Archive for the ‘calypso’ Category

Saltfish, Pleasure and the Politics of Eating

August 25, 2017

tumblr_omokx3OjnQ1w2x309o1_1280

Hearing Ishawna’s “Equal Rights” for the first time months ago was so very satisfying. I’ve written about Ishawna before and I am a fan, so when I first heard this song, I hollered out one stink jamette cackle. It is the kind of song you nearly don’t know you need until it happens: actively demanding pleasing, riding and owning a “mainstream” dancehall beat and Ishawna coyly demanding “show mi what yu tongue can do.” The song is also gratifying because we haven’t heard female pleasure articulated in that way before while we were so busy being inundated for years with men’s opinions of why it shouldn’t be done.

Lyrically, not all of the metaphors work to the same degree; I’m so here for the delicious physicality inside the verbs “suck” and “nyam”, but “chewing” on my pussy decidedly like French fries of all things — not so much. Still, nearly every line is unapologetic. The weaponising of the pussy and Ishwana’s reinscribing of the dancehall men’s lyrical and phallic gun (for one example, but there are others that approximate the cocky and specifically, penetrative sexual intercourse, with violent imagery) means that what is between her thighs is simultaneously like a cutlass: a tool frequently used throughout the region to enact horrible injuries upon bodies in both public and domestic spaces.

The spectacular horror of a cutlass attack wielded high, with every dull thud of the blade’s crack through flesh and bone is likened to the pussy’s grip and the pussy owner’s potential to extract what’s needed and demanded through its cutting hold. What does the investment in vaginal tightness mean for women and can women elect to do so: elevate their own pussy performance on their own terms for their own damn selves and satisfaction? I am reminded of Red Dragon’s classic chune and how I am further of the belief that the pussy pat is an affirmative and declarative statement when outside of and separate from a man directing you to do so.

Sections of Ishawna’s song’s hook and its title are obviously hyperbolic to some extent, but the estimation of “equal rights and justice” with getting your pum pum eaten, given the specific cultural context, does not happen in a vacuum.  There are reasons behind why women are squealing out hearing this song. Those people expressing indignation that “rights” and “justice” have anything to do with pussy eating were probably not lambasting performers and regional sound systems that have continuously made violent assertions of masculinity against the backdrop of not eating pussy.

Ishawna’s evocation of the pussy as cutlass, rooted in questionable sexual respectability concepts of vaginal tightness versus looseness, is not less problematic just because she said so, but it further complicates our examination of what good pum pum looks, feels and tastes like and where we, as women, get those ideas from. It would have been wonderful to hear yu gon’ eat whatever comes out of these panties and yu will enjoy it, but Ishawna is not about completely subverting the sexual expectations of cishet men; she still chooses to cater and she just reframes their expectations, so the pum pum is well shaved and she drinks her pineapple juice daily.

The other issue with one part of the song’s opening is it uses pum pum eating as a prop for a man to feel good about otherwise failed sexual performance, not because he genuinely loves and wants to go down, and his partner deserves all the orgasms; but the clincher is really the next line where Ishawna caustically observes that the man is “bright enough fi a look gyal fi shine you, but yu no wan’ taste.” The whole double standard is here laid bare and stripped to its center of nonsense.

(more…)

Feminist Kaiso and Soca Playlist

February 11, 2014

Image

Because you needed this in your life and the carnival season is upon us and because wining (without an “h”) is totally a feminist act. And some of allyuh need to be schooled in some classics.

Do note: for the purposes of my personal analysis, a feminist calypso or soca song can be feminist regardless of whether the performer has explicitly called themselves feminist. So, no, Destra may or may not consider herself feminist (I have no idea about that) but that doesn’t prevent a feminist lens from being applied to her work.

I’m also aware that male songwriters have penned some classics for women, but unless we are going to completely erase the agency of the women performers who bring the songs to life, then that too, doesn’t detract from meaning and implications. All shared art: musical, written and otherwise, is liable to interpretation, which may or may not collude with the artists’ agenda. Additionally, all songs sung by a woman aren’t implicitly feminist just because a woman sings it. Case in point: Patrice’s “Give Him (Bam Bam).” Yeah, no eh.

Anyhow, a soca or calypso song may be feminist if it advocates for women’s autonomy and agency, interrogates and or celebrates women’s sexual agency (in soca and calypso, this is often symbolised by the free movement of and “ownership” of the bam bam as well as wining); reinscribes social mores, or advocates for or examines gender (in)equality, or complicates how we think about gender or gender roles in society. Or just sounds good to the feminist ear. Basically, if feminists can flex out to it and not cringe inwardly, then we might be on to something.

Without further ado, some of my favourite feminist chunes in no particular order. (List is not at all exhaustive. List is also, arguably, very Trini soca/calypso oriented.)

