Who Is Regulating the OUR?

The director general of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Ansord Hewitt, responded quite quickly to the four questions I emailed him about consumer protection in the telecoms sector. His email went to spam, so I didn’t see it until after I’d written last week’s column, ‘FLOW giveth and FLOW taketh away’.

It’s just as well. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the OUR adequately then. It needed a whole column. So here’s my first question: Can dissatisfied FLOW customers file a class-action suit against Liberty Global? The response:

“The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) is not in a position to answer that question definitively, although, to be perfectly candid, we are reluctant to offer specific legal advice on what recourse is available through the courts, as much depends on the nature of the claim and the remedy sought. That said, however, we are not aware that a class-action suit is a recourse that is available in this jurisdiction.”

mumbo+jumbo2

That’s typical bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo; or sound legal advice. Take your pick! I say mumbo-jumbo. I wasn’t asking for a definitive answer or specific legal advice – just general guidelines. And, surely, the OUR should be ‘aware’ of whether or not a class-action suit can be filed in Jamaica.

My second question: If so, how? The response: “See response to question 1.” My third question was: Are there any laws that protect consumers against utility companies that fail to deliver the services for which they are paid? I got a very lengthy five-part response, covering all utilities. I can’t quote it in full.

Here’s the section that’s most relevant: “As regards the ICT sector for which the OUR’s remit is limited to voice telephony and data services, there are no existing guaranteed standards.” Really? We would never have guessed. The director general elaborates:

“The assumption after liberalisation was that given the robust competition that existed within the sector, most consumer’s issues [sic] would have been addressed via the competitive response. The indication, however, is that this has not been the experience of most customers and so there is need for further measures.”

A DISGUISED MONOPOLY?

Six-of-One-Half-a-Dozen-of-Another

The director general of the OUR is absolutely right. Consumer issues have not been solved by competition. Perhaps FLOW and Digicel aren’t really competitors. Could it be that they are actually a disguised monopoly? Six of one and half a dozen of the other! Or, to use a local idiom, both FLOW and Digicel giving us a six for a nine!

Mr Hewitt does promise a solution. I hope it’s not the proverbial comfort to a fool: “Consequently, the OUR, even while intervening on a case-by-case or situation-by-situation basis to address ICT customer concerns, is pursuing a number of initiatives to provide consumers with better options for redress. These are detailed as part of the response to question 4 below.”

My final question: If not, what is being done to put such laws in place? I got another five-part answer. Again, I cannot quote it in full. In essence, Mr Hewitt confirms that the OUR has actually proposed rules to guide the sector. But guess what?

“Drafting instructions for these rules have been passed to the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET) for submission to the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel who will convert them into regulations. Once these are promulgated, they will have the force of law and can be enforced by the OUR.”

The final version of the drafting instructions was submitted by the OUR only last month. Why has it taken so long for the regulatory process to get to this stage? Who is benefiting from the present state of affairs? Certainly not the consumer!

TELECOMS PIRATES

a-raja-pirate1Why have successive governments failed to pass appropriate legislation to protect us from the telecoms pirates? We cannot allow ourselves to be constantly raped by ‘service’ providers whose only intention is to hold down an tek weh. On Tuesday, I got an email with a link to a letter in the Barbados Nation, headlined ‘Paying for service I do not receive’. It was a familiar complaint against FLOW:

“I fully understand that I am one of thousands of Barbadians who complain daily about the services provided to them by FLOW. … I suspect, though, that this letter will not move FLOW to improve its services to their customers.”

I immediately emailed CARICOM’s Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) to ask what is being done about the long-standing problems with FLOW across the entire region. I got an earnest response from a spokesperson of the CTU, which included the following:

“The CTU would encourage regulators across the region to be more vigilant and firm in enforcing the provisions of the licence under which service providers operate. This is particularly so with the recent consolidation that is taking place since the liberalisation of the sector in the mid-1990s. Their emphasis must be heavily weighted in the consumer’s interest. They must ensure that the consumer is getting a fair deal at affordable cost.”

This was not reassuring. Encouragement is not enough. Regulatory bodies cannot function efficiently without the necessary legislation. When Liberty Global, the owners of FLOW, demands more money for its services, what is the Jamaican Government going to do? Raise taxes? Don’t get me started on that!

