If Lloyd D’Aguilar Is Right …

imagesLloyd D’Aguilar has become a much-ridiculed character since he was banished from the West Kingston commission of enquiry. In cartoons, editorials and newspaper columns, on talk shows and social media, he’s portrayed as an egomaniac, hungry for attention. All because he stood up for principle!

Admittedly, he not only stood up. He spoke out rather loudly for a very good cause: condemning the “kangaroo court” that’s not likely to hand down justice, in his opinion. D’Aguilar should have tried a lot harder to restrain himself when he saw how the enquiry was set up. But it was never going to be easy.

Before the enquiry even started, D’Aguilar applied for “standing”. This is a legal term meaning recognition of someone’s right to participate in a case because of a clear connection to the matter at hand. As convener of the Tivoli Committee, D’Aguilar seemed eligible for standing.

images-1But he was informed that the decision would not be made until the day of the enquiry. This was a problem. The Tivoli Committee would not have time to prepare witnesses and assure them that their interests would be protected. But there was nothing D’Aguilar could do about this arbitrary ruling.

The Tivoli Committee was, in fact, given standing. But there seems to have been some misunderstanding about exactly who was permitted to speak on behalf of the committee. Miguel Lorne, the attorney employed by the Tivoli Committee, was missing in action at the very start of the enquiry.

I PUT IT TO YOU

In the absence of the committee’s attorney, D’Aguilar exercised what he thought was his right to speak. That was the beginning of the end. In his opening remarks, D’Aguilar raised several pertinent issues. In email correspondence with me, he outlined them: “(1) how to deal with language; (2) rules of evidence; (3) visiting Tivoli; (4) compensation”.

Even the blind can now see that D’Aguilar was absolutely right to raise the issue of language. The legal profession is a secret society. And lawyers speak in code. I put it to you that the language of the law is deliberately designed to be confusing. That is why we have to pay lawyers to translate the code words into everyday language.

In addition, the official ‘everyday’ language of Jamaica is English. But the mother tongue of the majority of Jamaicans is not English. Call it what you like – dialect, Patwa, Creole, Jamaican, ‘chat bad’ – it is a distinct language. Most of the words of this language come from English. But the pronunciation, word order and grammar are not English.

UnknownSo here we have a commission of enquiry that is interrogating witnesses in a language the people don’t understand. And that is justice? Confusing ‘rubble’ with ‘rebel’ is just one of numerous examples of the breakdown of communication between witnesses and interrogators.

When the enquiry resumes, professional translators must be employed to ensure that witnesses completely understand the questions they are asked; and interrogators completely understand the answers they get. Failure to acknowledge Jamaican as an official language of the enquiry is a grave injustice. Speakers of the language are dismissed as social rubble. And they will rebel.

‘A POLITICAL HACK?’

I think it’s really wicked that Lloyd D’Aguilar has been dismissed from the enquiry. He has done so much work to ensure that the enquiry take place at all. When a lot of us shamefully forgot about the massacre of civilians, D’Aguilar and the Tivoli Committee kept the issue alive.

Sir David Simmons, chairman of the commission, cannot possibly understand why D’Aguilar was so disturbed by what he perceived as harassment of witnesses by insensitive attorneys for the security forces. All Simmons can see is an upstart – who is not even a lawyer – daring to challenge his authority.

It was certainly not polite of D’Aguilar to call Simmons “an enemy of the people of Tivoli Gardens” and “a political hack”. Simmons, naturally, took offence. In his own words: “This strikes at the heart of my statutory duty.” But it is also Simmons’ duty to take into account the possibility that D’Aguilar could ‘purge’ himself, as the JDF attorneys wanted him to do. With castor oil, perhaps? D’Aguilar should be given a chance to prove that his bowels of compassion are not shut up.

WAS DUDUS IN TIVOLI?

images-2The question I’d like the enquiry to ask is this: Who really believed that Dudus was in Tivoli at the start of the incursion? That might seem like a foolish question. Of course Dudus was in Tivoli. Why else would the security forces go there to look for him? But why would Dudus have sat in Tivoli waiting to be captured? And where was he caught? On the Mandela Highway, in a car with the Rev Al Miller, far from Tivoli!

Was the incursion nothing but a B movie, designed to show the US government that we were really trying our best to find Dudus? There are lots of extras in movies. Sometimes, according to the script, these extras get killed. Did the people who said they would die for Dudus expect play-play guns? The tragedy of the Tivoli incursion is that many people lost their lives. Fi real. They weren’t acting. That’s a very high price to pay to find one man who, perhaps, wasn’t even there.

