When Reggae is Racist
It was strange to sit in a hall of sculptures amongst a crowd made up mostly of bohemian middle class white folk, watching a film about Jamaica. The thing is, that some pretty nasty shit happened a few hundred years ago. In fact, the British actually enslaved vast numbers of Africans, and shipped them off to the island of Jamaica to work on sugar plantations. Then, the Empire poured the money made from the backs of slaves into their institutions and estates, as well as thieving as much stuff as they could from loads of other countries, and piling it into big fancy buildings they called “Museums” and “Galleries”. Don’t be surprised, dear reader, if many of the pieces in Edinburgh’s portrait gallery – like the grand buildings of Glasgow – were paid for by slave money. A lot of shit.
Fast forward to February 26th, 2016, a day in which loads of white middle class people gathered in the portrait gallery to watch some footage shot in Jamaica – featuring men singing reggae and talking about their lives, the shops they run, the way they live, what it means to live a good life. The footage was beautifully shot, and the director had obviously spent a great deal of time accessing the lives of people a world away, gaining intimate footage -and trust. Yet I couldn’t help but feel as though I were part of a crowd at a zoo, peering through the bars. Several of the older folk muttered behind me, finding the Jamaican’s dialect hard to understand. Many of them cackled with laughter at the men smoking weed, which – by the way – goes hand in hand with freedom.
It should be no surprise that ignorance abounds still. Racism is still rife. Equality is not yet met, and people still live who came to England in the 1960’s to escape the abjection they were left in by the British, and found themselves trapped in this soggy racist country.
So on one hand, these kinds of events are good – they give powerful poets like Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze a platform to educate and remind her audiences of the legacy colonialism left. But on the other hand – they are not comfortable, and they emulate a dynamic of power – that of the black voice as entertainer; the white audience as the entertained, feeling as if they have the right to appraise and evaluate and monetize the voice of the black performer.
Luckily, both poets were tremendously talented, and did not hold back from delivering their politicized messages. Salena Godden performed her hilarious piece “Tits” which looked at feminism through the guise of boobies – rather optimistic, but entertaining none the less. Whilst some of her work is a little too on the clichéd side, overall she is a delight – confident, just abrasive enough, and genuine as hell.
Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze is a world of her own, every word she utters crackles with power, and she is unabashedly angry; direct; passionate. Please, just listen to her. Brina – a beautiful ray of light with a powerful voice provided a hilarious mash up of reggae and bagpipes, and tried tremendously hard to show respect to the bust of Robert Burns standing alongside the stage.
The guys at Neu Reekie are obviously brilliant curators, with access to some tremendous locations. I’m surprised by the audiences they are gathering together, which lack in youth and diversity. Given Loki is part of their upcoming billings, and the student/young population of Edinburgh and Glasgow form an enormous part of the growing Spoken Word scene in these parts of Scotland, I would hope to see them gain some traction with less people wearing tweed. Unless it’s ironic.
Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan