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Stabroek News

Trio delivers 'Messages from Women'
published: Sunday | February 24, 2008

From left, Stephens, Marley and Cooper.

Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

In the mid-morning of Thursday, a trio of women delivered some of the messages from others of their gender at the Assembly Hall, University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

'Musical Messages from Women in Reggae and Dancehall' featured Anna Perkins, Adugo Ranglin-Onuora and Carolyn Cooper, the sole man on the stage being the chairman, R. Anthony Lewis.

Perkins was up first with 'Tasting Tears and (Not) Admitting Defeat: Promoting Values and Attitudes Through the Music of Tanya Stephens'.

Perkins told the humorous tale of a conversation with a man who described Stephens as a man basher when he heard that Perkins was doing a paper on her.

After some to and fro, the man relented somewhat, but still grumbled that "she have an agenda".

Perkins said they did agree on one thing - that Stephens has an agenda.

Among them is a refusal to buy into the mentality where masculinity is tied up in conquering female sexuality. And she does require "orgasm-generating performances".

Perkins noted the discrepancy between Stephens sexuality in her songs and her relatively reserved mode of dress on stage, referring to Who Is Tanya who "no haffi strip fi control dem man ya".

Social exclusion

Perkins said that Stephens knows that change can only come by encouraging each of us to change, one at a time. She noted Stephens' vocabulary, using words such as 'philosophy', 'reciprocating', 'pique' and 'facade'.

Perkins spoke to Stephens' take on social exclusion in The Other Cheek, "where she paints a picture of tears running down the cheeks of people in inner-city areas".

"The main thing she is pointing out is a system that puts them in social exclusion," she said. "Perhaps her warning is about what happens when tears dry up and men and women become hardened."

Coming to the close of her presentation, Perkins said that in her album Rebelution, Tanya Stephens calls for a removal of the attitude of the victim (To The Limit), calls for a convergence between action and talk (The Other Cheek) and demands of each of us that we return to some sort of spirituality.

Adugo Ranglin-Onoura's presentation was on 'Di Woman in Reggae', which she preceded by a libation and calling on the names of some of the reggae women who have passed on.

It was an extended prelude to a weak presentation, which amounted to a listing of some of the women who have contributed to reggae with very little by way of analysis.

She named Burning Spear, Joseph Hill, Bob Marley and Tommy Cowan among the 'other halves' of some successful reggae couples, contrary to the view that men and women cannot work together.

She named several women in different fields of the reggae industry and in many countries, before closing off with a music video and a short documentary.

Carolyn Cooper analysed 'No Woman No Cry: Rita Marley's Feminist Fable'.

"It is marketed primarily as a fiction of marital bliss," Cooper said, with Rita Marley positioned as a mere foil whose role is to enhance her husband.

However, Rita Marley, who says that every time she hears a Bob Marley recording she hears her singing as well ("I am on almost all of the songs"), "insists that her own plaintive voice be heard".

Marley's struggles

In much that sense the subtitle of the book, My Life with Bob Marley, could well have been 'My Life without Bob Marley'.

"Rita claims the right to speak in the singular, not the 'I an' I' but the 'I'," Cooper said.

Applying three meanings of 'fable', Cooper said the "quintessentially feminist narrative" is a "rejection of patriarchy in all its forms".

Rita Marley's struggles, among them teenage pregnancy, going against conventional career expectations and facing the social consequences of accepting Rastafari, were expanded on.

As for "her husband's legendary promiscuity", Rita said that "most of the women came with an explanation" for their presence (mainly something to do with the business of music).

Cooper closed with a quote from Rita who, when she hears of her husband the legend, remembers the days in St Ann when he had one pair of underpants which she washed every night.

And Rita says if her husband cared enough to have a meal waiting for her when she came from Kingston, she cared enough to be there to care for him.

In the question-and-answer segment which followed, Cooper said one of the problems in the book comes when Rita says Bob almost raped her and he beat her, noting that sometimes the blows were instigated the other way.

And, maybe, the physical altercation was the prelude to a good bout of making up.

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