inheritance. It’s not a foreign language.


In  Jamaica, English is not the mother tongue of the majority of us. It’s a second language we learn in school. And it’s not taught efficiently. So many of us learn it imperfectly. That’s why some people didn’t understand the JLP promises made in English.

Take, for instance, this JLP ad. It’s voiced by a sweet-talking lady who sounds very reassuring: “We know you want to take better care of your families. As soon as we win government, we will remove income tax for everyone who earns $1.5 million per year or less, putting more money in your pockets. Vote for prosperity! Vote for the Jamaica Labour Party!”

28175-sweet_talkSuppose the nice lady had said,  “Wi done know seh unu waan look after unu family lickle better. When wi win election, same time wi go a do suppen fi unu. Not fi all a unu. A ongle fi who a work an get payslip. If unu a work fi 1.5 million dollar fi di year, or anything under dat, Govament nah go tek no income tax outa unu pay. Unu a go have nuff more money. Vote fi step up inna life! Vote fi JLP”!

Everybody would have understood the message. But, perhaps, that was not the point. Then in Audley Shaw’s version of the ad, he mixed up gross and net pay. Not a good sign.
So what a thing when the people who don’t have gross or net pay start to demand their $18,000 per month from Andrew! Hell an powder house! Dat wi learn di politician dem fi start talk to people inna fi wi language. And dat a no Greek to wi!

Poetry can’t pay light bill!

maxresdefaultOn Tuesday, March 1,  Mutabaruku gave a riveting talk on ‘The Business of Reggae Poetry’ at the University of the West Indies, Mona. It was the first in a series of ‘Reggae Talks’ this month to celebrate the work of the Department of Literatures in English. No longer teaching only literature, the department has expanded its course offerings to include film and popular music.

In January, the big-time poet and recording artiste Linton Kwesi Johnson was visiting writer. He gave an intriguing talk, describing his stellar career as a case of ‘Reggae By Accident’. Mutabaruka also revealed that it was purely by chance that he became a recording artiste.

He was in his teens at Kingston Technical High School when he discovered his talent for poetry. His English teacher, Mrs Pusey, gave the class an assignment to write a poem. Muta called his composition ‘Birds’. The opening verse went like this:

“Birds are lovely things to see

Just to see them flying free

Birds with many colours

Is wonderful to see them flying for hours.”

With a big laugh, Muta reminded us that the poem was written by Allan Hope, his birth name. ‘Birds’ was a far cry from the militant poems for which the politically engaged writer would become world-famous. But in that early poem, the theme of freedom was already evident. Now I don’t want to sound like those literary critics at the UWI Creative Arts Centre who Muta mocked in his talk, much to the amusement of the receptive audience.

Muta insisted that what the poet writes is exactly what he means. And there’s no need for elaborate analysis of the text. He was dumbfounded by the assessment of his more mature poems made by high-brow critics like John Hearne and Mervyn Morris, who would spend long minutes deconstructing a single line of verse. It just didn’t make sense to him.


The schoolboy Allan Hope would certainly have said that his poem was just about birds flying free. All the same, I feel completely free to interpret the poem as a symbolic representation of a young man’s desire to break free from conventional expectations of his potential. And I don’t mind if either Allan or Muta laughs at me.

Instead of being confined to so-called technical subjects, Muta was finding a new medium of soaring self-expression. His mother, Sylvia, was not amused. When Muta stayed up late at night beating out poems on his typewriter, she would command him to “turn off the light! Poetry can’t pay light bill!” Muta paid her no mind. He kept on burning light and blazing out poems.


Even though Muta disdained the literary critics at UWI, he did want to get exposure for his poems. So he sent them far and wide. At last, Swing magazine published ‘Festival’ in July 1971. Here’s the first verse:

“Yes, mi fren

A festival again

Run come look

Big pot a cook.”

That was Muta’s big break. It was Johnny Golding of Golding’s printery who put out the magazine, and he paid Muta $4.00 for that first poem. Note the position of the decimal point! Even so, those days, that was nuff money. Golding published Muta’s first poetry collection, Outcry, in 1972. It opened doors. Muta was invited to perform on a reggae show that Jimmy Cliff hosted in Somerton. His signature chant, “Every Time I Hear De Sound”, mash up di place.

