Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mutabaruka: Barefoot Truth

photos by Varun Baker.
Location: Bolivar Gallery, Kingston

“This is not an action. It is a reaction.” The words stuck in my head long after I heard Mutabaruka (the “Barefoot Boss himself” as one of my Facebook friends called him) uttering them on a local TV newscast. He was talking to the students of Marcus Garvey High School, looking majestic in his robes. I could no longer remember the context; but I liked it when he said that whatever it was was a reaction rather than an action because the words seemed to sum up the recent edicts of the Broadcasting Commission and the general attempt to “clean up” the airwaves.

So last night I called Muta to find out what he had meant when he said that. Well, he couldn't remember either as it turned out; it definitely had nothing to do with the BC, he explained as he filled me in on his role in the whole controversy. I had wondered about it everytime I heard his name being used to bolster the arguments made by those who would censor, for as popular talkshow host 'Ragashanti' Stewart noted, Muta's sudden popularity with the establishment is amusing and unprecedented. The Prime Minister, as one headline put it, ordered a “forum on X-rated songs” in response to dub poet, Mutabaruka who, in his address during a reception in recognition of Reggae Month held at Jamaica House “noted that the negative lyrics and explicit images being promoted through the music were eroding the values of the society and impacting negatively on the behaviour of some young people.”

An exultant Ian Boyne gloated that Muta's “strong and unequivocal call for censorship and even punishment by the state has set the cat among the pigeons and has left the UWI defenders of dancehall in a quandary”. When Boyne and people like him critiqued dancehall they were dismissed as narrow-minded, interfering members of the middle classes. “But,” as he went on to say,” they don't know how to deal with Mutabaruka. He has authenticity and no one can get away with saying that he despises black people and their culture.”

So what exactly did he say, I asked Muta, that could have found such favour with these pro-censorship voices? And why? Yu growin old? I asked.

Far from it, Muta responded, on the contrary he was merely articulating a Rasta perspective. He knew there were people who were disappointed that “Muta tek side with government.” “But no,” said Muta firmly, he had not simply sided with the government. If anything “a mi mek the government do something.”

According to Muta it all started with an invitation from Taylor Hall students at UWI asking him to come and show the film Sankofa to mark Black History Month (The poet plays the role of an insurgent slave leader in the film). When Muta arrived with a Rasta friend from Spanish Town they were asked to wait while a dancehall session already in progress concluded before showing the film. Muta and his bredrin had no choice but to be exposed to an hour or two of a non-stop barrage of what he described as “pure pum pum, buddy and gun lyrics” while they waited. More than the raunchy lyrics it was the violence and aggression of the gun songs that upset him. When his friend turned to him in wonder and asked “a university dis?” Muta felt that he absolutely could not subject his friend, clearly unfamiliar with such music, to any more of it. He grabbed up his DVD, and friend in tow, left the scene without showing the film.

The experience disturbed and agitated Muta considerably. He needed to talk to somebody in power, he told his wife, Jacki--someone with the influence to intervene before the music went completely to the dogs. A few days later he was invited to King's House to speak at a reception to mark Reggae Month and decided to express his views on the subject there. Not once did he mention Ramping Shop or the notorious 'daggering' music that was inundating the airwaves because it was the graphic violence of the lyrics that really bothered him, not so much its sexual content.

Look how successfully international gay rights organizations have mobilized themselves against so-called hate lyrics in Jamaican music, he said, contrasting their resolute action with the seeming impotence of the government. “We nah ha no government. Student having sex pon bus. How come dem B-men can stop violent lyrics and the government can't do anything?” Perhaps Tatchell and company should be brought in to address the remaining problems with the music since the government seemed incapable of doing anything about it, he added bitterly.

Muta's words seemed to galvanize the government into action. Prime Minister Bruce Golding subsequently directed the Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Olivia Grange, “to organise a task force to discuss concerns raised over the explicitly sexual and violent content of some local songs.” The task force met on February 13th and included Queen Ifrica, Mutabaruka, Tony Rebel and others but as one commentator noted, it seemed one-sided as “only voices against dancehall were heard.”

“A man like me coulda neva fight gainst dancehall” says Muta, explaining that he owes Reggae music his livelihood. But it seemed to him and others within the music fraternity, that things are now worse than they've ever been in terms of hostility and aggression. He is completely against the locking up of DJs for the use of so-called bad words but feels that things have reached a different level when even a hardcore warlord like Bounti Killer is heard saying “Dem man gone too far” in relation to the latest violent lyrics (as he did on the programme “Entertainment Buzz” which preceded Muta's Wednesday night programme on Irie last Sunday). I had to laugh at the thought of the militant, confrontational, uncompromising Bounti deploring the violence of contemporary DJs. We ARE all getting old.

