Feeding the Troll…

laughing Troll

The day after my column Feeding the Dragon (see previous post) was published in the Daily Gleaner the indefatigable Jacqueline Bishop tried once again to draw me into a Facebook spat by tagging me in her snarky response to my piece (see above). On a previous occasion when Bishop did this (that time it was an article by Seph Rodney in the online art forum, Hyperallergic) I politely declined to engage saying that although she was clearly spoiling for a fight, she wouldn’t get any satisfaction from me. I had responded to the article in question on Hyperallergic’s website and saw no reason, I said, to explain myself to Bishop on Facebook. Bishop then proceeded to troll Seph Rodney, the author of the article, and myself, both on Facebook and in the comments section of the Hyperallergic article. Her seemingly proprietary interest in the matter has never been made clear.

This time around I decided to do what they advise you not to do, which is feed the trolls. Feeding them only emboldens trolls and gives them an opportunity to amplify their attacks. But since I was curious about the nature of these attacks by Bishop and how low she would stoop this time, I decided to respond, albeit tongue in cheek.

In the sorry exchange that follows (excerpts from which can be found at the end of this post) Bishop calls me a dunce and a simpleton who needs to take basic lessons at “the institution where I work” (the University of the West Indies), as well as an ‘elite’ benefitting from the colonization of the Caribbean. The vehemence and the venom with which she excoriates me might lead one to think that I had advocated something similar to Bruce Gilley’s infamous Third World Quarterly article called “The Case for Colonialism” which is exciting much comment and vituperation right now on social media and elsewhere.

Yet all I had done was mildly suggest, based on interviews with scholars such as Richard Bernal (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Global Affairs, University of the West Indies) and artist Bryan McFarlane who has had a studio in Beijing for a decade now, that perhaps the accusation of ‘colonialism’ to describe the relationship between China and the Caribbean might be overstated.

Bishop takes exception to my quoting McFarlane saying that the Chinese are new at ‘colonizing’ in the classical sense of the word, having had little or no history of European-style colonizing of the planet. This leaves Bishop incredulous and she lists Japan, Thailand, Korea and Tibet as counter-examples. But, as an eminent writer said, after  reading her comments, she seems not to know the difference between ‘colonization’ and ‘invasion’, a rather crucial distinction in this instance.

My article is a far cry from Gilley’s which asserts that colonialism is a force for good in the world, anti-colonial sentiment is ‘preposterous’ and a new  program of colonization is needed, “with Western powers taking over the governing functions of less developed countries.” As outrageous as his article is, Gilley hasn’t attracted the kind of ad hominem attacks I have from Bishop. Whereas it has been widely ridiculed, the standard of put-down has been considerably superior to the abuse that was lobbed at me, with the following example being a stand-out in my opinion:

Crispin Bates: Next week’s special issue could be about why we need to bring back castrati in order to restore the quality of Italian opera. This author and Shashi Tharoor seem almost perfect mirrors of one another. Are they related by any chance?

Dilip Menon: There would be high-pitched objections to that surely.

But at the end of the day, the wittiest take-down isn’t enough to discredit an article appearing in a respected academic journal even if many consider it self-evidently absurd. Hooting and cackling on Facebook isn’t going to do it, you actually have to engage with it, demolishing it by systematically countering its arguments with historical facts and evidence. This is what Nathan Robinson does in the latest issue of Current Affairs saying  that it’s worth responding to the case Gilley makes because he appears to be sincere and the article appeared in a mainstream journal, and the sentiments it expresses are somewhat common:

I go into this level of detail because I think it’s crucial to show that Gilley’s article is not a serious work of scholarship. I think the gut reaction of many people will be that Gilley’s arguments are “self-evidently” absurd. But apparently this is not the case, because the Third World Quarterly chose to publish them.

