‘Gay’ violence at local university symptomatic of Jamaica’s increasing descent into anarchy and mayhem!
The rule of law and democracy are under severe threat in Jamaica. From by all accounts, the situation is extremely dire. Not even Usain Bolt’s world record efforts can save us now.
On Thursday, November 1, 2012, a male student at the University of Technology was set upon and severely beaten by security guards, after being chased by a mob of his peers. The reason? He was suspected of being gay and was presumably one half of a duo caught in a ‘compromising situation’ on the campus.
Mob attack/ nightmare
Having run to the security post to escape the mob attack, the ‘gay’ student had his worse nightmare come true. His source of refuge turned into the very thing he was fleeing.
Degraded and dehumanized in the worst way by the security personnel on duty, the ‘gay’ student was mercilessly beaten while an entertained audience filmed the obscene event, their bloodlust clear in the expletive filled chants for him to be killed. This was, undoubtedly, a surreal scene from the theatre of the macabre.
But sadly that was real life and this is relatively commonplace in Jamaica. Indeed, mob violence has been routinely used to intimidate and in some instances kill those against whom it’s been directed in the past.
Recall, the killing of a man two months ago by a mob in the community of Zion, Trelawny. The man’s neighbours felt he was the father of a man alleged to have raped and murdered two little boys in the community. The deceased’s daughter was also injured in the attack.
Before that, a policeman shot and killed a woman seven month’s pregnant for using a curse word – another clear example of a society stuck in the ‘Dark Ages’. The policeman also shot and injured the woman’s sister in the incident.
So it is clear that, in the absence of an effective and meaningful state response previously, the UTech students felt no compunction in their savage venting of their ‘hatred’ of their colleague’s actions. Thanks to their frightening display of incivility and barbarism Jamaica’s name is now, effectively, in the toilette.
The students must be very proud of themselves. They did seek to deny one of their colleague’s right to his humanity, even while others reportedly sought to justify their actions in the aftermath, by declaring their belief in a ‘higher form of morality’.
The Bible, in effect, justified their near fatal abuse of a ‘gay’ student. After all, homosexuality is an abomination, according to Leviticus 18:22. All discovered to be so ‘guilty’ should be put to death in Jamaica and several other places like it.
Homophobia; hatred of life
But while this incident was certainly homophobic, it also smacks of a telling and deep-seated hatred of life; law and order and the basic democratic principles of the right of self expression.
Note, this is not to deny the stunning lack of thought which may have initially prompted the ‘gay’ student to express him and his partner’s desires in the manner which reportedly lead to this gravely unfortunate incident.
But these are negligible matters which must be expended with, at least so it seems for the UTech students in question. Their indiscriminate use of violence coupled with their demand for blood and an obviously rank stupidity devolved into anarchy and mayhem – a reality about which they do not seem especially concerned.
Why then has the state never effectively addressed this problem before now? How is it that students set to lead a nation in a few short years are not able to see the implications of their actions and what it means in the context of a wider set of issues such as governance, rule of law and national development?
Furthermore, whose agenda is served by this apparent silence, even as the ‘rabblement’ turns on itself? That nebulous group called ‘the authorities’? Do they not have an investment in fixing these issues?
Business as usual
Or, is this ‘business as usual’ and in the ebb and flow of life here on the Rock?
The alarming erosion of the rule of law vis-à-vis citizens’ democratic rights to life and self-expression in Jamaica is an extremely serious issue. It must be addressed as an act of great urgency. A strong, clear and fulsome response is vital.
Condemnation alone not sufficient
The routine condemnation of ‘lawlessness’ and ‘violence’ alone is not enough. More is needed.
The state must take a stand; regular citizens included. This is especially if the guarantee that the the rights of all, regardless of race, colour, class or creed is protected under the Jamaican constitution is to be believed.
For Jamaica to take its rightful place in the world then silence cannot be the appropriate response.
Jamaica needs to wake up! This cannot and should not be allowed to continue unaddressed.
Recently, the affiliate arm of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Generation 2000, or G2K as it is more popularly known criticised local media
for what it claimed was the biases of some of its proponents in terms of support for the Opposition, Peoples’ National Party (PNP). Among the key
concerns raised by the G2K was the question of polling, as well as the need for people with affiliations to the PNP to indicate that this is so by stating their status in said Movement.
The young Labourites suggested that the question of media bias (in favour of the PNP) was part of what explained the gap in the numbers between itself and the party currently in Opposition, which most people (according to the polls) are of the view will make up the next government. By this action, the G2K opened further an already ajar door, in the process, calling us to scrutinize the subject of media bias vis-a-vis
the political process in Jamaica.
The G2K also encouraged, though perhaps unintended, an exploration what, at least one member of the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) – Vice Chairman, Brian Schmidt, has called an increasingly hostile attitude toward the Jamaican media by public figures. In this regard, helping to foreground some central considerations about the issue of bias and the media in the, often virulent political culture in Jamaica.
According to Schmidt, in discussions with To The Point on Tuesday, July 26, 2011, the attitudes of hostility toward the media coupled with the
onerous fines levied against in Libel Laws, are justifiable reasons to be concerned about the G2K’s comments. Indeed, the MAJ Vice-Chair argued that the media cannot remain healthy in a context where they must strive to prove their own credibility, especially considering that in other jurisdictions it is the other way around. He insisted accordingly that, public figures must operate by a higher standard. They rather than the media must prove their credibility.
This is, especially in the case like that in which the G2K has found itself – questioning the methodology of media research as well as the
integrity of the narrative around these issues. AS a result, the critique of media and the political process, as tabled by the G2K, must also take account of how such attitudes contribute to the growing sense in which the Jamaican media are constantly at the mercy of powerful public figures and organisations.
According to Schmidt, this prevents the media, in theory, from carrying out their tasks effectively. Significantly, the MAJA’s critique of the
G2K’s remarks also included actors in the last administration, who are now in Opposition. It cannot, therefore, be read as an effort to single out any one group, individual or party in what he defines as sending chills through the local media. This is in terms of conveying a sense of increased hostility towards the media; that is, in their look at the political process in Jamaica and ensuring that democracy works in the best interests of all.
According Schmidt, the media are increasingly under attack. The rhetoric of certain public figures only adds to this tense state of affairs. Thus, it is necessary to ask whether this is a reasonable contention, especially given the extent to which the media currently does not operate without a complaints or an oversight body. Such an organization, in theory, would sit in judgment of the fairness and professional codes of of the media.
In fact, Minister of Information, Daryl Vaz, has rightly raised the concerns about giving life to such an organization. He contends that such a
group would serve to ensure that where there are concerns about fairness of coverage, impartiality, among other concerns that these are addressed as a means of urgent action.
In responding to such a charge, however, Schmidt says that the issue of a complaints body is superfluous. In his view, it is neither sufficient nor necessary. According to the MAJ Vice-Chair individual media houses already are constrained to obey the broadcasting regulations, as well as
that there are options of appeal. These can be tabled before the MAJ, which is a body comprised of media managers and owners. Included in that group also, is the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), which acts as a quasi-professional grouping for local journalists.
