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February 26 2014

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February 11 2014

A Personal Tribute to Jamaican “Interventionist” Stuart Hall

As tributes to late Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall keep coming, Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul posts a personal and stirring acknowledgement.

Titled “A Stuart Hall-shaped hole in the universe…”, she begins by saying:

When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.

Paul chooses to share some of her own photographs in the post, which alone makes it extraordinary – snapshots of Hall with Paul herself; with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe magazine; a few pics of him both in England and in Jamaica. These are rare glimpses into the ordinary days of an extraordinary man. Paul says:

Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions.

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 - Photo by Annie Paul

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 – Photo by Annie Paul

She links to a post she wrote in November 2013, in which she reviews The Stuart Hall Project, the John Akomfrah film about him, which she hopes will be screened in Jamaica soon. In it, she says:

One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Stuart Hall, was born and brought up here, made his career in Britain, become an intellectual powerhouse there, and is virtually unknown in the land of his birth. So true what Jesus said: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Ah well.

Still, she shares links about his life and work in an effort to make “young people here realize that Jamaicans excel not only in track and field and music but also in the intellectual arena…”

Another piece of memorabilia Paul shares in the post is one of her “treasures”:

…a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum.

She ends with an upload of an interview she did with Hall, titled The Ironies of History:

The Ironies of History:An Interview with Stuart Hall by Annie Paul

The interview (read it, above) begins by quoting Professor Grant Farred of Duke University:

Such was Hall’s impact on the US, British, Euro pean and Australian academy via cultural studies, mainly through a range of essays he published during the 1980s, that by the 1990s he became one of the preeminent intellectuals in the world. In truth, because of the international rise of cultural studies, Hall came to be regarded as an academic star, an intellectual celebrity, and a philosophical guru: he became the incarnation of cultural studies, first in Britain and then in the United States, widely anointed as the spokes man for the politics – and the endemic politicization – of the popular, the theorist in the fore front of politicizing (all) identity.

In it, Paul discusses with Hall everything from immigration and deportation to dancehall music, black masculinity and homophobia. He talks about art, architecture and visual culture. He even talks about himself and his work:

I was an interventionist, my writing is interventionist ok? That is to say I write in order to intervene in a situation, to shift the terms in which it’s understood, to introduce a new angle, to contest how it has been understood before; it’s an embattled form of writing…a kind of intellectual interventionism.

This is a kind of politics in theory, because it’s interested in struggling thought – struggling in thought. Not interested in the production of pure truth, absolute truth, universal truth. It’s interested in the production of better ideas than the ones we used to have. So it’s a kind of struggle in thought, a struggle with thought and a struggle inside thought, struggle inside thinking to change the terms of reference with which we’re thinking. There’s also a politics of thought in the sense that it wants to make the ideas useful for some purpose; it wants to help people think more clearly about their situation or to help to advance nationalism in a more progressive direction or to help the world become a more equal and just place.

The image used in this post is by Annie Paul, used with permission.

February 10 2014

Remembering the Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.

The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.

Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:

I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!

Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:

We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.

Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.

Rest well in peace Sir.

Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.

From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:

In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:

Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004. Photo by Annie Paul.

In a blog post that was published soon after the 2012 debut of John Akomfrah‘s film about Hall, “The Unfinished Conversation”, cultural studies professor Nick Mirzoeff wrote:

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

He commented on other revelations in the film:

It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review.

Mirzoeff continued:

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:

Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:

Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:

Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:

Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:

One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:

Akomfah's latest documentary about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project, can be viewed here. A shorter clip is here.

@cfidelmorris acknowledged the great impact of jazz music in Hall's life – specifically the music of Miles Davis:

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:

The photograph of Stuart Hall used in this post was taken by Annie Paul; uploaded by Nicholas Laughlin and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Nicholas Laughlin's flickr photostream.

February 08 2014

Station's Rights to Sochi Games Leaves Caribbean Viewers in the Dark

Six Caribbean teams are competing in this year's winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Bermudathe Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Naturally, sports fans throughout the region want to watch – but there's a problem. SportsMax, a premium subscription-based television station, has been awarded exclusive rights to the 2014 Sochi games in the Caribbean. “Inside The Games” reported on the details:

The deal, announced between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and  International Media Content Ltd (IMC), the parent company of SportsMax, is applicable for 21 nations and territories ranging from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago.

It consists of exclusive English language broadcast rights on all media platforms, with live coverage to be provided on both SportsMax and SportsMax2 for the duration of the Games when they get underway in Sochi.

