Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Uhmm, Kes… Hello?! Gilkes explains why he takes exception to soca star’s new video

Uhmm, Kes… Hello?! Gilkes explains why he takes exception to soca star’s new video

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.

Photo: A scene from Kes’ music video for his soca hit, “Hello”.

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.

Photo: Late Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

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.

Photo: A reveller enjoys herself in Yuma during the 2018 Carnival.
(Copyright Analisa Caruth/Wired868)

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.

Photo: A scene from Kes’ music video for the soca hit, “Hello”.

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?

Photo: Soca star Kees Dieffenthaller performs in the music video for his hit tune “Hello”.

About Corey Gilkes

Corey Gilkes is a self-taught history reader whose big mouth forever gets his little tail in trouble. He lives in La Romaine and is working on four book projects. He has a blog on https://coreygilkes.wordpress.com/blog/ and http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/. Vitriol can be emailed to him at coreygks@gmail.com.

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11 comments

  1. La la. La la lay la la la” You must have listened to Lord Nelson’s Road March too much Mr. Gilkes for you are still in La La Land. I wonder who really is the insulated one.

    You asked whether I had understood or misunderstood your reference to Carnival and sexuality after I stated my terms of reference. Please, please Mr. Gilkes, let’s be clear and let me restate if my explanation escaped you. Carnival, unlike politics a la Panday, DOES NOT HAVE A MORALITY OF ITS OWN! My terms were very clear. ” The nature of the beast …it doesn’t respect ethnic nor racial protocol or discourse.”

    You, on the other hand throughout your statement, continuously make admissions for a morality that must be conceded by the sexual beast that is carnival. Hello Hello Mr. Gilkes, Wake up!

    You engage in the white vs black/oppressed/marginalised dialectic and that we must ‘internationalise’ our message from our perspective. I don’t hold any brief for Kes but what I say is this. He’s no different from the many other soca artists who are creatures of the society they represent and the pragmatics they seek to practice for Mighty Dollar. A lot of cultural/carnival ideologues(I am sure you are not one of them) hold up wonderful theses of carnival purity. However dealing with the reality of the international market separates the talkers from the performers.

    My references to Sparrow and Jay Z were not capricious as you wrongly interpreted. In Sparrow’s ‘Man in my bedroom ‘ the singer was not just relating about an improbable sexual politic but moreso using it as an archetype representing the fantasies and realities of several white women who desired/had such experiences. Sparrow had previously explored the myth of the black man’s superior sexual virility albeit in a macabre way in ‘The Congo Man’.

    I deliberately juxtaposed Kes to Jay Z to show my conviction of you beating up on Kes whilst leaving others like Jay Z/soca clones unscathed who committed far more egregious sins in their depiction of Trinidad and Tobago. Why rush to publicize your grouse? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to write to him personally if you wanted to deal with a southern brother and his shocking betrayal of a mentor you both shared in Clemey George? Hmmmmm

  2. Mr. Gilkes, the nature of the Beast that is Carnival is intrinsically sexual politics/ sexploitation /sexual promiscuity and doesn’t respect ethnic nor racial protocol or discourse. And that’s the point! Carnival has been historically linked to libertinage, a rebellion against social mores.
    Would you have preferred this interpretation of Kes’ “Hello” – where he does a remake of Sparrow’s “Man in my Bedroom” and shifted the nature of sexual politics? So that the once colonized, black man is saying ‘Hello’ and wining on the colonizer the Queen. Or do you think the plot of “Congo man” would have made a better backdrop?
    Is it because Kes is of that ‘insulated’ group that he draws more ire than Jay Z , a ‘nigga’ who has made it ‘BIG PIMPIN’?

    • Mr Alexander

      You said:

      “[T]he nature of the Beast that is Carnival is intrinsically sexual politics/ sexploitation /sexual promiscuity and doesn’t respect ethnic nor racial protocol or discourse. And that’s the point!

      I’m fairly certain that I wrote that in the article:

      “I have no problem whatsoever, with us flaunting our erotic energy, our raw sexuality.”

      Please point out what part of it you didn’t understand. I’ll be happy to explain it to you and then go on to explain the following sentence:
      “I have a problem with us doing so on someone else’s terms, someone else’s warped perceptions.”

      And even before *that* I thought I was clear that:
      “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”

      Keep that part about the white masculine fantasies in mind, I’ll come back to that shortly.

      You also said:
      “Carnival has been historically linked to libertinage, a rebellion against social mores.”

      Thanks for the history lesson. It was truly enlightening. You may want to be advised that a few years ago I pointed out that Carnival, since its origins in ancient Egypt 6000 years ago, has always been about a celebration of the Eros. You can read my essay here:
      http://www.triniview.com/TnT/carnival.htm

      That, however, in no way takes from the fact that the sex-positive aspect of one culture has been warped, debased and commodified by another culture in which sex and the erotic is viewed principally in negative terms. This same culture has been able to impose itself, its worldview and notions of morality all over the globe, erasing and/or distorting other cultures and their histories in the process.

      “Would you have preferred this interpretation of Kes’ “Hello” – where he does a remake of Sparrow’s “Man in my Bedroom” and shifted the nature of sexual politics? So that the once colonized, black man is saying ‘Hello’ and wining on the colonizer the Queen.”
      Then we’ll have a discussion on the subversion of the patriarchal Eurocentric power structure that *currently* exists. But that’s not the case now is it?

      “Or do you think the plot of “Congo man” would have made a better backdrop?”
      Frankly I found Sparrow’s Congo man insulting and a perpetuation of racist stereotyping of people in Africa being cannibalistic savages with insatiable sexual urges. But that’s another article.

      Is it because Kes is of that ‘insulated’ group that he draws more ire than Jay Z, a ‘nigga’ who has made it ‘BIG PIMPIN’?

      You will let me know when have I ever focused on Jay Z and the Eurocentricised Afri-Diasporic culture he and his wife imbibes. Till then, I’ll focus on the historical and sociological uniqueness of THIS society, thanks all the same. If you don’t understand that many people *here* exist in insulated bubbles that often lock them off from communities just across the street in some cases as I have seen with my own eyes, it’s by now way too late to educate you on that, or for that matter anything else.

  3. This article certainly clears it up. I thought it was just human nature to seek out the “exotic” for erotic exploits; the Trini man and the Vene (latin american) woman, black man seeking out a white gf when in Europe etc, the foreign male in Thailand or other Asian countries.

    Our cricketers plying their trade in India, Australia are likely saving themselves exclusively for the Trini girl. Same applied to Yorke I imagine.

    Or perhaps this only applies when it’s a white man seeking interracial sex. I wonder if non-white males get a free pass for interracial casual sex. File that under black privilege.

    Now I know it’s not about seeking sexual adventure but being racist and oppressive etc.

    • Since you want to appear like yuh smart, Andy, let’s see you expand on your intelligent points.

      “I thought it was just human nature to seek out the “exotic” for erotic exploits; the Trini man and the Vene (latin american) woman, black man seeking out a white gf when in Europe etc, the foreign male in Thailand or other Asian countries.
      Our cricketers plying their trade in India, Australia are likely saving themselves exclusively for the Trini girl. Same applied to Yorke I imagine.”

      Oh really? So tell me, whose value system was used to socialise said people, Yorke included? Which culture’s beauty standards? Which culture’s concept of other cultures? Or perhaps this is universal as you clearly seem to imply. So too the way all cultures approach sexual interactions? If so, what studies or books can you cite to support this?

      “Or perhaps this only applies when it’s a white man seeking interracial sex. I wonder if non-white males get a free pass for interracial casual sex. File that under black privilege.”
      Please define black privilege and juxtapose it with what is understood as white privilege… again, cite sources and evidence.

      “Now I know it’s not about seeking sexual adventure but being racist and oppressive”
      The two are not necessarily unconnected, but, regarding the racist aspect, define it in the context of what I’ve written and then disprove it if you can

      • Ok I get it. Prior to Europeans invasion of Africa black men never had sex with white women or if they did it was not a bad thing. Or no one would have interracial sex. Yorke plies his trade in the UK, a white dominated country and it is because of the oppressive white man and his beauty standards that Yorke has sex with a white woman. Ok got it.

        I wonder if this applies to food too.Wonder if Yorke had pelau or fish and chips while in the UK.

        “Black privilege”- term used to rile up some folks. But can also refer to acts that are frowned on if done by a white but are ok if done by black. Variations can be used for any other minority that feels disadvantaged.

        Social sciences are rife with subjectivity. I suppose the use of the word “science” refers to the broadest possible meaning of the word…. and then some. For every book that argues left there is one that argues right. Luckily we have you to tell us which books are the credible ones because we know Kevin Baldeosingh can’t be relied on.

        • Well actually, although his views on religion and mine are virtually identical, Baldeosingh can NOT be relied upon; he is frequently selective and a lot of his arguments have been refuted. But you are free to slavishly follow him if you like.

          Still waiting on you to answer my questions and provide your sources. I was very clear as to who created the modern power dynamics and standards of beauty, don’t be talking about black men sleeping with white women and whether or not it was a “good” or “bad” thing unless you are prepared to discuss mediaeval Europe and the presence of African people there before the development of modern day racist ideology.

          • The power dynamic is real pressure boy. Real pressure!! To think the white man has so much power. That everything a black man thinks and feels and desires is white man influenced.

            So let’s run with that a bit.

            Fairly obvious why the African was not racist way back then and not racist now and won’t be any time soon.

            Imagine you want to be happy for the African footballers on the French WC team and then realize that them fellas need European leadership if they want to touch a world cup. Pressure!!! The Africans were kidnapped so long ago for their ability to work while the white masters ran things. And lo and behold in modern time their great physical attributes shine again under European leadership to win a world cup. Pressure!!

            You watch Black Panther movie and want to be happy only to realize they had 17 white movies before, to secure the foundation and structure of the Marvel universe. And after the MCU was good and strong they were benevolent enough to let blacks provide their labour for a black movie.

            The white girl that looking good only lookin good because of the white man standard.

            You speaking English because of the white man. You using the internet because of the white man. You Christian because of the white man (Muslim because of the Arab).

            They started the transatlantic slave trade using superior technology to oppress Africans for centuries. When Selassie I opened the door for the diaspora to come to Ethiopia the majority went to the white man country instead. And when they get to England they willingly paid a tax to compensate slave owners.

            Yes real pressure to be black. I can’t even enjoy a soca video without the white man influence. Even toilet paper white.

  4. Too many other serious life issues to deal with. The topic makes good for spare time reading/conversation and caters to individuals carrying ‘load’.

    I would definitely not loose a wink of sleep over this. Much ado about nothing really!

    • “First they came for ……………, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a …………

      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

  5. Thanks Corey, for calling out Kes on this one! Agree with you on all points.