Effectively, Schmidt believes that the media landscape is already ‘policed’ by various mechanisms to ensure that the Four Estate, as it is often
called, does what it is set up to do. However, one cannot help but ask whither the effectiveness of such groups and whether such a complaints body would, necessarily, be redundant given the highly partisan and ‘tribalised’ nature of the Jamaican political scene?
Is it sufficient to argue that the media are already under obligations and, therefore, do not require this means of regulation? That is, regarding the requirements of the PAJ, MAJ and the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ), itself a unique grouping in the discussion which warrants its
own analysis? What harm, in effect, is there for introducing a regulatory body for the local media? And should such a body be responsible for ensuring professional accreditation and possibly also offer ratings for journalists, broadcasters, columnists and talk show hosts?
Schmidt noticeably did not offer a position on those questions in his review of the subject, choosing to argue instead that the media are, effectively, already sufficiently ‘policed’ by the current context. He further maintained that hostile attitudes in the current economic climate, given the burdens of disproving culpability in the case of defamation lawsuits, could potentially harm the media. This is not an ideal state of affairs.
Still, it bears being asked now that Jamaica is constitutionally due another elections in the next year, how will those issues play out in the
ensuing period? This is especially, considering that the Fourth Estate plays such a key role in who gets elected to public office?
In fact, buoyed the poll numbers over which the JLP has raised concerns, the PNP has begun its demands for an election. According to Julian
Robinson, Deputy General Secretary of the PNP, that is partly the result of the public’s refusal to be contained within the mediocrity of the current administration (To The Point on Tuesday, July 26, 2011).
The electorate has grown impatient with the mismanagement and, one could argue based on Mr. Robinson’s position, corruption of the JLP in its
stewardship of the country, specifically on issues like the economy, the administration of justice and others. Thus, while the polls are not sufficient by themselves to underwrite the confidence of the PNP, his Party is nonetheless hugely encouraged in the stridency of its demands.
It is this context in which the JLP’s concerns about bias in the media must be investigated. Are the polling numbers being manipulated to
reflect a biased view of the political landscape at this time? Or, is it simply because they are behind and, in some instances, dramatically which warrants the tabling of this ‘new’ debate about how media operate and the need for greater regulations?
Is there merit, for instance in the claims raised by commentators like Kevin Obrien Chang (also a guest on To the Point) and others about the
biases of certain media toward the sitting administration? They have pointed out that the recent reveal, courtesy of the whistle blowing organisation WikiLeaks about the attitudes of Dr. Peter Phillips, the current PNP Spokesman on the Economy, toward Portia Simpson Miller, the head of the PNP, as one such example.
That story was broken by the Jamaica Observer and not the Gleaner. Significantly, the former has long been felt to be anti-PNP, whereas the
Gleaner has now come to be regarded by some in the JLP as being in bed with the Opposition. Has the G2K and by extension the JLP raised a legitimate concern, therefore, going into the election year?
This, notwithstanding an apology from the Gleaner about its failure to publish the story first, especially given that it had started the process by introducing to the public, cables presumably aimed at ‘getting to the (whole) truth’. Are there legitimate issues surrounding how media are
manipulated in the ongoing electioneering politics, locally?
This, especially, as the various candidates vie for status and advertise themselves as winnable and therefore, trustworthy ahead of the next national polls?
…Tell us what you think? Post your comments below.
(To the Point is a new radio interview, news and discussion programme aired on www.bessfm.com, every Monday to Thursday, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Listen and let us know what you think!)
Needless to say Clifton Brown of ‘nobody canna cross it’ fame has exploded into celebrity. His recent sets of speaking engagements across the body of the local media landscape testify to this, with even this author interviewing him on a programme called ‘To the Point’ on Bess 100FM sometime in the previous week.
Most people have wanted to know, perhaps with justifiable humour, whether he has travelled outside of Jamaica as a means of explaining his seemingly acquired ‘accent’ for which he has gained notoriety. Indeed, the curious case of Clifton Brown is that, he is a most unassuming gentleman, rather unflappable in the face of great ridicule heaped on him by the members of the middle-class media establishment in their arrogant presumption that only those who use the English Language (well) are intelligent.
In fact, it needs to be said that Clifton Brown has maintained much of his originality by insisting in almost all of the interviews done with him to date that his case of the inadequate bridge is still very much real. He has not veered from that position, even though it has been said he has since acquired a Manager and, possibly, a Booking Agent to take advantage of the rumoured earnings at his expense.
Note, I say rumoured not so much because I disbelieve that there is a cash register that keeps ringing up earnings unbeknownst to Clifton but rather to point out that the actual details of those earnings may yet be beyond his immediate understanding. This is not to imply that Clifton is not smart; just not savy enough, at this time, to understand the nuances of the earning potentials.
Indeed, I submit that I too am a little behind in my awareness of how this process actually works. Though, there is no doubting that the use of his intellectual property by the enterprising D.J. Powa is a key part of the problem.
Based on the last information received, the creative, young deejay feels that he both has a right to earn from Clifton’s efforts to represent his community’s lack of needed infrasture and has insisted that the remix of the news report is his intellectual product. Indeed, he has even gone so far as to create t-shirts with some of the more notable soundbytes from the TV J report, among them ‘the bus can swim’. Thereby, clearly making known his agenda – profit at the expense of the poor, on account of their desperate circumstances and, in the specific case of Clifton Brown, his evident lack of training in proper presentation skills and sufficient exposure to media.
In fact, it is necessary to say that media use and interviewing skills, as well as language abilities are all talents which are not easily mastered by most. Those within the confines of air conditioned television and radio studios with the capacity to edit themselves before broadcasting their messages know that only too well. They are also aware that, they are sufficiently ahead of the curve, given how dependent media are on the efficient use of language in a myriad of contexts. There is no excuse for ridiculing and laughing shamelessly in the face of one not as accomplished but who is nonetheless concerned about a very serious problem in his community. The safety of residents who remain at the mercy of the elements given their under service by civic and other government institutions is very serious business.
Indeed, that Clifton has taken it on himself to highlight that he is a Christian and not an artiste, though he has perhaps unwisely gone ahead to retain the services of a management team also speak to the nature of the problems presented by this exceptional set of circumstances. It highlights just how confused we can become after making what are clearly well intentioned interventions in terms of bringing attention to certain matters of egregious civic neglect. Clifton’s goodwill, in other words, has now been subverted, in part, by the disrespectful media narrative sustained in some parts of the public middle class culture to which we so often defer in Jamaica.
In this way, highlighting why the poor often do not get heard and understood in their efforts to gain access to the seats of power. This is perhaps part of why at election times people do not bother to ask about platform issues and elect instead to vote on the premise of who can finance their children’s immediate need for school fees, a graduation dress, or even more urgent a day’s meal. It is entirely shocking and especially disrespectful too that more members of the viewing public, have not made a greater public outcry against the evident exploitation and generally uncharitable manner in which Clifton and his well intended interview has been treated.
To suggest that, DJ Powa, however enterprising, has any claims on the language use of Clifton Brown and the contents of the TV J news report is ludicrous at best. Note, no one is denying his obvious creativity. As a matter of fact, so creative is he that his talents have been acknowledged in the CBS news report which further catapulted the unsuspecting Clifton and the eager DJ Powa to fame and, possibly, fortune.
