yes woman yes cry

 

Once, in a game we were playing, something terrible happened. A man had recently killed his girlfriend and a man who was his best friend when he found them drinking together in a bar.  Their blood splattered all over him. The cutlass he had used to kill them in hand, he walked the mile or so to the police station with the other customers of the bar and some people they picked up along the way. The murder of these two people immediately became a big scandal, and the most popular calypso song that year was all about it.  […] Everybody wondered if he would be hanged, which was the penalty for murder; also it became a scandal because everyone had known the woman and all had predicted that she would come to a bad end. Everything about this soon became a spectacle.  During the funerals of the murdered man and woman, people lined the streets and followed the hearses from the church to the cemetery. During the trial of the murderer, the courtroom was always packed. […] On the morning that he was hanged, people gathered outside the jail and waited until the jail’s church bell rang, showing that the hanging was completed. (pages 96-7, my emphasis)

In 1983 Jamaica Kincaid, the Antiguan-born author of Caribbean fiction and non-fiction, wrote a beautifully complicated story about a little girl and her introspective path to independence. Annie John, from which I quoted at length above, is a novel steeped with post-colonial discontent, pubescent angst, and the yearning to be something called free. Annie John and her friend Mineu are so enthralled by the community’s response to what can only be described as a heinous act of domestic violence that, in their childish naivete they decide to take the spectacle further by reenacting both the murder and the murderer’s punishment.

When it came to the hanging, we wanted that to be real, too, so Mineu had found a piece of rope and tied it to the top bar of the gate to his yard, and then he would make a noose and put his head in it. When the noose was around his neck, he would grab the rope from above and then swing on it back and forth to show that he was hanged and already dead. All of our playing together came to an end when something bad almost happened. We were playing in the usual way when we came to the part of the noose around the neck. When he lifted himself off the ground, the noose tightened. When he let go of the rope to loosen the noose with his hands, that only made matters worse, and the noose tightened even more. His mouth opened as he tried to get breath, and then his tongue began to come out of his mouth. His body, hanging from the gate, began to swing back and forth, and as it did it banged against the gate, and it made a sound as if he were swinging on the gate—the very thing we were always being told not to do. As all this happened, I just stood there and stared. (page 98)

Re-reading Annie John this morning I had to pause because Annie reminded me that the miscommunication of abuse and death is not new. For a long time now we have been staring at this violence that has served as a guilty spectacle in Caribbean society.

Here in Jamaica we have been gripped two weekends in a row with news of young women – girls – who have been taken, raped, slaughtered, and discarded.  These women – these girls – whose bodies have suffered under the sexual aggression of rapists, and the violent aggression of murderers, these women – these girls – have been stripped of their right to rest in peace.  Sadly, these women – these girls – have been made to suffer doubly under the post-mortem gaze of the spectator as images of decomposing flesh, alleged to be theirs, is circulated via social media and messaging apps.  Sure we shouldn’t shoot the messenger, but why are we sending these images? What are we communicating when we do not speak 15 year old Shanika Gray’s name; but, instead, we stare at a terrifying image of her bare flesh on our mobile devices?  What are we communicating when we do not speak Nile Brown’s name; but, instead we stare at an unfathomable image of her naked flesh on our palm-held devices?  How are we not complicit in the misuse of their bodies?

I spoke to one man this morning who seemed some what eager to “break the news” to me. His demeanor told me that he was troubled by the “wickedness” that he said is “sweeping the nation,” but his readiness to tell the story suggested a quiet satisfaction at being the one able to pass along the (misuse of) information. What troubled me further was that he could not name Ms. Brown or Ms. Gray as the victims. He could only speak of these women – these girls – using the descriptors that their Whatsapp broadcasted images provided. Shanika Gray became “the one in the skirt” and Nile Brown became “the one in the cut pants” and “the one in the blue barrel.”  Message broadcasting, group texts, Instagram, and any other social media that delivers an announcement of death in this gruesome way is doing an injustice both to the deceased and the bereaved.  Honestly, can you fathom the idea of having an image of your loved one’s decomposing and tortured body being forwarded around like a party promotion or uploaded to a website for the world to behold?

If I press the issue it is possible to consider that this may be a barbaric legacy that some individuals have decided to resurrect and modernize.  Or, perhaps, it is a barbaric legacy that simply never left.  I am reminded of that frightful scene in Annie John where the spectacle of violence both desensitizes and paralyzes Annie and almost costs here friend his life.  I am also reminded that in 1760 the enslaved Coromantee rebel leader Tacky, was killed then decapitated and his head was mounted on a pole in Spanish Town, Jamaica as a warning to all slaves that this kind of death and shaming would be their fate if they chose to rebel.  In 2017, circulating the image of the victimized deceased has become spectacle and an opportunity to shock and frighten the onlooker.  We stare at these women’s tortured bodies telling ourselves that we are grieving them. But are we?  Why are the majority of these broadcasts, messages, and social media posts images of the innocent?   And, no, circulating images of these savage criminals is not the answer either as that will likely just precipitate the kind of vigilante justice that Jamaica needs less of. Rather, the message that needs to be communicated to our communities, to our women, to our girls is a necessary message about caution, protection, empowerment, and self-defense.

This is not how we mourn. Making a spectacle of the victim is not how we ought to warn our citizens that rapists and murderers are among us. This is abuse. We must do better by Ms. Gray and Ms. Brown and all of the unnamed, lost, and forgotten women and girls who have been assaulted, raped, silenced, and senselessly killed.

Rest in peace to all who have suffered not once but twice because of the spectator’s gaze. We can do better. We must do better.

Good friends we have, oh, good friends we’ve lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can’t forget your past,
So dry your tears, I say.”

Yes woman yes cry.

