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


p-town a we-town

(yes, all the aproned folk are jamaican--save for the brazilian woman in the baseball cap.)

in spite of its reputation as a premier spot for gay vacationers and "all-yearers" alike, and despite the pervasive homophobia in jamaican society and public discourse, provincetown boasts a remarkable number of jamaican residents each summer. comparatively, one sees few african-americans in p-town. sure, you find your occasional "inter-racial" or black gay couple, but african-american tourists are rare on the cape--with the exception of martha's vineyard, which has a reputation as a premier spot for the african-american elite.

the jamaicans in p-town, like the jamaicans in many parts of the US, are migrant workers. they join the irish--and, judging only by a trip to moby dick's in wellfleet, where employees wear their nationality on their name-cards, eastern europeans--as cape cod's imported labor force of choice. one sees jamaicans working in most of p-town's restaurants. the supermarket boasts a group of cashiers seemingly all of jamaican origin. at night, after the restaurants close, one sees jamaican folk walking home from work, hanging around on bicycles, and boarding a big bus to return to the hotel where most of them stay. on the pier, one can find curry goat and curry lobster and stew chicken.

one night while walking down commercial street, i approached a kid on a bike who was clearly jamaican--as indicated by his dress, his manner, and his exchange with a fellow patois-speaker--and i asked him how he liked living and working in provincetown. it's ok, he explained: there are plenty of girls and money to be had. "it's uncle sam, y'know"--by which he meant, cha-ching. he told me that there's a decent reggae session in town on sunday nights at club euro. i asked him what it was like to live in a place where batty men strut freely and he barely had an answer. seemed he was used to it, or just not ready to be too candid with a stranger. as he said, there are still plenty of girls in p-town. if only the average jamaican had the same level of tolerance.

one day while staying on the cape last month, becca and i decided to cook a big jamaican breakfast for family and friends. we had about five cans of ackees that charlie and i had carried back from jamaica, where they cost a third of the price they fetch up here. (a can of ackees in the boston area runs about $10--more than any other canned food i've seen.) we went out in search of a variety of jamaican breakfast staples: callaloo, cho-cho (for escoveitch), coconut milk (for rundown), scotch-bonnet peppers, mango and paw-paw (aka, papaya). we found them all, as well as such products as irish moss, banana chips, and cream crackers, at the grand union supermarket in provincetown. we even found salt-cod, though the packaging and product were a bit more shi-shi than we were looking for. when i asked the jamaican woman at the fish counter, in my best jamaican, "y'ave saltfish?" she looked puzzled. "sound different," she said. i couldn't figure out what she meant by "sound different," but i gathered it was either that i sounded different than the average customer looking for salted cod or simply that the name for "saltfish" here sounds different. at any rate, she pointed us to some salted cod that would work fine as the saltfish to accompany our ackee and callaloo dishes.

when we got to the cash-register and loaded our rather jamaican bunch of groceries on the conveyor belt, i was sure we would get a reaction from our jamaican cashier. she barely registered anything, however, despite the fact that very few people in p-town--at least those that look like we do--must assemble such a clearly jamaican batch of groceries. (i should say, though, that the place did have a rather extensive section of jamaican products--not surprising given the number of jamaicans living in town.) the only time she spoke up is when a woman in line behind us asked becca what cho-cho was. "it's kind of like a cross between an apple and a radish," becca said, "you can put it in soup." "can you put it in a salad," the woman asked. becca wasn't sure. i knew i had never had uncooked cho-cho, but i wasn't really sure either. "you have to cook it," said the cashier, without looking up. good to know. good 2 go.

we drew the rest of our ingredients from local resources. to be frank, we would have used snapper for the escoveitch if we could have gotten it fresh. we substited haddock instead, which was great. it was our first attempt at escoveitch fish, and it was a success to be sure. the night before we boiled equal parts water and vinegar, and added sugar, peppers, carrots, and cho-cho. then we fried the haddock in vegetable oil and poured the sauce on top. despite our lack of experience, it came out perfect.

mmmmm, escoveitch fish.

instead of making the rundown using canned mackeral (as is customary), we substituted bluefish, which was delicious. even the shi-shi saltfish gave the ackee and callaloo a fine zip. we also made rice&peas, which, to be honest, we still haven't been able to get quite right just yet. (i think the trick is to use dried-and-soaked beans rather than canned ones, and to get the right grain of rice.) overall, it was an amazing meal. we were proud of ourselves, and our audience was volubly and visibly appreciative.

