donderdag 2 juli 2015

Veelkoppig monster

Racisme kan beschreven worden als een “veelkoppig monster”. Sommige van deze metaforische “koppen” zijn niet goed zichtbaar. Ook denk ik dat racisme goed te beschrijven is als een “onzichtbaar filter”. Dat laatste vooral in deze tijd, waarin er een taboe is gekomen op (openlijk) racisme. Een dergelijk “filter” determineert heimelijk culturele en sociale voorkeuren en hierarchiëen.

ALLEDAAGS RACISME

Beide definities zoals hierboven vatten goed samen zoals Philomena Essed racisme beschreef, zoals in haar “klassieke” werk ‘Alledaags racisme’, uit 1984, alsmede in haar latere werk. Het werk ‘Alledaags racisme’ zie ik als klassiek in meer dan een opzicht. Deels door de inherente kwaliteit: het is op zichzelf leerzaam. Daarnaast is het ook goed die inhoud, alledaags racisme, in de tijd te plaatsen, en in de Nederlandse samenleving. In een context waarin racisme in abstracte, ideologische dan wel theoretische zin werd besproken – vooral ook in “vermijdende” zin – was de nadruk op dagelijkse treiterijtjes en ongemakken geenszins triviaal, maar juist concreet, en daarom relativerend en verklarend. Alledaags is elke dag van je leven, immers. Bij het bezoek aan een winkel, in het openbaar vervoer, bij het uit gaan, maar ook op het werk en in omgang met mensen op hoge plekken. Alles wat je zo kunt doen in het leven.

In ‘Alledaags racisme’ heeft Essed het over verschillende vormen van racisme, zoals “cultureel racisme”, “impliciet racisme”, en “institutioneel racisme” die zich wel op wat abstracter niveau lijken te bevinden. Het cruciale van Essed’s werk is dat het de realiteit weergeeft van hoe dergelijke ideeën in de samenleving – verspreid via media, onderwijs, en opvoeding - in het alledaagse leven vertaald worden als mensen van verschillend ras elkaar ook echt treffen en met elkaar moeten omgaan. Dat laatste deelt ze deels in bij ´´individueel racisme´´. ‘Alledaags racisme’ omvat de ervaring zoals verteld door Nederlanders van Surinaamse of Antilliaanse (eigenlijk Afrikaanse) oorsprong, in hun omgang met “witte” Nederlanders. Op werkplekken, bij het winkelen, uit gaan etcetera. Een hoofdstuk, ook ter vergelijking, gaat over ervaringen van African American, zwarte vrouwen, in de VS.

Ten tijde van verschijning van dit boek (1984) was er al een taboe op openlijk racisme – bij veel Nederlanders – dus veel van deze ervaringen bevatten twijfel bij de vertellers. Ze ervaren racisme en discriminerende handelingen, maar weten het soms zeker – eenvoudigweg minachtende en vernederende opmerkingen met een direct geuite raciale verwijzing maken het zeker - , maar soms is het verhulder in slechte omgangsvormen waarbij racisme “vermoedt” wordt: een botte gedraging en opmerking die wat moeilijk te duiden is.

Juist die erkenning van de multi-interpretabele dagelijkse realiteit van menselijke omgang maakt –wellicht ironisch – dit boek waarachtiger. Zelfs lichte paranoia in het hoofd van mensen is realistisch, want menselijk, en verklaarbaar vanuit een levensloop. Iedereen kan zich vergissen in sommige gevallen of situaties verkeerd verklaren. Men kan zich ook slechts deels vergissen of overdrijven, en in enkele gevallen is alleen de paranoia werkelijk, maar het gaat hier op een diepere verklaring. Veel in Nederland - ook in het dagelijks leven – is immers twijfelachtig en onduidelijk, vooral als er pijnlijke waarheden zijn die liever verhuld worden. Met mensen buiten je eigen sociale kring heb je zogezegd ook “niets te schaften”, en heb je noodgedwongen, oppervlakkig contact. Je praat ook niet te “diep” of “openlijk” over wat je van ze denkt en vermoedt, zoals op basis van hun voorkomen (je vooroordelen dus). Dat bewaar je voor mensen in je eigen kring, mensen geselecteerd op basis van je beschikbare tijd, maar vooral levensstijl, en voorkeuren. Tegelijkertijd is het (openbare) taboe op racisme inmiddels sterk verbreid.

Vandaar dus dat ik racisme – zeker ook in de Nederlandse context van 2015 - beschrijf als “onzichtbaar filter”, maar ook als “veelkoppig monster”.

Interessant aan Essed´s boek uit 1984 is dat zij in het inleidende deel ervan stelt dat de grens tussen “individueel” en “institutioneel” racisme niet in elk geval helder is. Een factor die daarbij een rol speelt is uiteindelijk “macht”. Niet iedereen heeft een sturende een bepalende rol in instituten of bedrijven. Om mensen aan te nemen, promoveren, of ontslaan, bijvoorbeeld, dien je een bepaalde positie te hebben. Dat zou je ook klassenverschil kunnen noemen. Historisch ontstane ongelijkheden in hoge posities bevoordelen – in overwegend blanke landen - de autochtone, blanke bevolking. Het boek van Essed, en andere studies over racisme, wijzen op de kleinere kans om aangenomen te worden voor een baan als de sollicitatiebrief – tegenwoordig vaak “motivatiebrief” genoemd –, dan wel het voorkomen van de sollicitant, op een exotische afkomst wijst. Het zal per sector en organisatie wat kunnen verschillen, maar is nog steeds een groot probleem.

NETWERKEN

Om die reden baart de tendens die zich de laatste jaren afdoet op de Nederlandse arbeidsmarkt mij zorgen. Het draait (nog) meer dan voorheen om contacten en netwerken om een geschikte baan te vinden. Naast een nogal “rechtse” geest die hieruit spreekt – mijn moeder vertelde verhalen over hoge posities in bedrijven die mensen verkregen via connecties in het Spanje onder de Rechtse dictatuur van Franco – is het ook met het zicht op etnische minderheden en migranten discriminerend. “For obvious reasons” hebben veel migranten in Nederland minder familieleden in Nederland die nuttige connecties voor banen kunnen zijn. Die er zijn, zijn vaak gemiddeld lager opgeleid dan veel Nederlandse families. In veel Nederlandse families, zelfs met deels een arbeidersklasse-achtergrond, zitten inmiddels ook veel mensen op een middenklasse-positie, of hebben zich nog hoger opgewerkt (notaris, advocaat, of arts). Contacten/netwerken belangrijker maken, is dan welhaast een cynische, “eigen volk eerst” keuze. Een keuze voor de versterking van het institutioneel racisme.

Ook Essed´s boek uit 1984 wees op bedrijven die bijvoorbeeld geen Surinamers wilden aannemen om de groep werknemers blank te houden, en ook toen speelden contacten vaak impliciet een rol op de arbeidsmarkt, ook in Nederland. Contacten nog belangrijk maken, echter, smoort nog eerder de kans dat gekleurde mensen zomaar ergens komen te werken in een functie die goed aansluit op hun opleiding, en naar hun voorkeuren. Dat is een democratisch recht op sociale mobiliteit dat zo ontnomen wordt. Zo scherp wil ik het wel stellen.

INDIVIDUEEL RACISME

Individueel racisme is deels gelijk te stellen met eigen “vooroordelen” die zich vaak ook onbewust in handelingen vertaalt, ook bij niet-machtige mensen. Het zou wat al te hoopvol zijn om te veronderstellen dat leden van etnische minderheden zich hier niet toe verlagen. Ook donkere mensen, of leden van bepaalde etnische groepen, zullen in gevallen expres vervelend doen tegen iemand die “iets anders” dan hem- of haarzelf oogt: een blanke Nederlander, en/of andere blanken (in bijvoorbeeld Amsterdam lopen bijvoorbeeld ook veel expats of toeristen uit andere Europese landen rond), of andere etnische minderheden, en sluiten deze uit van de “eigen” intieme groep, met name als er genoeg mensen van je eigen groep aanwezig zijn. Groepsdenken is hier wellicht het eigenlijke euvel. Dit kan tot irritaties lijden bij dagelijkse activiteiten, waarbij andere mensen niet echt te vermijden zijn: zoals in het verkeer, op straat, uit gaand, of winkelend. Individueel, alledaags racisme zal door mensen van verschillend ras kunnen geschieden. Vaak ook verhuld via treiterijtjes, of doen alsof mensen in de weg lopen of duwen.

In een drukke, nerveuze stad als Amsterdam merk je dat vaker: je zit dichter op elkaar. Bepaalde culturele aspecten en ontwikkelingen in Nederland – laten we het maar even de Nederlandse of Amsterdamse “volksaard” noemen, ook aanwezig bij niet-blanken – te weten directheid, sarcastische grappen, zeggen wat je denkt, mopperen, of zoals mensen uit een andere cultuur het noemen: “vreemde mensen die me uitschelden”, maken het nog erger. Dit omdat het “goede omgangsvormen” of “beleefdheid” af lijkt te doen als iets van oudere tijden, of frustraties van burgerlijke mannetjes (uit de provincie). Ik kan me niet aan de indruk onttrekken, door mijn meerdere reizen naar Groot-Brittannië en Frankrijk, en door mijn vele reizen naar en familiebanden in Italië en Spanje, dat beleefdheid en omgangsvormen in het openbaar daar meer in acht worden genomen. Soms komt dat neer op je vooroordelen voor je zelf houden, soms (nog beter) heeft dat met meer ruimte voor interesse in de medemens te maken, maar dat laatste is (vaak) wellicht te rooskleurig. De populariteit van xenofobe politieke partijen als het Front National in delen van Zuid-Frankrijk of Lega Nord in delen van Italië, wijst daar bijvoorbeeld op. Maar goed.., in Nederland heb je de PVV.

“Alledaags racisme” kan hinderlijk zijn, en tot op zekere hoogte traumatisch, ook door willekeurige Nederlanders op straat waarvan je verder niet al te afhankelijk bent voor je levensloop. Verhalen van ervaringen van Afro-Nederlandse vrouwen, en van Afro-Amerikaanse vrouwen (in de VS), in Essed´s boek uit 1984 van dien aard (bij het winkelen etc.), geven aan dat ze het deels weg kunnen relativeren, maar met sommige van dit soort dingen (opmerkingen van mensen in winkels of op straat) toch blijven zitten.

AMBITIE

Als je jezelf professioneel wilt ontwikkelen en het heikele terrein van de “ambitie” betreedt, is naast het individuele racisme ook het institutionele racisme iets om te vrezen. Deze komen weer voort uit “cultureel racisme”. Die laatste betreft de verspreiding van beelden en stereotypen over culturen van etnische groepen. Niet iedereen vindt een donkere huidskleur mooi - en prefereren fysiek het eigen ras -, maar veel racisme heeft ook te maken met wat die huidskleur zogenaamd symboliseert. Cultureel en sociaal dus. Weer het euvel van het groepsdenken: je wordt “representant” van iets anders (minder, irritanters dan je eigen groep) en minder een mens, en het vaak samenhangende euvel van het teveel geloven in je eigen (voor)oordelen. Zwarte Piet is een bekend voorbeeld in de Nederlandse volkscultuur, maar het is veel breder en dieper dan dat. Het is een minachting van Afrika en Afrikaanse mensen die voortkomt uit het koloniaal verleden, deels uit goed praten of om schuldgevoel te verhullen. Daarnaast ook minachting van vrijwel alles buiten Europa.

Columbus was de eerste Europese koloniaal in die zin, en het verhaal wil dat hij, als Genuees, het Spaanse koningshuis, Koning Ferdinand en Koningin Isabella, echt moest overtuigen van zijn reizen en koloniale plannen vanaf 1492 (om financiele redenen, maar ook moreel had Koningin Isabella eerst wat bezwaren verwoord, tegen de onderwerping en slavernij na de "ontdekking" van Amerika), maar de geest stond er wellicht naar, via Europese superioriteitswaan, en toen en daar vooral ook met een religieuze (katholieke) bekeringscomponent.

