Killing Children With Work

June 12 was World Day Against Child Labour.  But, of course, the problem is still with us.  This year’s theme is ‘children in hazardous work’.  It’s not the kind of subject we like to savour over Sunday brunch.  But we really can’t turn a blind eye as thousands of children in Jamaica suffer abuse every single day.  Forced to enter the labour market prematurely, ‘dem just a juggle outa road.’

Children helping parents around the house doesn’t count as ‘labour.’  It’s actually good for children to do little jobs that develop responsibility. Enforced economic activity that exposes children to risk and keeps them out of school is criminal. Most times, the perpetrators of abuse are the parents of the children, usually the mother.

According to the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA 2004), it is an offence to employ a child under the age of thirteen. The law does make an exception for children thirteen-fifteen years old.  They can be employed; but only for light work. Children fifteen and over must not be employed in night work or in any industrial or hazardous work. It is also an offence for a child to be used for indecent or immoral purposes.

But traditional practices often clash with the law.   There is a long-established conviction in Jamaican culture that children are wealth.  Literally.  It comes from the Bible: ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.’ 
(Psalms 127:3-5, English Standard Version).

Incidentally, the same backward people who think it’s sacrilegious to translate the Bible into Jamaican also have difficulty accepting new versions written in modern English.  If there are no ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ in scripture then it’s not holy enough for them.  Their God communicates only in 17th century English.  But that’s really another story.

Jamaican men just love to fill their quiver with arrows, especially when they have absolutely no intention of taking care of them.  To update the instrument of war from the arrow to the gun, Jamaican men don’t like to fire blank.  So they spray their seed like bullets far and wide.

The presumption that children are a source of wealth also has West African origins.  In Jamaica, we often conceive children as ‘old age pension.’  Women, especially, assume that the more children they have, the bigger the reward.  But proverbial wisdom warns that ‘one mother can look after eight children but eight children cannot look after one mother.’   Many times, the investment doesn’t pay off in the long run.  So, more and more parents are trying to get returns on their children in the here and now.

One of the most violent forms of abuse of children is enforced transactional sex in the home, a hush-hush subject in Jamaica.  Mothers often prostitute their daughters. This is a familiar tale that is documented by Mrs. Kay Anderson, multi-talented artist, writer and teacher.

The mother in this true story is a domestic servant.  But the exploitation of children transcends class barriers.  Kay recalls one of her schoolmates from a nice middle-class home:  ‘She used to play Mary in the school play so you must know what she looked like.’  The girl committed suicide.  She, too, was a victim of sexual abuse.

Ah Wonda Weh Sandra Deh?

– Teacher, yu just don’t understand; di girl don’t come home.

– You mean she did not go home last night?

– No, teacher, is a week now since ah don’t see ar.

– Well, teacher is really a long story but, well, it really go like dis.  Yu see di genkleman I am along with is not fi-Sandra father; in fact im is not any of the pickney-dem father, although this one ah carrying here is fi-im own.  Well, Sandra is the biggest one and when she go home in the evening she have to cook an clean for I do . . . . , well really . . . , I is a domestic and I don’t get off of work early . . . , an really most days I stop een because I can’t afford di bus fare.  Well, Sandra she . . . , mi tell yu seh di lickle gyal lie yu see, she seh dat Rupert, dat is my . . . genkleman, dat in di night when di lickle one dem gone to bed dat Rupert beg ar.

– Beg her?

– Yes mam, she seh im beg ar an im tell ar if she tell me im going kill ar.  Well, ah tell yu, mam, when di lilly gyal tell mi dat, ah bax ar dong pon di grong, an ah sidong pon ar head, an tell ar seh ah gwine learn ar fi no tell lie pon big people.

Ah di same Rupert have fi drag mi offa ar.  Ah was going kill ar dead.  Well when im wouldn’t let mi go, mek mi bruck de lilly Jezebel neck, ah tell ar fi kum out a mi yard for if she old enough fi a look man, she must go outa door and look man fi arself fi look aafta ar, like Rupert look aafta mi, an lef mi man alone.

Ah sorry teacher, is just dat everytime a tink bout it, it mek mi blood bwile.  Well, di facey gyal no lef an from dat night mi no see ar.  Mi thought she gone a ar granny a Waterworks; but when mi check, she no di deh an im granny seh im never come deh at all.  Well, even doah di gyal so forward, she a still mi pickney an mi wouldn’t like fi know seh nutting happen to ar. So a it mek mi check ya today fi see if she still a come a school or weh she deh.