Muta made his Sunsplash debut in 1980. His friend, Malaika Whitney, negotiated the contract. His fee was the princely sum of $2,000. Muta ended up with $200. Malaika’s commission was 10 per cent and the fee for each of the four members of the backing band was $400.

Muta’s first overseas tour was even more disastrous. It was organised by John Blackwood, a Jamaican booking agent in California. Muta performed in sold-out venues across the US. He came back home with not a single dollar! By the time expenses were deducted from his fee, there was absolutely nothing left. It was looking like Mama Sylvia was right.

Muta realised that he had to quickly learn the business. He figured out that he didn’t need an expensive band. His words were powerful enough. And he mastered merchandising. At his concerts, he sold records, posters of his poems and T-shirts with his image. And he took Rasta craft on consignment when he went on tour. Poetry was finally becoming profitable. Muta was able to show his mother that poetry not only paid light bill. It bought house and land and high-end cars.


Tanya+ShirleyThe ‘Reggae Talks’ continued on Tuesday, March 8 with Bob Andy speaking on the topic, “Stages On My Journey’. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Tanya Shirley performed a selection of her poems. It was at 6 p.m. in Lecture Theatre 3, Faculty of Medical Sciences, thanks to the dean, Professor Horace Fletcher. And nuff rispek to the Creative Production and Training Centre for recording the talks!

‘Love Affair With Literature’ was held at 11 a.m. on Sunday 6 at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI. Olive Senior, Mel Cooke, Adzika Simba Gegele and writer-in-residence Vladimir Lucien read from their work. Poetry does pay but, this time, admission was free.

Putting a price on our musical heritage


On  Sunday February 21, everybody in the lecture hall at the Institute of Jamaica was on a high, I’m sure. And there was not a spliff in sight. It was the third in the Reggae /  Black History Month ‘Grounation’ series on Don Drummond, hosted by The Jamaica Music Museum. The final session was on February 28, ‘Don Cosmic: Mad With the Madness of a Great Maestro’, featuring Dr Earl McKenzie, Dr Clinton Hutton and Prof Fred Hickling.

Grounation is a word coined by Rastafari to describe a ritual of reasoning. Philosophical conversation, music and dance are all essential elements of the Grounation. And, of course, the holy herb! It’s a gathering that is grounded in African traditions celebrating word, sound and power.

Four brilliant trombonists spoke about Don Drummond’s music and performed their interpretations of his work: Steve Turre of Saturday Night Live fame; jazz master Delfeayo Marsalis; youthful Andre Murchison, the current trombonist with the Skatalites; and our own Romeo Gray.

It was sublime. Or as the young people say, awesome! These days, the word ‘awesome’ has been watered down. In the 16th century, it meant “profoundly reverential”. Now, it’s American slang for just about anything, no matter how ordinary.

That Grounation was truly awesome. It felt like church. You know that moment of transcendence when you forget about everyday reality and enter an elevated space of pure spirituality. So I’m getting carried away. That is exactly what it felt like. Possessed by the spirit!

img_3350I overheard one of my breathless friends telling Herbie Miller, director-curator of the museum, that he didn’t need to do anything else after that programme. I knew what she meant. It’s the kind of thing you say when you’re high. But I couldn’t agree with her at all. There is so much more that needs to be done to make the Jamaica Museum Music what it ought to be.


Next year, a major exhibition on Jamaican music will open in Paris. It’s called ‘Jamaica, Jamaica! Innovations and Inventions of Reggae Music’. The exhibition venue is the brand-new Paris Philharmonic, which opened in January 2015. The first concert was a performance of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem by the Paris Orchestra, in honour of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The 2,400-seat concert hall is part of a magnificent cultural complex known as the City of Music. It includes the Music Museum, which houses a collection of about 4,400 musical instruments, some dating from the 16th century. And there’s a temporary exhibition space. This is the high-profile setting for ‘Jamaica, Jamaica!’