The protest continues.

jamaicaprotet

 

 

sampling and sound’s effects

@Escofrass just released “Up Like Trump” last night (January 20, 2017) and I need to be very clear when I say that I do not rate this song.

While the rest of the forward-thinking world was mourning the inauguration of Donald Trump, Jamaican dancehall artist Esco Frass Don Dada was timing the release of his 2017 ride on Rae Sremmurd’s 2014 trap tune “Up Like Trump.”  Please forgive me for posting as this song needs a parental advisory and a warning to all feminist and progressive members of humanity.

Esco Frass’ song was teased on Twitter on Thursday and posted last night. It begs our attention not because of its lyrical genius or societal upliftment (it lacks both). What it does is highlight the dangerous ripple effects that Trump’s presidency has put into action outside of the United States. As a woman living in the Caribbean, more specifically, a woman living in Kingston, Jamaica, I am a part of a culture that can, on the one hand, elect a woman to the highest government position; but, on the other hand, still suffer from such a crippling fear of emasculation that violent sexual aggression remains a common, arguably, acceptable course for subjugating women.

Hearing Donald Trump’s hot mic recording loop over and over again throughout this “Don Dada’s” (read: ladies’ man) tune is a sign of just how tragically pervasive the disregard for women’s bodies is globally.  I watched the video and was immediately transported back to early October when the “Access Hollywood” story first broke the internet but, notably, did not break Trump’s campaign. In Esco Frass’ defense, (insert me shuddering as I write that phrase) the release of that 2005 recording did not stop Trump from getting elected, so why should it stop a dancehall artist from capitalizing on a now “popular” Trump phrase? The tragedy is that Jamaica seemed poised to adopt the phrase. This is Jamaica, land I love, land that birthed me, and land of daggering.  Jamaican popular culture, particularly Jamaica’s musical heritage, has anchored my existence yet I find this song to be particularly dangerous.  As I blogged last year with regard to Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote,” while our bodies may respond to the vibes, we must stop and consider what the lyrics are saying.

It was only twelve years ago that the very newly minted president of the United States of America was caught boastfully saying: “And when you’re a star [women] let you do it. You can do anything…Grab them by the p*ssy… Some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her… I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait…” Trump’s now infamous but not un-electable message of “Grab them by the p*ssy” are carefully translated by Esco Frass into Jamaican language when he says: “Up like Trump/ Dem gyal a get f*ck/ […] Me no talk, just reach, and feel fi di clump.”  The song even references the seedy details of the hot mic transcript when Frass says that he “buy yuh furniture/ buy yuh house/ mi pop off yuh skirt/ den pop off yuh blouse.”  c2kzdmzxeaaetvuWearing a red tie like the one that Trump donned during the pomp and circumstance of yesterday, Esco Frass also put on white-face, a pout, and a terrible blonde wig to perform Trump-ed up levels of misogyny as he layered the now POTUS’s hot mic words with his own all while riding on a trap track that was versed by a rap clique that values “money, hos, and clothes,” to quote the late Brooklyn philosopher, Notorious B.I.G.

What does it signal when on Inauguration Day a practitioner of dancehall (which is already a misogynistic musical genre) releases a video tune that directly samples Trump’s brand of sexual assault?  In my estimation, Esco Frass Don Dada’s choices signal the importance of how Trump’s language of inflammatory rhetoric is going to problematize and endanger all manners of communication and relationships from both the personal to the international level.  Specifically, this exposes just how Trump’s very public sexualization of women is being read outside of the U.S. This emphasizes the importance of the end-of-2016 hashtag and movement that gave hundreds of violated Caribbean women the courage to publicly voice their truths about sexual assault. Thank you #lifeinleggings.  To some degree, “Up Like Trump” demystifies why there were 10,000 cases of child abuse reported to authorities in Jamaica in 2013 (the majority of those cases were about girls and their trafficking).  This video-song may also shed light on why in my island nation of Jamaica there were more than 20 women killed by their domestic partners last year.

Just yesterday I was re-reading Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff’s 1982 essay “If I Could Write This In Fire, I Would Write This in Fire.”  The recently and dearly departed Cliff wrote about the destructive rage of having to remain silent about one’s life’s truths. (Thank you again #lifeinleggings.) In one of the sections of the essay she discussed Jamaica of the 1970s, the Michael Manley years. Cliff noted that by 1980 such a significant segment of Jamaica’s educated population had migrated to the US and Canada that the nation had to rally a new campaign to bring in any tourist dollars that it could. “Make it Jamaica again” was the campaign and YouTube makes viewing it possible.

How eerie it is to see that commercial today. Just what “Jamaica” is the commercial asking for as it sings out “Come back to Jamaica/ … What’s old is what’s new.”  As the one minute message concludes, a scarved woman dances with vested black men in what looks to be a great house.  colonial-returnShe wears not the festive bandana plaid that is our national fabric, but rather a type of colonial costume as she looks directly into the camera and says: “come back to the way things used to be.”  To when exactly is she referring and what is meant by “the way things used to be”?   During this 1982 campaign did Jamaica seek to make itself the “Jamaica” of its colonial past?  The questions that this commercial raises are very similar to the questions that Trump’s slogans have raised in the States.

Esco Frass should not be categorized as parodying Trump. He seems to be performing, yes; but, the misogynist intersections are too problematic to be regarded as carrying a humorous intent. Honestly, we lovers of dancehall artistry should find it disconcerting just how at-home Trump’s “p*ssy” grabbing words are on this grimy song.

