This article is written to answer the above question and put an end to it forever!!! I'll do this by using simple logic, that's all I'm going to use. I am a lover of Reggae music. It is a music that resonates with me. So, when Dancehall began to appear commercially in the U.S. market, it was new to me. So my approach to answering this question is not as a Jamaican but as a lover of the music and a Panaf-America (a Pan Afrikanist born in America) Let's start this discussion by answering some questions and giving a little history, and studying musical structures or genres.
Is Ska R&B music? Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. During WWII, the U.S. military negotiated establishing military bases in the British controlled Caribbean (misnomered the West Indies) as part of Destroyers for Bases deal that assisted the United Kingdom's war efforts prior to the U.S.'s actual entry into the war. U.S. soldiers began to play the R&B music known as jump blues, which featured such artist as Fats Domino and Louis Jordan. This musical novelty gained a Jamaican audience who after the war purchased radios and demand more of this type of music. Entrepreneurs like Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to maximize this opportunity. But as jump blues and more traditional R&B began to ebb in popularity in the U.S. and abroad, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of the genres, which lead to the creation of a new musical genre, called Ska. Ska featured a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. The style was composed of four triplets bars characterized by a guitar chop on the off beat - known as an upstroke or skank - with horns taking the lead and often following the off beat skank and piano emphasizing the bass line and, again, playing the skank. The drums kept 4/4 time and the bass drum was accented on the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The snare would play side stick and accent the third beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The upstroke sound can also be found in other Caribbean forms of music, such as mento and calypso. Therefore Ska which became the precursor to Rocksteady and Reggae, was not simply an American clone but a new genre that drew from its own musical past. So to answer the question, is Ska R&B music, the answer is no.
Is Rocksteady Ska? Rocksteady is a music genre that originated in Jamaica around 1966, which was preceded by Ska and was the precursor to Reggae. It relied on R&B, jazz elements like Ska, but unlike Ska added Afrikan and Latin American drumming, as well as elements from other musical genres. As the tempo slowed from Ska to Rocksteady, musical changes accompanied it. The guitar and piano players began to experiment with occasional accents around the basic offbeat pattern. Chording instruments tended to play repeated rhythmic patterns which led to simpler modal chord progressions. (It had been argued that the development of modal jazz in the late 1950s and early 1960s influenced the choice of Jamaican players to explore simpler modal chord patterns.) Also, the slowing down of the tempo allowed bass players to play more broken, syncopated lines, playing a counterpoint to the repetitive rhythm of the guitar and keyboards, which eventually replaced the walking patterns of Ska. These new patterns fit very well with the simpler modal chord progressions. Another factor that helped to establish Rocksteady as its own genre was the downsizing of bands. Smaller bands led to a much larger focus on the bass line in general, which eventually became one of the most recognizable characteristics of Jamaican music. In Rocksteady, the lead guitar often doubles the bass line. Rocksteady horns favored repeated rhythmic patterns or simply sitting out all together until the lead line, whereas in Ska horns spent much of the song playing the offbeats with the guitar and piano.
But one of the most distinguishing features of Rocksteady was the "one drop" drum beat, characterized by a heavy accent on the second and fourth beat of every bar (or the third beat if you count in double time), played by the bass drum and the snare together. The snare drum often plays a side stick "click" rather that a full snare hit; an influence from Latin music. The one drop drum was a significant break from American style drumming. So to answer the question was Rocksteady Ska, I think we have identified enough unique and distinguishing characteristics that demonstrate its merit as a new genre.
Is Reggae Rocksteady? Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. Though today the term Reggae is broadly used to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, it is actually a unique genre that developed from Ska and Rocksteady. The distinction between Reggae and Rocksteady are perhaps the slightest. The major differences being a slower tempo, lyrical content, as Reggae tends to focus more on lyrics based on black consciousness, Rastafari (though some Rocksteady songs did too), and the effects of poverty. Rocksteady still relying on its American influences tended to focus on Love themes.) Musically is where Reggae make its distinguishing contribution. It is the introduction of the "double skank" guitar strokes (sometimes played by piano) on the offbeat and the organ shuffle that establishes Reggae as a genre. I have offered four stylistic changes that establish Reggae as its own genre: slower tempo, lyrical content, the skank, and organ shuffle.
