Chanting down greedy hoteliers

Last week’s post, ‘No Beach For Local Tourists’, touched a very sensitive nerve. I got so many emails from both Jamaicans and other Caribbean citizens who are very concerned about the way in which hoteliers dominate the conversation about public access to our beaches.

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Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), highlights this troubling issue of special interests in her excellent article, ‘The Problem of Beach Exclusion’, published in The Gleaner on Wednesday, January 11: “In 1997, the NRCA [National Resources Conservation Authority] began work on a beach policy to address issues surrounding public access and a Green Paper was drafted which proposed open access. There was immediate pushback from the tourism industry”.

Of course, there was pushback! Hoteliers don’t want open access to beaches because this will reduce their control of valuable resources. Their all-exclusive hotels would become much too inclusive for their liking. They want to erect barbed wire fences, stretching into the sea, to keep out the locals.

We cannot sit back passively and allow our beaches to be captured by greedy hoteliers, irresponsible politicians and all those who benefit from the current state of affairs. We have to take action. We, Jamaicans, like to think of ourselves as militant. We boast about our Ashanti warrior heritage. But we don’t always put up a fight for important causes. We need to follow the example of our uncompromising Caribbean neighbours who refuse to be shut out of their beaches.

VIRAL PROTEST

I got an inspiring email from Antigua. Here’s an excerpt. I’ve deleted the name of the hotelier: “A few years ago, [a Jamaican hotelier] tried to get the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to ‘allow’ him to turn one of our most visited and, by far, favourite beaches – among locals and visitors – into a private enclave for his guests. The protests from the locals and nearby residents were not only unrelenting, but in your face. Some of the protests even went viral. He eventually backed away and the Government did not have to intervene … the people with the power had spoken.”

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One of the most outspoken warriors in the fight to keep Caribbean beaches out of the grasp of hoteliers is the Barbadian calypsonian The Mighty Gabby. His 1982 calypso, “Jack”, was a classic piece of throw word confronting Jack Dear, chairman of the Barbados Tourist Board. Dear, who was certainly not dearly beloved, had declared that hotel owners had the right to develop their property up to the waterfront of the island’s beaches.

This is how Gabby launched his counterattack:

“I grow up bathing in seawater

But nowadays dat is bare horror

If I only venture down by the shore

Police telling me Ah can’t bathe no more

Cause Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach

Jack tell dem to keep me out of reach

Jack tell dem I will never make the grade

Strength and security build barricade

Da can’t happen here in this country

I want Jack to know dat di beach belong to we

Da can’t happen here over my dead body

Tell Jack dat I say dat di beach belong to we”.

Gabby knows that the barricades are all about the tourist dollar. And he’s not prepared to sell his birthright:

“Tourism vital, I can’t deny

But can’t mean more than I and I

My navel string bury right here

But a tourist one could be anywhere

Yet Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach”.

Gabby’s use of “I and I” is an assertion of Rastafari consciousness. It empowers him to chant down the forces of oppression.

BIG UP WI BEACH

Tourism is now vital to our economies across the Caribbean. But we have to find a way to balance the requirements of the tourist industry and the needs of citizens. We can’t just fence in tourists and fence out locals. Many hoteliers assume that their property is like a cruise ship. And the ship is the destination. But some tourists actually want to escape the all-exclusive prison. They want to meet the people outside the barricades.

Diana McCaulay shows us the way forward: “It is true that harassment is a problem for the tourist industry – or indeed for any visitor to a Jamaican beach. But the response cannot be exclusion. The response has to be commitment to a set of articulated principles – frequent access points; provision of well-managed public beaches, including the requirement for behaviour by beach users that does not present a nuisance or threat to others or to the beach itself”.

thThis week, the Jamaica Environment Trust launches ‘Big Up Wi Beach’ on Facebook. It’s an open forum for debate on beach access and related issues such as beach erosion. Readers are invited to post images of their favourite beaches and to write about their memories of great beach outings.

JET is also developing a petition to the Government advocating a definitive policy on beach access for all Jamaicans. I trust that the Urban Development Corporation will support the petition. I won’t hold my breath. I still haven’t gotten an answer to my email to the director of corporate communications about access to Pearly Beach. And I hope Jamaican musicians will create a song in support of the campaign. Like Gabby, they simply must chant down greedy hoteliers.