12631467_10153828301264098_7768649976598216411_nThe curator is the visionary Sebastien Carayol, a French journalist and documentary director. This is how he describes the project:  “Before anything, this exhibition is a musical exhibition – where the Jamaican music’s journey is used as a starting point and an Ariane’s thread of sorts to broach on the political, social, economic, religious and philosophical history of the island.

“Few other musical genres have generated so many of their own different, on many levels: Jamaica has been at the avant-garde in music (the offbeat rhythm), graphic and visual arts, as well as fashion. Hence the deliberate call in the exhibition to a vast array of non-photographic visuals, memorabilia, illustrations, paintings – all the way to conceptual artworks inspired indirectly by this culture.”

Ariane’s thread is a reference to Greek mythology. Ariane is the French spelling of the name of the Greek princess Ariadne. She fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of string to guide him out of the maze in which he was trapped. So, for Carayol, reggae music is the thread that connects all the elements of Jamaica’s complex culture.


Carayol has been collecting artefacts for the exhibition from all over the world. Not surprisingly, Jamaica’s musical heritage is scattered across the globe. We just didn’t take the music seriously so we no longer own our heritage. And we certainly don’t have the money to buy it all back. Now that others have recognised its value, we just salt.



Mural outside Jamaica Music Museum

What is even worse is this. Suppose we were to ask Sebastien Carayol to bring his exhibition to Kingston after Paris and he agreed. Where would we put it? So we don’t have a Philharmonie de Paris. That building cost approximately €386 million! But we certainly couldn’t take the exhibition to our makeshift museum space on Water Lane.

We need a state-of-the-art music museum in downtown Kingston that’s worthy of our UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Music. I suppose we could go and beg the Chinese for the building. But what would we give them in exchange? Cockpit Country? Dunn’s River Falls? The Goat Islands? All of the above?

We must remember the warning of Marcus Garvey: “The Negro who lives on the patronage of philanthropists is the most dangerous member of our society, because he is willing to turn back the clock of progress when his benefactors ask him so to do.”

We can’t depend on philanthropists for our music museum. We have to start building for ourselves. It’s a daunting task. But we can’t fold our hands and wait. We have a new Government that has promised to take us from poverty to prosperity. If only it was as easy as a campaign slogan!

Di emperor new house cost lickle or nutten?

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


Alexandra-Anansi-1024x414.jpgUnu member di story bout di emperor new clothes? A one a dem parable weh tell yu di truth bout human nature. Like Aesop fable. Or fi wi Anansi story. Di emperor story come back to mi couple week aback when mi read Gleaner an see seh ‘Holness saves big on house – Opposition leader outlines benefits of hands-on approach to home construction’.

Mi seh to miself, dat a whole heap a ‘hands-on’. Andrew seh im do mason work an woodwork fi di house. So a how much dat save? Im wuda ha fi do nuff-nuff mason work fi help build dat deh hell of a wall front a di house. An im wouldn’t have no much more time lef fi do no odder work.

Wen mi tink bout it, inna disya time, fi wi lickle dollar no worth nutten. Fifty-two million dollar fi build dat deh house? Dat a lickle or nutten! Di blind can see seh dat a one expensive house. So wa mek some a wi can’t seet?


emperors_new_clothesAnyhow, hear how di emperor new clothes story go. Im did love fi dress up inna pretty clothes an moggle. Two bandooloo tailor decide fi tek im mek poppyshow. Dem go a di palace an tell im seh dem can mek one suit fi im outa cloth weh so light an fine, lickle most yu can’t seet. In fact, if yu fool-fool an incompetent, yu can’t seet at all.

Di emperor seh to himself a now mi a go find out who inna di empire nah do no work an dis a form di fool. So im gi di tailor dem one bag a gold fi start build di suit. Couple week after, im send im prime minister fi go see how di suit a come on. Di tailor dem show im di cloth. Im can’t see nutten.

Im no know how fi go tell di emperor. Cau dat mean seh im incompetent. So im tell im seh di cloth pretty-pretty. Wen di tailor dem done an bring di suit an di emperor tek off im clothes fi fit it, everybody look pon di naked man an seh how im birthday suit lovely.

