Commentary by Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis.  Originally printed in The Jamaica Star. Republished with permission.

Caribbean people are very funny. We’re funny as in humorous, amusing, comical and witty. We are also funny in another kind of way. And here I mean funny as in odd, weird or peculiar. There’s also a third kind of ‘funny’.

Gay men, especially in Jamaica are often euphemistically referred to as ‘funny’, and I find our attitude to that kind of ‘funny’ to be sometimes funny, on one hand, while being confusing and contradictory on the other hand.  In Jamaica, a man who acts ‘funny’ onstage is a guaranteed commercial hit every time. But a man who’s genuinely gay off-stage lives with the risk of being literally and physically hit at anytime. And that’s not so funny.

But funny also sells.

In Jamaica, there’s an increase in the number of comedy promoters. There were eight major comedy shows in Trinidad & Tobago over the last two weeks. I performed on three and I saw the ads for the other five. As a Jamaican, one of the interesting features of Trinidadian comedy shows for me is the number of acts that employ cross-dressing men or men playing gay characters.  I find especially funny how the audiences find them funny. A man comes on-stage in neon coloured wig, skimpy bikini and bra, and the crowd goes wild. Chairs turn over, people run up and down and ‘buss blanks’ and di place nuh good again.

Two such acts appeared on the same events I did.  One was a man playing a woman giving tips and sharing recipes for women who want to learn to fix foods to keep a man tied. The other was a drag-queen-comic protesting the promoter’s decision to shorten his act when his motto, philosophy and mantra can be summed up in four words, “want it long!”

People loved it.

The thousands of people at Jean Pierre Complex, and Guaracara Park in Trinidad, as well as an unbelievably massive throng at Dwight Yorke Stadium in Tobago threw big cheers, applause and adoration at those performers. I couldn’t help thinking that if they were in Jamaica, the audiences would probably respond with not cheers, but chairs, tables, stones and other missiles.  But that’s not necessarily true.

You see homophobia’s very funny- and selective. Gay men are tolerated if they have the right connections, or they work in stereotypical spheres like cosmetology or choreography, and they are adored and celebrated if they consent implicitly to be perpetually framed as comic relief.  In fact, based on current official logic, it’s OK to be gay and acceptable for gay people to form groups as long as they don’t try screechie into Mr Golding’s cabinet, insert themselves into the police force or own guns.

But I wonder if we realise that technically there is no law in Jamaica that says it is illegal to be a homosexual. What’s illegal is buggery. And buggery means anal sex (whether it’s with man or woman!) Funny eeh?

Funniest part of the scenario for me is Ernest Smith the MP. He righteously condemns buggery in Parliament, but as a lawyer he has to earn his money yu see. So, based on what I read in the papers, here’s how it look to me. A noble lawyer, who’s a Smith, stands before an honourable judge, who’s a Pusey, and makes a plea in mitigation on behalf of a man who pleads guilty to buggery! Funny eeh? Well at least it’s funny to me.

Imagine if the government made JFLAG illegal. They could then become his clients and earn him some real funny money. Trust me, he might not be anywhere near as hilarious as ‘Bashment Granny’, but I think the South West, St Ann Member of Parliament is very, very funny.

What you think? box-mi-back@hotmail.com.

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Diatribalist’s latest post is absolutely worth forwarding all around the jamosphere, as well as printing and distributing to everyone you come across. The best of blogging doesn’t need to be accessible only through the web.

The piece is by Owen “Blakka” Ellis.  I am not sure what date  it was penned or put into public circulation, although it was clearly done recently.   I am also publishing it here without one iota of permission from him; I know he would approve though. You can also complain directly to him if you disagree with any of his claims: box-mi-back@hotmail.com.

Whenever people offer critically conscious commentary on the lewd and licentious lyrical content in some dancehall music, a few frantic defenders of the crap always draw the old worn-out comparisons to soca.

My response, one long kiss-teeth and a longer yawn! Yeah man, I frankly think those comparisons are not only tired, but disingenuous.

Really now people,how can one compare ‘dollar wine’ to ‘daggering’? As a man, I can follow the singer’s instruction and dollar wine all by myself, but daggering definitely demands that I find a female counterpart (and whether she consents or not) I proceed to violently ‘dagger dat’.

How many soca songs you know where the lyrics directly and explicitly name and describe intimate female body parts in graphic, vulgar language without any attempt to cleverly disguise the denotation?