(from left to right: callaloo, ackee, cans of coconut water and irish moss [for the curious and uninitiated], bluefish rundown, banana and mango, papaya)

were we to be seen laboring over all these jamaican dishes in our cape cod kitchen, we'd probably look about as strange (and yet as tolerable) to p-town's jamaicans as a chorus of cross-dressed men promoting a "facts of life" cabaret show ("they take the good, they take the bad, they take it all!"--i kid you not: i heard this tag one night while walking down commercial street). then again, maybe we wouldn't seem so strange. jamaicans are used to people emulating their style and they tend to appreciate (or at least find amusement/flattery in) such a level of engagement with and respect of their cultural traditions.

all the same, it may depend on who's wearing the apron. the irony of jamaicans in p-town highlights the strange places people find themselves in a world of globalized labor. i hope they enjoy their summers "down the cape." they seem not to mind the experience enough to return each year. i'm sure the wages and the standard of living make it worth dealing with whatever bizarro world they find themselves in--p-town being one of the more extreme examples. it seems unlikely that the average jamaican migrant worker can get into p-town's carnival as much as they might get into boston's. of course, many jamaicans, especially the type who have to migrate for seasonal work, reject carnival as an elite import from trinidad--an uptown party for brown folk who aren't terribly comfortable with black jamaican culture. i think the attitudes are different for jamaicans who live up here, who are more likely to feel a sense of pan-caribbean identity so far from yard.

at any rate, i'm looking forward to checking out the various parades and parties in the boston and cambridge area this weekend. more about that soon.


dami d in technicolor

i spent a good amount of time last month hanging out with dami d, one of my best friends in kingston and a wicked DJ to boot. last year dami collaborated with me on a bunch of tracks including highest grade and a it dat, where his singjay style steals the show. maybe more importantly, dami helped me to understand quite a bit about the jamaican music industry, about the sensibilities of young hip-hop/cable-TV-generation reggae artists, and about life in jamaica. he also carried me to some great dances and some privileged places, including a couple big studios.

one day last month, dami and i hung out at the courtleigh hotel, making music, chatting, smoking, and playing with my digital camera and photoshop software. as a young artist eager to "bus[t]," dami's always looking for more ways of promoting himself, so he was enthusiastic about the process and happy with the results. (i left him with copies on CD, which he was planning to blow-up for posters or something.) the following picture is actually almost entirely undoctored (except for my removal of the room number)--for real, the glow is all his:

when i showed the picture above to my brother, he laughed. at first i thought it was because he knows dami--having met him on a visit last year--and appreciated seeing his striking sartorial style once more. "he looks so american," he said. "who would know he is jamaican?" i hadn't thought of it that way, and i don't think dami would either. dami would probably call his style "international," which is, of course, a euphemism for "american." having spent so much time in jamaica at this point, i'm witnessing a strange paradox in my ability to pick out details: on the one hand, my observations have grown more acute due to the greater contextual understanding i have gained about the place and its ways; on the other, i have lost some of the fresh first impressions that drew me to jamaica in the first place.

of course dami's style is hip-hop as all hell. i would have said so in a second two years ago. but now, it looks legitimately jamaican to me. (and, of course, the rastafari-pose, the glasses and braided-hair, and the shirt hanging off one-side all represent jamaican accents on an american theme.) my understanding of what looks "jamaican" now includes the sense that jamaican style is deeply based on absorbing and ripping-off, and alternately opposing and riffing-off, american style. and that goes for music as well as clothing. of course, it goes both ways, especially in caribbean-connected and west-indian-tinged places like the major cities along the US's eastern seaboard: boston, new york, atlanta, miami, etc.

