Post 490.

YOU MAY have been feting and missed the January 12 newsletter from the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and its head, Vijay Prashad.

I had to share its contents this week. I was so struck by how little we might know about what is happening on our planet, the power holders and their power plays, and how directly we pay the costs of their geopolitical games.

Anyone paying attention to climate change knows that major glaciers have melted and are melting, raising sea levels and leading to coastal erosion and flooding. Here’s what you may not know, summarised from this newsletter, which everyone with an eye on global affairs should read.

There are eight countries on the Arctic rim – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. In 1996, they formed the Arctic Council to monitor environmental threats to the Arctic, including climate change and development.

Hardly true custodians of humanity and the planet’s species, these countries have instead been competing to control the 21 million square kilometres of the Arctic Circle, which is rich in minerals, metals and fossil fuels.

There’s a race to control perhaps one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, and other earth elements, trapped beneath the ice. Each of these countries has been establishing military bases on the Arctic Circle rim. It’s a race to exploit, not save.

There is no way they are going to prevent any melting of ice caps when trillions of dollars of wealth is below the ice. Such wealth, without doubt, will amass in the hands of the few at the expense of us all.

The planet’s people can debate temperature rise and unsustainability, but the Arctic is where it’s at. This is a real conundrum for us in the Caribbean, situated so far away and so emotionally disconnected.

Besides the Arctic Council, regulation of the Arctic also falls under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Because the Caribbean is like saltfish, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) which implements the UNCLOS is located in Jamaica. There, a commission is developing a mining code to regulate exploration and exploitation of the international seabed area.

Whereas each of these eight countries controls part of the Arctic’s continental shelves and territorial sea (12 nautical miles from the low-water mark) and is jockeying to ensure rights to an exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles from the low-water mark), UNCLOS protects deep seabed as the “common heritage” of humanity.

Back to Jamaica. One-fifth of the commission’s members are from mining companies, and last year a slew of nations, including TT, protested against fast-tracking deep seabed mining rights. That fast-tracking was triggered by the small Pacific island country of Nauru which is in bed with a subsidiary of Canada-based and US-listed The Metals Company. Everywhere, the ocean’s deep seabed is at risk.

Speaking about the Arctic, Prashad writes, “a mining code that favours mining companies will not only increase exploitation, but also increase competition and the risk of conflict between major powers. This competition has already intensified the New Cold War between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) states – led by the US – and countries such as China and Russia and has led to the rapid militarisation of the Arctic.”

NATO’s headlining of world news increased after Russia invaded Ukraine, though it has long been expanding reach and influence. Russia was the current chair of the Arctic Council and the other members boycotted in solidarity with Ukraine, undermining the council’s multilateralism. NATO stepped in as a decision-making authority as Canada, Denmark, Norway and the US are already members, and Finland and Sweden soon will be.

Bunji Garlin’s Position could be describing the way that NATO is flinging bumper all over. Its focus, led by the US, is to muscle China and Russia out of decision-making over the Arctic, which Prashad describes as “part of the ideological battle to justify the New Cold War.” There’s a lot of speechifying about Western shared values and international rules and co-operation, but it’s about militarism and mining.

Meanwhile, the Arctic remains key to climate change and every country should commit to its protection. Caribbean countries have negligible influence, like cockroach in fowl party, but if the majority of the world rose up together, we would have decisive voice and power, in solidarity with indigenous people of the Northern Hemisphere and our own marine ecosystems. Currently distracted by so much else, at best, we are merely watching from the margins.

Post 285.

Terror is tightening its steel-knuckled right hand around our throats, and when steel talks everybody listens. Yet, somehow, people continue to try to live as they are used to, raising families, contributing to communities, and nurturing creativity.

That alone is a miracle. To provide a sense of normal amidst the not-normal, for another generation which wakes up not knowing anything else, but deserves so much more. To raise children as if this is still a place where they are safe from meeting murder on any junction.

This seems the best we can do when politicians and police jump up with criminals and abandon citizens, causing collapse of the city.

This long-established and well-known honour among thieves is what most powerfully sets the difference between our reality and our ideal, leaving mothers to tie their belly against such a war federation.

We cannot live as if this terror is only of Lego and Play Dough, not people’s future, family, and daily food. Perhaps this is why people everywhere are committed to children’s collective learning and exuberant joy, knowing that it is to them, not God, we will turn to save our nation.