Rappers and dancehall deejays have too much creative talent to be sampling Trump in these ways.  Sampling Trump’s rhetoric of misogyny is not what Jamaican men and women need.  With this new and unruly leader at the helm, perhaps now is the time for Jamaica to abandon looking to the United States as a model of how to be in this world. _____ist words are never worth sampling. For the sake of our girls and women in Jamaica and all over the world, better must come.

it’s even in the food

The period of disbelief is behind us and it is officially Inauguration Day.  Last night, after watching a few painful minutes of Donald J. Trump speak about his “huge” wins this past November, I gave up and tuned the television to a local music video channel. “Chip Chop” by Sanjay and Shelly Belly was the perfect distraction. But now it is today. I seek to distract myself some more and I click on the cable box and tune in to the Food Network. Surely there will be nothing there to bring me back to this political reality.  Wrong.  “The Pioneer Woman” is on.

Self-taught home cook and food blogger Ree Drummond is the star of Food Network’s “The Pioneer Woman.” According to the channel guide, today she is preparing “apple fritters with bacon and sausage for breakfast” and for lunch “pulled pork, classic coleslaw, and quick-and-easy baked beans.” Ree is an American “country girl,” a “ranch-wife,” and mother of four.  Her show is filmed at her home in Oklahoma, which she affectionately calls “the middle of nowhere.” (Click here for images of the open fields that are her back and front yard.) And if you go to her personal website she features recipes, food photography tips, and bible verses. Ree’s home is referred to as her frontier and, while I know nothing of Ree’s political affiliations, her show seems to tap into a certain Trump-like American “greatness.”

Unlike the Food Network’s other very popular shows – like Giada de Laurentiis’ Italian dishes, “The Kitchen’s” diverse American and global dishes (importantly, I’ll note that this is a panel show that features both a black woman and a Chicana), Ina Garten’s European and American meals, or Bobby Flay’s Tex-Mex and Latin flavors – Ree Drummond’s show always leaves me feeling a bit … alienated.  When Ree invites friends over for scripted meals, there is no racial diversity present. When her children have scripted celebrations or when Ree attends a scripted church function, there is no racial diversity.  When Ree heads to the supermarket to shop or to a sporting event to cheer, I search the passers-by and see no diversity.  Whose America is that?  Certainly it was not my Bronx, USA. Certainly that was not my Philadelphia, USA, or my suburban Washington, D.C., USA.

Admittedly, as a champion baker and home chef myself, I watch a lot of food shows and I have seen more of “The Pioneer Woman” than anyone should.  I suppose it might seem that I am belaboring a critique of a thirty minute program, but as the clock winds down to the start of Donald Trump’s America, I am reminded that the America that some of us fear will begin at noon, has actually been here all along, dormant at times and violently raucous at others.  American pioneers have been pushing west since 1492. American pioneers have been trampling, pillaging, and taking sacred and hallowed grounds for centuries. American pioneers have been making America great, “huge” even, since its inception.

In these misogynistic Trump times I do not want us to forget that the American west was first to offer women the right to vote.  In 1869 the Wyoming Territory granted (white) women suffrage as a way of luring more (white) women to the male-dominated frontier. And in these racist socio-political times we should not forget that it was not until 1917 that (white) women of New York had the right to vote.  No, we will not forget that black women did not gain voting rights until 1920 and as late as the 1960s in parts of the American south.

Thinking a bit more about this, the Food Network perhaps thought that it had solved its “race problem” when it cancelled Paula Deen’s shows following her use of the N-word in 2013 and her posting social media pictures of her son in brown-face in 2011.  But people have long been critical of the Food Network’s lack of diversity and the whiteness of its hosts as compared to the black and brown, ethnic, and globally diverse culture that is presented on Food Network’s (half?) sister network, the Cooking Channel with chef-hosts like Roger Mooking, Ali Khan, Judy Joo, and our favorite Sister Sister twin, Tia Mowry.

So what does America’s dinner table tell us about America?  And what do America’s cooking shows tell us?  What does it mean that Ree Drummond has a show and blog called “Pioneer Woman” and her show and blog are popular? It means that Ree is capturing an important segment of the nation. It means that Ree Drummond is making more people feel included than excluded. It means that Americans feel at home in her kitchen.  It means that Americans identify with and aspire to live the life that Ree projects. After all, she is just a “country girl,” a “rancher’s wife,” and a mom. She lives in the middle of nowhere and has everything she needs: family, nation, house, land.  Her America seems quite great while my America, the America that I have known remains wrapped in uncertainty.

Though I write this from my home in Jamaica, I feel a deep and troubled concern.  Tuning into the Food Network did not alleviate my stress. There are, at least, four arduous years ahead. As Donald Trump is sworn-in some of us will will be making our own quiet pledges to ourselves, our families, and to our communities. As the Trump train drives on to make America great again, we will swear on our faiths to make America better.  We will be ambassadors of openness and emblems of understanding. We will be pledging to honor the America that represents hope and change.

In the time spent writing this post I have changed the channel.  In just under ten minutes a new head of state will emerge to rule the tenuously united states that are America. In just under ten minutes a new leader of the free world will be in command. As I look to the clock and try to make sense of this pinching sadness, I know that trouble has been in the water for centuries. Today I recognize that the trouble was also in the food. Let us not choke on it.

donald-trump-pork
Photo credit: http://www.ibtimes.com,  Reuters photographer Jim Young, August 2015

 

 

Welcome (back) to Jamrock

On August 2, 2016 movers took the contents of my home and placed them into a shipping container. A few days later, on the 54th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, with one-way airline tickets purchased, my family and I arrived via Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica to stay.