Mi naa tell yu no lie, mi no really want ar back weh mi deh.  But ah woulda like fi know dat weh she is, she is quite alright.  Ah ten pickney mi ha; dis one eena di belly meck eleven.  An Rupert kind an good to mi, an mi naa meck no one, not even mi owna kin, box di bread outa mi mout.

Well, thank yu den mam.  Ah sorry to give yu so much trouble . . . .     

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Follow Fashion Monkey

Jamaican proverbial wisdom warns that ‘follow fashion monkey never drink good soup.’  Of course, not all monkeys are particular about the soup they drink.  Some are quite happy to follow fashion – good, bad and indifferent. Monkey see, monkey do. For discriminating monkeys, originality does matter.  They set the fashion trends that others slavishly follow.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I’m using both ‘fashion’ and ‘monkey’ in exactly the same symbolic sense as the proverb does.  The primary issue is neither tasteless fashion nor hairy primates drinking soup.  It’s about creative people who don’t simply mimic others – in whatever field:  culinary arts, architecture, music, IT, and, of course, fashion.

Proverbial wisdom from another culture authoritatively declares that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’  We know how that goes. We’re accustomed to being copied:  our music, language, body language, fashion and religion.  Even our distinctive style of ‘badness’ attracts imitators. And if we don’t feel flattered that’s just too bad for us. We’re supposed to be grateful.

But imitation often looks a lot like downright theft. Plus, you can’t take flattery to the bank. In an age in which intellectual property does have real value, it’s not flattering to have your creative ideas stolen. You can’t just let people monkey around with your intangible assets. Protection of rights is essential.

‘Fashion over style’

All the same, some imitation is positively good, especially when it drives healthy competition and gives consumers choice.  An excellent case in point is our weeks of style and fashion. Pulse Investments Ltd. first staged Caribbean Fashionweek in 2001.  Saint International followed suit in 2004 with Style Week.

It was dancehall icon Gerald ‘Bogle’ Levy who popularised the quip, ‘fashion over style.’  He got the ranking right.  Admittedly, I’m prejudiced. Pulse’s CEO is my brother, Kingsley.  Objectively speaking though, he’s one of the most enterprising people I know.  Who would have thought that Jamaica could have created an international modelling agency?  Let alone two, and counting.

Saint’s CEO Deiwght Peters was once employed by Pulse.  He learnt all he could then set up shop.  Saint models have followed in the footsteps of the Pulse originals and have also done Jamaica proud.  I suppose Kingsley really ought to feel flattered by Deiwght’s imitation of the inventiveness for which the Pulse brand is widely known.

The case of Caribbean International Fashion Week is a whole other story.  If you googled ‘Caribbean Fashion Week’ last week, the first item that came up as news from New York was this: ‘IMAN Cosmetics to be the Exclusive Makeup Sponsor for Caribbean International Fashion Week.’

Believe it or not, this US-based Caribbean Fashion Week has absolutely nothing to do with the Jamaican original.

But the publicity for the event brazenly started off using the name ‘Caribbean Fashion Week’ and even appropriated Pulse’s CFW logo in an apparent attempt to pass off the imitation as the original. Kingsley, who is an attorney-at-law first and foremost, quickly put a stop to that. The belated addition of ‘international’ still doesn’t distinguish the copy from the original.  Our Jamaican event has always been international.

On top of that, the New York version was scheduled to premier last Wednesday, the very same week that Pulse’s Caribbean Fashionweek 2011 kicked off.  The organisers of Style Week have the good sense to try to upstage Fashionweek by coming first and at a decent interval – in the month before.  By contrast, Top Job (TJ) Public Relations, the promoter of Caribbean International Fashion Week, is doing a great job of deliberately creating confusion.

Protecting Jamaican brands

Glenda Lugay

I guess Kingsley could feel flattered if he tried really hard.  Glenda Lugay, CEO of TJ Public Relations, came to Caribbean Fashionweek in 2008 to promote one of her clients, Sushma Patel, a designer from India whose iridescent creations express the bling aesthetic of traditional saris.

Ms Lugay seems to have liked what she saw at CFW and decided to run with it.  All very well and good.  But she needed to give credit where credit is due.

Ironically, TJ Public Relations doesn’t seem to be practicing what the company preaches.  According to the website of the Beverly Hills-based firm, TJ ‘works with a variety of entrepreneurs and small businesses in areas such as brand management and consulting.’  Brand management is not the same as unfairly exploiting a ‘foreign’ brand.

Jamaican companies face a major difficulty as we try to protect our brands overseas.  Successive governments have not signed on to the Madrid system for the international registration of trademarks.  The system comprises the 1891 Madrid Agreement and the less restrictive 1989 Madrid Protocol, which are administered by the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.