I thought about all this while sitting in the dark of Queen’s Hall as Lilliput Children’s Theatre, led for decades by Noble Douglas, put on this year’s production of Juliet and Romeo – A Tobago Love Story. Tobago Love, as we all know, is a deep love beset by continuous feuding. Sounds like us, fighting over drug block, over maintenance payments, over votes and over kickbacks when, deep inside, all our children want is more love.

It is a claim to pride in which we are almost failing, which is why Terrence Deyalsingh’s well-meaning, but clueless, insistence on children playing outside fell on so many deaf ears.

After almost fifty years of PNM power, even in the neighbhourhood streets where we’d once played rounders and rode bikes, few parents feel their little ones are safe outside, even supervised. ‘I go tell meh mama don’t send me down dey’, sang the children, already wise, and almost in answer to Deyalsingh’s mocking pretense at their generation’s strange and tragic tale.

But, we may not be there yet. Held in the arms of the darkness, my heart could only lift and lift at the sight of little ones growing up with a chance to dance traditional steps, cooperate in theatrical story-telling, and learn music from the decades that led us here.

The whole audience of adults seemed to feel that if we could just enable them to shine, we could invest all our hope in their Lilliputian light. As Mighty Shadow long told us, it’s clear that we must believe in the little children.

The whole wide world is caught in the mad war between Is and Ought” seems the truest line of the day, as it best explains the fire raining down on temple and town, with so many unfortunate deaths already met and still to come.

Like with the Minister of Finance, the whole country wonders if the charts and graphs of the ambitious King of Is are a lie. Meanwhile, like the King of Ought, few of us can find a way beyond hopeless delusion to how the revolution we need will be done.

Much of Shakespeare is about a play within a play, and about life and art imitating each other. On stage, Juliet repeatedly comes to her senses as she knows Romeo for far too little time, has far too much going for her to sacrifice, is too young to choose both marriage and death, and therefore decides against violent delights that have violent ends.

Romeo acquiesces, setting an example of how to act that big men murdering their women still haven’t learned. Indeed, in the larger national story, its not just women’s subordination, but their empowerment, not just their choice to get into relationships, but their choice to leave, that lead to violent ends.

On stage, communities feud while wanting respite while being threatened with death by authorities with a say over their lives. Seeing it play out before our eyes, perhaps this is why we try to lift our children, despite the trauma of our reality today.

So that they can dream, imagine, create together, nurture, encourage, support each other, challenge, grow, dare to be bold and strong, and engender the principles of discipline, hard work and love.

Maybe we continue to empower our children because we wish that when they talk, everybody will listen.

Post 272.

Typical of Carnival for every one of her seven years, Ziya has been falling asleep hearing soca on loop through day and night, as loud as the chorus of crickets, frogs and barking dogs outside, but drifting through and from under the studio door across the hall.

Before roadmixes hit airwaves and all-inclusives, she’s heard them produced from beginning to end; the experiments with hooks, cowbells and synths, and their ability to add dramatic crescendo, breaks and pace. For weeks, she’d been going to sleep with ‘hello’, ‘hello’, ‘hello’ on repeat. This past week, it was ‘start’, ‘start’, ‘start’, rolling over added drums and vocals.

I’m thinking of the soundtracks to her childhood memories and how she’s inherited an experience I’ve had for almost half my life. Stone began to invent Carnival roadmixes twenty years ago, before producers started regularly sending a tune for something extra and more extended than needed for fetes and radio.

I’d go to sleep while he moved coloured lines and bars around on a computer screen, fixing vocals, pulling out buried horns, sweeps and strums, and re-arranging pan notes. Turning over in the night, I’d hear a section of sound being moved back and forth, back and forth, as he edited songs the way a DJ would, with breathing space for smooth openings and endings that could cut and mix.

Meeting other producers, remixers and DJs, I wanted to write a book about these men working from home, so different from the women’s home-based labour documented in scholarship and in poems about Caribbean mothers working as seamstresses, cake-makers or weavers while children played about them.

Did men working from home have the same experiences? Did they do as much care work while also earning income? Was there a playpen in the studio for those times when they were on parental shift and on creative deadline? Where they always ‘at work’ or did they plan times specifically for family? What was it like for their partners and children for men to be breadwinners at odd hours of the night and in their pajamas? Did music always pay the bills? What could we learn about Caribbean masculinities and labour from these studio guys?

