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Thesis

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  • 1. “ Kamau Brathwaite’s Perspectives on Music and Poetry Interrelations In The West Indies”
  • 2.  
  • 3. A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL DE TUCUMAN IN FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF “LICENCIATURA EN INGLÉS” BY MARÍA CONSTANZA ALDERETES ACADEMIC SUPERVISOR: LIC. MARIA EUGENIA BESTANI FILOSOFIA Y LETRAS FACULTY ENGLISH DEPARTMENT TUCUMAN, ARGENTINA. 2011
  • 4. Kamau Brathwaite (1930 - )
  • 5. Objectives:
    • Look into a selection of Brathwaite’s concepts and reflections concerning music and poetry in the West Indies.
    • Substantiate or dissent from his propositions through the analysis of parallelisms in poems and songs by different West Indian authors, and their interpretation of Brathwaite’s poems and essays.
    • Contribute to the study of Caribbean music and poetry by providing different readings of Brathwaite’s work from perspectives involving historical, cultural, sociological and political factors.
  • 6.
    • Chapter One
    • The relationship between poetry and music
    • In the past, music operated as accompaniment for a dance in rituals. Literature was fundamentally oral to pass on stories, history and legends from generation to generation.
    • The verse composition followed by a tune (song) was used for information transmission by members of a community who recorded in their memories the moral values, guidelines and norms that organized life and coexistence in group
    • Poetic varieties showing song form: ballad stanzas of British and American literature, blues stanzas of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Dub Poetry , related to reggae music interpreted by means of live performances and recordings. Drum poetry written in a drum rhythm-based structure, and Jazz poetry characterized by jazz-like rhythm and improvisation,merging vernacular poetry and jazz .
    • Poets and musicians combine both art forms by setting music to poems: Mario Benedetti and Joan Manuel Serrat in “El Sur también existe”, Bono (U2) and Salman Rushdie in The Ground Beneath Her Feet , Pablo Milanés and Nicolás Guillén in Canta a Nicolas Guillén.
  • 7.
    • Chapter Two
    • A theoretical approach to Caribbean music
    • Caribbean Music …
    • Is built upon African and European roots .
    • Is Characterized by poli rhythm, improvisation, “call and response” patterns.
    • Groups diverse music genres (local and borrowed) such as:
      • Blues: originated from Work Songs sung a capella by African slaves working in American plantations to answer back to white cultural hegemony. They sang in a different way every time while working on a physical and repetitive task. Improvisation was a way to express revolt.
      • J azz : is not a musical style related to slavery, but to the emancipation of black people. It’s Brathwaite’s most exploited rhythm. He asserts there is no Jazz as such in the West Indies since it deals only incidentally with protest.
      • Reggae : developed in Jamaica in the 1960’s from Sound System in the ghettos of Kingston, which also gave rise to other Jamaican music genres like Mento, Ska and Shango. It is associated with the Rastafari movement and deals with universal themes such as justice, unity, spiritual life, faith, love, religion, poverty and political activism.
      • Calypso: performed with metallic drums called “steelpans” or “steel drums”. It is characterized by syncopation and improvisation.
  • 8.
    • Chapter Three
    • Overview to Brathwaite’s study on popular poems and songs in the West Indies
    • Brathwaite shows how calypso breaks the rules and represents the style and structure of Caribbean speech and writing by means of examples. Caribbean rhythms like Calypso differ from Standard English poetry in that they are not strict but natural, like the spontaneous speech in a conversation:
    • “ Ten to One is Murder” (Mighty Sparrow)
    • Sparrow: Well they playin bad,
    •              They have me feelin sad;
    •             Well they playin beast ,
    •             Why for they run police?
    •             Ten criminals attack me outside of Miramar.
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: Way down Henry Street by H.C.M. Walker
    • Choir:      Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: About ten in of night on the 5th of October
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: They say how I push their girl from Grenada
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: Well the leader of the gang was hot
    •                Like a Pepper.
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow:  And every man in the gang had a white-handled
    •                  razor
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: Well, I back, back 'tll I nearly fall in the gutter
    • Choir:       Ten to one is murder!
    • Sparrow: Just imagine my position, not a police in the area
  • 9.
    • Brathwaite considers improvisation a fundamental element in African and Caribbean literature as well. The poem “Sensemayá” by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén reveals rhythmic improvisation techniques such as repetition:
    • “ Sensemayá”
    • Mayombe-bombe-mayombe!
    • Mayombe-bombe-mayombe!
    • Mayombe-bombe-mayombe!