Unfortunately, neither I nor the Daily Gleaner was afforded this courtesy by Bishop who chose instead to insinuate that the Gleaner’s fact-checkers had fallen asleep. The abusive tone of her responses on Facebook hardly shows either Bishop or New York University where she is a clinical associate professor, in a good light. It’s important to note, especially for those not familiar with the American academy that a clinical professor is not the same as a specialized, tenure-track research professor or what in our system is called a lecturer. You would hardly see such professors/lecturers resorting to the kind of cyber-bullying that Bishop seems to revel in.

Bishop is a highly regarded writer and art impresario who occasionally writes for The Huffington Post and I have given her no cause, personally, to nourish a grudge against me. The raging desire to belittle and discredit me displayed in the screenshots of our Facebook exchange below requires some other explanation. Perhaps she is acting on someone else’s behalf?

Whatever her motives are I would urge Bishop the next time she decides to publicly berate me, to not tag me in her posts. Despite her repeated claims that “no malice is intended” she might find herself running afoul of the Jamaican Cybercrimes Act. “Use of a computer for malicious communication,” is actually a thing here.

Below are snippets of the Facebook exchange that followed Bishop’s opening salvo, quoted at the top of this post.

 

arsenal

 

personal elementegging on etc

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dunceHoyes not productive

Feeding the Dragon?

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My Gleaner column of August 30 provoked quite an intense response on Facebook although what I tried to do was suggest in the mildest of terms that perhaps there were other ways to view the burgeoning Caribbean relationship with China than the hackneyed one of ‘colonialism’, a word much bandied about today. While there are superficial resemblances to traditional colonialism as we know it, there are more important differences, and to my mind focusing on the differences rather than similarities, is what is called for in this instance. But who asked me to say so? You would have thought I was advocating the return of colonialism as one Bruce Gilley has just done in the esteemed journal Third World Quarterly. In a follow-up post I’ll go further into the rather comical attack launched on me as well as responses to Gilley’s article. For now here is my column:

The subject of colonialism is with us again, raised this time by burgeoning Chinese investment in Jamaica and the Caribbean. With that investment has come a transfusion of Chinese personnel into the bloodstream of the Jamaican body politic, something that is causing widespread concern and discomfort.

Among the complaints is the fact that the Chinese insist on using their own expertise, whether it’s labour, architects, roadwork companies or otherwise. Because of this they’ve been able to deliver in record time on several projects that would have taken twice as long, had local contractors and labour been used. A local developer who has worked with Chinese firms as well as local contractors points out that of the four cranes seen at construction sites in Kingston, none are owned by local firms, which makes it impossible to use local companies to execute large projects.

The same developer also challenged the myth of the hard-working Chinese worker vs the lazy Jamaican worker, saying that Chinese workers had the same tendency to slack off and take it easy when left unsupervised. What made the difference according to him was the monitoring and management of the workers, and here Chinese companies were far more efficient than Jamaican ones, ensuring that deliverables ran to schedule and were up to global standards.

Relatedly as Richard Bernal, Pro Vice Chancellor of Global Affairs at the University of the West Indies, pointed out in an RJR interview it is par for the course when countries give you developmental monies or aid for them to specify that the expertise required must be hired from the donor country. The strings attached can take different forms. For instance European aid nowadays comes attached to certain conditionalities demanding compliance with European norms on governance and human rights.

According to an article on inquirer.net by Randy David, “There is no such thing as free aid. What there is is a country’s option to choose from a menu of available means with which to develop its economy and raise the quality of life of its people. All these available means carry some costs, and consequences — some economic, some political, and some environmental. When a country accepts tons of aid from another country, it most likely also accepts certain tacit expectations on the conduct of its foreign relations.”

Chinese aid to African countries comes with the expectation that in any international conflict the beneficiaries of their aid will support the Chinese position. Perhaps this is also the reason for Chinese interest in the Caribbean, for each island state here carries a vote at the UN regardless of its size or population, something the Hispanic Caribbean has always resented. Countries such as the Dominican Republic and Cuba, both with exponentially larger populations compared to Dominica or St Kitts, still have only one vote in the UN, the same vote the smaller countries have.

Who says curry goat politics is not a factor in international relations? I give you a handout, you hand me your vote in return. This is a tried and true tactic of foreign diplomacy.