Stone’s own history in first editing tapes before transitioning to hardware such as cds, drives and computers, and then finally ending with software, tones and sample libraries, highlighted the technological shifts that enabled these home studios to impact Trinidad and Tobago’s musical sound. It made these a lens for tracing how globalization’s wider shifts in knowledge, products and capital impact local culture even in small, near-equatorial soca kingdoms.

When we think technological shift, we think ‘Big Truck’, but it probably started with drum machines and four track tapes in these fellas’ teenage bedrooms and, later, in their home-based music studios, even more common today when all you need is a laptop and headphones.

The baby came and the book idea, titled DJ in the House, took second place, but I remembered it as Ziya began to dream to 2018 tracks not yet publicly released. Between us, we had fallen asleep and woken up to various stages in official mixes for Kees, Destra, Rikki Jai, Machel, Sherwin, Dil e Nadan, Andre Tanker, Ultimate Rejects-MX Prime, Patrice, KMC, Trini Jacobs, Bunji, Faye-Ann, David Rudder, Treason, Alison Hinds, Mr. Vegas, Chinese Laundry and even, now deceased, Rocking Randy.

She has more of a subconscious sense of the ‘cutting floor’ or final cut, a reference to unimaginably obsolete days of splicing thin reels of tape, than most of the nation dancing to versions that appear effortless, rather than debated and negotiated.

From today, extended road mixes rule the road. Thinking about their production, and not just consumption, you’d be surprised who could tell us their backstory.



Post 125.

Et tu, Bunji?

There’s been a disturbing trend since 1990s gangsta rap began to globalise ‘the club’, meaning the strip club, as the site par excellence for cultural and sexual expression and exchange.

Caribbean women’s sexuality was taking over the road, but across the hemisphere primarily male performers, producers and video directors were disciplining this disorder with fantasises of brown bodies whose power lay in shaking their ass for men’s money.

Sharlene Boodram went from singing ‘Sweeta Sweeta’ on a beach to singing ‘Ask It’ in the strip club. Bunji Garlin’s new hit, ‘Red Light District’ extends this, big pimpin the Caribbean as a sexual and leisure playground for any men who want to come.

Strippers are a category of workers, and mostly women, whose femininity and sexuality are defined primarily by men: what men want to consume, what bodies they desire, and what performances they will reward.

Strippers are not the same as skettels and sluts, labels assigned to women whose sexual expressiveness and power is defined by their own unruly pleasure.

What Bunji hails as the “feminine gender” are a larger group of persons whose sexuality, including when they wine dong at Jouvay or when they have consensual, safe and pleasurable sex out of marriage, may not be represented by any of these terms. Women are more than strippers, skettels and sluts. Even strippers, skettels and sluts are feminine and sexual in wider, more complex ways than social hypocrisy allows.

Women who express their sexuality, who are sexy, and who give and receive pleasure in one way or another are everyday women, amazing and compelling just because we are.

What is disturbing is when we are reduced to narrow categories, especially those that exist to service male demand and command, often not in empowering conditions of women’s own choosing.

I’m not putting down sex workers, I just think women’s sexuality should have visibility and value in Caribbean pop culture beyond the provocative compliance of exotic dancers and ‘young hos’.

Such hypersexuality retains its vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation. I’ve been to red light districts in Thailand where you can see fully dressed men holding a beer in one hand and the breast of a young women half their age, with none of their economic power and clothed in only a thong, in the other. I’ve watched men sell sex shows where women put balls or needles in their vagina, whatever you will pay for, where they have asked whether you are looking for a ten year old boy or girl.

When you are feting to Bunji’s big tune or pole dancing for exercise, because for empowered women that’s trending and cool, be glad that woman or girl isn’t you.

I’ve been to red light districts in Amsterdam where Surinamese immigrants, our Caribbean women, work under conditions of race, class and gender inequality. Women doing jobs that society looks down on, without legal protection, unions or rights to respect in police stations is what goes on in red light districts in most countries. Not the delusion of girls just having fun.

Wining adults fail to take seriously how the airwaves both represent and produce existing realities. We will, however, blame girls when they upload videos of themselves, play sexy too early or look for status with their bodies, when they get shamed or violated for enacting the very femininities these songs rotate on the radio.

Where’s the girls dem darlin that chanted down rape? Like Bruno Mars with his pole dancer at the VMA Awards, he’s mainstreaming conflicting messages about sexuality as freedom, but not as women’s complete violence-free, economic, legal, moral and reproductive control over such sexuality.

Red Light District could mash up place whole night, but we are more than a pimper’s paradise.