musical triggers, issa thing

I’ve been wanting to write about this new Protoje album, A Matter of Time, for a little while now. Every time I sat down to do so, I stopped myself and said, just wait for the full project.  Well, the album drops on Friday, June 29th, and I can’t wait any longer.  As Jadakiss famously said, “I’m running outta my patience” (“Knock Yourself Out” 2001).

With four singles released ahead of the album, there’s ample material to mine for triggers, specifically musical triggers.  But what are musical triggers? Well, as a very condensed definition, musical triggers are the ways that music (lyrics, rhythms, tones, melodies) trigger emotion and memory in the listener.  You can read more in this summary article published in The Cut and within you can click on links to the 2017 scientific study by Signy Sheldon and Julia Donahue (or click here).  So what does Protoje’s most recent work trigger?

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Well, the first single was released last year (Feb 2017) and “Blood Money” hit the ears and mind like a missile.  Protoje’s weapons, of course, are the most deadly ones available to us: bullets of truth.  I mean, honestly, what hurts more than pulling back the curtain on this island’s corrupt reality with lyrics like these: “How much dead baby deh over Jubilee?/  How much youths did 10 when them run inna Tivoli/ Now them 16, heart fry, head fricassee.”  Negative feelings and negative memories of news about Riverton landfill and the air pollution that is killing the surrounding communities, the people as well as the plants.  Painful memories that date back to colonial rule and linger in the selective blindness of the police, surface as one listens to “Blood Money.” Traumatic memories of local news reports about the suspicious spike in infant mortality at Victoria Jubilee Hospital and the shallowly buried memories of international news reports about the Tivoli Incursion are unearthed as this lead single plays on.  Protoje’s lyrics are potent and this first release was intentionally and specifically triggering for the Jamaican listener.

Mortimer assisted on the second single “Truths and Rights” (Sept 2017) where he and Protoje remind listeners that they are about activism.  This reminder is important in a pop music world that continues to pump out consumerist songs about buying more and spending more and rappers like Big Sean and Drake feign humbleness to sing about being blessed to be “here for a good time, not a long time” (“Blessings” 2015).  In the face of this, “Truths and Rights” proudly states:

“Cause Jah Jah bless I with the brightest lightr-455689-1127250169-jpeg
And I ah shine it pon di yout dem plight
Cah we deh ya so fi truths and rights
Deh ya so fi truths an rights
And until the day that my soul takes flight
Babylon will hear my voice…”

For me, this single triggers reggae memories of Johnny Osbourne’s 1979 classic of the same title and similar content.

Then, this February (2018), “Bout Noon,” the third single, was released.  This single had a different tone and a different affect. Triggering still, but personal instead of national.  96ab32eb5d88f36897c610a8b6c08b6f-1000x1000x1“Bout Noon” paused discussion of the nation’s politics to sing a praise-song.  For me, “Bout Noon” triggered positive memories of Black Star’s ode to the black woman “Brown Skin Lady” (Talib Kweli and Mos Def — now Yasiin Bey, photo below) and recalled Sade’s 2010 album cut “The Moon and the Sky” (which I think producer Phillip ‘Winta’ James’ is riffing on to build the beat for “Bout Noon” and there may be a hint in the music video — see the video still below).  Known for their Pan-African worldview and broad musical influence, in 1998 Black Star img_8857rapped a silky love poem to the black woman whose beauty of mind and body could make a man “ride a Coltrane to A Love Supreme“.   In 2018, Protoje’s “Bout Noon”, though sharing themes of Starland Vocal Band’s 1976 classic soft rock tune, “Afternoon Delight”, I’d argue that “Bout Noon” places itself in critical conversation with the soulful, moody jazz of Thelonious Monk.  Quite personally, “Bout Noon” triggers memories of my wedding day when I walked down a New York City aisle to Miles Davis’ rendition of “Round Midnight” (1955) and together my husband and I walked out to “Dipset Anthem” (2003),  a yet-to-be-duplicated musical hybrid of reggae crooner Sanchez and Harlem’s unique brand of hustle rap.  But back to “Round Midnight.”  As the most recorded jazz standard EVER, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” (1944) is set twelve hours before (or after) Protoje’s “Bout Noon.”  Even observing the visuals of the “Bout Noon” single (above), Protoje is seen looking out on a Kingston night sky, not a sunny city noon-scape.  Of course, the video is partially set during daylight hours and in the Tweet and screen-grab featured just below, Protoje’s fictional lover is lying on the bed clothed in a sweatshirt depicting Sade’s face  (a nod to the song’s production?). Screenshot_2018-06-26-11-48-12  Protoje is an uncommon reggae artist. He is a student of music. What I mean is that he listens and learns and works with producers and musicians who are also listening and learning.  How else do you create a song like “Bout Noon” that triggers the sentimentality of Sade, the romantic longing of Thelonious and Davis’ style of jazz, while still delivering dancehall-influenced poetry like: “mi catch a prophecy/ fi kotch yuh pon top ah me/ … one call and mi deh pon yuh bass like oddesey”?  “Bout Noon” straddles genres, blurs musical spaces, and complicates the potential of Jamaica’s music/ians to consider what is creatively possible when the music pushes beyond the new popularity of the trap sound or the tradition of the one drop bass line, when the music educates listeners about romance and not just Rastafari, and when the music seeks a shelf-life longer than a hashtag  and consumer trends.

The final single that dropped was “No Guarantee” (May 2018), which brings Protoje back together with his “Who Knows” (2015) collaborator, Chronixx.  “People got expectations/ Will they love you?/ No guarantee,” sings Chronixx in his familiar falsetto voice.  But it is Protoje who declares his frustrations with the jealous types and those who grudge-fully limit and criticize others when he sings out: “Some will say you no Ras/ cause you jump in a Benz/ like me never see Selassie/ in a couple ah them.”  On this track, as it is with the other singles, Winta James grinds out a classically disruptive rhythm to match the content and the triggers are there.  Who doesn’t have negative memories of being falsely judged? How many times have we been assumed or presumed to be someone or something we are not, all because “people got expectations”?

So, what about the rest of the album? Well, Friday I’ll know and will update this post accordingly.  For now, I’ll just restate that this album is triggering, issa thing.

**If you are unfamiliar with the Protoje, you can learn more at his website or his Wikipedia entry.

gentrified goats, imported cars

ATL Autobahn opened a few days ago in Jamaica’s capital city.  At the cost of US$15 million, the state-of-the-art car showroom and service center has the regional dealership rights to BMW and MINI brands.  With solar panels providing the majority of its power supply and UV-deflecting treatments on the see-through structure, the ATL Autobahn is stunting stunning.  The Autobahn is definitely a stylish space that complements the sleek, modern design of the automotive brands it houses.

I know what I know about the Autobahn because I read the Observer‘s feature on the space in today’s newspaper.  But my outsider’s perspective gave me some insight, still. For months I had driven by the space that was ultimately to become the ATL Autobahn. And when the zinc fencing first went up on Lady Musgrave Road, the first to feel the sting were the goats. This is because there are not many green spaces left in the New Kingston area, and the unpaved lot that existed where the ATL Autobahn now rests, was prime grazing land for some twenty or so plump, happy goats.  Well, goodbye goats; you were unable to withstand the gentrification process.

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photo source: http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=847469&page=2

The Lady Musgrave Road goats are now long gone — relocated to greener pastures, I hope.  Today, the ribbon has been cut, the asphalt has been laid and the concrete, steel, and glass have been erected on Lady Musgrave Road, a road that already carries a history of inequality and privilege as it was paved to appease the insulted eyes of 19th century governor of Jamaica Lord Anthony Musgrave’s wife.  It was more than one hundred years ago when Lady Musgrave expressed her preference not to see the mansion of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. So, to satisfy her sensitivities to black wealth, Lady Musgrave’s Road was constructed.  Today, the goats are gone, the grass is gone, but, in a way, some of the inequality remains.

