Hard Woman fe Dead

portia


Prince Buster died on September 8 this year, roughly two weeks ago. I remember feeling a deep  sense of loss all day long into the next few days that was exacerbated by the scant attention local media was giving the news. On the day of the latter-day superstar’s death radio and TV newscasts in Jamaica carried it way down in their line-up. None of them even had the sad news as a top three item as far as I recall.

I didn’t know Prince Buster personally. I know that he was a crucial pioneer of the success story that is Jamaican music and I love his music and his swaggering history. When @DahliaHarris said “The way international media is paying tribute to Prince Buster is amazing. We need to teach our youth about our Jamaican legends” I completely agreed. The news of Prince Buster’s death should have led newscasts in Jamaica on that sad day for this was the passing of a legend.

Think about it. Had a paltry politician from the top two rungs of Parliament died it would have led the news here but someone who helped to put Jamaica on the map through its music, someone who inspired so many people worldwide that when you google his death you get a list of tributes published in all the top global media—the New York Times, BBC, The Economist, The UK Guardian, Rolling Stone—no of course not…that’s secondary news in the country of his birth.

The Economist’s tribute described Prince Buster’s life as “a chronicle of the tropical tempest that is modern Jamaica” and ended by invoking his blockbuster Hard Man fe Dead:

“In his 1966 record “Hard Man Fe Dead”, Prince Buster sings the tale of a corpse who steadfastly refuses to die.  It’s an ode to the indomitable spirit of his countrymen—and a fitting tribute to his own legacy:

“Now the procession leads to the cemetery,
The man holler out—don’t you bury me!
You pick him up, you lick him down,
Him bounce right back, what a hard man fe dead.”

It’s at moments like this that you realise there is something seriously askew with the way Jamaican society operates. This lopsidedness also manifests itself in the inability of the country’s bourgeoisie to understand who Portia Simpson Miller is and what she represents to many people in this country. “I’m a hard woman fe dead,” she said when she emerged triumphant from the internal elections of the People’s National Party last weekend, having won 2,471 of 2,669 votes cast by delegates.

This after a mounting campaign in the media to discredit her in the weeks preceding the election, on the grounds that it was time for her to go, particularly as her health seems increasingly to be an issue. The negative campaign only seems to have spurred on the support this grassroots leader enjoys. In 2006 when Portia won the PNP’s leadership election for the first time, with the vast majority of PNP delegates voting for her, it was against the wishes of the majority of the party leadership at Cabinet level, and in Parliament.

Unfortunately for the top leadership they soon realised that none of them could muster similar support from the delegates and thus began a decade of an uneasy coalition between middle class and elite PNP leaders and Portia. Although some of them were involved in the campaign to hasten her departure they have now been told in no uncertain terms by the delegates that she will go, when she, and they, are ready. Without Portia the PNP may never win another election and that is the simple truth of it.

As a wit once observed in response to snarky sniping about Portia Simpson Miller’s lack of higher academic degrees, “Who say Portia don’t have PhD? Portia Have Delegates. seet deh? PhD.” An upper St Andrew friend was bitter about Portia’s re-election as party leader, grumbling that she needs to go as she couldn’t represent the country. Why not, I prodded. “No man, she can’t speak for me,” came back the answer, and implicit in that statement was all the prejudice and disregard too many of us feel towards the grassroots of this country.

The sober truth though, is that neither can Upper St Andrew (and its counterparts) speak for the grassroots any longer. That is why Portia still reigns…and why the passing of Prince Buster should have been front and centre of the news on September 8, 2016. No two ways about that.

(The above is my Gleaner column from September 21, 2016)

Once there was Prince: Exit Passion’s Purple Ambassador

Prince remembered in Jamaica and other places…

 


Above: Prince’s influence on global music and cinema is to be noted. “A revolutionary story of guitars, motorcycles, cell phones – and the music of a new generation” is how director Christopher Kirkley describes his West African re-imagining of Purple Rain. Set in the Saharan city of Agadez in Niger, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Akounak for short) is a visually sumptuous and musically thrilling movie that works splendidly with or without the Purple Rain mythos. But riffing on Prince’s tale locates Purple Rain’s universal heartbeat.”

It was on Twitter that i first came across a report that Prince had died, hours before the official news carriers were disseminating the announcement. My mind immediately went to Marlon James, the Jamaican writer who won the Booker Prize last year, from whose status updates over the years i had grown to have a sense of this enigmatic musician and performer. He would be devastated by the news I thought. And sure enough his Facebook updates said it all:

I’m not believing this until I see his body myself. Fuck the world right now.

said Marlon first, followed by:

I’m sorry. I’m done with today.

