Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dancehall & Reggae in France

"Geenie, wine up yuself..." Wait, are my ears fooling me? I turned to my professors and classmates and gushed that the song is Jamaican. It was the first day of classes and Mr Vegas was being blasted in the metro of one of France's biggest cities. Three weeks later I went to a reggae concert featuring Tarrus Riley, Duane Stephenson, I-Octane and Dean Fraser. While waiting for the concert hall to open I was entertained by a group of about fifteen men who had a music player that was belting Sizzla, Vybz Kartel, Movado, and Capleton. Inside, the hall was packed! And I fell in love with Duane's music. I was particularly moved by one of his songs about War, but I can't find it online. Queen Ifrica would be playing at the same venue a few weeks after.

A few weeks ago I visited the city of Montpellier. The main "park" around which the town is centered is La Place de la Comédie. One afternoon while on my way to visit a museum just next to La Place I distinctly heard Jamaican music being played in the distance- my ears are attuned to Dancehall/Reggae beats. There was an open air concert, and would you believe the specialty was Dancehall?! And I don't mean Sean Paul, or Serani. It was LOUD. The music dominated the park and could be heard by everyone in the town square. Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Movado, Baby Cham and you name it. My profs were a little disturbed because the walls of the museum were thumping with Dancehall beats. You should have seen the smile on my face.

Then in Paris I was on the metro when I overheard a man singing along to a song from his ipod. "Gaza. Pan di Gaza. Pusi nofi sok pan di gaza. Bad man." It didn't take me a long time to realize that he must have been listening to a Jamaican song. He was really into it. Then at the club later that night I was treated to some oldies from the 80's and early 90's. Shabba Ranks, Red Rat, and some others who I didn't recognize, though I knew the songs.

You know, when I meet people and tell them I am from Jamaica, besides them smiling at me they usually offer the name 'Bob Marley' January everyone mentioned Usain Bolt firstly, and one guy even suggested Merlene Ottey before all the usual suspects.

My friend from Burkina Faso was at first puzzled by my pleasant surprise. She reminded me that Jamaican music is all people dance to in Burkina. She was shocked when I told her Jamaica's population was less than three million (Burkina: 15,208,586). Like myself, she is not able to understand how such a small country can hold such a prominent place in people's consciousness around the world. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gay Men Policing Heterosexuality in Jamaica

As always, the architects of the proverbial closet subjugate his mind and provide him with the tools needed to perpetuate the suppression of his fundamental instincts, and those of others, effectively elevating lowly "slaves" to the position of "slave-drivers". It provides for effective social control.

We hate ourselves, because we have been conditioned to consider who we are as evil. I can't remember if I shared this with you before, but it's relevant to this post so here goes. A few months ago I met my school's LGBT advisor for a conversation, along with one guy from Morocco, and the other from Connecticut. The American noted how interesting it was to meet gay men from other countries, for he had never thought of them before. I then said to him that we might be from very different places but our experiences trying to negotiate socio-cultural spaces that marginalize us is the same, albeit to different extents. He disagreed. He said, "my coming out was actually quite easy. I told my parents, they said okay, and that was that." 

I on the other hand struggled for years to get to the place where I am now. I never doubted that I loved men, or that I was gay when I discovered that people in the world identified as "gay" and led quite normal lives, but I fought hard to understand why society was so hostile towards the idea of someone like me. Many gay Jamaican men don't quite get to the stage where they question the validity of their cultural paradigm. Instead, they continue to hate themselves, constantly wishing the gay away, hoping to meet the woman who will sweep them off their feet. Some of the most robust rejections of my being gay have come from Jamaican men struggling with their sexualities. But, I understand extremely well the factors that give rise to this kind of self-loathing and oftentimes outright rejection of the notion of a gay identity. It makes perfect sense that we have internalized the homophobia of our society, and interesting how one is given the tools to perpetuate his own oppression and that of others. 

We must learn to love ourselves. We must erase every thought we've ever had that the attraction we feel is dirty, or evil. We will have to ignore every hurtful word people hurl at us when they question our masculinities. None of this is easy, but we must not hesitate to begin peeling away the layers of shame and guilt in which our Jamaican upbringing has encrusted us. The slave drivers were better regarded by their masters, but we gain nothing from perpetuating hatred and fear against our own. 

