Category Archives: Jamaica

On Track with Jamaica

This is my attempt to jump in on the #30in30 blog series started by Erik Parker which I learned about via writer Aliya S King. I’m starting 5 days late, so I’ll have to do some 2-a-days if I want to finish on time with everyone else. Bear with me, I haven’t written anything non-legal in a while. We’ll see how it goes…

I woke up at 5:35 am on Saturday. I just jumped right out of my sleep, without an alarm. This is no small feat for me, given that I am terribly nocturnal and am barely able to wake up with an alarm, much less without. But at 5:35 am the first Jamaican would be on the track for Olympics 2012. Of course I got up.

My love affair/obsession with athletics is longstanding. It’s irrevocably intertwined with my infatuation with all things Jamaican. Given Jamaica’s history of success in the sport, it makes perfect sense. Though it is ironic to me that I would choose sports as the object of my affection when I have never been athletically inclined. I played netball in prep and high schools, but no more than the average Jamaican girl. I have never been a great runner. When my ninth grade class was learning to hurdle, I was one of three students excused from participating because we were so short our teacher didn’t think we could safely clear the hurdle. Thank God; the hurdles were intimidating. 

Yet somehow, I have always been obsessed with athletics. I watch all the competitions; not just Olympics or World Champs. I search for live streams for all the events. I love reading the stats. I follow athletes from high school champs in Jamaica and investigate the backgrounds of NCAA athletes in the US. I really should find a way to get paid for this.

There’s something about seeing our athletes shine on the world stage that just brings so much pride and joy to my heart. It’s hard to verbalize, particularly to anyone who’s not Jamaican. Why do we run around screaming when a Jamaican wins a race? Why do we get so excited just to see one of our athletes on the track?

But maybe they get it too, a little bit. So many news sources have noted that we get the most thunderous applause when we enter stadiums. There’s a little bit of magic in our island, I swear. Or maybe a lot. And everyone knows.

My past few days have been scheduled around the times our athletes would be on the track. Whenever someone invited me somewhere, I had to double-check to ensure I wouldn’t be missing a race. Someone mentioned that I could miss the heats and semi-finals yesterday since only the Women’s 100 m finals were important. No they’re all important! 

You see, it’s not just about the winners. Despite the fact that Jamaica has been the sprint factory  for so long, we never won our first gold medals in the 100m until 2008. Thank you Usain and Shelly-Ann. There many silvers and bronzes, but never the golden prize. Prior to that, our only other sprint golds were Donald Quarrie’s and Veronica Campbell in the 200m, in 1976 & 2004.* Our gold medals in the 400m flat and hurdles were few and far between. Yet the pride and admiration we feel about our athletes is so immense.

Many have expressed in recent conversations that we’ve become spoiled by the success. Two-time 100 m winner Shelly-Ann Fraser said she wouldn’t call us greedy, but we do expect a lot from them. I cannot lie. I wish we could win everything. Give us all the medals! The beautiful simplicity of a good 100m race is that it demonstrates the resilience and winning power of our people in a mere 10 seconds. The fighting spirit that Jamaicans have that inspires me. It’s readily apparent in track but look closer, and you’ll see it in other aspects of our lives too.

And how cool is it that we had an equestrian compete this year? Can you imagine traveling all the way from Kingston to London with your horse in tow?! 

I haven’t blogged in a while but just seeing our talented athletes in their black,green and gold made me want to do any- and everything; sing, dance, scream, write – you name it. Maybe shed a tear, or ten. It will give me such pleasure to watch them raise our flag and play our national anthem in London today, 50 years to the date after the British flag was lowered in Jamaica for the last time before Independence.

Thankfully, Jamaica won’t be back on the screen till around 2pm today so waking up at 5:35 am wasn’t necessary. But I will gladly do it again to see them in action. On your marks, get set… WIN

* I’m excluding 400m from the sprints. Though I was taught it is a sprint in Phys Ed, all my friends who are athletes refer to it as a middle-distance race. Hence the exclusion of Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley’s 400m golds in 1948 and 1952.