it would seem that likkle jamaica hasn't got a chance against such a behemoth to the north. and, in many ways, it doesn't. and it loses more and loses worse every day. in other ways, though, it resists. if one lives in kingston--despite the real and imaginary connections to foreign places--one's frame of reference is still kingston. you can walk and talk and act like a yankee, but you'll get clowned for it, too. jamaicans like dami strike a delicate balance when they adopt the clothing, slang, and rhythms of the US. it lacks neither coherence nor self-consciousness. to do so in too wholesale a manner is, as dami once told me, "to put away all pride." dami attempts to preserve pride (and local tradition) while engaging with the glitzy world he sees projected on TV and on CD. he knowingly projects an image of transcendence, of upward (and northward) mobility, of access to the goods so readily available in the resource-rich land to the north.

of course, jamaica is rich with certain resources of its own. and dami makes sure he enjoys the best of both worlds. the big question is: would he trade all the purple skunk in kingston for a visa? (i have a feeling he would--and he may yet--but he might regret it later.)

here's hoping dami can make the technicolor world of his dreams a reality.


down the cape

for the last three years, i've spent some time in august "down the cape," as they say 'round these parts. actually, not all people say it that way. some say, "on the cape," which has a more grammatical but, despite its connection to upper-class tastes, less distinctive ring to it, at least in my opinion. this morning, as we discussed tennis-pairs over breakfast, i was reminded of the similarly distinctive boston phrase, "these teams are slaughta." i'm quite the amateur at tennis, y'know. and i like the way that language can illuminate class differences. the problem is when people don't notice. as volosinov wrote, the word is the "ideological sign par excellence." par excellence, indeed. knamean?

becca and i are staying with the rest of the nessons in a beautiful, airy house in truro. the house is owned (and rented out) by harvard's official piano tuner. i've been listening to his large collection of CDs, which are mainly of the classical repertory, though there is a fair amount of dave brubeck, elton john, and the beatles. i've been tending toward the minimalists: steve reich, philip glass, arvo part, john adams. (reich's drumming has received several pull-ups.) like so many structures in cape cod, the house blends right into the environment. a weathered-wood exterior gives it a brownish-grayish hue that plays off the sand and rocks and rugged little trees.

the house sits upon a hill overlooking the mouth of pamet harbor and cape cod bay. the few quiet roads around it are completely hidden by the trees and the slope of the land, and one's etes are naturally drawn to the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. because truro is so far along the cape--it's just before provincetown, which sits at the very end of massachusetts's craggy curled arm--one can watch from the deck as the sun sets over the water, a rare treat on the east coast. the sunsets from here are absolutely stunning. (unfortunately, i missed some of the best ones last week, before i retrieved my camera. allow me to cheat a bit in order to bring out some of the colors.)

ah, the firmament in technicolor.

just around the corner stands the house that henry david thoreau stayed in when he journeyed to the cape. i always sympathize with the transcendentalists when i'm out here. last year, after reading some emerson, the view from the deck (pictured above) inspired the opening lines of sexy jesus: "as i look from the earth to the sky to the ocean / it's clear that the doors to the temple stand open." nature's beauty is just so in-your-face here that it's totally undeniable. one is jerked, again and again, into appreciative--almost meditative--awareness of the world, and out of the anxious daze that can preoccupy one so much of the time. i guess being on vacation is good for that, too. at any rate, i like to think that i am walking paths and seeing sights similar to those thoreau walked and saw.

who's house?

thoreau's house.

who's view?

thoreau's view.

last week i picked up thoreau's cape cod, which was sitting on the shelf here, and read the first few chapters. i was surprised, and at first disappointed, to find him talking mostly of people. he describes coming upon the scene of an immigrant shipwreck--quite a disconcerting start--and then riding in a carriage alongside various "cape" types. in the process, he observes people's (class-inflected) attitudes (and their ability to co-exist, even in the same carriage), discusses the aesthetics of small cape towns, and conjures up some rather vivid portraits of weathered men and women. in addition to social history and ethnography, thoreau also provides interesting details about the geology and flora/fauna of the cape. after wondering just the day before about how so much sand made it to the inland parts of the cape, i was glad to be informed that indeed most of the cape is composed of sand. apparently, boston harbor has belched it out over the course of a millenium or two. to this day, the cape remains a shifting landscape: some beaches recede with each year and major storm; others grow.