Columbus Communications, owners of the Flow cable network which operates in several Caribbean territories, took to its social media outlets to address the issue:

Flow Fans, please be advised that SportsMax holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the '2014 Winter Olympics’ in the Caribbean for the period February 7th to 23rd 2014. Olympic programming will be broadcast mainly on Sportsmax 1 with some content on Sportsmax 2. Consequently, we are legally required to blackout the coverage of the games on all channels including but not limited to NBC & CBC who will be carrying portions of the SOCHI games. During the blackout periods the affected channels will carry a notice to our customers advising of the blackout requirement and directing you to SportsMax. 

We understand the inconvenience that this issue poses and are aware and acknowledge that blocked content is disruptive for our viewers, however we MUST comply. Once the broadcast rights to air a program is (sic) purchased we are obligated to block out that program (when requested) as both a legal and regulatory (TATT) obligation. Failing to comply could lead to legal actions against Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited. This arrangement is not unique to Trinidad, all video service providers worldwide will be required to take similar action based on the Network which has purchased the rights in that country. 

Irate Jamaicans posted on Flow Jamaica's Facebook page about having to pay to watch their team parading in the opening ceremony and competing in the games. Diego Armando Thomas had this to say

So because i don't have the #SportsMax package on #Flow I am not allowed to watch the #Olympics? This is BULL. You block the channels am paying for? Really!!!

Another viewer, David Valentine, urged Jamaicans to take action by writing to the Jamaican Broadcast Commission:

This is a sheg up situation, taking advantage of the people who no have no options. The blasted Olympics should not be held ransom, by forcing people to pay for some purely subscriber based channel. Imagine if Showtime did have the exclusive rights to the Olympics? Something wrong with this blow wow picture man. Them really corrupted. PEOPLE WRITE TO THE BROADCAST COMMISION!!

Others expressed their disgust on Twitter:

One viewer who subscribed to the SportsMax service was dissatisfied with the coverage of the opening ceremony:

Competitor cable provider Lime has been offering viewers in some of the countries in which it operates, a free trial of SportsMax for the duration of the games:

The issue of broadcast rights for local television stations versus those of the cable company was discussed in this post:

Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that  the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.

While SportsMax is indigenous to the region, it is a pay-per-view service, and some netizens have complained about the failure of free-to-air broadcasters to obtain rights to the games. Yvon Tripper commented on an article in the Bermuda Royal Gazette:

IOC simply gives rights to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping a Bermuda-based broadcaster from asking the IOC for Bermuda-only rights, and then just using the American and Canadian feeds. If no one in Bermuda pays for broadcast rights for the island's Olympic coverage rights, then there's no point in complaining when someone else does. The IOC would be happy to exclude Bermuda from the Caribbean region if it mean that they got more money — it's all about the Redbirds, baby.

While Trinidad and Tobago is not competing in the games, none of the terrestrial broadcasters have purchased rights to the games, forcing interested viewers to subscribe to SportsMax for live coverage. Annoyed cable subscribers vented their feelings on Twitter:

The Sochi Games run until February 23, 2014.

February 07 2014

Caribbean Numbers Involved in Telephone Phishing Scam

If you see a missed call originating in the Caribbean from someone you don't know, it is likely that you have been targeted by perpetrators of the ‘one-ring phone scam’. While the numbers used in these phishing activities can originate anywhere in the world, Slate reports that Caribbean numbers have been noticed with alarming frequency over the past few weeks:

The Better Business Bureau lists calls from Antigua and Barbuda (268), the Dominican Republic (809), Jamaica (876), the British Virgin Islands (284), and Grenada (473) as potential scam threats. People who do call back could be charged something like $30 for the international call, depending on the carrier, and see fraudulent service fees showing up on their phone bills. This process of ‘cramming,’ when third-party scammers sneak bogus charges onto legitimate phone bills, is ever on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.

Affected persons around the world took to Twitter to report the issue:

Occurrences of these calls have also been reported in Trinidad and Tobago on Facebook. Shelley-anne L Thompson weighed in on the discussion:

I get that like once a month and have never called. come on, people you know this scam! dont let your curiosity trap you.

Maisha Hyman had this to say:

I'm glad to see this! I've recently had hang up calls from Antigua and Grenada! Like wtf?!