Is Dancehall Reggae? Dancehall is a often considered a sub-genre of Reggae. It started out in the 80s, partly linked to the development of digital music. However, there's a significant difference between the two, enough so, that Dancehall constitutes its own genre. The differences are Dancehall has a faster tempo, is less musical, less melodic, and most important, it lacks the lyrical content of Reggae. Musically, it lacks the structural elements of Reggae as well. Missing in addition to the lyrical content are both the skank and organ shuffle. And how can you have Reggae without the drumming elements, especially the one drop, that Reggae inherited from Rocksteady. I would think, if anything that Dancehall can be considered more a part of Rocksteady than Reggae since it shares some of Rocksteady's affiliation with rude boys/bad boys and lyrically, it has content that can be loosely, via the "Rude boy" songs, be identified with “slackness.” But in truth, Contemporary Dancehall should be identified with Rap music. It shares more with that genre than it does with Reggae. But in the end we have to recognize that Dancehall is different from Rap and Reggae--it is its own genre. And that it is exactly what is says it is– music made for dancing in a club (hall). Like its American cousin or twin, Rap, it is a digitally produced music that is often derogatory, violent, and misogynistic. So to call Dancehall Reggae, is just as ridiculous as calling Rap music R&B. Dancehall like Reggae is Jamaican music, just as Rap like R&B is American music, but to make them one and the same is illogical, idiocy even.
Part 2 of 2: The Illuminati and Rap Music
A million things were going through my mind as I drove away and I eventually decided to pull over and park on a side street in order to collect my thoughts. I replayed everything in my mind repeatedly and it all seemed very surreal to me. I was angry with myself for not having taken a more active role in questioning what had been presented to us. I'd like to believe the shock of it all is what suspended my better nature. After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to calm myself enough to make it home. I didn't talk or call anyone that night. The next day back at the office, I was visibly out of it but blamed it on being under the weather. No one else in my department had been invited to the meeting and I felt a sense of guilt for not being able to share what I had witnessed. I thought about contacting the 3 others who wear kicked out of the house but I didn't remember their names and thought that tracking them down would probably bring unwanted attention. I considered speaking out publicly at the risk of losing my job but I realized I’d probably be jeopardizing more than my job and I wasn't willing to risk anything happening to my family. I thought about those men with guns and wondered who they were? I had been told that this was bigger than the music business and all I could do was let my imagination run free. There were no answers and no one to talk to. I tried to do a little bit of research on private prisons but didn’t uncover anything about the music business’ involvement. However, the information I did find confirmed how dangerous this prison business really was. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Eventually, it was as if the meeting had never taken place. It all seemed surreal. I became more reclusive and stopped going to any industry events unless professionally obligated to do so. On two occasions, I found myself attending the same function as my former colleague. Both times, our eyes met but nothing more was exchanged.
As the months passed, rap music had definitely changed direction. I was never a fan of it but even I could tell the difference. Rap acts that talked about politics or harmless fun were quickly fading away as gangster rap started dominating the airwaves. Only a few months had passed since the meeting but I suspect that the ideas presented that day had been successfully implemented. It was as if the order has been given to all major label executives. The music was climbing the charts and most companies when more than happy to capitalize on it. Each one was churning out their very own gangster rap acts on an assembly line. Everyone bought into it, consumers included. Violence and drug use became a central theme in most rap music. I spoke to a few of my peers in the industry to get their opinions on the new trend but was told repeatedly that it was all about supply and demand. Sadly many of them even expressed that the music reinforced their prejudice of minorities.
I officially quit the music business in 1993 but my heart had already left months before. I broke ties with the majority of my peers and removed myself from this thing I had once loved. I took some time off, returned to Europe for a few years, settled out of state, and lived a “quiet” life away from the world of entertainment. As the years passed, I managed to keep my secret, fearful of sharing it with the wrong person but also a little ashamed of not having had the balls to blow the whistle. But as rap got worse, my guilt grew. Fortunately, in the late 90’s, having the internet as a resource which wasn't at my disposal in the early days made it easier for me to investigate what is now labeled the prison industrial complex. Now that I have a greater understanding of how private prisons operate, things make much more sense than they ever have. I see how the criminalization of rap music played a big part in promoting racial stereotypes and misguided so many impressionable young minds into adopting these glorified criminal behaviors which often lead to incarceration. Twenty years of guilt is a heavy load to carry but the least I can do now is to share my story, hoping that fans of rap music realize how they’ve been used for the past 2 decades. Although I plan on remaining anonymous for obvious reasons, my goal now is to get this information out to as many people as possible. Please help me spread the word. Hopefully, others who attended the meeting back in 1991 will be inspired by this and tell their own stories. Most importantly, if only one life has been touched by my story, I pray it makes the weight of my guilt a little more tolerable.
