Columns

Vybz Kartel, dancehall and slavery

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, March 21, 2014    

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WITHOUT slavery there would be no dancehall. Without dancehall, no Vybz Kartel. And, if no Kartel, Lizard Williams would be alive and his sister would have no reason to hide. The nexus of English language, Jamaica land, slavery, the British, and their Bible is intertwined; and these retentions define the texture of our entertainment.

Vybz Kartel is proof of concept, and his verdict says our justice system may not find truth or a body, but it makes decisions. The trial per se has little significance in the scheme of things, but it puts our culture in the dock. There is connectivity between murder and "murda music", but how? Tell me.

If you are open to take life, be ready to lose yours. The Kartel verdict will not happen for 80 per cent of murders, so we cannot celebrate. The trial did not get us food, education, peace, jobs, but it elicited the best in our justice system and the worst of our "lickie-lickie" people. Unemployment in the Kingston metropoliton area was down for several weeks as the "rent-a-crowd" was on duty -- the finest men, children and women money can buy. Sale of goods was up during the trial and, if it had gone on for another 60-plus days, GCT might have met IMF targets. His acolytes complained that Kartel did not get public support, but do they not know a court of law is not The Voice talent show? How many votes for Kartel? Life is dancehall; court is justice, and the good guys won this time. The world is truly a stage.

Slavery & culture

The linkage of slavery and European habits to our culture is to be celebrated; yet it is neither of Africa, Europe or 'Tainoland'. Ours is a smorgasbord of miscegenation and plurality of culture -- unique! We are name-brand, "Jamaica, likkle but tallawah!" We "diss" English heritage and "big up" Africa; but one is our blood, the other our brains, both our psyche.

Why do our rich entertainers, poor Rastafarians and professionals who go to Africa not fit in? Our Rastas are quaint, unambitious and cracked -- says my Ethiop friend. How come all of them fit into England? The proud Rasta and his baby's pram; they understand our patois, but Africans don't -- how come? Xamaica impacts our culture, and I see where remnants want us to have a day of thanksgiving "Taino Day" for their land where citrus and mango drop and rot; yet we beg or starve rather than produce for prosperity.

Marcus Garvey is our prophet of this melange. I see his pith helmet and laugh, but he is vision and gravitas. He was about Africa, but his life, reason, references, and oratory were of Europe -- so Jamaican! He "cooled-out" in Europe, since only white people go to Africa to relax on safari; Miami for us. I pay no tribute to slavery, but it is my father's reality, his father's and his father's before him. I can only live in my time, and slavery is not my reality and it is not my worse hurt. Have you been violated for speaking truth in free Jamaica? Bruited by once poor but now powerful black men? To them Garvey is "fool-fool ting"! I have stories. Last week I said domestic violence born of man's desire to control women's sexuality and their lives, to the extent of beheading them with impunity, was de facto slavery. What a fight in my inbox; peace, my friends, slavery is not about black people, it's about who owns whom! The Kartels of this land are small beer; the giant of gender slavery must be destroyed as one slave makes us all slaves.

Without New World slavery there would be no Bob Marley; no Sam Sharpe, Nanny, Bogle, Gordon as heroes. The sale of our ancestors by African brethren, easy life in Xamaica, free paper from white people and English speech, describe but do not limit us. Bob's life celebrates this blend. In Africa, many were slaves to their kin; in the New World we were sold to an alien ethnicity and vendors had no clue where their brethren went. Africans were not driven by their cosmology to explore; not curious where ships with black flesh went? We are curious, we are of Xamaica; we push boundaries. Vybz Kartel hit an electrified boundary -- 60,000 volts -- and may meet Lizard soon. His triumphant rent-a-crowd was not paid to mourn. He used his gifts for ill. Bob used his mixed-up heritage to uplift people. One love!

The Bible is also a force here. The Hebrew book is the core of our psyche. Few live it, but criminals know it; not Troilus and Cressida, the Koran or Kama Sutra. English Protestant Christians fixed the arc of our culture for 300 years; not Roman Catholics or Jews as the Emancipation Act of these were late. We bought the Hebrew slave myths retailed by the English. We had no myths of gravitas -- Anancy story! Bob sang, "By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down" -- pure fiction. And "We remember Zion" is not our story. A deep swig of rum and the King James Bible taught us being enslaved to alien people in Xamaica did indite the moving lyrics on our hearts. Today no one can "improv" with the English language like us; our multi-hued skins absorbed the Bible and British mores as no other colonials. We now teach them the nuances of their script and embellish it in ways they never imagined. Read opinion writers in the Jamaica Observer and marvel at their range, texture and ease with English; each different yet use the same toolkit. My opinion editor is the best as he bridles my anger and covers my impetuous flaws. Read Kartel's lyrics -- priceless! Hence, they are more destructive than others.

Jamaica land is a force in culture. Can we revert to Xamaica? Land ripped from the Tainos, gifted by the English, and now our pledge. The remnants of Taino first nations may mount a genocide case against Europe and a reparations case against Jamaica for expropriating their land. Jews did not get Egypt's land at emancipation; in 1948 they got a "cotch" and from then "bangarang" in the Middle East. Black Americans did not get a State of the Union, not even the promised mule, they deserve reparations, do the Tainos? The land is fat, but we never use it to become men. Its bounty made us lazy and imprudent; as fruit is always in season, we neither plan nor work. We are spoilt for choice. Xamaica is in our blood; but if you are not prepared to be murdered, leave now. Have we slipped to number 2 in the global kill club? Lord be praised! Tarry awhile, my friend, things could change.

Vybz Kartel is an innovator. So is the creator of water boarding which taps the body's survival instinct by simulating proximate death -- evil genius! Kartel's ease with words, rhythm, and smut is tribute to a mastery of English, slavery and British sensibilities -- a true Jamaican. It is time we come to terms with history, thank God slavery is not our lot, and celebrate and use our assets to prosper our land. Slavery is in our DNA, as is sickle cell, so we use this fact to plan healthy living not to stop living. Dancehall and Kartel were on trial; the medium is the message. Kartel is his own man. Dancehall is us --no regrets -- we were born to it. Don't overthink this, just prize our mixed-up heritage and build our nation.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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