How many soca lyrics request that if you are not fond of the singer you are to do unspeakable things to your own mother?

Look man, I’m no big fan of soca music. I have actually delivered a paper at an international academic conference in which I publicly challenge our official promotion of that commercialised imitation of Trinidadian culture that we call Jamaica Carnival; and I argue that ‘passa-passa’ is among the more authentic exemplars of the ‘carnivalesque’ Jamaican culture.

But I think pickney fi stay a dem bed when big people a skin out at Passa-passa. That’s what I call regulation. I also totally support the view that, the same way how we wouldn’t put some passa-passa ‘bruck-out’ on TV during prime time, we shouldn’t put some of those Carnival scenes on either.

But I really don’t think we can justifiably defend slack dancehall lyrics by saying that soca songs do the same thing. That’s rubbish!

And I don’t think we should belabour the arguments against soca as a way of resisting attempts to regulate our airwaves. People, nothing is wrong with enforcing laws. And regulation works.

Whenever I’m in Jamaica and I have the time, I always visit that ‘madhouse’ on the Knutsford Boulevard hip Strip. I enjoying studying people and observing human social interaction – people display more truths about themselves when they are having fun – and Asylum is a great place to indulge that interest. I personally prefer going there on a Friday night when the after-work professional crowd comprises the main attendees.

That’s partly because the vibes is little milder than say a Tuesday night. Admittedly though, it’s also because my little brother has been one of the hosts for the ‘wacky Fridays’ interactive sessions for eight years, and I enjoy the opportunity to watch him work.

Now, depending on the night or the DJ in charge, some very explicit content can hit the airwaves inside the club, and crazy daggering gwaan! However, people who can’t handle that kind of content can still take their family for a meal at one of the many fast-food outlets in proximity to the club without being bombarded with what they view as inappropriate lyrics, because the venue is sound proof.

And the heavy security at the door ensures that no underage people are allowed inside and all weapons remain outside. Plus, once you’re inside you can’t miss the big chest, muscle-bound bouncers patrolling the space ready to throw out any guy who lights a spliff or bruck a fight. That is an example of regulation working.

So I suggest that more people support the recent attempts by the Broadcast Commission to enforce regulations. Yeah, it kinda belated, but better late than never; ’cause the current chaos can’t go on forever!

About the PM’s car…

January 28, 2009

The letter was edited to remove the facety remarks (something about govament workers probably tief whe’h di odda 17 cyar dem mek we no know whe’ dem deh…) but, the essence is still there.

I saw this on Facebook and just HAD to share it with readers.

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“The Red Bull Tree” by Natalie Bennett
December 27, 2008

I giggled when I saw it: the willow tree that was adorned by unlikely ornaments – empty Red Bull cans that sparkled and spun around in response to the occasional sea breeze and the steady traffic off the main road. Just my kind of person, whoever it was who thought to do that. Not having a chance to take a picture was ok – the bus was not travelling on my schedule after all – but I knew I would remember it for a long time. Besides, that sight alone made the rest of my trip back to Montego Bay tolerable. Yes, the highway may be lovely to travel on, but it has also destroyed all of my 30-something years of memories and the way I had learned to use geography and landscape to mark time. Over the next few days, I saw a few more trees from a distance: one was a glittery red and white – empty foil-lined snack bags stuffed into clear Chubby plastic bottles; another was quite colorful, adorned only with those snack bags which had been cut into strips; yet another was dripping with empty Fruta cans, no particular flavor preference.

I was returning from a week-long trip to Kingston where I had been doing a bit of recycling of my own. You know those bountiful slick, colourful, smelly (likely toxic!) flyers that Island Grill, C &W, Digicel, Claro, B-Mobile and the like have been using to blanket the island to drum up more business and produce more garbage? Well, after a particular late-night visit to the IG on Knutsford Boulevard and having to wait a little too long for a cup of sorrel – no ice please, for the third time – I took one look at the stack of the flyers spread out on the counter – and which nobody was paying attention to – and decided that they needed a different kind of life. I scooped them all up and stuffed them into my bag, and considered myself doing a public service. Litter really does piss me off, even if it was the highly expensive branded kind (those lada bags and Digicel phone cards are pretty high on my shit-list).