I had planned to document my return to Jamaica by writing about my experience at the Tax Administration Office where I completed paperwork, sat, and waited for my number to be called while the woman in front of me gathered all of her impolite judgment to question another patron about why her “baby so small.” I wanted to write about my experience at the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency where the guard attempted to bar me access because, in his paid opinion, my dress “favor one merino” 20160811_123815and merino shirts are not permitted in government buildings, despite the sweltering outside temperature, a topic that Rawle Ramjag takes up in a Trinidadian context here.  I had planned to write about my trip to the National Insurance Scheme where I watched the Olympics and we all sat at a large meeting table in a space that looked like it was adapted for Jamaica’s own version of the cult classic movie The Breakfast Club (1985), despite it being the year 2016.   I wanted to write about the time when I tried to move money between international bank accounts but was not allowed to because the Jamaican bank red-flagged the transaction because of my first name.  I thought I would surely write about the 9 AM to 12 PM installation window that FLOW Internet guaranteed but did not fulfill until after 10 PM and only after a few whistles were blown and a few favors were called in.  It seemed inevitable that I would write about my impossible attempts to gain information from a less-than-enthusiastic customs agent whose tone only softened after she asked and I told her my last name.  I expected that I would write pon di riddim of the colonial legacy at work at Hopefield Prep, but Kei Miller’s blog post and latest novel Augustown (2016) do such a marvelous job of it already. I considered offering my own take on Jamaican singer Etana and US presidential candidate Donald Trump as a way of demonstrating the downside to having an audience.

 On a more personal level, I thought I would write about the sweet voice linked above. It was just last week that my daughter began displaying linguistic absorption of Jamaica as signified by her abandonment of the soft “d” pronunciation of the letter “t” in such words as “beauty” and “creatively” and her adoption of the clearly articulated “t” sound spoken by life-long Jamaican residents.  And, for sure, as a Caribbean literary scholar hailing from and returning to Jamaica, I yearned to write about my first drive down Hope Road, through Barbican, over into Manor Park, and high up into the mountains of Stony Hill 20160925_154519croppedwhere I would stop the car, pull over as much as one can, and gaze down at that breathtaking sight of Kingston and of the Palisadoes view that Michelle Cliff captures in No Telephone to Heaven (1987), a book that helped to define my understanding of postcolonial studies.

I did not write these pieces… yet.  Everyday of my migration in reverse has had its challenges and rewards and everyday has allowed too few minutes for reflection. But somehow, in the calm before the storm, I am finding some footing.

As I wait for Hurricane Matthew to drench this land, I have been forced to consider what Matthew means to me, which means I have to confess that I do not like storms. They are wet and windy, and they are also viciously noisy.  They cause flooding that destroys property and they bring powerful winds that can result in fatalities. They uproot trees and they also uproot people.

Having left Jamaica in 1988 on the heels of Hurricane Gilbert, I face Matthew with some trepidation and some wonder. 2016-10-01_17-33-35I consider what might have been. I wonder what would be different if Gilbert had lost momentum and been downgraded from category five to category four or three…  I wonder how my life and the lives of others would have been different if Gilbert had changed course and taken a more easterly route…  I regain focus and think of what impact Matthew will have on the future as even outer-band gusts and rainfall amounts pose a significant threat to infrastructure… and identity.

It has been two months since I have returned to live in the land I love. Tonight I am waiting on a storm that “soon come” and I do not take any of this lightly.   I am here in Jamaica for a reason.  Like comedic Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler, I have come home to teach.  You can find me formally lecturing in literature at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. But you can also find me offering free, unwanted lessons regarding efficiency at bookshops and furniture sellers. You may even find me providing the diligent bag-packers at any, if not all, of the supermarkets with very much unwanted information about environmental waste and the need to reduce the use of black “scandal” bags.

From Jamaica to the diaspora and back again, I am here.  Still decolonial, I shifted locations but sharpened my perspective.  Hurricane Matthew would have been new to this place, maybe he is too shy to arrive.  Not I.  So I’m taking this opportunity to welcome myself back to Jamrock.  Mi deh ya.

a tropical snow storm is upon us

By now we have all seen the video by Evan Puschak @TheeNerdWriter where he takes Rolling Stone to task for calling Rihanna’s “Work” “tropical house.”  Puschak opts to describe “Work” as having a “light, summery, island vibe” then goes on to clarify the errors in classifying Miss Fenty’s single.  If you have not seen the The Nerd Writer’s handy video work, I took the liberty of pasting it below. 

I really do appreciate Puschak’s educational offering. (Of course I pause when he speaks of Rihanna being the best “ambassador” for Jamaican music. See my previous post on “Work.” But, in the context of the options he presents, yes, she is.) The video is particularly useful in pointing out the differences between tropical house and Jamaican dancehall as well as the influences of dancehall on tropical house beats. Puschak points out, rather well, how Jamaican dancehall rhythms have given non-Jamaicans like Skrillex, Diplo, and Major Lazer, more broadly, a lot to be inspired by.

The Nerd Writer posted his video earlier this year and long before Drake’s Views from the 6 album dropped. The Nerd Writer also published his video long before Alicia Keys’ song “In Common” was released and was described by Billboard writer Lars Brandle as having “a tropical vibe and a subtle, Latin beat.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, Alicia Keys’ new song is great, but, — because there has to be a but– it is interesting to hear her song in light of this picture posted to her IG account last year.Sintra and Alicia

Clad in the wet, red t-shirt Alicia Keys’ picture recreated the famous and iconic 1972 Jamaica tourism poster, which featured Trinidadian model Sintra Arunte-Bronte.  (So many layers of appropriation, eh?)  What was Alicia Keys doing then and what is Alicia Keys doing now? It certainly looks and now sounds like she wants to have a lot “in common” with the tropics.