No Beach For Local Tourists

pearly-beach-entranceOn New Year’s Day, a carload of us drove up, down and around Ocho Rios looking for a public beach. Our first stop was Pearly Beach. The name sounded promising. But we might as well have gone to the Pearly Gates. St Peter would not let us in. The security guard said it was a private beach managed by UDC (the Urban Development Corporation). It could be rented but it was not open to the general public without prior arrangements.

We wondered if we should forget about finding a decent public beach and just go to one of the hotels. So we stopped at Jamaica Inn. Unfortunately for us, but not for them, they were at full occupancy. And their policy is not to issue day passes when the hotel is full. The view from the hotel lobby showed hardly anybody on the beach. But hotel policy is hotel policy.

We asked the receptionist if there was a public beach nearby and we were told about one in the centre of Ocho Rios. That’s not a beach. It’s a port. Back on the road, we kept looking for a public beach and we were sent to Sugar Pot beach. That’s not a beach. It’s a wasteland. We were well salt.

‘NO FOOD & DRINKS’

We decided to try our luck at Bamboo Beach. The sign at the entrance boldly announced that this was PRIVATE PROPERTY. And there was a long list of rules and regulations including: No drugs, no firearms or weapons, no ganja smoking, no profanity, vulgar language or loud behaviour and no soliciting. All very well and good!

But we were not amused to find that food and drinks were prohibited. The gate hostess informed us that the car would have to be searched and if we did have food and drink there were two options. We could either eat and drink before going on the property. Or we could leave our food with the security guard. Neither option was appetising.

img_2248The last item on the sign read: “Please call management to report any questions or concerns”. We got voicemail. So we kept going. By now, we had wasted a lot of beach time looking for a beach. We decided to try Shaw Park Beach Hotel. For US$65 each we could access the beach and get lunch. Or we could pay J$1,000 each to go to the adjacent White River beach, entry to which was controlled by Shaw Park.

We decided on the latter option since food and drink were not prohibited. But, alas, the White River beach was not a beach. The river had been in spate so the water was muddy. The beach was dirty. There was a dog roaming around. We quickly ate our food in less than ideal circumstances.

On the way out, I complained to the manager of the hotel. He was surprised that we had been sent to the beach because he knew it was not in a good condition that day. And he cheerfully refunded the entry fee. That was some consolation. But after all of that upping and downing, we still hadn’t gone to the beach!

HELD HOSTAGE

On Tuesday, I called the UDC office in Kingston to ask about access to Pearly Beach. I was advised to send an email to the director of corporate communications, which I did. I proposed that one of the priorities of urban development ought to be ensuring access of all Jamaicans to public beaches in ways that are consistent with local cultural values – for example, self-catering. Patrons should not be held hostage by beach operators who attempt to force them to buy food and drink on the property. UDC has not yet responded.

The Jamaican Government needs to take lessons from Barbados. All beaches in Barbados are, by law, national parks and cannot be privatised. Every citizen of Barbados has access to all beaches. One of my favourites is Accra Beach, named after the capital of Ghana. Both locals and tourists enjoy the beach which reminds me of Hellshire. Full of vibes!

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Hellshire Beach before and after erosion

By the way, if the Government doesn’t move quickly to build back the reef at Hellshire, the beach will die. Imagine, Kingston is sitting on the seventh largest natural harbour in the world and we don’t have a single beach in the city. We have turned the harbour into a cesspool.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about record visitor arrivals. We welcome these foreigners. But we simply can’t forget about local tourists who also want to enjoy the beauty of our homeland. We have to launch a national campaign to take back Jamaica’s beaches from private operators. In the 1970s we used to say we’re more than a beach, we’re a country. Now, we need to claim our beaches. They should belong to all Jamaicans. Not just a few hoteliers.

And the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) needs to look carefully at its ads for the North American market. There are hardly any black tourists! It seems as if even Jamaicans in the diaspora who come home often are not recognised as tourists. We only want their remittances! The issue of beach access may not just be about locals. Perhaps, for the JTB, the ideal tourist is really not black.

Ugly, Poor, Ignorant and Black!