Then:

Purple Rain was the first album I ever bought. I don’t want to talk about the music, so much as just the act of buying Purple Rain. Going to the record store at 14, already knowing about “Darlin Nicky” but buying it anyway. Working up the nerve to buy it. Looking around the record store, nervous, hoping nobody seeing me grab it. Then working up the nerve to play it, Since there was only one record player, in the living room and everybody was home. The mind-melt of hearing stuff I didn’t know humans could make. The scare of coming up to Darling Nikki and the thrill of watching it pass their ears without my parents picking up on the lyrics. Playing the album every day in December 1984, so much so that my father could sing the lyrics to When Doves Cry back to me. After Purple Rain, records became the thing I bought most, after comics. It wasn’t just that Purple Rain remains the most liberating experience I’ve ever had, it’s that by buying it myself, with my own money, I learned that I can play the biggest role in my own liberation. I could go find the world on my own. And I can blow my own damn mind all by my own damn self.

Marlon’s sentiments were echoed in a tweet that started bouncing around the internet for the rest of the day. By one @ElusiveJ it said: “Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met…we don’t cry because we knew them. We cry because they helped us know ourselves.”
I remember reading similar responses to David Bowie when he died not so long ago. How through his protean persona he had helped people all over the world who felt like misfits or betweenies, not quite this and not quite that. Prince was also admired for the boundless virtuosity he embodied, the sheer bravura of his performances while all the time looking more like an antihero than popular portrayals of superheroes. Said editor and writer Faiza Sultan Khan on Facebook:

I hope to explain someday how the great sex symbol of my day and the stuff of a million fantasies was a five foot two inch satyr of a man in high heels, frilly shirts and eyeliner. Not that there’s any need to explain it to anyone since you get it the moment you see or hear him.

Faiza went on to put her finger on the very thing that makes the Prince phenom so unusual. It’s popularly believed that the hoi polloi–the vulgar multitudes–have little discrimination or ‘taste’ often leading to disparaging comments about the ‘lowest common denominator’ determining the quality, or lack thereof, of things. How then had so many been able to tune into and appreciate someone as ahead of the times as Prince? The conversation below is from her Facebook page:

Faiza Sultan Khan: Pleasantly surprised to see that with the exception of about two people (whom I shall never speak to again obvs) everyone I can see on Facebook mourning Prince, the whole thing is glowing purple. I wonder how someone that experimental and avant garde managed such a gigantic following…maybe the world isn’t utterly hopeless after all
Rahma M Mian: Sadly it’s the FB algorithm showing you what you want to see. The world is still shit. Also </3.
Faiza Sultan Khan: Don’t you find it strange that someone who really challenged listeners also managed to sell 100 million albums?
Huma Imtiaz: I was in three different meetings where people kept finding out mid meeting and launching into wails of disbelief. Also, how are the Rolling Stones still alive and Prince is not?
Faiza Sultan Khan: I assume by ‘how’ you mean ‘why’

 

Taking it down a different but equally compelling road Natasha Thomas-Jackson blogged about “The Impossibility of Loving Prince While Hating Queerness

If you can’t fully embrace the humanity of the Princes walking around your community – the ones being bullied, disrespected, dehumanized, assaulted, and killed on a daily basis – I’m going to have a difficult time believing the sincerity of your outpouring of love and respect for the Purple One today. Prince had the inner fortitude, and perhaps external supports, to be his damn self and reach his potential….despite you. And though his ascension into super stardom -and the money, fame, and celebrity deification that come with – may have afforded him some protection from perspectives like yours, the truth remains many of you would have hated him if you actually knew him.

Want a litmus test? Please ask yourself how you’d feel about this picture if it were anyone other Prince. If it were your neighbor? Classmate? Friend? Son?

image
Photo Credit: Paisley Park/Warner Brothers

 

The tributes and spontaneous recounting of close encounters with the purple one made for interesting reading:

Talib Kweli Greene @TalibKweli
Once I djed a BET party for Debra Lee. I played some gangsta rap. Prince walked up & said “I ain’t get dressed up to come out & hear curses”

Closer to home @BigBlackBarry tweeted a series of lines about the time he found himself in a limo with Prince:

