Columns

An outbreak of Kartelitis

Barbara GLOUDON

Friday, April 11, 2014    

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LET me come clean with you, I've never been a Vybz Kartel fan. Now that the law says what he did to one of his henchmen, I don't expect to make his acquaintance any time soon. The only things I chop up fine are skellion and other seasonings. Being extremely claustrophobic, to pay a call anywhere near a small cell is not first choice on my list of must-do's.

Then, why is he the focus of this column, you might ask? Because an outbreak of Kartelitis is still current. If he did, in fact, make mince of a former collaborator, I'd rather not even think of it, but everywhere we turn, that is high on the 'chat-bout' agenda. This being a column of current affairs, I cannot escape Kartelitis.

Recently, our leaders gathered for the official opening of the parliamentary year. It was the same day that Kartel and colleagues were facing judgement. It is no surprise that the media was more interested in how many years he got than in how the Government will be able to make ends meet to keep famine away. Some citizens felt that the happenings in Parliament should get primacy in public discourse. Some, maybe more, couldn't have enough of Kartel.

So, if I'm not interested, why am I adding to the mountain of words already written about Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel? Because I'm like everybody else. The drama has been on our collective minds for some time. It is hard to escape.

On September 12, 2012, I was sent a book titled The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto. On the front cover, a big picture of the Worl' Boss (another title) stared out from behind big dark glasses, surrounded by the words: "Vybz Kartel's The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto". Kartel tattoos had not yet multiplied to cover his skin like a road map, except for "one and few" on the forefinger and knuckles of his left hand.

The credits said the book was written by Kartel and Michael Dawson — I do not recall meeting him either. I flipped through the pages. They were heavy with what used to be called black power rhetoric, with special emphasis on the never-ending challenges to Jamaican's ghetto people. At the time, I thought: "Interesting that a man who bleaches his skin, and even produced his own special soap to reinforce the process, could have such strong views about black man pride while changing the colour of his skin." When I shared the thought with someone, the response was: "We do that all the while. We seem to like the roas' breadfruit culture...black without, white within. We still haven't reconciled that."

Grazing through the pages of the book, I came to the conclusion that I'd been there before. I did not mean this unkindly. It was the truth. Of the writers, was it the voice of Adidja or his fellow author presenting the case? I did not doubt Kartel had a voice of his own. He's nobody's fool. I believe it was the opinion of co-author Dawson, however, which came through most strongly in representing the agenda of the ghetto. A cover letter signed by him addressed the subject in a more serious tone than the paragraphs of Kartel's thoughts. Between the two they addressed a range of issues from family to community concerns.

As one who "deh bout" from Afro time, the arguments were not unfamiliar to me. In the era of black power, I did not know of anybody who was bleaching white, while preaching black. Some of Kartel's arguments didn't make it with me. Back in those days, I didn't know of a Jamaica which, while struggling under an economy even more difficult than today, was forcing the Treasury to find a billion US$ for its people to pay for imported hair to fill a need for an alien look. In those days, there was concern for the weight of cost of living on the people of the ghetto. Today, the concern is how to overdress for dancehall, even at the expense of basic necessities. How does that help the ghetto?

A section in the book addresses the reader: "I hope you do not enjoy this book. I hope it disturbs you. I hope after reading this, you will realise there's something wrong with Jamaica, and you'll never look at a ghetto person the same way again."

It was sad to record that, at the time when the book reached me, Vybz was already in custody on a murder charge. This is no way to change the ghetto, bredrin!

More than once, I've heard the comment: Did Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel have to become a convict locked away? Despite a profitable career, a goodly share of public adoration, and a satisfying family life, as he confessed, how come he's behind walls, locked away for a long time, away from his mother who he idolises, his wife and children for whom he professes great love, friends and fans who mourn? Power, someone said. Power went to his head and his head couldn't hold all the success. Could the story have taken a different turn? Who's to tell? The question is, if he couldn't save himself, how could he save ghetto people?

While I never met him, he knew my name. People have been telling me that reference to me appears in one of his songs. In the lecture he gave on UWI, Mona Campus, in 2011, as guest of the Department of Literatures and English and the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, he quoted some of his songs Start Well, which included the line: "Who is Vybz Kartel?" The question was raised by callers to Barbara Gloudon, host of RJR's call-in show Hotline and Kartel was providing the answer. The tune was cut some time in 2003; but it was only a few days ago that I saw the lyrics. Start Well gave Kartel the opportunity to boast about his expensive wardrobe, from designer shirts to name-brand shoes. Of the inner man, the person behind the exterior which his fans were going crazy over, little or nothing was revealed. Barbara Gloudon couldn't help to quench her listeners' curiosity. She didn't know Kartel history either.

The UWI lecture was a mixed bag of opinions, judging by the printed text transcribed and published in Vol 33, No 3 of the prestigious Jamaica Journal. At times, it read as if a scholarly hand had helped to shape the presentation. I'm not saying he couldn't talk like intellectual. Palmer/Kartel is no fool, which is why his errors of judgement are so tragic. I, like others, believe it was that uncontrolled intellect which made it easy for him to end up where he is today.

About his fondness for tattoos, he is quoted as saying: "I am conscious of everything that I do because I've decided to make my life pretty like a colouring book." Life not so pretty now, though, it is no artiste's palette. Unless the appeal turns up trump, it's going to be a long, long life without bright colours in captivity for Adidja "Vybz Kartel" Palmer. The front cover of the book proclaims: "Incarcerated but not silenced". Reality or dream?

* Acknowledgement: The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto is published by Ghetto People Publishing Company Ltd. The Jamaica Journal is a publication of the Institute of Jamaica. The lecture at UWI, Mona, took place on March 10, 2011.

BUT SEE YAH! Did you see a report from Pakistan where lawyers brought a case to court accusing a nine-month-old child of attempted murder? There was even a photo of the little boy being finger-printed. How low can some people go to make money?

SAY WHAT? Suggestion by an English newspaper to break the deadlock of Jamaica dragging feet on Brits' demand for acceptance of ex-convicts on completing sentence in their jails — "Pack old ship with cons and large rats. Sail to Jamaican beach." Nasty!

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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