According to Bernal, whose book Dragon in the Caribbean examines China’s relationship with the region, it is essential that Caribbean governments develop an informed and strategic approach to dealing with the new superpower. The wealth of experience gained through decades of diplomatic relations with countries in the West will be of little use in dealing with China, and the Caribbean would do well to realize the uniqueness of the ancient civilization through an in-depth study of its history, culture, politics and economic development.

“The Chinese are very new at colonizing anybody,” says artist Bryan McFarlane, who maintains a studio in Beijing and is married to a Chinese citizen. “So to some extent they are very awkward when they go into other people’s countries, they’re new at this. It’s a very delicate road we’re trodding and there’s an opportunity to build a relationship with the Chinese rather than treating them as adversaries. They’re not coming with the same mentality as the British and the Americans even though they come here to prosper, to find jobs for their people, like every other country that has power, has done.”

Bernal too, points out that the Chinese are new at capitalism, they’re learning as they go along, and as a culture they’re not used to thinking in the short term, their fore-sighting going way beyond four or five year electoral cycles. The Chinese approach to investment is collaborative rather than extractive, though ultimately they too are interested in profits. Thus, says Bernal, “The temptation to see China as a villain, intent on raping the resources of the developing countries as a new type of imperialism or neo-colonialism is largely fuelled by racial and cultural prejudice and must be resisted. On the other hand the relationship with China ought not to be viewed as a panacea with a steady flow of investment from a bottomless reservoir.”

Learning to benefit from feeding the dragon is practically the only option available to the Caribbean today, so let’s leave old laments by the wayside and leverage our way to a better future.

What if…?

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Gleaner column of August 2, 2017

Confederates, a new HBO series which will follow its blockbuster Game of Thrones, has excited quite a reaction on social media with its premise: What if the South won the Civil War? What would the United States look like today? It prompted Jamal Richardson,  @HoodAcademic on Twitter, to suggest other alternative histories to make into TV shows instead of “WHAT IF THE CONFEDERATES/NAZIS WON?”

This spurred several intriguing responses on Twitter. For instance, What if Rome had evolved into an early UN and we had fast, world-wide communication in 600 CE? What if the French beat the British for control of North America? What if the African traditional religions priests and priestesses converted the Christian missionaries? What if Afro/Indigenous Cubans revolts succeeded in overthrowing the Spanish before the US showed up, and created an economic/political alliance with Haiti? What if Nkrumah/Lumumba/Sankara survived to create the United States of Africa. TV show depicts them trying to liberate S Africa from the settlers.

In Jamaica, Erin MacLeod, posted her friend Moji Anderson’s ideas for a range of alternative history tv shows based in/on Jamaica. Dr. Anderson who is a lecturer in Anthropology in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and is not on social media herself, had come up with a formidable list which provides much to reflect on, sandwiched as we are between Emancipation Day and Independence Day.

Moji’s list is a veritable treasure trove for would be film and TV series makers out there and I reproduce it in full here:

What if Marcus Garvey hadn’t left JA?
What if the Maroons hadn’t agreed to capture and kill rebels?
What if Michael Manley had managed to keep out the IMF?
What if he hadn’t allowed rich Jamaicans to leave?
What if Bedward hadn’t been sent to Bellevue?
What if MG had got his Black Star Line together and people went to Africa?
What if the Taino hadn’t been decimated?
What if Howell kept Pinaccle?
What if Haiti’s revolution spread before 1834?
What if JA didn’t allow tourism all those years ago?
What if Taki won?
What if WI Federation had happened?
What if emigration was prohibited? All the way from 1800s
What if slaves on every slave ship had committed mass suicide?
Or mass insurrection and taken over the ships?
What if Dutty Boukman had stayed home?
What if we hadn’t allowed St Domingue slave owners to flee here?
What if we’d timed a rebellion with Haiti’s and we both got indie at the same time?
What if we’d broken the French imposed embargo on new Haiti?
What if more people could have gone to secondary school in the early twentieth century?
What if Walter Rodney hadn’t been banned from JA?
What if Haile Selassie never granted Shashamane to foreigners?
What if we actually gained independence? (Ok that was snarky)
What if Bob didn’t die of cancer and stayed in JA?
What if they didn’t kill Peter Tosh?
What if post Emancipation immigration was banned?
What if the US army had come for Dudus and not the JDF?
What if Revivalism, Kumina, and Rastafari were national religions?
What if Patwa was our official language?
What if Chronixx was PM?
What if after the concert, Manley and Seaga had held a referendum and Bob was nominated as PM?