Di tailor dem so wicked dem tell di emperor seh di people dem outa road hear bout di cloth an waan seet. An di fool-fool emperor lef im yard naked, naked. An chruu di people dem hear seh if yu dunce, yu can’t see di cloth, everybody bawl out seh di cloth pretty.


A ongle one lickle pikni, weh no ha no big job fi protect, so im no mind if people tink seh im incompetent, a im bawl out seh, ‘di emperor no got on no clothes!’ Im father tell im fi shut up. An drag im weh. But di people dem see seh a true di pikni a talk. Di man no got on no clothes. An di emperor shame-shame. But im decide fi brazen it out till im ketch back a im yard.

Wi a wait fi one lickle pikni bawl out seh di emperor house cost nof, nof, nof, nof money? So wa mek wi a gwaan like seh a no so? Wi fraid people tink seh wi fool-fool an incompetent? Wi can’t see an blind an hear an deaf. Wi ha fi talk di naked truth.

An by di way, mi know seh plenty people a build house a Jamaica wuda love fi get line a credit fi building material. But dem no lucky laik Andrew an Juliet. Jackass seh di world no level. Mek mi lef it. Mi no waan nobody seh a bad-mind an grudgeful mek mi a talk bout di house. Jack Mandora mi no choose none!


handsonUnu memba di stuori bout di empara nyuu kluoz? A wan a dem parabl we tel yu di chruut bout yuu man niecha. Laik Aesop fiebl. Ar fi wi Anansi stuori. Di empara stuori kom bak tu mi kopl wiik abak wen mi riid Gleaner an si se ‘Holness saves big on house – Opposition leader outlines benefits of hands-on approach to home construction’.

Mi se tu miself, dat a uol iip a ‘hands-on’. Andrew se im du miesn work an wudwork fi di ous. So a omoch dat siev? Im wuda a fi du nof-nof miesn work fi elp bil dat de el ev a waal front a di ous. An im wudn av no moch muor taim lef fi du no ada work.

Wen mi tingk bout it, ina disya taim, fi wi likl dala no wort notn. Fifti-tuu milyan dala fi bil dat de ous? Dat a likl ar notn! Di blain kyahn si se dat a wan ekspensiv ous. So wa mek som a wi kyaahn siit?


Eniou, ier ou di empara nyuu kluoz stuori go. Im did lov fi jres op iiina priti kluoz an mogl. Tuu banduulu tiela disaid fi tek im mek papishuo. Dem go a di palis an tel im se dem kyahn mek wan suut fi im outa klaat we so lait an fain, likl muos yu kyaahn siit. In fak, if yu fuul-fuul an inkompitent, yu kyaahn siit at aal.

Di empara se tu imself a nou mi a go fain out uu ina di empaiya naa du no wok an dis a faam di fuul. So im gi di tiela dem wan bag a guol fi staat bil di suut. Kopl wiik aafta, im sen im praim minista fi go si ou di suut a kom aan. Di tiela dem shuo im di klaat. Im kyaahn si notn.

Im no nuo ou fi go tel di empara. Kaa dat miin se im inkompitent. So im tel im se di klaat priti-priti. Wen di tiela dem don an bring di suut an di empara tek aaf im kluoz fi fit it, evribadi luk pan di niekid man an se ou im bortdie suut lovli.

Di tiela dem so wikid, dem tel di empara se di piipl dem outa ruod ier bout di klaat an waahn siit it. An di fuul-fuul empara lef im yaad niekid, niekid. An chruu di piipl dem ier se if yu dons yu kyaahn si di klaat, evribadi baal out se di klaat priti.


A ongl wan likl pikni, we no a no big jab fi protek, so im no main if piipl tingk se im inkompitent, a im baal out se, ‘di empara no gat aan no kluoz!’ Im faada tel im fi shot op. An jrag im we. Bot di piipl dem si se a chruu di pikni a taak. Di man no gat aan no kluoz. An di empara shiem-shiem. Bot im disaid fi briezn it out til im kech bak a im yaad.


Wi a wiet fi wan likl pikni baal out se di empara ous kaas nof, nof, nof, nof moni? So wa mek wi a gwaahn laik se a no so? Wi fried piipl tingk se wi fuul-fuul an inkompitent? Wi kyaahn si an blain an ier an def. Wi a fi taak di niekid chruut.

An bai di wie, mi nuo se plenti piipl a bil ous a Jamieka wuda lov fi get lain a kredit fi bildin matiiryal. Bot dem no loki laik Andrew an Juliet. Jakaas se di worl no levl. Mek mi lef it. Mi no waahn nobadi se a bad-main an grojful mek mi a taak bout di ous. Jak Manduora mi no chuuz non!



Do you remember the story about the emperor’s new clothes?  It’s one of those parables that tell the truth about human nature. Like Aesop’s fables. Or our anansi stories. The story about the emperor came back to me a couple of weeks ago when I read a Gleaner report that said, ‘Holness saves big on house – Opposition leader outlines benefits of hands-on approach to home construction’.

I said to myself, that’s  a whole lot of ‘hands-on’. Andrew said he did both masonry and woodwork for the house. So how much did that save? He would have had to do lots of masonry in order to help build that massive wall in front of the house. And he wouldn’t have had much time left over to do any other job.

When I think about it, these days when our weak dollar isn’t worth much. Fifty-two million dollars to build that house? That’s little or nothing! The blind can see that that’s one expensive house. So why can’t some of us see it?


Anyhow, here’s how the story of the emperor’s new clothes goes. He loved to dress up in pretty clothes and show off. Two trickster tailors decided to take him for a ride.   They went to the palace and told him they could make an outfit for him out out cloth so light and fine that it was almost invisible.  In fact, if you were idiotic and incompetent, you wouldn’t be able to see it at all.

The emperor said to himself now I’m going to find out who in the empire isn’t doing any work and just  forming the fool. So he gave the tailors quite a lot of gold to start making the outfit.  A few weeks later, he sent his prime minister to see how the clothes were coming along. The tailors showed him the cloth. He couldn’t see a thing.

He didn’t know how to tell the emperor. Because that would mean he was incompetent. So he told him that the cloth was very beautiful. When the tailors finished the outfit and brought it and  the emperor took off his clothes  to fit it, everybody took a look at the naked man and said how lovely his birthday suit was.

The tailors were so wicked, they  told the emperor that his subjects had heard about the cloth and wanted tp see it. And the foolish emperor went out of the palace start naked. And because the people had heard that if you’re a  dunce, you wouldn’t be able to see the cloth, everybody exclaimed that the cloth was pretty.


Emperor's+new+clothes.pngIt was only one little child, who had no big job to protect, so he didn’t mind if anyone thought he was  incompetent, who cried out, ‘the emperor doesn’t have on any clothes!’ His father told him to shut up. And dragged him way. But the people saw that the child was speaking the truth. The man was naked.   And the emperor was very ashamed. But he decided to put on a good face until he got back home.

We are waiting for a  little child to cry out and say that the emperor’s house costs lots and lots and lots of money? So why are we pretending that it’s not so?  Are we afraid it will look as if we’re foolish and incompetent? We can’t see and pretend to be blind and hear and play deaf. We have to speak the naked truth.

And by the way, I know that lots of people who are  building houses in  Jamaica would love to get line of credit for building materials. But they’re not as lucky as Andrew and Juliet. Jackass says the world isn’t level. Let me leave it alone. I don’t want it to be said that I’m mean-spirited and envious and that’s why I’m talking about the house. That’s the way the story goes!

Creating Wealth From Culture

In December 2015, The UNESCO Creative Cities Network dubbed Kingston a ‘Creative City of Music’. This distinction confirms what we already know. Kingston’s culture is world-class. In spite of all the problems of urban blight, the city does have the potential to become a livable home for all of us, and an attractive destination for tourists.


But the history of the city is far from glamorous. Kingston was founded in July 1692 as a place of refuge for survivors of the Port Royal earthquake. They camped on the seafront in dreadful conditions. And mosquitoes ravaged them. Approximately 2,000 survivors of the earthquake died from diseases carried by mosquitoes.