According to Muta he has been saying for a long time that artistes such as Capleton and Sizzla ought to stop their anti-homosexual rants so this is not the first time he has protested the mindless expression of violence in dancehall. His concern is that society seems much more preoccupied and up in arms about blatant sexual expression in music rather than putting brakes on film and video content portraying murder, assault and bodily harm. “How can a family sit down and watch a bloody movie and when the sex part come dey cover up di pikni face?”

Tonight Mutabaruka's programme, The Cutting Edge, will discuss: Is Reggae a beat or the name of Jamaican music after Rocksteady? The panel of guests will include Winston Merritone Blake, Toots Hibbert, Bunny Striker Lee, Ernie Ranglin, Desi Jones and Winston Golding of Swing Disco. 10 pm to 2 am, IRIE FM (107.7).

Friday, February 20, 2009

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)

cartoons by Las May, The Gleaner

In India the self-appointed defenders of Indian culture wanted to ban Valentine’s Day celebrations and force all couples found displaying affection in public or dating on Valentine’s Day to wed on the spot; in Jamaica the Broadcasting Commission (BC) has imposed a blanket ban on ‘daggering’ songs from the airwaves, even in edited form. It defines ‘Daggering’ as “a colloquial term or phrase used in dancehall culture as a reference to hardcore sex or what is popularly referred to as ‘dry’ sex, or the activities of persons engaged in the public simulation of various sexual acts and positions.” It should be noted that this definition has been contested by some people as inaccurate.

The BC then issued the following directive to licencees:

1. There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any recording, live song or music video which promotes the act of ‘daggering’, or which makes reference to, or is otherwise suggestive of ‘daggering’.

2. There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any audio recording, song or music video which employs editing techniques of ‘bleeping’ or ‘beeping’ of its original lyrical content.

3. Programme managers and station owners or operators are hereby required to take immediate steps to prevent transmission of any recorded material relating to ‘daggering’ or which fall into the category of edited musical content using techniques of ‘bleeping’ or ‘beeping’.

It’s such a pity that elections aren’t impending because you would have been sure to find various politicians daggering all over their campaign platforms, delivering themselves of stirring speeches in rock chaw Patwa and otherwise wallowing in the vernacular culture that is now deemed too profane for the airwaves.

For the last ten years I’ve been studying and writing about the culture wars played out in the Jamaican public sphere. The following is a quote from Dancehall in Jamaica: ‘Keeping It Jiggy’ in Babylon, a paper I presented at a symposium on censorship in the arts at the Edna Manley College of Art some years ago. The paper was inspired by an article called Jonkonnu in Jamaica published many years ago by Sylvia Wynter in Jamaica Journal:

‘Plantation’ ideology, the official ideology, “would give rise to the superstructure of civilization in the Caribbean while ‘provision ground’ ideology would produce the ‘roots of culture’. The former was predicated as European and the latter as African. With such a worldview it wasn’t surprising that the suppression of African-based ‘slave culture’ was widespread throughout the Caribbean; Errol Hill describes how even those well-disposed towards the slaves had no hesitation in calling for the banning of the more ‘African’ influenced dances and masquerades:

“Ironically as we have seen, among those who worked hardest for slave liberation were people prominent in demanding the suppression of so-called slave culture. Reasons given for suppressing the Christmastime masquerades in Jamaica in 1842 were that they obstructed the progress of civilization and were derogatory to the dignity of freemen. At the other end of the Caribbean, similar attitudes prevailed regarding the Trinidad Carnival. Once it was taken over and transformed by the black freedmen, the leading newspaper castigated the festival throughout the nineteenth century in the severest terms and urged its abolition. Rioting ensued. In 1838 the masquerade was called “a wretched buffoonery [tending] to brutalize the faculty of the lower order of our population.” In 1846 the carnival was “an orgy indulged in by the dissolute of the town”; in 1857 it was “an annual abomination”; in 1863, “a licensed exhibition of wild excesses”; in 1874, “a diabolical festival”; and in 1884, “a fruitful source of demoralization throughout the whole country.” These attacks served only to alienate the revelers and to stiffen their resistance to any form of control. The results, unsurprisingly, were more riots and a widening gulf between government and the people.”[1]

Similarly Wynter refers to the quotation by F.G. Cassidy of a 1951 letter to the editor of the Gleaner which objected to the revival of Jonkonnu “because the dances were ‘demoralizing and vulgar’.The police had managed to succeed in suppressing it in his district, ‘and many people were taken to court for it’.”

