Addicted to Alice

Last.fm_screenshot_final_cut

I got a chunky translation job last month, 61 pages of sobering and inspiring information about childhood in Senegal: sobering to read that children’s charity X allows a maximum grant of US$5 per month; inspiring when I think of the hundreds of people freely offering their time and experience to help others less fortunate than themselves.

My most immediate concern, however, was finishing the report ahead of schedule. In this business, the deadline has usually already passed by the time you sign the contract, so you have to work double fast just to make up for time lost by someone before you.

My boss in Rome had a much photocopied text tacked to her noticeboard: A lack of planning on your part does not justify an emergency on my part. True, true. But as a freelancer I’m sure I’d get a frosted stare if I repeated that before signing the contract.

In addition to the tight time pressure from outside, I still had a family life to … enjoy. The result was a work day from 9:30 to 11:30, when Baby-J took her morning nap, and from 20:30 onwards, when the other kids went to bed, finishing when I could no longer focus on the words dancing on the screen.

What kept me going? A podcast of some of the best work of Alice Coltrane: Alice in Wonderland compiled and spliced by Bending Corners. I’ve been a fan of Bending Corners for a couple of years, enjoying its eclectic mix of lesser known work from established jazzbo greyheads as well as Nu-jazz young turks, the best of whom are actually Scandinavian. Don’t take my word for it, though; get over to Bending Corners after you’ve finished here.

But back to Alice, Alice Coltrane, wife of John Coltrane, Boss Horn bar none. Somehow she had escaped my attention, despite my owning a nice vinyl collection of cosmic jazzsters from the same galaxy: Pharaoh Sanders, Lonnie Liston Smith, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, and so on. I liked the unpredictability and dissonance of their music, as well as the sometimes bizarre sounds of African American jazz musicians interpreting Indian classical music, not as cringeworthy as the sitars in 60s pop bands, but still smirkable.

Maybe I thought Alice was cashing in on the Coltrane name and lacked her own voice. I’ve also read of a comparison between Alice and Yoko Ono, both of whom were blamed for breaking up a popular band, in Alice’s case, the “classic” quartet of J.C., McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison.

The judgements are unfair, however; Alice Coltrane made her own beautiful, beautiful music, both intimate and large-scale, sometimes profound, sometimes cheesy. Though even when it was cheesy it was well done. Such is the extract I’ve selected for you below, Om Supreme.

I’ve collected a dozen albums by Alice Coltrane in the last year, but when I needed to work on this job, I couldn’t resist going back to the Bending Corners podcast. There was something about it that gave me the ability to work for hours with great concentration. After a dozen listenings, each section becomes familiar in its own way and marks a break in my work — I shift position, review the previous section, or try to pin down the nuance of a particular technical term — each change determined by the shift in the music, it seems.

After the monumental Galaxy In Satchidananda, with its interlacing of delicate harp and the slow grandeur of the strings (picture elephants performing courtly Indian dance in the Forbidden City), after the free jazz twiddles of Sita Ram, the tension and release pattern continues throughout the podcast, ending with this extract. Every 46 minutes — the time of the podcast set on loop — I’d allow myself to sit back and close my eyes for a few minutes. In the opening, Alice’s powerful stabs on the keyboard get blown out on my puny headphones in a weirdly satisfying way. I also love the strong contrasts between violent dissonance and soft, reassuring melody. And of course I always smile when the singers begin, sounding like a bunch of blond, tanned hippies wearing white robes and beatific perma-smiles. Yes, it’s a load of mystic codswallop they’re chanting (I’ll Om-Supreme-Bhagavan you, matey!) … but it’s a wonderful thing to listen to in the still of a hot summer night in Africa with a cool breeze blowing off the ocean, rustling the palm tree in the garden.

(Click to play)

[audio:Alice Coltrane – Om Supreme.mp3]

Shaking Up Orange Street

Part II of my downtown tour should be loading below. It took a little longer to finish than I’d hoped, partly because I wanted to make it look better than my previous clip, and partly because uploading it to YouTube is very very slow.

As I’ve recommended previously, if your bandwidth is as bad as mine, I would click “play”, then the little “pause” button, and go and boil the kettle. That will give the clip some time to download and give you smoother playback.

Jamaica rundown

The opening match of the Cricket World Cup (CWC) 2007 takes place on Tuesday 13 March, at Sabina Park, here in Kingston. Throughout the last year, the complaints and criticisms of the organization of the event have dominated all discussions about the World Cup — lack of Internet access for pre-booking tickets, closure of public roads to facilitate cricket traffic, cross-cultural clashes between Jamaican and Chinese construction workers, poor drainage and seating facilities at Sabina, … the list goes on.

The least tangible, but most persistent comment is the cynical remark about the government finding money — that it previously claimed to lack — in order to improve infrastructure that benefit the CWC directly, and local communities only indirectly, if at all — for example, doing a complete repair and resurfacing of the road that leads from the airport to the cricket ground, and that road alone. The fact that the road passes communities that have never previously had pavements shows that it is an exercise in window dressing — even the gutted shells of abandoned buildings downtown have got a new coat of paint!

