8/29/05

Figgy on Uptown Jamaica, a Brown girl's brown boy beef and having folks on both sides of the Revolution

Second installment of last week's msn messenger interview with Figgy.

Alice says:
So what's "After the Revolution"?

Esther says:
after the revolution is a project i've been wanting to do forever - it started out with me wanting to deal with my ambivalent feelings about what happened in jamaica in the 70's with the attempt at social transformation with a sort of "socialist" revolution and the whole romance of revolution and the drama of it all and what was and wasn't accomplished -
i wanted to start out with your typical brown-skinned middle class nuclear family being interviewed and asked "and what are you doing after the revolution" and replying "going to disney land" - yep i have some bitterness - but it's changed over time and i realize that it's really part of my larger obsession - my meaning of life obsession that i guess all my work is ultimately about - how does the individual exist in history - what is agency?
and so after the revolution looks at this question of historical agency through the desire for freedom and attempts at social transformation - the project keeps changing in detail but i'm thinking of looking at emancipation, independence and the 70's moment as the historical moments i look at - with the question of where does the desire for change come from - who are the players - what are the forces for and against - what is possible - and afterwards what happened and how do people feel.

Alice says:
Interesting!

Esther says:
so i'm currently in the research and development stage - trying to write a proposal to find money - and at the same time i've been talking with people and getting people involved etc. it's going to be a lot of work and a lot of fun and a lot of pain!

Alice says:
Wow!

Alice says:
When you talk about the 70s revolution, do you mean that period when Manley flirted with Castro, prior to loosing to Seaga?

Esther says:
yes it is the time of manley but it's more than manley because there were other players - there was trevor monroe and the jamaica workers party - there was the communist party (an earlier entity) there was of course stuff going on in trinidad guyana grenada and other places and it was all taking place within the "cold war" and the manipulations of both the soviet union the us and the european colonial powers despite what the unaligned movement was trying to do.
my family was on both sides of the revolution and i watched the emotional toll it took on people as well as the sort of unnecessary expansiveness of ego that of course has nothing to do with ideology but which actually is what ultimately drives the behaviour of "leaders" -
and then decades later i look at where people are in their lives and go huh? when i was in jamaica i saw an elderly friend who had been really crushed by something that had happened in the 70's - he had been accused of racism and colonialist sympathies and you know being on the wrong side - and his work had been taken from him etc. and he never really got over it - he's now in his 80's and i thought where are the people now who did this to him - who were so young and righteous at the time? did they mean to break a person's spirit and heart did they intend any of this? well some are dead some are rastas some are capitalists some are well placed academics some are indifferent etc.etc.

Alice says:
LOL. So how was it to have members of your family on both sides?

Esther says:
well at the time it was very tense but there is a great deal of love and acceptance in my family so most people don't hold on to such bad feelings and most of the older generation are sadly gone -
the divide was somewhat generational but there were younger people who were on different sides as well but i don't think it got so personal with them. basically my uncle was one of jamaica's leading capitalists and on my other side of the family i had an uncle who was very close to seaga - the thing to understand is that part of the seaga and business community strategy was to starve the revolution so they created shortages there was no food on the shelves etc. then on the radical side two of my brothers were prominent in the communist workers party.
then there was the whole religion thing. my father was against communism because it was atheistic but he would have been for many of the social justice and anti materialistic stances of radicalism. both of my parents were deeply religious - catholics - and my mother was very conservative but also an extremely generous person who again would have believed in people being treated fairly etc. so it's all quite complicated.
i remember at my brother's funeral in the 70's (i had a brother who died in a car crash at age 21) at the university chapel where a full catholic mass was being performed against half of our wishes (and we thought at the time against his) half of us participated in the mass and half of us didn't - i suppose that's as graphic as it gets!

Alice says:
What did each side stand for roughly?

Esther says:
really ultimately probably when you come down to it people don't stand for things that drastically different - it is about symbols and form and who has power - one side one might say believed in the goodness of a capitalist society governed by an elite and the other believed in the goodness of an egalitarian socialist society - on the surface one can say that is grossly the differences - and one aligned with north america and europe and the other with the soviet union and the third world - the thing though is when you really get down to the micro level of an individual's behaviour - things get way more complicated

Alice says:
What is an "uptown jamaican"? [silence]I know this one's hard... LOL

Esther says:
well uptown refers to upper st. andrew - but really upper kingston corporate area since st. andrew is a parish and extends way beyond kingston. ironically kingston proper had once been the enclave of whiteness and later became the enclave of blackness. originally elite jamaicans and what would later become middle class jamaicans lived in kingston proper - all the way down to the water front - many important institutions are still located down there - with the movement of rural jamaicans into kingston and the changing demographics middle class and upper class jamaicans (and upper class jamaicans always had multiple homes anyway) moved up out of kingston (the plains) into the hills and the upper lands

Alice says:
Something similar happened in Haiti (i.e. moving to the hills). I should really say Port-au-Prince.

Esther says:
yeah it's an urban phenomenon. oh and uptown people supposedly like soca - downtown people dancehall - that sort of silliness

Alice says:
LOL. Why do you say supposedly?

Esther says:
because of course it's not true - lots of uptown people like dancehall (sean paul is as uptown as you can get) and and even if less people downtown like soca than uptown, dancehall is way more like soca and other dance music including having continuities with jamaican mento music than classic one drop reggae ever was -it's about false divisions based on identity politics
of course performances of identity will lead certain types of ideologically based uptown people to perform uptownness in ways that conform with the stereotype such as the ridiculous jamaican carnival

Alice says:
Right.

Esther says:
and the same goes for downtown people - and those that want to cross over will do so - uptown performing downtownness and downtown performing uptownness etc.

Alice says:
So when in Jamaican history does "uptown Jamaica" emerge and how does it survive/live that "revolution" you mentioned?

Esther says:
i don't know the actual chronology so can't be accurate it's certainly since my generation and independence and probably accelerated in the 60's and onward but probably began after the war - of course most of the uptown folks left jamaica during the revolution - which is part of what has lead to a shift in the demographics of the middle class in jamaica as well as of course the demographics in florida!

Alice says:
I read a post on wayne&wax recently where a Jamaican female student of his at Brown--no pun intended!-- complained about what she perceived as a phenomenon of Jamaican "brown boys" trying hard these days to perform "marleyness" and a kind of ghetto adoration which sounds a lot like a performance of "downtownness." it's kind of hilarious the way she describes it and she seems to indicate it's endemic. Sound familiar at all?

Esther says:
yes that's been going on forever and it's not just brown boys since blacks are now in the middle and upper classes. it's also of course about masculinity and you see the same issues with rap and hip hop and suburbanness in amerika and of course as peter tosh always pointed out it was marley's brownness (in contrast to tosh's blackness) that helped him become an international star

Alice says:
Just to play devil's advocate, do you buy that claim by Tosh?

Esther says:
absolutely!

Alice says:
Why do you think brownness catapulted Marley?

Esther says:
well it's a matter of tracking the careers not just of tosh and marley but others - i mean jimmy cliff is a black and in many ways internationally as big a star as marley (over time) but you don't see him on t-shirts all over the world the way you do marley - it was his brownness that led him to be a "rebel" but not threatening in the way that tosh was threatening -and if you look at shaggy and sean paul why are they international stars? and it has also to do with the greater ease in which browness can travel in the world - brownness is flexible can be acceptable in a way that blackness isn't.

Alice says:
I think it's interesting that you're just not seeing a "brown boy" or middle-class boy emulation of ghettoness in Haiti (that I can tell from here at least- LOL!) and I am kind of puzzled as to why... But you are seeing brown boys heavily represented in leading teen bands (Carimi, Konpa Kreyol, Dega, T-Vice etc. ), especially after the fall of the Duvalier machine . . . but no ghetto performance so far . . .

Esther says:
how interesting - maybe there is nothing overcoming the stigma of poverty in haiti while in jamaica it is associated with authenticity - urban male poor ("sufferer") musical - it's about masculinity and realness

Alice says:
You also have "Jamaicans for Justice" which is apparently an uptown phenom as well. We are seeing parallels to that in Haiti , mulattoes wanting to get back into the political arena and one running for the presidency after an absence of 50 years and participating in civil society. . .

Esther says:
oh my god - it's such a trip - people (including my relatives!) who were against the 70's revolution are now highly involved with jamaicans for justice and this whole bizarre way that human rights circulates in the world under US intervention - it's really interesting - one thing is the upperclasses and middle class people who stayed in jamaica (or who came home) really feel like they have an ownership and stake in the country that they refuse to be denied (you know you're white you can't be jamaican etc.) and so this movement of participation is both an act of you might even say radical agency on their part but also a throw back to when they used to run the country and in the sense they are saying you people have shown that you are incapable we must again take over - yet they aren't doing it through the traditional political party division etc. it has moved into civil society human rights and ngos -

Alice says:
the part about "we must again take over" is happening in Haiti as we speak. Kind of funny. And in Haiti it is also through "civil society" c.f. Groupe 184 which emerged under Aristide and has now spawned the first serious brown presidential candidate from the industrialist class in Haiti in 50 years.

Esther says:
yeah well see repeating islands and caribbean integration! it's not about neoliberal political or economic engineered associations it's about the power of existing structures and historical phenomena that play out in the here and now -- ah but we are neighbor's and so close!

(In the next and final segment, Figgy talks about her novel for which she needs an agent, love in the Caribbean and much, much more.)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great blog and interview.

Here are my comments about one particular quote:

"i mean jimmy cliff is a black and in many ways internationally as big a star as marley (over time) but you don't see him on t-shirts all over the world the way you do marley - it was his brownness that led him to be a "rebel" but not threatening in the way that tosh was threatening -and if you look at shaggy and sean paul why are they international stars? and it has also to do with the greater ease in which browness can travel in the world - brownness is flexible can be acceptable in a way that blackness isn't."

I disagree with this completely. There are a lot of men Jimmy Cliff's phenotype who are as big as Marley, shaggy, and sean paul on the international media scene. They include Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Wesley Snipes, and Sean "P Diddy Combs". Indeed, many more people around the world wear clothes that say "P Diddy" on it than "Bob Marley" based on how well his sweat shop clothing company is doing.

Sadly, the reason Marley is a bigger symbol of rebellion that Jimmy Cliff, is that too many prefer to only want to see brown men in a "rebellious" role. This is hardly progressive.

It would be great to get some brown men on the blog for equal time, maybe even a few who are allowed to be something other than "rebellious".

Alice B. said...

Hey Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. I can't speak for Figgy but I'll say that your perspective is certainly very interesting.

As to equal time for brown men, I have lost of interviews in the making and if you stay tuned, you will certainly see some brown boy comments on the blog.

Ciao and thanks.
A.

june said...

Alice,

Great blog and a very interesting interview with Fig (and more TK--how lush!).

Not really on the topic of the interview, but I wanted to let you know about a series of dispatches from Haiti in Slate this week: http://slate.msn.com/id/2125248/entry/2125249/

I'm slightly ashamed (but not quite) of the headline the promo-writers put on today's ToC for it--amid all the hurricane coverage, the line read, "It Could Be Worse, You Could Be in Haiti."

Love,
June

Alice B. said...

Hey June,
Good to see you here! Thx for your kind words. Figgy had told me about the dispatches but now that I have the link, I'll go take a look.

Incidentally, I'd much rather be on a Haitian beach (see link below) right now than here, New Orleans or hellish Port-au-Prince (the haitian capital) but that's just me and my taste for white sand. :-)

http://www.portmorgan.com/F/site02.html

Loved your live blogging of the oscars, BTW.

Ciao.
A.

Anonymous said...

First and foremost Marley and Cliff do not belong int he same sentence,paragraph,same blog as Paul and Shaggy. Marley and Cliff are both music icons and legends, Paul and Shaggy are simply techno rappers .

Marley is considered one of the best if not THE BEST lyricist of the 20th century and he;s arguably the best performer and musician of the 70's!
Cliff certainly had his moment, his stirring performance in the movie THE HARDER THEY FALL is a testimony of his great talent as an actor and musician!

People will listen to Marley's music in the next century even the next millenium. Somehow it's hard to imagine that anyone would listen or care of Shaggy's
IT WAS'NT ME in 10 years!

Anonymous said...

Again Alice,you seem to bring the best, well, some will say the worst out of MOI.

and again I'm quoting you:

"..
I'd much rather be on a Haitian beach (see link below) right now than here, New Orleans .."

Is it MOI ? was I dreaming ? or Did I read a Katrina headline from a a major New Orleans newspaper that said:

THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN IN HAITI!