i was happy to read recently that walden is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a publication. it's filled with wisdom, inspired passages, and wonderful turns of phrase, and i'm thrilled to know that--despite attaining its popularity posthumously--walden has been translated into two dozen languages and has had more than 200 editions published. i was even more delighted to learn how thoreau marked the event in his own life. apparently, on the date of walden's first publication, his journal read: "walden published. elder-berries. waxwork yellowing." how appropriate.

one of the most remarkable things about the cape is the range of environments one finds here. there is a coherence over all, of course: it's a sandy, rugged kind of place. but one finds, in addition to beaches: forests, dunes (the ones near provincetown are amazing), shrubby hills, and--one of my favorites--salt marshes. there's something about marshland that really piques my curiosity. it just always seems to be swarming with activity. one day, becca and i biked along a marsh until we came to a corner where hundreds of crabs were crawling ahead with a seemingly unified sense of direction and purspose. they looked like stange reptilian creatures slinking along, until we looked closer and saw that they were indeed moving sideways. the marshes themselves seem to offer a plethora of small environments, and this is one thing that makes them so interesting to me, not to mention beautiful.

marsh, a

marsh, a

marsh, a


it's been a fortnight full of activity, from beach-going, where i've been adding to the brown-ness i picked up in jamaica and reading walter rodney and frantz fanon--not exactly light, "beach" reading, but stimulating to be sure. there's been lots of biking, sailing, and running (against bush). driving around, from beach to beach, i've been enjoying a soundtrack provided by os mutantes, lyrics born, so, and a bunch of reggae mixes (new and old). we've taken several trips into provincetown, and p-town remains one of the strangest vacation spots--or even places--i've ever been to. the mix of gay culture, (straight) family vacationers, and cape kitsch (which appeals, seemingly, to both groups) is truly something to be seen. as becca pointed out, it's pretty amazing to watch a tranny on a scooter sporting a g-string-and-fish-net number drive down commercial street and barely turn a head. sure, there are some incredulous--and perhaps slightly scandalized--adults standing around with mouths open (though usually they just smile), but their kids rarely bat an eye. one of the most remarkable things about p-town during summertime--and this will have to wait for a blog of its own--is the high number of jamaican migrant workers staffing the restaurants and shops. to them, p-town must seem like some crazy bizarro world--US decadence run wild. i wonder what they tell their friends back home.

we went into p-town for a couple of meals. i had lobster one time, flounder on another, and salmon on a third occasion. i realize that my blog has devoted quite a bit of space to eating fish, which has more to do with where i've been than the focus of my blog. i love the mix of advertisements which blogger has been suggesting at the top of the page: reggae labels and seafood retailers crop up frequently. (fyi--that's the same type of thing that happens if you have a gmail account. i don't really find it invasive so much as funny.)

an old family friend and regular cape-codder-come-august, jamie gorelick, gave the nessons--becca included--a few autographed copies of the hot-off-the-presses 911 commission report. last week on the boston globe's nonfiction bestseller list, it was ahead of walden. it was also ahead of two other favorites of mine: howard zinn's people's history and strunk and white's elements of style. (strunk and white would probably tear me apart for adding that possessive 's' to white's name only. oh well. "strunk's and white's" just sounds weird.) jamie served on the 911 commission and devoted the last 18 months of her life to it. we had many a conversation about the report over the last couple weeks. she encourages folks to read the footnotes, many of which she fought to have included and many of which are more revelatory than the main text of the report itself. so, here you go.


steve reich,

thanks for drumming.


last night in kingston

it's quarter past three and we just got home. marvin, his bredren marcus, and i went out to devon house in search of some excitement. renaissance was at the 1s and 2s (on CDJ, that is). but although tomorrow, emancipation day, is a national holiday, the place was nearly empty. not quite so easy to do the tundaclap with no one else on the dancefloor. i spotted a couple of jamaica's finest dozing in a corner. the sight was made funnier by its evocation of the jamaican term for speed-bumps: sleeping policemen. as we walked out, i was greeted by a similarly striking scene: two private security guards, in vests and holsters and all, waving imaginary guns in the air and enthusiastically crooning along with eamon on that "i don't want you back" song (which always reminds me of sinead o'connor's classic version of prince's "nothing compares 2 u"; they share a chord progression, and little else). it was good to have a couple red stripes, though, and take in some chunes.

