Dancing For the Devil

June 10, 2010

I was responding to Agostinho’s post about the future of Passa-Passa, when it occurred to me that I should write some of my thoughts about the event on my own blog as well.  (I wish I kept track of what I wrote on other people’s blogs; each was a post in itself!)
I have never gone to the Passa Passa street dance held in Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston every Wednesday night because I refused to go and dance for the devil.   It was as simple as that to me.
It took me a little while to connect “Passa Passa” to THE Tivoli Gardens of which I have known since childhood.  And that place was not one that I imagined non-Tivolians being able to inhabit quite so easily.  Something wasn’t quite right; I didn’t feel right going there, no matter how much hype it got.  I turned down every invitation.  Not interested.
But when one of my friends from Kingston was going on about how no violence “couldn’t” happen because the Don seh so, my interest was peaked.  Really now?  So all the gunfire and dead people doesn’t really have to happen – a don can just open his mouth and things stop? Well, then, to me, all dem dons well wicked fi a mek people a kill off demself so and don’t do anything about it.
The  ‘mandate’ of no violence during Passa Passa in Tivoli just seemed downright strange.  It probably wasn’t even true, but it certainly felt true to lots of people.  After all, they kept going.
And then it slowly dawned on me that this much-talked about event wasn’t just an expression of altruism on the part of the don; it wasn’t just about wanting people to have a good time.
Passa-Passa wasn’t just a big street dance.
It was a full-on performance BY Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke for the rest of the country and the world.   He showed – and did he! – that he had the power to command the resources, the attention, the energy and to which was drawn crowds of people like moths to a flame to frolic in his personal fiefdom that is Tivoli. Smart man that one.
And frolic they did.
They sang and danced and even managed to convince themselves that this was a deeply spiritual experience one they were called to and can’t help but partake in; that some kind of freedom was possible right there in the JLP’s terrordome called Tivoli.
As it turns out, the people were the props.   They had a good time as long as HE thought it expedient and the PR remained good.   They got played.
The story of Passa Passa reads more like a sci-fi horror movie:
The people are commanded to dance by some Unseen Being and Force, and they do so gladly at first, even as they begin to have that growing feeling that what they think is voluntary isn’t really so;
The intensity of their performance increases as the participants try harder and harder to push the encroaching reality away by singing, dancing, drinking and laughing harder, faster, louder.
The sheer terror of realizing what they are trapped in and who they are performing for makes them go mad; the exhaustion produces hallucinations; every person is now a threat to every other person; it seems that no one can leave this place alive.
Soon there are dead bodies lying everywhere.
Fade to black.
When the music ends and the lights come on, what felt like a filmed performance of a street dance is revealed to be a staged play.
Curtain raises.

No applause.

No director goes on stage to take a bow.

Only gunshots and wailing.

Curtain falls.

The spotlight shines on a line of caskets at the rear of the stage.

At the same time the music begins to play and becomes increasingly louder.

It’s coming from the caskets.

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4 Responses to “Dancing For the Devil”

  1. ruthibelle Says:

    food for thought

  2. Aurie Says:

    hey there – i purchased experienceaurie.com finally. My Jamroll is ready for an update.

    You’ve really put Passa Passa into context for me. I’ve never felt the inclination to want to go to that event no matter how alluring it was when I was in Jamaica last. I’m glad I didn’t…
    Mi nuh inna di dancing fi di devil ting.

    • longbench Says:

      Hey Aurie! Good to hear from you. I’m always a little conflicted about what I write here but I figure it’s worth it if my words prompt someone to think differently, or at all, about the things we take for granted. Passa Passa is certainly one of those spaces lauded much but understood little. Come back again!


  3. […] has a very interesting take on the proceedings in Tivoli and how it relates to dancehall – Read It Here – It’s Called Dancing For the Devil tweetmeme_url = 'http://auriesociety.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/jamaica-paradise-lost/'; […]


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