Like a Bolt from the blue…Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica…

Photo by Jamaican photographer Ricardo Makyn, after Bolt aces the 100m

Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, after taking gold and silver in the 100m. Photo source unknown

Not sure when or where this was but Blake and Bolt are bussing a Jamaican dance move. Photo source unknown

Brilliant photoshopped cartoon by Keon Scarlett…

Usain Bolt with the undeclared winner of the 100m, Coach Glen Mills, who is also Yohan Blake’s coach. Photo source: Usain Bolt’s Instagram.

Just thought I’d post some of the interesting photos, articles and videos that I’ve collected off Twitter and Facebook about Usain Bolt and a few other Jamaican athletes. They give a better insight into Jamaica’s extraordinary athletes than you get from mass media. I think my favourite photo is the one of him with his coach, Glen Mills. You can clearly see the affection between them from the way Usain and Mills are talking to one another. Mills truly is a star in his own right; after all he’s responsible for training the two fastest men in the world today, Bolt and Yohan Blake, who won gold and silver in the Olympic 100m a couple of days ago. Would love to interview him but he dislikes media I understand.

Before that fateful race there were enough skeptics including Tim Layden who went on to write one of the best post-100m articles on Usain in Sports Illustrated. The quote below from a Slate article chronicles the widespread uncertainty about Bolt’s ability to prevail:

A couple of hours before today’s men’s 100-meter final, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden made a bold prediction on Twitter: “OK. Go big or go home. My 100m pick: 1) Gatlin 2) Bolt 3) Blake.” Layden wasn’t the only one who was betting against Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter hadn’t run against a 100-meter field this stacked since 2009, when he set the world record of 9.58 seconds in Berlin. In 2011, a false start knocked him out of the world championships. At the Jamaican Olympic Trials earlier this year, he lost to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200 meters.

Bolt and Blake clowning around during training. Photo source unknown.

After the race Layden sang a different tune:

LONDON — In many ways, this one was better. Four years ago in China, Usain Bolt transformed the 100 meters into performance art, and the Olympics into a soliloquy, winning with such playful arrogance that it seemed less like a competition than a palette on which an emerging and transcendent talent could splash his greatness in great, broad strokes. The other sprinters were like extras in the Bolt Show, useful in the same way that painted planks of background scenery are deployed in a Broadway production. Bolt was bigger than all of them and so much faster. It wasn’t a race, it was an exhibition (and one that Bolt would repeat four days later in the 200 meters and again in the 4×100-meter relay; three gold medals and an unprecedented three world records. He did likewise a year later at the 2009 world championships in Berlin).

The world gathered again to witness Bolt on Sunday night in London’s Olympic Stadium. Many had surely not seen him since Beijing, as track and field lives on the distant margins of mainstream sport and Bolt is its only true star. In a superficial sense, he did not leave them wanting, winning the 100-meter gold medal in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record and the second-fastest time in history (behind only his world record of 9.58 from Berlin) and .06 faster than he ran in Beijing. But this was not a virtuoso encore, this was a race, and it had begun more than two years earlier.

To read more go here:

Bolt celebrating with Swedish handball players. He’s got them making the Gaza sign–in tribute to his favourite DJ Vybz Kartel. The sign is also used by US West Coast hip hop musicians.

Warren Weir and Usain doing the Gaza sign, while Yohan Blake looks on. Photo source: Warren Weir’s Instagram

Meanwhile on Foxsport.com Greg Couch lamented USA Track and Field’s lack of get up and go while ruefully noting Bolt’s casual, cool but deadly sporting style:

Usain Bolt posed again with Bolt Arms pointing to the sky, then put his hands behind his ears to get the crowd to yell for him more, as if they could. And then he sprinted his 200-meter heat Tuesday to an easy victory.

Well, actually, he sprinted about 125 of it, then jogged the other 75 to advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.

“I was taking it as easy as possible,’’ he said. “It’s my first (200) run. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.’’

This was basically a day off for Bolt, with a quick Olympic run mixed in. But there’s no day off in the Bolt buzz.