Live. Let-Live. Love. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kirikou et la Sorcière: A Social Commentary

The film Kirikou et la Sorcière was released in 1998. Kirikou is a precocious West-African boy who delivers his village from the wickedness of a sorceress, Karaba. I grew up listening to stories about witchcraft and retribution so I was intrigued. The graphics were simple, but the story was profound. It would make for an excellent alternative/ addition to the European fairy-tales that we are accustomed to, I thought...

Today my professor discussed the film in class, but made a rather intelligent analysis of the story (My excuse: I was watching the film from the perspective of a child hehe). So I decided to take another look at the film and here are some interesting things I noted:

The community described in the film is similar to my own in many ways. My parents for example, are very superstitious, and their belief in deities further gives credence to this disposition. Everything is the way it is, because a deity made it so. In the film, Karaba is the mover and the shaker behind the misfortunes that befall the village. The water source runs dry, and most of the adult males disappear. Karaba is regarded with fear and reverence, though she is not directly responsible for many of the misdeeds attributed to her.

In the minds of the villagers, Karaba is punishing them because she is wicked. It makes no sense to ask why she is wicked, as Kirikou does throughout the film, because the response will always be: "It's Karaba's plan". How Karaba relishes the ignorance of the village-folk! Recognizing their gullibility she claims, or at least does not deny, responsibility for the series of misfortunes. With the help of her minions, she is able to rob the villagers of their gold, which they value. Her omnipotence grows, proportional to the fear she instills in them.

The cursed water fountain is a constant reminder of the community’s fate. People are advised to stay away, lest they get cursed and suffer further from the wrath of Karaba. Kirikou disregards the rule in his quest for answers and discovers the reason why the water no longer flows- it wasn't a curse. The problem could easily be remedied, and so it was. Everyone celebrated. Yet still, every successive effort Kirikou makes to challenge the status quo is met with reproach or disapproval. His mother, who is well aware of the systematic oppression her community faces is not able to find out Karaba's secret, but she trusts Kirikou and helps him to get to the other side of mountain, beyond Karaba's dwelling so he can get answers from the Wise Man.

The film does not tell us how the wise man came to be in the mountains--- and if he always knew the solution to the village's problems, why he never attempted to advise them accordingly? To be fair, the Wise Man never hesitated to share his knowledge, after Kirikou had risked his life to get to the mountains (a combination of supplication and sacrifice I believe is the real-life equivalent).

After doing some research, my professor discovered that in the original folk-tale Karaba had become bitter and evil only after having been gang raped by men from the community. The creator of the film skillfully weaves in this historical twist in a way that is hardly evident to a child. Speaking of the origins of Karaba's wickedness, the Wise Man tells how her attackers restrain her while one of them drives in the thorn. This ‘thorn’, which remains in Karaba until Kirikou devises a way to remove it, is symbolic of the physical and psychological trauma she endures.

Another little detail, which I couldn’t help but notice, is the rejection of Kirikou by his peers. He is too small, they said. Even after Kirikou rescues them twice from the wretched grasp of Karaba they continue to regard him as inferior. Shunning everything ‘different’ seems to be rooted in the human psyche. It’s perhaps an evolutionary adaptation, which once guaranteed security and kept communities together. Anachronistic, surely, in a globalized world where I’d like to think we are starting to move beyond perceived ethnic and national boundaries.

I'll finish with a line from Kirikou:
Sometimes I am a little tired to fight on my own, and a little small and a little frightened. 
But fight he did. And so should we.

** Forgive my indiscriminate mixing of tenses. The film can be found on Youtube, with english subtitles, of course. Watch it, and tell me what you think :D

Monday, February 8, 2010

Patwa Kaana: Di Graas Griina fi Chuu, Bot...

Dem se di graas aalwiez luk griina pan di neda said. A chuu. Wen mi likl mi yuuz tu driim bout plies laka Frans an chos mi, di rialiti no mach-op so porfek at aal. Bot i mek sens stil, kaa wen yu no yuus tu a sertn ting we siim fi de somwe els, yu mos staat fantasaiz bout di somwe els. A jos so man mek. Bot aal di chrabl mi a chrabl, mi kyaahn siim fi sekl nowe. Mi naa se di graas no griin griin pan fimi said fi chuu ino, kaa chos mi i griin, bot aal di ruol mi a ruol ina di bam graas a bie krach mi kin a krach mi.

