Singing Super’s Blues

There will be no other super man in town
I an I coming alone to sing I song
Using methods beyond the human knowledge
They will say for sure this is advantage
Because when the music start flowing
I’ll be dancing and singing
Creating pure happiness
Like a torpedo mama
I working under water
But is trouble when I surface
Superman, Super Blue

 Why it is you shaking, you don’t know. Well, you kind of know. You kind of know why you are here in this moment screaming and drenched in sweat, getting on like is your first time in a fete and you never knew it could be this sweet. You kind of know that this is where you are supposed to be. The drums matching your heartbeat, the bass making you do things with your boomsie that defy explanation.

 In 3 Canal’s Back Yard Jam under a mango tree we are in the Royal Temple of Soca and the High Priest is presiding. The High Priest is back from the wilderness. Thirteen years of wandering. Thirteen years that we missed him and forgot about him and remembered him in moments when Despers would play their mindblowing version of Rebecca.

 In the Backyard Jam, this Temple of Soca, everyone here is initiated into the mysteries of mas and the music of this place that could make you jump out of yourself and become part of a living, breathing wave. Look, it’s not like I thought before that moment that the Fantastic Friday song was his best. I have childhood memories haunted by his voice. He tiefed my head—a black Super Man—larger than life and more real than the on-screen flying man. Super Blue soared in my musical soul.

 With that kind of grounding, with that kind of brilliance, it is hard to deal with auto-tune and techno-ish beats. But then you realise that these are trappings. And at the root is the voice. At the root is the same Super.

 There are young people and old people and in between people like me there. I take myself from the sidelines and end up in the middle of a soca mosh pit. I lose a shoe and a hat and at some point my dress is way above its anticipated hemline. None of these things matter in the moment of contact. Some portal is opening.

 This Blue so super he could ward off maljo. He could take us all with him to a place of our collective imaginings. You are elated by the way your spirit soars. You missed the blues he is singing. The wailing in his voice. Like he is calling for something that is buried deep deep down and dragging it out of you. It is the sweetest pain.

 It is a triumphant return. After we whispered and laughed aloud at his wandering. We scream with joy at his return. Expect him to solve all our soca problems. We get carried away by the music. We get carried to the place from which we are unsure of the return.

 In the midst of the madness, I watch him good. His eyes closed. His brow furrowed. He is travelling and we are following. He is taking us on a painful journey with him. Some of us don’t notice. Some of us are too distracted by the sweetness of the music to hear the pain.

 The next day, after I have regained my composure I head back to Woodbrook. In another backyard, are a few hundred Orisha devotees dressed in white singing praises to Obatala. The same reaching for the sky. The same drums grounding you and singing making your spirit levitate. This is the original temple of soca. Some get carried away. Some find the spirit in the dance and the spirit dances in them, weightless, beautiful, magical.

 The sun fades and the white clothes glisten in the twilight. I stamp the ground in the rhythm of the drum, re-rooting myself. Reconnecting to the heartbeat, to the things that make me Trinbagonian. The music. The desire to transcend this space we occupy.

 Yes this is magic. But I am still thinking of Super Blue. The sweet sadness: I just came to say I love you. Only love can create music like that. Not competitions. Not prize money. Not the soca mafia. Love. The love power takes you. To a place that you are not entirely unfamiliar with. The liminal point between ecstasy and madness. Between the darkness and the dawn.

 In backyards. Away from the cameras. Away from the politicians. Away from the brand management and the under-nourished winer girls in beads and feathers. There is salvation in soca. There is healing in wining. There is catharsis in putting your hands over your head. I am thankful for the reminder.


Published in the Trinidad Guardian on January 19, 2013

Kambule or Canboulay?

The received wisdom was that the term Canboulay derived from the French ‘cannes brulees’ or the burning of the cane. The unseasonal burning of fields of immature sugarcane by the enslaved was done as an act of sabotage and groups of enslaved Africans were then forced to go and put out the fires. Along the way they sang songs of defiance and also danced kalenda as their ranks were made up of stickfighters.
However revered Trinidad and Tobago linguist Maureen Warner-Lewis in her seminal work Guinea’s Other Suns – one of the first comprehensive studies on the African presence in Trinidad and Tobago – lists the term kambule as a Kikongo word meaning procession. Africans held kambules throughout the year – as a form of celebration but they were also times when they could re-engage with spiritual and other cultural practices.
Professor Warner-Lewis believes the two terms to have been conflated to create one meaning – the march of defiance by the working class that happened in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday morning.

