Archive for the ‘caribbean culture’ Category

Cultural Resonance in Rihanna’s Dancehall

February 25, 2016

Riri

Rihanna’s “Work” is slathered with dancehall aesthetics, oozing and dripping off the brows and shoulders of dancers, the froth spilling from Red Stripe neck and mouth, and in every twist, dip and arms crossed on the lower back arch of a woman throwing it back on a man. The dancing is straight dancehall as is her look, equal parts dancehall queen and fashion staples from yard.

When The Guardian explored Rihanna’s use of accent and language in the song, linguist Lisa Jansen is quoted as considering how, “Although she uses some prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan”; while contemplating that “Rihanna draws on various elements and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire.” What Jansen doesn’t note is that those “Caribbean features in her lead single” aren’t just quasi-Caribbean-sounding-kinda-ting, and yes, it’s not Bajan at all, but it’s not some Rihanna-speak, it’s specifically Jamaican patois with a Bajan lilt. I am not fluent in Jamaican patois (not even remotely close), so I won’t presume to comment on the replication of that patois, but we know it’s Jamaican patois being employed — at least the Anglophone West Indies and anyone who knows sung Jamaican patois knows this.

Jamaican patois is the lingua franca of Caribbean Cool and dancehall is its long standing center as the pulsing vein of contemporary West Indian popular culture. And in a region that is sometimes bubbling with inter-island assertions and jealousies about culture, pride and ownership, this might be a difficult thing for some of us to acknowledge, but it is. Jamaicans know this; the rest of us either begrudgingly admit this or pretend this isn’t the case.

Where dancehall culture and black cultural masculinity meet, further interesting things unfurl which dictate the lean and swag of men, the stereotype of the screw face of every badman in a Jamaican movie, the clothes they wear, how they operate, receive and give wines, dagger, receive or give oral, or purport not to, and this is all encoded in the language of dancehall. It’s part of what DJ Khaled taps into in his snapchats punctuated by sporadic Jamaican patois interjections and phrases, and his claims that he doesn’t go down on women (“like a Jamaican”): it both complicates and ups his cool quotient.

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‘But Mi Hear Say She Gi’ It ‘Way’: New Dancehall’s Sexual Politics in Song

April 18, 2015

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How does a dancehall song surprise me in 2015? Well, hear nah, Dexta Daps’ “7eleven” does. It’s been a long, long, long time since I last heard a dancehall song possibly complicate the areas of gender and sexuality in the West Indies. And possibilities for complexities count for a whole damn lot where I am coming from (I’ll take it where I can get it at this point). Worse yet, a song being sung by a man. Worse yet a hot song at the cusp of an artiste finally blowing way, way up.

Female sexuality is, of course, no stranger to dancehall. All throughout the diaspora, we find musicians and performers wrestling with an articulation of self and culture through the rhythms and lyrics created. Sex is ever (though not solely) prominent. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the region, we often do a dance between the “virgin/Madonna-whore dichotomy. On the one hand, venerating the female body and womanness, purity and fidelity when enacted appropriately, and demonizing the sexuality of women who don’t play by the rules, who have too much sex and like it, who dress provocatively, and who have had more than one man* to name just a few. (More on more than one man later.*) These women are thots, hoes, sluts, skettels and baddises.

With its liberal usage of “fuck” and “pussy” inside beautifully melodious articulation, I really like the song. I dig it for several reasons, least of all how it helps us delve into pum pum politics in song. Firstly, to hear a West Indian man acknowledge — even barely acknowledge — that his woman has a sexual past (maybe) is nearly unheard of. Men do not do that in dancehall. Or many other places even. They don’t and if they do, they are hardly singing about how she’s his main in the same breath.

Most men sing about a woman as though the only man who has ever existed on her realm of sexual experience is them. Even though, in reality, that’s often hardly the case. Dancehall love songs like Kartel and Spice’s “Ramping Shop” or “Conjugal Visit” create the same kind of sexual bubble. There’s a whole lot of fucking and quinting going on, but only between Spice and Kartel. Nothing else exists or has ever existed in the history of their fucking.