In more ways than one, the COP21 meetings in Paris last year were right. Curiously, it’s not only the temperatures and the sea-levels that are shifting and rising. There are noticeable changes in popular music’s cultural climate and some are having a hard time getting the names right (read Billboard and Rolling Stone) while others are boldly calling it appropriation or theft.  I, on the other hand, am going to be careful.  I am not the music writer that my brilliant friend Erin MacLeod is (Google her work: like this or this).  What I am is a Caribbean music and pop culture enthusiast. As such, I dub this familiar shift in music with a name befitting its roots. So, in honor of Snow, the most successful Canadian dancehall artist (what?!) of all time, this shift is evidence of what should only be called a tropical snow storm. Surely you are familiar with the great North’s impact on the dancehall music scene of Jamaica? Or was it Jamaica’s influence on the North?  North to south? South to north? The routes are well-trodden so the impact is complicated nowadays. I jest, but let me refresh your memory regarding the last tropical “Snow” storm which occurred nearly 25 years ago.

Despite his mastery of attempts at Jamaican patwa, white Irish-Canadian Darrin Kenneth “Snow” O’Brien was born and bred in the Toronto neighborhood of Allenbury.  In an interview with Noisey last year Snow said “this culture thing, it breaks barriers, it’s easy, and it’s simple.” And he went on to credit Allenbury for instilling in him a sense of multiculturalism that fostered his musical appreciation for all sounds Jamaican. As Snow put it, “I wasn’t raised white, but with music and love.”  Yes, with love Snow created “Informer,” a now 26 year old classic dancehall tune.  Check it out: The title word “informer” is the Jamaicanism used to describe a narc, a rat, a police informant and the song speaks to that topic with Snow doing his best to chat Jamaican. He sings of an “informer” accusing “Daddy Snow” of stabbing someone “down di lane” and Snow threatens to “lick” down the “boom booms” of any such accusing informants. And according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Snow’s 1992 chart-topping single, “Informer”, was/is the best selling reggae single in U.S. history.   Savor that bit of information.  I remember when this song hit the radio in NYC and I remember when it bubbled in Jamaica, as well.  snow and sisIn fact, Snow was so cool (pun intended) that my super-cool sister deemed it necessary to have a 35mm picture taken with him backstage at Reggae Sunsplash 1993!  (Enjoy that piece of nostalgia.)  You may be able to recall a good fistful of dancehall and reggae artists from Jamaica who had radio and commercial success beyond the Caribbean’s shores. Your memory of actual internationally successful Jamaican artists (like Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks, and, obviously, Bob Marley) is leaving you with feelings of confusion as to how Snow could hold the title over them.  beiber sorryThen you fast forward to images of Bieber and his “Sorry” dancers.  Then you connect that Snow, Bieber, and Drake are all Canadian.

Tropical. Snow. Storm.

This new storm seems to have started with the — wait for it — Canadian band Magic!’s reggae infused hit “Rude” back in 2014 when they cooled U.S. and Jamaican radios so much that actual Jamaican dancehall artist Busy Signal sampled a line and borrowed the melody from “Rude” on his 2015 song “Text Message”? (I’ve cued it up: just click here to hear it.) Well played, Busy, I love the choice to rhyme “rude” with “nude.” If only more people outside of Jamaica heard that song and the hundreds and thousands of songs that Jamaican dancehall artists create annually.  If only Busy Signal, or some other such authentically Jamaican artist, held the Guinness Record for best selling reggae single in U.S. history. But, no, Snow holds that title.

But so what? Right? So what that Magic! loves reggae music? So what that Snow set the bar for the acceptance of Jamaican music in the U.S.? So what that Drake cannot stop trying to chat Jamaican?  So what that Alicia Keys is posing like an iconic poster representing Jamaica? So what that Skrillex is banging out dancehall inspired beats for Justin Beiber?

Well, here is the so what. On May 16, 2016 dancehall sing-jay Mr. Vegas posted a video to his Facebook page and twelve hours ago the same video was loosely summarized and posted to Vibe Magazine‘s website.  See below.

I viewed the video and I’ll say that Vegas is right about Drake: “Di man juss a kill you wit bare sample a di Jamaican artist dem.” Views is a collection of Beenie Man, Popcaan, and Serani’s previously recorded work. Vegas carefully notes that Kyla and Wizkid are listed in the liner notes, but Vegas takes issue with the lack of acknowledgment for Jamaican artists. And, again, I agree with Vegas’ assessment of Drake’s Views:  “No Jamaican artiste get credit on di album.”

Yes, Vegas might have hit the nail on the head when he suggested that Drake (and I’ll add the above mentioned artists as well) may be cooling out in this tropical snow storm. As he ascends the Spotify ranks, it seems that Drake is snowboarding his way up the charts.  While I am by no means an “informer,” with his un-credited Jamaican samples and very hefty Jamaican inspiration I will go ahead and point a disappointed finger at Drake. Taking from one culture for the financial benefit and/or social success of another is exploitation.   No part of this “cool” trend in music creation or consumption is doing Jamaica a favor– to borrow from Vegas. Jamaican artists are not seeing any  kickback off of this tropical snow storm.

“How dem [Wizkid and Kyla] get credit and we [Jamaicans] nuh get credit?”  Fair question, Vegas. My guess is that Drake will say something akin to what he said regarding the D.R.A.M. situation (see here) and make Snow-like claims (see above) about multiculturalism in Toronto and give further evidence that he took Kardinal Offishall way too literally on “Bakardi Slang.”

Alas, if you find yourself enjoying any of the contemporary Billboard songs being described as “tropical”, you may want to verify that categorization on social media or using an app/website like WhoSampled. In doing so, you may have the lucky fortune of being introduced to the very songs and artists that “inspired” the song that sent you searching in the first place.

permission to be “terrifying/ and strange/ and beautiful”

*An updated note (May 2, 2016) is offset with an asterisk below.