All I can add to this list is What if Whappie neva kill Phillup? And moving beyond Jamaica what if Trump’s mom never met his dad? On the local front Losing Patience is a new micro webseries produced by director and writer Teeqs and Justine Henzell, Michelle Serieux and others which seems to answer the question “What if we peep at moments in the life of an attractive, dark-skinned young Jamaican office worker?” Starring the singer Sevana, who also seems to have serious acting talent, the humorous series premiered on TVJ in July and promises to change the lacklustre pace of local TV production with buy in from savvy investors. There is a huge market waiting for snappy, smart mini-series like this from countries like Jamaica.

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Meanwhile news broke that Island Records’ Chris Blackwell is partnering with the producers of Netflix blockbuster “Narcos” and novelist Marlon James to develop a series exploring “the resounding local and global impact of iconic Jamaican music.” The show will look at “the political discord that followed in the wake of Jamaican independence from Britain in 1962 and the birth of a local music industry that reached, and changed, the world.” This promises to be exciting with characters ranging from Millie Small and Desmond Dekker to Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante. According to Marlon James it will be about the music but also politics and the last days of colony.

What if there were more savvy business people in Jamaica with the imagination and will  to exploit the rich mother lode of Jamaican culture and history?

Routes and Culture

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Cutting a cake for Marcus Garvey at the launch of Cinema Paradiso

Below is my Gleaner column of August 16.

Last weekend I found myself repeatedly being reminded of something the eminent social and cultural theorist Stuart Hall was fond of saying about identity and culture: “If you think of culture always as a return to roots — R-O-O-T-S — you’re missing the point. I think of culture as routes — R-O-U-T-E-S — the various routes by which people travel, culture travels, culture moves, culture develops, and culture changes, cultures migrate, etc.”

I found myself thinking this as I watched Rasta: A Soul’s Journey, a film starring Donisha Prendergast, that kicked off Cinema Paradise, the Portie film festival put on by Portland-based Great Huts Resort. Produced by Patricia Scarlett whose brainchild it was, Rasta tracked the routes taken by Rastafari as it traveled across the world, reincarnating itself in various locations from Ethiopia to South Africa to Canada to England.

Cultural identity, Hall said, is what you make with what you find. Thus Donisha Prendergast, found herself born in Jamaica into the family of Bob Marley, her maternal grandmother being Rita Marley, whose first child Sharon, Donisha’s mother, was adopted by the famous singer. Though not connected to Bob by blood, Donisha grew up identifying with him as her grandfather and Rastafari as her cultural heritage.

The film followed her travel to eight countries linking with those espousing the tenets of Rastafari far from the Caribbean island where it was born. Thus Prendergast was following the routes taken by the culture of Rastafari as it rooted itself in different parts of the world. The second film in the Portie Film Festival, screened the following night at Great Huts, was Shashamane by Giulia Amati, an in-depth look at Jamaican and Caribbean migrants to Ethiopia, who went there in enactment of the Back to Africa ideology so integral to Rastafari.

Theirs was an attempt to return to their roots, to the legendary promised land, “We’re leaving Babylon, We’re going to our Fatherland” as Bob Marley sang in Exodus. But it was a bittersweet experience for the few who survived and remained in Shashamane, especially after Emperor Haile Selassie who had donated the 500 acres of land in 1948 for descendants of the enslaved to repatriate to, was deposed in 1974. The communist government that followed reclaimed most of the land leaving just a little for the Rastafari who had been living there since the early 60s, to call their own.