Our own rape culture

How yuh jammin so?
Like yuh feelin hot or what?
Mr, why grinin so
You come out to jump or not
Every time yuh swing yuh hand
Yuh bounce mih tot tot or mih butt
You behaving just like if you want to eat me
Right here on the spot

How Yuh Jammin so, Mighty Sparrow

The roar of anguish coming from the women of India echoes and ripples around the world. It took the death of a 23-year-old for some members of Indian society to sit up and begin to confront a situation that is tacitly accepted around the world, even by those of us who think we are all modern and progressive and cool about sex.

It is a double-edged sword that the filmi fantasies of the purity of love between Indian men and women that some of us in the West hold have been shattered by the savagery of the five rapists’ act. But it doesn’t mean that we are any closer to confronting the fact that rape culture is as pervasive as capitalism.

We will happily sign a petition demanding that they do something about rape in India. Meanwhile the broadcasting of the sexual abuse of an Ohio girl is not as much of a news item as Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. It’s time for us to put away another myth about Indian women: that of the submissive, shrinking violet who accepts her fate meekly and quietly.

I see the images of women raising sticks against the police trying to stop their peaceful protests. I read the stories of Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen. About the Pink Sari gang defending the environment. About the hundreds of women of Koondakoolam who have stood up to the Government and international corporations trying to build a nuclear reactor in their backyards and I don’t need any more convincing that Indian women are anything but passive.

The women who have taken to the streets are demanding not just justice for the late Damini but also a change in the perception of what it is to be a woman. The extreme positions of goddess or whore. Because women are not supposed to either enjoy sex or choose who they want their sexual partners to be or, heaven forbid, defy the demands of the man to whom she “belongs.”

To those of us who watch on from the West, all smug in our post-modern liberation, what are we going to do about rape culture in our own backyards? How have we sought to question the way that our own bodies are treated?

Who wants to have a conversation about dismantling patriarchy? Who wants to confront the fact that whether or not you think the Prime Minister is good at her job or not, the criticism of her is always bordering on disturbingly sexist and overbearingly sexual? Who wants to talk to their young people about sex? Who wants to change the warning issued by generations of parents: “when ah leggo mih cock yuh better tie up yuh hen”?

Who wants to take on the thinking behind the bizarre comments of the Deputy Commissioner of Police blaming teenage girls for the increase in sexual offences. I’m no longer willing to accept that rape culture is part of the burden women have to bear and surely somebody with a little bit of sense needs to tell Mervyn Richardson that the way to address sexual offences is not to start by blaming girls for filing reports.

I thought we’d come a long way from denying that young people are being abused. I thought we would be at the point where we would be trying to deconstruct the psychology of why young women are only able to value their sexuality as a commodity that they can trade to get the material possessions that this society says they need to have to matter.

Every Carnival we get a slew of advertisements and articles admonishing women about what to do to avoid being raped or attacked on the streets. Don’t go off by yourself, they say. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Women are always expected to take responsibility for their actions. Where are the campaigns addressed to the men?

Where are the campaigns challenging backward notions of masculinity? Where are the boofs for men to man up and stop raping women? Why are we raising women to be victims and men to be aggressors? The idea of ownership of your body is perhaps one of the most radical ideas that a woman could ever have. And I don’t mean choosing to wear a wire bra to play mas.

Maybe one day we’ll stop seeing rape culture as somebody else’s problem. Maybe one day we too will take to the streets for all the Daminis in our communities who are too terrified to report their own sexual offences for the fear of being blamed by a society that is still to scared to talk honestly about sex.

Dancing for Dawn

There I go again, talking about the only thing I love more than starch mangoes…

The glorious morning has come, and I don’t know if to laugh or cry. Because I’ll have to wait another 364 days to feel this way again. J’Ouvert is what happens when someone opens the prison gates. J’Ouvert is the moment of truth in lives of endless fiction.

Check out the full piece in this month’s issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.