Archive for the ‘music’ Category

‘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.

Words of Divine: Sizzla, Identity and Black Supremacy

August 24, 2014

Kalonji

“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.

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Trinidad James and Cultural Respectability Politics

February 27, 2014

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Full disclosure: this post was started a long-ass time ago and has been languishing on my WordPress dash since forever. I just never bothered to finish it earlier for no particular reason; I also got sidetracked by other projects along the way. The last draft was dated quite April 2013. I figured I might as well go ahead and post it anyway — finally.

If a beauty queen from a small Caribbean island appears in a rap video, does she cause a ruckus at the behest of respectability politics? Apparently, yes. And if said video includes shots in a low income community on the island, are some folks crowing in unparalleled indignation? Also, yes. On Facebook, folks lamented among other things, that “she’s in Trinidad James’ music video about being a hoe. So not becoming of her” and Metro Magazine (among others) had long running threads on Facebook dedicated to whether it was “beneath her and unbecoming for her to be in a video for a song that calls women hoes.” All this after Trinidad James visited the land of his birth before Carnival and shot this video for “Females Welcomed.” Look, what Athaliah decides to do with her own self is her own decision and how we can make the leap from appearance in a rap video to “hoe” is beyond me. Just stereotyping on top of stereotyping.

I disagree with the notion that by wearing the Miss World Trinidad and Tobago crown, this means that her autonomy becomes null and void. She also doesn’t become a slave to national respectability politics either. Especially not after a slew of us were disparaging her looks and her background. Oh, no, you don’t. (Google search Athaliah Samuels — go ahead do it. See what Google asks you.) A beauty queen is not an emblem of a living, throbbing West Indian culture and its diaspora and she doesn’t have to lug around the weight of your expectations and unending demands of respectability on her back. She’s just a beautiful young lady, probably doing the best she can, that is all. To quote Trudy from Gradient Lair, “I am NEVER gonna be here for respectability politics meant to intraracially police BW who are already intraracially policed.” Furthermore,

Now some will argue that if someone is beautiful (or “ugly”), famous and/or in a field where their sexuality is a part of their image, they no longer deserve respect from Whites or anyone else. They lose their right to discern who may touch them. I’m fully aware of how the politics of respectability and Eurocentric beauty myths manifest for Black people, especially Black women. However, I don’t agree with this. I will NEVER accept the faulty logic that if anyone perceives someone as “not respecting themselves,” everyone else has the “right” to disrespect them as well.”

I eh here for that either. Athaliah herself, would eventually have to take to Facebook in the form of an open letter to nicely read the widespread hypocrisy of Trinidadians for utter filth and claim her space to negotiate her own future and decision making. Enter Trini Trent‘s rant about respectability, Trinidad James, and most of all, the representation of the country, which of course, is rooted deep inside cultural respectability politics.

About that, first off, a Trini living in Trinidad vexedly lamenting all the national symbol waving by folks no longer living in Trinidad is really a pointless harangue. Yes, we all love the country, but of course, people who migrate go a bit extra with that. Understandably so, they left or their parents left with them. Some of it is all psychological really: I will rep this place so damn hard because I don’t want to ever lose sight of the fact that this culture is a part of who I am; even though, I am not physically living there anymore and may never be. How and why is Trent’s use of the “Trini” moniker more legitimate than James’ usage and claim of “Trinidad?”

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Feminist Kaiso and Soca Playlist

February 11, 2014

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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.”)

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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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Is it just me?

December 14, 2011

Or do some string instruments sound like soul tears expelling themselves in notes? Either way, loving this version below.

Roll It Boy: On Men, Masculinity and Bringing the Winery

December 10, 2011

There are few things I love more than men wining in wanton abandonment. Maybe good food and a select range of other things excite me more. I love men wining because of the ways in which it disturbs the mask of heterosexual masculinity. It flexes, disrupts and discombobulates with a swivel of the bamsee — most of all, it makes a lot of people, men and women, uncomfortable. I’ve contemplated before how masculinity is sometimes performed inside soca and the ways in which wining is coded inside the performativity of the stage persona (or perceived actual persona) of some male soca artists.

As a Trinbagonian from a wide ranging Caribbean & West Indian background reaching into Guyana and even further up the archipelago, seeing men dance completely unhinged is nothing new to me. Luckily, among some of the young men I know, seeing men wine down the place and bend over in front of a woman is also nothing scandalous to me and though I love to see it myself personally, I understand that it’s still a revolutionary upending of masculinity in some ways. Consider for instance, this video of Congolese singer (and newly crowned wining-god by me) Fally Ipupa’s stage performance with his band and dancers:

Predictably, under the video comments, there is one lamenting “why will a guy dance like a women [sic]” in addition to “this shit is SO gay…omg!!” The sexism and homophobia of these two comments underscore the power and meaning of the hetero (and/or assumed hetero) men who dance employing their hips, refusing to be constrained by context and widespread socio-cultural policing of acceptable vs. non-acceptable expressions of hegemonic masculinity.

What I really appreciate in this performance is the way in which the men’s gyrations seem to be performed fully, unapologetically with gusto by men, almost as a means to its own end — there are no women backup dancers bouncing around with them, and there are no women even seen in the audience within the camera’s range and this centers the men’s sexually suggestive hip movements in a uniquely singular way that I rarely see some black men do anymore.

Across the diaspora, men are allowed to be sexually suggestive in dance within reason and are even allowed to make people uncomfortable, within reason — so “daggering” might make some people uncomfortable but it’s an acceptable form of male sexually suggestive dance. R&B singers can slow wine at certain select moments, usually involving a lap dance on stage and a woman pulled from the audience or something of that nature. Wining, and men wining without women as props — not quite as acceptable.

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love.this.

December 1, 2011

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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