  • So a long time ago in a galaxy far far away a bunch of stuff was happening. All that stuff converged to have me end up in a limo with Prince. So Prince had a label deal through Warner. It was called Paisley Park. And they had a publishing side as well.
  • This was at a point when dancehall and reggae and jamaican talent were actually very attractive to international record labels. So I end up getting a job at one because of a hook up from my brotha from another motha @StretchArmy .
  •  So I’m spending money signing acts, getting a couple decent hits and becoming an all round jiggy mofo in the game.
  • So this beautiful chick who I had seen in clubs hits me up and says she has a gig running Paisley Park pub. And wants me to assist her…So that’s music, Prince access and a pretty woman. Sheeeet. Yu dun know mi an her start flex an buil
  •  Long and short is that in their attempts to sign Sly and Robbie publishing we all end up in a limo going to one of those pop up concerts
  • Prince used to just randomly show up at really small bars or lounges and have them lock it off and he would do a surprise acoustic set. Sometimes just to like 25 people in a tiny nyc bar. So I got to see him in one of those spaces. And then he ends up in the limo I came in. Cause he wanted to meet Sly/ Robbie. Cause as a musician he really appreciated that they were amongst the best drummer and bassist in world.
  • So the crowning moment for me is when that mofo Prince turns to me in the limo and says “I really dig your work.” At this point I start stuttering and shit. And say thank you. He says he really really dug the Grace Jones stuff….
  •  At this point I realize he thinks I am Sly. Shit, I say ” nah man, that’s the real big man over there! I jus hang out and do label stuff”
  • Mofo like him waan kick mi out the limo to rass…. lool
     I haven’t thought about that night in yeeeears. I forgot that shit really till earlier this week talking to @AliBJM bout music

Others, like Sarah Manley, whose babyfather, Saint, was probably Jamaica’s biggest Prince fan, bemoaned Prince’s passing as the ‘end of an age’ and agonized over why her children didn’t ‘get’ the dazzling superstar:

The records. That’s definitely part of it and part of why the kids can’t truly get it. The albums themselves. What it was to get a new record, put it on the turntable and sit back and study the cover, the sleeve, every single inch, read every line of every song, read every single word of the notes, find secrets lines to songs, jokes, and in Princes case realize he had written every single word and played every single instrument…. Me and my sister Natasha Manley went through this process again and again cos the one thing we always always got as gifts from our music loving dad, was music. For me, like for many many others Prince was the cornerstone of cool and the soundtrack of those halcyon days… 1984 85 86 87 88 89 90 My sister works in music I know in part because of those days, my daughter Raine Manley Robertson exists with certainty in part because her father Saint himself a brilliant musician and songwriter for whom Prince was the absolute hero, could cover Purple Rain like a rockstar. I tell my boys now who don’t really know Prince music because Prince refused to allow himself to be you tubed and they have come of age in the time as someone said yesterday of a passing acquaintance with music and not the total ownership of my teen years when we consumed albums like food, i tell them I want a turntable for my 50th, and I want back all our albums, and some kick ass speakers, so I can show them what music was… Ah sah… It’s… It’s the brave new world and I still get most of it I do, but with the passing of Prince… Truly truly it’s the end of an age…

I myself, having grown up in India in the 60s and 70s, missed the Prince phenom completely. For some reason his music wasn’t played much there, the preference being for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and other stalwarts of white pop music. Tuning into him now, belatedly, I find one of the most fascinating things about Prince was how politically savvy he seems to have been, not only guarding his own intellectual property like Cerberus, but also demanding more airtime and column space for women and Blacks. Black women in particular he had a lot of time for, and I end this post with the fascinating accounts of two such women whose lives he touched indelibly. The first, Erica Kennedy, was asked about her interview with Prince which came about because he insisted that he would only grant an i/v to a black woman:

The Revolution @axolROSE
Erica Kennedy broke into writing because Prince FORCED in style magazine to hire a Black woman to interview him pic.twitter.com/PrinceEricaKennedy

 According to writer Leone Ross, who also interviewed him in 1995 Prince was special and important for many reasons:

He only began to give regular interviews in the 90s when he began a protracted fight with Warner Bros to get back the rights to his music. This is when he began to try and point out to the world how artistes get screwed by the industry. he wrote ‘slave’ on his face. He was derided. But he was trying for the first time to use the press to express a message.

Her Facebook update read:

Before I met Prince in 1995, I liked to think we’d had a moment. I think it was the year before, at some wrap party. So long ago. There was a rumour he was in town, but after several hours skulking around the room, waiting, with other hopefuls, I gave up and left. As I walked out onto the pavement, cursing, I suddenly saw him dart out of a side door.
We both stopped: I am sure my mouth fell open.
He twinkled at me and then dived into a car.

