Sani Showbizz…The Future of Jamaican Music?

Interview with and performance by the unprecedented Sani Showbizz

It’s about two months ago that Peter Dean started sending me links to interviews with a Sani Showbizz. He was convulsing over them but I remained skeptical. Sani was the latest incarnation of a mutual friend who specializes in multiple personalities and maybe i was reluctant to meet the latest avatar but i refused to become a fan. Well, I’ve changed my mind now. Yesterday PD posted a link to a new Sani Showbizz video in which the schizophrenic star is interviewed by none other than PD himself. The interview is intercut with Sani prancing and dancing, a kind of Leroy Smart meets Neila Ebanks…methinks Jamaica has finally found its Charlie Chaplin.

For your viewing pleasure I append the video below. At first it appears like a rather long-winded interview with someone with one hell of a mongrel accent to say the least. But if you persist you’ll see a brilliant performance of the Jamaican singer as he enacts his lyrics in front of a video camera. Also below that are links to the rest of the interview including a segment in which Sani discusses Major Lazer:

. Sani Showbizz’ opinion of Zimboo’s first video.. Showbizz’ upcoming plans… Sani Showbizz talks about Zimboo and Major Lazer..and how they left him out of their last video.

Also see Sani Showbizz buss!

The Random Pleasures of Life in the Tropics

Wow, what a weekend. First there was the debut of Kingston Logic on TVJ’s Entertainment Report, Friday night. The Rickards Bros and friends were all in house to watch it and celebrate.

Kingston Logic 2.0 premieres on Entertainment Report (TVJ JAMAICA) from Rickards Bros. on Vimeo.

I had barely recovered the next day when a friend called to invite me to watch the fourth day of the West Indies vs. England. Now i hadn’t taken any interest in this cricket match at all thus far but i wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity of a free ticket to Sabina Park to watch the West Indies play–from a box no less. And what a day it was. We reached just in time to watch the third wicket fall and it was all downhill from there for the English. I thought it hilarious when the band at the Mound started playing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ and the highpoint for me on an afternoon of pure peaks and summits was Etanna’s visit to our box.
Etanna the strong one, flanked by Bridget Lewis (l) and Diedre Chang (r)

As if that weren’t enough–in the evening i found myself within spitting distance of Tanya Stephens who gave a fabulous, intimate performance at Cold Front, the fund-raising event to get Kim-Marie Spence of CAPRI started on her Antarctic expedition.
Moi, Tanya Stephens and Denise Hunt

Tanya sang for almost an hour, thanking the audience for allowing her to lubricate her performance with red wine. Hey we were the lucky ones, coz the lyrics just kept flowing and the band, Dubtonic Kru, sounded good too. Imagine Tanya performing in your backyard, that was the vibe. Check out my video. I tell you, life in the tropics….
Jumped out of bed early the next morning to take part in the three mile Uni-T walkathon which produced a massive appetite for some good greasy breakfast food which i was able to find at Juici Patties–fry dumpling and callaloo and saltfish. Slept till one pm and then it was time to get ready to go up into the hills to visit a friend. Ignored all deadlines and just focused on socializing this weekend. No regrets. of course now i’m paying for it.

Here’s a video of Tanya performing; quality not great but it gives you a flavour of the evening.

The Random Pleasures of Facebook

In recent times a wave of people on Facebook have been obligingly listing 25 Random Things About Themselves in response to an invitation “to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. ” While i shy away from any such disclosures myself (why give away information for nothing?) i do enjoy reading them and in this post i pass on the most interesting and provocative of the 25 Random Things responses i’ve seen to date. It’s by Peter Dean Rickards of Afflicted Yard and the Rickards Bros (whose video Kingston Logic premieres on TV tonight on TVJ’s Entertainment Report, 9 pm Ja time).

Peter Dean’s 25 Random Things About Me:

25. I have been waking up very early in the morning lately, usually because of a dream that initially seems traumatic but upon closer analysis is actually pretty stupid. As a matter of fact, that is why I am up at 4:17 am writing this foolishness now…I just woke up after dreaming that I had somehow qualified to race some famous runner (I think Usain Bolt), and somehow I was going to turn the event into some sort of PLUS despite my knowing that I would come in last. I am not making this up…I just dreamed it.I thought the best thing to do would be to make sure I don’t look silly on worldwide television. I told myself to remember to write down a bunch of clever stuff to say when asked about my chances of winning the race as well as things to say once I lost. I even started to write down things to say if i WON! As usual, I procrastinated, and on race day I had nothing witty to say and forgot to buy shoes that looked like I was taking the thing seriously. My hair was doing strange things as well and before long I was scrambling around looking for a clean t-shirt. Then stuff went wrong with my car and my laptop died and someone from the credit card company found out where I lived and started dragging her keys across the gate and repeating the words : ” I know you’re in there Rickards, and I know its raceday. We’ve got you now Rickards. We’ve got you now.!”

24. My earliest memory is being bathed in a bathroom sink. I recall that it was just the right size to lie down in and my grandmothers rings were flashy.

23. My biggest childhood fear was ‘the big bad wolf’. As a child I had a read-a-long record version of it and I would play it over and over again, astounded at how this wolf was allowed to just go and kick in people’s (well, pigs) doors. At night when I heard cars drive by the house I envisioned the big bad wolf pulling up in his limo outside the door getting ready to blow it down. I would creep out of my bed and crawl (on my hands and knees in the darkness) approximately 70 metres to my grandmothers room on the other side of the house.

22. I once lit my friend Freitas on fire sort of by accident ( I didn’t think the fire would spread the way it did all over his nylon jacket). I put him out by bashing him with a snow showel.

21. I worshiped my father so I didn’t think it was a bad idea to take his advice about using one of his old briefcases as a schoolbag in grade 7. Turns out it was a bad idea.

20.When I was 21, I smoked hashish at dusk on one of the great pyramids at Giza (Khafre). The complex was empty as all the tourists had gone home. I bribed a guard to do it…he also sold me the hashish.

19. I have slipped on a banana peel. 18. I have been escorted out of the Vatican by a Swiss Guard for lying on my back taking pictures of the ceiling. I returned the next day and stole a 3-D hologram of a blinking Jesus out of the Vatican store.

17. I like a beautiful woman but I like her a lot more if she can make me laugh. I don’t meet many of those, so I usually settle for just the beautiful part…shallow I know; but if a funny AND beautiful woman ever comes along..woo-hoo!

16. I used to read a lot more books before the Internet and I used to write a lot more before meddling with cameras. To combat it, I’m trying to use a camera that won’t be worth much unless you read its manual and write stuff telling it what to do.

15. My father still uses a fountain pen.
14. I was not a spoiled child. When I was disobedient my hockey stick was hurled into a lake.
13. Even though I knew it would be confiscated the minute my parents saw me with a boomerang, I bought one at the Ontario Science Centre with lunch money I had hoarded for over a week. I snuck it home in my briefcase and went to nearby Brebeuf park to try it out. After 8 or 9 throws (none of which produced the desired effect of RETURNING), the thing got caught in a gust of wind and came back with amazing precision–striking me in the side of the head. My immediate response was to run…in any direction as fast as possible. I never retrieved the boomerang but the next day I accused Brian Jardin of stealing it (his house bordered the park and he was always looking out his stupid window waiting for kids to forget their stuff in the park so he could run out there and get it after they had left). He denied it so I ran over him with my BMX in the alley when he wasn’t looking.

12. I once found a pair of severed horse legs in a plastic bin at the side of a rural road in Caledon, Ontario. I thought this was amusing so I put one of them in a plastic bag and took it home. I put a scarf on it and laid it in my little sister’s bed. When she came home from school she knew I was up to something and got very suspicious when I told her to go check her room. She didn’t know what the lump in the sheets was at first but then she peeled back the sheets and saw the hoof and ran like a bat out of hell.
11. I once used an old hair dryer (connected by several extension cords to the next door neighbours flat) to keep warm in an abandoned house in the a place called Plumstead (a depressed area on the outskirts of London) in the winter of 1997. It was not a regular hair dryer either. It was one of those huge things that look like a giant helmet. Take it from me, it’s no fun sleeping with one of those.

10. In 1993 the door of my 1985 Honda Civic fell off in traffic. I replaced it with a door that was a different colour from the rest of my car and wrote the word PORSCHE on it with a felt pen.

9. When I first arrived in Canada and was told the words ‘FUCK OFF’ for the first time, I thought the best reply was ‘SHIT OFF’.

8. When I was 15 I underwent a test called a lymphangiogram. This process involved cutting 3 inch incisions in both of your feet and pumping radioactive fluid into the veins found there so you would glow in the dark under an x-ray machine. Later after the test, they sew up the incisions and keep you overnight with your feet elevated. But I had to go to the bathroom and so I got up and started waddling to down the corridor of the hospital at around 2 am. Then I felt the first foot ‘pop’ and when I looked down it was squirting up like a fountain. I kept waddling until I heard the second foot pop. I said ‘HELP’ and blacked out. Later when I woke up back in the bed, the nurse told me I should use a bedpan next time…then I think she tried to molest me…but she was cute so I didn’t mind.