The advantage of the Jamaican government’s signing on to the Madrid Protocol is that a trademark registered here would eventually be protected in all the countries in the system.  So Pulse’s Caribbean Fashionweek trademark couldn’t be ‘imitated’ in the US, which is a signatory to the Madrid Protocol.

At present, Jamaican companies have to register their marks individually in every single country in which they are seeking protection.
This is a costly business.  It would be so much cheaper to pay one set of fees locally and benefit from international coverage.

The advantage of the Madrid system is also its disadvantage.  Local registration is ‘married’ to international.  If the terms of local registration are altered, so are the international.  But, as in a good marriage, the pros of entanglement often do outweigh the cons of going it alone. The Jamaican government really should make it much easier for owners of locally registered trademarks to protect their intellectual property globally – for better or worse.

VMBS Puts a Lien on Love/ VMBS a tai op maagij an marij

The Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) has long acknowledged the fact that marriage is good for mortgages.  This year, the company celebrates the 25th staging of the popular marriage and the family series, which is always held in June, the traditional month of weddings and connubial bliss.  All kinds of practical advice on building relationships and, of course, buying houses is given free of cost.

To mark the silver jubilee of the annual series, there’s been a special promotion billed as ‘The Royal Victorian Affair’. Not quite William and Kate’s, but still.  Couples were invited to submit a 25 line essay outlining why they should win the prize.  Much easier than getting a mortgage, I suppose.  The couple who won the competition will have a grand wedding and reception in Emancipation Park today, compliments of VMBS.

I certainly hope the ceremony will not be taking place anywhere near the so-called emancipation monument.  That would definitely ‘put a blight’ on the affair.  First of all, nakedness isn’t automatically erotic.  Then there’s not a sign of communication between the man and the woman.  They are completely passive.  And there’s no child to symbolise the future of emancipated Jamaica.  Those hulking figures, trapped in a basin of water, definitely cannot cross the floodwaters of marriage.

Incidentally, all those people who are laughing at Mr. Clifton Brown for allegedly twanging on national television and saying “nobody canna cross it” (i.e. the Yallahs River), should listen again to the video.  He clearly said ‘cannat.’

The substitution of ‘a’ for ‘o’ is a standard feature of the pronunciation of some English words by speakers of Jamaican.  So Mr. Brown also passionately declared:  “We lack away in the wilderness.”  A lovely bilingual pun on ‘lock’ and ‘lack.’

Instead of turning Mr. Brown’s self-confident speech into a big joke, as Simon Crosskill and Neville Bell did so disgracefully on TVJ’s ‘Smile Jamaica’, we should be focusing on his quite legitimate complaints about the poor infrastructure that plagues St. Thomas.

And as for the mockery of his statement that ‘the bus can swim’:  this is just a classic example of mental slavery.  We constantly equate intelligence with competence in English.  But, ironically, in this instance, English and Jamaican are quite similar in the use of figures of speech. If time can fly, why can’t buses swim? Mr. Brown’s vivid metaphor could pass for poetry in any language.

True Confessions

I must confess that several years ago, I found myself speaking quite fraudulently in public on a subject I knew very little about.  I had been inveigled into giving a talk in the VMBS series on the topic, ‘How to Keep the Marriage Talking.’  At the time, I had no personal experience of marriage though I had, indeed, observed the trials, tribulations and triumphs of many of my friends.

The rather persistent gentleman who talked me into giving the talk could not reasonably have been accused of holding me down and taking away my consent.  I have never laid eyes on him; the seduction was purely telephonic.   As a big woman, I couldn’t blame anybody but myself for the seemingly compromising position in which I’d found myself. Having carelessly left myself open to persuasion, I was entirely responsible for the predicament I’d gotten myself into.

I was reassured to discover that the Christian marriage counsellor who chaired the second half of the evening’s proceedings had, herself, never married.  Three couples she had counselled shared their ‘True Confessions’.   Perhaps, in these affairs of the heart the less actual experience you have, the more efficiently you can give levelheaded advice.    Naturally, I ended up talking about talking, rather than marriage.  Pure talk.  It was the only decent thing to do.

Biting Conversations

There is an innocent-sounding turn of phrase that some Jamaican women like to use to describe their male sexual partner to whom they are not legally married:  ‘the gentleman I am talking to’:  The sex act as conversation; intercourse as sex talk. Both intercourse and conversation – like sex – are words of Latin origin.  One of the original meanings of conversation is the action of living together.  In 16th century English, conversation meant sexual intimacy.  So I speculate that this is the origin of our Jamaican expression, the gentleman I am talking to.