we spent the day out at lime cay, which remains one of the most amazing little beach spots i've ever been to. just a short boatride from kingston, lime cay--which many simply call "the beach"--retains a certain robinson-crusoe-like charm. it is a very small island. one could walk its circumference in under a half hour, perhaps less. its sands are white, comprised largely of tiny shell fragments, accumulating around the reef that surrounds the key. the water is all shades of blue and green. from the beach, which covers 2/3 of the island, one can see the mountains, the city, the open sea. on sundays, kingston's mobile class flocks to lime cay to strut, eat, drink, and swim. some come in their own boats, docking ten yards offshore and swimming in to grab some fry fish and cold beer. (large boats--such as the one with the VP banner, full soundsystem, and helicopter i saw today--dock a bit further away.) the boatless head to the y-knot in port royal, pay a reasonable fee for a boatride (JA$350/US$6 on weekends), and enjoy a sometimes choppy but always fun ride out to the cay. i browned up some more, had some nice fry fish and some wicked conch soup, and played in the water with marvin's son, jared. it was a fine way to spend my final day.

the last week was a positive one, too. the final "build yuh riddim" class turned out to be perhaps the strongest of the month. all of the students were focused and engaged, and they turned out some tuff riddims, which i will share here soon, along with some commentary. (soon as i get back home and can upload over some real bandwith.)

one of my students remained remarkably focused despite experiencing a family tragedy over the course of the week. last tuesday night his brother was shot five times. when i last asked, he was in critical condition. the student missed class for a day and then more-or-less shrugged it off. "i'm meditating on it," he would say, "but that's life in jamaica. that's ghetto life." he told me he often hails people up on the street knowing that it may be the last time he sees them. caught in a gang war, his brother was shot in tivoli gardens, near rema--a notoriously violent area of the city. the next day a JLP "caretaker" (read: lawyer) came to visit my student. apparently, his brother was under police watch in the hospital--wanted for something or other--and the JLP were going to contest the charges. so the cycle continues. protection for allegiance for pork-from-the-barrel for votes. although inter-garrison strife has, to some extent, become divorced from political sponsorship (ever since drug money made politicians superfluous), the parties remain major players in the lives of kingston's urban poor.

my student reminded me that death can seem so near in jamaica, at least for a lot of people. sometimes i think that is what gives the place so much vitality. the acceptance of death as a commonplace fact of life gives people license and reason to embrace and affirm their aliveness much more frequently. still, i'm not sure life has to be so hard. but things sure are a mess in some ways. as my student pointed out, one doesn't go hungry out a country like one goes hungry in town. in the ghetto, when there's nothing to eat, there's nothing to eat. in the country, there's always a fruit tree somewhere near. the crowding in kingston's slums is a grave but familiar social problem in all countries, but especially in "developing" (read: underdeveloped) ones. rural folk flock to urban centers for access to international capital, however trickle-down. naive expectations of success meet exploitation, inequality, and a rigidly enforced race/class system. the government does little to control the population flow or handle the problems it creates. "developed" countries--a la louise bennett's "colonization in reverse"--provide some outlet for the overcrowding, but international borders remain hard to cross for many. labor exploitation practices being what they are, there is not work for everybody and there is rarely work that pays a living wage. a lot of people are just plain hungry--and angry--as a result.

when bounty killer yells "cross! angry! miser-rebel!" he's articulating a pretty simple and shared sentiment. people yell along with him and pepper their everyday speech with the phrase. they know what it's like to be cross, mad, bex. they're "young and uptempered," as a young DJ told me last week. no work, no money, no credit, no food--the young, black, and hopeless grow explicitly rude, spiteful, "bad-minded"--looking for a whiff of justice in others' misery. the pronunciation of "miser-rebel" makes resonant the connection to rude-bwoy defiance, to social deviance as social protest. apparently, the poor people's governor--as bounty once crowned himself--gives voice to the sufferahs' vexation. still, some would beg to differ. chatting last week with an uptown brown, i was told that bounty's song that goes something like--look into my eyes, see my nine, it's 'cause i'm hungry--lost the artist a fan. this guy had to work hard to earn his current position, he told me, so why shouldn't everyone? why should he be more likely to be robbed as he drives through the ghetto on the way to work? and while i saw his point, i feel like he's wearing blinders when it comes down to it. doesn't he realize that he benefited from so much more opportunity and tacit privilege? doesn't he realize that such inequality cannot exist in such proximity? that great wealth cannot stand alongside great poverty without social unrest. but then again, it has, for hundreds of years, so why should the system change? i refuse to identify with the camp that has decided we're all headed to hell in a handbasket so we should just be stingy bastards during our short time here. the system will change, but it need not be a violent transition. a lil' cooperation would go a long way.

