Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | One-Don Seaga launched my Dancehall Book

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM

In 2005, I invited Seaga to be the guest speaker at the launch of my book, ‘Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture At Large’.

One of my friends asked in disbelief, “Is so yu desperate fi sell book dat yu going go ask Seaga fi talk fi yu?”

My friend knew that Seaga would draw crowd. But he was alarmed that I would, seemingly, sell my soul to the devil to promote my book. In his opinion, Seaga was a most disreputable character. And I ought to distance myself from him.

In death, Seaga has become a saint. Not a whiff of scandal! Even diehard Comrades are now loudly singing his praises. I suppose it’s the proverbial caution to not speak ill of the dead. But I don’t think Seaga’s duppy is at all amused by this sanctification. I can just hear him, “Is who dem talking bout? Couldn’t be me. Dem figet seh mi a di one don? Mi a no Don Juan Michael Manley. Mi badder dan dat. Auoah!”

It is true that Seaga became obsessed with his legacy as his life drew to a close. I think that’s why he insisted on Andrew Holness clapping his name on the North/South Highway. Perhaps, it’s poetic justice. That costly, underused highway is a symbol of all that is wrong with Jamaican politics today. So-called development at any price!

Generations of poor people will be paying for a highway used by only a few rich people. For a very long time! And if we can’t pay, we will end up having to give away our land for little or nothing. Jamaica, land of hoodwink and barter!

LOVING CONFUSION

A colleague at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, responded in this way to the news that Seaga was going to speak at the book launch: “Carolyn, yu just love confusion”.

She didn’t mean that confusion was another name for Seaga. Or that I loved him! Instead, she was acknowledging the fact that I don’t always do what is expected.

I guess my colleague assumed that I defend left-wing politics exclusively. So my choice of a right-wing politician to speak at the launch seemed confusingly illogical. And I imagine that loving confusion in this context meant that I got a kick out of stirring up trouble. Muddying the waters of political correctness!

The most perceptive response came from a top-ranking Labourite who was not at all confused on the matter: “Knowledge different from politics”.

That’s exactly why I asked Seaga to launch ‘Sound Clash’. He was an expert in the field of Jamaican popular music. He could critique my book with authority.

CIRCUMSTANCES ALTER CASES

In addition, Seaga had recently been appointed as a Distinguished Fellow at The UWI, Mona. Now this was a man who frequently badmouthed the university. He publicly contested the expertise of scholars and generally dissed the institution with glee. As far as he was concerned, The UWI was a far cry from Harvard, his alma mater.

But circumstances alter cases. In retirement from politics, Seaga was installed in the very university about which he had often spoken with such disdain. His fellowship gave him the luxury of a dedicated space in which he could leisurely reflect on his long career and write about it. It also enabled him to interact with some of the very scholars he’d been sceptical about.

It seemed like a generous act of inclusion to invite him to speak at the launch of the book. And, as was to be expected, he did an excellent job. But he did make a memorable mistake.

The title of the last chapter, which was co-authored with the linguist Hubert Devonish, is ‘The Dancehall Transnation: Language Lit/orature and Global Jamaica’.

Transnation is one of those funky words academics make up to convey a new idea. Devonish and I wanted to express the fact that Jamaican dancehall culture had gone global. And Jamaica with it! The Jamaican nation is no longer tied to Jamrock. Jamaican culture is transnational.

It’s at large, as the sub-title of the book confirms.

TRANSLATING CULTURE

Seaga mistook transnation for translation. It may have been a Freudian slip, revealing his lingering suspicion of UWI academics. He probably assumed we didn’t even know how to spell a simple word. And so he had to correct us.

Bad-mind conspiracy theory aside, Seaga’s error was, most likely, just an oversight with no wicked intent.

And, in a sense, translation turned out to be quite appropriate after all.

The origin of the word ‘translate’ is Latin. It comes from two words, ‘trans’, meaning across; and ‘latus’, meaning carried. So translate literally means to carry something across. And that’s precisely what our dancehall DJs have done. They have carried our culture across the world.

Seaga’s talk was published in ‘Jamaica Journal’ later that year. Appropriately so! Establishing the journal was one of his many brilliant ideas. As a student of anthropology, Seaga understood the power of culture. And he certainly used it to his political advantage. Whether we liked it or not!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.