Like conversation, intercourse can mean both the sex act itself and, more generally, interaction between parties, particularly verbal interaction.  ‘Intercourse’ comes from two Latin words ‘inter’ and ‘currere’ – ‘inter’ meaning ‘between’ and ‘currere’ to ‘flow.’  All kinds of currents, like swollen rivers that only buses can swim across!

One of the joys of teaching English in Jamaica is the stories you hear from your students.  In a class on bilingualism I was told of a married couple who had a truly remarkable problem with conversation.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, the wife insisted that, for the sake of the children’s education, she and her husband were going to operate a monolingual household.

She passed a law:  the only language to be spoken in the house was English.  No Jamaican, no patwa, no dialect – whatever you call our mother tongue.  After a week of silent suffering the husband finally exploded:  ‘Me kyaan talk di way me waan talk inna fi mi owna yaad? Dis a dyam foolishness.’  All of this wrapped in lots of cloth.  Needless to say, that marriage did not keep on talking.  The couple divorced.

Our wannabe English lady should have remembered the Jamaican proverb that warns:  ‘marriage have teeth and bite hot.’  You had better be careful about how you talk to your partner, especially in certain delicate positions.  Or you might get rather badly bitten.  It’s all a question of how you bow, as in defer, to your partner’s wishes.

VMBS a tai op maagij an marij

       A lang taim nou Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) a mek wi nuo se marij gud fi maagij. Dis ya ier, di kompini a selibriet 25 ier a di taak dem we dem put aan bout marij an fambilii.  Evri ier, di taak dem kip op iina Juun.  Fram lang taim, dat a di mont we plenti piipl lov fi marid an a luk fi gud lov laif.  VMBS gi aal kain a advais fi frii bout man an uman tuori.  An dem shuo yu ou yu kyan bai ous.

Fi di silva juubilii a di taak dem, VMBS du wan speshal promuoshan we dem kaal ‘Raayal Victoria.’ Tu raa!  A no laik fi William an Kate sinting.

Bot stil far aal . . . .  Ier ou it go:  yu ha fi sen iin wan leta – no muor an 25 lain – fi kanvins VMBS se a yu an fi yu smadi fi win di praiz.  Kom tu tink av it, dat no haad laka fi get maagij.  Di tuu smadi we win a go get big wedn an risepshan iina Imansipieshan Paak tide, tanks tu VMBS.

Mi ongl uop di serimani naa go kip op saida di so-kaal imansipieshan maniment.  Dat uda dairekli put a blait pan di uol ting.  Fos tu begin wid, niekid smadi no mos an boun fi seksi.  Dem kuda mad laka shad. An di tuu statyu dem naa taak tu dem wan anada.  Dem dis stan op de stif-stif.  Nat iivn wan likl pikni fi reprisent Jamieka fyuucha.  Di tuu big, bluotid bafan dem get kech iina wan pan a waata. Dem kyaan kraas dat de big riba:  lov an marij.

Bai di wie, aal a dem piipl we a laaf aafta Misa Clifton Brown chruu dem tink a twang im a twang pan TV an a se “nobody canna cross it” (dat a di Yallahs Riva), dem fi go lisn di vidyo agen.  A ‘cannat’ im did se.  Mi ier it klier-klier. Ingglish ‘o’ ton iina ‘a’ iina fi wi Jamieka langgwij. A it mek Misa Brown se ‘Wi lak iina di wildanes.’  A tuu miinin fi di wan ‘lak’:  Lak op an lakin.

Misa Brown nuo we im a taak bout.  Insted a laaf aafta im, wi shuda lisn we im a se bout ou tings naa ron rait iiina St. Tamas.  Iz a big disgries ou Simon Crosskill an Neville Bell laaf aafta Misa Brown pan TVJ ‘Smile Jamaica.’  Pan tap a dat, piipl a tek im mek papishuo chruu im se ‘the bus can swim’.  Dat a mental slievri.  Plenti a wi tink se if yu no nuo Inggish gud-gud, yu naa no sens.  Bot dis a wan taim Ingglish an Jamieka a se di sed siem ting. If taim kyan flai, wa mek bos kyaan swim?  Misa Brown ful a liriks!

Chruu Kanfeshan

Den mi ha fi kanfes se kopl ier abak mi fain miself a gi wan taak iina poblik pan wan tapik mi no nuo notn moch bout.  Smadi inviigl mi fi go gi wan taak iina di VMBS sinting bout ‘Ou fi kip di marij taakin.’  Dem de taim mi neva marid, so mi no av no dairek ekspiiriens.  Bot mi du si we mi marid fren dem go chruu.