However, hardly much has been said in all this as to whether the bridge needed in Mr. Brown’s community, as well as the host of others which remain underserved by the state is being addressed. Indeed, no one has indicated too whether Clifton’s rights are to be protected and safeguarded in the current context, given the wide circulation of the video in the US and the Caribbean and, possibly, beyond.
Mercifully, Professor Carolyn Cooper, who has resolutely defended the language rights of poor Jamaicans and is a known cultural theorist has offered to intervene on Clifton’s behalf. More power to her, I say. However, I would also urge her to ensure that the officials consider naming the, hopefully, soon-to-be-built-bridge in his community ‘The Clifton Brown Bridge’. And that, some of the proceeds earned from the mass marketing of his image abroad be used to ensure that any of his five daughters, should they so choose, may take advantage of the university education Clifton has openly acknowledged he aspires to but did not attain (for obvious reasons, lack of sufficient means). It is perhaps why he has opted to remind that though he is not an artiste, having been offered the opportunities to record Dub-Plates for several sound systems since the remixed news report went viral.
Say what you will, Clifton suspects that something big is happening around, though he also appears somewhat overwhelmed by how to take advantage of what might well be an opportunity. I endorse, wholeheartedly, therefore, any project to get Clifton that bridge so that he can cross to the other side safely, especially as we are now in the Hurricane Season which started on June 1 and is officially scheduled to end November 30. That said though, I strongly believe Mr. Brown is also to be paid for the use of his image, against his wishes (‘I am not an artiste!). The benefits accrued from the subsequent creation and sale of t-shirts with his soundbytes should also redound to him in a meaningful way…
…This way, both Mr. Brown and the other concerned residents in his community of Robert’s Field will be able to cross the Yallahs River safely whenever it rains!
Below is the second of a two part report/ commentary on the state of the local Reggae and Dancehall music industries vis-a-vis what I regard as the ‘take over’ of these two Janmaican brands by others within the Reggae/ Dancehall Diaspora. The first post received interesting feedback.
In this entry, I hope to generate a discussion around likely solutions for addressing what I perceive as a serious decline, from Jamaica’s standpoint. Neither articles are intended to be either anti-American/ European or anti-gay.
On the contrary, they are aimed at building bridges and increasing awareness about this issue across the spectrum of the Reggae/ Dancehall universe. Your feedback is always welcomed.
Red, Green and Gold/ Green, Yellow and Red
Summer Jam 2010 utilized various aspects of Jamaican culture to promote itself. These included anything from the colours, foods and music. From the inverted ‘red, green and gold’ of traditional Rastafari – SummerJam used green, yellow and red, in that order, to the bamboo styled ‘Press Area’, in which all refreshments were sold, to the sale of pieces of coconut, kept fresh in a permanent supply of coconut water, ‘Jamaican culture’ was well represented in Germany.
The food was somewhat reminiscent of local cuisine. Supplied by a Jamaican who has lived in Germany for thirty years, Koala Mini Catering had an abundant supply of jerk sauces, curries and even elements of the national dish – Ackee, but without the requisite Salt Fish. George Llewelyn whipped up several ‘Jamaican’ specialties. Minus the lamb from the very popular curry stew, or even that there was meat available in a major food spot in a Rastafarian themed event and you could have imagined you were slumming it ‘island style’ in Germany.
Asked about the representation of Jamaican culture at the event, one patron, a university educated, second generation Jamaican living in Britain felt the issue was merely a question of entertainment. In his view, whether Jamaicans see a need to be at an event like SummerJam was entirely up to them. He soon disappeared into the packed auditorium, after a passionate defense of his point, refusing to engage further in the discussion.
Jamaican Diaspora in Europe
However, Jamaica-German transplant and soon-to-be minted Ph. D. Marlene Calvin, a Diasporic Studies expert, feels that festivals like SummerJam afford some measure of connection to Jamaican culture, albeit small. Calvin admits that she is conflicted about how SummerJam and other European festivals appropriate Jamaican culture. However, she says it is the only means of connection which she has in this section of the Diaspora.
In Calvin’s view, the state needs to do more outreach to Jamaicans in Europe, in particular those as far north as Germany. She is sympathetic towards those Jamaicans who feel no conflict over the trade and consumption of their culture, out of context, especially in foreign spaces like Europe.
Calvin maintains that is part of the experience of being a migrant in a foreign land. Children grow up without the same sense of bonding their parents feel towards their homeland. According to her, sometimes they see it as a shackle, holding them back from being part of the mainstream home society.
Calvin believes they are effectively, ‘Black Europeans’ who also aid in the appropriation of Caribbean culture in their new home spaces. For some, this is their (only) connection, however limited to their parents’ cultures and societies.
The three day Reggae festival also had a mix of Dancehall thrown in for good measure. Even the performance of Trinidadian Soca star and Road March King Machel Montano proved just how closely SummerJam patterned itself off indigenous Jamaican Dancehall with its penchant for fusing various forms of popular music.
Montano, who performed on the smaller of the two stages – the ‘Green Stage’ on Sunday, rocked the house. The first Soca artistes and, possibly, first Trinidadian performer to set foot on a German Reggae stage, Montano had patrons flying the red, black and white of his country’s national flag.
Asked what explained the flag waving and continuous cheering and dancing, even to the slower Reggae ballads included in Montano’s repertoire, Pete Lilly of Riddim Magazine said, ‘well, they do not really understand what he is saying.’
Still, the sight of Germans attempting to ‘take a wine’ and ‘tip behind the truck’, while funny in some respects, resurrected the old concerns about Caribbean languages and how those are understood by Europeans and the rest of the western world. This is especially regarding the continued insistence of the hatred said to be associated with Dancehall music.
Patois/ Dancehall Translation
According to Lilly, Volker Beck, a member of the Green Party in Germany and an openly gay politician and a chief proponent behind the ban against Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae music in Germany, recently, translated at least one Jamaican Dancehall tune. In Lilly’s estimation this was completely inaccurate, particularly when read by Jamaican linguist and local university lecturer, Dr. Hubert Devonish.
While, the details of the actual translation were not expounded on, what was clear was the obvious double-standard in terms of how charges about a lack of understanding were applied to foreign music. While not a Jamaican language expert, Beck and others claiming to understand Jamaican Patois and its various meanings seem to know enough to institute bans against Dancehall and Reggae artistes, without hesitation.
Ironically, however, the German audience felt not to know much of what Montano said danced continuously to his lyrics just the same. Machel’s reference to national pride was also greeted with thunderous applause when he asked for people from the various Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Germany to cheer to represent nationalist sentiments.
Hitler/ Xenophobia/ Homophobia
Germans are historically, conflicted over the theme of nationalism, given the intense xenophobia and racism which informed Hitler’s Nazi movement just over two generations before. According to Lilly, Jamaicans artistes have become some of the main victims to this new form of political correctness in Germany, which is ostensibly, aimed at stamping out all forms of hatred in artistic content. This is especially given the country’s history of persecuting homosexuals under Nazism.
Certain groups of musicians are barred from performing and earning in the German and other European Reggae markets, as a result. In the process, hijacking several sections of the local Dancehall and Reggae music industries; creating more than adequate space for foreigners to enter and take over.