At first, the flyers were made into gift boxes and envelopes. I had a limited amount of time to produce holiday gifts made of other kinds of recyclables – seeds and calendars mostly – and these containers were absolutely perfect. It turns out that the corporate variety of flyers held up better (they were thicker) than the ones available from Susie’s Bakery. Go figure. The latter I used for very small gifts, like earrings.

About two days later, I was making my annual pilgrimage to Barry Street to do a little impromptu street performance, the content of which is never entirely clear until I get there. At that time, the flyers took on a different form. On my way to Barry Street, I had stopped by Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), and fell into a conversation with the E.D. about the 50,000 calendars that were sitting on the floor and which were sorely in need of a distribution plan. I took a couple off her hands, and suggested that I might be able to move them quite quickly downtown; she looked unconvinced and was downright skeptical that this was possible; she gave me several posters anyway. I said thanks and went on my merry way.

On Barry Street, I set up next to Mother’s patty shop, and kept company with Mr. Typewriter Man for a few hours. During that time, the flyers turned into a few other things: covers for miniature colouring books (children) and notebooks (adults), picture frames. The flyers absolutely sparkled, though, as when they morphed into gift boxes containing condoms and lube. Whenever I travel outside the U.S., I bring as many condoms as I can and give them away, doing impromptu sex ed (the adult variety) wherever it is called for; and no, I feel no shame about doing this. JAS’s posters were particularly useful for this impromptu Santa run: with the red and white theme, the boxes looked appropriately Christmas-y. I handed them out as “presents”; some people even returned to my little stall bringing friends with them. Others – both men and women – took gift boxes with the intention of passing them on to others. Schoolers were an interesting bunch to interact with. My silent nonjudgmental attitude – want one? take one! – along with a certain frankness that I am sure they do not encounter from guidance counsellors – turned a few encounters into both enlightening and difficult conversations. One group of girls – hilariously comprised of a talkative, booksmart but clueless one, a questioning one, a falla-fashin one, a silent and uber-religious one – wanted to know if I was going to be there (ie. in that same spot) all the time. I told them I wish I could; both of us were disappointed about that.

I continued the giveaways on two other days in downtown, trading gift boxes for underwear (I had to buy it; the woman selling the polyester drawers done lyrics me off!), for a smile, intervened in at least two potential arguments over foolishness, replaced the boredom and worries of the sleepy, irritable cart-men and the drop-pan man for a minute, and as a gesture of kindness to individuals who rarely ever get anything for nothing. I mean, who doesn’t like to receive gifts?? I even gave a couple to the MOH folks who were set up at the corner of East Queen Street with the wooden dildo (that thing frightened me!) I think I had a lot more fun than they did, but that’s my opinion. Plus, I think I was more creative.

Before the end of day number 1 at Walter Fletcher Beach (I will never call it Aqua Sol) I had acquired a bit of a reputation. Random men of varying ages were coming up to me to interrupt my last push to finish holiday gifts: ” ‘ello miss, mi ear seh yuh a gi wheh someting,” with a shy almost embarrassed smile. It did well sweet some o’ dem fi ask mi dat yuh si? Some also saw this as an opportunity to make their move, not that they needed any special invitation to state their other intentions of course; having condoms meant that I was already open to a certain kind of talk. Others would stand and watch me make the boxes (I did have to work a little harder to keep up with the demand) and ask with more than a touch of curiosity: Why was I doing this? Who did I work for? Was I a nurse? No, I would laugh, I’m just being a good citizen. But by the time I left that beach after seeing the bottle stoppers, snack bags and plastic bottles littering the place and lying around the garbage bins, and noticing the contents of the piles of garbage in the gullies and around the place, I started thinking that we really needed to find a way to turn much of this garbage into beautiful and useful things, however ephemeral they might be.

There was a time when flour bags, empty drums, tyres, glass bottles, zinc, crocus bags etc. seemed entitled to a second life. Even as we are steadily embracing the “throw-away” ethic and lifestyle of North America – with little or no infrastructure to deal with the overwhelming volume of trash that accompanies – I think some of us can and should draw brakes every once in a while. I think we often forget – or maybe never knew? – that beauty does not only reside in galleries, museums and the environs created by the wealthy to display their wares. I did go to the opening of the Biennial and recall a couple of pieces that were based on recyclables; in that space the term is “multimedia.” Curiously, with the exception of the altered Bible, they didn’t spark much response or interest on my part, maybe because the context in which I was viewing them completely changed how I received the artists’ work. Nonetheless, creating beauty does not need to come at the expense of other commitments – individual and otherwise – but it does need to be part of how we live everyday. The Red Bull Tree was such a pause for me (by the way, I googled “red bull tree” and came upon this site: http://flickr.com/photos/7428849@N02/429548281/). At a time when the Jamaican economy is one flush away from tanking, and when BG just gave small business a sorta nod towards sustainability, maybe its a good time to think about how art, aesthetics, environmental activism and economic growth overlap and can provide mutual benefit: why not a crashie program for artists a la the WPA of the 1930s? Meanwhile, we have an abundance of garbage to work with, certainly enough for a few sculptures at KOTE 2009.