Finishing touches at Sabina Park

Where does the money come from? That’s about as clear as the coconut milk used in the tasty rundown sauce mentioned in this post’s title. One thing is sure, it’s going to add on to the already huge levels of debts owed by Jamaica (Read more …).

The motivation for the panicky activities of the last few days is to avoid embarrassment, whatever the cost. And I have to admire the way that the workers are working round the clock to lick things into shape. Each time I’ve passed Sabina these last few weeks, I’ve been impressed by the improvements in the immediate area (street signs, road surface, tree planting), all done at incredible speed. Now, as the realization grows that we are not going to make complete fools of ourselves, so people are beginning to relax and feel more positive about, and even proud of, hosting the World Cup.

The contrast with the previous months’ sniping and carping is striking, and made me realize how often Jamaicans tend to run themselves down and accentuate the negative. The “tall poppy syndrome” that exists in other countries is far more prevalent here. One infamous example was the death of popular windscreen cleaner, Richard Grant, who, through hard work and a positive attitude, had saved enough to buy a second-hand car. This created such envy among his neighbourhood peers that they murdered him. His sister still works the same crossroads by Devon House, and is just as charming with a friendly smile and a T-shirt with the text, “May I wash your windscreen, please?”

Envy abounds. No one gets ahead on merit, imagines the popular mind; it comes through patronage and unfair advantage, which is an attempt to excuse the failure of the envious to move forward. The result is a culture of victimization and distrust that is completely counter to the carefree image presented to tourists; the reality is that, for most people, “Jamaica No Problem” is just a slogan on Chinese-imported souvenir T-shirt.

But I’m not going to give in to the Jamaica rundown today. I’m writing this post in the hope that people will take a break from the negative and latch on to the affirmative, at least for a short while.

Fowaad selecta!

[audio:Johnny Mercer – Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.mp3]

Maybe Shaggy could do a version and make it the CWC anthem. He-he

Two cultures clash

Talk of banning the “dance of death” is still doing the rounds here in Kingston, or at least it was this morning at the hairdresser’s. The dance in question is of course the “Dutty Wine”. In a country where new dance moves pop up every week, the Dutty Wine has shown unusual endurance since its first attributed appearance in Montego Bay early this year. Its combo moves of butterfly knees, twisting neck and whirling weave is not particularly “dirty”, yet it has become the most popular dance for years. Check out some of the 2,000+ examples on YouTube.

The dance hit the mainstream, or middle class, consciousness some ten days ago when it was cited as the cause of death of a young woman.

The popular “Dutty Wine” dance is being blamed for yesterday’s death of an 18-year-old St. Catherine woman.

Tanisha Henry was attending a “school uniform” party at Beacon Hill, Thompson Pen, about four o’clock Sunday morning when, while doing the popular dance, she collapsed and was rushed to the nearby Spanish Town Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

When The Gleaner checked with the institution, a representative said persons have for some time been warned of the dangers associated with the dance, but that no one seems to have taken heed.

[…]

“If you throw the body in extreme positions, as in the case of the ‘Dutty Wine’, you could have muscle trauma, damage to your ligaments and shifting in bones,” [said] Dr. Jephthath Ford, general practitioner.

[…]

“It is a warning to young people that dem mus stop du de Dutty Wine,” said one woman who called the incident a curse on the land. “Is like a demon sen’ from de pit a hell dat is taking the lives of the youth even before dem have time to repent.”
Source: The Gleaner

My reckoning is that the woman probably hit her head on something as a result of dizziness, as seen in the above video clip, around 01:50. But who am I to argue with a doctor named “Jephthath”?

What has struck me more in the days since the death is the obvious division in cultures between the middle class, educated newspaper journalists, and the semi-literate dancehall fans. The remove is such that some were not even aware of the song and dance until the recent death. The response is suitably indignant:

[I]t is incredible how the Dutty Wine song managed to stay on top of the music charts for 13 weeks without being pulled by the broadcasting commission, or without being the subject of protest by the teachers union, the church, the prime minister’s office, the moral authority, Greg Christie [Office of the Auditor General, aka Mr Clean], the opposition, the ministry of welfare, the child care and protection agency, Jamaicans for Justice, the police commissioner’s office, the PTA of any school, any columnist or anyone else for that matter.
Source: Jamaica Observer

In terms of reference and expression, the culture clash is fascinating. In the first corner we have this type of writing:

Should Dutty Wine be banned? First of all, there needs to be some care in assessing cause and effect. A man jogs briskly down the street, collapses and dies. There may be a sense in which the jogging may be said to have caused his death, but this, by itself, would be a far too simplistic conclusion. And the mere fact that the death followed the brisk jog does not mean that the jogging had anything to do with his death: post hoc ergo propter hoc is not really helpful in this case.
Source: The Gleaner

In the other corner we have:

A DIS THIS WRIGHTER A TRY DISRESPECT JAMAICAN MEN AND WOMEN AN U CAN GET INTOUCH WITH HIM AN TELL HIM JAMAICA SAY HIM FE GO S*K HIM SELF IN AN INTELLIGENT WAY, I HATE JAMAICANS LIKE THIS PERSON U R QUOTING,THEY R LIKE THE WHITE TRASH WHITE PEOPLE IN SOCIETY WHO LIKE TO PUT PEOPLE DOWN AND THEY R NO BETTER THAN MY SHOE BOTTOM. SHOW OFF,STUSH,ACT LIKE THEY R SMARTER THAT ALL,AN SHAMEFULL OF THERE CULTURE,WE R JAMAICAN AND WE DONT DO TO PLEASE PEOPLE WE DO TO PLEASE OUR SELF, IN OTHER WORDS WE DONT WATCH FACE WE CREAT FACES TO WATCH US CUT AN GO THROUGH IN LIFE,EVERY BODY WANT A PAGE OUT OF OUR BOOKS JAMAICAN PEOPLE THAT IS, BUT OUR PAGES R NOT REMOVABLE BY PAGONS AND PARASIGHTS, LIKE THE WRIGHTER OF THIS DESRESPECTFULL ARTICLE U POST,HE TALK OF US AS IF WE R THE WORST ANIMAL LIVING ON EARTH, AND IF U CHECK HIS LIFE STYLE HE IS MOST LIKELY THE HYENA OF US ALL, AN WE ALL KNOW HOW DISGUSTING AND COWARD THE HYENA IS.
Source: Yardflex.com

Is one write and the other indubitably erroneous?

I’ll leave that for you to comment on.

For my part, I’ll leave you with an uptown contribution to a fourth verse of Tony Matterhorn’s smash version of “Dutty Wine”.

[audio:Tony Matterhorn – Dutty Wine (Smash riddim).mp3]

Attitude Gal
One of dem, two of dem
See the crew of dem, I will wine dem
Could a three a dem, could a four a dem
Even more of dem, I will grind dem
See the whole of dem, see di whole a dem … friends (whole a dem friends)
Pack up mi gyal … dutty wine … eehh
So what dem a say
All right now

Verse
Me step inna di club, a dance rub a dub
An di gyal a come wine up on me
Mi stan so tall back against the wall
And now she start climb up pon me
Its kind a likkle trickie, I’m checking out Nikki
When you know say time is up on me
The way di gyal a wine is like the breeze a blow
But it hot and the sun shine on me

Chorus
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (whoa)
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (ray)
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (lawd)
Dutty wine, my girl, mix it up now
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (ray)
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (laad)
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (whoa)
Watch di gyal dem a do di dutty wuk (aye)

Verse
Bend your back and lift your head up
Turn side way, lift your leg up
Bend your face and twist it up
And turn true side like you know you fed up (Whoa)
Turn roun like you know rose duck
Spin aroun cause you know how fi wuk
Lift it up back, then you breast it up
Back it up, cock it up, my girl dutty wuk

Chorus
So, do di dutty wuk, do di dutty wuk
Watch all di gal deh a do di dutty wuk (Attitude)
Di dutty wuk, do di dutty wuk
Attitude gal a do di dutty wuk

Verse
So f***in inna wata, f***in inna sea
F***in inna bushes, and f***in inna tree
If you f*** pon di bed your not f***ing me
F*** pon di floor, f*** pon di tv
F*** pon di dresser, and bruk up figurine
F*** pon di fan, no gyal no finga me
When mi see di hot gyal dem dat a trigga me
F*** any where, let f*** be free

So, could a one a dem, could a two a dem
Send the crew of dem, I will grind dem
Could a three a dem, and if a four of dem
Send more a dem, I will wine dem
Any way dem deh, any way dem deh
Any way dem deh, Mota will find dem
Just to wine up pon di gyal yah
Look at di gyal dem a wine
Sit down pon it now

Verse
Quid fit? Quid fit?
Modo fac! Modo fac!
Te audire no possum! (Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.)
Heus, hic nos omnes in agmine sunt!
Fac ut gaudeam.
Quid fit? (Osculare pultem meam!)
Quid fit? (Subucula tua apparet.)
Quid fit? (Id tibi praebet speciem lepidissimam!)
Quid fit? (Capillamentum? Haudquaquam conieci esse!)
Apudne te vel me? (Di, ecce hora! Uxor mea necabit!)

Mi a wicked! He-he-he!

Chase dem crazy baal’eads

[cont.] Colin Campbell resigned.

I am not going to say that there is no corruption taking place; I would be crazy and stupid to say that.

– Colin Campbell, 1993 Gleaner Editors’ Forum

[audio:Bob Marley and the Wailers – Crazy Baldheads.mp3]

Here comes the conman
Coming with his con plan
We won’t take no bribe, we got to stay alive

We gonna chase those crazy
Chase those crazy baldheads
Chase those crazy baldheads out of town

– Rita Marley & Vincent Ford, “Crazy baldheads”

Next!