Just a quick note …

… I’ve had to turn on moderation for every comment now since the majority of comments I now get are brainless spam. I am offended … I would have thought it would be at least worth it to write something relevant to the post being commented on … but no. I get iOS development nonsensical comments on posts about Christmas. Bah. Spammers are a scourge!

Pondering the nuances of the terms cultural appropriation and cultural assimilation

On the heels of viewing and participating in a discussion about dreadlocks, I am pondering the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural assimilation … there is a difference. 😊 According to Wikipedia, the terms refer to the same kind of activity but appropriation tends to have a negative connotation while assimilation tends to be a more neutral term.  Which is a little ironic … because The Borg.

So anyway, this post started out as a Facebook status update … and then it kind of ballooned out of control. In fact, after I finished typing the bleuraak of words that were in my head, I cut and paste the wall of text into my blog post editor and noted that the word count was up to 450 words. Whoa … right? I know. I didn’t even think I could still write blog posts like this, it’s been so long … but I digress.

So my pondering is because of my reaction to the aforementioned discussion about deadlocks. I would do it a disservice by trying to summarise the discussion, and I can’t really link to it here since it was in a private group, and I certainly can’t copy and paste the words either because that would just be unethical. Suffice to say that the discussion started on the basis of opinions and stereotyping associated with dreadlocks; but then it descended into a judgement rant about people because of how their locks looked. I thought it was ironic the the initial discussion topic was posed based on the judgement the original poster thought people with dreadlocks endure but that there was judgement about different people and their locks too. Basically, it sounded to me like “the world should never judge us dreadlocked persons, but some dreadlocked persons are just in it for the looks and that’s just bad”.

Now, the history of deadlocks has its roots in Africa. As a cultural expression, it “belongs” to Africans and those of African descent. Popularised by the late Bob Marley, it is now more closely associated with the Rastafarian faith. I should note here that the original poster found it useful to say something to the tune of “most Africans are doing it wrong”. If anyone is doing it “right”, I’d say it’s them. His whole rant was … startling. Now, I am not disparaging this young man at all. He was speaking most vehemently based on the information he had. There is a lot of misinformation out there on the internet and I can’t fault him for falling prey to some of it. In fact, I remain strangely unemotional about the whole exchange. But it did set me to thinking…

Should I be angry that someone from a culture other than my own is telling me about my culture in authoritative ways? I am not. I am … simply pondering a world in which this happens so regularly that we can’t even recognise it.

At what point is it ok to take on the practices, ideas, traditions of another culture and discuss it in terms that imply you claim it as your own?

We study Tai Chi in several different styles (Yang style, Chen stye, Dong style, etc.). I found the Dong style groups here on the West Coast recently and learned their style is fashioned off of Yang style Tai Chi. It’s not cultural appropriation for Master Dong to form his own school, but is it appropriation for us in the West to form our own schools under his tutelage and claim the schools as our own?

I don’t know where the line is. It never bothered me before – mostly because I see the world differently and I don’t much care that white people are locking their hair. I can lay claim to the dreadlocks culture because I was born and raised in the culture that fostered Rastafarianism. But it doesn’t make me angry that people who don’t look like me are taking it on as their own expression. I don’t know that I can explain why either … other than to say I have never felt oppressed by anyone and so I don’t feel the need to be seen and respected as part of a culture or people or society. Thus I cannot relate to the anger that appropriation causes. I don’t discount it… and in fact, it is that very anger that I am pondering today. At what point do we get angry?

I mean … maybe it should be ok to borrow something from someone else when it works for you. But is it ok to tell someone they’ve been doing it wrong for centuries and now that you are doing it, you can explain the right way to do it? Maybe that’s ok too – because the heavens know how much humanity has gotten stuff wrong over the centuries.

Maybe this “owning” of a culture is restrictive, selfish, short-sighted … archaic. Maybe in this new global world that we live, it is time to let go of that idea that “our culture” is ideally better when that includes everyone. A conglomeration. And speak of sub-cultures or pocket cultures instead. I can get behind that – sure!

But what of those cultures that have been marginalised as sub-standard and inferior for centuries? Do we tell them “Look – we effed up when we said you’re a sub-species. We know it now and we want to make amends. But let’s all share your bounty in the meantime. I mean … I said sorry, didn’t I?”


Here’s the tricky thing about granting equality and recognition after centuries of side-lining and marginalisation: when the oppressor recognises their wrong-doing, acknowledges it, and apologises for it, they don’t get to dictate the point at which time can move again. It’s like when you apologise to your husband or wife for betraying them over and over and over and over again …  and they demand some time to think … and heal. Healing takes time and the one who was wounded has every right to say, “Ok. Thanks. Now step back and let me heal … and leave me alone while I do it – thanks.”

To get back to my original point, here’s how I think about appropriation: Sure go ahead and express yourself with whatever you choose, even if it is a form of expression that belongs to some other culture. Be my guest. Chances are, the reason why that thing is so well liked is because it’s pretty magnificent to begin with and its why it is still a part of whatever culture to this day.

Dreadlocks, for instance. We think it’s pretty fabulous and if you think so too, fantastic – we have something in common. But please be careful how you then take it upon yourself to tell us that we’re doing it wrong. We’ve (us and our ancestors) been doing it for centuries and I think that by now we’d have ironed out the kinks. Unless, of course, you’re trying to say that we aren’t capable of working out the kinks ourselves?

Heh … I guess I wasn’t as unemotional as I thought I was, eh?

The point is – borrow, borrow all you want. Just be sure to be respectful while you do it – m’k? And remember that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Think about it.

That relationship between emotion and strength …

I think we tend to forget or ignore how important emotion is.

Some of us are able give into emotion easily, but a lot of us work hard to quell our emotions; mostly because we think that emotions make us weak. The irony is that most of us have no difficulty giving in to our anger, but when it comes to grief and loss and the sadness that accompanies it, we just don’t.

Thankfully, there are people (sometimes, luckily, in leadership positions) who understand how important it is feel. I attended a memorial service recently in which the officiant displayed an astute understanding of emotion and its role in the grieving process. I was touched at how he led the gathering through the grief, cried with them, and then led them out again into the joy of remembrance.

He started his address with funny anecdotes about how he’d met the deceased and how she made him feel as a brand new addition to the community. He moved on into a couple other remembrances of her with her family and the impact it had on him. He introduced a tear-jerker of a song next, dedicated to the family. He made sure to tell us that, “It’s ok if you want to cry. I probably will and I think I’m just going to sit right here while it plays because if I stand up here I likely will lose it”. And he did leave the podium to sit in a chair nearby while the song played.

We listened to a sweet song of love and remembrance and loss and we all cried – every last one of us. Even the officiant. There was not a dry eye in the gathering. Even the officiant was red-faced and crying. I was stunned because this was clearly a man comfortable enough to cry amongst strangers. How many of us can lay claim to that? I know I can’t.

After the song was finished, he launched into a 10 minute long remembrance that had us all laughing and nodding and grinning away. The woman who had passed was beloved and there were far more merry moments than there were heartache and he made us realise and remember that in a very visceral way. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This preacher understands grief. He understands loss. And he understands that together they involve both tears and laughter, and that both are important in the grieving process. He played to those two expressions of emotion beautifully with his speech; by the time he was done, we had cried and we had laughed with equal vigour. And we felt better for it.

That experience taught me something. I think we need to spend more time allowing ourselves to sit with emotion. If you’ve ever been overcome by emotion, if you’ve ever cried like your heart was breaking, then you know how much better you can feel when the grief has passed. Better, lighter, stronger. There is no doubt … we are stronger when we let ourselves feel.

How we use our words …

We use words to paint pictures in other people’s minds. That’s what language boils down to, doesn’t it? Painting a picture for someone else to “see”?

I remember something read in Alan Watt’s The Watercourse Way: “An often quoted Chinese proverb is that one picture is worth a thousand words, because it is so often much easier to show than to say”. He’s right. What’s more he goes on to present a very compelling case for doing away with romanised language and instituting, instead, some kind of ideographic mode of expression much like the Chinese Written Language (which, incidentally, is the name of the chapter that begins with those words). It’s a rather radical concept and one that I can see several people having issue with. But I like it. I like the idea of simplifying our expression because I think the complexity of our expression is at the root of many of our current problems.

In recent months, I have observed and heard about several cases among my friends and acquaintances that exemplify words as the root of misunderstandings and miscommunications. What one word means to me means something entirely different to someone else and we react and respond based on those internalised meanings. It’s chaos. They say that language is what sets us apart from the animals. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing anymore.

I am a student of communication. My whole life, now, is how we communicate with one another and what it means based on the nuances, contexts, and shadings we bring to the conversation. Whether it be “ethnicity” or “race” or “culture”. (What the hell is “culture” anyway? I’m a little confused now after coming across a news item this morning about the LA Clippers owner who indirectly associated racism with a particular culture.) Or whether it is gender (binary or otherwise), sexual orientation, or level of “kink” (and I put “kink” in quotes because what might be my kink may be your norm and expresses exactly what I am trying to say).

My thoughts this week have been muddled. Maybe mankind is never supposed to achieve harmony. How can we, when everything we are shrieks differences? Even our language – when it is the same – differs. When I say “supremacy”, I think KKK; when you say it, you mean “a system that places one group above another”. Academia, scholarship … conversation, diversity, research, reading …. those 6 terms mean 6 different things, but they all mean the same as well. They all mean “furthering our understanding”, but they all convey a wholly different nuance to that concept as well. Academia and scholarship imply intellectualism; conversation implies something you and I do; diversity implies who we are to each other; research means looking shit up; reading means entertainment. And when you explain what those 6 mean to you, your list looks different from mine. Not wrong, not right; just different. In the end, though, what it comes to mean is that we learned something new.

It’s so confusing. How does one distill a message so that it is received in the same way by everyone – in spite of our differences? This is what is taking up my head space today … actually, it takes up my head space everyday. Is it as impossible as I think it is? I think it is impossible because in order for us to all interpret something the same way, we have to all be the same. And we aren’t the same. Not one of us is like anybody else. Even if you and I have a lot in common, we have just as much (or more sometimes) that differs.

How then can we use our words to mean the same thing to everybody?

Or maybe the question should be: how do we make it ok that our words don’t mean the same thing to everybody?


This week … The I-Threes.

This week, I want to talk about women in reggae and in particular the I Three’s who, in my opinion, haven’t gotten their far share of airplay and recognition – then or now. Isn’t it funny how everything reggae seems to stem solely from Bob’s influence on the genre? I mean don’t get me wrong – I love Bob! I just recognise that there are others who have had as much contribution to the growth of the genre … yeah?

The other day, the hubster was looking for videos online that showed the inspiration for many of the WoW class dance moves. When we got to the Tauren Female dance, the video showed Marcia Griffiths’s version[1]. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Mostly because no one really credits her with the song or the moves. (Imagine my surprise to learn that not even she was the originator but that it was in fact Bunny Wailer of the Wailers who first wrote and recorded the song and dance back in 1976 [2].)

My mother has a soft spot for Marcia, though. When I told her I was going to be writing about the I-Threes this week, her response was “Oh? And I rather like Marcia Griffiths too, you know. I don’t think those girls get enough recognition. Overshadowed by Bob most likely.” Of all 3, Marcia might have been the most visible to me growing up – probably precisely because of Mom’s partiality. I think “Electric Boogie” helped her shoot into the international view (AllMusic.com agrees with me that it shot her into the US all-time charts [3]) – it’s still quite a popular song and line dance even today. I think it is a testament to how popular “Electric Boogie” is that my husband, who had no exposure to Reggae or the Jamaican culture before meeting me, knew about the song and the line-dance well enough to teach me how to dance it. (Yeah – I am not a big dancer, so him teaching me to dance this song isn’t all that far-fetched when you realise that I never bothered to learn in the first place because dancing. ugh)

According to AllMusic.com [4], all three of the I-Threes were solo artists before they were pinged to form the I-Threes. The story goes that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer departed The Wailers for their own solo careers in the mid-1970s, and Rita pulled Marcia and Judy together to help flesh out the Bob Marley band sound for a recording and eventually a performance (opening for the Jackson 5 on tour in 1975).

Rita was successful in her own right before Bob. She was part of the lineup for the Soulettes before she married Bob (in fact, it was his mentoring The Soulettes that put them together in the first place) and for a time afterwards, she continued to record and perform with them [5]. She is also said to have been important in pulling together the I-Threes after Tosh and Wailer departed. You might not know it, but during and after Bob’s death, Rita has continued to see success in her own music career. In fact, it hadn’t even hit me that two of her songs are songs I rather like myself. “He who feels it knows it” in 1981 and “Harambe” in 1988 were solo albums that netted her Billboard level popularity.

Judy Mowatt always struck me as the weird one. I have no idea where that impression came from. There isn’t anything about her that can be termed “weird” in any incarnation of the word. She is a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. My mother and I recall that after Bob’s death, she started to sing gospel on the local circuit but I can’t find anything to back that up and AllMusic.com’s biography of her [6] stops in 1977 with her solo album “Black Woman” release[7] (You can sample the album from that link too). The discography shows other albums after 1977, but none of them sound familiar to me.

All of the women have one thing in common: they are grossly under-valued by the musical industry. For instance, the AllMusic.com page for Mowatt’s “Black Woman” album states that while Rita and Marcia retain some of their pre-Bob status (probably because of their association with Bob), Mowatt has pretty much disappeared off the scene. And all three are obscured as women in reggae by others. Dancehall has taken over the visibility of reggae for much of the local scene and overseas most people still cling to Bob and his progeny as reggae icons. It’s sad, for instance, that Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley – as talented as he is and as enjoyable as his music is – has surpassed these women in acclaim – he is, after all, the next generation.

Still, the I-Threes did not only sing for Bob. I found a video on YouTube.com that is just them … and the sound is … oh… so… good.


[1] http://youtu.be/2Sb94BZtz3A?t=7m47s
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Boogie
[3] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/marcia-griffiths-mn0000573978
[4] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/i-threes-mn0000068005
[5] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/rita-marley-mn0000173988/biography
[6] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/judy-mowatt-mn0000834976/biography
[7] http://www.allmusic.com/album/black-woman-mw0000203092

A little Bob, some reggae history, and Jimmy Cliff

As a Jamaican in the United States, I encounter accolades and discussions of the most oft-associated cultural icon as Bob Marley. If Jamaica is known for nothing else in this life, it is known that Jamaica gifted the world with Bob and his music, his wisdom, and his progeny. I don’t think too many people understand that Bob, as gifted and as prolific as he was, was hardly the father of reggae and was simply its first and loudest ambassador to the world.

I mentioned last week that my parents abhorred reggae; especially my father. He would complain loudly when it came over the radio and I would get stern lectures when I played any kind of music that even sounded like reggae. As I got older, he was more inclined to engage in curt discussions as to why he wouldn’t tolerate it and I realised that it was less about the music and more about the people who sang it. Bob, as we all now know, was a Rastafarian. His hair was matted in typical Rastafarian style and he was an open and proud user of marijuana (or, as we know it in Jamaica, ganja). Rastafarianism is a branch of Christianity that reveres His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, as the second coming of Christ whose main purpose in returning was to free and redeem all people of African descent and advocate for their return to the motherland. Well … if you are in any way familiar with Christianity, you immediately see the problem. And so, this issue was the main issue my father had with most reggae artists – they were Rastafarians – blasphemers, abominations.

My mother is a little less black and white and spent many years attempting to tell me that Jimmy Cliff was a far more gifted and educated, and therefore a much better fit as “reggae’s ambassador”. I think she wanted to help me at worst strike a balance between two artists who, at the time, were just as prolific and “famous” and at best “choose anyone other than Bob Marley” as my favourite. Well, I’ll give her the fact that Jimmy Cliff is extremely gifted. He’s got the voice, he’s got the looks, and – to those of my parents’ generation – he looked “fairly clean” unlike Bob. You have to understand that generation … to them, the British ideal of “clean” was the ultimate passport. So to them, it is still a mystery why Bob’s untidy “dreadlocks”, careless dress sense, and complete lack of decorum would have had more success than Jimmy’s obvious refinement.

The thing is … reggae is Jamaica’s very own. There is very little else in this world that Jamaicans can call their own. Reggae is home grown. It’s ours. Many have taken it, improved on it and changed it … but it is still all ours. It has its influences in rhythm and blues as having been born directly out of ska and rock steady, but it still is a very unique musical genre and very much Jamaican. So it doesn’t matter what you want to think of those who represent the genre … you have to be proud of it.

Back on topic though, Jimmy Cliff was Mom’s favourite reggae artist and so I got a lot of exposure to his music. In particular, she liked “The Harder They Come” which, along with most of the rest of the soundtrack for the movie by the same name, was written and performed by Jimmy himself.

Me? I just like his voice and the fact that he actually sings versus rapping or chanting or … whatever it is that dancehall artists do. Yes; I know – my prejudice is showing. No matter … is there anything more lyrical than this:

Last week, we lost “Bunny Rugs” – let’s talk about Third World a bit.

Last week, we Jamaicans lost a well-loved voice and reggae ambassador – Bunny Rugs.

Every time I hear his real name, I forget it again within minutes… even so, what other name you need other than ‘Bunny Rugs’? Besides, you should know who I talking about when I say it… if you don’t, it is unlikely you know him by his real name. William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clark was the lead singer for Third World; probably my favourite reggae band ever, assuming you were going to force me to choose a favourite.

I remember when I jumped onto the Third World wagon – it was during their “Committed” tour sometime in the early 1990s, and it was probably the first and only time I bought tickets to a music concert … ever. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. ( I actually went to the concert alone too – imagine that!? )

(Note: my sincere apologies if you are having difficulties viewing the videos in this post; apparently YouTube is enforcing restrictions across regions and platforms now).

Now that I’ve listened to the song again, I think “Committed” might just be my favourite Third World song too.

For someone who claims to be one of their fans, I am realising that I know very little about them. Some personal recollections include the first time I heard the names “Cat” Coore and “Ibo” Cooper – those names are so unique that they’re hard to forget. Further, I remember “Cat” Coore because my father used to mumble stories about the Coore family when I was younger. I remember his father was in politics …  the Wikipedia page says his father was actually the Deputy Prime Minister under Michael Manley – so of course, it was in the midst of political drama in the 1970s.

I was never a big reggae music fan, as I mentioned last week. Partly because my father continually described it as “noise” and refused to tolerate it playing in his house. If it happened to come across the radio, he would change the station. If I even thought about playing it myself, I would get a stern lecture about what music is and how I should be “edifying myself with more uplifting sounds”. Yeah, yeah … I know. He sounds quite the stuffy elitist. And he actually kind of is … in a few different ways, but I digress.

Even though Dad despised anything reggae, he did manage to find a semblance of tolerance for Third World’s sound. Probably because it was mild, mellow, and easy to nod your head and tap your foot to. Their style is known as “roots reggae” and is described as a sub-genre of reggae which incorporates real life concerns (spirituality, poverty, etc.) into the music. More than that, the sound is less hardcore than the more popular dancehall style, with smooth and easy-going rhythms that incorporated more worldly sounds such as jazz and r&b into their music. Something some Jamaican artists were uncomfortable with and I’m willing to bet they got quite the earful about how much they were “sellouts” because they dared to reach out to the world with their music. If you are Jamaican, you know the criticisms Sean Paul got when he first hit the scene. In any case, maybe that is why I got around to liking them – at least I could listen to them at home if I wanted to in those days.

Third World has taken reggae to all corners of the world; even in doing this piece, I discovered they were here in the Pacific Northewest, where I am, as late as just last year.

Imagine that?! Wish I’d known – I might have bought my second set of concert tickets ever if I had. (No; probably not. Seattle crowds are still a little much for me.)

Their accomplishments include 10 Grammy award nominations, the 1986 Peace Medal from the U.N. among various other awards and accolades in the music industry worldwide. Their tagline has ever been “Reggae Ambassadors” and in true ambassadorial form, they have championed the cause of reggae the world over for 40 years or more. I guarantee you -any money spent on their music now is still money well spent. Their music is ageless and sounds as good to me today as it did 15+ years ago.

The Latest Third World lineup: Cat Coore, Richie Daley, Bunny Rugs, Norris Webb, and Tony Williams

The last Third World lineup: Cat Coore, Richie Daley, Bunny Rugs, Norris Webb, and Tony Williams