It wasn’t ZIKV or chik-V. And, by the way, chik-V didn’t come to the Caribbean in the 21st century. As early as 1827, the disease was already in the region. In a case of mistaken identity, it was called dengue. That name comes from the Kiswahili language of East Africa. The word ‘dinga’ means ‘seizure, or cramp’.

But the big difference between chik-V and dengue is arthritis. Chik-V weakens the joints. And it has devastating consequences, both physical and social. For example, The Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases reports that, in 1827, “when the disease first appeared in St Thomas [US Virgin Islands], several Negroes, who, being all at once attacked with pain in the knees, had fallen down, [and] were actually apprehended by the police for drunkenness”.


Kingston gradually recovered from its disastrous start. By the middle of the 18th century, it had become the commercial centre of the island. Sitting on the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, the city was ideally located to be a global player in international trade.

1375285952-1In 1891, Kingston hosted the Great Exhibition. It was a very ambitious affair. Its aim was to show Jamaicans all the latest in foreign products and machinery; and to exhibit Jamaican products to foreign investors. The Jamaican economy was in decline and a small group of visionaries realised that something grand had to be done to drive productivity. One of them was George Stiebel, who made his money in shipping and mining.  Devon House was one of his homes.

The Exhibition wasn’t an easy sell. As Joy Lumsden reports in a 1991 article in the Jamaica Historical Society Bulletin, “From the start, it was feared that the attempts to get people to send produce to the exhibition was an indirect way of finding out how much they produced so that taxes could be increased.”

Sounds familiar. Many players in the field of the creative/cultural industries are now very suspicious of the Government’s relatively new interest in their work. Where was the Government when the music industry, for example, was struggling to establish itself in Kingston’s concrete jungle? And why the sudden interest in the earnings of the industry?


UNESCO identifies seven creative fields in which selected cities are judged: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts and Music. I think Kingston’s creativity extends way beyond music. We could just as easily have been recognised as a creative city of literature. And it’s not only Kingston; it’s the entire country.

Jamaica has produced a whole heap of distinguished writers. Edward Baugh, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Erna Brodber, Colin Channer, Michelle Cliff, Neville Dawes, Kwame Dawes,  H.G. DeLisser, Lorna Goodison, John Hearne, Roger Mais, Rachel Manley, Claude McKay, Kei Miller, Mervyn Morris, Tony McNeill, Mutabaruka, Velma Pollard, Claudia Rankine, Trevor Rhone, Andrew Salkey, Olive Senior, Dennis Scott, Tanya Shirley and Sylvia Wynter are just some of the writers whose work has received international recognition. Many have won major literary prizes.

Linton Kwesi Johnson, who was born in Chapelton and migrated to the UK as a child, enjoys the distinction of being the second living poet and the only black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

lead_960Marlon James recently won the 2015 Man Booker prize and a 2015 American Book award for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings.  With all its blood and gore, the novel is Kingston hard-core. James’ transformation of the murderous reality of the city into brilliant literature is a powerful manifestation of the creativity of Jamaicans.


In the 1970s, the Jamaica Tourist Board rebranded the island this way: “We’re more than a beach. We’re a country.” UNESCO’s designation of Kingston as a ‘Creative City of Music’ is good news. But we’re much more than music. We’re a creative country in so many domains.

So how are we going to turn our new UNESCO branding into cultural capital? And where is our museum of Jamaica music? It’s on Water Lane, an alley in downtown Kingston. The creators of our music deserve much, much better than this.

The director/curator of the so-called museum, Herbie Miller, has been given basket to carry nuff water. He has done his best to apply tar. Every Sunday in Reggae Month, he hosts a public forum on our music at the Institute of Jamaica’s lecture hall.  This year, the focus was on Don Drummond.


Kingston is, indeed, a capital city for music and literature. If only all our politicians could understand this and invest in our culture!

Ambushed by the prime minister

On Sunday February 7,  I was forced to send a hasty email to colleagues at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. I had accepted the invitation of Dr Aaron Kamugisha to give the annual Kamau Brathwaite Lecture in Cultural Studies. The agreed date was February 25.