Helaas waren eerder ook Islamitische beschavingen bij hun verspreiding en religieuze bekeringsdrift minachtend voor andere volkeren: Arabieren discrimineerden niet-Arabische moslims, en nog meer niet-Moslims, die tot slaaf gebracht mochten worden. Dat is op grote schaal gebeurd met – ook miljoenen - zwarte Afrikanen. Net als bij het Europese kolonialisme maskeerde religie echter wel vaak economisch of ander eigenbelang. Veel Afrikaanse vrouwen kwamen als slavinnen in harems van rijke Arabieren of andere rijke Moslims terecht, ook in het Midden-Oosten. Ook in Moors Spanje hadden zwarte slaven en slavinnen Islamitische meesters (Arabieren, Berbers, bekeerde Spanjaarden/Portugezen), en bevonden ze zich ook anderszins helaas aan de onderkant van dat Islamitische rijk in wat nu Spanje en Portugal is.

SLAVERNIJ

Sommige historici stellen dat de vanzelfsprekendheid waarmee Portugezen, Genuezen, Venetianen, en iets later Spanjaarden (en nog later andere Europeanen) zwarte Afrikanen tot slaaf maakten, en deze verhandelden, in oorsprong ook te wijten is aan het beeld van de zwarte Afrikaan als “slaaf” of “knecht” in Moors of Islamitisch Spanje en Portugal (8e tot 15e eeuw). Pijnlijk, en mogelijk deels waar, maar toch wat simplistisch, om dat zo te concluderen. Ook Christenen maakten soms Moslims tot slaaf, en de rollen draaiden zich weleens om. Daarnaast waren er ook vrije zwarten, en ook wel meerdere Moslims met zwart Afrikaans bloed die wat hogere posities in Moslimrijken bekleedden. Bovenal is een praktijk overnemen van een groep die je net verjaagd hebt uit het land (Spanje en Portugal) om het Christelijk te maken, wat tegenstrijdig, hoewel sporen en de nalatenschap van Moors Spanje met name in centrale en zuidelijke delen van Spanje en Portugal wel in meer merkbaar zijn (architectonisch, cultureel, taalkundig, genetisch, en anderszins..).

De slavenhandel en slavernij in Amerikaanse koloniën – die eeuwen duurde – en miljoenen mensen het leven kostten (en nog meer levens verkorten en mensen geforceerd transporteerden), versterkte hoe dan ook het culturele en andere racisme betreffende zwarte mensen. Ook buiten de Europese landen die er het meeste aan deden. Het versterkte ook de Europese, “blanke” superioriteitswaan.

De Zwarte Piet-discussie is nog bezig in Nederland. Er lijkt nu – anno 2015 – wat meer begrip te komen voor de tegenstanders van dit stereotype van zwarte mensen, ook bij Nederlanders. Ook wat betreft ander cultureel racisme lijkt deels winst te zijn behaald. “Lijkt deels” zeg ik nog voorzichtig. Veel vooroordelen en negatieve stereotyperingen over Afrika en zwarte mensen, en over andere culturen of religies leven immers nog voort, en richting sommige groepen zelfs nog meer gegeneraliseerd en versterkt dan voorheen, Moslims met name. Sommige terroristen en moordenaars die zichzelf Moslims noemen deden erg hun best om dat imago zo te krijgen, leek het soms, maar het blijft onterecht voor veel mensen die niet op die manier, maar toevallig wel Moslim zijn, en dan vaak nog als slechts een deel van hun identiteit. Het blijft negatief en loos generaliserend.

ZWARTE MUZIEK EN IDENTIFICATIE

Moslims krijgen wat meer aandacht de laatste tijd, maar dat laat onverlet dat ook beelden over Afrika (sub-Saharaans) en zwarte mensen of Afrikanen nog steeds negatief voortleven in culturen in overwegend blanke landen. Een opvallende ontwikkeling is dat Nederland toch ook een land is waar “zwarte” muziek relatief populair is bij veel blanke mensen, net als in Groot-Brittannië. Zelfs bij mensen die verder weinig zwarte mensen in hun kring hebben. Dit komt door massamedia, internationale muziekcultuur etcetera. Dat kan positieve effecten hebben, maar kan ook ridicule effecten hebben. Ideaal gesproken leren meer blanke Nederlanders hierdoor over hoe de zwarte cultuur en het zwarte leven echt is, door de kunst. Positieve bewustwording via Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Public Enemy, Kanye West etcetera. Het moeten dan wel mensen zijn die luisteren naar songteksten en deze proberen te begrijpen. Ik heb al jong ondervonden dat niet iedereen “wil” leren in het leven, en velen zijn zelfs kennisvijandig. Een interessant feit noemen wordt dan al snel als wijsneuzerig beschouwd of roept zelfs agressie op. Ook deze mensen kunnen zwarte muziek om bepaalde reden waarderen (want het is cool, het swingt, de sfeer die het oproept, spannend, nieuw), en het zelfs deel van hun identiteit laten worden.

Ook sommige voorstanders van Zwarte Piet luisteren - geloof het niet - vooral zwarte muziek: het komt voor. Nog stuitender en erger: ook iemand als Benito Mussolini, wier invasie van Ethiopië in Italië begeleid werd met extreem racistische, anti-zwarten/Afrikanen propaganda, zou volgens sommige historici privé weleens naar jazz luisteren, hoewel minder dan zijn zoon Romano Mussolini (die, ook ironisch, jazzpianist werd).

Deze erge en minder erge varianten van die tegenstrijdigheid van luisteren naar zwarte muziek en daarnaast racistische, denigrerende denkbeelden over zwarten hebben of uiten, geven aan dat sommige mensen dat kunnen scheiden. Mogelijk speelt het stereotype van de ”van nature” goed dansende en musicerende zwarte hier ook een rol. Daarnaast denk ik ook dat “jaloezie” op een cultuur een rol speelt bij een negatieve benadering op mensen generaliserend verbonden met die cultuur. Jaloezie is een negatieve emotie.

Een andere culturele tendens in de Nederlandse samenleving: toegenomen na Essed´s boek ´Alledaags racisme´ uit 1984 is precies dit fenomeen. Naar verhouding meer witte Nederlanders zijn zwarte muziek gaan luisteren of zoeken andere zwarte cultuurproducten op sinds de 1980s: ook zwarte comedians, films etcetera. Met name meer jongeren. De generatie ervoor pikte uit zwarte cultuur wat bij hen paste, hen uitkwam, en gebruikte dat als bouwsteen van hun identiteit, de huidige generaties ook ongeveer, maar dan met meer invloeden. Merkwaardig om zaken te overnemen van een cultuur van arme, onderdrukte mensen met zelf ontwikkelde cultuuruitingen, als jezelf een comfortabele, welvarende middenklasse-achtergrond hebt, en plezierig in een verschillende omgeving zit waar je fysiek niet opvalt. Merkwaardig, maar in deze tijd van internationaliserende en globaliserende cultuur onvermijdelijk, want menselijk. Het is ook menselijk om nieuwsgierig zijn naar het “andere” of “onbekende”. Het hoeft ook niet per se kwaadaardig of verwerpelijk te zijn, mits je jezelf relativeert, denk ik. Zelfrelativering maakt het ook minder ridicuul, zoals zelfrelativering wel meer euvels verhelpt. Sommige blanke mensen zijn echt gelukkiger geworden in hun leven, en vinden zelfs troost, door contact met zwarte cultuuruitingen, en dat is – welke cynische draai je er ook aan wilt geven – iets moois.

De recente affaire in de VS, waarbij een vrouw, Rachel Dolezal, onterecht door ging voor zwart, en – vanuit die presumptie - zelfs president van een afdeling van de zwarte organisatie NAACP werd, blijkt achteraf jammerlijk, maar toch vooral ridicuul. Die Dolezal had/heeft issues. Zij identificeert zichzelf als zwart, terwijl haar roots van beide ouders in Europa (Duitsland en Tsjechië) liggen, maar ze maakte zichzelf ook fysiek wat donkerder. Dat haar hogere voorzittersfunctie nu niet ging naar iemand die echt zwart was, is wel een beetje schandalig te noemen. Nog erger zou echter zijn als ze een infiltrant zou zijn geweest, die de organisatie wil controleren of bestrijden: een eerdere zwarte organisatie, de UNIA, geleid door Marcus Garvey, werd geplaagd door dergelijke infiltranten, eigenlijk geheim agenten van de FBI, die meeluisterden bij plannen, toespraken etcetera (al hadden deze intriganten/geheim agenten vaak wel zwart bloed). De zwarte Amerikaanse komiek Dave Chappelle gebruikte ook het woord “ridiculous” aangaande die affaire rond Dolezal (zie: http://jezebel.com/dave-chappelle-on-rachel-dolezal-the-worlds-become-rid-1711364895 ).

Die “positieve” mening van blanken over de vermeende zwarte cultuur kan ook een positief effect hebben, maar het hangt van het individu af. Zwarte vrouwen in Essed´s boek klagen over blanke mannen die denken – en in hun gedrag lieten merken - dat zwarte vrouwen seksueel wel makkelijker zullen zijn. Wie weet verdiept kennis van elkaars cultuur een biraciale liefdesrelatie – voorbij de spanning van de seksualiteit - waardoor twee mensen een relatie hebben en niet twee “representanten”. Mensen wier eigen culturele achtergronden hen iets unieks doet hebben (je weet meer van ook andere culturen dan de Nederlandse, en hebt er een band mee), maar nog steeds multi-dimensionale, veelzijdige mensen, met dezelfde complexiteit als eigenlijk ieder mens. Daarnaast is niet ieder lid van een volk ook zo bijzonder als de grote kunstenaars en geesten uit dat volk, maar dat is een open deur intrappen.

Een vehikel voor sociale mobiliteit is onderwijs. De laatste tijd is ook aandacht voor racisme “in schoolboeken” toegenomen. Philomena Essed stelde bij haar toespraak in December 2014, bij de Powered by Diversity conferentie in de Vrije Universiteit, te Amsterdam (die ik overigens bijwoonde), verheugd dat sinds haar boek uit 1984 tot 2015, kennis en bewustzijn over racisme als systematisch fenomeen is toegenomen onder zwarte mensen in Nederland. Aandacht voor racisme in onderwijs en lesstof is daar wellicht een uiting van, alsook de verhevigde Zwarte Piet-discussie, en andere toegenomen maatschappijkritiek.

KETI KOTI

Ik woonde pas de Keti Koti-viering – herdenking afschaffing van slavernij in Nederlandse koloniën - bij van 2015, dit jaar gehouden op het Museumplein. Er waren debatten bij, zoals geleid door Quincy Gario, en deze gingen deels over slavernij: een interessante “slavernij quiz”, maar ook over racisme in de Nederlandse samenleving, en de positie van zwarte mensen in Nederland. Dit jaar kreeg de politiek en de media aandacht, waaronder het beperkte aantal zwarte mensen actief voor de televisie of andere officiële media in Nederland, en andere achterstanden. Dat – slinks en vals – vluchtelingen elders in de stad precies op dezelfde dag, 1 juli op Keti Koti, gearresteerd werden, werd besproken. Je hoeft geen paranoialijder te zijn om dat niet als slechts toeval te zien.

Ook etnische profilering door de politie kreeg aandacht, en ook dat had helaas een actuele reden.

POLITIE

“Profiling” door de politie, al langer erkend in de VS en Groot-Brittannië, krijgt de laatste tijd ook in Nederland meer aandacht. Het gaat om het discrimineren door de politie: eerder, zonder goede reden aanhouden of controleren van mensen uit etnische minderheden. Hardere methoden gebruiken bij het arresteren, is ook aangekaart. Eerder greep de politie fors in, en dreigden arrestanten zelfs te stikken, zoals anti-Zwarte Piet-betogers, door opmerkelijk hard politie-optreden, maar uiteindelijk – kort voordat ik dit schrijf – is er zelfs iemand door een politie-arrestatie overleden. Teveel politiegeweld lijkt dan waarschijnlijk en/of afhandeling, in ieder geval verantwoordelijkheid aan deze dood. Het betrof een Arubaanse man genaamd Mitch Henriquez van 42 jaar oud, die hier op vakantie was, en een muziekoptreden bijwoonde in Den Haag, en – naar men zegt – daar door opvallende gedragingen of kreten hinderlijk was en de aandacht trok van de politie. Het was echter niet iemand die in de criminaliteit zat. In Aruba zelf werd het kort na Henriquez’ dood begrijpelijkerwijs groot nieuws.