Di man we kaal-kaal an kanvins mi fi gi taak neva huol mi dong an fuos mi fi dwiit.  Aal nou, fi im yai an fi mi no mek fuor.  A telifuon im telifuon an wier mi dong.  Mi a big uman an a mi rispans fi di preke mi put miself iina.  Mi kielis, mek di man kanvins mi, an mi kyaan bliem nobadi. A mii dwiit.

Mi du fiil likl beta wen mi fain out se di marij kounsila, (shi a Krischan) we ron di sekan paat a di pruogram, shi neva marid.  Shi did gi advais tu chrii kopl an dem kom fi tel fi dem tuori.  It luk laik se if yu no marid yu kyan gi beta advais bout marid dan if yu dip yu fut iina diip riva. A so mi en op a taak bout taakin, nat marij.  Suo-so taak.  Dat a di ongl diistant ting mi kuda du.

Marij bait hat

Som uman iina Jamieka, we no marid tu di man dem de wid, laik fi yuuz wan likl aanda-kova taak fi diskraib di man:  ‘di jenklman mi a taak tu’. So a ongl taak dem a taak.  Dem naa kaal di wod ‘seks.’  Yu si dem Inglish wod ‘intercourse’, ‘conversation’ an ‘sex’.  Di chrii a dem kom fram Latin.  Lang taim abak, ‘intercourse’ did miin se yu a liv wid smadi.  Iina di 16th senchri, ‘conversation’ did mean seksin.  So mi figa se a de so wi get fi wi Jamieka taak bout di jenklman mi a taak tu.

Siit ya nou, ‘intercourse’ it no av wan dege-dege miinin.  It du miin seksin.  Bot it aalso miin regla taakin.  It kom fram tuu Latin wod ‘inter’ an ‘currere.’ ‘Inter’ miin bitwiks an bitwiin; an ‘currere’ miin fi fluo.  Aal kain a korent, laka big riva wa ongl bos kyan swim kraas!

Wan a di ting mi lov bout tiich Ingglish iina Jamieka a di tuori we di styuudent dem tel mi.  Mi a tiich wan klaas bout di tuu langgwij wi taak iina disya koncrhi.  Smadi tel mi bout dis waif an ozban we av wan siiryoz prablem wid taakin.  Eniwe yu waan tek i.  Aal af a sodn, di waif huol haad en an gi out se, siek a di pikni dem edikieshan, a ongl wan dege-dege langgwij dem a go taak iina di ous.

She tek it pan arself fi paas laa:  a suo-so Ingglish dem a go taak iina di ous.  Aal a di taim.  No Jamiekan, no patwa, no daiyalek – no mata wa yu waan kaal fi wi haatikal langgwij.  Aafta wan wiik a ban im beli, di ozban bos out: ‘Mi kyaan taak di wie mi waan taak iina fi mi uona yaad? Dis a dyam fuulishnes.’  Rap op iina nof klaat.  Yu don nuo.  Dat de marij stap taak.  Dem divuors.

Mai liedi we did waan taak suo-so Ingglish shuda memba we uol taim piipl se.  Dem waan wi se:  ‘marij av tiit an bait hat.’  Yu ha fi tek taim taak tu yu piipl dem, espeshali iina sortn teknikal pozishan.  Ar yu maita get a bad-bad bait.  Yu ha fi nuo ou fi bou.  Dat miinz tu se, ou fi gi iin tu wat yu piiipl dem want yu fi du. Siiryos ting!

Lessons from St Lucia Jazz

The producers of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival really ought to go back to the drawing board and rethink the concept.  TurnKey Productions, the US-based company that has been staging the festival right from the start, needs to change key.

Trapped in the old Air Jamaica format of less jazz and more everything else, the rebranded jazz and blues festival rarely satisfies the discriminating taste of expectant jazz fans. The headliners for this year’s 15th anniversary production clearly illustrate the problem.  Maroon 5 are pop rock; Ron Isley is R&B; Natalie Cole is also R&B with a shimmer of jazz.  She did a magnificent set but it certainly wasn’t hardcore jazz.  Or even blues.

Morgan Heritage

By contrast, St Lucia Jazz is the real deal. True, the festival does include music in other genres.  For example, Morgan Heritage did us proud with a blistering set on the last day.  But the bill is much more jazz than anything else.  I was fortunate to catch the 20th staging of this calendar event last month.  I’d been invited to give a lecture hosted by the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, St. Lucia.  The title we agreed on was “Islands Beyond Envy:  Liberating Nation Language in the Caribbean.”