According to Austrian academic and member of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, Werner Zips, who is a self-described, ‘white, bald head Rasta man’, ‘the offerings of German Reggae artistes are really good. They actually sound like [real] Reggae from about a decade or so, ago.’
The unvoiced portion of Zips’ remarks are, before the blockades, boycotts and bans preoccupied Jamaican artistes, whose attentions have been reoriented towards defending themselves against these attacks. Left with an obvious void, others have stepped in to fill the deficit.
But, if the take over of the Reggae and Dancehall music industries is cause for concern, it appears to have escaped the notice of many on the inside of SummerJam’s organizing team, possibly many inside Europe’s Reggae scene. Journalists were, largely, unable to talk with artistes or even the promoters of the event, given the many boundaries and barriers created in the backstage area.
Personnel in the ‘Press Area’ could not readily enter certain sections of the event, and were actively prevented from doing so by the various numbers of security guards and green suited Polizei on patrol of the grounds, guns clearly displayed. There was no room for misunderstanding; ‘no entry’ meant just that. Otherwise, the consequence could be deadly.
Still, it is important to add that magazines like Riddim have featured Jamaican artistes who have been banned in Germany, as well as have suffered their fair share of homophobic smear because of it. What is doubtful, however, is whether that by itself is sufficient to build consensus across the range of the Reggae continuum in Europe, in terms of critiquing the bans against Jamaican artistes in the industry.
According to Lilly, Gentleman, himself, has also acknowledged the power of race and nationality in affording him passage through the turbulent international waters in which Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall music have found themselves. While, not fixating on race as the only cause for concern, Gentleman’s remarks are instructive in focusing attention on some of the critical issues and needed solutions facing the industry, albeit in Jamaica.
Wheel an Come Again! Pull-up!
Jamaican artistes will have to repackage and reposition themselves, or as we say in the local parlance ‘wheel and come again!’ The ‘pull up’ must as an act of necessity involve the merging of the popular and the historical as well as the academic. The classic class tensions which structure much of Jamaica’s internal politics need to be replaced by a greater sense of trust, partnership and communication between the various arms of the society engaged in the production and circulation of local popular music.
Shows like Sumfest, Rebel Salute and East Fest and have a great role to play by using the backdrop of these festivals as a meeting place for ideas. Regular folk should be invited to sit and reason alongside those engaged in academic and social research on popular music. Artistes should be centrally involved in these exchanges of ideas which are necessary for stimulating conversations about appropriate themes for production in their works.
Artistes also need to educate themselves fully beyond just the mere scope of the classroom or even the even the narrow interests of ‘the streets’, notwithstanding that this is a dynamic part of their music. Questions about the law and what it says in terms of the use of provocative language, expletives as well as choice need to be learned and attitudes adjusted to reflect these positions.
The rehabilitation of Jamaica’s public international image as a site of hate and fear, as regards questions of sexual choices need to be corrected urgently. The Government’s role in promoting a distilled position about Jamaican identity is central to this process. They need to say what it means to be Jamaican in clear and simple language. This should be broadcast to visitors and locals and alike and agreements signed by those entering the country to uphold the values of ‘Jamaican-ness’ expounded in such documents.
Government needs to say specifically why Jamaicans feel the way we do about questions of sexual choices, particularly homosexuality. Does this really matter in the overall construction of citizenship here and how does that prevent or promotes one’s access to the state and its resources? That needs to be clearly explained, given Prime Minister Golding’s 2007 announcement on British Broadcasting Corporation’s Television show Hard Talk that gay people are not allowed in his Cabinet.
Addressing the fall-outs from those destructive remarks means that Jamaica needs to show what the Government has done to advance human rights, within the context of sexual freedoms, by passing legislation empowering the protection of such minority groups. The Dancehall and Reggae music industries need to get onboard this bus. By advocating peace and tolerance, regardless of creed religion and politics, they allow their audiences and supporters see that Jamaica is a place of tolerance and brotherhood.
These sentiments, however, need to become more than just words on a paper but must also be incorporated in to attitudes of those engaged in this kind of work. Public partnerships between the music industry and the Ministries of Education and Culture need to be explored as an urgent matter of course in this regard. These should include field trips into studio sites, as well as the dedication of land space and resources to set up of a Reggae/ Dancehall museum exploring the history of the music as well as that of the society and the link between the two.
Jamaica’s history must be foregrounded in the telling of the nation’s history and the construction of the national public identity by which they country should become known. Stories outside of the National Heroes need to be explored and told in relevant and easily understood formats for all to understand Jamaica’s commitment to the goals of democracy and human rights; that is, through the long struggle of African slaves and Indian Indentured labourers for freedom.
These should not be removed from the current context in which the obstacles towards the holistic development of the society are also acknowledged. While not aimed at highlighting crime and violence, these stories should nonetheless inform how the narrative of ‘Jamaican-ness’ is constructed as a means of informing visitors who Jamaicans are and how they seem themselves in relation to others.
Documenting Jamaica’s Role/ Funding
Documentaries outlining and documenting the history of Jamaican music industry should be made available readily digested formats and easily understood portions for a range of audiences. As part of that thrust, the Government needs to make grant funding available for such projects through state and community agencies like Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Jamaica Social and Development Fund (JSIF) and the Social Development Commission (SDC).
They should also incorporate programmes at the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Edna Manley College School of Music into this process. The exploration of the idea of attachments to other schools and media and music training programmes in other parts of the Jamaican musical Diasporas need to also be part of this process. The Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), as well as the Reggae Studies Unit at the UWI and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) have a key role to play in this regard.
Dedicated music programmes should be incorporated into public libraries and information made available via the Internet to facilitate students conducting research, as well as those interested in leisure reading. Graduate funding for ongoing research projects should also be explored and be made available for those with such interests.
Students should also be encouraged to see the Reggae and Dancehall music industries as legitimate places in which to gain employment by encouraging their participation. They should be advised, through the provision of scholarships, bursaries and endowment funds attached to the music, more highly skilled and formal training to the sector. Professionals trained in music marketing and promotions, branding as well as research and development should be encouraged to work in the sector.
Media managers and publicity and promotions people involved in the industry also need to conduct more face to face workshops and seminars aimed at facilitating understanding on matters of entertainment and the question of the public’s interest. The Broadcasting Commission should be incorporated into this process, as well as Disc Jockeys.
Issues of ‘Payola’ would, therefore, need to be fully ventilated and updates given as to the state of the legislation aimed at addressing this; in the process, regularizing the industry. Media training for artistes as well as producers is also necessary and vital.
The curtains came down on SummerJam 2010 with a barrage of fireworks in the still bright night. The sun sets in Cologne near eleven o’clock in the night give or take fifteen or so minutes.
However, the unsettling feeling that the work of the international gay lobby, while certainly noble in getting local artistes to change some of their tunes, has also had a devastating impact on Jamaica’s ownership of the music unless the recommendations noted above are addressed. Before long, local artistes will be completely removed from the picture, only able to perform in local circles.
The massive transference of Jamaican culture to foreigners is happening with rapid speed and in a format equivalent to the rise of a new form of imperialism, in which cultural resources are colonized and controlled for the benefit of more powerful elites, resident within the developed west.