As Ras Mweya Masimba, the protagonist of the film said: “After being so long in the Western world, it’s a joy to be back in Africa. But it’s a very great challenge. We are coming back here now as foreigners. People don’t remember who we are, or forget that they sold us into slavery, or how we left here. It is a hard task of re-integration with the people on all levels.”

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Dr. Paul Rhodes introducing the film Shashamane at Africana House

The film Shashamane captures exactly why thinking of culture exclusively in terms of one’s biological and ancestral roots is insufficient. The routes Masimba and his ancestors took or were taken on, from Western Africa to Jamaica to the UK, where he lived before migrating to Shashamane, defined his identity and made him who he is just as much as his ancestral origins. What comes across clearly in the film is how Jamaican/Caribbean and Rastafarian the culture of most of those who migrated from this region to Shashamane, has remained.

“I’ve got to go back home, This couldn’t be my home, It must be somewhere else…”, plaintively sang another Jamaican singer, Bob Andy, in his contribution to the back to Africa discourse. But going back is easier to sing about than to accomplish. In the words of Bro Trika, another resident of Shashamane, “It was a complete challenge to make it here to Ethiopia. And a lot of people couldn’t do it. So whenever you see people come from outside to Africa, you have to respect them. Because there are so many people who don′t have the guts to leave the developed countries to come here.”

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A chair by Gilbert Nicely

There was something poetic about viewing Shashamane at Great Huts in Boston Bay, an Afrocentric resort created by an American medical doctor, Paul Rhodes, who first visited Jamaica in 1973 as a medical student. In Brooklyn where he studied, his landlord, Edward Gentles, was a Jamaican. It was a Caribbean neighborhood and Rhodes, a secular Jew, felt a kinship with Rastafari, because of the common histories of persecution and longing for a promised land to call one’s own. “Many Jews would look upon the Rastafari as their brethren,” explained Dr. Paul, the name by which he’s popularly known.

With its ingenious architecture and design, furniture by master carver Gilbert Nicely, statuary by master potter Sylvester Stephens, artworks by Mazola, Alicia Brown and others, Great Huts occupies the land with a lightness of being that’s bracing. If you’re ever in the area you should check it out, it’s a serious hat tip to African roots/routes and culture right here in Jamaica.

A new cadre of investigative journalists

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Zahra Burton of 18 Degrees North

Have been forgetting to update Active Voice with my Gleaner columns. This one is from August 9.

Jamaica consistently ranks highly in global press freedom rankings, yet seems to exploit that freedom too little. There’s a burning need for hard-hitting, in-depth journalism exposing and stemming the rampant white collar crime and corruption we live with yet it’s something our media houses don’t focus on enough, a state of affairs in itself worthy of serious investigation.

So it gladdened my heart when freelance journalist and writer Kate Chappell recently brought a community journalism training program titled Building a Journalist With Integrity and Impact to my attention. Chappell, along with Zahra Burton of Global Reporters for the Caribbean, has been working with Omar Lewis, Civil Society Coordinator at National Integrity Action (NIA) and Ian McKnight, Chief of Party USAID COMET II, to train about 30 community members in investigative journalism and will be publishing 10 pieces (in print, radio and television outlets such as ROOTS FM, MORE FM, The Gleaner and POWER 106) produced by the novice journalists in the next few weeks. The aim of the program is to cultivate investigative skills as well as to hold authorities accountable by using tools such as the Access to Information Act (ATI).

Zahra Burton as many of us know is the star reporter of 18 Degrees North, a TV news magazine inspired by shows such as CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. With Zahra’s rigorous approach to journalism and Chappell’s organizational and empathic skills, and the help of mentors such as Dennis Brooks and Kalilah Reynolds, fourteen women and 13 men with a mix of educational levels, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were trained at the end of April and have spent the last three months researching, interviewing, writing and putting together pieces to air or be published in media outlets.