7. When Hurricane Ivan came, I somehow managed to get myself locked out of my apartment (twice) right when giant trees were starting to snap and fall into the pool.

6. I once overdosed on nutmeg and passed out in a graveyard near Earls Court, London.

5. I don’t like being called a photographer. I know I can take pictures but my sister once dated a photographer and I remember thinking at the time that he must be out of his mind to be doing that sort of shit for a living.

4. I’m happiest when I’ve accomplished something that was not easy to accomplish and I stand back and look at it and think — how perfectly pointless.

3. I don’t like cops of any sort. It doesn’t matter if they are supposedly decent people or if they have arrested 900 murderers. It takes a certain mentality to be a cop and its the sort of mentality than I despise…the same people who everyone beats up in school. Like Kayne West.

2. My sisters would find their Barbies with genitals and nipples drawn on them.

1. I thought that if I ever found a small person living in my house. Like a person who was maybe 5 inches tall…and they wanted to be friends; that I would hear them out and probably make them feel comfortable enough to be able to coax them into a jar or a shoebox.Then I would try to sell it to a lab.

Oddly Sure and Banksy Redux: Cool Runnings All the Way

Just to let you know that despite the global financial meltdown and the downfall of another wall–Wall Street–WE ARE NOT IN PANIC MODE in Jamaica. Don’t worry, be happy, Audley Shaw, our Finance Minister seems to be saying. Are things snowballing? You think we have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it? Fret not, remember our prowess at bobsledding? We will survive man! Think positive! NO! NO! Not HIV Positive! Positive! Positive!

In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy……

Bobby McFerrin got the idea for his song from the oft-repeated saying of an Indian mystic, Meher Baba, whose most famous utterance apparently was, Don’t worry, be happy…just thought you’d like to know–

And speaking of the downfall of another wall my young friend Peter Dean Rickards (The Afflicted One) has struck again. The man who ‘outed’ Banksy last year is now giving away a piece of wall that the graffiti superstar left his tag on when he visited Kingston some years ago. Not only that–he’s selling 10 photos of the wall being taken down for US$100,000 on eBay. If you buy all 10 you’ll be the proud owner of the ex-Mona Pub wall as well…check it out.

The Afflicted Yard: The Rock from firstjamaica on Vimeo.

Masters of the Universe?

Remember how former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was chided and ridiculed for wanting to hold elections on July 7 last year? 7-7-7 I did try and point out at the time that in countries like India and China it’s quite normal to schedule things on auspicious dates at auspicious times. Numbers are nothing after all if not symbolic!

Like many others I ritualistically seated myself in front of my TV screen at 8.08 pm Chinese time on August 8, 2008 to catch the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. What a stupendous show! To have pulled off such a stunning feat live, with the entire world watching, without a glitch or stutter—hats, tams and solar topees off to the mighty Chinese!

I gushed about it to all and sundry for two whole days till my cousin Susan sent me a tart email from Delhi saying: Dear Annie, I’ve been supporting the Tibet group in India, so the Beijing opening seemed stylistic and opaque, also 95,000 people were evacuated from Eastern China because of flash floods same day as the opening…and I’m not even a political person really, so Tiananmen square is always dedicated in my mind to those students.

Stick a pin.

For me it was the East showing the West what the marriage of technology, art and people can do. A show of power but one far more sophisticated than the nationalistic military parades normally on offer. With this synthesis of China’s penchant for the military, their mastery of technology and ancient flair for the artistic the mightiest nation of the east was signaling that it has reached; it has arrived. China has dramatically proven its prowess, displaying complete mastery over the universe on the very terms that capitalism uses to assess success.

At the same time the spectacular display was premised on teamwork, on large numbers of people working together, not on individual idiosyncracy so highly prized in the West. There were of course cameo concessions to the valued place of the modern individual for instance when two singers stood on top of a globe, looking like for all the world like one of those plastic couples used to decorate wedding cakes; dressed in Western clothes they theatrically lip-synched the haunting theme song You and Me, ingeniously combining Western pop and Chinese song (someone I read somewhere dismissed this as kitschy tripe).

Is this the same China that impassively stood by and allowed Tiananman Square to happen? I’m not sure but this Olympics also signals China’s opening up to the values of the West, including the notion of individual human rights I would imagine. Yet in this opening ceremony it was showing the splendour and vastness of imagination its people are capable of; the achievements of its civilization from the invention of paper and gunpowder to outer space exploration; its ability to command the heights of tradition as well as the most contemporary technology. There was something extraordinary in that display ( It’s cyberfeudalism growled Melinda Brown as we watched thousands of elegantly begowned, bewigged Mandarins juggling neon laserbeams).