Daags na dit tragische feit ontstonden er rellen in Den Haag, en veel mensen vermoeden verhuld racisme als reden voor het te harde optreden van de politie. Weer die onduidelijkheid, zoals ook in Essed’s boek werd genoemd. Wellicht ook het negatieve imago van Antillianen, als relatief vaker betrokken bij bepaalde vormen van criminaliteit.Veel zal nog onderzocht worden. Racisme is in ieder geval mogelijk als motivatie, maar op zijn minst fout optreden..

Een panellid tijdens het debat op Keti Koti dit jaar bekritiseerde het overdreven harde optreden van de politie specifiek tegen demonstranten in Den Haag, na Henriquez’ dood. Ook was er kritiek tegen het feit dat zijn dood niet als belangrijk in het NOS journaal werd gepresenteerd.

WETENSCHAP

Sandew Hira is een van de voortrekkers - in ieder geval een actieve woordvoerder - in de discussie rond het institutioneel racisme in het Nederlands hoger onderwijs, in academische kringen, en op universiteiten. Eerder besprak hij in dat kader de slavernijgeschiedenis, alsook andere racisme-problemen in Nederland. Hira beklaagde eerder, niet geheel ten onrechte, het onder witte professoren gangbare Eurocentrisch, goedpratend perspectief over de slavernij, onder meer historisch door Nederlanders in Suriname en elders. Slavernij wordt gebagatelliseerd, stelde hij, in historische studies van professoren als Piet Emmer, en deels ook andere Caraïbische of slavernij-experts als Gert Oostindie, en feiten verkeerd geïnterpreteerd om de ware aard te verhullen: een misdaad tegen de menselijkheid door Europeanen, voortkomend uit racisme en machtsongelijkheid. Het gesprek in het programma Z.O.Z. met als gasten Sandew Hira, Aspha Bijnaar, en Gert Oostindie, o.l.v. wijlen Anil Ramdas, is zeker het bekijken waard, voor wie het nog niet kent.

Wetenschap, over slavernij of anderszins, aan Nederlandse universiteiten en andere wetenschappelijke instellingen, is daarbij iets internationaals, niet beperkt tot Nederland. Kolonialisme was internationaal, maar ook bij niet per definitie internationale thema´s is de wetenschap internationaal: men houdt uiteraard bij wat in andere landen gebeurt op het vakgebied, ter vergelijking, inspiratie, en ontwikkeling. Kennis van andere talen is derhalve een vereiste op dat niveau, en naast vakbladen zijn er ook internationale uitwisselingen.

Een recente kritiek die Sandew Hira uitte was gericht op een ander aspect dat als deel van institutioneel en cultureel racisme gezien kan worden: de Eurocentrische visie op de klassieke (Grieks/Romeinse) Oudheid binnen de "witte" wetenschap, en hoe deze Europa en zelfs de wereld beschaving zou hebben gebracht. De bijdrage en vergevorderde beschavingen van Egypte, die de Grieken beïnvloedden, wordt hierbij volgens Hira stelselmatig onderschat en ontkend. Hij en anderen pleiten voor een minder Eurocentrisch perspectief op ook deze geschiedenis.

Een andere historische periode, maar de discussie – nu ik dit schrijf net begonnen – heeft qua verloop wat raakvlakken met die eerdergenoemde over de slavernij en historici. Niet inhoudelijk, maar qua type argumenten. Een beetje zoals Oostindie in de genoemde aflevering van Z.O.Z., stellen “witte” wetenschappers dat er niets ontkend of weggelaten wordt, maar dat in dit geval de Egyptische invloed op de Grieken en Romeinen wel degelijk verweven is in hun studies naar de Oudheid. Vernieuwing in academische studies richting een minder Eurocentrisch alternatief (sommigen zeggen “Afrocentrisch” perspectief) achten zij niet nodig.

Enerzijds is de reactie jammerlijk bekrompen, anderzijds ook voorspelbaar. Deze blanke professoren en wetenschappers doen het niet als hobby in hun vrije tijd: hun hele carrière, aanzien/maatschappelijke positie, en identiteit is gebaseerd op hun hoge wetenschappelijke positie op dit specifieke terrein. Het zijn waarlijk machtsposities, hoog binnen instituties. De hele bestaansbasis van hun voorspoedige werkloopbaan, resulterend in hun toppositie, wordt dan in twijfel getrokken als zijnde iets van twijfelachtig en racistisch ideologisch allooi. Voorspelbaar dat ze daar niet aan willen. Ze hebben echter teveel macht om echt slachtoffer te zijn. Voorstellen voor veranderingen zijn ook afgewezen en dan gebeurt er ook niets.

Dat is ook het eigenlijke, onderliggende probleem van institutioneel racisme. Zulke machtsposities worden nog steeds niet of nauwelijks bekleed door donkere mensen of Afro-Nederlanders, zodat andere interpretaties en perspectieven niet eens de ruimte krijgen. Het beste zou zijn als iedereen in de wetenschap objectiviteit nastreeft, maar dat gebeurt (verhuld) niet altijd, en daarnaast is er een grijs gebied in de wetenschap waar objectiviteit en subjectiviteit in elkaar overlopen, via de individuele interpretatie. Als er verschillende perspectieven zouden zijn kom je hierbij tot veel meer waarachtige kennis. Het compenseert elkaar, zogezegd.

Dat er nog steeds geen Black Studies/Zwarte studies departementen/vakgroepen op Nederlandse universiteiten zijn, anders dan in andere landen (Verenigd Koninkrijk, Frankrijk, VS), is een teken aan de wand. Dat terwijl het demografische percentage van mensen van Afrikaanse afkomst in Nederland vergelijkbaar is met dat van bijvoorbeeld het Verenigd Koninkrijk. Ik kwam ook de term Africana studies department tegen, op sommige universiteiten in de VS en Canada: ook een goede term. Daarin kan zowel slavernij, de Afrikaanse diaspora, als het Afrikaanse continent de wetenschappelijke aandacht krijgen die het verdient, vanuit een ander perspectief, namelijk van mensen die er zelf uit voort komen. Objectiviteit en kwaliteit blijft daarbij de norm, maar dat zeggen de genoemde witte wetenschappers ook van zichzelf (deels ten onrechte). Wetenschap wordt dan veelzijdiger, vanuit verschillende perspectieven beschouwd, en dat leidt uiteindelijk weer tot betere, waarachtige over de geschiedenis van alle mensen en rassen op deze wereld, waar we met zijn allen (wit, zwart, Aziatisch e.a.) uit kunnen putten. Dat zou pas echt vooruitgang zijn. Institutioneel racisme, historische achterstand door onderontwikkeling en slavernij, en ook cultureel, impliciet, individueel, of “entitlement” racisme, of nog andere varianten ervan, vormen de obstakels op de weg daar naartoe.

Racisme als “onzichtbaar” filter is de laatste tijd wat zichtbaarder geworden, hoewel verre van geheel te doorzien, zoals alles wat met machtsposities en “taboes” te maken heeft. Je komt er nog steeds regelmatig te laat achter. Een “veelkoppig monster” – aanwezig op hoge en lage plekken, en alledaags en niet-alledaags – is het nog steeds. Dat “monster” is wellicht veranderd, of wellicht zien we sommige “koppen” nu pas, of zijn sommige koppen krachtiger geworden, maar het is er nog steeds..

dinsdag 2 juni 2015

Cultural coolness

Of course “cool” has become a quite well-known "slang" term with a meaning beyond a moderately low temperature. Even another common meaning of “self-control” or “not emotional” in several languages and cultures (including European and Asian ones) is not enough to capture what “cool” as a slang term came to mean.

Cool in the slang meaning came to mean less just “calm”, or not emotional, but more something like “great”, “fine”, or “awesome”. These latter meanings have their origins in African American culture, in turn to be traced back to ancestral Africa. Scholar Robert Farris Thompson speaks of a specific African aesthetic in which the “cool” or “coolness” is important in artistic and social/cultural expressions.

COMPLEX BALANCE

Essentially Farris Thompson describes it in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa as “complex balance”, in the sense of combining contradictions, which includes the mystical and spiritual. Or: the “transcendental”. This makes “cool” as an African aesthetic more complex in its meanings than the meaning in European languages of remaining calm under stress. Especially because this mask of coolness is also there in African expressions relating to “pleasure”, thus combining responsibility and play. The (now South Nigerian) Yoruba and Igbo age-old concept of “Itutu” – or “mystic coolness” – relates to this, and was transported with slaves to the Americas.

Crucially, Farris Thompson also relates the “cool” attitude or pose to a (transcendental) response by Black people to racism.

MEANINGS

Yet, in several global languages “cool” has a meaning beyond the literal one of “moderately low temperature”, namely symbolic ones referring to control, calm, or rationality. This might have also affected art. In Italian culture “sprezzatura” – “studied carelessness/nonchalance” - (the expression of Mona Lisa on the well-known painting is an example of this) can be mentioned, as – with some reserve (since it basically is a code against “snitching”) - the Sicilian, more mafia-affected term “omertá”. British aristocratic reserve can be somehow connected to it, and William Shakespeare in his writings mentioned the word “cool” also in such symbolic meanings of “calm” and “rational”.

All this information can be found on the Internet and on the Wikipedia article(s) on this matter, so I think it is useless to repeat this all further. To this knowledge I can add - and recommend - a more specific work I read called ‘Aesthetic of the Cool : Afro-Atlantic art and music' - see: http://www.amazon.com/Aesthetic-Cool-Afro-Atlantic-Art-Music/dp/193477295X - by the mentioned Robert Farris Thompson, a Yale professor, which is a bit summarized in the Wikipedia article.

I will use this available knowledge, however, as a starting point for the remainder of this blog post. To analyse the complex meaning of “cool” in areas and cultures less studied with regard to it. These include my personal cultural interests and backgrounds, that are partly – but not totally – covered in the Wikipedia article or even Farris Thompson’s book. I set out to fill some voids, so to speak.

I am a reggae fan, for instance. I am also interested in Rastafari. Further I have connections to several European countries: notably Italy and Spain, and I live in the Netherlands.

I think it is interesting how the meanings of “coolness”, which differ widely as already known, can be found in cultures and languages not mentioned so much in the Wikipedia articles.

Reggae, and also other European countries than Italy or Britain, are mentioned here and there in a general sense in the studies of Robert Farris Thompson, who further focuses broadly on African and Afro-American culture. This last focus – the African Diaspora - I find very interesting, and I am going to largely specify on it rather than diverge from this focus.

How is the concept of “cool” mentioned in the lyrics of the African Jamaican music genre Reggae for example? I will analyze that later on.

SPAIN AND NETHERLANDS (A.O.)

First, however, I explore if a country like Spain, has cultural “cool” meanings, similar to those mentioned for other European countries, or even to African concepts of it. It sometimes it forgotten that the country Spain is only about 12 kilometres at its closest (the town Tarifa, somewhat south of Gibraltar) to the African continent, thus almost bordering it.

Some similarities with another Mediterranean, “Latin” country like Italy seem however not too far-fetched, though the similarities even here should not be exaggerated.

I also know the Netherlands well. Many, if not all, countries have internal “images” or stereotypes regarding regional/internal differences. These tend to be derogative, often showing that people from other regions feel themselves to be better, but other such “images” are even embraced by the people associated with it. I even suspect that some overly positive images are started by the people stereotyped themselves (industrious, tolerant, artistic etc.).

Dutch people are known as “cheap”, like e.g. Scottish people. Within Spain, the people from Galicia and Catalonia are also known as “cheap”, among other Spaniards.

Some regionals/nationalities called “cheap” do not like this stereotype or find it unjust, while others more or less embrace it and build their identity around it. Such occurred in the Dutch national image, I think. Even individual Dutch people with not very economically “cheap” tendencies may in fact change themselves to fit the national image. The same occurred among some Catalonian and Scottish people.

This can be explained because “being cheap” may seem derogatory, but has something inherently “cool”. It may sound like being tight and boring, but being cheap points at rational self-control – “cool” in that sense – while having to be cheap points at poverty, having to struggle, which gives a “cool” image in another way. Strong Protestant, Calvinist influences may explain this in part in the case of Scotland and the Netherlands (though less in Catholic Galicia and Catalonia), but perhaps “poverty” became “cool” later due to some Socialist movements, or even because of certain music genres with lyrics about it, such as Black music like Blues, or Reggae, especially since the 1970s popular among many Europeans as well.