Others were more concerned about the impact of the scam on the region. Michael Nahous of Trinidad and Tobago was not amused:

How can they charge you $30.00 without some contract arrangement with the telephone carrier….its only digicel, cable wireless and the local telephone companies in these islands…if they know its a scam why cant they just disconnect the number.

People affected by the scam are being urged to alert their service providers if they spot any unusual charges on their phone bills.

February 04 2014

Tweeting the Vybz Kartel Trial & Telling Jamaican Stories

The Vybz Kartel murder trial continues to capture the attention of Jamaican netizens. Annie Paul of Active Voice “finally made it” to the trial last week, and provided some valuable context:

Jamaican DJ Kartel and his four co-accused are charged with the murder of Clive Williams aka Lizard, an associate who apparently borrowed two guns from the DJ and was subsequently unable to return them. It is alleged that in retaliation he was murdered by the DJ and his accomplices. In an unprecedented move Kartel and company have been held without bail for two and a half years, while rumours have swirled that the Police had incontrovertible evidence of Lizard’s murder at the hands of Kartel and his friends. The evidence was said to be in the form of text messages, voice messages and videos found on cell phones belonging to the DJ that were taken into custody by the Police when he was arrested on 29 September 2011. There was also a series of text messages sent by Lizard Williams to his girlfriend saying that he feared for his life and begging her to inform the police.

She admitted that some observers are sceptical of such evidence. On Twitter, for instance, Peter Dean Rickards suggested:

However, Paul also said:

Quite a few people have made up their minds that the entertainer is guilty of the crimes he’s accused of. So much for the accused being considered innocent until proven guilty.

Which is exactly why she wanted to attend the trial “live and direct” herself. She described her experience in compelling detail:

I thoroughly enjoyed being in court [last Wednesday] to witness Pierre Rodgers (co-accused Sean Storm’s attorney) systematically pick apart Detective Sergeant Patrick Linton’s testimony. Linton is the former head of the Cybercrimes Unit who downloaded and presented the evidence collected from Kartel’s phones. While waiting for a legal friend to arrive to take me into Courtroom 2 where the Kartel trial was scheduled, I bucked up Supreme Court Judge Bryan Sykes who assured me that I needed no such escort, having a right as a member of the public to attend the trial. That may be true in theory, but in reality entry wasn’t easy.

Had I not been escorted by a legal heavyweight the four heavy set plainclothes policemen outside the courtroom who interrogated us while barring entry would have intimidated me enough to make me leave. Having finally breached the hallowed theatre of justice I was surprised at how small the courtroom was, and intimate; i found myself seated about six feet away from Kartel and within spitting distance of the jury. The DJ wore a shocking pink shirt and orange tie and held a matching orange handkerchief that he occasionally squeezed or twisted in his hands.

I don’t know if there were any other members of the public there, the seats were mostly taken up by plain clothes policeman nattily dressed in suits with different coloured ties and lawyers in their John Crow like robes.

The rest of Paul's post compiles a selection of tweets “from the account of the person tweeting on behalf of Vybz Kartel, followed by some of @Emilynationwide and Legatus Maximus’s tweets capturing some of the action”:

Legatus A. Maximus’ tweets dealt primarily with the debate over the digital evidence:

Cucumber Juice, meanwhile, was still ruminating on the lessons inherent in the trial:

Remember Tivoli, May 2010? That story, a defining moment in Jamaican history, was and still is being told by Mattathias Schwartz. We don’t even have a barrage of songs about Tivoli. It’s like we’ve locked the events of May 2010 away in some deep dark recess of our collective consciousness, fearful of really looking at what happened and what it may say about us.

Remember the first Jamaican Bobsleigh team? That story was ultimately told by Disney. Right now there is a lot of goodwill and focus on the 2014 two-man Bobsleigh team from Jamaica and much of it is framed around Cool Runnings.

Then, only last week someone wondered out loud on Twitter whether and when there’d be a movie about Adidja Palmer’s current trial. I hope that there is! To repeat: There is so much rich detail in the charges that were brought against Mr. Palmer. The ins and outs of this trial would make any screenwriter happy, and somehow I think that Mr. Palmer would be a willing collaborator.

I raise this issue of telling our stories within the context of the Kartel trial because I expect that many Jamaicans simply want Mr. Palmer to disappear from the Jamaican news cycle. He should be banished to furtive verandah and cocktail party chatter, nothing more. They’d probably hope for less. That strikes me as hopelessly superficial (that is, of course, unless you’re the victim’s family and friends). It also raises the question I think of what or who is respectable enough to be claimed as Jamaican.