The time has clearly come for a game-change. All within the Dancehall and Reggae universes, specifically those in Jamaica are called to immediate action.
The decline is the result of a complex set of factors. Chief among them the coordinated attacks by the international gay lobby coupled with the use of effective media campaigns and unofficial political and economic blockades. The Jamaican music industry is in deep trouble, as a result.
Indeed, the development of other forms of Reggae music across the globe while obviously a testament to the reach and coverage of Jamaican music, should nonetheless be cause for concern for local artistes and producers. In fact, the SummerJam Reggae Festival held in Cologne, Germany is a telling example of some of these development. Among others, there was a noticeable absence of big named Jamaican acts at the July 2-4 show. Underlining in the process, the extent to which foreign produced Reggae/ Dancehall shows are able to successfully organise themselves without the heavy involvement of Jamaican artistes.
One of several concerts scheduled for European Reggae circuit this summer, SummerJam’s line up, organization, brand and marketing clearly indicate a growing trend in industry practises, internationally – the creeping disappearance of Jamaican control of the Reggae brand. The consequence of which is that, anti-Jamaican sentiments as they affect the performance and selling of local Reggae and Dancehall music in some of the biggest markets in Europe and the United States has impacted the musical outputs from ‘the Rock’.
Thereby, resulting in a breakdown in some of the key thematic concerns generally associated with traditional Reggae music. This has created space for the emergence of European and other foreign nationals who are able to colonise, as well as to organise and profit from the various brands.
Coupled with the recent spate of United States (US) Visa cancellations affecting some artistes, the gravity of the situation is made all the more apparent. Reduced travel, especially during peak summer tour seasons mean reduced earnings and bans equal less air play.
The sum of which is decreased earnings by Jamaicans, particularly big namd stars like Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel and others. Consequently, enabling the re-branding of Jamaican music as a risky business investment and politically unappealing. That is, given the other messages associated with Jamaican musicians internationally. Placing, in the process, local Reggae and Dancehall musicians at risk of developing not only a bad reputation, internationally, but also casting an impression of Jamaica as a nation of unprofessional bigots.
Part of the reason is that, Jamaican artistes are felt to be homophobic bigots who constantly preach the violent deaths of homosexuals as a group. As a result, wholesale pressure has been brought to bear on the local industry; effectively, stymieing its development and bringing with it the eventual replacment of Jamaican control through increased foreign participation, management as well as profits. Shortly, the brand will no longer be ours.
SummerJam celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this year under the theme: ‘Let the Spirit Rise’. The three day concert, held in Cologne, Germany is an interesting case study in some of these dynamics. From the limited numbers of Jamaican artistes on the show to the inversion of the colours of the Rastafarian religious icon often used to brand Reggae and even Dancehall, to the wholesale trade in and consumption of Rastafarian/ Jamaican craft items by Europeans, the massive transference of controlling interests in Jamaican culture is actively underway in the ‘Old World’.
Trade/ Brand Jamaica
Vendors at the popular Reggae event claimed that they stood to gain as much as forty thousand Euros from sale of Jamaican and Rastafarian icons. This, after paying only two thousand Euros to rent the small space. Part of that arrangement, they say, comes with providing their own security.
However, none of the vendors were perturbed by the small inconvenience. After all, there is much to be gained from trading in ‘Brand Jamaica’. Jamaican made and represented craft items like carvings of Rasta men with guitars to blankets and shirts with the Jamaican flag emblazoned on them, to photographs of Bob Marley and other Reggae paraphernalia provided the means for a stiff trade in local brands at the event.
Still, with the absence of an official Jamaican delegation at the concert, benefits from the mass marketing opportunities, or even a chance to promote accurate information about Reggae’s history and its association with Jamaica were not available to the patrons. At nearly a hundred Jamaican dollars to one Euro, the monetary implications may become more apparent and serious to stakeholders.
German artistes controlled the opening night of SummerJam, which was dedicated almost exclusively to European Reggae acts. Headlined by blockbuster Gentleman, the foreign performer was accompanied by a slew of other German acts including the Jamaica-Trinidad connected Cornadoor, as well as Nikitaman and others. Of the four big named artistes on the show, only two were Jamaicans, Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley and Toots and the Maytals. American, Hip-Hop star Nas was the other headline entertainer.
However, the absence of Jamaican celebrity artistes did not completely escape the audience’s notice. One Gambian complained that, for a twenty-fifth anniversary staging there was no Beenie Man, no Vybz Kartl or even Taurus Riley.
But that could easily be explained. Jamaican artistes are blocked from working in certain international markets due to their ‘homophobic lyrics’. At least eight Jamaican albums have been banned from German airwaves, having been placed on a list of music considered dangerous to children. They cannot earn from the music whether in recorded or video formats.
Unprofessional Jamaican Artistes
Speaking at the Reggae Conference in Kingston in February, German Reggae promoter Klaus Mack, head of Contour Music and organizers of SummerJam noted that Jamaican artistes may no longer be needed in Europe. According to Mack, their ‘unprofessionalism’ and super large egos are costing European promoters monies some are not willing to invest (anymore).
Mack’s insensitivity aside, his comments were spot in gauging the mood in Europe, currently. German Reggae and Dancehall artistes are coming of age and Jamaica is rapidly being routed from the picture.
In the estimation of the Gambian vendor, European Reggae events like SummerJam are a rip-off. He should know.
Gambia recently awarded deejay Sizzla a Diplomatic Passport and routinely conducts Dancehall Queen Competitions as well as Passa-Passa street parties. There is a great deal of supporters for Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall in the African country. Summer Jam, according to the Gambian vendor, has become ‘too commercial’. He feels that the promoters presented a less than spectacular show.
Commenting on the cost of the three day pass, the foreigner who has lived in Germany for approximately eighteen years pointed out that the promoters stood to gain a lot from the one hundred Euro fees. Given the nearly forty thousand or so patrons at the event, many of whom live in tented residences on the festival grounds, as a means of cutting costs, the economic reality may become more apparent.
But the jury is still out on the weakness of the German Reggae and Dancehall industries. Some European Reggae insiders believe Reggae music (in Germany) has come of age. According to Pete Lilly of the German Reggae magazine Riddim, there is even an indigenous Dancehall industry in that part of the world. He notes that that process is now actively underway.
The Chief Editor of the German language magazine says that, while some singers have mimicked Kingston’s hardcore themes of guns and ghetto youths, more and more German Dancehall artistes are focusing on things unique to their experience. According to Lilly, they are even engaging in clashes and sound system competitions, as well.
European Pride/ Sound Clash
Lilly’s statement reflects pride, an emotion also noted in the attitudes of others on the inside of Europe’s ‘niche’ music scene, as they call it. They are proud they are able to rival the Jamaicans at their own game. In fact, sound systems like Sentinel and Pow Pow have also won clashes with their Jamaican counterparts and were even doing dub-plates.
And there is some truth to the remarks. The play out on the unofficial ‘Dancehall Night’ seemed more like a Jamaican ‘Passa-Passa’ styled set. The Selector played a slew of current hits in the Dancehall, as well as Reggae and even Soca.
