Songs and Memories

Been doing a lot of backing up and adding and deleting tonight. Listening to favourite songs and some songs I haven’t listened to in ages. Brings back really wonderful memories of my life and times, trodding through creation, meeting some wonderful people and maintaining ties with some lovely old friends. Some songs I can’t listen to anymore because they are so full of memories…some of them bring back a time when life was less complicated. But I am thankful for them all. I guess I’m documenting them in the unfortunate event that I forget how much these pieces of music and the times and the places and the people mean to me.

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson Early 1980′s George Lamming was staying at our house, working on something or another. My sister had just got a copy of the Thriller album and we set about playing it over and over. Uncle George declares to our great shock and horror ‘Who is this Jackson person?’ So of course we had to put on a whole concert for him, including Didi doing the moonwalk across the living room. At the end of the song, Uncle George declares ‘This is a funny sort of house’.

Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson – 1987 London The mother took me to an LKJ concert in London somewhere. I don’t remember the details because I slept through most of it, but at some point in the night I remember waking up to see this little black guy prancing around the stage singing in the roughest, loveliest voice I’ve ever heard ‘Hinglan is a beeetch’. Been in love with him ever since.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears – 1986 Watford. I was standing at the bus stop outside Woolworths with my sisters on the way to school. I was standing there minding my own business when this woman comes up and punches me in the face. Dry so!! Buss my lip and everyting. Not pleasant. This is the song that was playing on the radio when the Babylon came to question me about the woman after school.

Natty Dread – Bob Marley and the Wailers May 2000 Kingston. Went down to Trench Town to do some volunteer work at a community centre. They didn’t cater for the vegetarians so we wandered across the street looking for a vendor. Happened to wander straight into the yard where Bob used to live with his mother and Bunny Wailer. We sat in the shade of giant ganja trees and reasoned with rasta elders who gave us fruits and coconut water to eat. Bliss!

He Loves Me – Jill Scott – Winter 2003 England – Road Trip to Stone Henge with my very good sister friends Tonni, Tamara, BinghiNya and Gab. Nya was driving us to Bath and then she started to sing this song. I am so very thankful to have these womyn in my life!!

Here and Now- Andre Tanker – Winter 2003, China. I didn’t find out that Andre died a whole three days after… That day Tonni and I took a trip to the sea off Qinhuangdao. It was cold and the water grey. But it was good to be by the sea and I was glad to have a moment to whisper my goodbyes into the waves.

Fools Die – Peter Tosh- New Years Day 2004 London. Passed out at Skateboard Pete’s New Years Party, woke up at 6 am and this is the song Svenn was playing. A melancholy way to start a bizarre year that I was very glad to see the end of!

Shanti Om – Lord Shorty – Jouvay 2004 Trinidad We were just coming out of the Savannah. I think Shel Shok was the DJ. The sun was just coming up and they drop this song! Ooooh gouud…I was never so happy to be home as in that moment. By Ash Wednesday I was cured of that, though.

Natural Roots – Jah Shaka – Summer 2004 Me and Empress Jo in Finsbury Park at an all day Dub festival. The house in Turnpike Lane with the Hairy Fairies and food and reasonings and energy balls and falling asleep standing up in all night Jah Shaka dances in the Rocket in Holloway. The N29! D&G ginger beers and the best 24 hour snack shop in Trafalgar Square. Primrose Hill and vegan Thai buffet paradise for stoners. Sundays in Spitalfields market. Cheesy reggae Saturday nights in Camden! And that lovely Ethiopian bredrin, Yohannes was his name?

Water No Get Enemy – Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Autumn 2004 London – Svenn used to play this song at least twice a day. I don’t know why it became such an anthem for us, given that we were living in the middle of Chelsea with Ralph Lauren as our corner store, ha! Walking down to King’s Road we would spontaneously start singing the song together. Our merriment was frequently cut short by a burst of running to catch the Number 19.

One Day – Mungal featuring 3 Canal – New Years Day 2005 London – Me, Kassie and Nya talking about all our hopes and dreams and fears on the brink of a new day.