The project coordinators were interested in training community members to report on what happens in their communities with a particular interest in good stories that hold people to account, instead of the standard media fare of “Everybody a tief and rape and kill each other”. One story involved churches and noise pollution. One day Burton received a call from the veteran dub poet Oku Onoura in Portmore saying “18 degrees North I have a story for you…” The story involved a church near Onoura’s house making intolerable noise that he wanted help in curbing. The group investigated the situation and produced a story with a clever lead in: “Oku Onuora has been attending church every Sunday morning, though not by choice. He goes up to four times a week depending on when his neighbour, Harvest Temple Apostolic, chooses to meet.”

“So we’re trying to do the kinds of stories that maybe people do want to tell, but that maybe another outlet may not be interested in because it’s too small an issue, it’s too big an issue, it’s too rural an issue,” said Burton who also arranged for a screening of the film Spotlight, some months ago in Kingston, which focused on the Boston Globe’s exposure of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

I spoke to two participants from the training program, Sharlene Hendricks and Jamaila Maitland, both of whom had studied at CARIMAC. Sharlene described the investigative journalism training as exceptional, especially learning to use the ATI Act to pry out information from tight-lipped government ministries and agencies. A resident of Rae Town in downtown Kingston, Sharlene focused on the adverse effects of the dredging of Kingston Harbor on fishermen who were being insufficiently compensated for the reduction in their fish catch by Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL), the entity doing the dredging.

Sharlene’s team started by finding out the process by which fishermen would be compensated, under what legislation the dredging was being undertaken and the terms of the beach license granted. Some of this was obtained from NEPA but the ATI request to KFTL revealed that the company was private, not government-owned which meant that they had to be persuaded to release information. Charlene and her team were eventually successful in getting the information they wanted.

Another aspect of the Rae Town story was environmental as it seemed KFTL was dumping what it was dredging up, in the community, silting up archaeological sites in the process, but doing so legally with NEPA’s permission. An examination of the weekly reports KFTL was required to make showed that complaints were being registered but NEPA advised KPTL to ignore these and proceed, as the beach license granted them leeway to dump there! While NEPA’s ATI officer was forthcoming, Sharlene was unable to get a comment from someone senior at NEPA in charge of monitoring KFTL, a problem Chappell said many of the trainees had when attempting to get interviews with those in charge.

Jamila Maitland and her team’s TV report stemmed from a budget speech made by PM Holness in 2016 after a number of women were brutally murdered by their partners, in which he promised there would be a domestic violence coordinator in every police station in the country. Calls made to 40 police stations a year later revealed only one domestic violence coordinator in place.

Kudos to all concerned for this much-needed fillip to local journalism.

Reggae inna India

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I’ve been enjoying the month of July off from my column, so much that I’ve even forgotten to post the last few columns from June. This is my Gleaner column from June 9. Taru and Samara have received much publicity recently with a really good Guardian article about them last week. 

With all the angst about two Japanese performers supposedly taking over the Jamaican music scene by entering local competitions and dominating them (Japanese sound system Yard Beat beating Jamaica’s Bass Odyssey in the Boom Sound Clash finals, and Japanese reggae/dancehall artiste Rankin Pumpkin, nearly winning Magnum Kings and Queens) I thought I might highlight a happier story about the export of Jamaican music and culture.

Last month Al Jazeera aired a half hour documentary called India’s Reggae Resistance: Defending Dissent Under Modi. The film featured a musician named Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate and his partner, singer Samara Chopra aka Begum X. Principals in a band named the Ska Vengers, bringing classic Reggae to the masses of India is their mission.

After current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was elected the Ska Vengers produced a confrontational video called A Message to You, Modi, with lyrics that went”Stop your fooling around / Messing up our future / Time to straighten right out / You should have wound up in jail.” Like many other artists, writers and musicians they were worried about what the new regime might mean for freedom of speech. The bold song earned the band a lot of attention attracting filmmaker Vikram Singh, who made the Al Jazeera documentary.