Wan a di ting dem we mi kyaahn andastan a ou kom no mata we mi go gie man afi yuuz websait an chatruum fi miit dem wananeda.
Waa gwaan. Yu gaa mi skuul no?
Ye…waa yu stats.
We yu miin?
Blak ar wait. Ou taal/shaat. Ud lent. Kot ar ankot. Tap ar Batam. Fies picha.
Amm, yaa juok rait. Nuo? Taak tu yu lieta den.
Ina Jumieka mi kyahn andastan, kaaz a no laik se yu kyahn jos waak op tu wahn man we yu laik, an fi nuo bout di paati dem yu afi nuo smadi uu nuo smadi uu gie- evribadi naav dat de logzri de. Nou wa mek ina Kianada, Merika an Frans a di siem ting mi a si? Evribadi a aid baka dem laptap. Everibadi jraa dong uu dem bi tu kopl suupafishal statistik and puoz op demself fi ii-shii-an-di-uol-liedi. (Big op if yu pruofail picha a wahn picha a yu bodi!!). An den mi tink, ef gie man kyaahn miit dem wananeda fies tu fies ina wahn konchri we dem av raits an protekshan, a we mi kuda riili ekspek fi apn ina Jumieka?

Mi taak aal di wail se mi ago bi selibet, an piipl no biliiv mi, bot mi jos kyaahn andastan wa mek wi lou piipl fi ron wi main so. Mi a di fos smadi fi tel yu se kolcha a wahn powaful sinting, bot nuo man, piipl kyaahna mek siek a kolcha dem liv di wuola dem laif widout lov, an widout di fiilin se dem uola- se notn no rang wid dem. Muo taim mi afi aaks miself ef a mi wan si laif disya wie kaa muos a di res a gie man dem uu mi kom kraas luk kwait kantent wid dem laif ina di shado. (Mi naa taak bout piipl ina Jumieka, kaa mi no ekspek se piipl ago git op an ris dehn laif fi "lov"). Ef smadi liv ina wahn sosaiyati we kliem se i naav notn gens gie man, ou kom sumoch piipl stil afi a aid baka kompyuuta pruofail!

Piipl aalwiez taak se gie man lov seks muo dahn aadineri, an mi aalwiez riizn se i mek likl sens kaa piipl no av di chaans nof taim fi miit an bil rilieshanship so wen dem du miit, ataklaps mos apn ina di bedruum! Bot no tel mi se wi kyaahn muuv paas disya setop ya, we get papyula jos kaa a wehn di siefis wie fi miit piipl. Tingz likl difrent nou man!

I luk tu mi se nof piipl stil no riili komfatebl wid demself. Mi andastan likl stil. Miebi di ting we a bada mi di muos a se mi wehn imajin se tingz uda nof-nof difrent. Bot eniwie, yu si chuu mi kyaahn tek no jraama, mi ago tan faar fran dem saiba piipl de, kaa wen yu tingk bout i siirios, tu dem yu a jos smadi fi ad tu di stak ina dem rampin shap. Afta di ak dem tuu shiem fi bil notn siirios we gwaihn fuos dem fi kanfront di fak se dem lov man.

So dis a wahn riil dailema. Mi figa se man tu man websait a fi piipl uu no riili av fimi andastandin bout seksualiti, an mi an dem naago grii, bot pan di neda an, anles a mi wan tan de wie ya (a kyaahn so!), mi no nuo we fi fain di ada man dem. Di graas mait griina pan di neda said, bot graas afi gruo ina dort, an a bie worm mi si a rigl chuu evriwe mi go.

Friday, February 5, 2010

To Dad, With Love

I finally did it. The earth opened up briefly while I said, and repeated the words "I am gay." I braced myself for his response as he calmly replied, "Do you know how long I have been waiting for this day to come? I'm glad you can now relieve yourself of the burden."

"How could you ever have expected that something so insignificant could come between us," he asked. "I love you, and nothing will ever change that," he continued. I had to ask him if he was listening to himself, because he seemed to have been reading from a manuscript which detailed all the right things to say to a son after he comes-out. He asked how my siblings had reacted, and demanded that I tell him if any of them has been teasing me so that he may give them a little talk. Unbelievable, right? Thankfully, all my siblings have been extremely supportive, listening to my stories, asking intelligent questions, and reassuring me of their love for me.

Now everyone who needs to know knows. My relationship with my family has never been stronger. I can feel it. After I spoke to daddy, I called one of my brothers and shared with him what had transpired. He was glad.

"FP, I hope you find a nice partner and settle down. And remember, always have safe sex." Wait, who abducted my father!!!