The topic of the lecture acknowledged the artistic struggles of St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott to find his own voice.  In one of his essays published in 1970, the poet describes the unenviable position in which he found himself as a young man learning to master the craft of writing in a colonial backwater:  ‘I sighed up a continent of envy when I studied English literature, yet, when I tried to talk as I wrote, my voice sounded affected or too raw.’

Sounds familiar?  As our own poet of the people Mutabaruka puts it so wittily, ‘the language we write we can’t talk; and the language we talk we can’t write.’  Enslaved by envy, the juvenile Walcott at first paid little attention to the language of local verbal arts: St. Lucian Creole.  Eventually, he liberated himself by opening his ears to the sounds of street culture.

LIME’s sweet party

One of the big hits of the St. Lucia jazz festival is the free lunch hour concerts held in the square that’s named in honour of Walcott.

A large cross-section of St Lucian society, including enthusiastic high school students, turned out in huge numbers, three days in a row, to hear some of the stars of the festival perform in the day-time concert series for which LIME was the lead sponsor.

LIME seems to have had a rather sour experience with the organisers of St. Lucia Jazz.  The company was the original sponsor of the whole festival and then got displaced by newcomer Digicel. It’s a familiar tale.  Obviously, as an outsider, I don’t know the whole story.   In any case, proverbial wisdom warns that ‘cockroach no business inna fowl fight.’   But even cockroach can speculatively put two and two together.  How could Cable and Wireless, now astringent LIME, start off as a monopoly and end up as the underdog fighting to survive in a market the company once dominated? Competition is a hell of thing.

All the same, LIME certainly knows how to throw a sweet party. On the Saturday night of the festival the company hosted an event billed as ‘Rapture Theme Party.’  I hit the dance floor running.  At my lecture, I got a good joke from a man who complained that I’d stopped him and his wife from leaving the party. Since I appeared to be older than them, they couldn’t bear the thought of being outdone by a senior citizen with obviously much more stamina.  So they had to keep dancing.  ‘Mi nearly dead with laugh.’

‘Church in the jook joint’

For me, the outstanding performance of St Lucia Jazz this year was given by Regina Carter.  A ‘classically’ trained violinist, she magisterially demonstrated the eclectic fusion that is jazz is in its purest form.  I put ‘classically’ in quotes because I know that supposedly ‘classical’ music is not just European ‘art music.’  It’s simply the best of the best.

A lot of the music we now think of as ‘classical’ started life as lowly popular culture.  So it’s not about ‘class’.  It’s all about aesthetics.  No culture has the monopoly on classic music.  With or without cables, wires and all sorts of strings.

Carter’s jazz band brilliantly illustrated the harmonising of European and African musical instruments:  violin, double bass, accordion and kora.  The kora is made from half of a huge calabash covered with cowskin, with a notched bridge for its 21 strings.  The sound plucks your heartstrings.


Another memorable performance came from R&B/jazz/gospel diva Ledisi who wickedly described her set as ‘church in the jook joint.’  Her insight reminded me of James Baldwin’s witty observation in the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain that it’s hard to hear any difference between the secular music of the sinners going home from the club late Saturday night and the sacred music of the saints going to church Sunday morning.

‘Jook’ is a fascinating word.  A variant of ‘juke’ – as in juke box – the word has African origins.  The Dictionary of Jamaican English compares ‘jook’ with Fulani ‘jukka’, meaning ‘spur, poke; knock down as fruit.’  The dictionary also notes the Cameroons pidgin expression, ‘juk am’, meaning ‘pierce, prick, etc.’

     Like ‘jazz’ itself, ‘jook’ has sexual overtones. In her book Jookin’:  The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture, sociologist Katrina Hazzard-Gordon highlights the vital role of the jook joint in nurturing the body, soul and spirit.  If we really want the Air Jamaica jazz and blues festival to ‘tek life’, TurnKey needs to jook it with a lot more jazz.

Beckles caught in the slips

Chris Gayle

Sir Hilary Beckles’ statement of regret at comparing Chris Gayle to ‘Dudus’ is, quite frankly, an apology for an apology. No typing error here:  the meaning of these two apologies is not at all identical in this context.  The first apology is a weak excuse for the second.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives four contradictory definitions of ‘apology’:

1.       The pleading off from a charge or imputation; defence or vindication from accusation or aspersion

2.       Justification, explanation, or excuse

3.       A frank acknowledgement, by way of reparation, of offence given, or an explanation that offence was not intended, with expression of regret for any given or taken

4.       A poor substitute

   The history of the word ‘apology’ reveals how meaning changes over time.  It also illustrates the way in which English, the world’s most greedy patois, devours words from other languages, sometimes mangling their meaning.  As Louise Bennett puts it so mischievously in Aunty Roachy Seh, ‘dem shoulda call English Language corruption of Norman French an Latin an all dem tarra language what dem seh dat English is derived from.’