This is more image than reality, in light of the fact that the Netherlands fares economically relatively well within Europe, and so does Catalonia, being economically one of the wealthiest parts of Spain.

To return to “cool”: another generalizing Dutch self-image, many Dutch people seem to have embraced is that of being “nuchter”, as it is called in the Dutch language. “Nuchter” can be translated into English as sober, but also as “calm”, “with self-control”, “down to earth”, or “reserved". Even more positive it can be translated also as "sensible".

Many Netherlands people see themselves without much objections as “nuchter”, which in some sense can be translated as ”cool”. It is also an extension of the self-control found in the “cheap” image. There is a similarity here with the “reserved” image of the (more aristocratic) British, and in some way with the more slow and controlled Catalonian cultural (dance, music) expressions, such as the serene, brass-accompanied Catalan circle dance the Sardana, known as the “national dance” of Catalonia.

This calm, seemingly “formal” Sardana seems a world apart from the “fire” in the Flamenco of South Spain/Andalusia, or from the lively and - for European standards - relatively percussive, castanets-using “Jota” or “Fandango” music/dance from other, central parts of Spain.

Yet.. can these self-images (just or not) really be in some way compared to the “aesthetic of the cool” as found in traditional African culture? Not realistically, I think. The South of Spain is closer to Africa than Catalonia, while the “nuchter” image is said even more of Netherlands people from the North of the country (provinces Groningen, Frysia etc.), when compared to the busier Western parts (Amsterdam etc.) or the Catholic South Netherlands. It is another type of “cool” we are dealing with here, I think.

I mentioned Andalusia and the Flamenco. Andalusians are not seen as “cheap” in national Spanish stereotypes. On the contrary, some even joke that Andalusians do not only spend what they have, but even what they don’t have. This stereotype of (financial) irresponsibility is also applied to South Italians by wealthier Northern Italians. Also the Greek got such accusations recently. Northern vacationers noticing the long siestas – afternoon “naps” - in these regions seem confirmed in their prejudices, ignoring that offices/workplaces close later than in Northern Europe… and that the climate is hotter.

Neither are Andalusians or Southern Spaniards known in stereotypes as “calm” in and by itself, but rather as “temperamental”. Positively they are known as “humorous”, or, less positive, as boisterous and exaggerating.

Within the Flamenco music genre, originated in Andalusia among both gypsies and non-gypsies, however, some cultural “coolness” can be found, even a kind of “mystic coolness”, a bit like in some African cultures. A certain demeanour in singing, dancing – or even social behaviour – by persons is termed “tener arte”, literally “having art” in Andalusian Spanish, meaning a person “has art”, or is in other words “graceful”. “Tener gracia”, or “having grace” is also said of persons, often in similar instances. “Having art/tener arte” is often applied to the performance of a graceful Flamenco dancer or singer on a stage, who maintains a kind of control and seriousness even in joyful or lively dances or Flamenco subgenres. This kind of contradiction comes closer to the meaning of “cool” as found also in African aesthetic culture.

Perhaps this is in part what appealed Miles Davis – himself according to many associated with the artistic Black “cool” – to Flamenco, as evident from the song title ‘Flamenco sketches’ on Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959) album.

REGGAE

The origins of “cool” in the other meanings of “great” or “nice” have thus their direct origins in African American speech and culture, probably via jazz. The deeper origins can – as explained – be found in several sub-Saharan African cultures, the most of sub-Saharan Africa actually. It would be interesting therefore to analyze this “cool” concept with regard to Afro-Jamaican culture. This is also the case because Caribbean cultures are known to have more African, or less-dilluted, African retentions, when compared to the US. I am going to focus especially on reggae music, its lyrics, and related culture. Reggae originated in Jamaica around 1968, out of older forms ska and rocksteady, and included African, local folk, as well as African American influences.

The lyrics of reggae music are in Jamaican variants of English, or in English-influenced Patois/Jamaican Creole. The word “cool” recurs therefore regularly. In light of the above I find it intriguing to analyze this usage of the word “cool” regarding its meaning: is it used in the common, English meaning of “keeping control”, staying calm under stress, only used by other people (black Jamaicans) in other contexts (e.g. the Kingston ghetto)? Or is there in Jamaican music a reference to the age-old African, traditional/cultural meaning of “complex balance”, with a place for the mystical and spiritual – or ancestral (as Robert Farris Thompson describes it)? Indeed, reggae is strongly influenced by the Rastafari movement, which of course has mystical and spiritual elements, as well as “ancestral” aspects, being after all an Africa-centered movement.

Several reggae songs are, in fact, titled ‘Mystic Man’, such as by Peter Tosh, and the Ethiopians, referring to the Rastaman as a mystic man. This seems to refer to a related cultural complex to “mystic coolness”, at least partly. The word “cool” itself recurs quite often throughout reggae lyrics. Relatedly, it is found in Jamaican parlance as well. The expression “cool runnings” became especially known because of the movie on a Jamaican bobsled team, and is also found in Bob Marley’s song ‘Blackman Redemption’, and in the song ‘Cool Runnings’ (1981) by Bunny Wailer. In these lyrics this expression has a similar positive meaning as in African American parlance: “cool runnings” means here that everything goes well or smooth.

Several songs – by several artists – have in the lyrics “cool down (your temper)”, referring to “hot foot heads” like certain policemen, criminals, or rude boys wreaking havoc in the community with their violent, aggressive ways. Some lyrics advise Rasta brethren to remain “cool”, and don’t let the system make them crazy, but also to stay true to themselves. The Heptones’ ‘Cool Rasta’ (1976), for instance.

Lyrics can further be mentioned by Jacob Miller (‘Mr Officer’), Gregory Isaacs (‘Mr Cop’), and more literally song titles ‘Cool Down Your/The Temper’ by Linval Thompson, Freddie McGregor, U Roy, Freddie McKay, Jah Stitch, Al Campbell and others (all original songs, by the way, with more or less the same title).

Other titles or lyrics with “cool down” or “just cool”, or “cool it” or “play it cool” in them can of course be named – too much too mention perhaps – generally referring to “cool down” in the sense of: take it easy, not so hot-headed and be calm. A meaning, therefore, comparable to the standard meaning in English of “keep cool”, “control your emotions”, and “have self-control”. Yet, hints of the “African” aesthetic meaning of “complex balance” and “positivity” are present in these lyrics here and there as well, beyond just another way of saying “relax!” or “stay calm”. In fact, it is intertwined with it in some lyrics. Israel Vibration’s ‘Cool and Calm’ is a good example of this. Here “cool” does not just mean: rational or calm, but also “true to oneself” or “in balance”. Something preferably to be continued, or, as stated in the lyrics: “so wi a gwaan”.

The debut single (1967), in the Rocksteady era (label Studio One), by Earl Lowe – later better known as artist Little Roy - was called ‘I am gonna cool it’. Here ‘cool’ means also more than just “keeping calm”. Lowe or Little Roy, by the way, was one of the vocal influences on a young Bob Marley. I mentioned this influence already elsewhere on my blog (but is not well-known).

EASY

The Jamaican term “easy”, likewise has a broader meaning than the same word in standard English. “Easy” approaches “Irie” a bit in meaning in Jamaican linguistic usage. Both “easy” and “Irie” mean “okay”, “nice/good”, or “balanced”, and is used in response to a question like: “How are you doing?” (“easy”, or “Irie”). Comparably, originally among Afro-Surinamese in the Netherlands the expression “rustig” (meaning in Dutch literally “easy” or “calm”) is answered to the same question: “how are you doing?”. This became part of street slang and is now also used in that sense by white Dutch youth, just like white British youth before adopted Jamaican expressions in their street slang..

Several Jamaican reggae lyrics and song tiles thus have ‘Easy’ in that sense, sometimes combined with Nice, as in ‘Nice and Easy’ (a catchy Horace Andy tune). Also ‘Easy’ a fittingly mellow song (from the album with the same title) by Gregory Isaacs can be mentioned.

Here, and in other reggae lyrics, “easy” – like “calm” - gets comparable meanings as “cool”, sometimes more similar to the standard English meaning of “take it easy” (not too fast or busy), but sometimes more “culturally” as a positive, harmonious state of being, showing with this meaning more direct African retentions.

Reggae knows several odes to marijuana, though some artists have these more than others. These include some nice tunes, that even non-smokers might like. Yet, to return to the topic: the expression “Cool collie” (“collie” being a term for marijuana/ganja herb) is mentioned, and is used also a song title. This gives thus a positive connotation through “cool” to the herb and its effects. Hopeton Lewis has a nice, older (Rocksteady) song with this title (‘Cool, cool collie’).

Use of the term “cool” as “positive” or “”nice/good” is also found in the expression “cool operator” in Jamaican reggae, such as in a song of that title by Delroy Wilson (referring to a “cool” girl he fancies).

Of course, it is not unthinkable that the term “cool” in the sense of “nice” or “good” is an influence from Black US music or culture (soul, jazz, hip-hop) to which Jamaica remained exposed throughout. I argue, however, that - independent of this - similar meanings of “cool” are found in Jamaican culture and speech, be it literally “cool” (such as in the expression “cool runnings”), or in related meanings and uses of terms like “easy”, “calm”, or the own term - originally from Rasta speech - “Irie”.

Also, the nickname of the already mentioned artist Gregory Isaacs, the ‘Cool Ruler’, also the name of one of his albums, has “cool” meaning something positive as part of a balance: “ruling” yet “cool”, combining a seeming contradiction, that conveys – as explained before – an African cultural/aesthetic aesthetic, retained in the West. Earlier, Jamaican singer Jackie Edwards also was said to have a “cool” performative side, being in that sense a precursor to Isaacs.

RASTAFARI

The “cool” in these latter cases refers mostly to love or “not-so-spiritual” songs, but the “mystic coolness” can, I opine, also be noticed in Rastafari-inspired reggae music and songs. The stage presence, and natural charisma of several Rastafari reggae artists, including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and others have this mystique, quite literally a “mystic coolness”. They embody it, you can say. Musical “joy”, excitation – even magic -, but at the same time keeping control, keeping cool, a seriousness in bringing the art. That is part of the (African) aesthetics of the cool.

Besides performing artists, also other, true Rastafari adherents tend to convey such “ancestral” mystique in their spiritual and/or “conscious” way of being in daily life. Jamaicans are stereotyped by many as being laid-back, but can be quite temperamental (e.g. in traffic, yelling: “you blocking de road mon!”) – and often living conditions make this temperament understandable - , but even those at times temperamental tend to balance it with some type of “cool”. This balance was also my personal experience with at least part of the Jamaicans, including Rastas, I met and knew in Jamaica itself, when I went there.

Also the main inspirers and personalities of Rastafari seem(ed) to embody this “cool”. Haile Selassie’s biography shows he “kept his cool” in several crucial instances: when Fascist Italians invaded Ethiopia, and shortly after this when Italian delegates at the UN whistled and bullied him when he pleaded for support at the UN head quarters: he remained calm and dignified. This was also the case when other Ethiopians fought against him, before he rose to the throne, and when the Communists forcibly removed him from power in 1975. He could “rise above” such difficult situations and the all-too-human rancour it could provoke, maintaining his cool and control, indeed as a “mystic coolness”.

Marcus Garvey seemed to be known as more temperamental in character, at least partly. He also, however, showed “control” and dignified calm in crucial instances, though not always (he at times got angry when he felt betrayed or belittled and showed this openly, and sometimes not very tactically). Overall, he showed effective and “cool” determination throughout, however, in setting up the first large Black mass organization in the US and elsewhere: the U.N.I.A. Against many odds, you can safely say. He was “intelligent” then, and is that in this sense not also “cool”, after all also defined as “complex balance”?

Besides these activities, Garvey liked to write, and also created artistic works. He even wrote a “pop song”, or “popular song”, in 1925, to bring across his message of Black upliftment. This song was named: ‘Keep Cool’. So we come back to the “cool”, literally.