But Prime Minister Simpson Miller had just exercised her constitutional right to call an election any time she chooses. And I had every intention of exercising my own right to vote. Is a good thing I sent the email on Sunday night. Publicity for the lecture was going to be sent out on Monday morning. Luckily, we were able to postpone to March 3.

In the larger scheme of things, my change of plans to accommodate elections is a minor matter. But I’m sure there are far more problematic issues for people doing business in Jamaica. The deliberate uncertainty about the date of elections makes it difficult to plan efficiently.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not blaming the prime minister personally for this state of affairs. The real issue is our foolish system of governance. It gives too much power to the prime minister to arbitrarily determine when elections are called.


The date of elections should be fixed. No prime minister should be able to ambush the Opposition and the people of Jamaica with elections that come like a thief in night. The prime minister’s announcement last Sunday was clearly a surprise for the Opposition, even though they had been daring her to call elections.

Our Maroon ancestors perfected the art of the ambush. From their vantage point in the mountains, they were able to expertly attack British soldiers. Foolishly dressed in bright red uniforms, the arrogant soldiers were an easy target. The Jamaica Labour Party is certainly not as vulnerable as those British soldiers. Their green uniforms are good for camouflage in the bush.

andrew_holnessAll the same, the suddenness of the prime minister’s announcement of elections seems to have destabilised the Opposition. Andrew Holness is now crying foul. In Jamaica, politics is war. And, as proverbial wisdom cynically asserts, all is fair in love and war.

These days, we are much more sophisticated than we used to be. Instead of brutally attacking opponents with physical violence, we now use old and new media. The blows are still effective but there’s far less blood. This is definitely progress.


When I gleefully told a friend how happy I was that I would be able to vote, the surprising response was, “Does voting mean that much to you?” Of course, it does! I know the history of this country. There was a time when black people could not vote unless we owned substantial property.

The right to vote puts all of us on an equal footing, even if it’s only for one day. As Louise Bennett observes in her poem, Revelation:

Everybody got a vote, an

Every vote gwine swell de score;

Missa Issa, Missa Hanna

An de man wat sweep de store.

hqdefault-1Still for all, I completely understand the position of those non-voters who can’t be bothered to participate in the ritual of elections. For them, it’s a choice between worse and ‘worserer’. The Rastafari DJ Anthony B is the spokesman for a whole heap of Jamaicans who “nah vote again”.

Anthony B gives new meaning to the names of our political parties. PNP becomes “pains, needs an’ poverty”. JLP is “juicing di life of di ghetto pikni”. And NDM is “new destruction for you and me”. Fed up with deceitful politicians who promise what they don’t intend to deliver, many Jamaicans just ‘tek weh’ themselves out of politics.


Except for diehard Labourites and Comrades, rational Jamaicans do have moments of doubt when we wonder what is the point of voting. It’s the same old, same old: Politicians getting fatter and fatter, living high on the hog. I keep wondering if the men, especially, are not aware of the risk of diabetes that comes with overweight. And diabetes medication often causes erectile dysfunction. It comes down to a choice between sex and food.

b2d31fe6.jpgWhat keeps me voting is the certainty that my voice does matter. I decide which seems to be the lesser of the two evil parties, and I vote against the more evil one. Third parties don’t stand a chance in our either/or system. So that leaves the NDM out. One of these days, I’d like to able to vote for a party rather than against. I just don’t know when.

People who don’t vote like to think they’re superior to those foolish ones of us who still participate in the fraudulent system. There’s a kind of arrogant self-righteousness about not voting that can be very comforting. Me never vote fi dem. So no bodder come tell me nutten bout dem.

But non-voters do vote for ‘dem’ by default. You end up voting for whoever wins because you did not exercise your right to make a choice. If we don’t want to keep on being ambushed by politicians, we must insist on claiming the right to vote for a new system of governance. One that fixes the date of elections and takes absolute power out of the hands of the prime minister.

Time to ban Styrofoam containers

12657408_1548330095477145_2094982700033069835_oLast month, I took part in a cleanup of the beach along the Palisadoes strip. There were about 50 of us and we collected 60 huge bags of garbage in just about two hours. We left the toilet and microwave oven that someone had deposited on the beach. What kind of person would do a thing like that?