You can reach the author Natalie Bennett at gelede@gmail.com.

Let it die

December 7, 2008

I read everything when I was a child – from atlases, the dictionary, encyclopedia, manuals on general surgery, the bible cover to cover at least twice, the farmer’s almanac which I loved, and no small number of True Confessions, Mills & Boon, and Harlequin books.   But I also read a lot of evangelical tracts on the rapture which told me what a wicked harlot sinner I was destined to become if I did not “become born again.”

One stalwart in the crusade for my soul was “Caribbean Challenge.” I would get it from church, and put it at the bottom of the center table underneath the telephone directory. And somehow by midweek, it would make its way from the living room onto my bed, where I would find it laying when I came home from school; my grandmother would leave it there – no’h fi yuh dis? she would ask. No answer.  And after reading yet another book a third or so time, I would leaf through the Challenge, and then want to throw it away, but felt so damn guilty about what it said about me that I would do such a thing, that the most I could do was stuff it under my mattress (I discovered many of them there browned and aged when my grandmother died a few years ago and we were cleaning out the house and giving away some of the furniture). I did a lot of things on that bed that probably would have made the magazines burst into flames, but somehow they didn’t. I don’t remember any horrible nightmares either. And as far as I know, I’m not going to hell; I’m there already.

While I want to say that it is good to have more things for people to read – we just don’t read enough – I really think that we also need more variety, substance and balance in terms of what is made publicly available, even in the religious publications. I mean, where is our version of Tikkun, Sojourners, etc.? (to see the difference between what gets called Christianity here and the variety that can and does exist in other places, check out this site).

The irony of course, is that if we were such a Christian country, then how come this magazine, which is practically an institution – 52 years to date – would come to this bitter end? I guess we think we know everything already, and don’t need to read? Whatever the reason, I say good riddance. Now we just need to step into that space left by the Challenge and do something that will leave all of us better off. We sure as hell don’t need another vehicle for right-wing evangelical proselytism to terrorize those of us who have not claimed the “righteous” path yet or at all. This is an excellent moment for well-thinking Christian Jamaicans to create something new and different, and which nourishes people’s spiritual selves rather than turning them into blood-thirsty cannibals.

Don’t you just love…

December 7, 2008

when people do their jobs? Contractor-General Greg Christie has been at it at again, and our favourite company, Jamaica’s Undisputed Trailblazer of Corruption (JUTC), is again under the microscope. Memba seh ah dis a di same smaddy who has been appointed by Golding, only to be slapped and dissed by said Golding how much times about stepping out of line. Of course, that’s only when he tries to do his job, and his sniffing comes a bit too close to home. But the man does not give up, thank goodness. So who and who a resign now, and who fi go a jail, but dem probably not going to hang dem yah smaddy yah. No, dem too nice fi dat.

But wait likkle nuh? A gem caught my eye in today’s reportage:

“The report pointed to breaches in the procurement guidelines and identified the late chairman, Douglas Chambers, as having ignored the rules while awarding contracts to Simber Productions Limited, a firm in which he held majority shares.”

Ca-ca fa’at!! as my grandmother would say. Ah wha’ dis now?! Dem mean the same venerable Douglas Chambers, fi who everybody was up in arms about when dem kill im di odda day? Da’a deh Douglas Chambers?  Yuh mean seh fi im shit did stink to? What a prekkeh!  Well, look out for the admonishments and the how-dare-you’s (Mike Henry tried that one last week; you see how far he got…) as the walls come tumbling down.  I can’t wait for Christie to close the degrees of separation between some of these MP’s and the dirt they’ve been dealing.  I’m also keeping an eye on the cigarette/contraband issue that Danville Walker just brought up.  Ah deh so di ants’ nest deh.