I remember, at my partner’s sister’s wedding seeing a whole set of Trini white gals bruk out to dancehall with bamcee acrobatics my black ass cannot manage without triggering Charlie horses in my butt cheeks. If I am going to be away from home for any extended period, my tawah travels with me. It has been in my suitcase, back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, because roti is life and this black chick can roll them out like a boss. Last year Diwali, it was level gulab jamun and burfi in my kitchen. Check out this Trini representing for our food in London.
Sometimes, when the sun going down, and the timing is just right, the Gayathri just falls from my lips. Nine times. By the time the vibration of that last “Om” fades on the wind, I feel completely refreshed, unburdened and at peace. When I was around nine or ten, I found a trunk of junk my father refused to throw away and inside it, vinyl of all the “evil worldly music” he no longer listened to; Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Earth Wind and Fire, Beatles, Elton John and more. Years later, while working at Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi, I met a whole group of people, from completely different backgrounds but into the same music I was already into. We also cross-pollinated each other with new music too, “Here, check out this Radiohead.”, “Have you heard of Bjork before?”, “I know you don’t normally like rap, but listen to this Outkast jam nah? You cyah tell me that not brilliant!” “Ey, that Californication album is boss!” Who was never into Carnival when they joined, are seasoned jumbies today.
By the way, was I supposed to tell the Chinese Rastafarian, I used to work with back in the day that dreadlocks are not for her? Ridiculous! When you come from an island where a Syrian teaching yoga, a black Rastaman teaching taekwondo and your former Prime Minister of East Indian descent dresses up in spectacular African headwraps for Shouter Spiritual Baptist Liberation day, what are you to make of the African American and Black British activists and their white allies on the liberal side, who rail against the infectious virus that is culture?
How can I not feel confused when they are upset that a musical genius of Puerto Rican-Filipino descent felt his spirit drawn to soul, r&b, reggae and hip hop and to make matters worse, was successful and celebrated for it? How can I not reminisce about toilet paper and Skinner Park and an intrepid female calypsonian many black Trinis felt, was too light skinned to catch de power? Only to realize she was channelling the same spirit Ella and Sandra and Rose were and had no choice but to bow in respect to the power of kaiso.
I will admit, I do not know what it is like to live in an apartheid situation where there are few to none who share your ethnicity/culture in all the key gatekeeping positions. I grew up where most of the police, political leaders, cultural icons and public servants were of African descent and part of the same Trini-culture. I do not know what it is like to have to erase all traces of your unique culture to gain access to employment or schooling or civic participation or visibility in the media. I can only imagine how disempowering that feels. There are occasionally some traces of that anti-African colonial mentality in corporate Trinidad and Tobago but when it occurs, the conscious among us, we fight it and that alone. We do not transfer our anger to non-African (looking) people who embrace or express Afro-inspired cultural aspects out of a genuine spirit of respect and/or solidarity. As far as we are concerned, more flavour in the pot!
I’m not saying genuine cultural appropriation that directly disenfranchises a vulnerable ethnic group, does not exist. There are fashion designers from Europe who take designs from indigenous people in the Global South, brand it as their own idea, make millions off it, never give any credit either in kind or cash to the people who originated the design. Meanwhile the indigenous originators of the design have no means of benefitting from their own art and/or may even be ostracised or barred from access to resources if they wear their authentic designs in mainstream society. This is unjust. Multi-coloured dreadlocks on white models on a runway however, is not. Privileged First World students and activists acting like it is the end of the world, is very ridiculous to this dreadlocked chic from a shithole country, where there are real problems to solve.
Anyway, I’m going to listen to some culturally appropriated, genre-fucking Gorillaz and chill. Since I cannot be at the New Fire Festival later this month to enjoy all the delicious cultural cross-pollination and viral infection, I will leave it at this: #CultureIsViral, catch it, share it, respect it, distill it, evolve it, revolutionize it, do not suppress it unless it is violating someone else’s Universal Human Rights.