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My Favorite Bob Marley Songs

If I had the time, I would write a detailed post about how Bob Marley’s legacy is much more than the posters emblazoned with red, green and gold and pictures of that illegal plant. But, alas, time is not on my side. Instead, I give you my top 5 songs by the late, great, Right Honorable Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley.

5. Exodus – The title track from his 9th album with the Wailers – the album that Time selected as the best of the 20th century. This song feels like fuel for a revolution. Love it!

4. Natural Mystic – I have no real justification for my love of this song. It just feels like it’s always been a part of my life.

3. Redemption Song– I have a vague memory of studying the lyrics of this song as a poem and participating in a choral elocutionary rendition in school. It’s funny, I can actually visualize the book with the poem but I can’t recall if this happened in high school or earlier. Regardless, I have heard so many horrible covers of this song through the years (Yes, I’m looking at you Rihanna) that I almost wrote it off with One Love, and Three Little Birds. But I think that longtime study of the words gave me such a deep appreciation for this song that I can’t let it go. We forward in this generation, triumphantly!

2. Satisfy my Soul – I discovered this song relatively late. I was very used to the revolutionary side of Bob, but not so much his love songs. Come to think of it, I first listened to this song because I read the Colin Channer book of the same name. Colin Channer is a great (New-York based) Jamaican writer, who hails from my hometown of Montego Bay. Anyway, I remember listening to this song for the first time, and just getting it. Whatever it is.

1. War – Adapted from the words of a speech made by then Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1 before the UN General Assembly in 1963. The words still ring true today. Another song for the soundtrack to any revolution. Unfortunately the best videos of him performing this song can’t be embedded, but you can always visit the Island Records youtube page for more videos.

Special Mentions:

Forever Loving Jah

Duppy Conqueror

Could You Be Loved

Rastaman Chant

What are your favorites?

Respect is Just the Minimum

Greetings Earthlings,

I am taking a break from self-imposed blogging sabbatical (read: I just wasn’t making blogging a priority) to comment on the boorish behavior that seems to be pervading our politics. I understand that politics is a dirty sport. It is often more about the gamesmanship than actual issues. But every game has rules. And we should be able to expect fair play from individuals seeking our support as the voting public. Unfortunately, in the midst of all the strategizing, politicians have apparently forgotten that a little respect goes a long way.

The latest egregious violation comes from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

When this inflammatory picture surfaced earlier today, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I even suggested it might have been a camera trick like that Mayweather photo that made it seem like he was biting/kissing Ortiz’ nose.

Then the video of her explaining how she felt ‘threatened’ by President Obama surfaced and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It must be wonderful to live such a privileged life that you feel comfortable pointing your finger in the face of the leader of the free world. I wouldn’t put my finger in my mother’s face, or a professor’s face, or any stranger’s face, for fear of losing said appendage. Actually, I wouldn’t even put my finger in a child’s face, because I was taught from a young age that it is a disrespectful thing to do. Yet she saw fit to point in the face of a man who has his own elite security detail and snipers at his beck and call. Perhaps we should collectively applaud her unabashed bravery. If that’s not gumption, what is?

Bear in mind that the illustrious Governor Brewer can list among her achievements signing the bill that limits ethnic studies classes in Arizona’s public schools, and the infamous Arizona SB 1070 immigration bill that has me debating whether I should keep my government documents on me at all times just in case.

Meanwhile, back a yard (that would be Jamaica, for the unfamiliar), former Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition Andrew Holness released this gem of a tweet :

The facebook post that is linked in the tweet refers to the Prime Minister as merely the PNP party leader, rather than Prime Minister. In all fairness, the social media posts were likely made by his social media director (Dear God, I hope he has one). But one would think that after the barrage of complaints he received about his tweets in previous months, he/they would have learned their lesson. When his party was soundly defeated last month, many political pundits and average Joes speculated that the loss was at least partially due the party ads that so grossly attacked Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller who is perceived as being more similar to the average Jamaican than he is. Yet his social media accounts do not suggest that the lesson has been learned. Whether you agree with her politics or not, as a political official, you should refer to her by her title, or at the very least, her surname. And why the constant use of all caps? Don’t they know that’s akin to shouting?