On the day of our interview, I kept him waiting because his security wanted to frisk me and there was no woman to do it. When I walked through the door he grinned like a little boy and said ‘Yes, a black woman!’ No one can ever again tell me I am not black enough because PRINCE TOLD ME SO. He smelled sweeter than any man I have ever been close to: patchouli. He was burning far too much incense. He moved on the balls of his feet, like a dancer. We sat on a sofa. Our knees touched. The room was a ridiculous Arabian nights parody: draped material in pinks and purples. I did not want him to think I was crazy. I wanted to be professional. I was 26 years old and I could not fucking believe I was breathing the same air in the same room as Prince.

I earnestly thanked him for the music and tried to ask my first question. He interrupted: What’s your favourite song? I said: Old Friends For Sale. He laughed: ‘Now where did you get that?’ This was when you could only get it on bootleg. I said, ‘C’mon now, Prince,’ and he winced. I said: ‘What do you want me to call you?’ He said: ‘My friends don’t call me anything.’ I rolled my eyes. I rolled my fucking eyes at Prince. He laughed. He wouldn’t take his dark glasses off. As we sank into it, I complained. I told him I couldn’t see his pretty eyes, that I had been waiting on an island to see them, all my life. He shook his head, teasing me. So I looked straight at him through the fucking glasses for the rest of the interview, so he would have the impression I was looking into his eyes. He realised what I was doing; became amused, restless. Wagged his finger at me: ‘You’re clever’. Took the glasses off. Sighed at my delight: like a strip tease. Put them on again.

He wanted to know about Jamaica. I told him we were listening to him. I told him I once dated a man because he was a Prince fan.

Prince: ‘Did you sleep with him?’
Me: ‘Yes’.
Eyebrow. ‘Because of me?’
Me: ‘No, I loved him!’
Prince: ‘That’s the right answer.’

He was so funny. We laughed so much. At one point, he laughed so hard, he fell into my lap. In. My Lap. And I couldn’t even be aroused by this man who had aroused me for so many years, because I was so shocked. Hours passed. There were other journalists outside, waiting and cussing, and Prince kept sending his frantic publicist away with a flick of his finger. He kept switching and changing topics: trying to confuse me, trying to control it all. Such a control freak. He was so kind. I asked him if he’d ever fucked Kylie Minogue. Just like that. He said: ‘Somebody WROTE that shit.’ He told me that he spent every Sunday at Rosie Gaines’ house and ate fried chicken, but nobody was writing about THAT and why not? I knew he was telling me that because I was a big woman sitting in front of him; I also knew he said it because he meant it. He told me that his next video [Most Beautiful Girl In The World] would deliberately include women of all colours and shapes, and that Warner Bros NEVER let him do that.

He cussed the music industry. He played me Pussy Control and Gold. He suddenly slapped my thigh and said: ‘I know you!’ and then told me about our wrap party moment: completely without prompting: ‘Girl, your FACE!’
He talked about his relationship with food; everything in that description sounded like bulimia, to me. He looked, sad, shaken, thin, then. i touched the back of his hand. It was the moment of the interview: the most authentic. You learn that, as a journalist. When they forget the interview and talk like humans, then gather themselves and go off the record.

He was so political. He was so fucking BLACK. He reminded me of every black man I have ever loved: brothers, friends, lovers. The publicist came in: I had been granted 20 minutes and it was over three hours. We were gazing at each other: nothing sexual, I was just trying to hold him there by sheer force of WILL. And then I had a moment: jesus fucking Christ, I’m talking to PRINCE. And my gaze wavered. And he wavered. And the fucking publicist beseeched. And then it was done. We were standing up; he was hugging me, this amazing, bruised, astonishing person and and I believed everything, anything was possible.

But then he always made me feel that way. I could be light-skinned and black. I could be bisexual and fine. I could be mischievous. Men could wear eye-liner and heels. Women could talk about sex.

The first song of his I ever heard was ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover.’ He gave me permission to feel the heat between my legs, man. With NO shame. I realise now that I experience him as a breathing embodiment of my own sexuality. That was why it felt so profound and strange the first time I saw him. Part of me always felt like a big-brown-eyed, high-heeled, shimmying, whip-thin boy. His existence validated my androgyny.
After the interview, I reeled out. ‘He liked that,’ one of his people smiled at me. ‘He said if all interviews were like that, he’d do more.’