To her, the good, the bad and the ugly are inextricably interwoven into the concept of Jamaican identity:

Our history and current happenings are not always palatable but they are ours, and, together, they weave together the tapestry of our society and influence our collective consciousness. Face it, talk about it, deal with it. These things are all Jamaican and a part of Jamaica. I wonder if it is that given all the pressures of a still young independent nation whether it is that we’ve implicitly decided that we cannot afford the luxury of fully exploring our experiences and history. There is no time and no space. Life is so challenging for many and surviving is the ongoing concern. Somehow that strikes me as unhealthy at worst and a missed opportunity at best. We’re neglecting our chances to identify, define, celebrate, explore, and examine the themes that comprise Jamaican identity and what it means to be Jamaican.

Why aren’t we telling our stories?

Jamaica: Third World Front Man Dies of Cancer

Jamaican View notes that Bunny Rugs, leader of the reggae band Third World, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

January 27 2014

Jamaicans Deserve Details About Proposed Logistics Hub

You are being manipulated. Jamaicans are effectively begging and paying their government for vital information about their country. How can we accept this?

Talk of developing an environmentally protected area of Jamaica as a major logistics hub has Cucumber Juice up in arms, as she says key information is not being provided to the public.

January 20 2014

Is the Vybz Kartel Trial an Opportunity for Jamaica?

Jamaican music has always, and continues to capture the imagination of the world, and so have its musicians, especially when they blur the lines between celebrity and outlaw.

One of the most recent dancehall artists to get on the wrong side of the law is Adidja Palmer, better known as Vybz Kartel. A big name in the music business, he has collaborated with A-list hip hop musicians like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Eminem. Towards the end of 2006, he made headlines in the region over an ongoing feud with his former collaborator Mavado, which led to fans of each side mobilising themselves into two factions – Gaza and Gully – which often culminated in street clashes. Other controversies have followed him – the skin bleaching issue and now several murder charges.

One Jamaican blog, Cucumber Juice, recently examined “the value of the Vybz Kartel trial”, first taking issue with glaring inconsistencies in the media's reporting of the facts:

There is so much rich detail in the charges that were brought against Mr. Palmer. So many moving parts. I am grateful for the page on The Jamaica Gleaner that lists all its articles on Mr. Palmer’s charges. Unfortunately I realized a lot of problems with the reporting. After reviewing over 2 years worth of articles I could almost predict the phrasing and wording…there has obviously been too much copying and pasting and not enough editing or (attention to) detail. I saw inconsistent name spellings, inconsistent facts (e.g., Just how much bail was Mr. Palmer granted for Charge 2, JM$3 million or JM$1 million?).

After doing the research to come up with the above timeline and to properly refresh my memory about the charges against Mr. Palmer…I’m expanding my definition of quality to mean not only the kind of reporting being done on the trials but also how the reporting is presented. The poor quality of the former is amplified by the at least equally poor quality of the latter. It’s sloppy.

She continued, this time addressing the third offence on which the dancehall star is charged:, “the murder of Clive Williams (aka Lizard) on August 16, 2011″, which she sees as an opportunity to right some wrongs:

This trial (for Charge 3) has captured the attention of a lot of Jamaicans. A significant portion of…trial watchers are Vybz Kartel fans but others are following the case because, frankly, this is a high-profile landmark case and it’s the first time (that I can remember) a popular person actually going on trial for something and the trial not dragging out over a number of years. Evidence is being presented, the judge is making rulings; it seems that things are moving along.

But more than the unfolding of this case is the characteristic of a large number of people who are following [it]. They are people most likely to encounter Jamaica’s criminal justice system. Too often the average Jamaican’s experience with Jamaica’s criminal justice system is hostile, even deadly. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is viewed with suspicion and contempt. Our courts are viewed as inefficient, burdened, and, I think, unjust. I believe the fancy parlance is that there is a trust deficit. Like him or hate him, Mr. Palmer’s alleged misdeeds have provided us with the opportunity to teach and, perhaps, even to address that trust deficit.

I’m wondering why neither the media nor Jamaica’s legal community is grabbing hold of this opportunity.