However, there was none of the fashion and preening associated with Jamaican street dances. The patrons were mostly dressed in cargo shorts and not much else. The strong smell of perspiration clearly indicated that not all elements of ‘being Jamaican’ has yet been mastered by teh Germans.
Still, the cause for worry is real. Jamaican music is in urgent need of an image make over. That reality cannot continue be brushed aside by industry insiders as an ‘uptown/ academic fixation’. Self criticism and an active move to clean up the music and professionalise the standards must become one of the hallmarks.
Artistes need to educate themselves about the world and learn how to conduct interviews with foreign press without seeming defensive. They need to recognise that an advertisement of their personal beliefs and in such a very public way, as conducted in Dancehall, will continue to result in them being sidelined, internationally.
More work has to be done with the artistes and state agencies like the Culture Ministry as a means of closing the gaps in this process. We have to actively work at changing Jamaica’s image in a very comprehensive way. Otherwise, all three brands – Dancehall, Reggae and even Jamaica will all become foreign owned and controlled.
The near two hour ride into rural St. Mary had finally deposited us at our destination. We were in Woodside, home to celebrated Jamaican author, academic, founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ‘Black Space Limited’, Dr. Erna Brodber.
The familiar sights came back to me, slowly at first as my sensibilities adjusted, then with a rush. Not much had changed since my last visit over a decade ago. There, perched on the gently sloping hill was the one room structure which doubled as church and community centre.
Even the few birds above who had turned out to see who the visitors were, this time, seemed familiar. The lush green of the undulating hillside stood in stark defiance to the baking heat surrounding us. Woodside was preserved in time environmental factors notwithstanding.
I was happy to disembark from the cool air-conditioned coaster bus, which stood throttling as the weary but excited passengers peeked out into the sleepy, rural Jamaican countryside town. I had previously been part of another group from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus which had also journeyed to Woodside.
Then, it was mostly students registered in the ‘African Diasporic Women’s Writings’ course (E21G), taught by Professor Carolyn Cooper. She was also the chief organiser of that trip. I smiled as I recalled that I had got an ‘A’ for my efforts in that class. But I digress…
Naively, we had all thought of ourselves as budding intellectuals and academics, at the time, largely on account of having read through the very complex, though very entertaining narrative of ‘Jane and Louisa’. Named after the Jamaican Ring Game (nursery rhyme) of the same name, we had managed to convince ourselves that we were the heir-apparents to literary greatness, as a result of that small feat. Or so we considered it at the time.
The deceptive simplicity of the ‘Jane and Louisa’ story mirrored much of the manner of the woman who now stood at the door of the community centre, broom in hand, tufts of wooly white hair exposed. Erna Brodber had come to greet this new cohort of visitors to her hillside haven.
Brodber is perhaps better known for her concept of’re-engineering black space’. Premised on the notion that ‘African-ness’ is crucial to constructing black identities across the length and breadth of the African Diaspora, her point-of-view seeks to interrogate multiple historical sources. These are vital to her telling the Jamaican story, appropriately.
Uncluttered with the limitations of ‘authenticity’, Brodber’s worldview incorporates various untraditional sources. Her pioneering interviews with the fabled, if not much feared ‘obeah men’ of Jamaican legends form part of her investigative repertoire, which is also reflected in her deliberately complex stories like Louisiana and to a lesser extent Myal and others.
The links between the Caribbean and mainland North America explore the interconnectedness of the themes of ancestry and notions of spirit messengers in Brodber’s novels. These are crucial to how she strategically deploys concepts of history, time and place. Her cast of largely female heroes is routinely offered crucial advice in the present based on familial lessons of the past. From psychic disintegration to reconstituted wholeness, the tales emanating from the Woodside based author are a constant source of wonder, intrigue and history.
Woodside had grown in importance, as a heritage tourism site, since my first visit. This rural hillside community, nestled in the mountains above Highgate had played host to several local and international groups, even receiving commendations coming as far away as the United Nations (UN) for their work in community tourism. Things were undoubtedly happening in this neck of the Jamaican woods.
Like before, though, meeting and talking with the popular author was one of the main highlights of our trip today. There was also the likelihood of the food. As I recalled Woodside cuisine came with its own personality. From the sumptuous Rice and Peas and succulent ‘Brown Stew Chicken’, to the potato pone, which the women had jokingly referred to as ‘puddn’, swallowing the ‘i’ and ‘g’ at the end of the word, I was eagerly anticipating lunch from ‘Miss Meeva’.
This time, the menu was Fried Chicken and a Veggie Stew. Earlier, somebody had commented that lunch was one of the highlights of the trip. I found myself agreeing. As if reading my mind, the heavens silently observed the activities below, an overcast pall washing over its face. Puffy grey clouds kept still, the threat of rain suspended in the intrepid heat. Nothing moved.
Dr. Brodber greeted us with her usual inimitable charm. She seemed fairly regular, even ordinary, far from the image of the celebrated, academic about whom much had been written in various theses, essay questions and commendations. In fact, had I not met her previously, I could have mistaken Erna for one of the regular community folk among whom she lived and work. That was part of the Brodber appeal.
Today’s group of writers had come to Woodside eager to learn the stories of ‘One Bubby Susan’, a carving of a woman with one breast, guarding a limestone cave – the entrance to which had long since sealed by time, at the bottom of a wooded hill. She was said to be worshipped by the early Arawak settlers in Jamaica and was the subject of much folklore and legend. At the community centre, I was just in time to overhear our hostess narrating one of the stories to a group of her students. It involved a woman who had the power to fly – ‘in the spirit!’, as the author was clear in emphasising.
According to Dr. Brodber, the woman and a male apprentice had come to Woodside at some point in the past, though no specification was given as to when, at least based on my recollection. Perhaps out of curiosity, the man had gone off to explore the limestone cave and stone altar which on my earlier trip I had been told was carved naturally by the elements.
No sooner had the young ‘spiritual’ man left did the woman leap into action, claiming to have heard a loud scream for help. Alarmed, the woman – a Yoruban priestess – if memory served me correctly, flew to the man’s assistance. Apparently, stronger than the man in the art of spiritual warfare she successfully staved off the threat of the angry spirit housed at the stone altar just below.
The true extent of ‘Susan’s powers were easily missed by the silly antics of the tourists who had come to see her. Today, we/ they, irreverently, posed for pictures running our/ their hands over the cold, lifeless breast of the sightless deity. Her eyelids had been sealed shut by the passage of time and the elements.
`Sphinx-like, the unseeing stone goddess wordlessly guarded the entrance to the now impassable cave, once a shrine for native worshippers. Hardened mammary exposed, Susan was, indeed, a powerful contrast in the study of the sacred and the profane. The ‘strong spirit’ housed there, thankfully, was nowhere in sight today, at least as far as we were aware.
‘Daddy Rock’, was another of Woodside’s attractions. A rock monument, gouged into the foot of another hill, there were in-laid stones put there by families in the community as a way of tracing their genealogy. Head of ‘Off-the-Pages Productions’ and event organiser, Carolyn Allen doubled as our tour guide. She explained that each year there was an Emancipation celebration held at ‘Daddy Rock’.