Zion – Maximus Dan – Summer 2005 – I was living in Zürich and getting rather fat. So every morning I would go for a run in a vineyard near the lake. It was mostly uphill and I would never really think I could make it. But just as I got to the top of the hill this song would come on and I would practically fly down the hill towards home, smiling maniacally with my hair flapping about in the breeze. Needless to say the neighbours stared at me like I just landed from another planet….

Anisiedad – Daisy Voisin Christmas 2005 Trinidad. I hadn’t been home since my grandmother died in 2003. The mother was in the kitchen making black cake and then this song came on and it made me think of my Ida and the fact that she was the original black cakist. That I would never again have the pleasure of her boofs, her smiles, her sarcasm, her pakchoi and rice! I hadn’t had a chance to cry for her in almost two years of travelling, working, loving, moving again, running away and trying to figure out where home was. But then Daisy came on and I got a full appreciation of all that I was missing and all that I had missed.

Live Good – Burning Spear- Carnival 2006 Chatham …the first time I went down to Chatham and met the women of the community and was so impressed by the concern and commitment that I was motivated to get involved in their struggle against Alcoa. When the meeting was finished we ate with them and then Samantha, the 8 year old daughter of our hosts, took my hand and walked with me around her yard. She pointed out all the different trees: mango, pomerac, zaboca, fig. And then she looked me in the eye and said ‘if Alcoa comes I not going to have this anymore’. Part of the reason I never went back to Switzerland…

Ee wa Obakoso – Ella Andall – Summer 2007 Iceland – We were driving up to Husavik right at the northernmost point of Iceland. At about 1 am it was still light and my anarchist friends decided that that was a good time to go check out a crater. It was so windy and cold I ran all the way. Got to the top out of breath with the wind howling in my ears and the crater’s gravel crunching under my hiking boots. I don’t know if I was crying because I was so cold or because I was so overwhelmed to be where I was for the reason that I was there. I had never felt so far from home and yet so close to myself. The wind blew my tears away and then everything got very still.

Naturally – Slow Train – Rainy Season 2008, Trinidad. Me and Kassie, joined by Jacob on a road trip to Toco. We practically wore a hole into that cd replaying that song speeding through the north coast.

Even After All- Finley Quaye- Many Many Nights 2008 The Republic. After party cleaning up. Svenn bepping on the day bed. Sheli listening to every note. Keshav singing and washing dishes. Makeda cooking, again. Me playing ten last songs. Daddy O recounting Amel’s birth. Lemongrass and ginger tea, chocolate tea and pongkin choka. Enamel cups and loud laughter.

Okay I’m going to stop there before this gets too cheesy….

Cheerleaders in Cricket

Cheerleaders. With pompoms. It is too scandalous to believe. There I was on the Cycle Track—now a grassy knoll—asking the gods not to send the rain. Feeling happy to be in the Oval yet another time, calling down damnation on the heads of the England cricket team. I was waving my T&T flag in the gentle Oval breeze, trying to channel Tantie Merle in my movements. I was scanning the grounds, looking at the masses of my people, cricket people on their feet cheering on the West Indies team as they came out to take up their positions across the field. And there, like a big meggie in the middle of the cricket, were the cheerleaders. I thought for a second I was hallucinating. Like I think I’m hallucinating when I hear some wild rumour that Papa Patos wants to invoke the Terrorism Act during the Summit of the Americas to stop people from protesting. I mean it can’t be, can it? Cheerleaders in cricket? Why, that’s like making Trinidad mas in sweat shops in China. I guess in the whole scheme of things, pompom-toting cheerleaders are not that terrible. I mean, it could be worse. We could be kidnapping homeless people and hiding them away where the all the foreign press can’t see them. Oh no, we’re already doing that. I guess we still have culture. We still have a film industry. It’s not as if the Government has cut the funding to the T&T Film Company by 50 per cent. Oh no, they’ve done that too. I have to admit that the cheerleaders with pompoms upset me a lot. Not to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the royal cut backside England got from the West Indies. But I have to admit that half of the hoarseness and the pain in my throat came from my scandalised exclamations of rage at the sight of the pompom-toting cheerleaders. I don’t know whose idea it was. And I don’t particularly care to know either. But I suppose if you pay $600 for a sporting experience then you expect to have something completely devoid of any connection to the sport at all. Like premium-ish liquor and girls with pom poms. At least they were red, black and silvery. From what I could see on the other side of the Oval they were doing their job cheering the team on. At least somebody could learn a thing or too from their commitment and professionalism. Still, I wondered if they were being prompted when to jump up and dance and shake their pompoms for our boys. I mean I though Caribbean women didn’t need pompoms because we had bam bams? I must have it all wrong. I must be just jealous because I am not a pompom-shaking cheerleader in the $600 stand with all the beautiful people. I must be the outsider looking in. Wanting to be shiny and beautiful too. My flag sags in the dipping Oval breeze. But I refuse to be defeated by shiny cheerleaders with their Visa tot tots and designer batty riders. The woman to my right who, like a prime ministerial prophetess, declared that England would make no more than 120 runs, feeds me plantain and callaloo and buss-up shut and watercress to cool my righteous pompom indignation. I mean, seeing those cheerleaders with pompoms in cricket makes as much sense to me as the day before when I was at Phagwa celebrations at the Divali Nagar and Geeta Ramsingh of the Hindu Prachar Kendra announced that they had received a cheque of $5,000 from the Ministry of Culture for this year’s Phagwa celebrations, which includes the staging of the Pichakaree competition, among other things. Tantie Merle wherever you are, I’m so sorry. Uncle Ravi Ji, for all your work and effort to make this place a more livable place, I am so sorry. I try not to let the cheerleaders get me down. But this is hard, because they are right in my line of sight. The image of them is permanently etched in my consciousness. This is progress, yes. This is priorities and productivity. This is us being more than we could ever be. We have reached the summit of our national potential for the small fee of $600 million. And I wonder if cheerleaders with pompoms at cricket matches also feel like the country—stuck at silly point.