I met Delhi Sultanate and Begum X about three years ago when they visited Jamaica. For them it was a pilgrimage, a much cherished visit to the holy land so to speak. For Taru in particular the trip was like living a dream because of the close emotional and psychic connection he feels with Jamaican music. He first encountered Reggae as a young teenager living in Germany where his mother taught Hindi. The bond was immediate and his love for the music followed him to Berkeley in California where his family moved next.

In California Taru hung out with youngsters whose parents had been members of the Black Panthers and continued to nourish his radical roots with Reggae. Fast forward to today and Delhi where he now lives. The documentary showed Taru and Samara in the process of getting a large sound system built called Bass Foundations Roots – BFR Sound System. Their plan is to tour the country with it, visiting sites of environmental and human rights protests bringing Reggae, which they see as the quintessential protest music, to protesters.

An earlier project called World Sound Power, tried to meld Indian folk resistance music with Jamaican sounds, with lyrics focusing on caste violence, state abuse of power and crony capitalism. With the BFR Sound System their intention is quite simple and revolutionary. As Taru explained in an interview on criticallegalthinking.com:

“We can make people dance. Our sound system is powerful and can create a sense of physical well-being and connectedness in listeners. At present, this is one thing that we can contribute to political spaces and gatherings. There is a time for speeches, for critical discourse for discussion, for slogans, but dancing and singing together is also very important. We will only get through these times if we find joy in each other and build strong relationships of trust and care, with each other as well as with the larger community. It’s the only way I find myself being able to not get depressed and to despair.”

Begum X who has a yoga therapy show on TV also sings over the sound. She’s a small woman with a big voice, when you hear her you look around expecting to see someone like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan only to see a petite pixie like figure dancing Jamaican stylee in between belting out lyrics. She designs all the graphics and organizes the shows.

Both Taru and Samara sing in Patwa which the former fluently raps and DJs in, something people are surprised by. According to him if you sing in American English or perform on a theatre stage in India with a British accent it is considered normal, but “speak in English from another colony and people start raising questions at once. JA to my knowledge is the only colony that has managed to export its form of English globally.”

In the criticallegalthinking.com interview Taru elaborated on his unusual identity formation: “I consider the heritage that made Reggae to be part of my heritage, and my work aims to bring this into the Indian context. For me there are also clear links between the forces that underpin Reggae music and things that are happening in India today. The colours red, gold and green have concrete meaning here, incidentally the first national flag of India or the flag of the revolutionary Gaddar party also featured Red, Gold and Green. Red stands for the blood of the martyrs, green stands for natural abundance, and gold stands for the wealth that is inside the earth.”

So what do you say? Are Delhi Sultanate and Begum X not the most unlikely but inspiring Reggae Ambassadors ever? So what if the Japanese are invading Jamaican culture? The groundwork is being laid for access to the second-largest market in the world. Run wid it producers!

Garvey Lite?

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Bust of Marcus Garvey v. 1. After a massive protest by Rastas in Papine Square on June 25, 2017, the University of the West Indies agreed to take down the offending bust and replace it with another that would approximate the demands for a big-head, big nosed Garvey more like the photos that exist of him.

My column of June 2 in the Gleaner. After much public agitation and disapproval the University of the West Indies finally agreed to bow to public pressure and withdraw the offending bust. At a tumultuous press briefing (see video above for a brief taste of the event) the Dean confirmed that a new bust would be produced by August 2017. The sculptor would still be Raymond Watson. At the briefing Watson said that he had tried to create a youthful image of Garvey, to befit the University setting where the bust would be installed.

During his lifetime Garvey was much vilified as those who fight the status quo often are. Born in Jamaica he strode forth boldly into the world and changed it by rallying people of African origin who had been systematically exploited and denigrated by slavery. His influence rebounded all the way from the Americas to Africa, where he promised to take all those who wanted to ‘go back home’ in the immortal words of Jamaican singing star Bob Andy. To the pre-eminent shipping enterprise of the day, White Star Line, he counterpoised his Black Star Line, a fleet of ships that would carry the descendants of slaves back to Africa. The rest is history.