Later, I watched him onstage, front row. I was the only person in the room who could sing along to Pussy Control with him, because I was the only one who knew the lyrics. He laughed with me from the stage and touched my hand.

I have such wonderful friends: but the subset of us who were children of The Revolution hold a special place in my heart. People are sending me messages like Prince was my family. Saying they’re sorry for my loss. It’s not strange: everyone who knows me – and some who don’t – associated me with him. Which I find funny. See, I love Prince to my marrow, but I stopped being obsessed with him on a white-hot level years ago. Ever since I met him and accepted anything was possible. Which was his very best gift to me. A little girl from Jamaica, fulfilled her most unlikely dream.

As my mum said, the day I met him: ‘You can die happy, now.’
And I thought: ‘No, I’ve got things to do.’

That was 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing those things. I was on my way out to do a reading when I saw the news. I froze. I thought: he’d want me to go. I am sure the man forgot about me years ago. But he was a perfectionist, like me. An artist. Like me. Jesus Christ, Prince. I am like you.
So I went. And I did a fucking amazing reading.
I just can’t stop shivering.

I knew one day he’d die. And that I’d cry until I puked. Or something. I fervently wished it would never happen. I wanted to die before him. I did, I did, I did.

Prince is not dead. He is not dead. Too much Annie Christian, Do Me Baby, 7, Joy In Repetition, Starfish & Coffee, 1999, Darlin Nikki, For You, Pop Life, Raspberry Beret, Thieves In The Temple, Uptown, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Insatiable, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Greatest Romance Ever Sold, Partyman, Pope, Computer Blue, Right Back Here In Yo Arms, It’s About That Walk, One Kiss At A Time, Face Down, Batdance, Daddy Pop, Nothing Compares 2U, Adore, Pink Cashmere, Adore, Sign O’ The Times, Alphabet Street, Lady Cab Driver, International Lover, Gotta Broken Heart Again, Head, Gett Off, Pop Life, Kiss, Private Joy, Controversy, Race, Letitgo, I Wonder U, Under The Cherry Moon, Mountains, Paisley Park, Count The Days, Screams of Passion, Don’t Talk To Strangers, Strollin… If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’ll understand.

“As Jamaican as Ackee and Saltfish”: Soul Rebel Cindy Breakspeare Part 1

Excerpts from my 2007 article for Riddim magazine on Cindy Breakspeare…

Photo: Source unknown

Ever since Cindy Breakspeare gave the annual Bob Marley lecture last week interest in her story has heightened. I had interviewed her in 2007 for Riddim magazine. The article appeared in German in Riddim and it just occurred to me that I could publish segments of the English original here on Active Voice. Enjoy!

When asked in a radio interview about her origins Cindy Breakspeare once said “I’m as Jamaican as ackee and saltfish”. The comparison to the national dish was particularly apt as the codfish used in it is often imported from Newfoundland, Canada. Ackee of course is a strange fruit considered inedible in many places because of the potent alkaloid toxins it contains. Jamaicans however eat it with gusto. Apt too because Cindy is the product of a Canadian mother and a Jamaican father; coupled with her white skin her bi-cultural heritage is what often subjects her to questions about her eligibility to be considered Jamaican.

I started thinking about this article after listening to numerous radio interviews with Cindy Breakspeare over the last five or six years. Who was this extraordinary woman? I was struck by her voice and the down-to-earth sincerity it radiated, her healthy sense of humour, her refusal at a certain level to wield the celebrity that is her entitlement or even to take it too seriously. This was in stark contrast to the social columns of Jamaica’s newspapers–filled with the affected poses of individuals whose lives are completely banal and vapid, their only claim to fame being their  disproportionate control of the resources of this small postcolonial nation.

Cindy on the other hand had not only been the favoured consort of the first (and to date the only) global musical superstar from the third world—Bob Marley—shortly after meeting him  she had become a celebrity in her own right by winning the Miss World competition in 1976. In those days this was an even rarer achievement for an unknown from a small developing country than it is today. As for Cindy’s Marley connection, many of us would have given our eyeteeth just to have heard Bob Marley in concert live, let alone to have enjoyed an intimate relationship with this extraordinary musician whose fame and influence have grown exponentially since his untimely death almost thirty years ago.

Cindy actually bore Marley a son, Damian, or Junior Gong as his father called him, who has turned out to be an outstanding singer and songwriter in his own right. Damian, more than any of his half brothers and sisters, has seemed the reincarnation of his father–the champion of poor people’s rights, the shamanic performer chanting down Babylon. Some Jamaicans, however, criticize Damian Marley as an example of an “uptown browning,” suggesting that he lacks street cred, something essential to good Reggae.