The English ‘apology’ comes from the Greek ‘apologia.’ Originally, an apology was an act of self-justification.  That’s the second meaning of the word given in the OED:  a defensive speech.  By the 18th century, a new meaning of the word evolved: the OED’s third definition.

Crude statement

Dudus under escort

Instead of immediately accepting that he’d erred in making the unfortunate comparison between Gayle and ‘Dudus,’ Sir Hilary first tried to suggest that it was a matter of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘misrepresentation.’  Those of us who were angered by his crude statement were suffering from a failure to understand.  It’s not that we understood and took offense.  We were not smart enough to read beneath the surface of his statement and fathom its hidden depth of innocent meaning.

When that ploy failed, Sir Hilary attempted another stroke.  He took a crack at an apology. But the ball edged the bat and he got caught in the slips. The knight’s apology is not one that commoners would readily accept.  It doesn’t have quite the right degree of humility.

Sir Hilary’s statement of regret appears to be a classic ‘apologia’ masquerading as an ‘apology.’ It’s a rather elaborate justification of what he said and what he thinks we all misunderstood.  Here’s a quote that’s posted on the website of the Barbados Nation:

“I am satisfied that the parts of my lecture which have caused public concern have been misrepresented and misunderstood and deductions made which were not obvious to me or intended.

“I am now aware of the anguish these deductions have caused in Jamaica and, in particular, an offending reference, which was not intended in any way to be comparative to anyone. I truly regret this.

“My assessment of leadership as expressed in public images was not intended to produce any negative effect or harm to any cricketer, especially to Mr Chris Gayle, who I consider to be an outstanding West Indies cricketer.

“I offer this statement of regret in all sincerity.”

The surprising clause, “I am satisfied,” has no business in a genuine apology.  What can Sir Hilary’s use of the word ‘satisfied’ possibly mean in this context?  ‘I’ve had enough?’  ‘I’m pleased?’  ‘I acknowledge the fact that I’ve made one hell of a mistake?’

Sir Hilary’s fundamentally unapologetic apologia reproduces the fiction of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and (baseless) deduction.  It is the deductions that have caused anguish, not the substance of his own remarks!  And if likening Chris Gayle to ‘Dudus’ ‘was not intended in any way to be comparative to anyone’, what was the point?  Was it a slip of the lip?  And, if so, what does this Freudian slip reveal?

Arrogant cricket board

C.L.R. James’ vintage cultural studies text, Beyond a Boundary, published in 1963, gives a brilliant account of the history of West Indies cricket. I’m sure Sir Hilary knows this book intimately.  James devotes an entire chapter to the Panamanian-Jamaican batsman, George Headley, who isn’t even mentioned in the professor’s grand genealogy of the fall of West Indies cricket from the Father of the Nation, Sir Frank Worrell, to the degenerate Don, Chris ‘Dudus’ Gayle.

True, the magisterial Headley wasn’t a captain.  But he certainly led by example.  James reverentially describes the master in the Latinate terms of his Queen’s Royal College education: ‘nascitur non fit’ – born not made.  He elaborates:  ‘this West Indian narrowly escapes being the greatest batsman I have ever seen.  Pride of place in my list goes to Bradman, but George is not far behind.’

I don’t think it’s a simple case of anti-Jamaica prejudice that makes Sir Hilary finger Gayle as the bad man of West Indies cricket. It’s much more complex.  As a member of the West Indies Cricket Board, Sir Hilary appears to have internalised the arrogance of rulers who desperately try to keep the ruled under control.  And Gayle will have none of that.  So he must be a don in the worst possible sense of that word.

In the early years of Spanish conquest of the Americas, the title ‘don’ unapologetically belonged to the aristocracy, somewhat like a knighthood.  These days, a don is, supposedly, a social outcast, though in the case of ‘Dudus’ so much political capital was expended to prevent him from being cast out!

Sir Hilary

Sir Hilary’s error of judgement is not only the deliberate comparison of Gayle with ‘Dudus’.  It is also his failure to recognise that uprooting don-manship in West Indian cricket may just mean wresting power from the aristocratic dons of the West Indies Cricket Board and putting it securely in the hands of enterprising players.  Cricket is no longer a gentleman’s game.  It’s big business, as Chris Gayle knows all too well.

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.


T&T Lit Fest Puts us to Shame

In Trinidad last April at the BOCAS lit fest, I kept on thinking about the ‘batter-bruising’ the Calabash International Literary Festival suffered each year to secure funding; with a lot of bobbing and weaving, the organisers managed to sustain the creative enterprise for an entire decade. As the perceptive jackass puts it: ‘Di world no level.’

Oops! ‘Patwa’. Somebody is going to have a fit. The mentally enslaved are suffering from such a bad case of ‘Englishtitis’. They simply can’t see the value of raising the profile of the Jamaican language and making it an instrument of formal, written discourse. When I saw the comments on The Gleaner’s website, in response to my column, ‘Even God speaks Patwa’, ‘mi jus shake mi head’. Most of them were so hostile.

The anger at my use of Jamaican in The Sunday Gleaner is alarming. Why do some people get so worked up about giving visibility to their own mother tongue? Is it insecurity about their competence in English? It’s just one ‘dege-dege’ column.  You don’t have to read it.  You can just cut your eye and move on.

The basic issue is pure intolerance. If I don’t like Patwa, nobody else should enjoy seeing it on the editorial page of Jamaica’s premier newspaper. The other issue is that, for some people, any celebration of the local language must mean dissing English. We can’t be comfortably bilingual; or, even better, multilingual. It’s just another version of the tired PNP versus JLP mentality. We could never have a coalition government made up of the best of the ‘might as cheap’.

All about power

On the flight to Trinidad, the first officer made an announcement about the time difference between Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean. In a completely unpretentious Trini accent, he said, without apology, that it was “ten to tree in Barbados and Trinidad”. Yes, tree.

I immediately remembered Miss Lou’s wicked poem, ‘Bans a Killin”, in which she poked fun at the man who wanted to kill off ‘Jamaica dialect’. He was so stuck on English, Miss Lou humorously warned him that if he dropped an ‘h’ he might have to kill himself. Our Trini pilot had no such anxiety.

Those days, Miss Lou, like the rest of us, was taught to see the Jamaican language as a regional variation of English: a dialect. Now, some of us prefer to think of our mother tongue as a distinct national language in the spirit of the famous witticism: “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” It’s all about power.

Dr. Marcia Roye

The Jamaican language doesn’t have a grand army or navy, but we do have Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and Dr Marcia Roye, a lecturer in biotechnology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who won the inaugural L’Oreal-UNESCO Special Fellowship Grant for women in science. It was established this year to mark the centennial of Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Worth €30,000, the grant was awarded to Dr Roye in recognition of her outstanding research in the field of plant virology and antiretroviral drug resistance in HIV/AIDS patients; and for being a role model to young scientists. ‘Go deh, Doc!’

Bet yu anyting, Dr Roye figure out her research project inna Patwa even though she write it up inna English! Wi so shame a fi wi owna language. Fi notn. Wa mek? A through a African people mek it up? Wi a tie up wi tongue an a bleach out di African culture.

 

‘Sake a cheapness’

The inaugural Trinidad and Tobago literary festival, which ended in fine style last Sunday, was a grand affirmation of the power of the word in all its rich diversity: mostly English and various regional Creoles. But there was also Spanish – the name of the BOCAS festival means ‘mouths’ – and French and Hindi and Portuguese and Dutch and Papiamentu and more! A virtual tower of Babel.

The festival was held in a towering nine-storey building in Port-of-Spain that houses the national library. When I thought of the magnificent setting of the Calabash festival in Treasure Beach, with that splendid backdrop of the Caribbean Sea, ‘mi almost cry fi tink how wi dash weh a national treasure sake a cheapness’.

The BOCAS lit fest attracted high-level support, in cash and kind, from 26 private- and public-sector sponsors! Republic Bank, The National Gas Company, KFC, The National Library and One Caribbean Media were top-tier sponsors. Next in line were Flow, BP Trinidad and Tobago, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Alliance Française. Media partners included Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi, Caribbean Beat and the Trinidad Express.

Trinidad and Tobago has lots and lots of oil money. The country can more than afford to become the ATM for the entire Caribbean. It can certainly fund an international literary festival. But money isn’t everything. To put on a world-class literary festival, showcasing the verbal creativity of the Caribbean and the rest of the world, you need imagination, daring and a whole heap of hard work. The very same talents it takes to be a compelling writer.

Marina Salandy Brown (left) and Rhea Yaw Ching

The BOCAS lit fest, founded and directed by the formidable Marina Salandy-Brown, has opened its mouth and made a lot of creative noise. Let’s hope the Jamaican private sector is listening.