In particular, she saw clear roles for the Jamaican media and judiciary:

I think that it’s fair to expect Jamaica’s media to be doing more with the coverage of these trial. It’s fair to expect the legal community (which would include the judiciary) to proactively engage the Jamaican public to capitalize on this interest. Use it as an opportunity; you have a captive audience – the average Jamaican – that needs the information. Kartel ah ‘dem’ artist but I guarantee you that ‘they’ also identify with him…by calling upon their own experiences: in custody for over 2 years, no bail, charged with an array of things. It’s David versus Goliath; the underdog versus the big opponent already considered unjust and unfair. Babylon at work, even.

That’s why lawyers are important: to be the interpreter and navigator of that system on his or her client’s behalf. The lawyer knows the system and that the system is meant to represent and protect the society. They must…defend their clients against it not to bring the system down but to ensure a fair result, to ensure justice.

Next, she took on the way in which information is being disseminated online and offered suggestions:

I’ve seen some journalists and lawyers live tweet the trial. Good. But their reporting is necessarily limited by their own interest and availability. There isn’t even a consistent hashtag being used to allow easy curating of (relevant) tweets. Where’s the dedicated live tweeter (perhaps a former court reporter or a law student?) who will deliver dispassionate reporting on what is said from the stand and ruled on from the bench, and who will follow that reporting up with an end-of-the day wrap up and, geez I dunno, Legal Lesson of the Day?

At most these internships could cost a newspaper a transportation stipend and a lunch per diem. The student gets credit and a good entry on the résumé. Put interns on a rotation to cover this trial (it is news) and maybe another trial on a live blog.

Why is all this so important to her – and so many other Jamaicans? She summed it up by saying:

The law touches every aspect of society; it defines the boundaries for our interactions.

If you are at all interested in justice then you must be interested in ensuring that the ‘average man’ is aware of his rights and feels empowered to exercise them. That’s the opportunity of this trial and it’s being wasted.

January 16 2014

Jamaican Winner of The Voice Sings for Haiti

Just another reason to love Tessanne Chin: she's singing to support a housing programme in Haiti. Repeating Islands republishes the details.

January 15 2014

Jamaica: Measuring the Effect of Shaggy's Charity Concert

Jamaicans got a good show with this year's edition of Shaggy and Friends, but Cucumber Juice wants measurability:

This applies to any organization, but especially to charities and public organizations.
It’s called transparency.

December 25 2013

The Caribbean Just Might Be The Next Big Thing in Music

As 2013 comes to a close, the eyes of the world are focused on the Caribbean – and the good news is that it's not because of crime, politics or corruption. Instead, Caribbean music seems to be emerging as the next big thing.

Jamaican vocalist Tessanne Chin got the ball rolling when she earned a place in Season 5 of NBC's hit singing reality show The Voice, which she went on to win. Throughout the season, regional netizens and members of the Caribbean Diaspora were tweeting, texting and showing their support for the songstress; her win made Twitter go wild to the point where she became a trending topic.

Late last week saw a similar online frenzy, this time surrounding Trinidadian soca artiste Bunji Garlin's bid for MTV Iggy's Song of the Year. Like The Voice, the winner would be determined by votes and regional netizens took up the challenge with full force; the Polldaddy site soon crashed because of the overwhelming response from the Caribbean, which was overwhelmingly voting for Bunji's popular song “Differentology”, and fans of G-Dragon, a South Korean rapper, who wanted his song to be chosen. A face-off developed: G-Dragon had a minute lead when the polls crashed, causing MTV to call a runoff:

Wow. This has been one of the most thrilling and emotional reader polls that we’ve ever done. Song of the Year 2013 became a neck-and-neck show down for who has the most has the most passionate fans in the world.

In one corner stood Bunji Garlin. His track ‘Differentology’ demonstrated that soca didn’t just have to be confined to Trinidad and Tobago or Caribbean communities around the world; it has worldwide infectiousness that fits right in with the domination of electronic dance music in 2013. And with Tessanne Chin’s win on The Voice this week, the future is looking very Caribbean.

In the other corner stood G-Dragon.

Both fan camps put their time and energy into making sure that their favorite artist pulled far and away from other notable contenders…All of that was paying off until, with less than an hour to go… The poll froze. We worked as hard as we could to fix the problem (which is likely outside of our ability to fix), but THE FANS WERE TOO MUCH FOR THE SERVERS TO HANDLE. At the time that the poll, the margin between between the two artists was .02%.

After a staff discussion, we only thought it would be fair to give the fans a little bit more time. You now have until 5pm EST this evening (12/20/13) to choose just between Bunji Garlin’s ‘Differentology’ and G-Dragon’s ‘Crooked’ for MTV Iggy Song of the Year.