How did Garvey mean “cool” in this song? The expression “keep cool” is standard English, and Garvey of course grew up in a society that was still British colonial. Indeed, as could be expected, part of the meaning is the standard one: “keep cool” or “stay calm”, as a recommendable response to stress and worries. Yet, there is more to it, noticeable when you look at the entire lyrics of this song written by Marcus Garvey. see: http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.nl/2011/06/keep-cool-by-marcus-mosiah-garvey.html

He indeed opposes “cool” in the lyrics to “hot”, but also associates being “brave” and “true” with the "cool" one should keep, despite troubles. True to oneself, in other words.

The song ‘Give Rasta praise’ (1975) by the Twinkle Brothers refers to the lyrics of this Garvey song/poem. A “cool” song, in more than one way..

Both these cases and life stories, of Selassie and Garvey, furthermore, validate Farris Thompson's description of Black, African "transcedental coolness" being a mental response to racism and oppression.

zaterdag 2 mei 2015

Drums of Defiance : Jamaican Maroon music

The Maroons are descendants of escaped enslaved Africans who went to live in relatively inaccessible, mostly mountainous parts of Jamaica, since the later 17th century. The “power vacuum”, temporarily left when the British captured Jamaica on the Spanish in 1655, partly caused the development of these Maroon communities. With the coming British victory, remaining Spaniards fled to Cuba, mostly leaving their slaves behind: these then took to the mountains, instead of being enslaved by new masters. Plantation slavery intensified strongly under British rule, so much more slaves were imported since then. Some of these could escape to the formed Maroon towns.

There – after some wars – the Maroons could fight the British forces off, who then had no other option than to recognize these Maroon towns’/communities’ autonomy, which was even laid down in treaties granting them land in the 18th c. Thus these Maroons secured their freedom. This is an impressive story of rebellion by Africans who were made slaves, but resisted and fought strongly and wisely against a powerful British army. One Maroon woman, called (Queen or Granny) Nanny, was very brave and successful against the British, and became a legendary, and eventually “national” hero of Jamaica.

The treaties between Maroons and the British in Jamaica were made in the 18th c., at the height of plantation slavery. Most Africans/Blacks in Jamaica were at that time, and well into the 19th c., still enslaved, mostly in a (sugar or coffee) plantation setting.

This history is very interesting and has received quite some scholarly attention. The same applies to comparable Maroons (escaped enslaved Africans), elsewhere in the region: Suriname, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and other territories with relatively inaccessible areas. Geography of course played a role. Maroon communities in Cuba, for instance, developed mainly in the mountainous East (Oriente) of Cuba, for that reason.

MUSIC

Maroons in Jamaica largely retained a relatively pure African culture, with several interesting aspects and dimensions. In this post, however, I will focus on one (important) aspect of Maroon culture in Jamaica: music. Jamaica is of course known for one international genre, called Reggae. It put Jamaica internationally on the map, you can safely say. Especially Bob Marley’s international fame stimulated that since the 1970s, and made it part of common popular music. Granted, reggae is overall still more a niche market than a very commercial one, but it has a wide fan base globally, and specialized markets is a price you have to pay if you want to remain authentic.

Because of Jamaica being the place where the popular music genre reggae originated, around 1968 (following on predecessors ska and rocksteady earlier in the 1960s), I think it is interesting to analyse Jamaican Maroon musical traditions.

RASTAFARI

Another reason is that in Jamaica also the Rastafari movement originated, earlier in history in the 1930s. Also Rastafari spread internationally in a later stage. Rastafari is anticolonial, focussed on the African roots and repatriation, and foregrounds an own African cultural identity against the enforced Western/European one. The same type of rebellious spirit as found among the Maroons, you might say, and symbolic inheritors thereof.

Jamaica is quite a small island, so interchanges among cultures, peoples, and communities seem inevitable, especially in more modern times and with modern means. Indeed the Maroon communities, or “towns”, located in both Western and Eastern parts of Jamaica, got to interact more and more with the rest of rural and urban Jamaica, adopting practices, adapting them, while maintaining those of themselves as well. This interaction increased since the postemancipation period (after slavery), for obvious reasons. Christianity, but also Kumina, a mainly Central African music and dance, and other Afro-Jamaican practices like Pocomania and Burru are found in rural areas as well, also nearby what are known as Maroon towns. Rastafari is also spread throughout Jamaica, as is reggae and other popular music.

How has this all impacted Jamaican Maroon music over time? Is the latter still maintained as a distinctive tradition? The answer is yes. However: it is not realistic to expect that in a small island, with Maroon towns being in this time more accessible, this Maroon music would remain unadulterated or “pristine”. Indeed it has not remained totally isolated or “pure” in that sense.

It is true, notwithstanding, that certain cultural/musical traditions have remained quite pure, and stood the test of time, also within the traditional music of the Jamaican Maroons. There are gradations of this, though.

As a purer “memory” and tradition from Africa, this Maroon culture has inspired some Rastafari adherents in Jamaica, who sought African retentions to counter an enforced, Europeanized identity. This has also happened with musical (drumming) traditions of the mostly Congo-based Kumina traditions in Eastern Jamaica, influencing Nyabinghi drumming patterns of the Rastafari. Burru and Pocomania likewise influenced (hand and trap) drummers in Jamaican popular music like reggae, and this included Rastafari-inspired musicians. The Kete drums used in Rastafari Nyabinghi drumming directly derive from Burru drums, and further back from Akete drum types from what is now Ghana.

Can the same be said of drums that the Jamaican Maroons traditionally use? That they spread to outside, non-Maroon groups in Jamaica? Not so much. One can conclude that the Maroons were able to maintain certain traditions for themselves in their towns and communities, exclusively taking place in the own, “closed” Maroon context.

A look at the most common instruments used among the Jamaican Maroons will prove this point. We can also look at the deeper meanings and structure of music, of course. In that sense Jamaican Maroon music has many direct African retentions, including in the role of different types of drums, and the presence of drum patterns and songs meant to invoke spirits of ancestors, used in spirit possession, alongside “recreational” music, accompanying specific dances and ceremonies.

INVOKING SPIRITS

This ancestor spirit invoking and possession music is the most “secretive” or “exclusive” you might say, most restricted within Maroon communities, also linguistically (an African Akan/Twi-derived language survived among part of the Maroons). Partly this exclusivity within the community might have been prolonged because it was at odds with the strong Christian and Biblical influence in the rest of Jamaica. Even groups who called on Africa, and indeed incorporated several African traditions, such as the Spiritual Baptists, Revival Zion, or many Rastafari, stopped short of the “spirit invoking and possession” music/dance, soon deemed “devilish”, divisive, or backward.

After early experiments and tolerance for such practices among some of the early Rastafari adherents, in time the Bible became a more powerful guide for Rastafari spirituality, albeit in an own way (with some other influences), and with a “Black” or Afrocentric interpretation. This inhibited very tight connections of Rastafari with much Maroon music and beliefs, or for that matter with the parts of Kumina that also deal with ancestor spirits and/or possession. Some cultural or musical aspects were appreciated and copied by Rastas though, such as the mentioned Kumina musical influence on Nyabinghi drumming, There is also a proven influence from Maroon folk medicine on folk medicine by Rastafari. However.. is there also any musical influence of the Maroons on for instance the Rastafari, or vice versa?

Kumina did influence part of the Maroon traditional music, especially in the Maroon towns in Eastern Jamaica where Kumina was also nearer, Kumina being mostly found in the parish of St Thomas (see map). This influence has been documented and proven. This is for instance noticeable in drumming patterns: a typical mid-tempo to fast, rolling “heart beat” rhythm is therefore found in Kumina, as well as in some Maroon music.

Other aspects are shared and similar as well, but relate more to common African roots and general traditions in Africa, continued in different traditions in the West. One can think of the general polyrhythmic and percussive structures, drums with different pitches, with either leading or improvizing or basic, supportive rhythmic roles, the “call-and-response” principle, the custom of naming drums either male or female – with ritual functions -, the importance of “purity” among players of sacred drums or music etcetera etcetera.

MAROON DRUMS AND PERCUSSION

The most common drums among Jamaican Maroons differ a bit across different Maroon towns. In any case, they include the Gumbeh and Printing (also called Grandy). The Gumbeh (or: Goombay) drums have a small, square, table-like form and has a goatskin. It can be considered a bass drum. It most probably has its origin in the Akan (Ghana-area) “Gome” drum, with a similar (if bigger) form, still found in Ghana today. The longer, thin, and cylindrical Aprinting – or Printing - drums are also common. Though the name is similar, the Apinti drum among the Maroons in Suriname is not cylindrical (and broadens in its lower part) and is less tall, though it has a similar tuning method.

Other percussion instruments commonly used among Jamaican Maroons include an instrument made of bamboo hit with sticks – called Kwat -, and a metal piece of percussion. Also used are wind instruments, most notably the Abeng, made from cowhorn. The Abeng is a sort of “national instrument” of the Jamaican Maroons, and has a strong sound. The Abeng horn was used also in the wars with the British, to communicate across long distances and across the mountains. The Abeng has essentially two pitches (tones), but was creatively used to communicate even complex messages. Pitch is changed of the Abeng through the use of the thumb.

The Maroons in Moore Town (parish of Portland) mostly use(d) the Printing drums, while other Eastern Maroons, such as in Charles Town or Scott’s Hall, also use the Gumbeh frame drum, also found in the Western Maroon town of Accompong, generally combined with the Aprinting/Grandy type drums.

Though the Printing drum has to a degree some similarities with the Kete drums used for Nyabinghi (and Burru), the use of either the Gumbeh and Printing drums in strictly Rastafari contexts has not been reported very much, although there are Rastafari-led percussion groups in Jamaica that play on occasion also these and other African drums.

The (Burru/Nyabinghi) Kete drums, but also Afro-Cuban or internationally better known percussion instruments such as the Conga, the Bongos, the Guiro, or the Djembe, have been used by session percussionists in reggae (Scully, Bongo Herman, Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, Sticky, Sky Juice, and others), and are still regularly used by younger percussionists. The more experimental among these percussionists also use specific African or Afro-Jamaican drums that are less known. It seems to fit well with the African, culturally rebellious focus of especially Rastafari-influenced reggae.

I would love to give you some examples of reggae songs with the Gumbeh or Printing used as part of the percussion, but this is unfortunately difficult to research. In liner notes of reggae albums, in most cases is just mentioned: ‘Percussion by…’ etc. (then names: Bongo Herman, Sticky, Scully or others), with rarely more specifications. There are some exceptions of more specific information given (beyond just: “percussion(s)”), such as the sleeve notes for Israel Vibrations’ song ‘Mighty Negus’ (on their 1996 album Free To Move), that percussionist Sky Juice uses a talking drum on it, while another plays the Ket(t)e drums, on this Nyabinghi-based song.

Written down in sleeve notes or not, it is in any case known and documented that several well-known percussionists in Jamaican reggae use different type of drums (beyond the more common Kete, Conga or Bongos), also to broaden their range. Maroon instruments might just be among them, even if Maroon communities long remained relatively somewhat “closed” from Jamaican society. Maroon culture has in any case “symbolic” power, one can say, also for Rastafari adherents.

DRUMS OF DEFIANCE ALBUM

Thus contextualized, it would be interesting, to further discuss, or “review”, an album or CD I have, which assembles Maroon music from several Jamaican Maroon towns. It is called ’Drums of Defiance : Maroon music from the earliest Free Black communities of Jamaica’, and was released in 1992. The music fragments on it are collected by ethnomusicologist Kenneth Bilby.

In an earlier post on this blog (August 2013) I discussed/reviewed a broader Jamaican “folk music” CD, called: ‘Jamaica Folk Trace Possession’ (2013), see here. This had a similar scholarly, anthropological focus as this ‘Drums of Defiance’ one, including also many “excerpts” or “field recordings”. It included examples of several older Afro-Jamaican folk music, but had no examples of Maroon music: this “Drums of Defiance’ album thus fills that void, you might say.

Sound quality is hereby not perfect: it involves music in a certain social or ritual context, that happened to be recorded: it was not popular or commercial music, perfected in a studio according to certain norms, for the market. The same applies to this CD on Jamaican Maroon music. The sound quality is mediocre, and many “songs” (or excerpts) last only about a minute. These are mainly meant to give impressions of different styles and variations within Maroon music. Subgenres you might say.