On Christmas day, I got a blistering email from a man who was angered by my column, ‘Psssst! Hi Sexy!’ He wasn’t vexed because I’d written off out-of-order men who call out to women on the street. It was my “ugly message” coming the day before Kwanzaa. I hadn’t paid any attention to what he called the internalised racism of the fictional female character I’d quoted.

KwanzaaHighlighting colour and class, the woman dissed the gardener who pssssted her. As far as she was concerned, he was too ugly, poor, ignorant and black to be ‘looking’ her. Of course, I was not endorsing the woman’s words. As I said in the column, if the man hadn’t provoked her, she wouldn’t have had the chance to list what she considered to be all his limitations.

When I repeated that point in response to the email, I got a multiple-choice exam. Suppose the “general public” overheard this interrogation: “You have colour, you have education, you smart”? What assumption would be made about the person being questioned? It’s “A. a black person; B. a white person; C. a browning”.

I mischievously replied to say that some of my white friends tell me that white is not the ideal colour in Jamaica; it’s brown. So we could eliminate white right away. But I did take the man’s point: a black woman really should not be dissing a black man in this way. And I should have said that. So I decided to write a conciliatory column this week.

STEPPING UP IN LIFE

But I kept wondering if that angry woman was actually suffering from internalised racism. What if she simply knew the right buttons to push to let her unwanted suitor know how much she despised him? And, notice, she didn’t say ‘black and ugly’. The man’s ugliness was independent of his blackness.

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And one could make a fairly good case for his ignorance. He didn’t know how the woman would react and he foolishly risked rejection by propositioning her. And why shouldn’t this woman want a man who is not poor? It’s about stepping up in life. And why can’t she express a preference for a man who is not black?

So many black men of all social classes in Jamaica have a clear preference for women who are not black. Do we automatically assume that they are suffering from “internalised racism”? Or is it that they always happen to fall in love with a particular woman who just happens to be not black?

What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. But I know my angry male reader would not buy that argument. In fact, this is what he said in another email: “No wonder the yute dem a bleach out if a ‘cultured’ person like yourself indirectly participate[s] in the transference of self-denigration”.

Let’s assume that this presumably black woman has, in fact, internalised racism. Where does this racism come from? Did she learn it in the womb? At home? At school? From the media? Where are the positive images of blackness in Jamaican society? Do a little experiment today and look at the pictures of the ideal Jamaican family in advertisements. It’s almost always a black man, a light-skinned woman, a black boy and a light-skinned girl.

There was a brief moment in the 1970s when black women were in fashion. White and near-white men married black women. It was a new style of trophy wife who proved that her husband was ‘right on’. Later in life, many of these men reverted to type, choosing wives that looked just like them. And some black men didn’t even pretend that they wanted black women as ‘trophy’ wives.

ON THE SHELF

Then there was a very facety response to the column posted on The Gleaner‘s website: “Most women your age have been on the shelf for years without any takers. They would give their eye tooth to have a man acknowledge them. Relish the attention my dear, it means that you still ‘got it goin on’.”

ageismTalk about ageism! So if you are an old woman you must feel flattered by the attention of strangers on the street. No matter what they say? I posted back, “Me have use fi my eye tooth”. Most women, on the shelf or not, don’t object on principle to a compliment from a well-intentioned man. We certainly know how to distinguish between a compliment and an insult.

The most elaborate compliment I’ve got on the street came from a security guard who was full of lyrics. He said to me, “Yu don’t have no sister”. It was more a statement than a question. I do have sisters but since there’s no law that says you must tell the truth to nosy strangers, I said no.

So here’s his response: “Mi know! Yu have di whole of dem shape”. Mi nearly dead wid laugh. All of the shapeliness of my potential sisters was compounded in me. How could you get vexed with a piece of lyrics like that? I thanked the nice gentleman for his compliment and kept moving. He graciously made no effort to detain me. Knowing how to compliment a woman has nothing to do with looks, social class, colour or education. It’s a gift!

Psssst! Hi Sexy!

65277It sounds just like the hiss of a poisonous snake. And many women immediately sense danger when a strange man on the street calls out to them in this way. I don’t think Jamaican men even think about what they’re doing when they psssst women on the street. It’s a reflex action. A man sees an attractive women and he instinctively knows he must proposition her. That’s just the way it is. That’s our culture.