The success of Damian’s 2005 hit ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ silenced most critics. In any case this sort of criticism rarely originated in the streets where people appreciated the younger Marley shining a spotlight on their plight. The question is where did he get this social conscience from? From where did he get his unflinching penchant for reality and plain speaking?

Without a doubt this was partly a legacy of his legendary father who had died when Damian was only 2 years old. But having the same legendary father had not led the other Marley siblings to produce music of this caliber. What if some of Damian Marley’s outspoken lyricism actually came from his famous mother, the beautiful Cindy Breakspeare?

Judging by the interviews I had heard with Cindy I began to suspect that far from being a pampered member of any VIP club the young Marley had actually benefited from a double dose of radicalism: Not only was he his father’s son he also had a mother who had flouted the values of Jamaican society, turning her back on the wealth and privilege that could have been hers and embracing a countercultural lifestyle that was far from glamorous then no matter its currency today.

Who was Cindy Breakspeare exactly? Born in the fifties to a Canadian mother and Jamaican father Cindy was brought up in Jamaica and went to school at Immaculate Conception, a local convent school, as a boarder. Having to be a boarder at such an early age while difficult and challenging taught Cindy independence and self-sufficiency.

I went to Immaculate at the age of 7. I think when you’re separated from your family at that age you have to make a lot of decisions for yourself at a very early age–so you learn to trust your instincts, your own instincts, at a very early age; you develop your own value system, your own sense of what’s right and wrong for you. You tend to move away from being a sheep and doing what every one else wants because you don’t have that safe cocoon; you have to follow your own feelings a lot more. Yes, this feels right for me and no that doesn’t and yes I like this and no, I don’t like that and maybe because there is no family constantly directing and supervising and saying no, you can’t do this and no you can’t do that you just tend to wend your own path and after a while you just kinda don’t know any other way to be–you just dance to the beat of your own drum.

While going to a convent school gave her the foundation of a good middle class upbringing her own family life was fractured and unstable so that when she finished school she was on her own, fending for herself and looking for any opportunity that might come her way. At 19 Cindy had been out of school for a while and done many different jobs. There was no money for further studies; her parents were separated, her father now in Canada and she had to get out there and hustle for a living. “I worked at a furniture store for a while, I worked at a jewellery store, I ran a nightclub, I worked at the front desk of what was then the Sheraton, now the Hilton, so I did many different things and eventually found myself at this restaurant …Café D’Attic.”

Café d’Attic was Jamaica’s first health food restaurant specializing in “fruit platters and salad plates and very healthy sandwiches…It was very health-oriented and attracted those who were looking for something other than your greasy spoon, your fast food”. It was during this period that Cindy met Bob whose own preoccupation with healthy food and ital living brought him to the restaurant. This was also what brought Mickey Haughton-James, the owner of a fitness club called Spartan there, a momentous connection that ultimately led to Cindy becoming Miss World in 1976.  “So Mickey came and began talking to me about leaving there and coming to be involved in Spartan. He had not opened it yet but he was looking for someone he felt embodied health and beauty. “I was looking for opportunity, always, always looking for opportunity. Whatever looked like the next good step to take, take, let’s roll with it. So I went to Spartan.”

Jamaica’s Tessanne Chin: #Voice of the Year

NYDAILYNEWS

I arrived back in Jamaica from my two week visit to Amsterdam and London on the night of December 16 jetlagged and drained. I was in the air during the most important penultimate airing of the American reality show The Voice that evening and had missed the excitement of following the fortunes of Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin as she navigated a steady path to victory. As soon as we landed I tuned in to Twitter to see what i could glean about the evening’s performances. This collection of tweets is largely from that evening when instead of falling into bed after the ravages of intercontinental travel I stayed up till 1 am hooked to Twitter and the live commentary available there on Tessanne’s relentless ascent up the iTunes charts. Thanks to top journo Emily Crooks for her live tweeting and sometimes hilarious commentary (calling for a sign language interpreter from South Africa to interpret Cristina Aguilera’s body language after another stunning performance by Jamaica’s songbird eg).

Read the rest of this post on Storify–linked below:

TV Jamaica (TVJ), The Voice, Exclusive Rights, Tessanne Chin etc

Being analog in a digital world….TV Jamaica’s acquisition of exclusive rights to The Voice…and how they had to change their tune.

