Posts Tagged ‘caribbean music’

‘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…)

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.”)

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Sex.music.dancehall. blah blah blah…

July 29, 2009

This is an addendum to Hot Wuk in the Dancehall: What’s Sex Got to do with it? that’s been lurking around the place for me to finish and post. So a certain male, um, friend of mine, who likes to complain that I unfairly bash men all the time (so not true!), responded to my blog in person a while ago, by telling me that his beef with what I had to say was that “the women singing the same thing too!” I don’t know if I agree with that entirely or that it makes much of a difference to my stance in the original piece. Mainly because female performers like Tanya Stephens and Lady Saw still complicate their sexual experience(s) in ways that male djs hardly (n)ever do today.  (more…)

i know it’s not christmas but….

April 6, 2009

i am currently listening to this

jacob miller

my dad plays this album EVERY christmas and i just had a yearning to listen to my copy of it. hey, good vibes is good vibes. hearing “all i want fuh christmas is my collie herb, my collie herb, o, my collie herb” in april just makes me smile. merry I-smas all.

Masculinity and Performativity in Soca music

August 2, 2008

Machel at the 2008 Best of the Best Concert. Great show!!!!

Most people seemed to be buzzing about the way in which 2008 saw the return of Bunji Garlin (Ian Alvarez) as one of the forerunners of the art form. Similar sentiments echoed off the lips of friends of mine and the general word on the street was that “The Fireman” is indeed back, fresh off the honeymoon phase of things, as he blazed a fiery path to Soca Monarch glory and a successful year this season.

Now, I’ve been paying attention to the thematic concerns running through many of Garlin’s more popularised hits this season and came to a conclusion. With my feminist sensibilities intact, all the while soaking in this glorious carnival season, I decided that his vocal points in verse, had as much to do with everything else. It’s not that Bunji Garlin ever “fell off” so to speak, don’t get me wrong, it’s Bunji we talking about and his talent has never really waned. What he has been able to do quite well this year I think, (outside of “Fiery”) is capitalise on embodying the voice of “The Man,” and he does that very well.

Female singers do this voice — for women, quite often as well. That’s why “ladies’ anthems” exist across many musical genres. I don’t know if as many “men’s anthems” exist but some of the males I know have tended to rally around a few popular premises in songs, from hip-hop to dancehall and soca. While I will not disagree with anyone who lauds Garlin as a modern day “chantwell” (as a Trinidad Express columnist recently did), because he truly is. Lyrically masterful as he is, Garlin exemplifies where soca meets a contemporary midnight robber, a Bard if you will, for this generation.

And though he has been cited as the “voice of the ghetto people,” never failing to big up and connect with the various experiences in the lives of the many people stretching across the socioeconomic landscape of Trinidad and Tobago, I would also add that the way in which he appeals to men, as a representative of a particular kind of Trini man masculinity on stage, also adds to his appeal. He is also then, “the voice of the Man.” The scope of West Indian masculinity and identity and how we came to “be so,” is a tricky road to navigate.

We live in a society formed on a backdrop of slavery and colonialisation. A society that is largely governed  by extreme heterocentric norms and Catholic-Christian doctrines; all these too, help to shape the way in which “masculinity” is acted out or performed. Unless of course, you are some kind of essentialist thinker, then we might all agree that masculinity (or what is perceived to be masculine at any rate) is to some extent, performed and learned behavior. (Shout-out to a brilliant Dr. Sara Crawley who first introduced the ideas of gender performativity to me in a class.)

Anyway, so too is “femininity.” Females, we too, do “femininity” and it is not necessarily something innate. When we joke that we will “be” feminine today or girly, we are tapping into this very notion. Masculinity then, becomes coded through a series of behaviors, attitudes etc. that I am not going to delve into deeply here. These attitudes are of course shaped by cultural norms and performers, like the rest of us, are products of these factors too. Of course, there may be many other variables at play as well. It is not enough to just be “ah man” or a Trini man for that matter. What matters most is the way in which one projects this identity and in the process, may or may not connect with a variety of people who identify with the same attitudes in the audience.

For example, we can compare Bunji Garlin’s performance of masculinity with, say, Machel Montano, and come up with some interesting comparisons. I also think that I need to point out that to what extent the element of mindful consciousness plays into artistes’ presentation of themselves is debatable. I don’t know if Bunji goes on stage thinking, “well, I is ah man — and this is how we do.” The audience though, drinks in the images and personas presented to us via the stage and other pop cultural outlets. Some with a more critical eye than others, admittedly so.

People do notice though and this is why there’s a reason that large numbers of men are fans of Bunji’s (and Machel) for different reasons. Furthermore, women are fans of them both for different reasons than men are. This year, Bunji Garlin had some hit songs that were immensely popular especially with all the men and young boys. All these songs epitomised a particular stance with regard to masculinity (again as perceived in our society) and a man’s perspective in a variety of ways. That’s a lot for one short season. Originality though, does give someone a lot of added leverage.