But this culture can be very oppressive for women. You want to go about your business unmolested. Instead, you are forced to listen to a whole lot of foolishness: “Hi, sexy! Hi, fatty! Wa a gwaan? Mi can come home wid yu?” No man in his right mind expects the woman to say, “Yes, baby, yu can come.” He’s just practising his lines.

Even though the man knows full well that he’s only trying a ting, he can still get quite offended and very offensive if you make the mistake of not acknowledging him. You’re in for a whole lot of abuse. All of a sudden, you become a completely undesirable demon who must be verbally attacked. Even worse, you may be physically assaulted.

For a peaceful life, it sometimes makes sense to just say ‘hi’ and keep moving. But if you do say ‘hi’ this is seen as an invitation to prolong the interaction. And if you keep moving, your refusal to stop and engage in conversation is then interpreted as an insult. So, either way, is pure abuse.

TURNING THE TABLES

Some time ago, I was on my morning walk dressed appropriately in exercise wear. I was greeted by a very ‘friendly’ man: “Morning, Miss! I like your shape this morning. Can I be your friend?” I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. Then I said, “No sir, mi not looking no friend this morning.”

And I put it to him. How would he feel if a woman stopped him and said, “Morning, Sir! I like your shape this morning. Can I be your friend?” It was his turn to laugh. He said the woman would have too much pride to admit that she found him attractive. So then I asked him if men don’t have pride.

He said is not that men don’t have pride. But when you see certain women, you can’t help yourself. The attraction just bubbles up and you have to say something. As far as he was concerned, the woman should just know he was paying her a compliment.

thBut what if the tables are turned? While I was on my walk another morning, a man on a bicycle called out to me in passing, “Hi, sexy!” My immediate response was, “Hi, sexy!” He almost fell off his bicycle. He certainly hadn’t expected me to return the compliment, such as it was.

I suppose he felt entitled to call out to me. After all, im a man. And he probably assumed I would be pleased with his view of me as a sex object out on the road purely for his entertainment. I wasn’t exactly telling the truth when I called him ‘sexy’. I had no way of measuring his sexiness. I was simply serving him back his sour sauce. And it was most effective.

SEX EDUCATION

Michael Thelwell wrote a brilliant novel based on the movie The Harder They Come. He cleverly fleshes out the story. There’s a powerful scene in which a domestic worker comprehensively puts in his place a gardener who was trying to friend her up:

“‘Since when me and you is frien’?’ she demanded. ‘Me is you love? What I would want wid all like you? What you have dat I want? You have money? You have looks? You have colour? You have education? No! You doan have nothing in you favour. You ugly, you poor, you ignorant and you black. When you see me a street, don’t talk to me, y’hear’? She sucked her teeth, tossed her head, and started off, her proud b*tty rolling with indignation.

‘After you is nothing but a damn garden bwai,’ she called over her shoulder. ‘You think garden bwai money can get me?'” That is a very hot piece of tracing. But if the man hadn’t called out to the woman, she wouldn’t have had the chance to list what she considered to be all his limitations. Proverbial wisdom warns, “Trouble deh a bush, yu bring it a yard.” This man certainly brought down trouble on himself. All the same, his fellow gardeners felt it was their duty to help him to take revenge on the woman.

alllogHow do we change this culture of male entitlement? On a recent ‘All Angles’ programme on TVJ, I half-seriously suggested that we pass a law making it illegal for men to call out to woman on the street. And it would have to be an equal-opportunity law. Women shouldn’t be allowed to call out to men either.

This law wouldn’t work. Men and women should be able to compliment each other courteously. We have to start with the children, teaching them how to treat each other with affection and respect. Sex education isn’t just about biology. It must include emotional intelligence. Otherwise, snakes will keep crawling in the streets, hunting for prey.

Greek lessons for Andrew Holness

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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!

LIKE COMMON THIEVES

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.

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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.

SWEET-TALKING LADY

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.

‘TURN OFF THE LIGHT!’

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.

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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.

‘LOVE AFFAIR WITH LITERATURE’

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

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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.

HIGH-PROFILE SETTING FOR REGGAE

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.

WE JUST SALT

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.

 

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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!