A few weeks ago, when the current season of The Voice had just begun there was a bit of an uproar in Jamaica because one of the two local TV stations, TVJ, bought exclusive rights to it and then refused to show it live. They showed it two hours later when they figured they would snare the largest number of viewers. What made matters worse was that those who normally watch the show on cable as part of a bundle of American programming they have paid for suddenly found their access to NBC’s broadcast of The Voice denied simply because TVJ had bought exclusive rights to the show.

Infuriated viewers took to social media and complained enough that by the second week’s broadcast TVJ had agreed to carry the show live on one of its subsidiaries. The problem was that there was some kind of technical snafu that prevented The Voice being broadcast till an hour into the show.

People who had looked forward to watching Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin wow the judges for the second week running were upset and once again took their complaints to Twitter and Facebook. TVJ management later said it was shocked by the intensity of the reactions and the vitriol expressed by viewers. In retaliation TVJ executives tried to pit cable viewers against non-cable viewers by suggesting that somehow the former (privileged fatcats) wanted to deprive the latter (downtrodden masses with no options but local TV) of the pleasure of watching The Voice.

How they figured this is beyond me. The cable viewers didn’t object to TVJ broadcasting the Voice, what they objected to was being deprived of access to the cable channel they normally watch the show on. Similarly there was a strong suggestion that those who objected to TVJ’s buying the exclusive rights to The Voice and then not showing it live were somehow encouraging theft of intellectual Property.

I found myself in a radio discussion on RJR (Radio Jamaica) with Oliver McKintosh, President and CEO of Sportsmax, Chris Dehring of the West Indies Cricket Board and Gary Allen, Managing Director of the RJR Group that owns TVJ, where there was a tendency by the corporate representatives to lecture listeners about IP rights, about respecting rightsholders, about how this was no different from stealing physical property etc etc.

I was more than a little bewildered. Had anyone suggested that TVJ steal rights to The Voice? When?? Who?

Judging by Gary Allen’s statements on radio that evening, RJR’s motives for buying exclusive rights to The Voice were largely humanitarian. They had noticed that the participation of a local singer, Tessanne Chin, was exciting a bit of interest amongst Jamaicans and felt called upon to respond. As Allen elaborated:

When we recognized that this programme is one which is going to expose the talent of one of our artistes and that it is creating so much interest, our primary thing was, at that stage–not everybody has access to cable, we have a responsibility and a mission as broadcaster to try and bring content that is of interest to the widest possible audience. And therefore we were also very interested in exposing this beyond the cable audience. People who have cable very often forget that there are tens of thousands of people in Jamaica who do not have that access and to whom we should extend our services.

Aren’t Jamaicans lucky to have such a magnanimous TV station, one willing to spend millions of dollars buying exclusive rights just so their viewers can have access to Prime Time American TV programming without depending on cable? Conversely how quick TVJ’s top honchos were to throw us cable viewers under the bus! How little we matter to them. Tsk tsk tsk. Perhaps they’re not aware that the number of Jamaicans watching cable is as high as 70% according to some cable providers.

When it was President and CEO of Sportsmax Oliver MckIntosh’s turn to speak, he said he was a ‘bit disappointed’ with the reactions of those who had protested on social media and promptly went on to talk of piracy of content. Chris Dehring interrupted, objecting to the use of the term piracy because “it makes it sound almost romantic”, and insisted that it–whatever ‘it’ was– be called stealing.

“Just because there are a number of cars sitting on the wharf for 9, 10 months, you can’t just jump into a car and drive it off…If everyone’s allowed to steal which is essentially what is being proposed here…” he continued.

How analog they all sound I thought, futilely trying to point out that TVJ’s cardinal sin had been acquiring exclusive rights to a popular show and then not showing it live, particularly when it was the kind of reality show that demanded audience participation in the form of texting, voting and tweeting. It’s called interactivity and it has revolutionized the way content is presented, consumed and distributed globally. Those who want to profit from making content available, from providing access to it, cannot afford to overlook the huge transformation sweeping the creative industries.

I remembered all this as I listened to David Pakman (@Pakman), the keynote speaker at JSTOR’s Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship Conference in New York City recently. Pakman co-founded the Apple Music Group in 1995, co-founded MyPlay (pioneer of digital music locker), and was COO/CEO of eMusic for five years.