Obviously, if you’re in a presumably committed relationship, probably your sexual history is in fact, not relevant to the current boo and no one expects it to be brought up regularly, but the fact is it’s all part of who we are. It shouldn’t undermine your current sexual relationship/s at all. Separating women from their sexual history is this weird patriarchal inclination whereby a woman becomes incrementally devalued by her sexual experience (basically anything and anyone outside of who you are currently dealing) but for men, it’s a plus. A lot of men internalize this nonsense and pathologize sexual women. They would do the same to their gyul too, the only difference is being with her now. Too many men are overly consumed with notions of how much man a woman might have had before they came along. Get over it, you’re probably not the only person she’s fucked. (more…)

The Wine That Almost Broke the Internet

December 7, 2014

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I wouldn’t claim to be the biggest Bobby Shmurda fan out to be quite honest, but what I am a fan of is wining on a whole, and men wining. Always, always a fan of that for a range of reasons. Bobby Shmurda’s West Indian background has already been acknowledged, so I’m not surprised to see he can pelt some waist. Gwan Bobby. It’s always fascinating too how the masculinity enacted and projected in “Hot Nigga” (and even the dancing in there) seems interpreted as mutually exclusive with the dancing seen above. A lot of online commentary showed just how uncomfortable and displaced some folks are with reconciling the rapper of “Hot Nigga” with hip rolling. There was plenty of flabbergastation, shock, disgust, and head shaking to go around.

Meh. His wining is the least of my concerns.

Makin’ Style: Trinidad James and Saga Boy Aesthetics

January 5, 2013

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The cultural shadow gets cast when someone from your own cultural background or heritage does something noteworthy or cringeworthy — Trinidad James is currently casting one. Depending on who you ask, the responses range from shame to staunch or low-key West Indian pride. The eyes of the twin-island republic (and its diaspora) that carries the name of his moniker have been watching especially close. So amidst all the hoopla, I finally sat down near the end of last year and watched the video for “All Gold Everything.”

I wasn’t terribly offended at all (surprisingly), but I was highly intrigued by the imagery after I took several minutes to process it all. From the time the beat started thumping and the camera pans to the flag ring next to James’ gold laden fingers, the gold handlebars, the leopard print (crushed velvet looking) shirt, the crisp Trinidad and Tobago bandana clutched like some kind of scepter, the puppy and the sawed off shotgun; this interspersed with scenes of James’ crew on the block, James up in the club — I was relegated to sorting out my piquing interest.

While trying to order my thoughts around the visual imagery, the sparse lyrics and the criticisms I’d heard and read, I was struck by Trinidad James’ style aesthetic and why it seemed to strike a culturally familiar chord. And I’m not the only one talking and thinking about the way he dresses.  In an interview on New York’s Hot 97, when asked about his unique fashion sense, James acknowledged that he “ran a boutique in Atlanta for like, three, four years.”

Trinidad James Of course, indie rap is hardly a strange place within which to indulge a different kind of fashion sense. Other rappers like The Based God (Lil B) and A$ap Rocky also help reinscribe the boundaries of what rappers, black men and black men rappers could dress like. A$ap also has a penchant for gold but then again, few rappers don’t. What makes Trinidad James of curious note is where his aesthetic converges at the intersection of nationality and cultural emblems.

As any visit to any major North American carnival would show, flag bandanas and nation colors have long been imbued inside the fashion sense of folks who are part of the nostalgic West Indian diaspora. I see more Trini flags in Miami carnival, than I do on the streets of Port of Spain, like, ever.

At the Ft. Lauderdale airport this holiday break, when I said to my new friend (we were on the same flight up and back) that I liked an older gentleman’s hat, a straw fedora with the colors of the Trinidad and Tobago flag wrapped as a neat side band around the crown, my friend commented derisively that he didn’t because he used to don “all kinda flag ting when I first came up” and he didn’t like any of those things anymore.

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Sexualities: Caribbean Men Internet Survey

November 16, 2011

Gay Caribbean Men! Please have your say in the CARIMIS (The Caribbean Men’s Internet Survey) below:

Learn more about the survey’s aim here.