According to the UWI Lecturer and former Staff Tutor at the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), the occasion was one for much speechifying and ritual. She urged us to come back for that event, reminding that the bicentenary of the ending of the sale of Africans as slaves in the Trans-Atlantic Trade in humans (from Africa) in 2007 was a big deal in Woodside.
Carolyn spoke of the ‘Breaking of the Waters’ production, a dramatic piece done in honour of African souls lost at sea, during the inhumane trade and enslavement of the peoples from the ‘Mother Land’. Behind us, men in rolled up pants, stained with mud and sinewy arms tended a fire, a bunch of green plantains laid out beside them. We were eager to see what was going to happen with the plantains and the fire.
Then, someone sang out ‘roasted plantains’ to which I jokingly respond, ‘I am only aware of roasted yam and salt-fish.’ We became totally entranced with the activities of the men tending the roasted plantains, ignoring almost much of Carolyn’s remarks. However, we hear enough to know ‘Daddy Rock’ is an important historical site in Woodside.
After all, one of the in-laid stones on the rock face shows that some of the residents had settled in the community as early as 1835. This coincided with Dr. Brodber’s own remarks earlier, that Woodside was also connected with Trench Town in Kingston, via some historical factors which completely escapes us now because of the possibility of indulging our fantasies of Jamaican ‘coarse cuisine’. The term is largely used in reference to the presumably unsophisticated food of Africans who were enslaved during slavery and colonialism.
‘Are you aware that they also eat ‘roast corn’ with coconuts?’ I asked my companion. She shakes her head in the negative: ‘never heard of it!’ Her response was curious to me, however, given that she had lived in the country for much longer than I could have legitimately laid claims to. Still, I regaled her with my limited knowledge of Jamaican ‘country life’, which admittedly I had only picked up from hanging out with my colleagues at work, some of whom had grown up in the country. To burnish my credentials I had sought out and sampled ‘coarse cuisine’ delights at every opportunity such as agriculture fairs and rest stops like ‘Faith’s Pen’, in St. Ann.
Today was a pleasant reprieve from an otherwise mundane Saturday. It marked my active return to considering writing as a legitimate option, if even in a part-time capacity. Only earlier this year, I had committed to updating my blog (rawpoliticsjamaicastyle.wordpress.com), more regularly. I was very keen on the prospects of hearing the group read their works, the main idea around which the Writers’ Routes workshop was being held.
The trip to St. Mary was also a re-acquaintance of sorts with some friends from whom I had become recently estranged – not through any personal difficulties between us. Rather, because I had become so preoccupied recently, I had overlooked to keep in regular contact.
The shock of the surrounding heat was palpable. Some began visibly adjusting to the change in temperatures, with comments on the humidity. ‘There will be rain!’ one woman piped up, almost as if in response to our collectively unvoiced question. The camaraderie established on the bus ride had spilled over into our later interactions that day. Like water on flattened river stones; it seeped lazily into our pores, all the time marshaled by the aggressive heat. This group of neophyte writers, including some more established professional performance artistes and bloggers, seemed at ease with each other, at least for now. They were comfortable in each other’s presence.
‘For those who want to use the bathroom, it is down the road and around the corner, at ‘Black Space’, Dr. Brodber had instructed earlier, shifting into her role as host. The group of mostly women hastened at the invitation, eager to relieve themselves of any excess baggage taken with them from Kingston. After a moment’s pause, I realised that I too needed a bathroom break and ran off in the distance to join the small group, who had already made their way down the road and around the corner.
I was slightly worried, though. My entry for the reading later was not a story. It was a blog (
). One about the recent State of Emergency and the likelihood of a discontinuation of the international Jamaican street dance ‘Passa-Passa’; that is, in light of the fact that Tivoli Gardens’ strong-man-turned-fugitive, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke was now on the run.
More than this, the blog had been recently published, then, without my permission on two websites: dancehallusa.com and later on ‘On the Ground News Report (OGNR)’ on Face book. Flattering though the compliment was, I was uneasy about the mass circulation of the entry without due acknowledgement, though I was also conflicted about being recognised as the commentator on such a tricky subject. After all, I had recently had an unpleasant online exprience with a former Facebook contact about my comments on issues pertaining to the Prime Minister’s earlier apology, arising from the controversial Manatt, Phelps and Phillips issue, itself, part of the real life, unfolding ‘Dudus’ saga around which my blog was based.
I was also keenly aware that there were those who may have missed the disclaimer at the top of the post in question that the entry was, largely, a reaction to the events of the West Kingston security offensive on Labour Day (May 24, 2010). They may have missed the aim of entry which was to catalogue the impact of the aftershock of this major upheaval in the community which housed ‘Passa-Passa’ and how also that may be implicated in the war for Tivoli fought by the state and the gangsters. The blog was, in effect, part of my field research on issues pertaining to politics and popular culture in Jamaica, currently.
Still, I was happy to read the post and even more excited to get direct feedback from the group, though I had to read it from my Blackberry. I had overlooked to print it before the trip. So, it was a pleasant surprise to hear it referred as an ‘essay’ and that I was encouraged to enter it into the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Festival of the Arts in June.
At the end of my reading, our hostess said: ‘all I have to ask is did you read it from that thing (the Blackberry phone)?’ My simple answer was, yes! She replied: ‘It sounds like a documentary. Then, Carolyn spoke up. She said that, ‘the format you are using is an essay. Lots of things can be said in an essay. In fact, there are just as many essays with lots of interesting themes and issues. Yours is an essay.’ I smiled, at the compliment.
I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction to my reading. It certainly was not a regular story and did not have dialogue, which I had learned years ago make for a story. While, I may not have been sure I agreed with that definition of a story, I was certain about one thing – I wanted to write. It was a means of releasing pent up emotions and I actually did enjoy it. It was even more interesting to hear the comments.
I chose to look into the Festival of the Arts option, as well as to send it to a reporter from the BBC, who I had learned on the ride back to Kingston had said that Jamaican reporters, apparently, missed an opportunity in their coverage of the Tivoli offensive. In between being encouraged to send the reporter the link to the page and an accompanying email, I was again reminded that I was using a documentary technique. I was pleased, as I had a real love for documentaries and for writing – two things I was really interested in pursuing more fulsomely. This was a wonderful half-way point.
 At the time of writing, I have still not heard back from the Reporter, who is based in Jamaica – that was over a week and a half ago.
The following is a reaction to some of the news coming out of last week’s massive security offensive conducted in portions of Jamaica’s notorious West Kingston communities Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town. It was written on Thursday, May 27, 2010. Your comments are, as always, welcomed.
The security forces launched a massive offensive in one of Jamaica’s highly touted crime centres, Tivoli Gardens, four days ago. At the end, the body count in the West Kingston community registered seventy-three, including also some security personnel.
However, there is still no sign of the man they are seeking. The most notorious fugitive this side of the hemisphere, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke has managed to elude the security forces’ grasp.
Tivoli Gardens which is reeling from the aftershock, following the upsurge in violence and instability, is also home to the internationally renowned ‘Passa-Passa’ street party event. Housed in what former Police Commissioner Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin referred to as ‘the Mother of all garrisons’, ‘Passa-Passa’ is rightly also the mother of all Jamaican streets parties. It too has been affected.