in another uptown conversation, i was told that jamaica's labor problem stems from the fact that there are too many unions here. (the two major political parties, incidentally, began as labor unions.) "people would rather not work than work," she said, expressing surprise that people would prefer no wage (and some dignity) to the low wages they are offered. "i think that that's one of the legacies of slavery," i proposed, noting that east indian laborers were imported to fill the labor vacuum after emancipated blacks showed little interest in continuing to work under slave-labor conditions. "that was what?--three, four hundred years ago?" she said. i thought to myself, actually slavery was abolished in jamaica only 166 years ago, but thought better of saying it aloud. this was, after all, the same person that thinks smoking ganja is as (inherently) declasse as black skin, so i decided not to bother climbing such a mountain of ignorance. funny thing is, this person would be undeniably black in the US and, depending where she went, would be subject to similarly degrading assumptions about her character. ah, the relativity of privilege.

a friend of mine who teaches literature at the university here asked me if i thought jamaica was a racist place. yes and no, i said. on the one hand, almost everyone here is black, so it would seem inherently paradoxical to say that racism exists here. of course it does though, and sometimes in an even more insidious way, operating largely under the surface. one does find rich, dark-skinned folk here, though they are the exception rather than the rule. on the other hand, you rarely see poor, light-skinned folk. that's one reason i had such a terribly difficult time while living here last year. i tried to get around without a car--an unthinkable way to travel for someone as white as i. and people would tax me for it. if i was so white and yet not rich, the assumption goes, i must be a miserable failure. ("grad student" doesn't quite translate here.) i don't think many people i came into contact with ever conceived that i could be less than wealthy. even my close friends--at least those below the middle of the middle-class--would tax me, without regard for my hints and occasional comments about lacking funds, asking me regularly to pay for their travel, their food, etc. it was a taxing experience, literally and figuratively--despite my attempts not to take it personally. i attempted to be myself when i was living here last year and i felt punished for it. i felt forced to withdraw, to conceal, to wear a screwface when i prefer a smile. (i saw a man walking down the beach today with a downright sneer on his face. it was the most ridiculous thing i saw today. he looked like he was mugging for a g-unit photo shoot.) i feel fortunate when i can give away my privilege, and i hate feeling driven into it. the whole experience makes me wonder to what i extent i can ever really give it away. sometimes it seems that people who want my privilege, even if it is ultimately inaccessible to them, want me to retain it in order to maintain their own dream of possessing such power. raas-claat, what a mess.

whether i would have liked to or not, this month i have retreated somewhat into privilege. having a car to drive around in (or be driven, as was the case), made my road experience considerably easier on the nerves. moreover, living up in the hills, with no car of my own, made for a good excuse when i felt too taxed by my bredren down in town. still, it's an uneasy arrangement overall, and i would prefer it if we could all agree to be honest with and respectful of each other. i'm happy to share, but on my own terms, according to what i decide i can share. don't get me wrong: sometimes i like how upfront jamaicans are about inequality here. people who determine that you have (much) more than they do will simply ask you to "let some off," and why shouldn't they? and why shouldn't you? of course, i'd prefer it if i could contribute in some more organized fashion but, in a hand-to-mouth kind of place, such seems like a bit much to ask for. i don't want to imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that jamaica's social welfare program must be. for many, it is surely nonexistent. kind of like police-protection. or laws against marijuana.