The declaration sent Caribbean netizens on a mission – Dion Boucaud was one of them, encouraging his Facebook friends to vote. Twitter was also in on the action from very early on.

After the site crashed and MTV declared that the voting would be suspended, Boucaud responded to the unhappy South Korean commentary on this Twitter hashtag, saying:

What ah go say, the Trini spirit is strong.

His status update sums up one of the most tangible things to come out of this new wave of Caribbean music – that the Internet and social media are making it possible for fans’ voices to be heard and for regional citizens to show their patriotism with online support. By way of explanation, Boucaud challenged another Facebook user, who thought all the hype surrounding the voting was unnecessary:

So someone is apparently questioning our sanity. Asking ‘what's wrong with us'. My response. ‘Sigh! Perhaps your question should be introspective. Yes it started out as a competition for a Song, but the poll has now evolved to see who has the most dedicated fan base. Full Stop. We are not as vapid as you are painting us out to be. 2) there are only 1.3 million Trinis vs 50 million Koreans, so it would be very erroneous to assume the WE are the only ones voting for Bunji. This is just pure fun. But a deep showing of National pride in a competition that hurts no one gets condemnation. What I won. A night online sharing a moment with friends and strangers to see one of my countrymen get international recognition. And that's priceless. Bless.’

The battle was finally declared a tie:

Boucaud responded to the news on Facebook:

A Draw and a call to collaborate between the Dragon and the Viking. Yeah I'll take that. Well fought VIKINGS

The battle, the draw and the global attention for home-grown talent like Bunji Garlin and Tessanne Chin will no doubt be buoying Caribbean netizens well into 2014.

December 18 2013

Jamaican Songstress Tessanne Chin Wins “The Voice”

The finals of Season 5 of NBC's The Voice are in progress – and Caribbean netizens are already glued to their television sets, smart phones close at hand, waiting to see if Jamaican vocal powerhouse #Tessanne Chin will win. In the final face off on Monday night, social media users were practically live (micro)blogging the show, commenting on everything from song delivery to the stage presence of the three contenders.

Jamaica has naturally been supportive of Tessanne from the outset of the competition; with her constant progression to the finals, the country – like the rest of the regional blogosphere – is in the grip of Tessanne fever:

Her tribute to Whitney Houston on Monday night with a perfect rendition of I Have Nothing marked her attempt “to go out with a bang” – by the next morning, her version of the song was Number 1 on the iTunes singles chart.

Tonight, Tessanne sang a duet with Celine Dion, one of her idols, and Twitter has been going crazy in anticipation of the Jamaican singer's victory…

Tessanne herself stayed humble and gracious, tweeting just minutes after her performance with Dion:

Her natural affability has captivated netizens across the region:

Many twitter users – including Jimmy Cliff, the internationally lauded Jamaican singer with whom Tessanne honed her skills as his backup singer, reminded #TeamTessanne fans to vote for her:

Tamo-J lamented that it took a contest like The Voice to make Jamaicans appreciate their own:

Even Jamaican politicians were getting in on the action:

The online discussion soon got to the point where several Twitter users announced that #TeamTessanne was trending:

Another Caribbean-born talent who won the hearts and votes of US and Caribbean viewers by winning the last season of Project Runway, Anya Ayoung-Chee, tweeted:

@outlishmagazine added:

As the moment for the announcement of the winner drew closer, the tweets became more anticipatory – and humourous:

Some netizens were getting impatient:

Others – including Tessanne's husband Michael Cuffie – were sidetracked by the car giveaway segment and Tessanne's comment about Jamaica's bad roads:

The energy on Twitter was palpable; Jamaican netizens were itching to celebrate:

Some felt though, that win, lose or draw, Tessanne was already on another level:

After Tessanne and her team sang Hold On, I'm Comin', the comments kept coming:

When the announcement of Tessanne's win finally came, mere minutes to 11 p.m. Jamaica time, Twitter exploded:

@Kevin2woKrayzee remarked that:

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella noted that it wasn't only Jamaica that supported Tessanne, it was the entire region:

One Twitter user made the observation that Tessanne's cause drew more people than usual onto social media platforms:

Another went back to Tessanne's coach Adam Levine's prediction when he first heard her sing at the show's blind auditions:

@WorldReggaeBlog quipped:

The congratulatory tweets kept coming, but @tsahay summed up the feeling quite succinctly:

December 12 2013

The Caribbean Ponders the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

With nearly a week gone since the announcement of Nelson Mandela's death, Caribbean bloggers have had time to process their thoughts on his life and his legacy.