See: http://www.folkways.si.edu/drums-of-defiance-maroon-music-from-the-earliest-free-black-communities-of-jamaica/caribbean-world/album/smithsonian

The recordings were made in the period 1977-1978. Most of these in Moore Town, a town in Eastern Jamaica where relatively more Maroon musical traditions continued to be practiced, at that time, while being a bit less present in the other towns known as Maroon towns. Musicians of traditional Maroon music could be found in these other towns, but often had to be specifically sought and gathered. Traditions were perhaps not dead, but dormant, and hopefully not dying.. Other recordings were made during actual community ceremonies (public or private).

The liner notes are a bit general but good, explaining well main types of Maroon music and their cultural context, based on research by Kenneth Bilby. Bilby studied and wrote about other Jamaican percussion traditions as well, including a very interesting study of the influence of African and Afro-Jamaican (Burru and other) hand drum traditions on percussion and percussionists in reggae like Bongo Herman and Sticky. Kenneth Bilby has also done some very insightful research of Maroons elsewhere, namely in Suriname, and other comparative research.

The liner notes, and the names Maroons themselves give to songs and genres within their music, are very instructive as well. The Kromanti dance ritual – involving spirit possession through dance – is the most serious as well as exclusive, as non-Maroons are (safe exceptions) not allowed at these Kromanti dances.

While “Kromanti” refers to Ghana (or: “Gold Coast”) and Akan-speaking slaves (also: Coromantee) etymologically, and also other terms I mentioned point at Akan or related Akan Fanti/Ashanti roots, it is too simplistic to conclude that these Maroons descend only from slaves brought from what is now Ghana or from Akan/Twi-speaking areas. A common misconception is, by the way, that most Jamaicans descend from slaves brought from the Ghana/Gold Coast area. A similar misconception I found among Afro-Surinamese people, by the way. In reality, African slaves in Jamaica came from several parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

It is true, however, that Akan-speaking, Coromantee, Fanti, Ashanti and related groups, were a large part of the slaves brought to Jamaica, but not a large majority. It is studied, and documented that probably about 45% of Africans brought to Jamaica were from the Ghana region, so not even a majority or about half, though it was the largest among ethnic groups. A similar proportion applies in Suriname, by the way. Quite some slaves ending up in Jamaica further came from the Igbo area (now Southeast-Nigeria), from Central Africa (Congo and Angola) – the latter Bantu-speaking Africans estimated at about 20% of the total, and further from Ewe-speaking areas (around what is now Benin and Togo), or from the Senegambia and Guinea region and elsewhere.

There is a strong Akan/Ghana influence on the Maroons in Jamaica – also linguistically -, and the Gumbeh drum is almost certainly a cousin to the Ghanaian Gome, as I already explained, but influences from other parts of Africa are found in Maroon culture as well. Besides from the ethnicities I mentioned, some historians also point at Yoruba (an ethnic group in what is now SW Nigeria and Benin) influences among Jamaican Maroons. The Maroons were slaves that escaped the slave-based plantations, and they came from different African ethnic groups, of course not only specific ethnic groups thought about escaping such a dehumanizing and oppressive system.

The Jamaican Maroons themselves recognize all this as much, in naming specific dances and songs after different African ethnicities. This is the case with specific Kromanti pieces meant to invoke ancestor spirits from specific ethnicities or parts of Africa. These are named by Maroons themselves Kromanti, Papa (referring to Ewe-speaking groups), Ibo (Igbo), and Mandinga (ethnic area around Sierra Leone).

According to the anthropologists/ethnomusicologists, however, this does not mean that a specific Kromanti piece called, say, Mandinga, has actual direct roots in music from Mandinga-speaking parts of Africa. It is a partly symbolic designation, combined with own creative interpretations by musicians, with Mandinga but also other African influences. African musical cultures thus were most probably mixed, and reworked in an artistic way.

Lighter, recreational forms of Maroon music are called Jawbone, while “Tambu” refers to Maroon music showing Kumina influences, as I mentioned before. Examples of all these genres and types are found on this CD/album.

The CD includes examples of both the Windward and Leeward Maroon towns mentioned: especially Moore Town, but also Charles Town, Scott’s Hall, and in Western Jamaica: Accompong. The latter has similarities, but also differences with the Eastern Jamaican Maroons. Spirit invoking is for instance different among Accompong Maroons, the latter paying more attention to funerals and burials. Another aspect, by the way, which many Rastafari eschew: funerals are by many Rastas criticized for impurely celebrating death, a disdain with also origins in the Bible (Levitical code, Nazarene Vow). Besides this, musically and culturally there are further many similarities of the Accompong with the Moore Town and other Maroons.

Apart from the explanatory liner notes, the CD “songs” and excerpts are interesting to listen to in and by themselves. Some background information helps with such a scholarly or intellectual focus though. I can get “in the groove” easily even with complex, drum-based music, but more knowledge about it adds to the experience. At least for me.

In the liner notes it is pointed out that certain types of songs among Maroons have a constant pulse throughout, while others are more “talking drum”-like, mimicking speech, and therefore have more meandering and varying rhythms.

The Maroons refer to a basic rhythm or pulse - mostly by the mentioned Printing drums - as “rolling”, while “answers” and variations on it are called “passing”. The latter “passing” rhythms are often by the lead drums: Gumbeh or other Printing drums or other percussion instruments. Crucially, these separate rhythms “interlock”, as common in the African polyrhythmic tradition.

The examples from Tambu (Kumina-influenced) are dynamic and show clear echoes of the “fast heart beat” rhythm found in Kumina. Jawbone and Kromanti examples often sound just as nice. The Aprinting drum also has an in my opinion a nice, “round” and deep sound.. This drum’s skin diameter is comparatively small (10 inches or less), but it has a “long” shape, affecting of course its sound, making its pitch somewhat lower and deeper than one might expect. Players of it on these excerpts play well and creative. I thus surely “got in the groove” – despite the mediocre sound quality and often short fragments - , even on the songs said to have less of a “constant pulse”. Most songs are certainly danceable, and I liked for instance some of the Ibo songs, and some of the Mandinga songs, while the opening Tambu song is very catchy, also because of the singing.

The Kwat (kind of a bamboo block) or metal percussion further add interesting support – or counter-rhythms - to the whole. The Gumbeh is heard a bit less through all these examples than the Printing, but the Gumbeh drum is also included in several examples, and sounds good and well-played too. The Gumbeh sounds a bit “clearer”, when compared to the Printing/Grandy. The Abeng also appears now and then, and this cowhorn adds a distinctive, atmospheric feel to the music. With the Abeng sound it reminded me (superficially) a bit of the Haitian Rara tradition, also including drums and horns (albeit in Haitian Rara mostly cylindrical bamboo or metal trumpets).

VOCALS

What I further found very appealing were the vocals. Characteristically sub-Saharan call-and-response singing, with a solo singer (often a male, though not always), alternated/answered by group singing by mostly females. Linguistically, variants of Creoles or African/Akan-derived languages are spoken/sung, and I often did not understand what is being sung. Parts I understood from my knowledge of Jamaican Creole (“wah mi gwine do?”, in standard English: “what am I going to do?”). Titles and liner note explanations further gave me clues.

It sounded nice and catchy though: both groovy and atmospheric, as all good call-and-response singing. That the female voices often provide the “choir” or “response” part of these vocals is interesting. In African music this is quite common, and in some areas of Africa traditionally the norm, but in the Jamaican context it has another dimension. In reggae music for instance, as in other Black popular music genres, call-and-response recurs as African retention, but in a modern form. With some differences though: the “response” choir vocals are in e.g. reggae, and other popular genres, often also by men. This reflects the fact that the “commercial music” scene (White or Black music, by the way) in the Western world, is a male-dominated industry. Reggae also to a large degree.

Call-and-response and harmony vocals in reggae (or in soul, salsa, kaseko, and other African Diaspora music genres) are not always less-beautiful or nice because of this, but it is a bit of a change. Not that male (or mixed!) “response” choir vocals are absent in traditional African music, it was present, but female ones (contrasting male “call” vocals) are overall more common. This is indeed also the case in this Maroon music: in it you will therefore hear many female voices singing. Even this aspect, “gender”, adds a nice touch, haha.

Likewise in Reggae, female background vocals do also occur, as well as mixed groups. Bob Marley and the Wailers had of course the female I-Threes as backing singers. Several albums by other artists, like Culture, the Congos, or Burning Spear, include(d) one or more female background singers (often alongside males), while several artists also have mainly female backing singers, also in the more recent New Roots subgenre (Sizzla, Luciano, Tarrus Riley, Jesse Royal etcetera).

It was however stated, by some writers, that the choice of the female ‘I-Threes’ backing singers of Bob Marley and the Wailers, was an adaptation to Western, European tastes. That can be disputed, I think, in light of what I described above: the important (choir) vocal role of women in traditional African music, and in relatively pure African-based music, such as by the Maroons.

The CD ends with a Nyabinghi medley. This Rastafari drumming had apparently by then acquired a place in Accompong, the Maroon town. Already then (this was recorded in the late 1970s), the Rastafari had influenced Maroon communities. Indeed, history shows that over time also many people in Maroon families in Jamaica became adherents of the Rastafari movement. Interestingly, the Accompong Nyabinghi players do not use the usual Kete drums for it. This can be heard, as the drum patterns (heart beat, varying Repeater etcetera) are typically Nyabinghi, and the chosen songs “classic” Nyabinghi songs ('Never Get Weary', 'New Name' a.o.), but the drums sound is quite different from common Nyabinghi:. Here you hear the sound of the Maroon drums Gumbeh and Printing, sounding a bit less ”sharp” than the commonly used Ketes. It gives, however, this Nyabinghi example on the album something unique, as also do certain Repeater patterns varying around the “heart beat” rhythm. These specific patterns probably reflect the Maroon music’s much more polyrhythmic structure (when compared to the somewhat more singular/linear Nyabinghi rhythms).

CONCLUSION

The recordings of the ‘Drums of Defiance’ album were as said all made in the years 1977 and 1978, and much may have changed since then. It seems probable, though, in light of the past cultural resiliency, that many of these Jamaican Maroon musical and other traditions are still maintained even today, in 2015. Even if partly evolved (as most cultures do).

The influence of Rastafari, reggae, and other Jamaican cultural expressions, on Maroons has increased since the 1970s. That is documented and proven. Some aspects of Maroon culture remained “closed” to outsiders (Kromanti spiritual dance/music, notably), inhibiting perhaps it spreading or influencing other Jamaican expressions, although such influence on non-Maroon Jamaican expressions can somehow still have occurred: in the percussion aspects of reggae music for example: just like Nyabinghi drumming included Burru and Kumina influences (and Nyabinghi in turn influenced reggae).

Reggae is of course in its origins influenced by traditional African music - as all Black music at least partly is. In addition, more direct African musical influences have always entered reggae (or ska and rocksteady) music since the 1960s, through percussion and otherwise, noticeable more directly in certain songs, think for instance of the percussive song ‘Congo Man’ by the Congos, and these might in cases well be influenced by “purer African” music retained among the Maroons, alongside influences from Burru and Kumina. In fact, this song ‘Congo Man’ by the Congos - on their 1977 Heart of the Congos album - reminded me of some Jamaican Maroon music on this album, and might well be influenced by it.

Either way, the symbolic importance of Maroons escaping from and resisting slavery is often expressed by Rastafari-inspired reggae artists, as noticeable in several reggae lyrics, mentioning Queen Nanny for instance.

As could be guessed, the entire album ‘Drums of Defiance’ can be found on YouTube as well, albeit without the informative liner notes (these can be downloaden on the earler link I gave). The video underneath (on the Traditional Music Channel on YouTube) is in fact this whole album I just discussed, and opens (as said) with the Kumina-influenced Tambu music by Jamaican Maroons in Moore Town, continuing then with recreational Jawbone, spiritual Kromanti, and other examples, also from other Maroon towns. It ends in Accompong, and the very final part (after about one hour) is the mentioned Nyabinghi medley in an own “Accompong Maroon” way..

donderdag 2 april 2015

Commenting on the "rude boy phenomenon"

I am not a big fan of Hollywood movies. Overall, I find most commercialised “blockbuster” movies from the Hollywood quarters too superficial, unintelligent, stereotypical, simplistic, and even unrealistic. Many are violent or simply immoral. This is not to say that I never find a Hollywood movie to be somehow entertaining, and in a more indirect way even “educational”. Perhaps educational in the sense of “learning from your mistakes”, but still educational. Some rare Hollywood movies/film go somewhere beyond bad taste or superficiality. For example, in my opinion the movie ‘Philadelphia’ (with among others Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington) was such a positive, “deeper” exception.