Part 1 of 2: From Public Enemy, KRS-ONE, and others to Ice-T and NWA, "What a journey!"
FROM THAT TO THIS . . . .
I read this article about 6 months ago but was hesitant to blog on it. As a historian, the article is something I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole--it is unverifiable, and lacks corroborating sources. However, I have seen the effects on young people that the change in Rap music has had: the music changed from its more positive, Black conscious expressions of the late 1980s, into the more violent Gangsta rap period that followed. And our youth have been influenced by it and have changed as well. Do YOU think this article has any validity or is it just some conspiracy theory fodder?
After more than 20 years, I've finally decided to tell the world what I witnessed in 1991, which I believe was one of the biggest turning point in popular music, and ultimately American society. I have struggled for a long time weighing the pros and cons of making this story public as I was reluctant to implicate the individuals who were present that day. So I've simply decided to leave out names and all the details that may risk my personal well being and that of those who were, like me, dragged into something they weren't ready for.
Between the late 80's and early 90’s, I was what you may call a “decision maker” with one of the more established company in the music industry. I came from Europe in the early 80’s and quickly established myself in the business. The industry was different back then. Since technology and media weren’t accessible to people like they are today, the industry had more control over the public and had the means to influence them anyway it wanted. This may explain why in early 1991, I was invited to attend a closed door meeting with a small group of music business insiders to discuss rap music’s new direction. Little did I know that we would be asked to participate in one of the most unethical and destructive business practice I’ve ever seen.
The meeting was held at a private residence on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I remember about 25 to 30 people being there, most of them familiar faces. Speaking to those I knew, we joked about the theme of the meeting as many of us did not care for rap music and failed to see the purpose of being invited to a private gathering to discuss its future. Among the attendees was a small group of unfamiliar faces who stayed to themselves and made no attempt to socialize beyond their circle. Based on their behavior and formal appearances, they didn't seem to be in our industry. Our casual chatter was interrupted when we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing us from publicly discussing the information presented during the meeting. Needless to say, this intrigued and in some cases disturbed many of us. The agreement was only a page long but very clear on the matter and consequences which stated that violating the terms would result in job termination. We asked several people what this meeting was about and the reason for such secrecy but couldn't find anyone who had answers for us. A few people refused to sign and walked out. No one stopped them. I was tempted to follow but curiosity got the best of me. A man who was part of the “unfamiliar” group collected the agreements from us.
Quickly after the meeting began, one of my industry colleagues (who shall remain nameless like everyone else) thanked us for attending. He then gave the floor to a man who only introduced himself by first name and gave no further details about his personal background. I think he was the owner of the residence but it was never confirmed. He briefly praised all of us for the success we had achieved in our industry and congratulated us for being selected as part of this small group of “decision makers”. At this point I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable at the strangeness of this gathering. The subject quickly changed as the speaker went on to tell us that the respective companies we represented had invested in a very profitable industry which could become even more rewarding with our active involvement. He explained that the companies we work for had invested millions into the building of privately owned prisons and that our positions of influence in the music industry would actually impact the profitability of these investments.