Pakman talked of the profound technological shifts that have taken place, the move from analog to digital for instance, and the tendency nowadays toward something he called ‘mass customization’. It had all started with the internet and its effects on the way music was consumed–in essence the fallout of ‘debundled’ content being made available. “The story of music is the story of unbundling,” said Pakman as he moved into explanatory mode.

The CD or music album was a bundle; you had no choice but to buy 10 songs bundled together for the one or two hits among them. “Then singles came along and ruined the bundle,” he said. The sale of albums had shrunk not because of piracy but because of debundling. Traditional incumbents try to bundle and the legacy costs of businesses are predicated on bundling.

Bundling is more expensive, it artificially raises overall costs. Information wants to be distributed friction free–and what flows best? Atomic units–which are more user-friendly.

The world is moving towards debundled content, journals too will be unbundled, with articles not papers, being the units of sale, Pakman said, making the link to the field of scholarly publishing that had brought together his audience of journal editors, librarians and publishers.

The Internet is a bi-directional medium–the user is also a producer, he explained, bringing up the interactivity I mentioned earlier. New aggregators are the social platforms not the publishers, and content discovery has shifted to social media where those with Twitter and Facebook clout have become the new ‘influencers’.

The latest American shows are fully aware of these new trends and have adapted to them, sensitive to the bi-directionality or interactivity mentioned earlier. The last episode of The Voice even incorporated Twitter into its voting process.

You can buy the exclusive rights to such shows but you can’t do that and treat them as if they’re the kind of traditional uni-directional, analog content that’s on its way out without raising the ire of your viewers. The sooner management of all the top media entities here realize this the better it’ll be for all concerned.

Oh, here’s a good one on the national Tessanne Chin mania by Dionne Jackson Miller. It’s a hoot. Enjoy!

Ten Reasons We’re All Rooting For Tessanne Chin

Operation #Tessanne: Shoring up the votes for Jamaica’s Voice

Jamaicans devise ways to cast votes for their songstress Tessanne Chin on The Voice

SEZi @SeziYesi
Please remember to hashtag #TeamTessanne #tessanne as the tweets go towards the win!!! #thevoice #pleasesupport #islandgirl

Sezi’s instructions to Tessanne Chin’s numerous supporters in Jamaica and Adam Stewart’s Instagram are a hint of the Voice mania that has overtaken the country. This  evening NBC’s popular singing reality show introduces a first-of-its-kind Twitter vote using the hashtag #VoiceSave.  This will allow tweeters to keep one contestant from joining the reject heap in an ‘instant save’ during a five-minute voting window toward the end of the results show. 

I’ve been quite amused by the national frenzy to make sure Tessanne Chin, the popular Jamaican singer on this season’s Voice, is not eliminated due to a shortage of votes. Everyone from radio talk show hosts to scholars to teachers is busy devising methods to beat Jamaica’s inherent ‘economy of scale’ problem. How else could a small country with a population of 2.5 million, three at the most, compete in generating the required votes for their favourite singer?

The Voice's Instant Save explained. Thanks, Internet. @thebestess #TeamBreadNButtah

A post shared by Jamaica Observer (@jamaicaobserver) on

You just have to admire the ingenuity called forth by everyone and their grandmother, check out these tweets to see what i mean:

@SadeSweetness: My co-worker in Trinidad just gave me remote control of her pc via #Lync to vote for @TessanE via @Skype

@mamachell
Bitch! Lol RT @thtGrlDanielle: Every email in my contact list going vote fi tessanne whether u like it or not

@Dale_Gonsalves
Come on peeps, buy @Tessanne’s #thevoice songs on itunes, we need to get her numbers up. NO, downloading it illegally wont help. Ole Teef

 @taraplayfair
Morning! We have until 11am.. Get up. Get voting. Or get friends/family in USA/CAN to vote for… instagram.com/p/gnXW0XBI2a/

 

@cucumberjuice
Purchase during the voting period for the purchase to count for Tessanne’s votes. Voting period begins @ 9:55 PM.

@ingridriley
And di las lick before me really gone to mi bed…Mek sure oonu vote, and tell your friends and family in the USA to vote for #tessanne

@ThisisPreki
Right now Cuffe cant go outta road and do nuh wrongs cuz di whole world know him now and to how dem luv Tess dem wudda buss pon him

 @AdamStewart
How could she not be the headline of @JamaicaObserver? We’re so proud of her! @NBCTheVoiceinstagram.com/p/gUS4JJvBHj/
Keeping it short today…tomorrow I’ll post about TVJ’s ‘exclusive rights’ to the Voice gambit, and how it fumbled before it found its footing.