FOCUS

A recent (2015) US Hollywood movie/film I saw in the cinema was ‘(Never Lose) Focus’, featuring among others Will Smith. The film was entertaining, helped perhaps - as so often - by overwhelming imagery, and by the presence of humour. It had, however, many of the main flaws I mentioned concerning Hollywood movies: it was superficial, immoral, and probably unrealistic. It was a movie about a group of “smart” criminals and thieves, using many cunning tricks to rob money from all kinds of people (no, not only the rich). Definitely not original this theme, and I am afraid that in this romanticizing, clear echoes of Quentin Tarantino’s movies show. I find Tarantino as a filmmaker – despite his hip “cult status” – overrated.

There is a danger in this that has of course been acknowledged before. The movie ‘Focus’ conveyed as main message that “weakness”, apparently defined as being unfocussed – or in turn too attached - emphatic or emotional, had to be punished and profited from. In short, the basic, cynical, criminal logic: weakness leads to victimization. This message might influence life style choices by young, susceptible people who search a solution but lack a solid moral grounding, intelligence, or empathy. Like I said, this has been acknowledged and commented enough in the past, also academically. It has been exaggerated perhaps by some, or criticized selectively with own agendas, but I am afraid such spectacular, if cynical and “criminality romanticizing” movies do influence people toward wrong life choices. Probably many people seeing such movies are intelligent and moral enough to put all this in perspective, but many others are – I think – not.

The same applies of course to the much-criticized “gangsta rap/hip-hop” and the values this seems to promote. I recognize that there is also a danger of “bad influence”, but not less than Hollywood or Tarantino films, I argue. The only added psychological risk is that the “racial underdog” image of this type of hip-hoppers who happen to be black, attract copying by vulnerable (racial/ethnic) “outsider” groups who, for lacking proper moral and social guides, get taken away by this commercialized hip-hip presenting (like Tarantino) crime as a “cool” way of life.

The risks involved in a life of crime – being punishable by law, having to hide etcetera – are a deterrent, but some have not much to lose, or lack other options in life. Some people are more easily influenced by media images and portrayals than others, of course. Even if in such movies, criminals kill, fool, or act violent toward each other, the life style portrayed is one of suspense, spectacular parties, wild and rough sex, instant satisfaction, and fun. All part of the illusive life and false pretence criminals prefer to create around them, perhaps to cloud their shame and guilty conscience. This was also the case in the movie ‘Focus’.

RUDE BOY

It was also the case in another movie I saw on criminality called ‘Rude Boy : the Jamaican Don’, somewhat older, from 2003. This film portrayed Jamaicans and was set in the US and Jamaica, and featured appearances of some musical artists (Beenie Man, Marcia Griffiths, Jimmy Cliff, and Ninja Man). The leading part was by an actor who I have seen before, called Mark Danvers. Danvers seems to be a fine actor and also has I think a nice, expressive face, which might help.

JAMAICAN FILM GENRES

Meanwhile (let’s say the last two decades) there has developed a whole subgenre of Jamaican or Jamaican-set movies involving criminal life, mostly through the plot of a criminal working himself up in the gangster hierarchy. Movies like ‘Kingston 12’, ‘Garrison’, and ‘Third World Cop’ all deal with criminality and are (more than the ‘Rude Boy’ movie) set in Jamaica itself. They mostly are entertaining, although some seem to be aimed more at the international market, than others (spoken only in Jamaican Patois/Creole). ‘Third World Cop’ - internationally marketed - is for instance worth a watch (it’s on YouTube). It’s probably from his role in 'Third World Cop' that I remember the mentioned Mark Danvers from. There are –admittedly – what some might call “B-movies” among these Jamaican “crime” movies, but also several better or okay ones. A sub-sub genre of this genre are movies involving also Jamaican migrants in the US. That Jamaica is a country with relatively much violent (gang-related) crime makes this – one might argue – realistic, but I ask then: what is the causal relation?

Typically Jamaican developments also find their ways to movies/films. The mixture of partisan politics and crime and violence is one such aspect: political parties JLP and PNP funded (and armed) supporters to “control” certain areas, such as downtown “ghetto” areas of Kingston. This was meant to secure patronage – financial dependency on policians – as well as to ensure votes and loyalty from areas. This is enforced by gangs aligned with certain parties. Eventually, some of these “Dons” (criminal leaders) became more powerful than politicians, or even “the state” in certain parts of Kingston, though political patronage remained.

This following opinion might come close to sacrilege, according to some, but I will state it anyway: I find the first internationally known and much heralded 1972 Jamaican movie ‘The Harder They Come’ – with a young Jimmy Cliff as main actor - not so good or “classic”, as many claim. It was nice and entertaining - the plot was clear, the acting not bad, and the imagery nice-, but in it was my opinion too superficial to be really impressive. I commented before (I believe on this same blog) that one of its messages - or at least what the plot expressed – that an aspiring singer/musician became more interesting because he had become a gunman killing people, is simply immoral. In reality, I found the sound track of ‘The Harder They Come’ – with the “title track” and the good, emotive song ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, both by Cliff, better and more enduring than the movie itself.

EXPLANATIONS

In many Hollywood and other films/movies for a long time now (since the time of Western movies), the cheap thrill of an entertaining movie with suspense and spectacle and a clear plot and story, has taken precedence over sociological explanations of crime or violence in the same film.

Overall, Hollywood (including Tarantino) is in this case even worse than that Jamaican subgenre of “crime movies”. In Jamaican films, such social backgrounds of ghetto life and deprivation and exclusion – stimulating crime – are often at least hinted at, albeit seldom very “deep” or philosophical. In that sense ‘The Harder They Come’ reflected a reality: people from rural areas go reside in poor ghettos of Jamaica’s capital, but do not make it as they hoped, and turn somewhat cynical (and criminal). Disillusioned youths turning to antisocial behaviour, or simply crime, is a common fact in Jamaican (and indeed worldwide) history.

RUDE BOYS AND JAMAICAN POPULAR MUSIC

The aforementioned movie from 2003 was named ‘Rude Boy (the Jamaican Don)’. The slang term ‘Rude Boy’ has a longer history in Jamaica, as does the term “Don” for a gang leader of the subtitle. The term “Rude Boy” for an unruly, or delinquent, youth goes back to at least the early 1960s in Jamaica. Songs in the Jamaican music genres Ska (which arose around 1960) and Rocksteady (around 1966) attest to this. The next Jamaican genre that developed from these earlier ones, Reggae, continue the discussion of the “Rude Boy” phenomenon in many of its lyrics. .

Interestingly, and many more knowledgeable of Jamaican music already know this, this commenting of “Rude Boys” is often critical of these criminals and criminality. It is true that there are also “glorifying” and “romanticizing” lyrics regarding crime and rude boys (also called “rudies” or “bad boys”), but the balance tends toward critique of it and them. Positively, this critique of rude boys at least points at the presence of a solid, moral and humanitarian foundation in Jamaican culture. Criminals in high and low places – including those with a “criminal mentality” in powerful places – are often specialized in intimidation, manipulation, and power play, and can therefore be more influential in a society. Both intimidation and manipulation (or “lying”) are part and parcel of the criminal life style. Without exception, I would say. Somewhat simplified I can state it like this: not everyone who once in a while lies is by definition a criminal..but all criminals lie commonly. To the people around them, and also to themselves. They also tend to be specialized in manipulating the truth.

This is what I noticed in the ‘Rude Boy’ movie I mentioned before, and likewise in other such Jamaican films on criminals. Rastafari-derived imagery and terminology is used in Rude Boy and other movies, also by people involved in a criminal, gangster life style. This is evidently hypocritical and false. I personally object to it too, and find it immoral.

JAMAICAN SOCIAL CONTEXT

Still.. There is a deeper sociological layer behind this which is worth to delve into. I am talking about the specific Jamaican social context. Now and historically. The choice for a criminal life style is often related to degrees of poverty and exclusion. This makes sense, though of course not in an absolute sense. There are correlations though. If one could earn enough money (through some regular job) to live well, without having to be calculatedly violent against people, or hide from the police and other criminals, many would not turn to crime. That is self-evident.

The popular music genres that originated in Jamaica – Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae (the latter existing since about 1968) – are interesting lyrically in this regard. I argue that where there is a lack of “depth” and analysis in Hollywood (and some Jamaican) film portrayals of criminals and criminality, in Jamaican music lyrics the contrary is true: crimes and criminality are analyzed with depth throughout the several lyrics. This is helped by the fact that in Jamaican music genres, lyrics tend to be topical and socially conscious, unlike genres focussed lyrically mainly on love, parties, or sex.

Jamaican popular music developed especially among the poorer part of people in the ghettos of Jamaica. In Kingston, but with rural influences: many musicians settled in Kingston ghetto’s from rural parts of Jamaica. Not just musicians, of course. The migration from impoverished rural areas to main cities is a worldwide phenomenon, being more intensive and enduring in developing countries like Jamaica. These migrants sought opportunities for work, and many got disillusioned over time with “mainstream” economy and working as labourer in companies, often lacking stable incomes, or ending up unemployed. This context – or you might say: vacuum – is an intensive and multidimensional one, albeit ruled by despair. Life choices then become more urgent and significant, directly connected with human dignity and survival. There are less “positive progress” possibilities in such a context. Out of pain comes the best art; it is in this disadvantaged “ghetto” context that Jamaica’s music originated and developed creatively, with all its versatility. It is in this same context, that Rastafari provided a moral and spiritual, righteous answer to life’s problems and limitations. Yet, sadly, it also is the same context in which popular crime and violence increased.

The good and bad are thus intertwined or at least close to each other, and this has several dimensions. One is a confusing one: sharing a context/situation, but different life choices. On the other hand, exactly this contradiction improves a genuine and veracious analysis of crime as phenomenon. Better, arguably, than some scholars with a middle-class status who grew up in a family and neighbourhood with likewise a middle-class status, and for whom crime is “something far away from them”, no matter how much “field work” or study partly compensates this.

JAMAICAN LYRICS ON CRIME

The interesting question I try to answer in the remainder of this post is this one: what do Jamaican music lyrics (Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae) say about crime and criminals among common people in (this case) Jamaica, and what does this teach us external studies cannot?

SKA

Ska arose as one of the first “own” music genres developed and originated by Jamaicans themselves around 1960. There were political changes then that promised social changes: Jamaica became independent of Britain in 1962. This lead to optimism among many common people, including a more assertive presentation of identity. Ska was part of that, and expressed this “joy” more or less in its musical and dance characteristics, especially “Early Ska”. As social inequality however remained, and a new, local elite largely took over from the British, this optimistic feeling largely waned over time. Unruly and criminal youth, despair and violence in poor areas all came to the fore, appearing also in lyrics. The Rude Boys were perhaps a nuisance but were at least part of the common, poorer folks, some artists reasoned. This includes the Wailers who wrote some more or less “apologetic” lyrics about “Rudies” too long in jail, although the first big Wailers hit, ‘Simmer Down’ (1964) warned the Rude Boys also to beware and not disturb anymore.

Another artist starting in the Ska era, the legendary Alton Ellis, objected to this defending of violent Rudies by the Wailers and others. Apparently he found this to be immoral, and advised the Rude Boys to leave violence and criminality and pursue other life choices, boxer, preacher etcetera. Titles of fine Alton Ellis songs like ‘Dance Crasher’ (1965), ‘Don’t Trouble People’ (1966), or ‘Cry Tough’ (1966) say enough. These are musically great “Late” Ska songs, a bit slower and “bluesier” than earlier Ska. I also like Ellis’s soulful singing, of course. .

Stranger Cole’s ‘Rough and Tough” (1963) is known as one of the earliest released, critical lyrics on rude boys in Jamaican popular music, dated 1963.

Other artists like Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, the Rulers, and Derrick Morgan wrote in this period also about “rude boys” (continuing partly in the following Rocksteady and Reggae periods), mostly – but not always – critically. Another nice, later example of lyrics criticizing crime is Bob Andy’s soulful, “Late Ska” of ‘Crime Don’t Pay’ (1966), in which “Rudie” is rhymed with “cops might get moody”..