Advertisements

Paying For Emancipation

images-7Britain’s Black Debt is the intriguing title of a provocative book launched to much fanfare earlier this month by the University of the West Indies Press. The Nyahbinghi House drummers and chanters set the tone of the occasion. ‘Black Liberation Day’, ‘Open de Gate Mek We Repatriate’, ‘Four Hundred Million Black Man’ and ‘Every Time We Chant Nyahbinghi I an I Waan Trod Home a Yaad’ were some of the ‘heartical’ chants that heralded the launch.

The book’s author is Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, distinguished Barbadian historian and principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. In Britain’s Black Debt, Beckles tackles the contentious issue of reparations for both the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans in the so-called West Indies. Christopher Columbus lost his way to the ‘East Indies’ and our region is now stuck with a name that perpetuates the great discoverer’s error!

viewer-1The cover of the book brilliantly illustrates its theme. The main image is a 1966 photograph of Queen Elizabeth II with her cousin, George Henry Hubert Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood, on his sugar plantation in Barbados. The property was bought by one of the earl’s relatives in 1780, along with 232 slaves. In the background, at a respectful distance, is a large group of well-dressed, carefully choreographed spectators, mostly white, whose body language suggests decorous delight at finding themselves in the presence of royalty.

TAINTED WEALTH

Beneath the photograph, there’s a row of shackled Africans: three children; three women, each with a baby wrapped on her back; and seven men. Two black overseers with guns are keeping them all in line. The enslaved humans are the literal subtext of the main story about colonial masters and their loyal subjects. Beckles compellingly argues that forced labour in the Caribbean is the foundation of much of the wealth of Britain, including that of the Royal Family.

images-2Beckles pays tribute to Eric Williams’ revolutionary book, Capitalism and Slavery, first published in 1944. There, Beckles argues, Williams “constructed the framework for the reparations case”. Beckles does concede that Williams “stopped short of making an explicit call for reparations”. But, he asserts, the book “still represents the most persuasive articulation of evidence” that “Britain’s magnificent, enviable industrial civilisation emerged from the foul waters of colonial slavery”.

The Earl of Harewood died on July 10, 2011 at the age of 88. His obituary in the London Telegraph substantiates Beckles’ case: “The Lascelles family had made their fortune in the West Indies. An 18th-century ancestor, Edwin Lascelles, had built the magnificent Harewood House in the family estates in the West Riding of Yorkshire”.   Harewood House is not a house. It is a palatial monument to capitalist greed.

images-3

Harewood House

And its owners have no shame about the source of their tainted wealth. The Harewood House website states quite matter-of-factly that, “[b]y 1787, the Lascelles family had interests in 47 plantations and owned thousands of slaves in Barbados and across the West Indies. The Lascelles weren’t unique – most merchants of the period were involved in the slave trade”.  And Harewood House is now a tourist attraction. It costs £14 for adults to tour the ‘house’, including staterooms, and £10 to visit just the grounds and below stairs. Class privilege comes at a price.

LUNATIC PROPOSITION

The most startling fact I learnt at the launch of Britain’s Black Debt is that the British government had wanted emancipated slaves to pay reparations to their former masters for the loss of their service. A lunatic proposition! Where was the money supposed to come from? The Haitian people had been forced to borrow money to pay reparations to France for claiming their freedom. In the case of the British, it was they who were claiming freedom from us. True, rebellious slaves across the British colonies had fought for freedom. But, in effect, Emancipation was designed to free the British government of all legal and moral obligations to the formerly enslaved.

Sir Thomas Buxton

Sir Thomas Buxton

The abolitionist, Sir Thomas Buxton, had urged his fellow parliamentarians to pay reparations to emancipated Africans. But, as Beckles notes, “[T]he British Parliament, densely populated with slaveholders and other beneficiaries of slave investments, did not take Buxton’s suggestion seriously”.   Eventually, the British government decided to pay reparations to slave owners on behalf of the enslaved. But no reparations were to be paid to the primary victims of this demonic crime against humanity.

It’s bad enough that some British MPs still don’t take reparations seriously. But why do most of us, the descendants of enslaved Africans, act as if the idea of reparations is a big joke? Is it because we believe the lie that slavery was good for us, taking us from ‘savagery’ to ‘civilisation’? Have we not read Walter Rodney’s brilliant book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?

AFRICAN RENAISSANCE

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa. A primary mission of the organisation was to end colonial rule on the African continent. On May 26, 2001, the OAU was rebranded as the African Union (AU). May 25 has come to be known as African Liberation Day. It is an occasion to reflect on the protracted struggle of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to reclaim the right to determine our own destiny.

