Friday, January 26, 2007

Fiya Strikes Again in Trinidad

Another sad incident of what from now on I'll just refer to as the "Fiya Bun" phenomenon just took place in Trinidad. It's the kind of incident that, short of the gay victim being brutally beaten and hospitalized like the CBS reporter visiting St. Maartin earlier this year, just won't make major headlines.

Global Voices picked up a post on the incident from Jessica Joseph, a Trinidadian blogger. She reports:

"The brutal attack of Dutch national and male model Michael Brantjes during a photo shoot in Blanchisseuse, reported in the Thursday 4th January issue of the Guardian raises a lot of pertinent issues that need some deeper examination. According to the report, I quote, 'The beating, he (Michael Brantjes) said, might have stemmed from “how people might view a male model.' In addition the report went stated, 'Cosmetologist Kirk Thomas, who was also with Brantjes when the attack occurred, described the incident as unfortunate. Describing what happened as a 'hate crime,' Thomas said: 'I definitely know that it was that, a hate crime because in Trinidad male models are stereotyped in a particular way. People need to change their attitude.' cosmotologist at the photo shoot added.”

In Jessica's blog, she goes on to speculate about the dangers and controversy that could unfold on Elton John's upcoming visit to Trinidad. I'm not super-religious but I say, Lord grant traveling mercies on Elton John.

Since this is the first major violent backlash of "fiya bun" I've heard about coming from Trinidad, I want to raise the issues again. Is this about young insecure black men asserting their maleness against what they see as the influence of depraved Western values coming from Babylon? (See my earlier post, Chanting Down Babylon with Homophobic Chat.) Is the fiya spreading or are dance hall fans starting to turn away from the insensitivity of the Buju's, Beenie Mans and Sizzlas of the business? Love to hear your impressions, outrage, opinions, info about this latest.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Solid Ground

Just back from yet another trip to Belize, and although I almost slipped on the packed down snow that came down on my mother's doorstep, it feels like I'm on solid ground. Maybe it's in part because my trip to Belize felt more real and grounded than any other trip I've taken. I felt myself finally delving into the issues and places that have somewhat eluded me till now.

I traveled with cameraman/editor, Khary Jones, a young filmmaker with a seasoned eye who helped me to see new things and focus the vision for the Punta Rock! documentary. Check out these wonderful images of Belize.

Below the beauty though, lies the grit. The truth about what's happening in Belize lies the truth in a spoken word piece I heard by a poet by the name of Erwin X shouting the headline:

Another brother...FALLEN
Another mother's heart BROKEN...

I had heard over the radio that there had been 74 murders in the country this year (half as many as in the danger zone of post-Katrina New Orleans) so I knew that the violence was spreading. But the simple words made it hit home. I thought about the killing of the grandson of a prominent civil servant that had taken place right down the block from my grandmother's house on one of my recent trips.

At the same spoken word event where I heard Erwin X perform his poem, I heard another memorable piece by a youth who goes by the name Positive Vibes, a new member of the "Heights of Vibes" musical fraternity. He gave an frenetic peformance of his Devil Out There" hit, a song with lyrics that hit you in the gut while the dance hall bass rises like an alarm, lifting your consciousness and your spirits at the same time as "another young man goes six feet under."

On Albert Street, in the downtown section of Belize where I stayed with a retired family friend, I met a curious and well-spoken man named Steven Okeke. Steven, a sculptor, professor and engineer, hails from the Ibo of Nigeria, a people made of a cloth good for traveling and exploring new and remote places (in contrast, Steven told me, to their Yoruba brethren). He and his wife run a successful craft store along the main commercial strip.

Steven's written several books, one of which is called "Understanding the Problems of Belizean Youths: Positive Insights." His analysis of the problem of self-destructive behavior among the youth of Belize is plainspoken and piercing. He writes:

"Belize seems to fall into the first groups where young people feel desperate and betrayed in a lot of ways, Desperate because of the unnerving and sometimes unreasonable demands on them...Indeed betrayal where they discover that their significant others who are discouraging any alliance with the foreigners are courting the said strangers or living by them, In anger and frustration, many of these young people can be seen working doggedly to dismantle an order they feel has betrayed them. In its place they wish to erect a new reality which naturally poses the same or more problems than their disillusionment."

The young people Steven writes about be their own heroes in the absence of positive role models. I'm sure Erwin X and the younger Positive Vibes had positive influences - producers, friends, fellow artists, if not parents - who helped them along as they began to make their mark as artists and activists and vocal civic participants. Still, to take up a pen and a mic in the face of physical and mental violence in these times is a mighty undertaking. Leave it to the poets and the rappers to give us courage and hope.