Late Saturday night (April 23, 2016) I noticed that Twitter was buzzing. So what did I do?  I tuned in, sipped the tea, and read Lemonade.  My moderate awareness of the gossip-columns provided me with insight into Beyoncé’s world of extraordinary professional and economic success that juxtaposes her very ordinary domestic and personal struggles that are fueled by the men closest to her heart: her father and her husband.  But, by the end of the hour long experience the in-between spaces of Lemonade, those border spaces between songs, were the most captivating for me. Warsan-Shire

It was not surprising to realize later that those in-between spaces were filled by the poetry of a border woman herself, Warsan Shire (a Kenyan by birth, Somali by parentage, and Londoner by address).  Her words became the thread that laced the project together.  Shire’s intensely introspective and powerfully vulnerable poems function as interludes during Lemonade, giving the film a necessary and critical framework.  What I appreciate is how Shire also gives Lemonade viewers/listeners new levels of familiarity.  You know, new – as in not old – and familiarity – as in a return to a known experience. Shire, does this. Not Beyoncé. Don’t you agree? We are all familiar with the Beyoncé formula: secret work, surprise release, slay, slay, slay.  She did it for Beyoncé in 2013 when that visual and auditory project was exclusively released through iTunes.  And she did it again with this tall glass of Lemonade, giving exclusivity to HBO on Saturday night, then Tidal, and the roll out will continue. Without Shire’s new poetry and without the new visual aids, the amalgamation of lyrics on Lemonade for me fall a bit flat or, at best, are just too familiar.  Consider this: if we listen to the lyrics exclusively, Saturday’s Lemonade experience rang with much of the old familiarity of, say “Ring the Alarm” from 2006.   

Alas, as we all continue to sip and read, let us also ring the alarm. Beyoncé has brought Warsan Shire’s poetry to the masses. For that, I am grateful.  And let us ring the alarm again because Beyoncé has brought a long list of black artists back into popular discussion.  The familiar melody of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on by” is present on “6 Inch;”  and the familiar female power of Afro-Caribbean santería is channeled in the gold Cavalli dress, the down-beat rhythm, and Jamaican-inflected chat of “Hold Up.” The familiar cycle of self-loathing that little black girls who are wounded by their fathers grow up to relive in their adult relationships is named, owned, and seemingly forgiven. The familiar oppression of patriarchy in a masculine society is interrogated.  And the familiar need for sorority and the comfort of black girl sisterhood is suggested. These are just some of the recognizable moments that listeners/ viewers find familiar when experiencing Lemonade.  But there are still more experiences of the familiar.  beyonce-lemonadeSo I thank Warsan Shire for re-familiarizing audiences with poets like Audre Lorde, Grace Nichols, Ntozake Shange, and Nikki Giovanni;  writers like Gwendolyn Brooks and Jamaica Kincaid; and various genres of song bird story-tellers like like Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and Tina Turner.

*Stylistically, the Lemonade visual album also, tangentially, calls forth for me Stephanie Black’s seminal documentary on the neo-colonial system that has limited Jamaica’s economic growth since the 1970s,  Life and Debt (2001).  While Black’s project would have been generously informative and engaging without it, it was enhanced by the familiar words of Antiguan author Jamaica Kincaid and her essay A Small Place.  Kincaid’s own voice and own words from her 1988 book narrate the opening scenes of the documentary and immediately set the tone of the film.  The movie’s visuals are confounded by the words, and confounded even more so because the words are familiar.

It is an indisputable fact that black women in the postcolonial world had and continue to have an intimate relationship with pain.  More than 150 years ago, black woman abolitionist Sojourner Truth asked “ain’t I a woman?”  The answer Lemonade seems to give is: if pain is proof, then yes, we are women, through and through.  Much of the writings, tweeting, and FB posts using the hashtag Lemonade speaks to the ways in which Beyoncé’s latest work has granted fellow black women permission to own their pain. Will Lemonade be for Beyoncé what Purple Rain was for the dearly departed Prince?  Time will tell, I suppose, as it is only now that we are hearing the stories of how Prince permitted self-proclaimed “black weirdos” to exist freely. For now, it seems that Lemonade is being credited with liberating black women to know that they have the God-given and not husband-/ father-/ brother-/ man-given right to be and feel “terrifying/ and strange/ and beautiful,” to use Shire’s ventriloquized words (see the video for “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love“).

Celebrities continue to drift into the role of patron saints of identity; but, won’t it be a beautiful day when all black women realize organically/ innately/ intuitively that being themselves and loving themselves and being loved in return is their birthright? I think it would.

we say no, but do our bodies say yes?

boomshot.com lighterAs lovers of conscious reggae music we respond to the rhythm with our bodies.”
These are the words I wrote in my sx salon article to describe the way listeners show bodily agreement when experiencing the “layered messages” of a roots reggae band like Burning Spear.  With classic big chunes (tunes) like “Columbus,” Burning Spear’s lyrics speak to ancestral Africa, colonial abuse, and cultural upliftment.  From the horns to the bold lyrical content, yes, yes, and YES, Spear, “Christopher Columbus was a damn blasted liard”!

But, by this token, what ideas and beliefs might we be agreeing with when we nod along, two-step, flash a lighter, wave a rag, lick a shot, buss a wine, or wuk up to a classic big chune like this one heard here: Now before you think it, NO, I am not calling for a moratorium on another Jamaican dancehall anthem (read this Independent article or this Guardian article on how LGBTQ human rights have continued to be threatened by songs like “Boom Bye Bye” and “Chi Chi Man”). Carolyn Cooper, professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, has published widely on the why-it-is and why-it-is-not of Jamaican homophobia in music.  Similarly, Sonjah Stanley Niaah, cultural studies professor at the UWI, Mona Campus, also regularly critiques how we understand misogyny and body politics in Jamaican dancehall and reggae music. Taking a cue from them both at the always dangerous time that surrounds public discussions of women’s reproductive rights I urge all of us to be more active listeners. We must question the sounds that we hear.