PrintThe theme for the 50th anniversary celebrations is ‘Panfricanism & African Renaissance’. If we are serious about the rebirth of the continent, reparations must be put on the agenda of the AU. And if we are to escape recolonisation by the International Monetary Fund, reparations must be put on the CARICOM agenda.

Reparations is the urgent message Professor Beckles took to Ethiopia last week, where he addressed a conference that was convened ahead of the 21st African Union Summit. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is there. I hope she knows she must speak out on behalf of Rastafari and all those heroic Jamaicans like Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe who have long been fighting for reparative justice.

Alpha Boys’ School Get New Logo

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator, Jamaican Language Unit

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator,
Jamaican Language Unit, UWI

There are two spelling systems 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 phonetic system designed by the linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

ABS-NEW-LOGO-REDBig press conference keep up a Alpha yesterday fi show off di new logo fi di school. A long time now Alpha deh bout.  Inna 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll buy 43 acre a land pon South Camp Road.  An she set up di Alpha Cottage fi look after poor people pikni. Fi di first, she did ongle tek een girl.

Inna 1884, Miss Ripoll decide fi start tek een boy pikni weh a gi trouble.  So dem seh. Plenty time a no di pikni dem a gi trouble.  A trouble tek dem.  Any way, Alpha school tek een di pikni dem an try wid dem fi keep dem outa trouble.

Inna 1890, govament gi permission fi Alpha turn ‘Industrial School’ an gi four shilling an eight pence fi di week fi di pikni dem, one-one. Dem time deh, a twelve pikni inna di school. Di pikni dem learn from book an dem learn fi use dem hand.  All a di pikni dem ha fi learn a trade.  Di school have a print shop, a woodwork shop, a tailor shop an a music shop.

lAn a music build up Alpha name over di year dem! A nuff-nuff big-time musician come outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nuff-nuff more!

SKATALITES

holy-trinity-cathedral-jamaica1Di Alpha band start up inna 1892. Dem deh time, dem dida play drum an fife.  Den inna 1908, di school get some brass instrument from di Roman Catholic bishop. An a deh so dem buss out!  Come on to 1911, di band so good, di boy dem lead di march go a North Street fi bless Holy Trinity Cathedral.

An a so dem a gwaan.  Inna 1953, Alpha put on di first military parade fi honour di Queen coronation.  An dem keep up one big show, “March to Nationhood”, fi celebrate independence inna 1962.  Di Skatalites band form inna1964, an a four a dem come from Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So hear how Alpha get new logo.  By di way, ‘logo’ a di pet name fi ‘logogram’.  Dat deh word mek up outa two Greek word – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos mean word an gram mean enting weh draw or write, all like di letter dem inna di alphabet.  Dat simple mean, logo a di picture fi di word.

Freestylee-500pxMichael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, one top-a-top Jamaican graphic artist, im draw one beautiful picture fi represent Alpha:  one lickle yute a blow im horn.  An yu can see seh di pikni feel im owna strength an know im power di way im a hold di horn.   Michael did put di picture inna di show weh dem did keep a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” weh im did organize wid a next graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, weh come from Greece.  When di head a Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, see Michael poster, she know seh a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha leave an licence fi use fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

images-3Big pres kanfrens kip op a Alpha yeside fi shuo aaf di nyuu luogo fi di skuul. A lang taim nou Alpha a gwaan.  Ina 1880, Mis Jessie Ripoll bai 43 ieka a lan pan South Camp Ruod.  An shi set op di Alpha Cottage fi luk aafta puor piipl pikni. Fi di fos, shi did ongl tek iin gorl.

Ina 1884, Mis Ripoll disaid fi staat tek iin bwai pikni we a gi chrobl.  So dem se. Plenti taim a no di pikni dem a gi chrobl.  A chrobl tek dem.  Eni wie, Alpha skuul tek iin di pikni dem an chrai wid dem fi kip dem outa chrobl.

Ina 1890, govament gi pormishan fi Alpha ton ‘Industrial School’ an gi fuor shilin an iet pens fi di wiik fi di pikni dem, wan-wan. Dem taim de, a twelv pikni ina di skuul. Di pikni dem lorn fram buk an dem lorn fi yuuz dem an.  Aal a di pikni dem a fi lorn a chried.  Di skuul av a print shap, a udwok shap, a tiela shap an a myuuzik shap.

images-4An a myuuzik bil op Alpha niem uova di ier dem! A nof-nof big-taim myuuzishan kum outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nof-nof muor!

Di Alpha ban staat op ina 1892. Dem de taim, dem dida plie jom an faif.  Den ina 1908, di skuul get som braas inschroment fram di Roman Catholic bishop. An a de so dem bos out!  Kom aan tu 1911, di ban so gud, di bwai dem liid di maach go a North Schriit fi bles Holy Trinity Cathedral.

SKATALITES

SkatalitesAn a so dem a gwaan.  Ina 1953, Alpha put aan di fos militeri paried fi ana di Kwiin karanieshan.  An dem kip op wan big shuo, “March to Nationhood”, fi selibriet indipendens ina 1962.  Di Skatalites ban faam ina1964, an a fuor a dem kom fram Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So ier ou Alpha get nyuu luogo.  Bai di wie, ‘logo’ a di pet niem fi ‘logogram’.  Dat de wod mek op outa tuu Griik wod – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos miin wod an gram miin enting we jraa ar rait, aal laik di leta dem ina di alfabet.  Dat simpl miin, logo a di pikcha fi di wod.

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, wan tap-a-tap Jamiekan grafik aatis, im jraa wan byuutiful pikcha fi riprizent Alpha:  wan likl yuut a bluo im aan.  An yu kyahn si se di pikni fiil im uona chrent an nuo im powa di wie im a uol di aan. Michael did put di pikcha ina di shuo we dem did kip a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” we im did aaganaiz wid a neks grafik aatis, Maria Papaefstathiou, we kom fram Griis.  Wen di ed a Alpha, Sista Susan Frazer, si Michael puosta, shi nuo se a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha liiv an laisn fi yuuz fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek djuu!

http://www.reggaepostercontest.com/

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

ABS-NEW-LOGO-FINAL-CRVA big press conference was held at Alpha yesterday to unveil the school’s new logo. Alpha has been around for quite some time how.  In 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll bought 43 acres of land on South Camp Road.  And she set up the Alpha Cottage to care for the children of the poor. At first, she took in only girls.

Then in 1884, Miss Ripoll decided to start taking in boys who were giving trouble.  Well, that’s what was said. Many times it’s not really the children who are giving trouble.  It’s actually a case of trouble finding them.  Anyway, the Alpha school took in the children and worked with them to keep them out of trouble.

In 1890, the government recognised Alpha as an ‘Industrial School’ and gave an allowance of four shillings and eight pence per week for each of the children. In those days, there were twelve pupils in the school. The students got both academic and practical training.  All of them had to learn a trade.  The school had a printery, a joinery workshop, a tailor shop and a music school.

images-6And it’s music which established Alpha’s reputation over the years! A lot of great musicians have come out of Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart and many, many more!

SKATALITES

The Alpha band started in 1892 as a drum and fife corps.  Then in 1908, the school got some brass instruments from the Roman Catholic bishop. And that’s when the band took off!  By 1911, the band was so good, the boys led the procession to North Street to dedicate the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

skatalites-logo-blk-300x264And they just kept on going from strength to strength.  In 1953, Alpha put on the first military parade to mark the coronation of the Queen.  And they mounted a huge show, “March to Nationhood”, to celebrate independence in 1962.  The Skatalites band was formed in1964, and four of them come out of Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling and Don Drummond.

So this is how Alpha got its new logo.  By the way, ‘logo’ is an abbreviation of ‘logogram’, which is made up of two Greek words – ‘logos’ and ‘gram’.  Logos means word and gram means an image, like a letter of the alphabet.  Simply put, a logo is a picture representing a word.

Michael put his picture in the show that was kept at the National Gallery for the “International Reggae Poster Contest”.  He co-organised the contest with another graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, from Greece. http://www.graphicart-news.com/

When the principal of Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, saw Michael’s poster, she knew instantly that that was it.  And that’s how Michael came to give Alpha permission to use his ‘gram’ for their ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson to speak at UWI

Freestylee-500pxMichael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, co-founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest, will speak about his work as a politically engaged graphic artist on Thursday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall lecture theatre (N1) at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Thompson, a Jamaican who now resides in the U.S., is a distinguished graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

In an interview posted on the Jamaica Primetime website, published June 7, 2010, Thompson highlights the cultural and political messages in his poster art:  “My graphic designs, and in particular my posters like the ones on Flickr draw their influences in terms of style from the retro Cuban Revolutionary Poster of the 1960s. The “golden age” as that period is called. The aesthetics and communication are based on the principle that “simple is best” and the message is king. The designs can be placed in the category of modern iconic art with strong political or social messages.

saudi2.jpg.w300h405“These types of activist or socially conscious art are now becoming main stream; made popular by artists like Bansky and Shepherd Fairey whom I admire greatly. My designs are quite varied, depending on the poster type and whether it is political or cultural, regional or international. I tend to lend a voice to issues which I feel passionate about, such as injustice against indigenous people, environmental exploitation and poverty.