    • The snake has eyes of glass
    • The snake appears and winds itself round the post
    • With eyes of glass round the post
    • With eyes of glass…
    • In Walcott’s poem, the blues is present in its conversational style, in the voice of the poet:
    • “ Blues”
    • I figured we were all one, wop, to nigger, jew, besides, this Central wasn’ t Park. I’ m coming on too strong? You appears right! They beat this yellow to nigger black and blue…
  • 10.
    • Chapter Four
    • Brathwaite’s poetry. Distinctive features and interrelation of two genres
    • Elements of style
    • Expressing Ideology
    • Religion as part of the West Indian tradition
    • Reflecting Caribbean identity through music
    • Elements of style
    • “ Nation Language” as a means of rebellion against European language structures and pattern s.
    • Syncopation as a device for improvisation in poetry by omitting letters of a syllable in a word . Improvisation is also attainable through the repetition of a subject (“jazz riff”) images and metaphors, and in the variation of a dialogue.
    • Reproduction of musical rhythms and speech by means of onomatopoeia, one word lines, neologisms, misspellings, repetitions, unexpected breaks and computer typographical designs .
    • “ Sycorax video style”, a visual style rarely left justified, anti-elegant in shape. It includes symbols and icons, allows surprising breaks, defies normative poetic conventions of typography, layout, and appearance to create an expressive visual effect. It is a “vernacular” visual language different from the standard that revels from the canonical typeface and font size on a word processor.
  • 11.
    • Expressing Ideology by means of…
    • The reproduction of the Creole spoken in Barbados in order to oppose to written conventions and the language of the colonizer.
    • Recurrent themes: political and a socio-cultural issues, e.g. the struggle against the colonizers’ oppression, the portrayal of suffering and unpleasant living conditions, class and ethnic differences between British and Caribbean, hostility and rebellion against hegemonic powers, the name as the essence of every individual’s cultural identity, exile, rootlessness…
    • “ Nametracks”
    • Muh
    • Muh
    • Mud
    • Me mudda
    • Coo
    • Like she coo
    • Like she cook (…)
    • The poem recreates the cultural imposition of the colonizer as a “Simon says” game, in which the colonized has to repeat every word he is told.
  • 12.
    • Religion as part of the West Indian tradition
    • Afro-Caribbean culture assigns significant value to food, music, and festivals, most of which are rooted in African traditions and religions. In traditional Afro-Caribbean religions there is a belief in a supreme God, but also in spirits and sacred rite.
    • Brathwaite makes use of images of the forge, flame, anvil and blacksmith (which in Yoruba mythology evoke Ogun and Shango, the gods of iron and thunder, and their destructive as well as creative capacities) in poems such as:
    • “ Xango”, a poem about the African god Shango, concerned with Yoruba mythology and a prophetic vision of a better future from an apocalyptic point of view.
    • “ Nam”, which alludes to prophecies of the apocalypse as an event that will bring about positive change, names of gods, sacred objects and other symbolic religious elements.
    • “ Didn’t He Ramble”, in which Brathwaite assumes the role of a prophet, a commentator who is the seer of the apocalypse.
    • Words Need Love Too, a book that presents Agwe (or Agoue), the Haitian deity lord of the seas in Caribbean mythology in different poems as a Barbadian resident.
  • 13.
    • Reflecting Caribbean identity through music by means of…
    • Experimental poetry characterized by the use of black musical forms and rhythms: work songs, spirituals, mento, ska, reggae, calypso, jazz and blues.
    • Rhythm-based poems like Drum Poetry in which the drum is a recurrent element of African reconnection used by Brathwaite as a symbol of African culture.
    • References to musical instruments, rhythms and words associated to orality in the poems “Work Song and Blues”, “The Twist”, “Calypso“ and “Limbo”.
    • Jazz as a means to evoke the experience of the African diaspora and a symbol of black creative inspiration. Allusions to jazz musicians, instruments and dance are found in “Klook”, “Springblade”, “Bird”, “Trane”, “Basic Basie”.
  • 14.
    • Chapter Five
    • Further considerations to the concepts introduced by Brathwaite
    • This Chapter…
    • Develops personal contributions to Brathwaite’s concepts and perspectives in the study of Caribbean poetry and music from different points of view including stylistic, socio-cultural, historical, religious and political, in search for proofs to corroborate Brathwaite’s arguments.
    • Is divided into four sections:
      • Calypso, exile and rootlessness in West Indian Poetry
      • Political Calypso and Reggae
      • The Caribbean Jazz Debate
      • Jazz snobbery and elitism
  • 15.
    • Calypso, exile and rootlessness in West Indian Poetry
    • Calypso in West Indian Poetry:
    • In the 1970’s, Lancelot Layne combined soca (soul calypso) with poetry and created “rapso”, a unique style of street poetry from Trinidad and Tobago which expresses the experiences of everyday people. In the 1980’s, Brother Resistance developed this form of musical poetry:
    • “ Chantuelle” – Brother Resistance
    • Go on Papa Chantuelle sing yuh song... I walk wid de glory of Kings... ...and de more yuh beat meh down... de more yuh make meh strong!
    • Walcott’s “The Spoiler’s Return” is a poem written to be interpreted as a calypso by The Mighty Spoiler. It is long satirical monologue from the Spoiler’s point of view representing the voice of Trinidadians who condemn their society and politicians. Walcott captures the serious humour of Calypsonians by criticizing the current state of affairs in Trinidad with irony:
    • “ The Spoiler’s Return”
    • … nothing ain’t change but color and attire, so back me up, Old Brigade of Satire, back me up Martial, Juvenal, and Pope to hang theirself I giving plenty rope, join Spoiler’ chorus, sing the song with me, Lord Rochester, who praised the nimble flea…
  • 16.
    • Exile and rootlessness in West Indian Poetry:
    • According to Brathwaite…
    • Exile is what kept writers and singers tied to the Caribbean culture due to the responsibility that it entailed.
    • The feeling of rootlessness and having a fragmented culture is the “most significant feature of West Indian life and imagination (…) the feeling of not belonging to the landscape”.
    • As a consequence of the time he spent in Britain, he did not feel a need or commitment to return to the Caribbean. He considered himself “a citizen of the world”, a “rootless” person.
    • Part of the ideological transmission of the British educational system to the emigrants from the colonies was to reject nationalistic tendencies in the colonies and get West Indians not to consider their birthplace their home.
    • In “Islands and Exiles”, he describes his experience as an exile of his native homeland, the beauty of the geography, the music and culture of Barbados.
    • “ Calypso”
    • The stone had skidded arc'd and bloomed into islands: Cuba and San Domingo Jamaica and Puerto Rico Grenada Guadeloupe Bonaire
    • curved stone hissed into reef wave teeth fanged into clay white splash flashed into spray Bathsheba Montego Bay
    • bloom of the arcing summers...
  • 17.
    • Political Calypso and Reggae
    • Before the emancipation of most islands, West Indian songs were considered to lack commitment with reality and make recurring references to the female body. It was only until the 1930’s that it started to became popular for being concerned with politics and social criticism. Calypso documented that period.
    • Calypsonians began playing a historical role by voicing popular sentiment. The most prominent calypsonians were considered intellectuals who had the power to make and break political leaders.
    • Due to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s in the West Indies reggae in Jamaica underwent transformations in the ways of expressing Caribbean reality in the lyrics of the songs and the complexity of their forms.
    • Currently, Calypso is widely regarded as having undergone decay owing to the lyrics of most songs. There is a return to old conventions concerning persistent mentions of the female body and trivial themes related to carnival, dancing, drinking, sexual intercourse, and incorporates coarse language.
    • There are still productions of political content which spur controversy and social debate, like “Face Reality” by Weston “Cro Cro” Rowlins, known for his attacks against Trinidad political parties, education system dishonest politicians and businessmen.
    • At present, most reggae lyrics are meant to raise political consciousness in the audience by informing the listener about socio-political issues including Black Nationalism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism and criticism of political systems.
  • 18.
    • Brathwaite asserts jazz as a black musical expression of opposition to white dominance in the United States cannot match jazz in the West Indies, since black urban musical forms in the islands were not significantly associated to protest, but collective and conformist, an accessory component in a dance. Years later, he acknowledges a twist in calypso songs into a more political profile and illustrates his observation with witty and ironic calypsos which commented on social and political issues:
    •   “ Ba Boo La La”
    • Burn down the London Theatre, Call One Response
    • Ah, burn down the big Empire, Call
    • Two Response
    • Burn down the London Theatre, Call
    • Three Response You burn down the big Empire Call Ba Boo La La Make attempt to burn down the theatre Response
    • Make attempt to burn down the theatre…
  • 19.
    • “ Dan is the man (in the van)” – Mighty Sparrow
    • Captain! There's a traitor on board examine the horn! According to the education you get when you small, You will grow up with true ambition and respect from one and all. But in my days in school, they teach me like a fool, The things they teach me I should be a block-headed mule. And what they teach you? They teach me: pussy has finished his work long ago and now he resting an’ ting. Solomon a Gundy was born on a Monday, the ass in the lion skin. Winkin, Blinkin and Nod, sail off in a wooden sloop, The Agouti lose he tail and the alligator fighting, to make monkey-liver soup! And Dan, is the man, in the van! The poems and the lessons they write and send from England Impress me they were trying to cultivate comedians! Comic books made more sense: you know it’s fictitious, without pretence. Cutteridge wanted to keep us in ignorance! Tell me if this is stupidness: Humpy-Dumpty sat on a wall! Humpy-Dumpy did fall! Goosey, Goosey Gyander? Where shall I wander? Ding, dong, del!! Pussy in the well! R-I-K-K-I-T-I-K-K-I-Ah-T-Ah-V Ah Rikki Tikki Tikki Tikki Tavi! Dan, is the man, in the van!