“Murder She Wrote” hit Jamaica’s sound system speakers in 1992, about 25 years ago, but Chaka Demus and Pliers continue to peel club going wallflowers from their posts with what is arguably a staunchly conservative, anti-abortion, pro-life rhetoric that playfully rides over the pulsing bass line of Sly and Robbie’s production. Place and time, also known as the contemporary context, has greatly altered my hearing of the song.

[Chaka Demus DJs/chats] Yuh face is pretty, but your character dirty.
Gyal you just a act too flirty-flirty.
You run to Tom, Dick,
An’ also Harry.
An’ when you find yuh mistake
You talk ’bout yuh sorry,
Sorry, sorry…

[Pliers sings] Now every middle of di year dis girl have abortion,
Fi di coolie, di white man, and di Indian.
An jus’ di other day me see her 6 months pregnant

And now she pop a street wit’ not a baby inna pram…”

Calling into question a woman’s character as “dirty” and commenting on a woman’s sexual choices as “flirty-flirty” behavior is not veiled language, it’s damning. Suggesting that “Maxine”, the main character in this lyrical tale of shame, has annual abortions to correct her “mistakes” is wholly dismissive. It dismisses all circumstances — from socioeconomic to possible sexual violence — surrounding her pregnancies.  And to suggest that Maxine is not a fit partner or, as Chaka Demus says, “gyal yuh no ready if you cyaa cook fi me,” [girl you’re not ready if you cannot cook for me] further emphasizes patriarchal, masculine discourse that both damns and domesticates women.

Still, “‘Murder She Wrote’ is a must. Dem still a play it hard a club all over the world. When yu go inna de Yankee club, the white people club, dem still play it,” Pliers told poet-writer-journalist Mel Cooke in this 2007 Jamaica Gleaner article. And Pliers is right. The song is still a hit.  But, importantly, Cooke’s article notably reminds local and international consumers of dancehall that in Jamaica abortion is tantamount to murder.  Murder is what a woman commits every time she has an abortion. Dance to that damnation.

As this nation attempts to strip women of their reproductive rights on a state by state basis, it is no longer possible for me to hear this song as I once did.  The political climate of my diaspora-home in the United States has tuned my ears anew. Now I hear “Murder She Wrote” and simultaneously I hear Donald Trump’s recent statements that women need to be “punished” for having abortions, but men do not (see here.)   I now hear Chaka Demus in stereo with Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.  I hear Pliers and I hear Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and Ted Cruz, a presidential candidate representing the GOP party and, presumably, millions of Americans who share his views on women.

As liberated women we say no to legislation that seeks to govern our reproductive rights; but, as we dance intently to lyrics that deny and sometimes demoralize us, it would be seemingly easy for a passerby to think that our bodies are saying yes.

This post is not to conflate Jamaica with the States. And it is not meant to conflate the DJ with the politician.  I happen to be a Jamaican in the States so this post is meant to raise awareness of the details that have always surrounded us and can influence or attack us.  In the end, I say dance on my fellow feminists and I will dance too.  But always remember — once you are woke, you stay woke.

weddings (and divorce)

I decided to write this blog as a way of owning my selfishness.

With the dawning of spring comes the season of commitment.  And with my sister’s wedding less than 48 hours from now, wedding season has provoked in me both fear and great joy.  Great joy that my sister has found a partner with whom to create memories and share a future.  Fear that I…. Fear that she…. Fear of what this means for us.

Over the years some of my dearest friends have gotten married.  Childhood friends, college friends, grad school friends, friends of mine, friends of my husband’s.  And, come to think of it, two of our dear friends have married each other!  But now, with the proverbial shoe on the other foot, I am beside myself with a multitude of feelings.  I have been trying to steady myself and remain composed. I tell myself that I am not the first person to feel this way.  I tell myself that I will gain a brother and I quietly repeat gentle phrases like that to calm myself as needed.  But still I am conflicted.

It wasn’t until I was in the process of reading and re-reading familiar books and searching for the right words to say to give away my sister and toast the new couple, that I found an anchor in an Edwidge Danticat short story titled “Caroline’s Wedding.” In Danticat – whose writing gives voice to Haitian women, Caribbean women, and composed women like me – I found this and I exhaled:

Caroline’s face, as I had known it, slowly began to fade, piece by piece, before my eyes.  Another woman was setting in, a married woman, someone who was no longer my little sister. […] I couldn’t help but feel as though she was divorcing us, trading in her old allegiance for a new one. (Krik? Krak! 1995: 205)

This, I have come to realize, is the un-talked about side of weddings and marriages. This is the selfishness.  Today I own this selfishness.  Marriage is sacrifice. Marriage is compromise.  I realize that this is not just a warning for the bride and groom.  I realize it is sage advice that fortifies family members like me with the strength to smile even when we feel as though the sweetness of the new union is simultaneously an amicable divorce, a trading of old allegiances for a new one.

It probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway.  My sisters were my first friends and are my dearest friends.

This was a blog post for posterity.