Take survey

Please share, reblog on various platforms and forward as you wish! Thank-you!

In the Castle of Our Skins: Darkies, Brownings and Red Woman

November 1, 2011

By: Tanya Marie WilliamsDarkies, Brownings and Red Woman: Female Desirability and Skin Color in the Caribbean

By: soyluv (Soyini Ayanna)

The proliferation of “darkie” to describe women of a dark skin tone in Trinidad and Tobago is a fascinating and complicated space within which to explore. Though “darkie” and its popular conflation with “sweet” may exist as catcalls alongside a sout [1], frequently proclaimed by men to dark-skinned women out in the street or elsewhere, this term is not solely reserved for females. Men can and are categorically defined as “sweet darkies” too. Most importantly, darkie is understood to be reserved for those of a specific skin shade and ethnic group simultaneously.

In Trinidad, where “darkie” takes root and flourishes in the local parlance with t-shirts available by a local designer proclaiming, “I love my Trini darkie,” (as well as “my Trini reds” and “my Trini browning”), the term functions as an important reaffirmation of Afro-descendant beauty, by calling attention to a certain skin tone in all its chocolate splendor. Its contemporary usage in Trinbagonian society is also markedly different from the American term “darky” (or other cultural uses, with or without a “y”) which is an old termed racial slur, rooted in the era of blackface, epitomizing the negative stereotypes of all dark-skinned people.

This is a country where “madras” refers to a dark-skinned East Indian person and a “dougla” (any person of mixed African and East Indian descent), may fall within a range of skin tones from fair to dark. Darkie functions in a slightly different way, where it serves to singularly encompass an Afro-Trinidadian aesthetic of perceived attractiveness. It certainly can be used as purely descriptive, along the lines of a general physical trait, but darkie is usually understood to be nuanced in a way that makes it different from the terms mentioned above. Darkie is flexible, in that it may solely be attributed to implied attractiveness or one’s skin tone and usually, the context involves an understood interconnection of the two. Far from simply objectifying the individual, darkie is a celebratory, verbal sound-kiss against ebony skin and represents a reimagining of who can be declared attractive.

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In the Castle of Our Skins: Untitled

October 31, 2011

By: Tanya Marie Williams

Untitled

by Kim

Everyone called him Massa, my father says nonchalantly to me with eyes narrowing on the tight turn ahead of us,
he is talking about his father, my grandfather
the white plantation owner who raped my grandmother, a strong-jawed woman from Dominica.
This is how my history is transmitted to me, in fragments that ambush me every time I return to the land I call home,
mi abuela es de Venezuela, taken as a child by her father to become the property of his new family. My grandfather, son of indentured workers, a proud man, with a penchant for stoic silences.

I am from a stock that wields irons like hand grenades
mouths that unleash and inflict, leaving rings of fire that keep love away,
but make lovers stay. Yielding forgiveness, needing to nurture, heavy from field, house, hard, heartwork.
Scotch bonnet peppered speech, rich smells of island flowers reach and tug
and swing so gently from your heartstrings. We can see it now, you are falling in lust with us.

I am from a stock of full-bodied women, hips wise, eyes deep, young smiles
that belie the centuries that we live in each everlasting moment. Young smiles, playful and wild that belie the effortlessness with which we lie.
Lies that come far too easily, rolling off tongues, slipping into ears, coming hot
and hard, weightless, rocking like fucking on swings, like fingers intertwining.
Truth remaining only as whispers humming, as feelings lingering fading memories, like walking, waking, dreaming.

It is heartbreaking, that granny, my aunty, my mama, my women, heart first lept in, and then left him, heart withdrawn after time too long of hoping that tragedy don’t win, that penises stuffed in don’t just end up producing girl after girl destined to love unrequited.

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Brams, Fete-ishness and the Female Form

October 13, 2011

One day during the summer, I went into a Jamaican food spot to politely ask if I could leave a stack of flyers for my friend’s party. Caribbean party flyers are usually always hella interesting to peep. They’re fascinating snapshots into male centered flights of fantasy, and gives a look at what will presumably sell an event to the masses (read: cisgendered hetero men). The average event flyer is full colored, about 6″ x 4 ” on average, bordered or highlighted by images of female bodies in various levels of sexy (or scant undress).

