“Tell you about Black Man supremacy!”– Sizzla
Almost every Trini of my generation went through a serious Sizzla phase it feels like. Mine, never quite left. For some people, that meant locking up. Reggae sessions. Rasta dances up in St. James and elsewhere. An ites, gold and green phase. All Rasta sandals and Rasta belt and other trinkets, if not real Rastafari trodding. Sounds of Sizzla have stayed with me. Ises and powerful word vibrations. Before #black supremacy was a trending thing, before #black girl supremacy, before Tumblr and Twitter — there was Kalonji, hailing blackness and black womaness as supremely black, powerful and worthy of love, acknowledgement, and protection.
Actually, before Miguel Collins, there was Marcus Mosiah Garvey mobilising black folks for repatriation and heralding their collective power. Garvey, who is one of the spiritual forefathers of Bobo Shantis‘ call for self-reliance and self-actualization for black people. Bobos, whether touting nuts, ital elixirs or handmade brooms across the region, are not about your white supremacist capitalist bullshit. Of Bobo artistes, John Masouri wisely noted that “not since the days of James Brown’s Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud has black consciousness combined with popular music to such rallying effect.”
Eventually, as I became a teenager, the music of Sizzla was such a force in contributing to my black self awareness. Even for myself, and I was already growing up in a house where all my siblings and most of my cousins had African names, I read books with black characters like “Jambo Means Hello!”, and mainly played with black Barbies and other dolls. I know now, how important listening to Sizzla has been for my consciousness and it always will be for me. Heralding the supremacy of the black (man), however admittedly patriarchal and gendered that imagining was, was still very powerful. And no one else was doing so, quite in the same way. Bob Marley shared a Pan-African ethos that easily became multiversed for all kinds of people, the more widely the message spread. Rastafari is love, one love, and slightly decentered from blackness in some ways, but Bobos, via early Sizzla especially, were on a whole other tip. Like Alice Walker said, I am “not a separatist, except periodically, for health” but damn if I don’t enjoy hanging out in musical spaces where blackness is treasured and exalted supreme.
And yes, it’s amazing how we never die.
Sizzla was talking about what black people are made off: truths and rights and African traditions among other things. Refuting evolution because black people couldn’t possibly be descended from lowly monkeys.* (What he’s also doing importantly is debunking scientific racism in one fell swoop). Sharing love for the ghetto youths dem. He’s also really good when he is reinscribing biblical stories and making quasi historical and political allegories. I enjoy slack Sizzla, pum pum singing Sizzla. The Sizzla embodying Whitman’s, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Here for it.
Sizzla isn’t without his controversies and issues and problematics, of course. His denouncement of a white saviour (“. . . couldn’t be mi king”) in decidedly insulting ways made a lot of people upset, including several people I know. But if we could think for a moment, about what I believe he means; if white Jesus is an avatar couched inside specific sociopolitical and historical narratives, then so too is the denouncement of the avatar. And I have no issue with any of that. Images of black divinity have always made folks uncomfortable and this is something about Rastafari that is very necessary to understand, honor and appreciate.
He’s also a well documented homophobe who has reigned fire and more fire upon homosexuals more so that not. He also signed the Reggae Compassionate Act. So how does this black Trini girl grow up self identifying as queer, ingesting copious amounts of Sizzla in the process and currently dating a Jamaican whose mind is not nearly as open (but I’m trying to work on him!).
When I think about all of the cultural exchange of our region: between music and dance particularly, and I think about all that has fed me, Sizzla has to be up there. He’s up there with David Rudder and Singing Sandra and Ella Andall and The Mighty Shadow. Though I grew up in Trinidad, and he did shows there, I never saw Sizzla live for the first time until a show in Miami, and I was having palpitations. If you knew me, you knew that I felt like I had been waiting my whole life to see him live. Seeing Sizzla perform always gives me my life. I’ve seen him other times after that. Me and my Lion of Judah flag, blowing in the breeze.
The impact of homophobia in dancehall has been rightfully, well documented with correlative associations made. And these connections are real and can have dire impact but I also want to complicate the idea and say that it’s also possible to listen to lots of dancehall and non-inclusive reggae and not grow into a raging homophobe. My father, like many West Indian men of his generation, is not what I would call at all tolerant. On the other hand, my mummy comparatively is. Then there is me. (Admittedly with some of my acknowledged privileges as well).
Most significantly of all, understanding these complexities is not dependent on leaving the Caribbean necessarily. At all. The space is as it is. We need growth, for sure, in many areas, but the wiggle room is already there. There are people whose lives and freedom of movement ultimately depends on this. We owe it to them and ourselves. We can work with what we have and where we are at. And to quote Ma Angelou, “when you know better, you do better.” I didn’t need to leave Trinidad to know that I liked girls, too. I knew that there. I have lived more of my life in Trinidad and Tobago than not and I too am full of the contradictions of that cultural space. There are dancehall songs I will not dance to on principle (including some Sizzla) — but I still love me some Sizzla. And if I ever get married, or anything kinda celebratory love thing like that, he will be on the playlist, for sure.
*Monkeys aren’t lowly; no human superiority complex here, but yuh could still catch d man drift though?
Image via Google images
Masouri, John. “Burn down Babylon.” Mojo Aug. 2002: 20-21. Print.