Having so memorably flexed its creative muscles will China now be more willing to negotiate with the rest of the world? Will it feel more gracious toward the demands made on it by Tibet- and Darfur-watchers? We’ll find out in the sweet by and by, won’t we?

Meanwhile back home the excitement is building as Jamaica’s cassava-fed athletes get ready to hit their stride when the Olympic Track and Field events kick off tomorrow. Will Asafa finally deliver? Or will there be a repeat of the World Championships some years back when both Asafa and Usain Bolt were pipped by Tyson Gay; the best excuse I heard after that debacle was a radio announcer claiming that this was because “Jamaican men nah like Gay running after dem so dem just a let him pass”.

Some of the funniest commentary on the impending Olympic events is to be heard on my all-time favourite radio programme, Left, Right and Centre (LRC), part of the Nationwide Radio network here (Digital AM 770). For weeks now they’ve been carrying spoof ads on The Farcical News Network for products such as ‘ANDRALONE’. Here’s an example–

Intro: Bob Marley’s song “You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away…” Music fades.

Brooks: “Are you coming last in every race you run? Do you have dreams of placing 6th or 7th but can’t afford the high end drugs your friends are using? Well boost your performance with ANDRALONE, the fast-acting, low-end, generic drug designed especially for athletes who can’t seem to dig themselves out of obscurity. Build those muscles! Grow that chest hair! Get out of the blocks faster than you ever have before with ANDRALONE!

Last night the show lampooned Jamaican athletes in Beijing, imagining them upsetting Olympic Village officials by nonchalantly (Ja-style) calling all of them Mr. Chin. Missa Chin beg yu two slice a bread! Missa Chin which part di pattyshop deh? I tell you the hosts of LRC, Messrs Dennis Brooks and Damion Blake, rank right up there with Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert. Unfortunately Damion is leaving to do his PhD at Virginia Tech; he’ll be badly missed . Virginia’s gain, Ja’s loss.

Well, it’s been an intense few weeks for me lurching from deadline to deadline and trying to find a moment in between to blog when not being terrorized by my good friend Peter Dean Rickards. PD has been assaulting me at regular intervals with outtakes from his maiden music video, The System, featuring an amazing new female singer called Terry Lyn. I’m still traumatized by the first cut (trust me this is the most appropriate metaphor to use here) he sent me which involved a gory sequence of a pig being slaughtered to an unbearably cheery rendition of Fire of Eternal Glory (in her song, The System, Terry Lyn rhymes Waterhouse with Slaughterhouse).

“But I identify with the pig!” I squealed via sms.

“Pig nah die in vain! Him get videolight!” PD texted back callously.

Obviously all of this is a little premature considering that what PD refers to as the Pig Opera has yet to be released. But when it is trust me it’s going to create a sensation. Remember you heard o’ it here first!

Jamaica’s most successful products: Athletes and music. Both occupied the mainstream media in New York this past week first with Baz Dreisinger’s thought-provoking article in the Village Voice How Jamaica’s Volatile Dancehall Scene Can Avoid a Biggie vs. Tupac Tragedy; featured in this sharp critique which should be required reading for all the pontificating pundits in Jamaica who love to chant down dancehall is an in-depth profile of and interview with top DJ Mavado. With epigrammatic precision Mavado sums up the situation: “They are trying to blame a problem that they put we in on us. They are turning dancehall into a scapegoat.”

And weighing in on Jamaica’s runners, in the Wall Street Journal no less, was Colin Channer with the memorable line “Jamaica’s love of speed seems at odds with its hard-nosed commitment to nonchalance”: See ‘Cool Runnings’ Are Heating Up.

Meanwhile fingers crossed that both Asafa and Bolt prove on the global stage once and for all that they ARE, like the Chinese, masters of the universe.

The Signs are on the Walls

Ahmedabad. Bangalore. Two Indian cities rocked by bombs in the last two days. Two cities I’m intimately connected with. The former was where I grew up, where my father worked for many years at the Indian Institute of Management, at once the most avant-garde of Indian cities as well as the most retrograde. Ahmedabad, named after Sultan Ahmad Shah who founded it in 1411: Home of Mahatma Gandhi whose ashram nestled on the banks of the River Sabarmati; ISRO—the space research organization where India’s first rockets and satellites were developed; PRL—the Physical Research Laboratory; NID–the National Institute of Design; the aforementioned IIMA set up in collaboration with the Harvard Business School and ATIRA—the Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association for this was the Manchester of the East, with textile mills galore.