As someone who follows politics closely, and have several family members involved in politics, I would hope that we can move past the divisive ad hominem attacks, and focus on what is best for our nation.

I apply the same train of thought to US politics. No matter how much one may disagree with President Obama, if you are a public figure/elected official addressing him, he is President Obama to you. Not Mr. Obama, Obama, Barack, or the food stamp president. If you must refer to him derisively, do so when you’re not on your public platform. Give respect where it’s due. It’s just the minimum. Word to Lauryn Hill.

p.s. The Republican debate is on at 8pm EST tonight, January 26. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer will be moderating, and the audience will not be silenced as it was for Monday’s NBC debate. You should be able to watch live here: http://live.cnn.com/ Grab your popcorn!

Image is Everything

Yes, I jacked the title from the old Sprite commercials. I don’t quite agree with that characterization of life. I’m much more concerned with my perception of myself than yours. But, the older I get, the more I realize that your level of success strongly correlates to how much people like/love/believe in/accept/understand you. This is even more important when you’re in the entertainment industry. Musicians and actors collectively spend millions of dollars on image consultants, PR associates and stylists to craft the perfect image to enhance their appeal to us, the masses. And for the most part, if I’m gonna buy what you’re selling, I need to understand what you’re saying!

Which leads me into a discussion about last week’s Soul Train Awards. (Yes I’m a week late with this but it’s finals time. Sue me.) I didn’t watch the show because I was studying. (Well, I was trying…) But I did log on to twitter during the telecast. My most recent tweet was from an American friend basically saying I needed to assist Mr. Vegas because he was inarticulate during his red carpet interview *hangs head in shame*

I laughed it off and didn’t take it very seriously because I’ve watched enough interviews with Jamaican deejays in my lifetime not to expect better. I have vague memories of watching Anthony Miller’s Entertainment Report and counting how many times the interviewee would say ‘u nah mean’ or use some other space filler in their sentences. I definitely didn’t have high expectations. But, then I saw this tweet from @Bevysmith

If you can’t see the text it’s :

When I was interviewing the Jamaican gentlemen (sic) I could barely understand him & I simply cut the interview short

She was referring to Gyptian who she interviewed on the red carpet. Later in the night, she mentioned that she was pretty sure Gyptian was under the influence. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case, but no judgements here lol

Watch his acceptance speech:

Bevy Smith shouldn’t be passed off as just a random commentator. She hosted the BET red carpet for the Soul Train Awards and has an enviable resume filled with decades of experience that include being a fashion editor at Vibe to hosting the ultra exclusive Dinner With Bevy series. Her comment made me wonder how many opportunities have been missed simply because we were unable to communicate clearly.

After I saw and retweeted her comment, I got involved in conversations with Jamaicans at home and abroad regarding our artists’ presentation of themselves on the world stage. Some expressed dismay that reggae is our most famous export and our musicians do not always represent us well. I love my reggae as much as the next person, but I too cringe at some of the interviews I’ve seen our entertainers give. As much as I want them to spend time in the studio crafting hits for my listening pleasure, I would really love if they would spend some more time doing some media training. Have some soundbites prepared for international audiences. Get familiar with how to use twitter and facebook effectively. Develop a strategy for their brand and stick to it.

Given that every Jamaican artist seems to be clamoring for ‘crossover’ hits and Billboard recognition, one would think they would start focusing more on presentation.This is not to say that I expect them to twang and put on an accent for the foreigners. But as many have noted, music is now a business as much as it is an art. Artists have a product to sell. If they can’t communicate it effectively, who is gonna buy? I definitely understand that depending on their backgrounds they may not have had access to media training and similar tools that their international counterparts do. But that’s where their management should step in and provide the necessary guidance.

I don’t know any Jamaicans who still buy music legally. I don’t even know any who used to buy Jamaican music back when we still paid for cds. So a Jamaican artist’s dollars are coming first from limited local endorsements and stageshows. The big bucks are to be made by touring and selling overseas. (Though CD sales are down everywhere but it’s still better than what they’d get at home). If they’re gonna make money selling reggae music, they’d better figure out a way to ensure that people understand what they’re saying, not just in their lyrics but also in promotional appearances.