I remember many of us in the group immediately looking at each other in confusion. At the time, I didn’t know what a private prison was but I wasn't the only one. Sure enough, someone asked what these prisons were and what any of this had to do with us. We were told that these prisons were built by privately owned companies who received funding from the government based on the number of inmates. The more inmates, the more money the government would pay these prisons. It was also made clear to us that since these prisons are privately owned, as they become publicly traded, we’d be able to buy shares. Most of us were taken back by this. Again, a couple of people asked what this had to do with us. At this point, my industry colleague who had first opened the meeting took the floor again and answered our questions. He told us that since our employers had become silent investors in this prison business, it was now in their interest to make sure that these prisons remained filled. Our job would be to help make this happen by marketing music which promotes criminal behavior, rap being the music of choice. He assured us that this would be a great situation for us because rap music was becoming an increasingly profitable market for our companies, and as employee, we’d also be able to buy personal stocks in these prisons. Immediately, silence came over the room. You could have heard a pin drop. I remember looking around to make sure I wasn't dreaming and saw half of the people with dropped jaws. My daze was interrupted when someone shouted, “Is this a f****** joke?” At this point things became chaotic. Two of the men who were part of the “unfamiliar” group grabbed the man who shouted out and attempted to remove him from the house. A few of us, myself included, tried to intervene. One of them pulled out a gun and we all backed off. They separated us from the crowd and all four of us were escorted outside. My industry colleague who had opened the meeting earlier hurried out to meet us and reminded us that we had signed agreement and would suffer the consequences of speaking about this publicly or even with those who attended the meeting. I asked him why he was involved with something this corrupt and he replied that it was bigger than the music business and nothing we’d want to challenge without risking consequences. We all protested and as he walked back into the house I remember word for word the last thing he said, “It’s out of my hands now. Remember you signed an agreement.” He then closed the door behind him. The men rushed us to our cars and actually watched until we drove off.
Put the blame where it lies
Yesterday I came across an article on eonline.com talking about the suicide of the actor, Lee Thompson Young. The article hinted as his cause of suicide being linked to his "conversion" to the Yorùbá "religion." (Would the same have been implied if he had converted to Judaism, Christianity or Islam?) The article stated that he "didn't drink or party," and that he was the opposite type of person--a very gentle and unassuming person. People close to Young noticed things "really changed" a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Afrika-based religion. The article then took a Yorùbá saying, suggesting that it was a justification for suicide. The saying was "iku ya j'esin," which translates as "death is preferable to ignominy." The article questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame. The saying is clearly being used out of context. This saying is most applicable in wartime circumstances, not because of personal struggles; those are confronted with the help of Ifa, sacrifice, and the ancestors.
Moreover, in traditional Afrikan thought, suicide is frowned upon. It denies a person fulfillment of his or her destiny. Yorùbá Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, confirmed this when he told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion "[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter." The article subtly indicts the "religion."
The article mentions that Young was experiencing depression. And usually, that means that he was taking some sort of medication. But the article failed to mention or focused on what drugs his doctor(s) prescribed to him for his depression. Was he on Abilify, Celexa, Cybalta, Effexor, Elavil, Lexapro, Prozac or any host of others prescription medications, all of which are known to cause suicidal thoughts (and actions. Don Cornelius was on such medication when he committed suicide). Why wasn't his use of these drugs, which are known to cause people to commit suicide, the focus of the article and not his faith? White Supremacy's anti-Afrikanism raises it ugly head once again!!!
Another stupid Rap person, LOL!
I remember when I was young, Blacks folks took pride in our belief that we were morality superior to white folks. We talked about their inability to control their children, their casting out of their elders, their mistreatment of their women, their freaky sexual behavior, the fact they produced mass murderers, and a host of other things we deemed undesirable. And of course most of all, their historical treatment of us made it clear that they were morally inferior. On the flip side, we did accepted that they were mental superior.
More recently, many of the things listed above that were once the almost exclusive domain of white cultural behavior, because of our continuing breakdown in our community, we have now wholeheartedly embraced. We do many of those same stupid things. This demonstrates that these behaviors were never racial but cultural. Our issues are cultural. Even in our subordinate economic condition, if we culturally adopted communalism, it would improve our condition considerably. But rather than turn towards each other, which segregation forced us to do (whereas Afrikan culture was base on a sharing and caring motif), integration has made us increasing turn away from each other. Additionally integration has created a class of individuals whose wealth is based upon white folks.
During segregation most wealthy Afrikan Americans' wealth was derive from our community. Integration created a cross-over factor that had the potential of substantially increasing the wealth of an artist or entrepreneur. Oprah Winfrey is an example of this--her wealth is not derived from us. Many in the music industry are the same. Even if initially their wealth was derived from us, it isn't anymore. Hence, these folks are not accountable to us. We cannot boycott them and hit them in their pockets. Consequently these wealthy Black folks do not feel like they have to be accountable to us. This feeling of not having to answer to their folks has created a certain irresponsibility on their part. What Russell Simmons did is irresponsible. Just last week in a weak argument he wrote an Open Letter to CNN's Don Lemon. Granted he made a few good points, his equating of the sagging of pants as an expression on par with the wearing of the Afro hairstyle was ridiculous and an argument not well thought out. (Simmons' image has long been tarnished by his suppose "casting couch" antics.)