For years Gujaratis (Ahmedabad is in Gujarat state) enjoyed the reputation of being the most non-violent people in India, if not the planet. Mahatma Gandhi veritably personified the spirit of gentle, unagressive yet enterprising Gujarati-ness. That image was forever changed in 1969 when the worst Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in Ahmedabad with dozens of Muslims raped and killed in the most brutal way. Schoolmates who lived in the old part of the city where most of the Muslim population was concentrated witnessed atrocities they couldn’t forget for years. Since then the word Ahmedabad has practically become synonymous with ‘communal riots’ (as such periodic bloodlettings are termed) so it is not surprising that the city has been targeted by an avenging Muslim group setting bombs off in BJP-dominated cities.

This may explain why “the quaint and sleepy town of Bangalore” where my parents now live, the polar opposite of Ahmedabad in terms of communal relations, has also been targeted. The BJP, a political coalition of aggressive right-wing Hindu groups, has recently won state power in Karnataka where Bangalore is located. Karnataka is also one of six Indian states in which the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is active. SIMI is widely suspected to be the organization behind the multiple bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore.

The word SIMI stirred up a memory. Seven years ago in Trivandrum, Kerala, I had been photographing the plethora of writing on the walls of that city. Local government elections were in the offing and i was fascinated by the symbols used by political parties. I distinctly remembered one piece of graffiti by a Muslim group that had struck me with the simple force and stridency of its message. Curious I rummaged through my old albums and found the photograph, taken in 2001. It was indeed a message from the self-same SIMI– Shahadat, by the way, means martyrdom.

Needless to say this is not what I had planned to blog about. But those distant explosions were too close to home in a manner of speaking for me to overlook. One can only hope that Kerala, the state my family is from and where most of my aunts and uncles live is not next on the list of the avenging Jehadis.

It’s not really that hard to segue to what I had planned to write about because uncannily I had meant to focus on the murals all over Kingston memorializing the many “fallen soldiers” De Marco sang about so poignantly last year. It’s a subject I touch upon tangentially in a recent article titled “’No Grave Cannot Hold My Body Down’: Rituals of Death and Burial in Postcolonial Jamaica” so when Honor Ford-Smith asked if I wanted to accompany her on an expedition to view the work of one of the muralists I jumped at it.

The muralist in question was Ricky Culture who lives in Three Miles where most of his work is to be found. On Tuesday afternoon I met Honor and Ricky at Sistren from where we set out. On our way to Three Miles I found myself driving along a series of roads that zigged and zagged in and out of so-called inner city communities under Ricky’s expert guidance . He knew these byroads from having walked them as a child on his way to school.

Ricky was incredibly lean and gentle. He had started out as a musician but times got so hard that he turned his hand to painting. With the frequent deaths in communities there was a high demand for the services of mural painters. Judging by his slender frame the living was still hard even though Ricky has produced any number of murals, including some stunning ones of Emperor Haile Selassie and his Empress at an ital restaurant called Food For Life at the Three Miles roundabout. These were the only portraits done entirely from his imagination. The rest were all produced from photographs.

His Imperial Majesty is somewhat of an obsession with Ricky as you can see. A number of his works are to be found in Majesty Gardens, home to “the poorest people in Jamaica” according to today’s Observer. At Roots Community FM the studio has a large mural of Bob Marley with locks flowing all around him like roots. Occasionally Ricky paints himself into a mural as an advertisement of his skills. What spooked me was how similar Ricky’s stance and posture was in a photo i took of him to the autoportrait.

Interestingly Ricky wasn’t familiar with the magnificent murals dedicated to Glenford Phipps or ‘Early Bird’ at Matthews Lane outside Father Zekes’ bar. Early Bird was Zekes’ brother and the Don of Matches Lane before Zekes. He was brutally killed in the early 90s and the poet Kamau Brathwaite immortalized his death in his long poem, Trenchtown Rock. A couple of years ago I produced a montage using images of this mural and fragments of Kamau’s poem (the image that is the frontispiece of this blog). The fact that Ricky had not come across the Early Bird wall painting or some others I had seen in Rosetown made me realize how territorially bound all these initiatives are. Someone should undertake to conduct a survey of just how many memorial murals there are in communities divided by conflicting loyalties all over Kingston. On our way home we stopped at Black Roses Corner to look at the memorials to Willie Haggart and ‘International dancer’ Bogle. A more complete selection of the photos i took of the murals we saw on Tuesday is available on my Flickr page.

And as if all that weren’t enough internationally notorious British graffiti artist, Banksy, whose identity has been kept a strict secret all these years was ‘outed’ by none other than photographer Peter Dean Rickards, the editor of First Magazine. Is the writing on the walls or what?

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