Diasporic African culture rules

By PAT WATSON

All yuh must know that some people does only live fuh this week.

Some people began planning for this week from well up in last year, from the time the last Caribana ended.

Now, everything seems to be falling into place with the city workers’ strike folding its tent so that the mas’ camps have more room for theirs. The weather predictors are calling for a clear evening for the King and Queen competition and no rain for Saturday’s big parade. Nice.

Somehow the Caribana committee seemed to have known that the strike by municipal workers would be out of the way by the time the peak of Caribana festivities arrived, because during the time that the strike was moving parallel to the run up to Caribana, the committee seemed to be taking it in stride. With the festival generating millions of dollars and attracting tens of thousands of out of town visitors, a lot was a stake. Anyway, here we are, geared up and ready to wine till dawn and beyond.

Like a continuing soap opera, this event, now in its 42nd year, has had a watchable history, and has not been without its drama. Like so many stage performances there is always as much going on backstage as there is on-stage…sometimes more it seemed.

The evolution of Caribana is part of the larger Diasporic African cultural influence that has continued to hold sway over other cultures throughout the 20th Century and on into this one. Contemporary North American culture is strongly coloured by it. Our Diasporic African culture is woven into popular culture so as to change all others and move them in an Afrocentric direction.

When a singer like Jason Mraz makes his mark with the reggae beat of his currently popular ‘I’m Yours'; when we witness the massive outpouring of grief at the recent death of entertainer Michael Jackson, the self-declared ‘King of Pop'; when we recognize that to some extent the fascination with Black people by the larger population has brought Kenyan-American Barack Obama to the highest seat of political power in North America; when we see that Caribana is becoming a celebration of Afro-Caribbean-Canadian culture not just by Black people but by the diverse population of Toronto and beyond, then we must begin, more clearly, to contextualize where we are and what effect we, of Caribbean heritage, also have as a specific cultural entity within the broader society.

In part because there is a person of African descent now heading the government in Washington D.C., there is a clear sense that the way of the Diasporic African has some kind of magnetic pull.

Then too, mass communication and Black culture are symbiotic, while at the same time Hollywood plays a tremendous role in exporting American culture to the rest of the world. When the American dream machine sells its images abroad the world eats it up. So that America’s fascination with its own Black culture has resulted in a world fascination.

Remember the news reports of prisoners in the Philippines re-enacting en masse the music and choreography of Jackson’s ‘Thriller’? The distinctive sound of hip-hop is heard in languages as diverse as Spanish, Korean and Farsi. Yet we know that those sounds have their roots in the Black neighbourhoods of the Bronx, N.Y., of the early 1970s and are tied very much to the dancehall sounds of Jamaica. What are we witnessing?

To be culturally Black is to be cool. Being Black has a compelling beat that you can dance and rap to. That’s why even White grandmothers liked to talk about wearing ‘bling’. That’s why two friends of different cultures will enter into a conversation punctuated by ‘girl!’ (‘Girl, I was gonna call you, girl…Girl, we have to talk…’) or ‘Yo, dog’. This stuff does not originate in Cornerbrook, N.L., but you can bet it finds its way there.

And so, once again, the crowds will descend upon Toronto, the better to immerse themselves in some sweet aspect of contemporary African culture – this time, to the sound of the steelpan, out of Trinidad and Tobago, the only musical instrument invented in the 20th Century. When the vibe gets a hold of you, you just have to let it take you.

On a note of summer finally showing up…

Finally, the music summer-starved ears had been longing for began playing. On Monday afternoon, it was finally warm enough for the cicadas to begin making their whirring, high-pitched buzzing songs. The timing, on the same day that the end of the municipal strike was declared in sight, was extraordinary.

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