Decades after they’re gone how do we memorialize such individuals? In May 2017 during a short run of Garvey: The Musical at the University of the West Indies in Kingston a bust of the great man was unveiled at the Department of Humanities and Education. Members of the Marcus Garvey Movement on campus had demanded a statue of Garvey after a life-size one of Mahatma Gandhi was installed there a few years ago. How could the University pay tribute to an Indian leader before even nodding in the direction of its own home-grown hero, the first national hero of the country, they asked.

Accordingly the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE), Professor Waibinte Wariboko, a Nigerian by birth, volunteered to take on the task of arranging for a suitable monument to the great man. A Jamaican sculptor, Raymond Watson, was commissioned to produce a bust, the University’s slender resources not stretching to accommodate the expense of a full-bodied statue in these hard times.

Details of the commission, such as the brief presented to the sculptor, are unknown but on May 19 the bust was duly unveiled in the courtyard of the FHE. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the visit of Professor Rahamon Adisa Bello, vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, who jointly unveiled it with the Principal of the Mona Campus, Archibald McDonald. When they ritually removed the cover revealing the modest bust underneath a gasp of consternation went up from the audience. Rastafari representatives in the audience started grumbling loudly that this was the statue of an imposter, not Garvey, this slim, unremarkable, downtrodden looking person could never represent the magnificent Marcus. Garvey, they said. Many agreed.

“Garvey seems poorly. His posture conveys passivity. He looks like a weakling,” declared Carolyn Cooper in her column. #NotmyGarvey protested lecturer Isis Semaj-Hall commenting on what she called the “slimmed down interpretation” of the great leader. This is a “UWI interpretation of Garvey” said a Facebook commenter while Xavier Hutchinson accused the sculptor of “fat shaming one of my heroes.”

Suzette Gardner was kinder to Watson: “Maybe he was trying to inspire young people capturing Garvey as a youth. Still, Garvey might have been slimmer but his head was always big. Give us our big headed Garvey so the youth can know him as he was – young or old!”

According to Am’n Ron: “Regardless of the artist’s explanation this presentation should never have been approved. This was a moment for a recognizable rendering that will last through the generations and not a moment for a random artistic interpretation. From what period in Garvey’s life did he take this, and what is the image source he used? This seemingly made a mockery of the whole effort. I fully appreciate the spirit of the mounting of a Garvey bust, and I agree that it was overdue, but I’m in agreement with the woman who calmly said, “tek it dung!”  To those who have the authority, please replace it. It feels disrespectful.”

Another Facebook commenter said: “I’ve been too upset to speak on it but i have  much more to say. I will write and share. The best part of the ceremony for me was catching up with people I have not seen in ages. Unfortunately it was an upsetting occasion for all of us.”

For me the problem wasn’t so much that the bust didn’t look anything like the Garvey we feel we’ve come to know and love. It’s the scale and unambitious scope of the representation that bother me.The only other life-like sculptures on campus are of Mahatma Gandhi (Indian) and Philip Sherlock (white) both full body representations. Then for the champion of black identity you have a modest bust. It’s a problem to say the least.

In the weeks since the unveiling calls have been mounting for the removal of the ‘fake’ statue of Garvey. The Gandhi and Sherlock sculptures were gifts to the university, and it may be that those who feel strongly about this might have to undertake to commission a better representation of Garvey that can be situated at the University of the West Indies or some other location.

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Petrina Dacres, whose Ph.D dissertation, “Modern monuments: Fashioning history and identity in post -colonial Jamaica” documents the furore surrounding almost every public monument in Jamaica, was also at the press briefing.

In future any public commissions of art should be informed by the well-documented history of responses to public monuments in Jamaica. Edna Manley lecturer and first Stuart Hall Fellow Petrina Dacres has written an entire thesis on the subject. There is no excuse to be caught by surprise like this. Contrary to what many seem to think, commissions of public statuary are not occasions for artists to wield artistic license and express themselves as they would with work meant for a gallery or private setting.