Last Saturday night, current BMW drivers and the brand’s prospective consumers were treated to an exclusive grand opening party that was akin to a “New Year’s Eve celebration,” according to The Observer‘s report.  The highest ranking public sector officials were present and private sector moguls were in attendance as well.  Adding to the party vibe, Saturday night’s festivities also featured the musical contributions of the girls’ dem sugar himself, Beenie Man. In his coverage of the event, Rory Daley said that Beenie Man, who famously sang out for the keys to his Bimma twenty years ago, drove into the function modelling an X3M 40i compact SUV then launched into the lyrics of “Sim Simma.”  The guests all happily sang along while admiring the collection of cars on display.

The BMW or Bimma has long been seen as a status symbol.  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-48-03After all, it is the ultimate driving machine.  It has been the aspirational vehicle for many drivers the world over.  It is the vehicle that one drives to communicate driving excellence, smart wealth, and a need for speed.  Yes, it is a dream car, but who in Jamaica can comfortably afford this dream?  Not most, I’m afraid.  When I see the shiny new imported cars, and calculate the duties and taxes to have them here, I am reminded of The Roots’ pointed music video for their 1996 hip hop classic “What They Do.” (The above picture is from the music video. If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, click here and enjoy.)  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-38-25And from a practical stand point, in Jamaica, where potholes (like the one pictured at left) litter the roads, where rains can easily flood the interior of a car, and parts are expensive to replace, I find it perplexing that with a very low ride height BMW’s 3- and 5-Series vehicles are still sold.  I suppose status symbols trump practicality.  I suppose idolized objects of wealth win even when they are not ideal for the terrain.  Why else is there a Porsche dealership in Jamaica?

Despite the roads and despite the goats, I still very much salute ATL Autobahn. I applaud them for being able to bring an ultra-sleek, energy-efficient architectural space to Jamaica and I am impressed that they did so so quickly. I am also happy to know that Jamaica’s economy is doing well enough for this dealership to be viable. But, when I drive by, I won’t be singing Beenie Man’s Bimmer song.  I’ll be thinking of Protoje.  Protoje, who did not perform at the opening event, also sings of the BMW and how it can sometimes be a marker of a less savory Jamaica.  I’ve cued up the verse below; so you can just hit play. 

I suppose national development struggles are always multi-fold, affecting the environment, the people, the animal life, and the economy.  Still, I worry about those old Lady Musgrave goats. I hope they are well. As Kingston considers what symbols it wants to project about its status, this capital city will have many more gentrification battles to face.  Goats are just the beginning.

#dearjamaicans, we’re better than we know

Usually, preaching to the converted is a sign of redundancy, but in the case of Netflix’s Dear White People series, I’m not so sure.  How many opportunities do black American college students and black American college graduates have to see themselves and their racial experiences hashed out on their television screens or on the silver screen where we first encountered Dear White People in 2014?  Not very many.  So, for what it’s worth, I thank the cast and crew of Dear White People.

After binge watching all of the Dear White People episodes back in April 2017, I waited for a Jamaican reply, of sorts.  Screenshot_2017-11-14-21-48-21Every few weeks I would type into the Twitter search box the following hashtag: #DearJamaicans.  I know that the show was viewed here so I supposed that Jamaicans were a part of the choir to whom the show was preaching.  Twitter tells me that my supposition was incorrect.  There are only a few posts that met the gauntlet that Dear White People’s Sam and Coco set with truth-bombs like: “Dear White People, if you wanted to demoralize us with your European beauty standard, mission accomplished.”  But, still, a few is not zero.

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Under #DearJamaicans I found a 2014 post by @cly_de (see left) and a few weeks ago, Jaevion Nelson, my Facebook friend and self-proclaimed “opinionated human rights and social justice advocate,” posted a brief “Dear Jamaicans” letter in response to a child abuse video that though initially shared on Whatsapp as a perverse form of humor, ultimately led to the abusive mother’s arrest and a national discussion of corporal punishment (see below).  Nelson’s tweet got 32 retweets and @NicolasKhan retweeted Nelson, querying if it should become a hashtag.  Screenshot_2017-10-24-10-33-01To date, a #DearJamaicans hashtag has not yet taken set. Why?

Like many of the Caribbean nations that have a majority African descendant population, Jamaica likes to boast a climate free of racism (insert look of suspicion and proceed with voice of sarcasm).  Colorist, Jah know! But racist, no, never. Classist to bl**dcl*t. But, racist, no, never.  And sexist?  You can bet your pretty brown face it is. But why are so few willing to take Jamaica on? Where was #DearJamaica when either of the first two “Zones of Special Operations” (Sept. 2017 in Mount Salem and Oct. 2017 Denham Town) were launched? Zones were set up in the country to help reduce gun violence; but no zones have been established at the wharf — where the guns enter the country illegally.  Big up to Dionne Jackson Miller for her weekly, hour-long panel discussion, All Angles, on Television Jamaica. But, that television show aside, why isn’t there more discussion taking place in the uncensored digital space of social media?  Why not more public questioning of the instances of police officers shooting and killing particular citizens?  Outside of the newspapers’ op-ed pieces, why not more online discussion of incidents of employers not hiring particular applicants?

In Jamaica, these kinds of instances are not necessarily viewed as racial discrimination or race prejudice.  Instead, they are understood as encounters between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the brown and the black, the men and the women, parents and children.  So, in Jamaica, even though these present-day binaries are rooted in a hierarchical, patriarchal plantation system, they are no longer divided racially as black and white.  With no black and white binary it becomes clear why there is no #DearWhitePeople for Jamaica. But why no #DearJamaicans? Or, better still, why hasn’t Jamaican Twitter launched a #DearBrownJamaicans or #DearJamaicanMen as these are the two groups that possess power here (as power often leads to abuse of power)?  I suppose I’m being provocative and I suppose I’m throwing down a dangerous challenge, as there is risk in ruffling the status quo with curious observation or oppositional thinking.  But, there are some among us who have spoken out against what I will call Jamaica’s “traditional modes of discrimination.” Moreover, there are some among us who are boldly holding Jamaica’s privileged class up for scrutiny.

In 2007 international Jamaican music artiste Shaggy outed “Sister Paulette’s” husband and betrayed all of the closeted hypocrites of Jamaica on his incendiary single “Church Heathens.”  In 2008 reggae singer Etana sang on behalf of job applicants who are denied jobs because, as the song title says, they have the “Wrong Address.”   And earlier this year, reggae singer Protoje released the video for “Blood Money,” a powerful single that is a lyrical critique of the class inequity at the heart of Jamaica’s corruption.    (As an aside, of late, dancehall artists seem to be shying away from overtly political statements.  Perhaps Popcaan is speaking out. Perhaps Ishawna can be said to be speaking up for women, in a sense.  But neither has a song that matches the older work of Vybz Kartel on “Emergency”.  Thankfully, Bounty Killer put back on his “poor people’s governor hat” to voice “Duh Betta Than This” on the Law Riddim this October 2017.  All fans of his classic, “Fed Up” were surely pleased to hear Bounty take up many of Jamaica’s concerns.  But Bounty took a calculated risk, as he opens the song saying “after this they will try to ban me.” Thank you for speaking, Warlord.

But how can the less-musically-inclined Jamaicans challenge the discrimination?  As a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, I have encountered some brave and bright minds. But with so much censorship and such limited anti-discrimination legislation in Jamaica, I wonder how are Jamaica’s university students and university graduates negotiating the frustration of living in Jamaica while being aware of discrimination, being woke to sexism, and being conscious of inequity? How are Jamaica’s young, cosmopolitan, professionals responding to the oppressive and regressive work environments that they enter into when they choose to live and work in Kingston?  How are they handling the frustration of Jamaican sexism in 2017 (see example below, right)? Screenshot_2017-11-03-13-43-56 How are they negotiating Jamaica’s performance of policing, yet the willful blindness to actual criminal activity?  And, no, the answer to these questions is not “educated/privileged/brown Jamaicans do not feel frustration.”  I regularly engage with students who are unsure of how to negotiate their progressive thinking and their regressive reality.  I hear their frustrations and wonder if this realization is what feeds the desire for many Jamaicans to migrate if they can or self-medicate if physical departure is not possible.