Let’s see: He tweeted back and forth with a Manchester United player, saying he wants to try out for the team. He snuck past one of the picky Olympic rules he complained about the other night, hiding a jump rope in the bottom of his bag. After saying he wasn’t going to celebrate winning the 100 because he needed sleep, he emerged in a picture with three female Swedish handball players, supposedly partying with him in his room at 3 a.m.

This isn’t to be critical of Bolt for any of that, by the way. As an American, I’m asking this:

Why can’t we have one of those? By “those’’ I mean Bolt. I wonder if the US is ever going to get Bolt, understand him, build from him. Meanwhile, it was just a few months ago that U.S. hurdler Lashinda Demus referred to track as “a dying sport.’’ It was just Sunday night that two million people wanting tickets to Bolt’s 100-meter race were turned away.

A debonair Bolt models a suit. Photo source unknown.

Well Greg, as i said in an earlier post, to ‘get’ Bolt, you have to get Jamaica. Getting Bolt to tour the USA is one way to approach it but understanding something about the ‘never say die’ nature of Jamaican culture would help too. The videos below might help illuminate this a bit. First a beautifully produced Gleaner video of Jamaicans watching, then celebrating Jamaican victory in the men’s 100m in one of Kingston’s busiest streets:

Then a longer video movie of Usain Bolt, his life and style:


And finally there’s the third Jamaican…

Come tomorrow the world might want to know a little more about Warren Weir, the third Jamaican in the 200m at Olympics 2012. Incredibly Weir too is coached by Glenn Mills. As I write all three have cruised into the 200 m finals. The following video is a good introduction not only to Weir but also virtually the entire Jamaican team, Usain and all, getting ready for the Opening Ceremony…didn’t spot Yohan Blake…but a great peek behind the scenes at the Jamaican camp at Olympic Village. Check it out and #TeamUSA, take notes…

PS: If the copyright holders of any of the photos above identify themselves I will immediately credit them where necessary.

The LGBT Community and Rhetorical Rastas/DJs

Its the last day of a long weekend which began on Thursday evening with a really special experience for me. I was invited to be part of a forum in San Francisco. For details see the poster below where i’m listed as ‘Prof’ Annie Paul (chuckle).
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The comments below the poster were borrowed from Yardedge.net, a great site for news on the entertainment and cultural scene in Jamaica.

Here’s an interesting forum happening next week on the dancehall music/culture scene- a simulcast between gay and straight folks in the San Francisco area and Kingston.

The forum will be addressing relevant issues including a proposal to initiate a BUYCOTT of artists, instead of BOYCOTT of artists. The “bUycott” is being put forward as a socio-politically conscious economic initiative in which LGBT-allied consumers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people) offer their business to Jamaican recording artistes, small exporters, international brands, tourist destinations, etc, with demonstrated progressive human rights attitudes and practices. The forum will explore some ideas and strategies for organizing and undertaking the LGBT-allied Jamaica bUycott. The idea is to basically to reward artists who are promoting non-violent, positive vibes.

The forum will take place at the Hall Of Culture, African-American Art & Cultural Complex in SF. Contact ajawowheel@gmail.com for the Kingston location information.

The forum hopes to encourage progressive dialogue and partnership between Jamaicans and people abroad as well as to raise U.S. awareness about dancehall music’s current role in Jamaican culture and society and to present the music in a broader context for the San Francisco audience.

So it was really cool linking with the folks in San Francisco from my living room in Kingston. I was on for the full two hours and a thorough discussion was had along the lines described by Yardedge above. One of the other participants was Andrea Shorter, the woman with locks in the top centre of the infamous photograph above. She was a bit of a tough customer but Nic Ming, a Jamaican self-styled LGBT, moderated us out of troubled waters with engaging calm and wisdom.

I made several points that evening. One that if the homophobic rhetoric in Jamaican music was really taken seriously by the people who consume it there wouldn’t be a single gay person left alive in the island. On the contrary a number of very high profile individuals who occupy the highest positions in this society are homosexual, although they cannot publicly admit this. And therein lies the rub. Jamaicans really don’t have a problem with homosexuals as long as they remain in the closet. And older generations of gay men and women have generally obliged.