When was the last time you saw, er, Tyson Beckford or a bevy of half-dressed men advertising a party? Exactly. Even though, on average, the soca & other Caribbean parties I go to, seem to be predominated by women — usually. Men are there for sure, but young women frequently run the route. And while not all women care about whether men are on a flyer or not, some of them just might appreciate it. Meanwhile, said flyer images will be plucked from just about anywhere — so you end up with a picture of Stacey Dash advertising a soca party in Florida. Or a random photoshopped still of Vivica Fox with a vacant stare looking back at you.

Which is fine; women on flyers don’t deter women from parties and they shouldn’t, but it all points to gendered notions of event marketing and what’s acceptable and the norm, especially in West Indian themed events. And because it’s only fellas I know who seem to have connects who do flyers (always another fella) and the party promotion circuit seems to be overwhelming male around here — advertisement reflects this. The agouti look-back, the stereotypically pretty women armed with unrelenting come-hither eyes. In fact, the only men I ever see on Caribbean party flyers are ubiquitous dancing crews, local-famous types celebrating a birthday bash or some other seminal event, performers that are male or sound systems that are always all male. You’ll see a whole flyer teeming with men then.

“Wow. It’s Stacey Dash! Is that really her body?” I asked my friend, the party-thrower. I’ve only known Stacey Dash from “Clueless” (as if) in her box-braids and fabulous knee-highs and I have not really been keeping myself up to speed with her current manifestations. On this flyer, she looked over her shoulder back at you, bronze skin glowing, ass-cheeks like full breadfruits beneath an ivory colored bikini swimsuit, beckoning you to come the shorts pants and summer dresses party. And as it turns out, the event went well. Perhaps Stacey had a lot to do with it.

At every Caribbean restaurant and small grocery in the area, posters and flyers can be seen lining some of the windows and layered thick on the appropriate counters. All use the bodies of black and brown women to entice the masses to come rockaway and bruck out to reggae, dancehall, soca, chutney and calypso. And they really completely turn a blind eye to any notion of pandering to the tastes of straight women who might be looking for beefcake.  The formula I’ve heard before is that fellas go parties for ladies — ladies will either come regardless, or not — so  marketing to the men is key to get them to come.

Women in the West (especially in North America) are already inundated with a media market that is saturated with the female form to sell and push products or ideas. So, it’s not too surprising that other parts of the English speaking world follow the same models. The same or similar models of masculinity get disseminated far and wide too, which is why no straight man wants to see shirtless males advertising an event that he might be thinking of going to — even if it’s not on there for him, per se. Men on a flyer would disrupt the straight male, fantasizing gaze — and West Indian men, on average, wouldn’t like that. Women (straight or otherwise) are expected to filter through or past the images and extract info about the event but the images are not there to titillate them. Even though, conceivably, some lesbian or bi lady might be watching a flyer and thinking, “Waaays, Stacey Dash have more forms than a secondary school. Bram sounding nice — I up in dat!”

But really, male centered event promoters aren’t thinking about them in the slightest. Even though, clearly, the extent to which any  Caribbean party is considered successful is based on whether both men and women show up and show out at  your party.  A ‘stones party’ is one of the worst things you can have — as a straight man promoter. Yet party advertising finds it all too easy to erase women attendees from the equation, with their primary focus on tantalizing and luring the men with visual bait, like carrots on a stick, hoping or knowing that women will invariably follow suit.

The Carnival Body

September 13, 2011

“Big ting, small ting, I winin’ up on all ting. . .”

Hot on the heels of New York’s West Indian Day Parade celebrations, I saw two people I know, bemoaning online about the “rights” of women with certain body types to wear carnival costumes. It’s not the first time that the ever annoying body conscious, bodycentric undercurrent currently running rampant in Trinidad’s carnival for a while now, rears its ugly head. The increasingly body conscious aesthetic of Trinidad carnival has been steadily frustrating to me, personally, because of the way in which it enables people to feel free to police the expression of women (always women), with a range of body types who choose to take to the streets for these festivals.

