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'Respect, boss man' - Introducing Dave from that VW ad

Published:Monday | February 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

Like much of the world, Erik Nicolaisen's primary relationship with Jamaica is through reggae music.

"When I was nine or 10, my older cousin gave me a mixtape of Yellowman, Burning Spear, Eek-a-mouse, Pato Banton, Jacob Miller, Culture, Steel Pulse, Shinehead, Peter Tosh. That was the beginning of my obsession with the music," Nicolaisen told The Gleaner.

Nicolaisen has been the focus of both criticism and praise for his role in Americanising Jamaican Patois in the 'Get In. Get Happy' VW Super Bowl advertisement, which was aired to some 110 million viewers on United States television networks on Sunday.

Asked how well he thinks his accent came across, he said: "Obviously it was important for the wider viewing audience to be able to understand the words and phrases in the commercial, as such, it was necessary for the creators of the commercial to "Americanise" my Patois just a little bit ("sticky bun soon come" vs "sticky bun come soon", etc)."

Under the circumstances, he felt it still came across as fairly authentic, and the outpouring of messages from citizens of Jamaica seem to confirm that.

The ad, which went viral a week ago, has since attracted some 6.8 million views on YouTube.

VW's insight

Admitting that the idea of using the Jamaican accent was not his, Nicolaisen credits Volkswagen with their inventiveness and foresight.

"I was hired two days before filming began. All credit goes to Volkswagen, the advertising agency Deutsch LA, and the amazing director Tom Kuntz. I'm just the actor hired to bring life to the 'Dave' character they created, and I am deeply grateful for that opportunity."

It didn't hurt that Nicolaisen's relationship with Jamaica was cemented with the things he learnt from the book that became his bible years ago - Reggae International by Stephen Davis & Peter Simon, which he said was a definitive source on everything Jamaican.

"Island history from the Arawaks to modern day; the evolution of reggae, a Patois glossary, Rastafari history, etc. I studied that book like the bible, reading and rereading it until it eventually fell apart."

More recently, his younger sister married a Jamaican man and they have a son together, further cementing his ties to the island.

This is not Nicolaisen's first ad, but his first Volkswagen commercial. He has done many ads with soft drinks, orange juice, fast food, cars, beer and video games,

"As a long-time owner of a Volkswagen Passat TDI, it's nice to be pushing a brand that I believe in," he noted.

He admitted that at no time did he anticipate the reaction the ad has received. "Not a clue. I knew that if I didn't deliver acceptable Patois, the advertisement would fail and, even worse, I wouldn't hear the end of it from my Jamaican friends and family."

As it relates to the controversy that the ad has garnered, he is indifferent.

"People are entitled to their opinion on the matter, and it really isn't my place to affirm or deny the controversy, or how the advertisement made people feel. I'm just an actor, hired to play a role in a television commercial," he said.

He admitted that as a fan of German dancehall artiste Gentleman, Matisyhu, and Albarosie, he was certainly surprised at the initial controversy that his Patois created.

"On the other hand, I'm not blind to the social construct of race, and I recognise both sides of the controversy."

A native of Portland, Oregon, in the United States, Nicolaisen has been to Jamaica once in 2003.

"I travelled only as far as Bluefields (Westmoreland), and then into the Cockpit country, but I didn't exactly get to explore like I would have liked."

He, however, finds Jamaica to be an exceptional, beautiful and complicated place, one you can only truly appreciate if you go and experience it for yourself.