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repetition and repatriation

As the USA’s political passion heats up in response to Donald J. Trump, here is a reminder that we have been here before.  Undoubtedly, we have even been here before in the most literal sense.  So, if I may, let me preface my fact-and-fiction connections with two easy substitutions: 1) read “Anglo-Saxon Association of America” as “Conservative Republicans” and 2) read “Knights of Nordica” as “Ku Klux Klan.” Cue literature:

[The Anglo-Saxon Association of America] is a group of rich highbrows who can trace their ancestry back almost two hundred years. You see they believe in white supremacy the same as [the Knights of Nordica] but they claim that the Anglo-Saxons are the cream of the white race and should maintain the leadership in American social, economic and political life. […] This crowd thinks they’re too highbrow to come in with the Knights of Nordica. They say our bunch are morons. […] Well, what I’m trying to do now is to bring these two organizations together. We’ve got numbers but not enough money to win an election; they have the jack. If I can get them to see the light we’ll win the next Presidential election hands down. (p 100-1)

Scary stuff, huh?  Sounds a bit like the inner-workings of a particular candidate’s mind, eh? I know.  The good news, or at least the palatable news, is that this quote is from a marvelously funny satire about racism in America.

kkkpic
From my visit to the Sandy Spring Slave Museum

The quote is taken from Black No More, author George S. Schuyler’s laugh-out-loud novel published in 1931.  It’s available on Amazon and worth reading, particularly if you presently live in the United States of America and you are of African ancestry.  I do not want to give too much of the plot away — because jokes are best when you do not know the punchlines — but I will say that Black-No-More is a product and a process that makes black people black-no-more.  Genius, right!?  The fictional inventor of Black-No-More, Dr. Crookman, creates this product because there are only three possible ways for black people to solve their problems in America: “To either get out, get white or get along.” Since Dr. Crookman himself was not able to leave, and was only “getting along indifferently,” the only option was for him to “get white;” thus, Black-No-More is born (p 8).  Unselfishly, he decides to offer this race/ism “cure” to America.  The novel explores what if anything changes when racial diversity is taken out of the equation.  Are America’s problems erased?  Don’t worry, I won’t spoil your reading with an answer.

Via Dr. Crookman, George S. Schuyler raises some contemporaneously worthwhile questions.  As an African diasporan dwelling in these United States, what is one to do?  Get out? Get white? or Get along?  Racial passing has its issues and Vybz Kartel’s

Jamaican dancehall artist, Vybz Kartel

Black-No-More-like claims about his brand of cake soap is just plain shameful.  So I’m going to say that getting white is off the table. President Obama’s successful elections in 2008 and 2012 proves that gestures towards the idea that getting along has been working. But the inability of a divided system to pass progressive legislation, the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement, the violence that once surrounded the Tea Party patriots and is now surrounding Trump’s events, suggests that getting along is not on the immediate horizon.  So, perhaps Marcus Garvey was on to something.  Is now the time for America’s dark others to seek alternate shores? Is now the time for diasporans to return to prior lands?  Is it time to get out of America?

In his memoir, Sand for Snow (2003), Robert Sandiford chronicled his move from the Canada of his birth to the Caribbean island of his parents’.  Even though Sandiford had “known for a long time [that] there are options available” to him in Barbados, as he prepared for departure to the island, he recognized that “this move will be a challenge, physically, mentally, culturally, socially, and, of course, financially. Setting up home and shop will not be easy” (p 17-8).  In his 1995 book Going Home to Teach, celebrated author Anthony Winkler wrote about the difficulties of his return to Jamaica in 1975 after living in the States for thirteen years. Jamaica’s political instability notwithstanding, Winkler writes, “Shock, disbelief greeted me when I said that I was on my way back. Back to Jamaica? I was clearly out of my mind. Some of these new arrivals [to the States] said so with looks; some said so plainly” (p 33). And in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) when her fictional protagonist Ifemelu, says that she has decided to leave Princeton, New Jersey to return to Nigeria, her favorite aunt replies, “will you be able to cope?” (p 20).  Like Ifemelu, I ask: cope with what?  Despite the mostly positive portrayals of their respective repatriations, these literary examples all point to the perceived greatness of America and the presumed less-than status of Barbados, Jamaica, and Nigeria, in comparison.  If Adichie, Winkler, or Sandiford had set their stories in a time like now, in a time of political intensity, in a time of racial hostility that is being goaded by a presidential candidate, would their protagonists still have encountered doubting naysayers?

Trump’s viable candidacy has done a lot for America. Most notably it has exposed the racism, the sexism, and the xenophobia that has always been a part of America. It also exposes America as hypocritical. Think about it.  Doesn’t America try to “save” developing nations from candidates like Trump?  Alas, as he marches closer to November’s election and if Hillary Clinton is there to meet him, he will also attract the votes of the most subtle “ism,” the one coded simply and publicly as “preference.”

Get out, get white, or get along, wrote Schuyler.  Dabbling in the speculative genre and a socialist himself, Schuyler used the space of his novel to satirically stick it to W.E. B. DuBois and DuBois’ powerful assertion that the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line.   And now, even though we are a quarter way into the year 2016, America’s problems remain rooted in racism.  DuBois was right. But so was Schuyler.  Capitalism is also to blame.  I mean, hey, history shows that the one has fueled the other.  So what do we do now?   We vote. We vote like our lives depend on it. And, in the meantime, we have a suitcase ready.

pon di riddim & inna di salon

This is less of a post and more of a plug…

My writing is featured in the latest installation of sx salon* (issue 21, February 2016).  Titled “Re-membering Our Caribbean through a Dub Aesthetic” my discussion article emphasizes the need for and benefits of  what I term a dub aesthetic methodology.  The article closely examines Burning Spear, dub music, and Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak! (1996).  If you would like to read more, and I encourage you to read more, please click here to be re-directed to the sx salon site. And to supplement your reading experience, below I have posted the music that I reference in the article.  Click, read, listen, and journey with me into the analytical dubscape.

*sx salon is Small Axe’s digital platform for the convergence of expressions and discussions of the literary. Small Axe academic journal is a Caribbean platform of criticism.