“However, I also touch on Jamaica’s rich historical and cultural past. Jamaica’s musical experience is a treasure I just cannot ignore; Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. My style is also deeply rooted in Jamaican popular symbols mostly from the iconic years of the 1970s. I take those images from Jamaica’s urban visuals and turn them into cool posters of our time. Images include hand carts, skates, Honda 50s, s-90 (Honda motorcycle), Rastafarian lion of Judah etc; turning them into hip international visual icons, anything that is retro Jamaican was fair game.

“I try to keep the designs crisp with a minimalist feel yet visually powerful. I always retain a fresh and direct approach to my designs. I illustrate all the elements and just roll with it in a freestyle way. The political side of my art plays a big role in my design collection. They speak on the burning international issues and conflicts. The Israeli attack on Gaza and the wider Israeli Palestinian conflict, the US embargo on Cuba, Healthcare, Police brutality, Exploitation in the Amazon, Freedom, Anti War and Peace, Tibet, and Globalization. I guess I am an internationalist at heart and so is my art”.

Alpha-Boys-SchoolThompson recently designed and generously donated a logo for the Alpha Boys’ School which has nurtered several generations of Jamaican musicians. Sister Susan Frazer, RSM, Director of the school, first saw the illustration of the boy playing the trombone that would become Alpha’s logo at the ‘World A Reggae’ exhibition held at the National Gallery of Jamaica in September 2012. “The moment I saw Michael’s work and the image which is now the Alpha logo I instantly knew it would fit perfectly with our history and our vision for the future at Alpha,” remembers Sister Susan. “The logo has really become not just about branding but a catalyst for collective action across the Alpha community”.

An exhibition of Thompson’s reggae posters is on show at the UWI Museum. These posters were used in the design of the Global Reggae book, edited by Carolyn Cooper.  Maria Papaefstathiou, a Greek graphic artist who co-founded the International Reggae Poster Contest, designed the elegant book:

http://www.behance.net/gallery/Global-Reggae-Book/7627493

Dr. Suzanne Francis-Brown, curator of the museum, says Thompson’s exhibition has attracted a lot of positive attention, both for the vibrant graphics and for the reggae music content. Visitors have been intrigued by his visualisation of the music from its early days through to its global incarnations. The exhibition remains up through the month of April, in tandem with an exhibition on the Origins of the University of the West Indies.

michael-thompson-freestylee-i-am-tivoliThe UWI Museum is located on the ground floor of the University’s Regional Headquarters on the Hermitage Road, across from the main entrance to the Mona Campus.  Opening hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  On the 18th of April, the Museum will remain open until 6:30 p.m. to facilitate visitors on their way to Thompson’s talk.  He will speak on the subject, “Freestylee:  Artist Without Borders”.  The public is invited to attend and admission is free.

Israeli Artist Wins First International Reggae Poster Contest

For the first time in its almost 40-year history, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is hosting an exhibition of poster art.  It opens this morning at 11:00 o’clock and showcases the top 100 entries from the First International Reggae Poster Contest. Six hundred and seventy-eight designers from 80 countries submitted 1,142 posters! The lyrics of the Hotstepper, Ini Kamoze, are the inspiration for the title of the exhibition: ‘World-a-reggae’.

‘Freestylee’ poster

The contest was co-founded by Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, a  Jamaican digital poster artist, and Maria Papaefstathiou, a German-born  graphic designer and art director who now lives in Greece.

Michael defines himself as an ‘artist without borders’.  This is not just because he was born in Jamaica, lives in the U.S. and traverses the globe on the digital highway.

Thompson’s conception of his ‘freestylee’ art as borderless also signifies his refusal to get caught in narrow definitions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture or ‘pure’ and ‘commercial’ art. And his work is ‘outer/national’.  It’s rooted in Jamaican culture and, at the same time, incisively engages with the whole world of international politics.

Maria’s brilliant blog, <www.graphicartnews.com>, documents what she calls her ‘twin passions’:  graphic arts and photography.  She describes her blog in this way:   “It is a blog for graphic designers and photographers, focusing on high quality designs and art photography. The ultimate desire is to constantly inspire people and expand their work all over the world.”

