Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Hush, Lisa

Published:Monday | May 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

As a child with a wide range of interests, my parents soon figured out that one of the best gifts they could give to arrest my attention was new music, and listed prominently among my early favourites was Baduizm, the debut album of Erykah Badu.

This intriguing performer burst on to the scene with a divine feminine awareness that I found to be as mesmerising as it was innovative. Her quirky intonations, countercultural stylings and often-bizarre lyrics intrigued the young writer in me and consequently puzzled most who heard me scatting along to her trilling incantations.

It didn't take long for the family to grow weary of my interest in this strange siren, especially my dear aunt, who quickly deduced that Erykah was either insane or demon-possessed, or both, before banning me from playing that voodoo music in her presence. To be fair, even in today's libertarian paradise, if the average person heard a child of 12 or 13 singing with conviction that he was born underwater with three dollars and six dimes, he would probably be concerned as well.

No matter the ridicule, I was convinced this collection of sounds had touched a cultural nerve, and I became transfixed with trying to understand the esoteric messages of this perplexing African-American griot. Some might have thought I took her too seriously, and that I had been hypnotised by the ramblings of a beautiful poseur, but I perceived a method to her madness that revealed to me the mind of a powerful artiste and storyteller.

Likewise, in keeping up with Lisa Hanna, another polarising character by whom I've admittedly become bewitched, there has been much cause for concern among those in my close circle who still feel, to their own peril, that she isn't worthy of interest beyond the surface. Where most would dismiss her frequent antics as trite and attention-seeking, I have always been impressed by her cunning chicanery on display.

As she beckons us to look behind the veil of Jamaica's old political guard through her long-running social-media reality show, it is quite easy to get the sense that she is in tune with the cultural pulse and has learnt well how to bait a good debate.

 

DAMSEL IN DISTRESS

 

In last week's gripping performance, Ms Hanna played the role of a damsel in distress, held hostage by evil forces in her homeland. She recounts in vivid detail the harrowing experience of being rejected at the toll window along the North-South Highway for not having enough cash to cross it, and the emotional pain she suffered through local agents of the greedy infiltrators operating that stretch of road. She didn't actually use those words, but trust me, they can be gleaned from the subtext.

Allegorically, the message being sent is that this fair lady is also a victim of the unfortunate economic and social environment in which we operate during this era of prosperity, and that she commiserates with our cause. With frequent and unexpected price increases, an upsurge in antisocial behaviour, and a general sense of frustration, the tension finally culminated in poor Lisa encountering "the worst case of customer service" she had ever experienced in her own country, after being held ransom on the highway because "the Chinese only want cash".

What she described was indeed tame by comparison to the harsh experiences in the lives of ordinary Jamaicans, but for the doyenne of subterfuge, it was an opportunity to share her two cents on the discomfort caused by inflexible administration. As a result of her advocacy, the minister of transport reluctantly agreed to take a look at cashless collection along the route, so it seems her diatribe had an underlying value after all.

Lisa's performance is an intriguing case study on the evolution of Jamaican politics in this new age of information. Whereas before, plotting mischief might have taken weeks of planning and expensive logistics to properly execute, nowadays all it takes is a cell phone and a captive audience, something Hanna has consistently displayed remarkable proficiency in attracting. Her persistence in reaching Jamaican doorsteps by inviting them on to hers is a technique many of her contemporaries have only recently, awkwardly, adapted to mixed reviews.

Though there are many for whom her contributions to public life are largely inconsequential, and her near-ubiquitous presence on the news cycle is but a pleasant distraction, for those paying close attention to the development of this intriguing character, it is obvious she is actively positioning herself as a leader in popular culture with each of her steps and seeming missteps in the spotlight, and it is a pleasure to watch it unfold before my eyes.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandycynic.