Tuesday, November 1, 2011

George Pang and Friends: At Skateland Live, 1984

This album is available elsewhere but I'm posting it because I have a pretty clean copy and because I wanted to use it as a jumping off point for a follow up article to the occupy piece I wrote last week. This album features a number of famous and lesser known dancehall singers freestyling over drum and bass beats supplied by producer George Pang, who sampled them from Sly and Robbie. The lyrics cover everything from social issues to love to the dangers of smoking. As is the case with a lot of dancehall, some of the lyrics of homophobic and mysogynist, but Lady Ann also sings a song about how hard it is for female DJs to make it in the face of the prejudice that characterizes the male-dominated music industry. On the opening track, Buro Banton sings about all the politicians and foreigners who smuggle guns to poor Jamaicans. He says that although the politicians consider the Soviets enemies, these politicians have done more harm to the community than the Soviets, who never sent a single gun to the Jamaican ghetto. By inciting violence through the sale of guns, powerful outsiders continue to influence Jamaican society even as Jamaicans try to take back their identities and their lives by embracing rastafarianism and its doctrine of non-violence and detachment from Western materialism. Internal fighting holds everyone back and makes life in black Jamaica more difficult.

On the surface, this topic seems to have little to do with the occupy movement. Where Buro laments that powerful outsiders are turning poor Jamaicans against each other and therefore themselves, the occupants fear that they are being completely excluded from important decisions that affect all members of society equally. One group wants less contact with power altogether while the other desires a greater role in it. But one thing that sets the occupy protests apart from countless other American protests is the fraught role of police in the movement. As usual, the police are vilified for excessive and unnecessary use of force, (the response to the incidents in Oakland is a prime example of this,) but many protesters have also been reaching out to cops, or at least expressing solidarity with them, on the grounds that they too belong to the 99%. These protesters believe that the cops who use violence to suppress the occupants have been trained by the 1% to act contrary to their self-interest and the interests of their peers. This critique is very similar Buro's.

The trend of considering cops allies rather than foes, if it becomes a major feature of the occupy ideology, will distinguish these protests dramatically from most radical protests of the last half century. In the protests of the 60's, clashes with the police were more than a part of the movement; eruptions of violence became the symbolic staging ground for the two Americas to prove their allegiance to their ideologies. The police at that time did more than enforce order, they represented the order that the protesters sought to overthrow, and their violence against the protesters demonstrated how very entrenched that order was. In more recent protest movements, clashes with the police have tended to eclipse the issues that inspired the protests in the first place. I believe that the protesters will significantly empower themselves if they reappropriate the meaning of police, characterizing employment by the police department as a marker of working class identity rather than alliance with the state project. I'm sure such a semantic shift will be hard to orchestrate, not least because many cops will probably not go along with it, but if it can be done, I think it will help the movement achieve a new level of credibility in the eyes of many critics.

Buro by Easy Jams

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