St. Lucia-based Caribbean Book Blog noted that the island joined the international community “in celebrating the life of one of the world’s most beloved and revered leaders”:

Among the many virtues for which Nelson Mandela will be remembered is the way in which he was able to transcend politics, race and class, and recast himself in the role of a sagacious elder and father figure to all and sundry, even other political leaders and heads of state…

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

The post recalled Mandela's 1998 visit to St. Lucia, to attend the 19th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community:

Mandela’s humility, grace and charisma were evident…During the visit [he] attended a youth rally hosted in his honour. In his typically warm, affectionate style he charmed the youths and embraced them as they came up to greet him. Dispensing with protocol, he laughed and danced with them. He then offered them some inspiring words of wisdom and encouraged them to use education as a tool to become leaders. He urged them not to be discouraged by poverty.

The blog also reiterated Mandela's agreement with the notion that CARICOM has been at the forefront of the apartheid struggle; it ended by quoting Mandela's parting words to the St. Lucian people:

‘St Lucia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. Its beauty is breathtaking. I know that one day I will die for a very, very long time but visiting St Lucia seems to guarantee to me that it will take some time before death prevails over me.’
He uttered those words in all seriousness. Fifteen years later they seem to have been quite prescient.

Jamaican diaspora blogger Can a Jamaican Take Cali? said that Mandela's example helped to shape his own life:

I remember vividly walking around my house singing ‘Free them President Botha’ the song that as a kid I was taught as part of the ‘struggle against apartheid'. Quick history Botha was the head of South Africa in the 80s and his government kept up a brutal crack down on Mandela, his ANC brethren and blacks in general. It has always bothered me that Botha was able to live out his life without ever going to prison – I really believe he should have died in prison, just as many of us feared Mandela would. To my knowledge Botha never apologized for apartheid, I find that hard to stomach but if Mandela could forgive him…maybe I should.

He also hoped that more young people would learn about Mandela's struggle:

Nelson Mandela always struck me as a man of poise, graciousness and strength of character, I sadly do not think enough of today's youths know who he is and honor and respect him enough. Hopefully his death, like much of his early life will renew in young black youth a sense of purpose a sense of internal pride and maybe just maybe a moment of deep reflection.

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

The synchronicity of honouring Mandela on the occasion of World Human Rights Day was not lost on Jamaican litblogger Geoffrey Philp, while Breezeblog, from Bermuda, commended Mandela for leading by example:

If you or I were imprisoned unjustly for 27 years, much of it in solitary confinement, as Nelson Mandela was, we’d probably come out bitter and hellbent on exacting revenge on those responsible.

In the UK in the late 1970s, when I was in my teens and early 20s, many of my generation were seething at that injustice and the evils of the South African government’s apartheid system. Indeed, at a time when the right-wing National Front was on the rise, we were pretty worked up about racism in general. If we weren’t taking part in Free Mandela marches or concerts, then it was an Anti-Racism or Anti-Nazi League rally. We vilified those businesses or sportsmen who broke government sanctions and went to South Africa.

But if we believed that Nelson Mandela would one day be released, I don’t think any of us would have predicted that he would become the country’s first black President and that instead of spearheading the ANC in bloody retribution against their oppressors, he would lead an astonishing and courageous reconciliation that helped heal a bitterly divided nation and avoid almost certain civil war.

Nelson Mandela was already a hero of mine before he left prison. His dignity and humility after his release made him, in my eyes and those of millions of others, the greatest human being of our lifetime whose ideals and integrity put every other statesman in the world to shame.

Interestingly, the post also explored other opinions:

There were many other South Africans who viewed Madiba differently, as I found out when I finally got to visit the country in 2010 for the World Cup…As far as Frankie, the tough white lady who ran the guest house just outside Johannesburg where we stayed, was concerned, Mandela was still
‘a bloody terrorist'. Having grown up in a racist family and been violently assaulted in her own home by black criminals, Frankie feared and distrusted all blacks, viewed the ANC government as corrupt crooks and believed South Africa was going to hell in a hand basket.

The blogger, Chris Gibbons, was careful to note that:

Mandela’s Rainbow Nation is an incredibly complex country where racial and tribal divisions will take generations to heal, if at all, and the gap between the manicured wealthy suburbs and the grinding poverty of the townships remains jaw-droppingly vast.