Today however there are younger gay men and women who are not willing to live closeted lives. They want to be out–dressing effeminately if they choose, or not, but letting everyone know who and what they are. I made the point that a few years ago there was a local hit called Out and Bad by Elephant Man (first heard Agostinho Pinnock refer to the song in this context) which though not explicitly referencing being gay–it was a celebration of the dance scene and the latest dance at the time–the Willie Bounce–could nevertheless be read to be a defiant assertion by the very gay-appearing dancers who populate Kingston’s street dances. Dance will never die/Out and bad so badly bad/It a get intensify/…

The other thing i pointed out and i’m by no means the first to do so, is that the pressures of globalization, that is, the huge cultural changes that have taken place here and all over the world in response to the forces of economic globalization, are somehow mapped onto the body of the homosexual. He/she embodies, even personifies, the negative influences seen as penetrating society from the outside, from ‘foreign’. “Keep us free from evil powers” goes a line in the Jamaican national anthem and i would argue that gays/homosexuals are seens as the emissaries of unnamed ‘evil powers’.

This in turn has to do with the power relations undergirding the battle for space and legitimacy by the LGBT community. LGBTs often claim that their struggle for recognition and equal rights is no different from similar struggles by other once disenfranchised groups–Black people’s continuing fight against racism, women’s struggles against gender discrimination, the war by the colonized against the colonial yoke, the fight for freedom from slavery and so on. But as i pointed out there is one major difference between all these groups and the LGBT lobby and that is this: the LGBT lobby has power, it has economic power, and is able not only to flex its muscles but to cause severe damage as it has shown in recent years with the ongoing targeting of so-called murder music by Jamaican DJs. The marginalized groups previously mentioned were all waging wars from below; the campaign waged by Tatchell and others is, like the US embargo against Cuba, one that is fought from a position of power. And like the Cuban embargo, i maintain, it will have limited success and the people who suffer the consequences will be the very people on whose behalf you’re mobilizing.

By exclusively targeting Jamaican DJs, whose constituencies are the poor and marginalized, the ‘wretched of the earth’, LGBTs are re-inforcing the underlying power imbalance. They are now seen as representing not merely ‘evil powers’ but rich and powerful evil powers. And this is the message not only from Dancehall music but from the pulpit and parliament. As Tara Atluri pointed out in a groundbreaking paper titled “When the Closet is a region: Homophobia, Heterosexism and Nationalism in the Commonwealth Caribbean” some years ago, this is not a Jamaican problem only:

…From popular culture to constitutional inequity, homosexuality is dismissed, loathed and ignored by mainstream Caribbean culture. I feel that this fear of homosexuality keeps gender roles sharply intact, thereby normalizing sexism. Furthermore I feel that homophobia and heterosexism are reinforced by Caribbean nation states, based on a discriminatory nationalism that uses both religious conformity and conformity to capitalist patriarchy as a basis for inclusion.


Atluri remarked on the difficulty of finding material, research or willing interlocutors on the subject of homophobia. On the subject of dancehall music and offensive lyrics she made an interesting observation:

Silence and shame guard Caribbean homosexuality. Therefore, i have found few avenues upon which to form an analysis of heterosexism and homophobia in the region. Popular culture, in the form of dancehall and reggae seems to be some of the only and concrete cultural discourses in which attitudes towards homosexuality are expressed outright. While dancehall and reggae lyrics have come under fire for their crude portrayal of sexual politics, they offer an opening. They are explicit. And while they may be explicitly prejudiced, they do what respectable silences do not. They start the conversation.

I couldn’t have put it more eloquently. I’m glad that I was invited to to put in my two paisa worth in that forum in San Francisco. I’m glad that discussions such as this are taking place. And I don’t mean to close this conversation on an unpleasant note but the video below is extremely pertinent to the subject we’ve been examining in this post. It may make us want to tear our hair out but in this South African interview Sizzla clearly articulates a widespread set of attitudes in Jamaica. To combat such views nothing less than the most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement is required.

Rhetorical Rasta

“Controversial reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji speaks to the Mail & Guardian about homosexuality, his music and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe whom he recently met while performing at his birthday celebrations in Bulawayo during his African tour.”

(Unfortunately there was no means to embed this video in my blog so you will have to click on the link to get it.)