A garrison is a Jamaican reference to communities in which political parties establish strong men to mobilise votes through fear and intimidation and even death, in exchange for government and other kickbacks, when the party gets into power. Tivoli notoriously embodies these features.
On March 24th, this year, ‘Passa-Passa’ turned seven. The celebrations were marked by a bigger than normal extravaganza. Several Dancehall celebrities, including artistes and dancers participated in the late night event.
In retrospect, however, it could be argued that the widely regarded mysticism of the number seven may have suggested that some significant eruption was in the offing. On Wednesday, that unintended prophecy came to pass. Spanish Town Road and its environs were caught in the vicegrip of a looming crisis. The noise of the boisterous street party extravaganza had been extinguished; the thronging bodies stilled under the relentless fire of enemy forces.
There could have been any number of reasons, however, for the change in the atmosphere. Choose one. From the unrelenting assault of ‘Operation Take Back Tivoli’ lead against the community considered a hub for criminality, to the untenable conditions of those hold-up inside, as water and electricity were turned off to help smoke out the alleged crime lord; or even the stench of putrefying human flesh, as the resident crow ‘John’ circled above, savouring the options below.
Still, there is one greater reason – ‘Passa-Passa’s main patron and benefactor, Christopher ‘Duddus’ Coke is still at large. The strong-man-turned-fugitive has been on the run from unrelenting police and military fire, as the state declared war on criminal elements felt to be hiding inside Tivioli Gardens.
As a result, there was none of the usual bustle and excitement Wednesday; where the music generally pierces the night or the sea of dancing bodies and riotous colours defy the early dawn in their surreal transformation into unparalleled urban partying. Only the sounds of gun fire punctuated the dark, last night; the smell of death hanging heavily in the cool night air.
The drought appears to be lifting now. The much anticipated rains have started but only come intermittently; partially relieving the long endured heat which has hung over the capital like an unwanted veil. But even as the straggling clouds struggle to provide relief, the blood inside ‘the Garden’ has flowed freely, already soaking the parched earth below. The combination of rain, blood and death make for a morbid cocktail, not soon forgotten, even as the world watches with rapt attention.
Callers to local radio talk shows are not shy in their descriptions of what has transpired inside Tivoli; that is, in the absence of official media images and sound bytes. Journalists were barred from entering the war zone for three days. On ‘Day Four’, media personnel were given strict instructions by ground commandos of what to film and where to go. Left with little choice they had to rely on the reports given by the residents as their only ‘on-the-ground’ insights.
Conventional wisdom suggests, however, that onlooker accounts should be viewed with suspicion. After all, garrison communities are notoriously defiant in their responses to the perceived intrusion of the state. The media are considered a key part of that group. In fact, on the first day of the offensive, gangsters in the now dead zone made several threats against some journalists, in their efforts to penetrate the criminal fortress with their coverage.
The residents are the chief witnesses to the violence. While, they generally lack the sanitised vocabulary of the anglicised middle classes they conveniently make-up their own words like, ‘be-front’ and ‘dead-ing’ to epigraph their trauma. The latter underlining the conjugated continuous tense of a noun/ adjective dramatically converted to a verb for effect.
The speaker is animated now; her anger clearly showing. The wanton misuse of the English language is accentuated only by a violent choreography of arm movements while some of the other residents simultaneously perform ‘be-front’ the news cameras and recording equipment. They are re-enacting their panic and anger. In true, Jamaican inner-city style, sagging breasts fall out of skirts hurriedly hauled above distended bellies, as hairnets shift out of position, young children clutched in their mothers’ clenched fists. Everyone is seeking out their fifteen seconds of fame.
This is war. There are no pre-prepared media briefs, no eloquent spokespersons. Only grief, bloodshed and anger remain. And there is lots of that to go around. The impromptu performances help mediate the despair, offering meagre consolation to tired bodies and beaten spirits.
Now, the bawdy call of the deejay on electrifying sound systems disrupting the otherwise expected calm of the early morn has fallen silent. There is no prescription to nubile young women to ‘skin out’ because their ‘holes are good’. Or agile young men costumed in garish Dancehall paraphernalia, sweating profusely as they writhe in agonising pleasure to the latest dance tunes for awestruck audiences and the ubiquitous searchlight of the videographer, known in these parts as ‘the video man’.
Now, the once confident Tivoli Gardens’ residents are suddenly bashful. They hide their faces with pieces of cloth and old clothes from the glare of the media spotlight, as it harshly captures their darkest hours of death and starvation. They violently berate the security forces reserving their worst bile for the government, specifically their Member of Parliament (MP) and Prime Minister Bruce Golding. They have vowed never to vote again.
While that remains to be seen, however, the events of the last four days indicate a dramatic turn in events. It is all seriousness now. The music is gone and only the reverberation of gun fire and the spontaneous protest to register the collective disgust of the remaining few, the only orchestrated performances.
Stripped of the illusion of peace, Tivoli Gardens is now seen for what it really is, another impoverished and under-developed Jamaican inner-city enclave caught in the fight between the state and gun-toting thugs for ultimate control. The gangsters have wielded power for many years, calling themselves ‘dons’ and harnessing resources enough to repudiate the official advances of the state in restoring civility.
There is much here that the offensive has taught, even as the government battles the great public relations nightmare that must surely follow from this onslaught, internationally. The still resonant calls for the PM’s resignation are now hinged on why he came to make this decision after delaying for nine months and whether the bloodshed could have been avoided, altogether.
What happened to have caused a reversing of the hold-up in signing the extradition request by the United States Government? Is there any truth to the claims made by the US media organisation ABC that Mr. Golding is a ‘known criminal affiliate’ of Mr. Coke and that he was caught, along with other Jamaican government ministers in electronic communications with the reputed crime lord?
Notably, the Government has vehemently denied the accusation, threatening legal action if there is no retraction. All wait to see.
In the meantime the question of whether it is sufficient to just ‘bring back the love’ to the now decimated inner-city community seems more than appropriate though only an afterthought. After all, ‘Passa-Passa’ absorbs the boundless energies of unemployed young men, as they dance their troubles away, under the watchful surveillance of the ‘President’s’ men.
Tivoli operates under the well constructed narrative of being well organised. Everyone knows that breaking the rules of ‘order’ will have dire consequences. Indeed, any kind of action which threatens to sully the already tarnished image of this garrison community as disorganised attracts deadly penalties. Hence, ‘Passa-Passa’. It is the ultimate illusion of power, calm and relaxation.
Except today, the complaint is different. Bodies are allegedly being burned in the community, while others are said to be buried without dignity in mass graves. All semblances of order and civility are gone now. Jamaica has slipped in the international ratings. There is no civility, stability, modernity or democracy here now, as per the recent Tivoli offensive.
Perhaps some of the very dancers often decked out in their colourful scarves, form fitting jeans and braided hair, during earlier editions of ‘Passa-Passa’ now lay dead in the mass graves – faceless, nameless and without dignity. Their bodies unceremoniously disposed of in holes in the nearby May Pen Cemetery, itself reeking with the stench of death.
In all this, however, one thing is certain – the music has stopped. There is no ‘Passa-Passa’ and still no ‘Duddus’!