Macoing but not seeing

Giving your heart and soul to vanity, yeah
Makes your life filled with pain and misery
While life goes on everyone’s got to stand strong
You can’t surrender

—Sitting and Watching, Dennis Brown

Ceaseless chatter ricochets around these islands. Chatter about everything but mostly about nothing.  In this nation of talkers, big talkers, robber talkers, too-too talkers, no one can seem to find anything sensible to say. Reading the newspapers becomes a chore, but mostly a bore. Nightly newscasts send you to sleep.  It is then that you have to conclude that Trinidad is annoyingly small. Small to the point of causing claustrophobia. Small to the point where if one person sneezes the whole country catches a cold, gives it a name, laughs about it. One thing bothers me. And it is how come in a country of macos, gossips, mamaguy and mauvais langue is it possible for the people who took a little girl to be so hard to find?

How come children still manage to disappear? In a nation of macos, where people seem to derive so much pleasure from minding other people’s business, they can’t find children who go missing. But perhaps it is because of our highly developed macoing skills that some of us have developed the capacity to hide, to disguise ourselves as whatever is acceptable at the moment. To be horners or paedophiles or in public office and unapologetically commit fraud. Perhaps these people are the real heroes of Trinidad. Those who have escaped our scrutiny as we obsess with inanities. Trinidad is so small that we can’t find criminals. We can’t find missing children. We can’t find a functional government or a serious opposition. We concoct whole stories about a container full of missing children. 

The funny thing about Trinidad is how everybody always has a tanty, some friend, their neighbour outside brother-in-law friend, who knows somebody who was passing through when it happened. Yet no one has a tanty, uncle or nennen that saw when they took Leah away from her school. In broad daylight. Yet no one gives any attention to talk that work is going on up in St Ann’s for containers in which they will house Port-of-Spain’s homeless so that all the Government’s Summit of the Americas guests won’t see our human eyesores. We would rather believe modern folklore about yawning metal mouths eating our children than take note of the soucouyants in the Red House.

Trinidad is so small enough for us to not have a problem with the culture of talking without actually saying anything. We are all about the navel gazing, the status updates, the endless barrage of Trinis on scenes, smiling with a drink in their hands. So obsessed with keeping up with what is happening, with staying connected, plugged in, hooked up that people have forgotten how to communicate. How to warn each other of danger. How to grieve when there is loss. How to look out for our neighbour’s children and expect that they will return the favour. We have dumbed down macoing, like everything else that perhaps was ever good about ourselves. I would like to believe that there was perhaps a time when macoing was a good thing. When we sought each other’s interests and protected each other from real and imagined fears.