FLOW Giveth and FLOW Taketh Away

Blessed be the name of FLOW? Hell, no! FLOW isn’t giving the Jamaican consumer a damn thing. We are paying premium rates for a less-than-premium product. And something has got to be done about it. Last Wednesday, I’d had enough of FLOW’s bite-and-blow customer disservice.

I called the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to find out how dissatisfied customers could file a class-action suit against Liberty Global. Many of us don’t seem to know that it was Cable & Wireless that bought FLOW, not the other way around. I suppose some sensible executive realised that FLOW was a better brand than sour LIME and retained that name.

Liberty-Horizon-logo

And Liberty Global bought Cable & Wireless. A Gleaner article published on Friday, March 31 reports that, “Large cable operator Liberty Global, the owner of FLOW, wants its regional businesses to generate more cash, and has set them a target of US$1.5 billion.” We had better watch out. Liberty come from carelessness. We might soon be paying far more for even less.

MY FAIRY GODMOTHER

Both the general counsel and the director general of the OUR were in a meeting. I left my old LIME number, which is now working. Believe it or not, bright and early Sunday morning, I got a call from FLOW. It was my fairy godmother who said that a technician would be coming to fix my phone later that day.

I suppose I should have been happy that, after a month or so, the service was going to be restored. Instead, I was outraged. It seemed as if I was being given preferential treatment because of my column published that same day, ‘FLOW’s stagnant channels’.

I asked about all those other customers who are being exploited by FLOW. When are they going to get back service? And I referred to a tweet in response to the column: “All across Jamaica, sounds of ‘um huh’, in agreement with @karokupa.” The technician did come and left this note: “I found the problem on the pole and repaired same. Please call me if you have any queries. Thanks for your continued faith in us.”

faith-road-sign-with-dramatic-clouds-and-sky

Faith in FLOW? What’s faith got to do with it? FLOW is not a church. And many churches place a much higher premium on customer satisfaction than FLOW. They ensure direct access to God, who answers prayers.

According to the New Testament, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It seems as if it’s FLOW that has faith in us. The company seems to be hoping that in the absence of evidence that it is actually giving us what we pay for, we will stick with it until the end of time.

SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT

On Tuesday, my fairy godmother sent another technician to restore the channels that were temporarily off the air. The first question I asked was if the van was leaking oil. He said no. By the time he finished fixing the channels, there were patches of oil in the driveway. About a one-foot square! And talking of square, I must correct an error in last week’s column. I omitted ‘square’ in my summary of Einstein’s famous equation.

My ‘faith’ in FLOW didn’t last long. By Wednesday, there was a new problem. I had paid for a package on my old FLOW line that allowed me to make flat-rate land and cell calls to the US. When I tried to make a call, I got this message, “International calls are not permitted from this number.”

So now my options for making calls to the US were to pay extra from either my old LIME phone or my cell phone. How could this possibly be acceptable? After mi cuss two bad word, I called my fairy godmother. She promised to investigate the matter. Service was restored by Friday. Why should I need a fairy godmother?

That’s how I ended up calling the OUR. The director general returned my call and I followed up with an email in which I asked four questions: Can dissatisfied FLOW customers file a class-action suit against Liberty Global? If so, how? Are there any laws that protect consumers against utility companies that fail to deliver the services for which they are paid? If not, what is being done to put such laws in place? I haven’t got any answers as yet.

Then, I discovered that the following notice from FLOW does not tell the whole story: “Due to broadcast restrictions, we are unable to air the current programme on this channel. Please check your local listing to determine the availability of this programme on another channel.” You can certainly get programmes like ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ and ‘Modern Family’ on another channel. But definitely not on FLOW! Digicel bought the rights. Right under FLOW’s nose!

feet-wrapped-together-in-bed

By the way, Digicel is purchasing its off-island capacity to provide Internet service from FLOW. Since the companies are wrapped up in bed, you would think they could be generous enough to include all their customers in the happy union. And allow us access to all programmes! But, no! It’s all about competition. And the biggest loser is the customer. It seems as if the OUR needs to set up a Special Victims Unit to protect us from both Digicel and FLOW.

FLOW + LIME = Minus Zero

Robocall-02On Christmas morning, a telephone call woke me up at 5 a.m. It was FLOW reminding me that payment of my monthly bill was overdue. It must have been a robocall from a very badly programmed robot. No self-respecting human being would call anyone that early on Christmas morning to run down money. Mi just kiss mi teeth and go back to sleep.