But what Mandela did was to start South Africa on that journey, to offer hope where none existed and show that by working together and putting aside their differences, people can achieve truly remarkable things.

Another Bermudian blogger, Catch a Fire, felt that:

The best way to honour Mandela – the myth if not the man – is to renew the commitment to building a better world and launching a second liberation struggle.

This next liberation struggle is as relevant to Bermuda, the Caribbean and everywhere as it is in South Africa.

This second liberation struggle must overcome the covert and structural racism which still haunts our lands and even at a global level; it must also be a struggle against the colonialism of the mind, of colonial mentalities.

Even more, this second liberation struggle must be against a socio-economic system – capitalism – that threatens to consign whole generations and populations to the dust-heap, that thrives on war and that poisons our very planet, all in the pursuit of profit and not in the pursuit of realising our human potential.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Ivan Garcia offered a perspective from Cuba:

Madiba leaves as a legacy a master class of how to do politics in difficult times.

The current statesmen should take note. Mandela was not perfect. He was labeled a communist and disruptive, and until 2008 the FBI had him on their list of ‘terrorists.’ But he knew how to maneuver in the turbulent waters of a nation where state racism prevailed, in the intrigues of his party, the African National Congress, and to achieve the miracle of national unity in South Africa.

The colossal undertaking began in jail. From a cell in Robben Prison, where for 27 years he was behind bars, until 1994 when Madiba became president, he understood that in conditions of political fragility, his mission was to make sure that everyone saw themselves represented in the first democratic government of their country.

He was a president for all South Africans.

In his five years in office, Mandela sat chair of his magnificent policy. His ethics, honesty, and transparency were his hallmark. He was a partner of one and all, without ever compromising his political perspective. A man of diplomacy and respect for others.

His great friend in the Americas, Fidel Castro, retired from power, could also learn some lessons in transparency from Mandela’s conduct.

The post then compared the two leaders:

No one can doubt the sincere friendship that joined Castro with Madiba. But the two statesmen are nothing alike in their methods of achieving national harmony. If Fidel Castro had been like Nelson Mandela, he long ago would have been sitting at the table to negotiate with his political opponents.

First he would have visited with the dissidents. Then with the White House. If Mandela had been Castro, the embargo would be ancient history. That ability of Mandela’s — to adapt to changing times and live with democratic rules — is something the former Cuban president does not have.

In Cuba we would have needed a Nelson Mandela.

Diaspora blog Capitol Hill Cubans agreed that despite the friendship between the two, “Fidel Castro is the anti-thesis of everything that Mandela represents”:

Castro himself heads an undemocratic, apartheid regime.

However, to Castro's chagrin, upon being democratically-elected as President of South Africa, Mandela rejected everything Castro stood for.

Mandela could have taken the path of Castro or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He could have become ruler-for-life, confiscated the nation's vast wealth and made it his personal fiefdom.

Yet, Mandela chose the path of human rights, free markets and representative democracy. Moreover, he refused to serve more than one-term.

There is no greater test of a man than when he is given power.

Haitian bloggers were full of praise for Mandela. Le Coin de Pierre [Fr] compared him to Toussaint Louverture:

Ils ont eu le même idéal de liberté et d'émancipation de l'homme noir.

They had the same ideal of freedom and emancipation of the black man.

HaitiRozo called Mandela the leader that “brought the world together” and The Haitian Blogger posted a poem that urged readers to remember Mandela as he was, because the struggle still continues.

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella wrote a hopeful post, structured around some of Mandela's most famous quotations, which suggested ways in which all of us can live a life more like Nelson Mandela's:

We have lost one of the world’s greatest. We have lost a man who changed the world. We have lost one of the most iconic human beings, a living symbol of freedom and hope and the power of change. The weight of that loss cannot be understated.

He was a troublemaker for peace. He achieved so much and inspired so many. Now that he has passed, we can only pray that he rests in peace and power, and that his life’s legacy will continue to be one of inspiration, greatness and equality for all.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, I can’t help but consider the ways we could live up to such a legacy. Mandela’s shoes are so big, you might wonder what a regular person could do to fill them. I say, measure your life in terms of your intentions and your steadfastness, and celebrate Mandela’s legacy by speaking out for what’s right, leading by example, and sticking to your ideals.

November 26 2013

Jamaica: Not Quite All Right

Active Voice isn't so sure that the new Jamaica tourist board slogan is actually “all right”.

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