Policing Popular Culture
Ironically the policing of popular culture has been such a normal part of the Jamaican scene for centuries that it was even a trope in Jonkonnu. Wynter talks of the dance of the Whore Girl and the Wild Indian.

“But there was another dance in 1951—one performed by a Sailor and a Whore Girl “who dance(d) vulgar all the time” [Wynter’s italics]. This was the same one danced in the Jonkonnu Parade at Portland as late as 1969—and termed by the citizens who watched it with shocked delight: “a real dirty dance”. Apart from the Whore Girl, there was another character called the Wild Indian. In this dance, both these principals are men, but Whore Girl is dressed as a woman. He/she lifts his/her dress, holding it at both sides to show the underwear, bends back with knees open and bent before, and does a dance which is an exaggerated form of the hipsway and pelvic roll. The Wild Indian straddles his/her hip, and lifting one leg and changing the other, does a backward-and-forward movement of the pelvis, known in Portland as ‘the forward jam’. “

Their openly sexual dance is curtailed by a Policeman who arrests them both pending their being bailed out by the crowd who pay pennies to set them free. Then the dance which Wynter claims parodies obscenity and celebrates the life force continues. “And without its framework of meaning it repels the more Christian element who see it only as one more example of the ‘sexual license’ and immoral lack of restraint of the lower classes.”

Unfortunately one has no choice but to see the latest action of the BC as an updated version of the centuries old attempt first by the slave masters, then the colonial missionaries, and now the middle and upper class elites who occupy the highest rungs of society in postcolonial Jamaica, to censor and legislate the morality of ‘the lower classes’ on the grounds that their behaviour and musical products are a threat to the moral well-being of wider society.

One is forced to take this view for various reasons. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica went on the rampage after Esther Tyson, the Principal of a local high school wrote a column expressing outrage over the popularity of a song called ‘Ramping Shop’ featuring popular DJs Vybz Kartel and Spice. Depicting the song as ‘musical poison’ the Principal went on to lament the effect such ‘filth’ would have on young minds. Contradicting her own worry she went on to quote several children at her school who were all critical of the song and showed that they were capable of digesting and analyzing the lyrics without becoming desensitized sex maniacs. Perhaps she didn’t notice how this contradiction weakened her own argument.

Neither did the Broadcasting Commission. Ms. Tyson’s letter appeared on February 1 and acting with what one might legitimately call indecent haste, the BC issued its draconian ban on daggering exactly two weeks ago on Feb. 6, less than a week after the Tyson letter had appeared. Ironically February 6 is celebrated here and elsewhere as Bob Marley’s birthday. Also as a visitor from Germany who is an avid consumer of dancehall noted, it was interesting that this devastating stab to the heart of the music industry occurred during the recently instituted Reggae month, something he and his wife, well-known music journalists had come to Jamaica to cover.

The reason one is forced to conclude that a certain bias guided the censorious actions of the BC is that Esther Tyson subsequently pointed out that she had previously written a similar column expressing concern over carnival and its attendant vulgarities. In yesterday’s Observer Michael Burke also wrote a column titled Slackness and Hypocrisy lamenting the fact tht the BC had paid scant attention to his earlier columns demanding censorship of vulgar carnival dances and lyrics.

As Trinidad and Tobago stands poised on the brink of its annual cleansing carnival rituals (Feb 22-24), a wonderfully licentious national celebration that purges and purifies the atmosphere there, its worth noting that in Jamaica carnival remains a middle and upper class indulgence. Although the BC subsequently came out and said that carnival songs and dances are included in its ban, the language it couched its ban in was clearly exclusively directed at dancehall music, which is primarily consumed by the underclasses here.

Double-edged sword
The tragedy of all this is that the freewheeling creativity and exuberance of the dancehall which for the last twenty or more years has built up an international demand for its products without benefit of state subsidy or intervention is about to be curtailed and put in shackles by people who neither understand nor appreciate its iconic stature in world culture. On the contrary the state has been completely indifferent to the pleas of numerous DJs, promoters and other players in the music industry who have been asking for years that specific regulations and structure be designed for musical production and consumption here. The letter of the day in the Gleaner (Feb 19. 2009) titled "Dangers of dictating tastes for others" outlined ways in which the consumption of cable telelvision can and should be regulated. There is no reason why dancehall music which is primarily for adults should not be regulated in the same way.