All this “who she feel she is” and, “why she think she could go in de road looking like that,” which is to say: not toned, flat-bellied and slim is both reductive and silly. (Also referred to at times, allegedly, as the “Brazilianising” of Trinidad Carnival. Apologies to our South American neighbours who may, or may not, feel unfairly maligned).

Plus, it bothers me that some of these people are constantly acting as though it personally affronts them — these women who might even *gasp* have the audacity to not choose a whole suit. As though women outside of a certain size range have no business in a revealing costume, effectively engineering an oppressive space for women who don’t fit a certain mould, in a supposedly ‘free’ space, while nothing of the sort happens for men inside that same space.

Yes, men can be fit for carnival and choose to be — or they can not choose to be and you will hardly hear as many people either thrashing viral carnival pictures online and the like, complaining fervently how men with pot-bellies and or less than stellar bodies, have no right to be shirtless or in a carnival costume offending your eyes. Respectability politics practically never seem to come in to play for men’s bodies inside of carnival culture. And the discourse has shifted; from back when I played my first adult mas and if I am re-thinking carnivals past, from my parents’ generation and snatches of conversation I heard back then: the looming issues were always one of cost, and things like design, functionability, colour and themes of costumes seemed to matter more.

The whole point of carnival (if one can whittle down a complex sociocultural, historical expression of resistance, music, dance and revelry to a single point) is precisely that — that these women, and everyone else can have to ‘freedom’ as it were, to participate in these spaces and wield their bodies to the rhythm, however they see fit, and wearing whatever they desire. Why can’t you wine down the road in a two-piece if your stomach has soft folds or your thighs love to kiss one another?

It’s more than just simply fat phobia too, because Trinidad like many parts of the Caribbean and the diaspora, do accept possibilities for a beauty aesthetic that makes way for “thickness” (and I don’t just mean like Beyonce-thick) — to a certain point, so to speak, depending on one’s purview. If I think back to my school days and among people I know for instance, girls and women lauded as beautiful and desirable were never exclusively skinny, or flat-bellied with stereotypical modelesque figures. (Not to mention, considerable levels of sexiness is constantly meted out and lauded in the curvaceous figures of soca women like Alison Hinds, Destra Garcia, Denise Belfon, Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez and Tanzania “Tizzy” Sebastian to name just a few).

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Women’s Sexuality and Music: On Pretty Pussies and (giving) the Bam-Bam

May 21, 2011

The first time I heard of (a) pretty pussy was when someone I knew referenced the song to me. It was so awkward, I didn’t even have the presence of mind to properly process a problematic compliment. Lady Saw said what? was my preeminent thought, followed by something in the zone of, buh what de. . . ? It was also the first time that I really reckoned with the notion that pussies could be pretty, and that women as well as men, from my part of the world were just as concerned with the notion of tidy, pretty, vaginal parts. I knew a smattering of people in general, up here, were concerned with such it seems, if the articles on cosmetic vaginoplasty I came across in popular magazines were any indication. Recently, on Jezebel, I read a contemplation on whether porn gave men unrealistic expectations of what the variegations in vaginas really look like, essentially a reminder that: “your ladyflower is not the wrong color”, (nor possessing the wrong lip length) despite what popular pornographic renderings might tell you.

I was also out of it because to be honest, I really haven’t taken on much of the new (or relatively new) dancehall now, or at that time. I can just barely skip to my lou (yes, I know that’s already old by now, but that’s my point) and I haven’t paid too much attention to Lady Saw since “The Healing”, still my favourite dancehall love-song duo ever. And of course, if I’m in a party, I will totally get perpendicular to her “Back-Shot”, and “Sycamore Tree” to name just a couple.  Overall, I do dig  Lady Saw though, more so than not; her brashness, skill, vocal dexterity: one minute hitting a powerful guttural note, the next purring dangerously or riding a riddim with unapologetic sexually-laden gusto.

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