Now that our walls are too high to see over, we peer into each other’s lives in other ways but know less. We go to fete not to fete but to see and be seen. We maco, not to look out for each other, but to pass judgment, to have something for discussion. Except when it matters. When it really matters suddenly our maco senses are dulled. In the same way that we don’t want to take responsibility for all the children who are in front of us begging for help and attention and love, we dismiss the things that we really should be macoing. No one is macoing NEC’s presumptuous soil testing for a port for which they have no Certificate of Environmental Clearance.

No one is macoing what is going on in our schools that are breeding grounds for boredom, underachievement and criminality.  No one is minding our collective business, where our money is going. How much money they’re really spending on the summit and what possible benefits it will yield us, aside from being a government wank all over our Treasury. It must be that some of us are okay with children disappearing or with the Treasury being pillaged. It must be that we are willing to not see the things that we do. That sometimes we fight our maco gene. We deny it just when it is needed the most. In this tiny little country of watchers, no one seems capable of seeing clearly.

Dear Rihanna

Pardon the intrusion in your personal affairs. I expect you are used to it, by now.

Your love life isn’t my business. In truth I didn’t care to know the details of your life at all until I heard about what Chris Brown did to you.

And I don’t know if my words will have any effect on you, but I feel like I have to say it. Not just for you, but for myself and for all the young women out there who are your fans, who enjoy the entertainment you have chosen to share with us.

I talk to young people about it. People who are more into you than I could ever be (not because I’m old, but because pop music is annoying).

The fellars say you beg for that please. They say you feel you too nice. That clearly you needed some perspective. 

This is not an unfamiliar point of view. I am not shocked by their statements. 

Some of the girls agree. They say you must have done something to deserve to get your face buss. I’ve seen pictures of your injuries. I’ve heard about the bite marks. The fact that you were so bruised you couldn’t go to the Grammies. 

And I wonder what you could possibly have done to warrant that kind of violence.

The scary thing is that we are so comfortable with violence that your fans can get over Chris Brown’s behaviour. They say, small ting. Everybody has to get licks some time.

This is a country where we make a lot of excuses for men’s violence against women. This is a country where little girls can be abducted, raped, killed and then you hear people call in to radio stations and condemn them for being too ‘fresh’.

This scares me, Rihanna. Especially since women like you are role models. The epitome of this bizarre construct called modern woman. You, the post feminist self-determined Barbie, who have money, a top career, men the world over who practically worship you and thighs to make the rest of us women die of jealousy. You who are all these things can’t possibly accept such behaviour from a man.

I fear that the news of your return to your abuser sets a bad precedent to all the Caribbean girls becoming women who admire you, your rise to fame, your spectacular claiming of Hollywood. You, a regular Bajan girl that could be any regular other girl from any regular other island.

I fear that this is incident was not the first. And that because of all the shame, scrutiny and publicity that it generated, the next time he punches you in the face, you’ll probably be a lot less willing to report it.

For your sake though, your fans will learn an important point. That it’s not just the women who are economically disadvantaged who get beaten up by the men who allegedly love them.

It’s not just women who are poor or unattractive or hard up for a man that get their faces bashed in for them, so that they can feel grateful that they have a man at all.

I am fortunate to say that I have no idea of the acute embarrassment and hurt you must feel.

I am fortunate to say that no man ever put God out of his thoughts to raise his hand to hit me. My fear is that I am part of a minority of women. That there are more women out there who have experienced some kind of physical abuse at the hands of someone who allegedly loves them.

A sister friend says too she went back to an abusive man. Because she loved him and hoped that love could conquer his anger.

We have this way of thinking that doesn’t always take reason into consideration, because we think we’re in love. We would rather take the occasional licks than lonely nights or trying to find someone else to love us.

And I look around at my other sister friends who are agonizing in relationships with men who either don’t deserve them or are still trying to figure out if they are men for real, and I wonder about love and power and sex and if we will ever figure out how to balance them all. 

If women like you can negotiate around and past the problem of abuse and add your voices and your strength and your ideas to women who don’t have the resources or the confidence in their own voices to break themselves out of cycles of violence.

In love and solidarity