Despite the stellar international success of Jamaican music there are no purpose-built venues for its consumption and dissemination locally although there is a National Gallery of Art, the Little Theatre for the National Pantomime and other such facilities for the cultural products of the middle classes. The nation’s universities have no courses in entertainment law and management; its banks have no loan products to facilitate music producers or aspiring singers and DJs yet we can’t wait to drive a dagger through the heart of the goose that has laid so many golden eggs for Jamaica.

There are other glaring inconsistencies in the BC's recent actions. As others have pointed out, despite international outrage the BC has never issued a ban on lyrics threatening violence to homosexuals, or so-called 'hate' music in general although this could be argued to be more morally deletrious to the nation. There is also the entrenched system of payola plaguing the dissemination of music on radio which is the bane of music production here. What action has the BC taken to clean up this kind of corruption in the industry? does it interpret its mandate solely to be that of a watchdog against moral corruption?

As Sylvia Wynter pointed out in her article forty or so years ago the careless, cavalier interventions of Christian groups eventually drove Jonkonnu underground and led to its extinction. Today the custodians of culture in Jamaica lament its demise and try in vain to resurrect what is acknowledged to be the 'folk culture' of Jamaica. Dancehall music is today's--contemporary--folk culture, and will be celebrated as Jamaican folk culture in the future (if its goose isn't cooked by then), something today's elites are loath to acknowledge.

The moral brigade and the state could do worse than to pay serious attention to the words of Vybz Kartel who responded to the attack on the Ramping Shop with the following words:

Ms Tyson, the “devastating impact on the psyche of Jamaican children” is not caused by 'daggerin' songs but rather by socio-economic conditions which leave children without free education, single-parent homes, (or shacks), the lack of social infrastructure in ghetto communities, unemployed and disenfranchised young men with no basic skills who are caught up in the 'gun culture' cultivated by our politicians in the 1960s-'70s, all faults of the governments (PNP and JLP).

Until these underlying systemic obscenities are rapidly dealt with such actions as the BC undertook in Reggae month must be viewed as purely cosmetic and marred by class bias. The daggering debate in Jamaica proves that censorship can and often is a double-edged sword.

Rebuke them! rebuke them!
you have to watch this wonderful Elephant Man spoof of the Moral Re-armament crew--

and for the latest in contemporary soca, this is one of the hottest songs/videos in Trinidad this carnival! Machel Montano's Wild Antz--get bitten!

PS: The University of the West Indies now offers courses in entertainment law and artiste management under the aegis of the Reggae Studies Institute. This a relatively recent development. As soon as i have the exact course titles i will post them here.

Also since posting this yesterday the Broadcast Commision has come out with a second ban which covers transmission of carnival songs as well. The original ban issued two weeks ago only targeted dancehall music. In another development the rivals Vybz Kartel and Mavado have both come out with songs protesting the action of the BC. As Clordene Lloyd notes:

With the release of three new songs, A So Yuh Move by Mavado (Big Ship Productions), Dem Nuh Like We (Big Ship Productions) and A Nuh My Music (Fresh Ear Productions) by Kartel, the deejays are protesting the ban by the Broadcasting Commission on all daggering songs and songs that require bleeping.

[1] Errol Hill, The Jamaican Stage 1655-1900: Profile of a Colonial Theatre, Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 1992, p. 279.

Monday, February 9, 2009

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.

Friday, February 6, 2009

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 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.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fasting for Zimbabwe: Update on Kumi Naidoo etc

: Kumi Naidoo says his 21- day hunger strike was prompted by a 14-year-old Zimbabwean boy who had not eaten in 11 days. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND from The Times

I had a call from Kumi this morning. It's the 12th day of his hunger strike to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe . He has drunk only water since Jan. 21 but his voice sounded normal and even strong. He was calling to thank those of us from Jamaica who participated in the one-day hunger fast yesterday. And let me clear up a misconception up front--Kumi Naidoo is not an Indian, he is South African, and this strike is being conducted from Johannesburg and not from some corner of India. Kumi has been an ANC activist since the age of 15.

I'm sure it was a tremendous boost for all those coordinating this hunger strike to have 35,000 people from around the world join in, if only for a day. It's also a test case of what can be achieved in terms of mobilizing people around the world to rally around a cause. For the latest information on this strike read Hungry For Change in Zimbabwe.

Conflicting reactions to the strike
Cynics are questioning how all these actions will ultimately benefit people in Zim. The starving people there would have been happy to eat the food all of us renounced for a day and so on. While that is true it overlooks the spiritual effects of such a fast on each of us individually and on citizens of Zimbabwe assuming they were aware of the worldwide fast yesterday. It must be of some comfort to know that people outside your country are aware of the hardships you're undergoing and willing to try and draw attention to it in the hopes of improving your plight.

And then again there are people like my friend C. who argued against the strike on the following grounds:

"Against whom/what are these hunger strikes directed? Many people were un/critical supporters of Mugabe when others (me included) were critiquing the particular form of his neo-colonial regime, which is actually fundamentally similar to many in Africa and elsewhere, including ANC-Led South Africa.

My political response to Mugabe/ZANU-PF remains constant. I cannot, however, at all understand those who are blaming that leader and his regime for the current state of mass starvation, mass dislocation, health challenges and inflation, there. These are all, beyond a peradventure, the intended product of racist imperialism's decision to punish the Zimbabwe people for having a leadership that challenged it on the African land question and to teach Southern African peoples (in South Africa and Namibia especially) not to try to restore African land to the African masses, excepting on terms agreed by international racism and imperialism.

This is their way of driving 'regime change': How many people in Iraq died and migrated because of the means they chose there? Or in Gaza, more recently - incomplete as yet in the latter instance? In my view, anyone who does not understand this and who lines up with the leader of the opposition (personally selected by the white farmers and funded by them and prepared to rely on the increasing suffering of the people of his own country as his ladder to state power) understands neither the race nor the class issues in Southern Africa.

The forces that are causing (and at the same time complaining about the 'humanitarian' crisis in Zimbabwe )are also exactly the ones that have caused more or less similarly ones in Palestine (Gaza, Now:asjustmentioned) and in Somalia. In respect of the latter place their media would have us discussing 'international piracy'. They always have local allies. They are there in Darfur as well: causing the continuation of that 'humanitarian catastrophe' while using it to blame China and to allow the Christian right to make Anti-Muslim hay.

Why has the West not give military supplies to the African Union force in Darfur? It has no air cover whatsoever! Why has the humanitarian West not imposed a 'no-fly Zone' over the relevant part of The Sudan? Clearly only their allies like the Iraqi Kurds deserve that kind of protection. Not Africans, whose deaths are one of the ends desired and enjoyed by racist, imperialist Euro-Americans. Please don't join in misleading people by giving publicity miss-directed hunger strikes that operate objectively in the interest of racist imperialism (White Power, as the Nationalists call it.) "

I think C. raises many valid questions about the treatment of Zim and other African countries by the West. I don't agree with his labelling of the hunger strike as mis-directed. Another blogger ( who participated in the one-day fast yesterday from Bulgaria wrote an interesting post, Fasted For 2 Days & Why Fasting Works in which he said:

"No action exists by itself and any action’s vibrations will spread. I hope through fasting, I have encouraged others or at least informed others. Secondly, fasting is an important spiritual practice. I’ve never fasted and decided that now that the call for a fast was there, why not. Thirdly, I’ve always been curious what Muslims have to go through during their holy month of Ramadan (or Ramazan in some languages). I cannot imagine what it’s like to do this for a full month, but at least I got closer to understanding - and I have a lot more respect for it now. Finally, unlike the critical commenter, I do believe these small acts make a difference. How about you?"

i couldn't agree with more. My own reasons for joining in the fast were manifold. I had never fasted before, not for a whole day although i too grew up amidst Muslims and Hindus who did so regularly. I also grew up in Ahmedabad, the city where Mahatma Gandhi had his Ashram, so it was very much part of the zeitgeist i grew up with. Yet i had never done it.

Also in the last two years i've come to believe more and more strongly that all or each of us has to take more and more radical steps to contribute to changing what we all agree is a completely untenable situation in almost all our countries. how can we justify starving children? how can we participate in systems that routinely condemn poor children to lives of sordid misery? how can poverty be tolerated or rationalized?

One of the things i realized after going through the fast yesterday is that we are all eating much more food than we need to--those of us who eat three square meals a day that is. I went for 20 hours with only water without any great discomfort and my body showed little stress from the sudden deprivation of food. Kumi too remarked on the resilience of the human body, saying that after 12 days his main complaint was dryness of the mouth. i definitely couldn't do what Kumi is doing--fasting for 21 days with only water. but i'm really glad that I did what i did yesterday.

The change must begin with us. That is the only way to change the world.
Here's a wonderful video of a Zimbabwe vendor selling carrots with a sales patter that sounds like it could be a riddim from here: