12/1/05

Admiral T, the Multicultural Frenchman

  • According to the Jamaica Observer, Guadeloupean dancehall deejay Admiral T was in Jamaica last weekend promoting french and francophone culture, his film Neg Maron [Maroon in Creole] and of course his creole-language dancehall. Sounds a bit strange that one could purport to promote all of the above in the same breath, doesn't it? Well, then you know what it's like to be Admiral T. Or any young, identity conscious Guadeloupean or Martiniquan, for that matter.

  • Some Haitians love to claim that our francophone cousins from Martinique and Guadeloupe (M&G for short) "have no culture." That's because while we were busy kicking Napoleon out around 1804, they remained colonies throughout the 19th century (much like the bulk of the Caribbean) and when the wave of African and Caribbean independences finally hit in the 60s they chose instead to become French Overseas Departments, embracing French Republicanism overnight. (It's also because M&G-ans listened to and produced nothing but konpa in the 60s and 70s but that's another story.)

  • Well, sorry to say but Admiral T is a good incarnation of how younger M&G-ans are managing the seeming contradictions these days. On the whole, they are embracing a kind of diet afro-centrism a good 10-15 years after the heyday of the ideology in America. (Let's face it, the once controversial Len Jeffries is kind of a has-been in the NY scene these days .) They are also hell bent on popping out soca and dancehall tunes in the most Jamaican and Trini-sounding Guadeloupean Creole they can pronounce. Topics, attitudes and values that were once quasi-taboo like Creole itself or Haitian vodou or god forbid blackness are now being discussed openly and quite intelligently on www.sol2zouk.com message boards. (I also sniffed the new status quo firsthand when I went to Guadeloupe in 2002, exactly ten years after my first trip there.)

  • Post-colonial repercussions long accounted for so many of those cultural taboos but french republicanism itself (the idea that being french meant you checked ideologies and identities that did not fit into the french mainstream a the door) was also a culprit. Guess what? It sounds like M&G-ans have kind of achieved what many would have thought impossible 20 years ago: they have somehow breached French republicanism a little --not to be confused by the way with American republican party ideology-- and carved out a space for American-style multiculturalism. (The kind that allows Americans to be both American and whatever else they're hyphenated with, a notion the French are painfully grappling with these days, as evidenced by last month's riots.) So people like Admiral T--and increasingly the French themselves-- no longer see a contradiction between the Alliance Francaise sponsoring Admiral's tour of Jamaica on the one hand, and his celebration of his African roots, his demand that more Gwoka be played on the airwaves or his constant denunciation of racism in M&G on the other.

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8 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

Very interesting post.

It must be frustrating, being aware of Haiti having a rich culture, and living in a country, where most inhabitants know nothing about it.

I'd enjoy to see you write more about politics.

Haiti is anthropology heaven.

Anonymous said...

ADMIRAL T EST UN JEUNE GUADELOUPEEN QUI A BEUACOUP DE SUCCES AUX ANTILLES ET A PARIS IL FAIT DU DANCE-HALL UNE MUSIQUE TRES APRECIE PAR LES JEUNES AFRO-ANTILLAIS LORS DE L UN DE SES PASAGE A PARIS PLUSIEUR CENTAINE DE JEUNES L ATTENDAIS POUR UN SHOW CASE ET CELA A FAILLIT TOURNER A L EMEUTE
CE GARCON A REUSSI LE MARIAGE ENTRE LE DANCE-HALL ET LA MUSIQUE TRADITIONEL DE LA GUADELOUPE QUI EST LE GWO-KA IL FAUT ECOUTE SON MORCEAU EN GWADADA QU IL AFAIT AVEC LE GROUPE AKIYO QUI EST UN DES VECTEURS DE LA CULTURE GUADELOUPENNE
SES TEXTES PARLENT DES DIFICULTEES QUE RENCONTRE LES JEUNES ANTILLAIS A SAVOIR LA CHOMAGE L EXCLUSION LA DROGUE LA VIOLENCE LE SIDA ETC

Alice B. said...

Hi Renegade,

There are lots of haitian politics being discussed elsewhere on the internet as I explained in my "Pundit Free Blogosphere" post. I'll do my best to crank that up here but I'm also very very interested in the bigger picture of Caribbean culture and society.

Alice B. said...

Bonjour Anonyme,

J'aime beaucoup la musique d'Admiral T et sa chanson "En Gwadada." Il a enormement de talent.
Reviens nous voir si tu peux. Je voudrais traduire mes posts en Francais mais il va me falloir trouver le temps...

Alice B. said...

I might as well translate anonymous's french post for our english speakers:

"Admiral T is a young guadeloupean who is very succesful in M&G and in Paris. Thanks to him, young afro M&G-ans appreciate dancehall quite a bit. During one of his Paris shows, hundreds of young people waited impatiently and riots almost broke out.

The man has succeeded in mixing dancehall and traditional guadeloupean Gwoka. You've gotta listen to his song "En Gwadada" which he recorded with the band Akiyo, one of the vehicles of Guadeloupean culture.
His songs talk about the difficulties faced by young people from Martinique and Guadeloupe namely unemployment, exclusion, drugs, violence and AIDS."


I basically answered that I too love Admiral T's music and think that he is very talented indeed.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post on Admiral T Alice.
I endorse your comments on his talents. Having had the pleasure of interviewing him while he was in Jamaica (along with Didier Daly) I found him a very down to earth young man who definitely has a passion for his country and his culture. Even his discussions of dancehall music, which is the genre he chooses, reflected not just the mere copying of it that so many non-Jamaican artists do, but really an appreciation for its capabilities to express social concerns and ideas. that came up much more in the interview that references to riddims, vocal dexterity, lyrics, etc. So big up to Admiral T. Also, ALice, you forgot to mention that the man does have some good acting chops. His movie, 'neg maron" which he was promoting here in Jamaica, is actually not bad at all and his acting in it, as the tortured and torn Josue, was quite impressive. even moreso given the fact that the man doesn't even sing one note the entire film and focuses instead on getting into the character and developing the persona from the inside. when i asked him abotu this, he said that his character was drawn on what he saw around him growing up i n the ghettos of gwada. so, big up to admiral T for his works.
matthewsmith

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post, i haven't heard much acknowledgement for gwada/madinina. i know haiti has a rich culture,one which i can respect alot. I think there must be some sort of rift between M&G and haiti because of fierce independent nature of Haiti and it's struggle.

i am from gwada and i will tell you i get this from haitians, africans, etc. in metro-france many resent the antillais because of the french citizenship. but in fact in france a black person is a black person regardless africa/M&G.

i acknowledge many from M&G have a long ways to go with acknowledging and accepting parts of their black african ancestry, i am also happy to say there are many people in these 2 departments who gladly embrace and are interested in the rest of the black world. example, aime cesaire,maryse conde, henri poullet, chamoiseau, etc etc.

i hope one day haiti and m&g can share and learn more from each other, all of these islands have such a rich culture not to mention a nearly common language.

l'union fait la force!

Alice B. said...

Thanks for this comment anonymous. I muse on the whole of the Caribbean here so look forward to more on M&G. :-)