    • I say, Cutteridge was plenty times more advanced than them scientists, I ain’t believe that no one man could write so much stupidness. Aeroplanes didn’t come so soon, scientists used to make the grade in balloon. Cutteridge make a cow jump over the moon!
  • 20.
    • The Caribbean Jazz Debate
    • In “Jazz and the West Indian Novel”, Brathwaite argues that there is no jazz as such in the West Indies because, unlike African Americans, the black in the West Indies “did not have a New Orleans, Chicago or New York to be mixed with, learn from, be wounded by, or protest against”. Brathwaite upholds the Caribbean did not generate its own musical style that can match jazz in all of its general and particular characteristics .
    • There have been debates about the definition and the boundaries of jazz. Its alteration or transformation by new influences has often been criticized as a “debasement”.
    • While some have argued for narrower definitions which exclude many other types of music also commonly known as “jazz”, there are others who suggest that a broader categorization of jazz is necessary to encompass all the distinct forms derived from African-American jazz.
    • Within jazz, there are certain stylistic conventions and traditions such as improvisation, swing, syncopation, call-response pattern and group interaction, which are fundamental to its nature and are shared by all its varieties. Most experts have a global perception of the genre and conceive all jazz categories as branches of a same tree.
    • Despite its differences from American jazz concerning the social, historical and geographical contexts in which it originated, West Indian jazz can be considered to match, if not absolutely, most of its American forerunner general characteristics. It presents more points of contact with American jazz than the very few which can make a definite contrast.
  • 21.
    • Jazz snobbery and elitism
    • At its beginning, jazz used to enjoy popularity among the black community; nonetheless, in the 1920’s jazz became more famous and attractive to the general public, particularly among the middle class white population. Jazz clubs were segregated: there were separate clubs for African American and white audiences. Jazz begins to be stereotyped as snobbish endowed with sophistication and related to middle and high social classes, high culture and exclusiveness .
    • Jazz is one of the principal musical resources in Brathwaite’s poetry, and just as jazz has been thought to be elitist, Brathwaite has been considered by some critics to write for a particular fraction of the Caribbean society.
    • Critics argue that, although it is meant to reflect Creole speech and experience, Brathwaite’s poetry does not reach a popular audience because, as any form of literary art, falls back on certain level of education on the part of the reading public, interested in poetry and, most of all, capable of reading.
    • Brathwaite focuses on the oral aspects of the language to reflect speech as best as possible as a means for making his poems available to the local Caribbean public and reaching the widest audience possible.
  • 22.
    • Conclusions
    • The long-established stereotyping conception of Caribbean music as concerned with trivial matters is disproved by means of examples of songs that reveal the social and political commitment of Caribbean artists through time. On that account, the findings derived from the analysis of the songs are consistent with Brathwaite’s latest conclusions.
    • The postulation that there was no true native form of expression in the Caribbean before the occupation of the Antilles until artists started to develop forms of response to foreign domination is dismissed in view of the fact that there were pre-Columbian communities like the Taínos, who used their Maipurean language to express themselves and celebrate ceremonies .
    • Brathwaite’s puristic point of view that there is no jazz as such in the West Indies is challenged by the holistic view that perceives jazz as a single basic music form enclosing different varieties within the same genre, and considers Caribbean Jazz not as an adulterated adaptation from traditional jazz, but as a genuine style that constitutes a further component in a far-reaching genre.
    • Despite the argument that Brathwaite’s poetry is available almost exclusively for a learned public, its musicality, the reproduction of Creole speech in writing and the fact that his poetry is meant to be performed live, make it possible for all audiences to interpret it. By combining both genres, he illustrated the nature, personality, idiosyncrasy and originality of the West Indies, encouraging the revalorization of Antillean culture and traditions.
  • 23.
    • “ . .. I hear them screaming
    • REVOLUTION
    • as the world revolves around
    • marcus malcom mississippi memphis
    • But there ain’t no vein
    • of revolution
    • only the blues
    • & coltrane’s gospel pain”.
    • ---- Kamau Brathwaite, Black and Blues.
  • 24. Dieudonne Rouanez (1921–   )

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