I think this kind of accumulated frustration must have motivated writer and director Teeqs to craft the Jamaican mini web series Losing Patience.  losing patience logoThe series debuted July 2017 and it is smart, laser sharp, and it was right on time because I really was beginning to lose patience with my reality.  For its regional uniqueness, I resist making direct comparisons to Dear White People.  The lead character is Renee Patience, played by singer, songwriter, and newly-minted social activist Sevana.  Renee’s best friend is Desiree, played by Kimberly Patterson of Nick Cannon’s King of the Dancehall.  And the very clever Justine Henzell is executive producer.  I believe the show’s gift is in how it balances dialogue and silence.   As one watches the series, it’s useful to remember that mirrors never talk, they reflect. Through contemporary, uptown Jamaican eyes, this series takes a pointed look at Jamaican ism schism.  And through the character Desiree it throws necessary shade on the self-serving use of social media.   If you haven’t watched the episodes, I encourage you to do so right now by clicking here.  They are mini, but effective catalysts for discussion.  With humor to make it accessible, this is just the kind of show to spark the conversations that haven’t been had but need to be had here.  And why not on Twitter?  The handle @lpwebseries is the fictive Twitter account of the show’s lead character and is described as “Renee’s Random Thoughts.” I can only fantasize about the incisive #DearJamaicans posts Renee would make!  Thankfully, season two is written and in pre-production.  I hear that the second season is due to arrive early 2018.  Praise the creative media gods!

In the meantime, I’ll keep checking Twitter for #DearJamaicans posts.  It is clear to me that Jamaica has reached a new critical juncture.  The creatives have always been the ones to expose society’s ills. Read Geoffrey Philp’s short story critique of religion and society titled “Dawn of the Dread” or Michelle Cliff’s sharp novel about class, gender, and sexuality titled No Telephone to Heaven, or any culturally classic poems by Miss Lou or Mutabaruka.  Reggae music has always chanted down Babylon’s oppressive ways and, traditionally, dancehall music has boastfully rebelled against society’s codes of “decency.”  This new visual series is similarly seeking to communicate with the Jamaican audience by pushing the boundaries of social critique.

The warning that accompanies Losing Patience is for viewers to “bringle responsibly” (“bringle” being a patwa term used to describe frustration or anger).  Sevana, the singer-actress who plays Renee Patience, recently put her bringle where her heart is, and hosted a Jamaican first: #ShirtForAShow charitable concert.  On Saturday, November 11, 2017,  in creative partnership with Protoje, Runkus, Lila Iké, Ziah, and Leno Banton, Sevana put on a concert where the only requirement for admission was a donation of clothing for the less fortunate.  I was there with my one-bag-ah-clothes and so was everyone else.  Singer Lila Iké was on stage bigging up the crowd. Courtesy of @Regrann, check the video Lila Iké posted to her Instagram with the accompanying caption (follow Lila @lilaike) : “#NoteToSelf :Once yuh still got breath for the taking that’s another day to part take in something great and amazing #Thankful #ShirtForAShow was crazy vibes big up @sevanasiren.”

 

This is what positive vibrations look like and sound like. Sevana converted her bringle into upliftment and a social media hashtag helped.  The success of this event shows that anyone of us can be the change we want to see.  And after last week’s trending hashtag #RightToBareArms that was aimed at disavowing Jamaica’s out-of-date dress codes, it became clear that Jamaicans are not interested in maintaining repressive rules.  And after this weekend’s “Imagine Kingston Conference,” it became clear that Jamaicans have identified the domestic problems and are ready to turn bringle into better.  Using our own tools, and not those left behind by the colonial oppressors, it is time to rebuild the nation inclusively and free of discrimination.

Maybe this post will help #DearJamaicans to gain traction as a hashtag capable of uniting progressive Jamaicans to begin the task of rebuilding…  Maybe it won’t.  In the very least, this post celebrates those among us who are unwilling to rest on phrases like “this is just the way it is in Jamaica.”  So, for what it’s worth, I’ll close with this: #DearJamaicans let’s think differently and do away with those traditions that divide us.

See you on Twitter.