I’m sure many of our artistes would love to get international endorsement deals. Well in that case, many of them are gonna need their image revamped and most companies will not want to align their dollars with someone who they doubt can effectively communicate about their product. When we talk about image, we normally think about wardrobe and lifestyle choices. Let’s not forget to consider whether people can understand us and realize that we are in fact capable of stringing sentences together.

p.s. I don’t want to knock Gyptian. I *still* listen to ‘These are some serious times’ after all these years. Seeing him on stage at the Awards with the Jamaican flags all over the stage and the crowd on its feet made me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

****UPDATED**** I found out Gyptian was hospitalized for dehydration shortly after posting this. Wishing him a speedy recovery!

Separating the Artist(e) from his Art

Just a few hours after I wondered out loud (via twitter) what had happened to @cucumberjuice, she sent up a smoke signal via her latest blog post. In her heartfelt, sincere letter to Jamaican dancehall luminary Bounty Killer, she struggled to reconcile his badman persona with his self-proclaimed role as the poor people’s governor and his inexplicable addiction to battering females :-/

I don’t fancy myself a Bounty Killer fan, never have been. I remember the early 90’s when everybody in Jamaica was taking sides between Bounty and Beenie Man. At that time, I was busy listening to Whitney Houston & Celine Dion (don’t act like you don’t know all the words to It’s All Coming Back to Me Now !) But if pressed, I would have picked Beenie. Why? In retrospect, it was probably because Bounty always seemed like a very angry man. So when he announced his ‘Cross, Angry, Miserable‘ catchphrase in the mid-00’s, it was very fitting. (Pause: Are we about to start a new decade? Wasn’t the Y2K scare just yesterday?!) But I have no problem admitting that he is unmatched in his ability to deliver socially conscious messages over dancehall beats, so there are several songs in his arsenal that I consider classic and do in fact, love. (See: Look, Anytime, Fed Up).

Now despite the well-known juxtaposition between Rodney – the son who loves his mother, and Killer – the artiste well known for his domestic violence; I was still surprised to hear that he [allegedly] attacked one of his concubines girlfriends with a hammer and mosquito zapper 0_o . I was shocked for two reasons:

1. A mosquito zapper!!! Who the heck attacks someone with a mosquito zapper?
2. Just months ago he was facing charges for attacking his then partner, and one would think he would wait a while before resuming his usual ways.

That being said, unlike my twitren @cucumberjuice, I felt largely unaffected by this. I keep up with entertainment news as much as the rest of my generation but I’m one of the few that was unmoved when Michael Jackson died and never saw the need to engage in extended discourse over the Chris Brown and Rihanna debacle. While music is universally acknowledged as a way to express and evaluate our emotions, if we don’t separate our feelings for the art from those we have for the artist, we’ll never be able to listen to anything. I don’t mean to exonerate artists from all culpability for their actions, but with all the craziness going on in Hollyweird, I’ve given up on holding artists to anything more than the most base moral standard.

I came to that conclusion once R. Kelly’s golden showers w/ the kiddies came to light. R. Kelly remains one of the most prolific songwriter/producers of my generation (MJ’s You Are Not Alone, Whitney’s I Look to You, Toni Braxton’s I Don’t Want To, Ruben Studdard’s I Need an Angel, not to mention his own catalogue of hits). When that story broke, I had friends who vowed never to listen to R. Kelly again. My thought process was quite different: Why should I lose the pleasure of listening to good music because the musician is crazy (or corrupt … or criminal?)

I also pondered the double standard when the clarion calls were sounded to boycott Chris Brown. You mean to tell me all y’all really believed MJ was innocent? O_0 Or did people not care because he was the King of Pop? Hmmm…

Anyway, the only way for me to enjoy music (and by the same standard: films, books, plays, art etc.) is to separate the artist from the art. Until next time, I’mma Run it and Beat It cuz I Believe I Can Fly, even though I’m a Sufferer! 🙂