I was really surprised at the amount of Styrofoam littering the beach. There were clean white plates that looked as if they had recently blown away before use. And then there was a whole heap of dirty Styrofoam that must have been left ages ago. A total mess.

Styrofoam is the brand name of a petroleum-based plastic that does not biodegrade. It breaks apart into bits and pieces that keep getting smaller and smaller until they turn to dust. But Styrofoam doesn’t disappear. It lingers on and on for centuries! That’s no exaggeration. You just can’t get rid of it.

So-called ‘disposable’ Styrofoam food and drink containers are not actually disposable. They are disposable only because they are thrown away after a single use. What a waste! Just think how many Styrofoam containers we dash weh every single day in Jamaica. And where do they go? To the dump, taking up valuable space.

Masses of Styrofoam containers also get away into the sea. Fish eat the Styrofoam. And we end up eating the fish. We might as well gobble down the Styrofoam container along with the food. Because the Styrofoam is already in the food chain!


I keep thinking of the good old days of the ‘shut pan’. Or ‘shet’ pan. The Dictionary of Jamaican English describes it this way: “A vessel of tin or other thin metal, cylindrical, with a cover having a flange that usually fits inside the upper edge and makes a tight closure; the cover frequently has a small fixed handle. The shut pan is chiefly used to carry food.”


Note chiefly! The Dictionary states that the shut pan was also used to catch duppies. Seriously! Talking of which, mi nearly dead wid laugh the night I went to see Patrick Brown’s ‘Duppy Whisperer’ at Centerstage. It was a benefit performance for my friend Scarlette Beharie, a vibrant theatre practitioner fighting Stage Four cancer. Scarlette made a brief appearance and told us to enjoy the show despite the serious cause. And we certainly did.

Before the play started, I got into a little situation with the mother of young woman whose hairstyle was blocking my view of the stage. She had natural hair, swept up and out into a huge ball. It was like an Afro on steroids. I gently told her that her inconsiderate hairstyle really wasn’t appropriate for the theatre, especially our makeshift venues that are not purpose-built.

The rows are all on the same level instead of being graded. And the seats are not staggered. You look directly into the ‘head back’ of the person in front of you, rather than to the side. The mother was unimpressed by my frankness and told me I was against her daughter’s hair because it was natural! I was lucky to be able to switch seats.


The shut pan for food, not duppies, was an excellent idea. It was certainly not disposable. There was no constant waste of containers. The pans had compartments stacked on top of each other that allowed food items to be kept separate. I’m not sure how these shut pans came to Jamaica. It may have been via India where they are known as tiffin boxes.

bombay-tiffin-250x250The old-time shut pan is no longer in fashion. But there are new models all over on websites like Amazon. Instead of buying cooked meals served in Styrofoam, why can’t we carry our own reusable food containers to takeaway restaurants?

Another option is to replace Styrofoam with biodegradable containers made from materials like sugar cane, wheat and corn. These are much more expensive than the cheap plastic products. But the cheapest almost always turns out to be the dearest.

There was a local company that used to manufacture truly disposable containers, facilitated by a government subsidy on imported materials. But the subsidy was cut and the cost of making the ecofriendly products was just too high. And that was the end of that.


The Palisadoes cleanup was organised by the Japan International Corporate Agency (JICA), in partnership with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the ‘Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica’ campaign. Cleverly billed as ‘Garbie Walkie’, the cleanup combined exercise and public service. We had a lot of fun.

As I was leaving the beach, I heard a woman say, “I don’t want to use Styrofoam ever again!” She admitted that she couldn’t say she absolutely wouldn’t. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Supermarkets pack fruits and vegetables in Styrofoam containers. But if enough of us decide we’re not going to buy products packed in Styrofoam, things will change. Consumers do have power.

NDUJ_logo_AW-01And as for the campaign to stop duttying up Jamaica! It’s an uphill battle to persuade some people that garbage is everybody’s business. They think that when they fling rubbish out of a bus or car, it’s no longer their problem. They are so short-sighted. That’s how you end up with a toilet on the beach. Pure crap!