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.