All of these songs connect to Trini men on many levels in many ways. They seemed to resonate and address specific manly concerns in the Trini man’s psyche, whether it’s about “getting horn” (re: “help”) or being chased by girls because of the size of your rims or the car that you own, the pleasures of drinking rum (on the Hunter remix),  or professing why he is “ah bad boy,” or by that token, simply “ah Trinidad boy.”

Machel Montano, likewise, represents a brand of Trini man masculinity on stage and his is markedly different. If Machel is the veritable sweet-man and “winer boy,” allowing the ladies “one more wine,” then Garlin is his foil, as the badman who is just posed off in the dance, chanting upon a mic. A Machel performance is imbued with a kind of sexuality, accentuated by a hard wine, which is what some ladies especially love (and even some men, I am sure). Ladies love Bunji too, but again, it’s different. Most significantly, men are their fans for different criteria as well.

A key notable point in stage performativity of masculinity is to look at who “wines” and who does not. Not everyone it seems, is comfortable with or interested in gyrating on stage. I am sure that Bunji “wines” and does — somewhere. But that is not a part of his stage repertoire. KMC is another soca artiste among others who doesn’t visibly wine. Apparently “bad men doh wine.” Well, I’ve learnt that men wining is not exactly as prevalent in all West Indian cultures. Now there’s also a difference between this and being wined on or wining on someone.

Take most Jamaican men I’ve encountered for example. You would be hard pressed to see one wining solitarily in unbridled exuberance anywhere. A Trini man — not so much, even more so with some Johnnie in his hands. Seeing as vast numbers of young men in the West Indies take their primary cue on masculine identity from dancehall culture and artists anyway, this is significant to keep in mind. Some West Indian cultures are tentative about the “wine” and what it means for their representation of masculinity in their particular environment. Some people are downright disturbed by it.

If you ever have the chance to watch a “real yardie man” take in a serious Machel performance, you will see what I mean (generally speaking). He will probably squirm as someone I know does and it’s always when Machel starts the oscillations. The discomfort may be quite evident. Otherwise take a “bad man” friend from Jamaica (if you have one), plop him next to you in a big Trini fete and gauge his reactions on the male winery. Many will quicker do the willy-bounce than gyrate their hips jus’ so.

Some of Bunji Garlin’s prominent themes this carnival season related to the male experience (this list is a sampling and by no means exhaustive!) :

1. wayward women who get pregnant by an outside man

2. promiscuous young women

3. women propelled by material gain

4. superficial women who run down man for their cars

5. women who will do anything to ride in that car

6. women who have compromised their morals for gain

7. the versatility of rum

8. a man must hold his liquor within reason though

8. being regarded as “mad” and moreso “bad”

10. professing his bad-man-ness.

Don’t think that pop culture, music and all these cultural factors have no part to play in how we all shape our world view because they do. They all play a huge role in informing people’s sensibilities about attitudes and what their identities should be.  Young men and young women are especially susceptible. That’s why young men and older ones the world over, clamored around Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and still today, many young men frequently quote Bell, Biv, Devoe’s famous, “never trust a big butt and a smile.”

I worry though, about young boys deriving all their ideas from these outlets and thinking every female is either a Jezebel out to seduce and destroy him, is ready to drop and spread out and “hot wuk” at his command, use all his money and wants him just for what he may own, is out just to get what she can or that every female wants a “passa passa” move behind close doors. What about tenderness, consideration, reciprocity and understanding for example? Can’t these become facets of masculinity and manliness as well?

Of course these qualities are there sometimes, but male performers “doing masculinity” dare not show this. Real men hide that side of themselves supposedly. That’s why you will probably never hear of Bunji doing a passionate love song duet with his lovely Fay-Ann. This wouldn’t go with the image. When men push up their gun finger salute — it’s akin to an affirmation of masculinity, one that they all agree with and allows them them to say, “yeah, ah hear yuh — cause yuh talking about me.”

Related links, references, further reading and works cited.

Alvarez, Ian (with Hunter). “Bring It Remix.” VP Records: Soca Gold 2008, 2008. MP3 file.

–. “Bad and Famous.” Fiery, 2008. MP3 file.

–. “Beep Beep.” Fiery, 2008. MP3 file.

–. “Help.” Fiery, 2008. MP3 file.

–. “Pretty Hott.” Fiery, 2008. MP3 file.

–. “Bad So.” Fiery, 2008. MP3 file.

Connell, Bob. “Hegemonic Masculinity.” Gender: A Sociological Reader, New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Montano, Machel. “One More Time.” Book of Angels, 2007. MP3 file.

–. “WinerBoi.” Heavy Duty, 1997. Audio Recording.

West, Candace and Zimmerman, H. Don. “Doing Gender.” Gender: A Sociological Reader, New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.