“Die With My Dignity”: because you shouldn’t have to bull for a wuk. Unless of course that is what your work entails. Voluntarily, safely and with personal agency of course. (We don’t slutshame or invalidate sex work in these here parts.)

Also, because Singing Sandra was part of The United Sisters, the first ever all-woman kaiso soca group and she’s a legend!

Sample lines: “Well if is all this humiliation/ to get a job these days as a woman/ Brudda, dey go keep dey money/ I go keep my honey and die with my dignity!”

Which leads me to “Whoa Donkey” by The United Sisters because of soca sisterhood and the no-attempt-to-hide-sexual-innuendo coupled with a dance that is nothing short of classic. Sample lines: “Tonight in de fete/ Is ride until yuh wet/ climb up on ah back. . .”

Saddle up, fellas! And ladies.

“Obsessive Winers.” Denise, Alison and Destra. Soca Queen Triad who doh deal with outta timers. That is all.

Calypso Rose’s version of a classic, “Rum and Coca-Cola.” She is a Tobagonian by birth from the sister isle and the first woman to ever win a Road March title!

Drupatee Ramgoonai for rewriting social, gender and racial expectations as the first female East Indian soca star. (Also see the equally classic “Mr. Bissessar.”)

(more…)

How Sweet the Sound

March 2, 2011

In the spirit once more, of the Merry Monarch’s reign supreme and a fascination with all (if not, most) things soca: I’ve been happily musing on 2011 soca trends. West Indian  popular culture, of  course, offers no end of  fodder — whether it’s sex and dancehallkaiso feminisms, the performance of masculinity by male soca stars, peripatetic postulations around black women’s derrières or, whether palancing is good for the soul (word is, it is).

On that note, it was interesting to see Africa (& strong African elements) trending hard in soca this season. Real damn hard. This season is long but some of these songs came out early, inundating my ears with thundering drums, rippling along polyrhythmic syncopations replete with echoes of the Motherland, or “the jungle” (or both?) On the appropriately titled “Swahili” riddim, there’s Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Dance and Dingolay, and” Pelf’s “Obeah“, then there’s Alison Hinds’ “Makelele“; plus, Bunji Garlin’s “De African“, making it feel like “de Maroons never gone” indeed. It is enough to make yuh want to roll an’ tumble down — in the best way possible, that is.

Bunji’s song revisits a kind of neo-Africanness through the eyes of those who view him in Germany first, in the opening stanza, vascillating between his “Trini-man” identity, his Trinidadian identity and his skin colour which is read as African, moving through a celebratory reckoning of said cultural identity: “standard in meh hand / like ah spear going brave,” and “standing up jus like ah chief,” (with Bajans, Antiguans and Grenadians acknowledged along the spectrum) — in one of the most non-euphemistimic ways I’ve heard in new, contemporary soca in a while — he merges all three. Garlin, is also the Black Spaniard, a globalised West Indian citizen, constantly evoking spit-fire identities like a chameleon, as he ever complicates his cultural identity in song.  Additionally, Cassie’s “Tong (Town) Ting” asserts and celebrates the downtown, behind-de-bridge, Piccadilly Greens and all other “tong girls” — “red, darkie and  brown-skin”, whom his zipper wants to take ah grip on — this, all atop a sweet kaiso melody.

(more…)

Kaiso Feminisms

August 23, 2010

“If yuh waist could talk, gyul—it woulda cry—” David Rudder

Last year, I had a paper accepted for reading at the University Carlos III of Madrid’s first International Conference on the Caribbean: “The Myth of the Caribbean woman.” While I couldn’t make it to Spain, my paper, a labor of love topic from my undergrad days—became reworked and will be included in the upcoming conference publication later this year. In the paper, I focused on a selection of women in soca and the ways in which these women articulate, celebrate and claim ownership of their bodies in song and wining (which Ayanna on facebook the other day, in quoting the smart & eloquent Atillah Springer, rightly declares “wining is a revolutionary act.”) Yuh damn well right it is, Ms. Springer. So, because my paper was centred on the women–I didn’t (for that paper) take the time to seek out men who sang (if any) feminist or women-centered calypso.

Not those songs that simply feature women through the gaze of the male calypsonian or male soca star mesmerized by her bumper and wining skills (of which there are plenty songs), but songs that articulate (like some of the women): a woman’s autonomy that is critical of social and gender norms and serious about interrogating them; songs that locate the woman as agent of this and her own sexuality, and complicates the woman’s positionality in Trinidadian society. David Rudder’s “Carnival Ooman” (1992) from the album Frenzy does this very well. I happened to listen to it recently on disc two of my Gilded Collection (of which, disc one is on heavy steady rotation inside my car).

(more…)