This kind of insensitivity is typical of the new FLOW or the old LIME. As people out a road say, all FLOW means is ‘Following LIME’s Old Ways’. And LIME was well sour. So the marriage of LIME and FLOW is nothing but double trouble.

Proverbial wisdom warns that ‘marriage have teeth’. I like to add, “and bite hot”. But I know there’s another side to this seemingly cynical piece of advice. Cleverly used teeth can give lots of pleasure, not pain. It’s all about technique. A cold, hard bite or an edgy, hot caress!

HIGHWAY ROBBERY

In the case of the marriage of LIME and FLOW is pure hot and painful biting for customers. I suppose the merger was a win-win deal for the two companies. Dem must know why dem married. Love of money. But I’m really not concerned about the effect of the marriage on the primary partners. Dem can nyam up demself for all I care.

All the same, to think that Cable & Wireless started off as a monopoly, gouging out the eyes of defenceless consumers. And now it has lost even its name to a former competitor! It just goes to show. I can still remember the days when we used to have to beg and beg and beg Cable & Wireless to get a landline. We had to plead for the privilege of paying for the service. It sometimes took years to get a phone.

WhatGoesAround_MarkWard_1000_1_1000And as for mobile phones! Remember when we actually had to pay to receive a call? Both the sender and the receiver got jacked up. It was highway robbery pure and simple. Now, free phone call giving away left, right and centre. Serves Cable & Wireless right! What goes around comes around.

But mi no business wid fi dem business to dat. The real victims of the marriage of LIME and FLOW are the innocent customers of both companies who had no say at all in the transaction. We are the ones who’ve been bitten. Twice. And it’s no honeymoon. We’re stuck with whatever the new FLOW dishes out.

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

imagesLast Wednesday, I spent almost an hour trying to get information about purchasing an iPhone 6S. According to the FLOW website, the company was offering phones “starting at $7,249.58+GCT with sign-up of select postpaid plans”. This seemed too good to be true. My ancient iPhone 4, a gift from LIME, cost 10 times that. The price of nothing goes down in Jamaica. So I wondered if the postpaid plans cost an arm and a leg.

The FLOW website lists 16 stores where the phone can be bought. But not one single phone number. How strange! A telecommunications company that refuses to communicate with customers by phone! So I went to the online Yellow Pages.

There were numbers for the corporate offices and for the customer care centre. Don’t get me started on ‘customer care’. The system takes you through a long list of automated questions until, finally, after waiting and waiting and waiting you actually get the chance to talk to an agent.

TOTAL FRUSTRATION

On the Yellow Pages site, I did find telephone numbers for some FLOW stores. The single page of numbers is headed ‘FLOW DEALER LOCATIONS cont’d’. Continued from where? Nothing comes before the continuation. Does nobody at FLOW realise that the Yellow Pages listing is messed up?

imagesUnfortunately for me, the ‘continued’ list of five Kingston stores did not include a single location that sold the iPhone 6S. In total frustration, I decided to call the corporate offices to complain. The operator said she couldn’t put me through to the CEO’s office. I bit my tongue. I called back a little later and was permitted to leave my name and number.

I did get a voicemail message from the CEO’s office, but when I returned the call, the person who had called me was not in office. So I called back Thursday morning. I had no luck getting through. I just gave up. Buying a phone shouldn’t be so much trouble.

BAIT AND SWITCH

The only alternative to the new FLOW is, of course, Digicel. Salesmen from the company were in my neighbourhood recently trying to persuade me to switch. They were offering lower rates than FLOW for three months. Quite frankly, I was sceptical. This sounded like swopping white dog for monkey! Digicel’s rates would probably increase way past FLOW’s soon after I took the bait and switched.

Then Digicel is purchasing its off-island capacity to provide Internet service from FLOW! So FLOW and Digicel are not competitors. They’re sweethearts. We’re getting screwed in the polygamous marriage between LIME, FLOW and Digicel. Jamaican consumers deserve much better than to be bitten by all of those teeth.

LIME In A Very Sour Pickle

Tony Rebel

BEFORE LISTENING to the lyrics of Potential Kidd’s song Yah So Nice, I assumed from the title that ‘yah’ meant Jamaica. I figured that the song was an echo of Tony Rebel’s big tune, Sweet Jamaica:

Help mi big up Jamaica

The land of wood and water

The system might no proper

But wi love the vibes, the food and the culture.

Woh, can’t you see

The beauty of this country?

Mi never know, a serious thing

Until mi reach a foreign.

Seh wat a nice place fi live

Sweet Jamdown

Di only problem is dollars nah run.

As it turns out, Potential Kidd’s ‘yah’ is located in another territory. It’s a land of wood and moist valleys and it lies at the intersection of a woman’s legs. Yah So Nice is actually all about sexual intercourse, particularly the DJ’s fixation on female genitalia. This is not a surprising theme in dancehall lyrics. But there are a few unusual images. Potential Kidd compares his sexual encounter to religious conversion: “A yah so nice, mi tink a God a save me”.

Especially on Easter Sunday, some saintly souls will surely consider those lines sacrilegious. But ecstasy, whether religious or sexual, is at core a form of rapture – being carried away out of the body. In fact, the English word rapture comes from the Latin raptura meaning ‘seizure, rape, kidnapping’. In English, the connotations of the word are not at all rapacious.

Potential Kidd seems to be caught in a state of perpetual amazement. Apparently, the inexperienced DJ is not accustomed to having intercourse – whether verbal or sexual – with women who are both physically attractive and literate:

Baby skin clean a dat amaze me

Wat a girl body right

A dat amaze me

She can read and write

A dat amaze me

Clean and dirty versions

Out of the blue come the truly amazing lyrics that have put LIME in a pickle for promoting ‘Yah So Nice’: “Before mi turn a b—-y man/Mi prefer turn a raper”. Did no one at LIME listen to these lyrics before selecting Potential Kidd and ‘Yah So Nice’ for an advertising campaign targeting high-school students? It is true that these offensive lines are edited out of the ‘clean’ version. But since the ‘dirty’ version is easily accessible on the Internet, the distinction between the two is purely academic.

To be fair to Potential Kidd, his statement shouldn’t be taken out of context as a straightforward promotion of rape. It is a hypothetical situation he imagines in which rape is conceived as the lesser of two evils. Socialised in Jamaica, he has been brought up to believe that homosexuality is the worst possible fate that could befall him. Even worse than becoming a ‘raper’. And we all know where that fear of homosexuality comes from: straight from the Old Testament. Potential Kidd’s choice of the word ‘turn’ suggests another kind of conversion, definitely not salvation by God. This ‘turn’ seems to be the possibility that a heterosexual man could be forced to take a turn to homosexuality in rapacious circumstances beyond his control.

Backward rape law

At a time when the rape of women and girls is such a grievous issue in Jamaica, Potential Kidd’s lyrics cannot be taken lightly. Any suggestion that rape is an option must be condemned. But we cannot forget that men are also potential victims. The World Health Organisation defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object”.

Not surprisingly, Jamaican law does not acknowledge this all-inclusive definition of rape. Our rather backward position is that rape is frontal abuse. The Joint Select Committee that was established to consider amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act decided that the definition of rape should not be changed.

This is how the chairman of the committee, A. J. Nicholson, put it in an RJR report on February 14, 2007, posted on the UNIFEM website: “Leave rape as it is, leave it as is. Man and woman and only in a certain way. The penalty or penalties for the other offences are all going to be severe, so it wouldn’t matter of (sic) you call it fish and chips or bread and butter, whatever name you give to it”.  A.J. Nicholson’s use of innocuous food imagery to describe grave offences against the person is just as surprising as Potential Kidd’s disturbing language of rape.

Stuck with another monopoly

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Cable and Wireless enjoyed a monopoly in the Jamaican telecommunications market. The company didn’t need to resort to dancehall culture to sell its products. Potential customers were forced to beg and beseech to get telephone service. Then came the brave new world of cellphones. That market was also monopolised by Cable and Wireless. Customers had to pay an arm and a leg for cellphone service. Finally, the monopoly was broken with the arrival of Digicel.  

Cable and Wireless, now rebranded as LIME, is holding on to less and less market share. And so, the company is desperately grabbing on to any wire to save itself. It tried to hitch on to Mr Clifton Brown’s fleeting notoriety, but still ‘canna cross it’. And now Potential Kidd’s lyrics have turned out to be not so nice.

LIME’s best dancehall bet is Damian Marley, the company’s newest ambassador. The only potential issue with ‘Junior Gong’ is a chronic Rastafari preoccupation: in the words of his father, ‘Got to have kaya now’. That’s a small price to pay in the telecommunications war. And LIME really does need to win back some of the market. Or we’ll be stuck with another monopoly. And we’ll be right back to where we started: ‘hold down an tek weh’.

Paying Tribute To Trench Town

Two Saturdays ago, Jamaicans of all social classes converged in west Kingston for the 12th staging of the Bob Marley Tribute Concert, ‘Trench Town Rock’. It was the largest crowd ever. With an entrance fee of $300, the concert was clearly designed to be inclusive. Bad as things may be for so many people in Jamaica right now, JEEP or no JEEP, most could probably afford to come to the show. No need to jump the fence.

The Trench Town concert, sponsored by LIME, was the first of two in honour of Bob Marley that were supported by our warring telecommunications companies. Digicel’s free concert was held in Emancipation Park the next day. In a clash worthy of Sting, LIME and Digicel waged a noisy battle for dominance using popular music as the weapon of choice. The clear winner of the concerted war was certainly the audience, which was very well entertained at little or no cost.

Trench Town police station

The police locked down the lengthy Trench Town tribute at about 4 a.m. I asked the senior officer on duty if anyone had complained about noise and wondered why he couldn’t have exercised discretion and allowed the show to go on. He admitted that nobody had made a complaint. It was a matter of principle. The cut-off time on the permit was 2 a.m., and he had given almost two hours’ grace. I could see his point. The organisers ought to have known that with the large number of ‘and many more’ performers on the show, they couldn’t possibly have ended at the approved hour.

Coming around like tourists

Still for all, given the extraordinary nature of the celebratory event, common sense ought to have prevailed over principle. The Bob Marley Tribute concert pays respect not only to the singer, but also to Trench Town. It brings into the legendary community visitors who would ordinarily steer clear of what they see as a dangerous place.

Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley mocks these outsiders in Welcome to Jamrock:

Dem only come around like tourist

On the beach with a few club sodas

Bedtime stories, and pose

Like dem name Chuck Norris

And don’t know the real hard core

The ‘tourist’/’Norris’ rhyme underscores the DJ’s disdain for tourists of all stripes – whether domestic or international – who claim to know the real hard core. Instead, they betray their ignorance. They are just posing, playing a role in a television drama. Living in a world of bedtime stories, they assume that they can always retreat to the security of their ‘safe’ homes.

Residents of Trench Town have no such illusions. They know intimately the prison of alienation in which they are forced to live. As Bob Marley puts it in Trench Town:

Up a cane river to wash my dread?

Upon a rock I rest my head?

There I vision through the seas of oppression?

Don’t make my  life a prison

Desolate places

An unidentified victim of the 2010 Trench Town massacre; photo The Guardian

The visionary Bob Marley ‘sighted’ the power of music to free the people from imprisoning stereotypes: “They feel so strong to say we’re weak.” But Marley is definitely ambivalent. He knows all too well the very real economic and political power that ‘they’ wield with great authority. So he turns his statement into a question: “Can we free the people with music?”

Salome with the head of John the Baptist, Caravaggio painting

Drawing on his knowledge of the Bible, Marley does not give in to despair. He declares: “In desolate places we’ll find our bread.” This is a reference to the story of the retreat of Jesus after he learns about the beheading of John the Baptist. It is told in Matthew 14, verse 13, English Standard Version: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the town.”

And this is how the bread comes into the story: “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’

Patriarchal mathematics

Eurocentric image of Jesus and his followers

“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up 12 baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

In the patriarchal mathematics of biblical times, only men count. If each man came with his wife and two children, the number of people fed would rise to a whopping 20,000. Add a concubine or two and that’s at least another 5,000: a grand total of 25,000, by my irreverent calculation. And there were even leftovers!

If only Sista P could look up to heaven, say a blessing and break bread that magically multiplies to satisfy the hungry crowds! She wouldn’t even need to fix the JEEP. Of course, the real miracle would be turning “another page in history”, as Marley says, and emancipating ourselves from slavish dependence on politicians to feed us.

The reggae industry, with its roots in Kingston’s concrete jungle, has unquestionably demonstrated that creativity can both free and feed the people. Cynics ask, “Can anything good come out of Trench Town?” Paying tribute to his adopted yard, Bob Marley responds with a liberating “yes!” that resonates across the globe.

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.