Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer
Dr. William 'Lezlee Lyrix' Henry used the voices of those who entertained to refute the voices of those who proclaimed stereotypes in England, as he presented his first book at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, last Friday evening.
What The Deejay Said: A Critique From the Street based largely on his doctoral thesis, was presented against the background of outright claims that blacks in England were not interested in the political process, as well as more subtly expressed assumptions about them responding only to pleasure impulses.
Telling those gathered in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre that he believed what came out of the dancehall in the 1970s and 1980s was the most powerful political voice from the streets, Henry also explained why 'blak' is used in the title of the first segment of the book, 'Overstanding Blak Cultural Expression'. "Blacks (in Britain) got fed up with being collapsed into categories," he said.
And 'what the deejay said' through Papa Levi's 1983 hit, Me God, Me King, expressed that frustration as he speed rapped "living in Babylon as a black man, all me face is racialism." However, it was the only lyric referred to that evening that made it on to record.
Henry, himself a former deejay under the name 'Lezlee Lyrix', noted that by the time a record was made the message was often eliminated or diluted, so he referred to the tapes of dancehall events where the deejays delivered live, direct and uncensored. And he played clips of those events throughout the combination of a book launch and a lecture, Papa Benji saying from 1984 "mek we lef outa dat kinda chat an deal wid me blackness/me born a England me know sey mi black/me nah sey mi British 'cause to some of de politician black man don' exis'."
The deejays delivered in the language of their Jamaican counterparts, a delivery learnt from the numerous 'yard tapes' of dances from Jamaica. It was a language that was an excellent vehicle "to articulate our frustration".
The 'critique from the street' was not only of the white establishment, but also of some blacks. A Papa Levi lyric from 1994 mimiced boxer Frank Bruno's constant reference to 'Arry', as well as another boxer, Chris Eubanks, plea to his white girlfriend "Karen will you marry me?"
"The real history is in the tapes, because they know who they are talking for," Henry said.