zondag 17 april 2011

Close reading/listening Joe Grine

(I Pledge)
True Rasta no deal with slackness, but a deal with blackness.
Rasta a deal with reality, sufferation inna di ghetto, and consciousness. True African and world history. Protesting against Babylon wickedness and indoctrination.


That being said, and while not a fan of slackness, I will however “deal with” or maybe better “treat” a theme in reggae lyrics that may be considered “slackness” from some perspective. I doubt, however, whether this is truly the case. It is at the very least a “lewd” theme.
I continue thus more or less on the sexuality theme of my previous post.

I am talking about “Joe Grine” (or “Joe Grind”) in reggae lyrics. Those in the know might smile in themselves when reading this. For those who do not know: Joe Grine is a term in Jamaican parlance which refers to a “second male lover” of a woman. Typically a man who visits a woman when her regular boyfriend or husband is away. A phenomenon which does not seem that unique, yet remains for some uncomfortable. Or funny.


There aren’t many other themes that trigger so much hypocricy as sexuality. The scandals in the Catholic Church exemplify that. Also the taboos associated with sexuality serve for many to make sex more interesting, more “edgy”. Even if forbidden fruits do not really taste better.

In that light I do not mind too much that lyrics are sexually explicit in themselves. It depends on the way how. I begin to mind, and consider it immoral, when it is demeaning to women, glorifies forced sex or rape, or in another way humiliates a sexual partner.
In the subgenre of reggae, mostly dancehall, that often deals with explicit sex you will not always find such demeaning, humiliating lyrics. Most often they are funny reflections of aspects of reality, namely relationships. What can be criticized, maybe, is the lack of responsibility for the relationship with your (bed) partner, who you lie to, or fool somehow. But hey..both sexual partners tend to be adults who know what they are doing.

Women having several sexual partners is specifically interesting, because the taboo on it is bigger than on “two timing” or multiple partners by men, as it is generally more expected and accepted of (more strongly libido-driven) men. Male domination throughout history eased this acceptance of course. Interesting is also that it differs per culture, and per part of the world. This is related to cultural views on gender relations.
That’s why I find the lyrics on “Joe Grine” (or second male lovers) in reggae so interesting.


YouTube with its vast and varied amount of music and other videos and films proved very helpful in a type of research I did on “Joe Grine” in Jamaican lyrics. YouTube was however not the only source for songs: I do have an own reggae collection. I relate the topic of Joe Grine in reggae lyrics to what I have learned about gender views in Jamaican culture and society. Again, partly continuing thematically on my previous post.
I try to analyze the different perspectives on the Joe Grine phenomena thus expressed.

One of the catchiest songs about Joe Grine I find to be a song of that title by Madoo from 1980. Irresistibly catchy, a very effective tune on the Far East riddim.

The lyrics are largely descriptive (what a Joe Grine does, including details), but what is the perspective, the emotion behind it? Not easy to tell. Madoo seems to stay neutral in his description. Although the line "all she get fe that is a two-faced tea potty" suggests sympathy for the woman, and critique of Joe Grine's cheapness. There is maybe also an element of fear: “when you think it’s peace and safety, Joe Grine a stretch out your gyal titty” (explicit but rhyming well).

We will take a time leap from 1980 to 2003. From 2003 comes another catchy song – with the same title - by the dancehall group Ward 21. Their, for dancehall, originally combined vocals led to a catchy song on (lord have mercy: it cannot be true that this riddim exists…) the Billy Jean riddim.

Here the Ward 21 guys seem to present themselves as Joe Grine, saying it is the woman’s choice and that the other men should be mad (vex) with her and not with him, who simply knows how to please her: she chose to have several lovers. Less distantly descriptive, more identifying. No moral scrupules was deemed appropriate.

Another example of identification is by Winston Hussey on the “lovers rock”-like (and seemingly Gregory Isaacs-influenced) song ‘(I was a) Joe Grine last night’. It is from 1983, so in time closer to the Madoo than to the Ward 21 song.

More a singer than a deejay/toaster, Hussey tells a funny tale, descriptively but somehow including what can be called “moral dilemmas”. He says how he learned, repenting, better not to mess with another man’s woman, yet at the same time that the almighty Jah protected him against death at the hand of an enraged man. So the moral judgment eventually seems to tip in favour of the Joe Grine.

