linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


what a meal

i just had what might have been the best ackee in my life. marvin's friend arianne experimented with recipes when she went vegetarian several years ago, and she came up with a curry ackee that is out of this world. (her discovery reminds me of my and becca's favorite invented jamaican dish: jerk sweet potatoes.) she seemed to use a sparing amount of curry, which was just right to give it a flavor like no other ackee dish i've ever had. (and i had a good vegetarian ackee [i.e., without saltfish] just the other day at marvin's.) arianne complemented the dish with some fine roasted breadfruit and fried plantains. the red stripe rounded out the meal nicely.

i'd have to say that arianne's curry ackee even beat the curry shrimp i had at lime cay the other day. (for some pictures of lime cay from last year, see here.) marvin carried me to the beach on both saturday and sunday this weekend, in order to "brown me up," as they say here. if we can get through the easily burned, inclined-to-freckle irish/scottish skin than i think we'll be able to brown up the italian/portuguese stuff. we'll see.

at any rate, the beach was great. the water was gorgeous as usual, as were the day, the sky, the people. the food was killer. curry shrimp on saturday, and fry fish on sunday. and both times with festival like i've never had in my life. in addition to the usual mix of flour, cornmeal, and sugar, the festival--in essence a kind of donut--tasted also of vanilla or some such sweet spice. once again, red stripe completed the package. one people, one beer. rastafari.

saturday was a near perfect day. after a week of rising before 6:30 and working for a full day, i slept until nearly 8 (quite a feat here). we had a fine breakfast of ackee, saltfish, callaloo, fried and boiled dumpling, boiled banana, fried plantain, and what marvin's family called "gully beans"--a slightly bitter, pea-green bean that went well with saltfish. sometime after breakfast we headed out to lime cay, down the palisadoes once again, and past the airport to port royal. at the y-knot, a nice little bar located conveniently by a dock, we grabbed a boatride--courtesy of john, a friend whom sarah hsia introduced me to--who has piloted boats out to lime cay for years now. (someone else captained the actual vessel we took.) we got out to the beach and spent the day languidly, chatting, reading, sleeping, swimming.

that night marvin and i attended "b's explosion," a concert in kingston featuring a number of big reggae artists with 'b' in their name. we missed baby cham, unfortunately, though we caught bounty killa, buju banton, and beenie man. (apparently, beres hammond was told not to play by the reggae sumfest people lest he dissuade kingstonites from going out to mo'bay for the big concert next week. that was the rumor, at least.) the concert was one of the better that i've been to. marvin and i took the "vip" option, which was an "all-inclusive"--the sponsored drink was guinness, sorry skim--admission bracelet that let one get right up to the stage. as a result, i got to see all of the performers at a rather close range. (occasionally, i'd slip around to the main area, where my man, dami d, was suavely dealing with the guinness.)

bounty killer turned in one of the more mature performances i've seen. (at least two other people described it as "mature.") not only did he demonstrate his deep talents for rapid-fire rhyming and inhuman range-leaps, he seemed to offer a substantive context for his songs: that of an artist embracing growth, desiring to represent something other than the violent cliches he has helped to popularize. he implored the crowd not to encourage his violent side, claiming to want to sing songs about happiness, but then used this as an effective prelude to one of his badman tunes, which, nonetheless, somehow failed to undermine all that he just said. one felt that he meant it. he cracked up the audience when he bigged up ninja man, with whom he has been feuding on account of vybz kartel, only to add, "probably off somewhere smoking a coke-pipe." (incidentally, a boston reggae-record-store owner told me that kartel's album, which had been moving units only sporadically, flew out of the store after he quarrelled with ninja man at sting.) and when he called up wayne marshall and a stylin', baseball-capless kartel, the place lost it. the sequence of bounty's performance was impeccable, and i was impressed by how tightly the band (which backed up every act on the night) was able to follow his lead. (i was impressed too by the keyboardist's ability to recreate and/or trigger samples for any of the big, recent riddims.)

buju rode the wave with a series of hits, sometimes giving them a roots-ish twist. his version of "untold stories" had the people singing along and holding lighters aloft and had me leaving a sappy message on becca's voicemail. (til shiloh is on permanent rotation in the car back home.) beenie man did his thing, too, rousing the crowd with a bunch of big tunes and more personality than you could shoot a pretend gun at. the casual, perfunctory homophobia was unsettling as usual. it just seems so beside the point these days. (ahem, mr.bush.) i still stand behind the sentiments of soggae, and i have given out boston jerk without hesitation to jamaicans of all stripes. interestingly, some bring it up immediately and laugh with me, others simply never mention it, which is probably better than fighting me over it. relativism, schmelativism. i have to share this world with everyone, and i'd like people of all sorts to behave better.

joining us for curry ackee tonight was a woman named vanessa. her parents are jamaican and live here, though she has split her life between jamaica, canada, and the U.S. (and has spent time in france as well). most recently, she taught high-school english in bensonhurst, brooklyn. when i told her about my dissertation, she asked me what, if anything, of positive value could hip-hop offer to young people. i was hard pressed to find an answer on my tongue. (i had to listen to a student recite some lines from the clipse this afternoon, and i was nearly nauseated by the bullshit, tough-guy, i-deal-more-crack-and-bust-more-guns-than-you stance.) when i surveyed in my mind the landscape of contemporary hip-hop, at least as defined by the mainstream, the themes that came to mind were bling-bling conspic consumption, gangsta-ism (from straight up crack-dealing to pimpin' the system [give me a break y'all: a pimp is still an exploitative asshole]), and women objectified beyond any reasonable means (and trust me, i can go along with this one, albeit conflictedly, for a while). my kneejerk reaction was a compromise: well, i said, twenty-years ago the pop charts weren't dominated by young black men and women; at least the mass media now propogate some representations of success for young blacks (even if the success is deeply mitigated by a kind of faustian bargain with the system). but this line felt so bill cosby, i didn't even by it myself. i thought again. at one time, and still in some circles, hip-hop represented positivity, afro-centricity (in a recuperative, not dogmatic/asante sort of way), oppositional politics, etc. this made me ask the maddening chicken-and-egg question of rap once more: why do so many young white men support the efforts of young (but slightly older) black men to project a host of negative myths about themselves in order to fill the pockets of some old white men (and, sometimes, of their own designer pants)? i think it's because they're young and stupid and kinda racist. they certainly do little to tear down the old racialist america, despite their baggy pants and black accents and empathy with tupac's plight. it would seem a paradox to be both infatuated and acquainted with black life in america (or at least a certain representation of it) and still display such xenophobia, but--like the biggie-idolizing, rap-reciting schoolmate who mutters "fuckin niggas" as you drive by the bus-stop--a peculiar institution gives birth to peculiar institutions. and that's a killer demographic if i've ever heard of one.


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