Russell Simmons has also been in the new for his recent emphasis on spirituality, especially his new-found love of yoga. However, he cannot be growing very much. If he were, why would he make a sexual parody of the most sacred icon in Afrikan American History--Harriet Tubman. Some things are to remain sacrosanct. Now I know it is common for white folks to do something foolish and apologize, and their community forgives them. But Black folks are smarter than that. Your apology will not get you off the hook; we just don't roll like that. Apology denied!
P.S. Was this one of those situations where his white handlers convinced him this skit would be funny? Otherwise, why would he do it? Even Dave Chappelle, who can be out there, knew better than to touch this.
Was there any truth in Serena critical comments of rape victim
Yesterday's New York Post wrote an article about Serena Williams comments in an upcoming Rolling Stones magazine. Serena Williams says in the interview with Rolling Stone magazine after reading about the Steubenville rape case, "Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you—don't take drinks from other people," she told the magazine. "She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."
Serena Williams quickly offered an apology for her comments about a teenage rape victim, as the Western media began to pounce on her comments. In her apology said that the Steubenville rape case shocked and saddened her. According to Williams, what was written about what she supposedly said is insensitive and hurtful, and she would never say or insinuate that the victim was at all to blame. Stating that it is a `horrible tragedy` for a person to be raped, and at such a young age, Williams further said that both the families of the rape victims and the accused have had to suffer the consequences, adding that she is currently reaching out to the girl`s family to let her know that she is sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. Stating that she had fought in her entire career for women`s equality , rights, respect in their fields, Williams also said that she has done everything that she can to support women, adding that her prayers and support will always go out to the rape victim.
The actual Steubenville incident involved two high school football players in Steubenville Ohio, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond. The boys were each sentenced to a year in juvenile jail in March for the rape. The players were busted after bragging about the events in an online video. Details of the incident involve a young girl who had drunken herself unconscious was taken by the teenage boys from one party, photographed nude and semi-nude, and taken to a basement where one of the boys, Mays, tried to make her perform oral sex. The girl ended up being digitally penetrated vaginally by Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two players from the celebrated high school football team. The case gained widespread attention in part because of the callousness with which other students used social media to gossip about it. The trial judge found ruled that it was impossible for the impaired girl to have given consent. May received an additional years for his social media activity.
Did Serena blame the victim? We'll find out once that article comes out. But her comments are pithy and worth listening to by young folks that drinking themselves into a stupor or worst unconsciousness. The young men acted criminally and she acknowledge that, she just felt than as a woman, one has to try and carry oneself to prevent fools from acting foolishly and by being that drunk, one invites trouble, especially from drunken teenage boys. Taking responsible to one's action is anathema it American society, this includes sometimes both victim and victimizer. Serena's words gave us something to think about as she reminds us one needs to act and carry oneself responsibly.
Afrikan genius lives
Last Wednesday, Arts For Art, Inc. a not-for-profit, multicultural organization dedicated to avantjazz movements, opened its season presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Milford Graves, the legendary drummer, scientist, herbalist, martial artist and acupuncturist. Professor Graves is truly a Renaissance man whose work has for too long gone under the radar. His groundbreaking work and scientific approach to understanding the effect of rhythm on the heart is matched with a belief in the power of art to move and inspire.
I attended the program and Professor Graves as usual was on point. I was particularly impressed with his performance and left with a greater appreciation of his talents, abilities, and his work. I can proudly say, that Milford Graves, I call him Professor Graves, is one of teachers. For six years I studied with him, and I continue to study and learn from him today. Much of my wisdom and outlook has been influenced by his approach to life, living, and how the inner workings of the body is a reflection of life. He is the only genus I ever met. Seriously.
Rickey and Robinson were only part of the story
Is 42 about Jackie Robinson? Yes and No. The movie is about racism in America and how Branch Rickey engineered baseball's integration using Jackie Robinson. In the movie, baseball is a metaphor for American society; a sports that was the epitome of Jim Crow, and the most popular and profitable sport at the time. Most of the time when an American movie is about a black person, or is black themed, the real hero in the end is usually a white man or woman. The movie 42 goes a step better--society as a whole is the hero, while racist individuals are the villains. His teammates ultimately are heroes, as they, representing America, begin to accept him as part of the team. The scene with Pee Wee Reese is well done—he thought he had hate mail!
In 42, America comes up looking and smelling like roses. You could get the impression that this period laid the foundation for America's post-racial society. The problem is one, this movie doesn't cover the brutal reaction against racial integration, which led to the present system of mass incarceration author Michelle Alexander, has called, the new Jim Crow. Moreover, there is no post-racial America, and the Tea Party is proof positive of it. And so is racial profiling. So, the movie really doesn't do justice in showing the racism Jackie confronted; the stress he endured and the gravity of his sacrifice were burdens which no doubt contributed to his short career and death at the fairly young age of 52. The movie reduced his “sufferings” to three scenes, when in fact his entire rookie season was plagued by such antics. In the movie's defense, it only covered about three years of his life, highlighting his rookie year in the majors, i.e., his breaking of the color line in baseball.
The movie had both whites heroes and villains. The heroes were more memorable than the villains, with Rickey being the most memorable. He had a couple of pithy, wisdom inspired lines. Most of the villains were one dimensional. All of the Black characters were shallow and one-dimensional, but saintly. Jackie was even portrayed as being “without” sin. His character was very likable but he lacked fired. He was almost docile. In real life Jackie was quiet but volatile if wronged. He was a self-respecting man that would not hesitate to confront injustice. He was also a god-fearing sober individual. I am not sure if any of these qualities came across as strongly as I would have liked them to. I think Chadwick Boseman did a very good job showing us an affable, loving man and husband, but I think the script was lacking.
On to the larger question, one I have often pondered: “Did Jackie Robinson integrate baseball?” Yes and No. Jackie deserves credit because he kept his end of the bargain—he did not succumb to racist insults and treatment. (He promised Rickey that he would behave during his rookie year—and he did. Jackie did, however, in later years repay many of his on-field abusers.) This is especially significant because as I already pointed out Jackie Robinson was no punk, so, for him to tolerate the utter foolishness the majors dished out, was a task that many of us are unwilling or unable to do. The dignity with which Robinson handled racism—including its verbal and physical abuses both on and off the field—drew public attention to its folly, stirred the consciences and sympathies of many white Americans, and inspired Afrikan Americans with pride and self-confidence. Martin Luther King Jr. once told Dodgers star Don Newcombe, another former Negro Leaguer, "You'll never know what you and Jackie and Roy [Campanella] did to make it possible to do my job." This and the fact that Jackie used his influence to fight for civil rights off the field is significant. Robinson viewed his sports celebrity as a platform from which to challenge racism. Many sportswriters and other players—including some of his fellow black players—considered Robinson too angry and vocal about racism. During and after his playing days, he joined the civil rights crusade, speaking out—in speeches, interviews, and his column—against racial injustice. In 1949, testifying before Congress, he said: "I'm not fooled because I've had a chance open to very few Negro Americans." He also was an advocate of Black capitalism, which put him at odds with many of the same individuals and groups that advanced baseball's integration.
But baseball was integrated from the top down not the bottom up. Powerful baseball economic interest were behind its integration. These interests were initially pressured by a protest movement that began in the 1930's. This protest movement is documented in two books: Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment (1983) and Chris Lamb's Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012). According to them, Rickey's plan came after more than a decade of efforts by Black and left-wing journalists and activists to desegregate the national pastime. As early as the 1930s, the Black press, civil rights groups, the Communist Party, progressive white activists, and radical politicians waged a sustained campaign to integrate baseball. It was part of a growing movement to eliminate discrimination in housing, jobs, and other sectors of American society. It included protests against segregation within the military, mobilizing for a federal anti-lynching law, marches to open up defense jobs to Blacks during World War II, and boycotts against stores that refused to hire Afrikan Americans.
Tomorrow CPRReggae hosts the showing of the independent Jamaican film, Better Mus Come. Don't miss it. As I said earlier, I consider myself a “connoisseur” of independent black-themed films. and this film ranks with those of Quilombo, Nothing But A Man, City of God, and Ceddo.
Better Mus Come is a film that shows how cold war politics infected the Jamaican political landscape of the late 1970s. Political parties, acting as proxies for the superpowers, used existing local gangs to influence or determine election outcomes. The resulting corruption and political violence in the movie is projected through the lens of a love story.
The movie works because of its simplicity: it is a very good story that has been built around a real historical event, specifically, the Green Bay Massacre. To its credit though the film never feels like a documentary. The story has good characters, who are not exaggerations, but real people—they act predictably yet are realistically portrayed. Most characters, whether they are agreeable or disagreeable, are portrayed with dignity; they act because of their material conditions and not simply motivated by egoist concerns. The effect is that you are watching real people that you can identify with, and you become engaged in the story.
The story is also told without an ideological bias; you never find yourself vying for one political party or the other. Whether the writer, cinematographer, and director, Storm Saulter, is a JLP or PNP man, is unclear and is irrelevant. The movie follows the life of Ricky (Sheldon Shepard), an impoverished single father struggling to survive. He ekes out a living as a mason stealing cement from construction sites at night, and by stealing PNP ballot boxes during the day. Ricky meets Kemala (Nicole “Sky” Grey), a beautiful young woman, who lives in an area with strong PNP support. The two soon develop a deep love for each other—it does not manifest as typical Western romantic love, but as a deep-seated genuine concern-driven love--real love.
The cinematography is very good. It presents the color and vibrancy of Jamaica. But it is not through the lens of a tourist but as a Jamaican; we see the beauty of the landscape as they see it. The angle of the camera shots are those of a well-schooled cinematographer; we never get the impression that he is trying out new amateurish techniques that don't work or that he is using overuse ones that are contrite and commonplace. The viewer feels he or she is part of the movie. In other words you realize the cinematography is good because you never questions the credulity of what you are viewing. The music also enhanced the film. I thought I was going to hear a lot of reggae period music. In fact, I thought the movie would be an advertisement for reggae and reggae artist of the time. But it wasn't. It was a movie that had a soundtrack that fit the various scenes and emotional timbre of the movie. It was like the soundtrack was made for the film, and not the inverse or that the film tried to fit the music to it. Now whether it can be sold as a soundtrack in its own right, I am not sure if it can.
Aside from actor Roger Guenveur Smith, Saulter utilizes a cast of mostly local talent, often nonprofessional actors. But the movie does introduces two actors that gave notable performances, Sheldon Shepard and Nicole “Sky” Grey. Taking a note from Spike Lee, Saulter said some of the acting and dialogue was unscripted. I believe this is a technique that captured a realism that can't be scripted. Saulter also handled the protagonist in a interesting and realistic fashion. There is no hero-worshiping or standard ending to this movie, but a sort of pseudo-predestination implicit in the ending. Ricky's fate is reminiscent of the City of God's “Knockout Ned's, and perhaps with the same ethical justification.
I thought the treatment of Rastafari was favorable but not over the top. The movie was not a “Rasta movie” but it presented the group as altruistic and spiritually-driven. The elders possessed calm serenity and wisdom. (And they smoked “big spliffs.”) Ricky is drawn to their spirituality but mired in his day to day existent. It is part of his dilemma; the crossroads at which he remained.
The movie was very good, excellent even, and I highly recommend it. It speaks to the experience of Afrikan people struggling with their existence in a Western created, Eurocentric world, that is anti-Afrikan, anti-natal, anti damn-near everything except profit and exploitation. This film should be added to your film collection, placed right next to your other classics. It demonstrates the value of a good movie, and proves a good picture is worth more than a thousand words. We need more movies like this one--ones that tell our story, and speak our special truth.
Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza - 1368 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216
Join us tomorrow, 4/19/13 as the Coalition To Preserve Reggae Music Inc. presents a special Brooklyn screening of the Jamaican film Better Mus' Come.
This will be an evening of networking, food and entertainment.
Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza (Multi-Purpose Room)
1368 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Friday April 19th
7:00pm - 11:00pm
Discussion with Director Storm Saulter after the film
To Purchase Your Tickets click here: http://cprreggae.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164&Itemid=111
For more info call: (718) 421-6927 or email firstname.lastname@example.org