I’ve been a big Kes fan for ages. I love “Wotless” and I’m not sure if I can get enough of the song “Hello”.
Its recently released video, however, is a whole different bag of worms.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy when our ‘kaiso’—no matter the genre—is given the international acclaim it deserves. We’ve been making our stamp on the global music scene since Lovey’s Band made the first recording, “Mango Vert,” in 1912.
Their recording of “Manuelita” was included in the inaugural list of the top 50 songs to be recorded and preserved by the US Government’s Library of Congress. So that’s gotta count for something. And kaiso was also a really big thing on the US music scene back in the 1950s and even the 60s.
But that “Hello” video? No, eh. Ah f***ing ‘tall.
Me eh business what award it nominated for… and could win. This is 2018; there are certain things you are supposed to have some historical sensitivity for. And if not, then somebody’s going to tell you about it in no uncertain terms; because there are some things that aren’t going to be allowed to slide anymore. That includes ethnic and regional stereotyping.
Yeah, I said it. The video is serving us yet another trope of the white foreigner seeking the ‘exotic’ that generations of other white foreigners have sought after and, frequently, felt entitled to.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or dogmatic—as I was called a few days ago—but f**k that; somebody has to be, in this place that is way too carefree and laissez-faire for its own good. For many Trinis, once the music sounding good and making you shake yuh ass or yuh getting paid, things good, so just enjoy.
Like Brother Valentino told us, we “don’t care if Ash Wednesday fall on Good Friday” because most of us “not serious, very few conscious.” So the reaction of “virtual” eye-rolling and steupsing that I’ve already seen online—because apparently I’m not the only one who eh like this video—is not surprising.
Denying, deflecting and diminishing pretty much explain how we deal with uncomfortable topics like race, racism, sexism, shadeism, etc. Like Jehovah, these must not be named. But, again, like Jehovah, these things continue to inform and contaminate so much in our society.
A pardna of mine say the video is the visual “Rum and Coca Cola.” I disagree. If you listen to the lyrics of Lord Invader’s hit song—before Morey Amsterdam plagiarised it and tried to make money off of the sanitised version—he was indicting the Euro-American’s reduction of Trinidad (and ultimately the wider Caribbean) to their private sex den like the British did before them:
When the Yankees first came to Trinidad;
Some of the young girls were more than glad;
They say that the Yankees treat them nice;
And they give them a better price.
“Better price”…..what allyuh thought he meant? It’s prostitution he’s referring to inno.
He was speaking here and in the calypso “Yankee Dollar” to their sense of entitlement to sample black/brown bodies, as indeed the Euro has been doing since the 16th century.
Now here we are doing it on their behalf.
This is not about prudishness or respectability politics—not with my perpetually x-rated mind. This is about us as a people refusing to examine the ways we still internalise old colonial-era white masculine fantasies and their pretensions of being the default model. Even his clothes, which remained constant throughout the video while his “interest” often changed, seemed to remain true to old indicators of wider power dynamics.
And while I’m on this, since the sets of professional videos and movies are laid out to the last detail—nothing being done by chance—what am I to infer from the image of Che Guevara in the scene that essentially looks like an old Cuban tavern? Oh the irony.
Che who fought against, among other things, Western sexualising of the Caribbean in that commodified, one-dimensional way it often does, has his image prostituted yet again.
More importantly, yet again, cultural traditions that were born out of resistance are co-opted and pimped out by people whose lived experiences and residences insulate them from those of the architects of the cultural traditions that now bring in fame and fortune.
Perhaps that explains how the people who in the video represent the demographic that made Trinidad Carnival what it is today, are largely silent, voiceless… Except when it was somewhat caricatured by the one person I thought would have known better, having been mentored in Africanist history by a once prominent, popular San Fernandian who also mentored me. Clemey George must have turned right over in his grave.
I’ve been told I need to see further than my nose, broaden my vision and look at what appeals to the “international” audience. I have so much issues with that oft-trotted out rationale. International is really white masculine North Atlantic.
He—mostly it’s a “he”—who commodifies just about everything, somehow convinced us that they’re not “ancestral”, they’re not “ethnic.” They, who constitute a very tiny minority of the world’s population are the “universal” we have to appeal to.
I have no problem whatsoever, with us flaunting our erotic energy, our raw sexuality. I have a problem with us doing so on someone else’s terms, someone else’s warped perceptions.
Keep in mind that much of Western culture is derived from Ancient Greece where sex/eros was thought to belong to the lowest, irrational, unrestrained and thus destructive aspect of human nature. Therefore, people who displayed behaviour considered sexual had to be treated as such.
This is counter to the way the erotic is conceptualised in many African and Asian cultures that fed Trinbago’s modern culture.
So at what point are we going to start insisting that the “international” start seeing through our eyes? But then again, do we truly know who we are?
We’re a society of chameleons, always changing ourselves to suit what we think is the predominant culture—hence our jump start in climate change when we started having “summer”—rather than stand out, stamp our mark and enrich the wider culture.
I’ll argue, though, that this is because a large cross-section of the population know what they don’t want to be—anything ancestral… Well, except European/Western; because the Euro remains the default model. Hence videos like this one.
Africa may be the source of what makes the money, but not what you openly identify with.
At some stage we’re going to have to understand something other people are beginning to examine. Scholars are increasingly drawing attention to not just collective historical identity but collective, generational trauma from acts of physical, sexual and psychological violence.
I really don’t like the way some in Africentric circles have almost a fetish for victimhood. However, as historian James T Campbell of Stanford University says here—while there’s almost no study on this as the American Psychiatric Association only accepted the effects of individual post traumatic stress in 1983—the passing on of trauma of atrocities from sexual and physical violence on to a collective group then moved on from generation to generation, is something to be seriously considered.
That is a very tall order in a society such as ours, where linear thinking is also a thing and where people routinely dismiss any mention of racism and colonialism having an effect on contemporary society. Apparently the ole/traditional mas character, the Baby Doll, just appeared out of someone’s imagination.
So we clearly need to have some very uncomfortable conversations on a whole range of things. It would be nice if this video was the beginning of one of those uncomfortable conversations.
But I imagine the music too nice; and who want to spoil a lime?