Again we make a time leap, now from 1983 to 2006. Another artist taking the position of a Joe Grine is Kip Rich. In his 2006 song ‘Joe Grind’ (featuring Delicious) the other (regular or other Joe Grine?) man unexpectedly arrives when she and the woman are “busy”. An unpleasant, tense turn of events for the Joe Grine vocalist in question.

Again a nice, funny song. Also again, identification with the Joe Grine rather than with the jealous cheated-on partner - like both the Winston Hussey and Ward 21 songs.

The tendency to identify with the Joe Grine rather than with the partner cheated on can be explained by the lyrics of another song by female dancehall artist Ikaya and her song, also directly titled ‘Joe Grine’. Largely in Patois (only Winston Hussey’s song is more or less in standard Jamaican English), Ikaya explains how she has an “uptown” man with money for comfort, but a “downtown” (poor parts, ghetto) man to please her well sexually. That reggae and dancehall is since its origins more associated with downtown and the ghetto is hopefully well-known.

This is interestingly in line with my previous post on this blog: incapacity to fulfill breadwinner norms of financially maintaining women, makes poor black men prove their “manhood” instead biologically, i.e. sexually. “Prove I am a man” is also a line in Hussey’s song.

Joe Ranking’s “limitedly slack” song ‘Joe Grine Gal’ is lyrically quite simple on a desire to “wine” a Joe Grine girl/woman. Without deeper layers, it is for this post less interesting. Apparently – if I understand it right – a Joe Grine can also be female.
And yes: maybe to be expected, but there is also a Joe Grind or Joe Grine “riddim”…
So far for YouTube.

I have overall a stronger affection for roots reggae than for dancehall. I do enjoy some dancehall occasionally, however, even with “lewd” lyrics, especially when they have a “joking” and humoristic vibe.
My reggae collection consequently is mainly focused on roots reggae with only some dancehall, but as Joe Grine is a common Jamaican term it appears here and there in lyrics, also in roots reggae or lovers rock.
An example is the song ‘Gimme What Me Want’ on the album From The Roots (2004) by Horace Andy. Horace Andy is a roots veteran, but this song has a dancehall influence.
Joe Grine is in this song part of a list of men (any Tom, Dick, and Harry) chatting up, hitting on a woman, some offering gold chains, a “more wine” (?) man, and a Joe Grine. Horace Andy wants her to give “it” just to him and make these other men “gwaan dem ways” (leave her alone, go their ways). In this sense it is a different perspective as the Joe Grine is seen as a threat or hassle to the vocalist in this case, although along with a series of other male competitors.


The Joe Grine phenomenon gives an intriguing insight in gender relations in Jamaican culture. Unfortunately in some countries, Islamic but also non-Islamic cultures and societies (e.g in Hinduist India), adultery by women is condemned much more, and even punishable with death in some cases, when compared to (less-condemned) adultery by men. In comparison, the Jamaican gender situation seems markedly different.

Polygamy among African-Caribbean men is sometimes attributed to African-based cultural origins, but it is actually an anthropological fact – maybe uncomfortable to some - that 70% of the world’s cultures accept forms of polygamy. More for men than for women, though there are exceptions.
Some cultures in sub-Saharan Africa accept degrees of polygamy for both men and women. Or used to, because the arrival of Islam or Christianity in parts of sub-Saharan Africa limited this officially. Islam allows a man to have a maximum of 4 wives but only when a man can maintain them financially. The marital exclusivity, even with several wives, can still contrast with cultural practices. In some parts of Africa where many slaves came from it was long common that men and women lived largely apart in own huts, only coming together in a hut temporarily, mostly for making love. This continues up to recently among Maroons in inland Suriname. This practice seems to assure at least a degree of independence of women as well as men.

But probably in some way slavery influenced it also: male slaves were stimulated to (just) breed and not start steady relationships with female slaves, the latter remaining at the same time “available” for the horny, sexual whims of slave masters or overseers.

However historically to be explained, Joe Grine is a common cultural phenomenon in Jamaica that therefore reflects also in lyrics from different decades.
These often humoristic, loose lyrics furthermore seem mostly in line with another trait common in African-Caribbean cultures: sexuality, while important for manhood, or a certain identity, is not taken too seriously. Neither is it sacralized in an exclusive manner as is common in large, institutionalized religions like Christianity/Catholicism, Islam, or Hinduism. Is it coincidence that women are/were mostly subordinate to men in these religions?
I cannot help but think that not taking sexuality too serious or rigid, while still recognizing its connection to a special bond with a person, may not be a bad idea of these African-Caribbean cultures…