actually, laws against marijuana remain on the books and remain (unevenly) enforced. every time a shipment is seized at mo'bay, it's clear that someone didn't pay someone like they were supposed to, or that the gov't really, really wanted that helicopter that the DEA was offering as a carrot-on-a-stick. as far as the police are concerned, ganja is still one of the best pretexts for arresting someone in jamaica. you can pick up a whole lot of folks, especially poor people, with that one. it is one of the strange myths about jamaica in the outside world that marijuana is legal here. another one holds that dreadlocks are cool here. i mean, sure, for many--especially rastafarians and the younger generations. but the predominant association with dreadlocks in jamaica is that of the "dutty [i.e., dirty] rasta." for all of jamaica's dreadlocked self-marketing, for all of the high-profile, 'locksed entertainers, and for all of the rastitutes helping stellas get their groove back, dreadlocks remain a social stigma in jamaica, and wearers of locks are made constantly aware of this, especially when they come from respectable middle- and upper-class families. it's funny how jamaica represents itself to the outside world and how it behaves back a yard. sometimes the only difference between the two is perception.

take for instance, a review in the village voice last week of beenie man's new album, back to basics. apparently, after releasing two albums that disappointed fans with too many misguided, pandering attempts at crossover success, beenie has returned with an album that better represents his popular dancehall singles, featuring riddims by jamaican producers (rather than the neptunes) and no guest-spots by trendy rappers or r&b singers. arguing that beenie has followed sean paul's trail by releasing a collection of "undiluted" dancehall tracks, baz dreisinger apparently takes the record label's promotional bait--hook, line, and sinker. i can see the onesheet now: jamaica's last next-big-thing keeps it real! and what is realer than jamaica, mystical island of musical authenticity? it is definitely in the reggae music industry's best interest to corner the market on dancehall, lest the US simply absorb it as another third-world flourish. of course, dreisinger--and this manner of marketing jamaican music--fail to acknowledge the subtle but profound ways that dancehall style is, at this point, a real amalgam of international influences, especially the very same hip-hop and r&b that beenie has been attacked for embracing and supposedly refrains from on this effort. yet what is the "real" sound of the dancehall if not usher, jay-z, and lloyd banks? at every event i've been to this month--from high society to passa passa to quad--these tracks exist side-by-side with the latest dancehall hits, and their production quality and stylistic features remain major points of interest and influence for jamaican artists.

dreisinger's celebratory review, and the music marketing it echoes, reproduce (jamaican) nationalism as something for us all to buy into. (and jamaican nationalism, as any nationalism, by definition enforces other nationalisms, such as that of the US.) here the nation as brand asserts itself, appealing to the cosmo consumer, creating work for jamaican/reggae artists, generating exchange for the jamaican music industry (and its moguls in new york and london), and ultimately obscuring the deep links between jamaican and american society. in addition to the lack of recognition of relationality, of shared social bonds and cultural practices, the review--and the perspective that it represents--neglect any serious critique of the sounds or of the content. instead we get the onesheet highlights. there need be no "gasp" about dancehall standing alone. insofar as it can stand alone, dancehall has done so since its advent, as a musical style, in the early 80s. my point, however, is that dancehall does not stand alone. nor does hip-hop. but a more complex conception about their relationship is perhaps difficult to boil down to talkpoints for tower records. dreisinger would have us believe that beenie's music is all about girls and dancing. but almost as frequently his music is about killing gays. just tonight i heard beenie's newest sinisterly-catchy refrain (which happens to be a shameless co-optation of desmond dekker's "the israelites"): "oh, oh, oh / battyman fi dead." another common topic is how he will never perform oral sex on a woman. i'm just not sure how critics can let this stuff pass under the surface. this music is full of meaning, but that meaning is--like the meaning of dreadlocks, ganja, and black skin--rather dependent on context. at the least, the work of the critic should be to explicate some of the connections between (social/cultural) contexts and the creation of meaning. what does it mean that beenie man's album is considered/labeled an "undiluted" dancehall album? what's it mean to call it that in a hipster newspaper? why celebrate but not interrogate? why uphold a notion of nation incommensurate with actual runnings? usually, it's to preserve power, as some of my friends who are dying to transcend nation and run with the rest of them, will tell you. so let off some road money, star. and take a more careful listen to that promotional CD.

all right. enough of that. i have to go to bed. (two hours after beginning this blog, the sun has started coming up.) i'm off tomorrow. back to boston just in time to miss the DNC. i'll be back here with more before long, though. plenty to unpack from this trip.

soon come back. y'ear?

(one more kingston sunrise for the road.)