ROCKSTEADY

Later that decade, around 1966, another, slower genre developed from Ska, called Rocksteady, after a transition period. By 1966 the Rude Boy has become a common phenomenon among youth in Jamaica, and became part of the music audience, according to some even shaping tastes. Celebratory, noncritical songs and lyrics were also made and released by artists like Prince Buster targeting (and thus positive) about the Rudie market and audience. Also Desmond Dekker, the Clarendonians, the Pioneers, the Rulers and others had such apparently less-than-critical songs on the Rudie culture (albeit not always explicitly), with a title like ‘Hard Man Fe Dead’ (Prince Buster) showing this kind of rude boy bravado.

Again, this shows that the rude boys belong to the same social (under)class as most of these musicians: both the uncritical identification, as the “fatherly” or “motherly” advise and critique combined with care as one has toward siblings. Either way, criminal and violent youth in a community affect that community most: wealthier people have means and ways to protect and remove themselves from this annoyance. Unfortunately, a common strain in human history is that “crime” and “criminality” (with differing definitions at times) is used by such elite classes to keep lower classes in their place. Jamaican musicians mostly criticize from a lower position, as likewise victims of the system, but prefer to act wiser and more moral when compared to the violent rude boys. Some artists wrote both celebratory and (later) critical songs on rude boys.

One of the first songs in the Rocksteady genre (that title is contested) is by Derrick Morgan, the groovy, catchy song ‘Tougher Than Tough (Rudie in court)’ (1966). Its lyrics seem to defend the rude boys, but Morgan later explained that such positive lyrics were “forced or intimidated out of him” by one notorious gangster or rude boy. Ironically yet tellingly, this particular gangster Morgan wrote the song for, could hear the song played in the dance once, but soon after was shot to death in a dispute.

Several “reggae historians” point out that the rude boys influenced the development toward Rocksteady as a slower, more “cool” music genre. I heard other explanations as well: Rocksteady developed in a studio, strictly among musicians experimenting with slowing down Ska. Another contender for first Rocksteady song, and also a nice one, is Hopeton Lewis’s ‘Take It Easy’ (1966), who attributes this songs then unusual characteristics to music studio experiments, and thus not rude boy demands.

Other sources claim that increased violence in Jamaica, persisting poverty, and disillusion with progress even after independence, changed the musical mood from “joyous” to “reflective” or “sadder”, which sounds plausible to me. This is, I think, one of the explanations, but perhaps the rude boy audiences and tastes and – on the other hand - musicians innovating also had influences. Truth is not always one-dimensional. Besides, explaining the slower Rocksteady beat through rude boy tastes also puzzles me a bit. Are criminals or gangster inclined to “slower” music? I doubt that for some reason.

Still, in the by the way very readable and educational guide to Reggae music (which is much more than a annotated discography) called ‘The Rough Guide to Reggae’ by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton (published 2001) the authors go as far to term “Rude Boy music” as an influential subgenre in the period between Ska and Rocksteady, pointing also at a generational issue, as Ska for some youth had something “adult” in some way. I myself however still insist that Rocksteady originated from different influences, not just rude boys.

Critique of gangsters and rude boys continued in many Rocksteady lyrics – besides love and socially themed songs of course – although there continued to be some celebrating of them as well.

REGGAE

Around 1968 Reggae music developed from Rocksteady, also due to a combination of social and musical influences. Early Reggae from the period 1968 to around 1972 was faster than later reggae. Some “reggae historians” point out that in the transitional period between the end of Rocksteady and Early Reggae a more “pro-Rudie” feel was expressed in songs, probably due to the faster pace reggae had . Reggae was initially even faster than Rocksteady. Later reggae slowed down, and became (lyrically) relatively more spiritual and socially conscious.

Another readable and educational – but broader and more chaotic – guide to ‘Reggae & Caribbean music’ by Dave Thompson (2002) also points at an influence of rude boys on developing rocksteady, but also discusses “Rude Reggae” as part of the faster, Early Reggae, before increased Rastafari influence in the 1970s. The other work I mentioned, by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton, and this one also discuss Skinhead Reggae, referring to reggae’s internationalization in Britain. In some way the violent and aggressive “skinheads” can be seen as white, British versions of Jamaican rudeboys, perhaps they copied it, who knows. Skinheads became known as racist and anti-immigrant as well, although this is disputed and applies according to some skinheads only to certain subgroups: other skinhead subcultures in parts of Britain were multiracial, with white and black Britons socializing.

Apparently, the slower tempo, but also the increasing influence of Rastafari, Black nationalism, social critique, and spirituality of later reggae, since around 1973 – known also as Roots Reggae – were not appreciated by most skinheads. I imagine that in Jamaica itself a similar social process occurred, at least among a part of the music audiences and lovers. Rastafari represented a worldview aimed at moral Black upliftment, including spirituality. This was against – an antidote you might say – immoral crime, wickedness among Jamaican people, as criminals victimizing their own people only (at the end) support the oppressive “Babylon” system, ultimately based on violence as well. Justice and law were criticized by some Rastas for anti-marijuana laws or discrimination or unjust persecution of poor ghetto youth, but murderers, rapists, thieves and others attacking (also for political/partisan reasons) and abusing members of their own community were criticized strongly by Rastafari-inspired Reggae artists.

Many, many lyrics of course attest to this of virtually all reggae icons. This shows that crime, gangs, and violence were common problems in poverty-ridden areas of suffering, excluded people in Jamaican ghetto’s. Rastafari provided a better "answer" and identity (based on Black pride) according to these artists and other Rastafari-adherents. This was from the perspective of people from the same poor community thus affected by it, again: not by politicians or others powers that be, using the presence of crime in poor areas as divisive or oppressive mechanism.

I can give examples of reggae lyrics criticizing criminality and criminal ways of life, but in reality there are too many to mention. Some have “Rude Boy” in the title, a term that has proved to be enduring. The recent “club favourite” (at least in clubs I frequent here in the Netherlands) ‘Rude Boy Shufflin’ (1995) by Israel Vibration being a recent example, as is Don Carlos’s 2010 but rootsy song ‘Rude Boy’ (from the album Changes), Culture’s ‘Cousin Rude Boy’ (from the 1989 album Good Things) and Bushman’s (dancehall) songs ‘Rude Boy Life’ (on Bushman's 1996 album Nyah Man Chant), and ‘Rude Boy’.

The term Rude Boy or Bad Man, or broader “bad mind” or “wicked” people, is mentioned throughout much of 1970s and 1980s Roots Reggae, as I said: too many to mention. “Wolves in sheep clothing”, who live as criminals but have taken on Rasta imagery are also understandably vilified. That one wants to join a movement without proper knowledge is odd, that one does not show it too much in one’s life style (working for the system, no dietary restrictions) is a pity and superficial, but false Rastas “fighting against their own brethren and sistren” (stealing, warring and otherwise) are even worse.

Ghetto life and criminality all recur throughout these Roots Reggae lyrics as part of the common social critique in it, crucially: “from within”. It is here that the deeper “wisdom” lies of Roots Reggae lyrics on rude boys and criminality and gangsters, be it by Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Wailing Souls, Culture, Hugh Mundell, Dennis Brown, Bunny Wailer, Israel Vibration, Black Uhuru, Horace Andy, Twinkle Brothers, Junior Delgado, the Mighty Diamonds, the Itals, Mutabaruka, Ini Kamoze or any other reggae icons: “who lives it knows it”.

I can name some classic songs I liked on this theme, but there are so many that an explanatory “bird view” seemed more appropriate. Alright, I’ll name a few: ‘General Penitentiary’ by Black Uhuru, the beautiful 'Are We A Warrior' by Ijahman Levi, ‘Lift Up Your Conscience’ by Israel Vibration, ‘Why Me Black Brother Why?’ by the Mighty Diamonds, or less well-known, Gregory Isaacs’ ‘Way Of Life’, are examples from 1970s and early 1980s Roots Reggae that self-respecting reggae fans should at least know, but these are but examples of many, and I probably still forgot some crucial ones.

These lyrics mostly depict ghetto life, and therefore recur in the lyrics of most Roots Reggae artists, alongside more spiritual and “international” or historical themes (that of course are all interrelated).

Lyrically interesting are in this regard, besides singers and groups, certainly songs by ”conscious” rhythmic vocalizing (“chatting”) “toasters” and dee-jay’s like Big Youth, I-Roy, Jah Stitch, Prince Fari and others.

The extent and form of violence and criminality even increased in severity in the 1980s and 1990s, especially related to gangs with power in certain quarters, aided by political patronage and active in the international cocaine trade, being much more violent and extreme than the ganja/marijuana trade longer common in Jamaica. Of course these changes in social reality reflected in lyrics of musical artists, but Jamaica’s music kept evolving and changing as well.

DANCEHALL AND NEW ROOTS

The earlier 1980s was the period of Early Dancehall – with still much Roots Reggae influences - , and after 1984 Digital Dancehall arose, and the reworking of existing instrumentals/riddims (out of economic restrictions) became more common. These are all musical changes, but lyrically comments on crime and ghetto life continued by some artists, but in this regard came also changes.

Roots Reggae artists, or often Rastafari-inspired artists in later Dancehall, since the 1980s, were as said critical of crime and criminals troubling people of their own community and therefore part of the system (Babylon). This critique of crime and violence continued in fine songs by artist like Barrington Levy, Michael Prophet , Half Pint, Don Carlos, Gregory Isaacs and others. In the later 1980s, however, some artists started celebrating “slackness” and “badness”, which included sexual braggadocio, excessive “bragging” and self-aggrandizing (often with some humour, must be said), but also seemed to glorify violence and crime at times. This often had irony and deliberate exaggeration for effect, but could be called even then “celebratory” of a “Rude Boy” type of mentality or life style.. Such lyrics unfortunately partly reflected the reality of increased and extended (gun) crime in Jamaica by the later 1980s..

RASTA RENAISSANCE

Such “Slackness” lyrics remained a time dominant in Jamaican popular music (think of artists like Cutty Ranks, Ninjaman, Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Tiger, Mad Cobra and others), but as more often in Jamaican and world history the balance kept swinging: action-reaction, and a more “conscious” Rastafari (often of the Bobo Ashanti mansion: a sub-group within Rastafari)-influenced current arose within Dancehall Reggae in the course of the 1990s, including artists like Sizzla, Anthony B, Junior Reid, Tony Rebel, Turbulence, Jah Mason, Warrior King, I Wayne, Lutan Fyah, Luciano, and later converts Buju Banton and Capleton (who actually started with some lyrically Slackness-and Rudie-like songs). This Rastafari-influenced current is called the Rasta Renaissance or Revival in Dancehall/Reggae – some call it: New Roots -, and is still very present and active in Jamaican popular music and among international reggae fans by 2015 (as I write this), represented by said and others artists, both dee jays/chatters as singers. Other artists inspired by Rastafari (apparently not so much associated with the Bobo Ashanti subgroup) like Tarrus Riley, Bushman, Richie Spice, Chronixx, Protoje, Jesse Royal, Jah9, Queen Ifrica (a biological daughter of the mentioned Derrick Morgan by the way), and several others, followed in this current and are active and popular now.

In the lyrics of these latter artists a more ”righteous” moral stance is taken when discussing local conditions, against wickedness and crime/criminality in high and low places, alongside (again) lyrics on related themes regarding history, inequality, spirituality, Marcus Garvey, Africa, and Haile Selassie I.

Other artists still tend to Slackness lyrics (Vybz Kartel for instance), or confusingly mix Rasta terms and imagery with Slackness or “Gangster-like” terms and imagery, but the balance seems to have swayed in this time to another, more “conscious” (crime-condemning) direction, which I think is a positive development. Beyond the Jamaican context, I think it also is a very “human” development, when actions and movements are countered with different actions and movements, including contrasting mindsets alongside shared variables.

CONCLUSION

On a final note, I come back to my earlier point and argue that studying all these lyrics in Jamaican music overall will provide a realistic, deep, and extensive insight in the development and beackground of crime and criminality among disadvantaged people: its context, complexities, and consequences. Not just in Jamaica, I opine. I further contend that this social insight is better and deeper - not to mention more realistic - than that gained from studying Hollywood or similar movies/films on more or less the same theme.