Maria’s ironic design

Partisan ‘Politricks’

Like Maria, Thompson is a politically committed artist whose sophisticated posters lucidly articulate the breadth and depth of his insights.  In an interview posted on the House of Reggae website, he talks about how he started to do poster art.  His story is a graphic indictment of partisan ‘politricks’ in Jamaica.

“My poster art goes back to the late 1970s in Jamaica. My first protest poster was about an incident in Jamaica called the Green Bay Massacre. An incident that took place on January 5, 1978 in which seven youths from the South Side ghetto in Kingston were lured to the Green Bay military firing range in Hellshire, St. Catherine and were executed by JDF (Jamaica Defense Force) Soldiers. This incident was shocking when the truth came out and I had to use my art to protest the massacre by the Jamaican State.

“Some Reggae artist[s] at the time also recorded protest tunes about the incident, songs like ‘Green Bay Killing’ by Big Youth and producer Glen Brown. Incidentally one of the youths who was killed in the massacre was a young Reggae singer name Glenroy Richards who ironically recorded the chune ‘Wicked Can’t Run Away,’ on Glen Brown’s ‘Youthman’ riddim. This chune was later renamed ‘Green Bay Killing’, this was a wicked dancehall anthem and a haunting tribute to those who suffer injustice at the hands of the ‘wicked men’”.

Reggae Hall of Fame

Thompson conceived the International Reggae Poster Contest as a first step towards the construction of a Reggae Hall of Fame Pavillion and performing arts centre in downtown Kingston.  Thompson’s grand vision encompasses not just the intellectual capital of reggae culture but also the symbolic architecture of the building that would house the enterprise.

Biomuseo, Panama City

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson is talking Frank Gehry:  architect of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; the Experience Music Project, Seattle; The Vitra Design Museum, Germany; the Novartis campus, Switzerland.   A magnificent BioMuseo has been designed for Panama but it’s still under construction.

So why not Kingston, Jamaica?  I can just see it.  On Kingston Harbour, the 7th largest natural harbour in the world, with the majestic Blue Mountains as a spectacular backdrop, an organic mass of crumpled steel rises to affirm the indomitable spirit of the Jamaican people.  Well, that’s before the IMF ‘done wid wi.’  Greece and Spain, here we come.

Yes, ‘wi ha fi tek bad tings mek joke’.  But fun and joke aside, doesn’t reggae music deserve a hall of fame worthy of the global reach of Jamaican popular culture?  Who would have thought that out of Kingston’s concrete jungle would have come a ‘riddim’ of resistance that now reverberates across the world?  Reggae music and its wild child, dancehall, symbolize the unlimited potential of the creative industries that enable hard-working, talented people to make ‘nuff’ money out of brainpower.

Jamaica Music Museum

Thompson’s dream of a Frank Gehry-designed Reggae Hall of Fame does not at all diminish the value of the pioneering Jamaica Music Museum, now temporarily located on Water Lane.  ‘Yu ha fi creep before yu walk an den bolt like Usain’.  Mr. Herbert Miller, Director/Curator of the fledgling museum, is doing the best he can in the cramped quarters he’s been assigned by the Institute of Jamaica.

The Museum’s current exhibition, “Equal Rights:  Reggae and Social Change”, uses mostly record album covers, along with sound clips, music samples and poster boards to document social history.   It resonates with the National Gallery’s ‘World-a-reggae’.  Both exhibitions focus on visual sound.  The powerful word and sound of music are transformed into the equally powerful image and ‘zeen’ of graphic art design.

All the same, can you imagine what a Gehry building would do for downtown Kingston? And for the Jamaican economy?  Without a penny in my pocket for the project, I contacted the Frank Gehry practice and was taken quite seriously when I asked if the firm might be willing to consider designing the Reggae Hall of Fame.  What is needed is a formal proposal and a commitment from ‘whole heap’ of people all over the world who love reggae music to come up with the ‘dunny’.  It shouldn’t be hard to do if the overwhelming response to the First International Reggae Poster Contest is anything to go by.

Alon Braier, winner of the contest, is a freelance illustrator and reggae musician living in Jaffa, Israel. His brilliant poster, “Roots of Dub”, features King Tubby, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Augustus Pablo. Alon uses the image of the recurring circle to represent dub echoes. He got it completely right.  I knew he had to come to Jamaica for the opening of the exhibition.  I called my sparring partner, Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica.  He immediately caught the vision of cross-cultural exchange.  With the support of the Israeli government, ‘di yute deh yah’ in the Promised Land of reggae.

The Colour of Money in Multiracial Jamaica

On a flight from Miami several years ago, I sat next to a little girl who seemed to about 10 or so years of age.  She was looking through a magazine and came across a picture of three little girls – black, white and brown.  I mischievously asked her, “Which one of them looks like you?”  She picked the black child.

I then asked her, “Which one do you look like?”  And, believe it or not, she chose the brown child.  Mi nearly dead.  I wondered if she had misunderstood.  After all, it was a kind of trick question I was asking her about racial identity.  But no, she did understand.  As far as she was concerned, the black girl looked like her but she did not look like the black girl.  And, in a funny way, it made perfectly good sense.  It’s OK for the black girl to look like her; but not for her to look like the black girl.

  So who is responsible for this crazy conundrum?  Was this just an exceptional case of a little child confused by the fool-fool questions of a nosy adult? Or were the little girl’s curious answers a sign of our collective paranoia about race in Jamaica?  How does our national motto complexify the problem, as the Americans say?  Oh, yes!  If you can simplify, it’s perfectly logical to complexify.

Skewed against blackness

In 1969, a two-dollar bill was issued when Jamaica changed from sterling currency.  Two Jamaican dollars then had real value, worthy of the paper on which the note was printed.  These days, two dala kyaan buy notn.  The bill is no longer in circulation.  It’s been replaced by practically worthless coins.

On the back of the two-dollar bank note, there was a now-famous photograph of 11 children who were supposed to illustrate the national motto.  These same children, frozen in time, have reappeared to grace the back of the 2012 commemorative bank notes.  Of course, I have nothing against these innocent children, now hard-back adults.  What fascinates me is the racial ideology of the times that resulted in a distorted representation of the face of Jamaica. Regrettably, that legacy lives on.

The obvious problem with that lingering ‘Out of Many, One People’ photograph is that it’s skewed against blackness.  If you were to stage a photograph today that accurately represents the distribution of the races in Jamaica, you would have to have at least one hundred children in the sample. That’s the only way you could get a whole Chinese, Indian and white child in the frame. You would end up with 90 black children, 7 mixed-race, 1 Chinese, 1 Indian and 1 white.  Quite a different picture!

Randomly selected?

A Flair Magazine article published on August 7, 2000 tells the story of the snapshot of the ‘two-dollar’ children:  “Eleven boys and girls from Central Branch Primary on Slipe Pen Road, were randomly selected for the picture.

Of the eleven, four are Blacks, one Chinese and one of Chinese and Black mixture. Three are Indians or of Indian and Black ancestry and two appear to be White or Syrian in descent”.

Randomly selected?  Hardly likely.  Jamaica is not Trinidad and Tobago.  I would bet my last dollar that a random selection of students at the Central Branch Primary School, even in 1961 when the photo was taken, would look quite different from this colour-coordinated cluster.  They would be much more uniformly black, as in the photograph of the children on the huge commemorative banner now outside the gates of Jamaica House.

The anonymous author of the Flair article does disclose that the students were not randomly selected after all: “Former principal of the school, Mrs. Elorine Walker said that when she got the request for the students, she had no idea what the picture would be used for, but had hand-picked a few students for the occasion”.

Passing for Black

Hand-picking continues today in our advertising industry.  But it really doesn’t bother me too much if private-sector firms handpick exclusively ‘Out of Many, One’ models to advertise their products and services.  All that means is that they don’t expect me to patronise them.  But when public-sector entities discriminate against black people in their advertising, that’s a whole other business.

Almost 17 years ago, I wrote a column on Air Jamaica’s infamous ‘Out of Many, One People’ billboard which featured a grouping of eight children who looked even less representative than those on the two-dollar note. My immediate reaction was, ‘But them don’t have any black children in this picture!’  I called Air Jamaica’s public-relations department and got the name of the agency that had developed the ad.

I was invited to have a look at the artwork that had been sent to the manufacturer of the billboard.  To be fair, two of the eight children could pass for black.  Just barely.  But by the time the image got transferred to the billboard format, the melanin had been bleached out of them.  All eight children had blended into out-of-oneness.  And the problem was much bigger than Air Jamaica.

The original photograph had come from the Jamaica Tourist Board.  Whose conception of Jamaican identity resulted in the decision to market our country in this colour-coded way?  Why are we still rubbing out black people from the big picture?  Or, at best, downplaying blackness?  Which Jamaica are we selling?  And who to?

No wonder that little girl sitting next to me on the flight from Miami couldn’t see herself as black. Her self-concept was quite high in Jamaican terms, however delusional.  She had already learned that being brown was better than being black. And our advertising industry keeps on reinforcing that point. If we’re not careful, black identity in Jamaica will go the way of the two-dollar bill.

Men Who Sing While Women Take Charge

I try to keep reminding myself that Robert Mugabe was once a towering figure in the epic anti-colonial wars on the African continent.  These days, it’s so easy to dismiss him as a very senior citizen who really ought to withdraw from public life.  Mark you I’m not saying Mugabe is senile.  But we shouldn’t ‘nyam up’ ourselves so much over his provocative generalisations about gender politics in Jamaica.  After all, Mugabe today is not his finest self.

In the 1920s when Robert Mugabe was growing up in what was then Southern Rhodesia, he was destined to become an obedient Catholic.  His parents raised him in the faith and he attended Kutama College, an all-boys high school run by Jesuit priests.  But Mugabe did not take refuge in religion. He became a man of the world.

Kwame Nkrumah

After graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, he became a lecturer at a Teacher Training College in Zambia. Mugabe then went to teach in Ghana where the pPortian-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was prime minister.

Fired up by the radicalism of the times, Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 and became a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP).  Led by Joshua Nkomo, the NDP was later rebranded as the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

Mugabe and Nkomo

In 1963 a rival liberation movement emerged: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).  Mugabe joined ZANU and was arrested in 1964 and detained indefinitely when both parties were banned by Prime Minister Ian Smith’s white racist regime.  While in prison, Mugabe took several correspondence courses, earning more degrees from London University. In 1974, shortly before he was released, he was elected as leader of ZANU.  By 1980, Mugabe was prime minister of the new nation Zimbabwe.

Mugabe sings a different tune

As is now well known, Bob Marley was invited to chant down Babylon at the independence celebrations.  His song Zimbabwe had inspired freedom fighters. I suppose Mugabe had no problems then with men who sing for a living.

Natty Dread it inna Zimbabwe

Set it up in Zimbabwe

Mash it up-a inna Zimbabwe

Africans a liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah.

No more internal power struggle;

We come together to overcome the little trouble.

Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary,

‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.

Three decades later, contrary Mugabe is singing a quite different tune.  His irrational attack on Jamaican men who supposedly sing, smoke and drink themselves into unconsciousness seems completely childish.  And the charge can be easily dismissed.  It’s simply not true.  The vast majority of Jamaican men are not dysfunctional.

Yes, Bob Marley did sing and he smoked a considerable amount of ganja in his time, but the holy herb does not appear to have harmed him.  In fact, many artists claim that herb heightens their awareness and creativity, making them ‘sight’ wisdom that they might not ordinarily ‘vision’.  True, some people’s head cannot manage ganja and they go off the deep end.   In exactly the same way, some people’s head cannot manage alcohol – a legal drug – and they also lose their way.

Cooking books

Quite frankly, what is even more troubling is Mugabe’s attack on Jamaican women.  It’s the same old sankey.  High-achieving women are to be blamed for the failures of men.  We constantly conspire to make young women feel that their success is at the price of their male peers.  We do not focus on the many ways in which our school system consistently fails to address the learning styles of boys.

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Robert Mugabe is the product of a fiercely patriarchal culture in which women still struggle to be educated.  One of the novels I’m teaching this semester is set in Zimbabwe.  It’s Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Incidentally, I didn’t have to resort to sexy advertising to sell the African/Diaspora Women Writers course this year. It filled from the get go:  residual benefits of my marketing strategy.

Tambu, the central character in Nervous Conditions, is discouraged from going to school by her father.  He asks her a most vexing question:  “‘Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?  Stay at home with your mother.  Learn to cook and clean.  Grow vegetables.’”  With the reluctant support of her mother, Tambu plants maize in order to earn her school fees.

She describes her mother’s ambivalence in this way:  “I think my mother admired my tenacity, and also felt sorry for me because of it.  She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it.  To prepare me she began to discourage me. “‘And do you think you are so different, so much better than the rest of us?  Accept your lot and enjoy what you can of it’”.

Portia Simpson Miller

When Robert Mugabe looks at Jamaica what he sees is a woman who has taken charge as prime minister.  Portia Simpson Miller is a tenacious woman, like Tambu, who refused to accept her lot in life as a poor black girl destined for domestic service.  Cooking is a vital job, not to be dissed.  But men can cook just as well as women if they put their mind to it.  Just think of all those male chefs who have made a very good living from cooking up a storm.  Their meals are a great pleasure – just like a fine song.  Put that in your pipe, Mr. Mugabe, and smoke it!