Hip-hop as myth-replacer

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday June 25 2014 in Opinion
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But what is myth? Generally, it is an emotional default option, a composite of beliefs and expectations used negatively or positively to define a people. These beliefs, internal or external, can be imposed or self-inflicted. They also categorize people on the basis of power versus powerlessness; on morality versus amorality. Myth, for good or ill, immortalized using historic occurrences and individuals, can be accepted regardless of veracity or deceit.


As an example, the core values of “Western Civilization” are implicitly self-defined as being “civilized”. As such, its member nations “protect” not only their particular interests, but also these assumed ideals. They also marshal these ideals in alliances: financial, political, cultural, military. Called upon to defend these, and even at the visceral cost of sacrificing lives – theirs and others – the paramount value that defines “Western Civilization” is that of “patriotism”.


So, given the links between societal expectations and curricula, are there any links, too, between the core values of a society and the core curricula of its scholarship? And between these two and the society’s core expectations about its diverse citizenry?


For example, in racially sensitive circumstances? I think yes. Therefore, and bringing it closer home, could implementing hip-hop intoOntario’s academic curricula face questions? Questions morphing into opposition to the prioritizing, funding, celebrating and implementing it as core curriculum? And not another temp-institutional sop to a communal Cerberus overwrought with oppression?


What now about hip-hop’s possible link with resistance art and artistes? Among the individuals who as griots also wear the chain of resistance art, are the 20th century reggae artist, Robert Nesta Marley and the pre-eminent 19th century writer of Sonnet poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. What these have in common and with hip-hop are their links toJamaica, to theCaribbean, and to Rule Britannia.


Too little space is here available to speak fully of Browning’s writing and life. Almost two centuries after her death (possibly from tuberculosis), she remains, in the English language, the best writer of the Elizabethan sonnet. Lack of space also prevents fully describing the structure and intent/themes of the sonnet. However, a poet in this sonnet genre must ask a question or voice a concern in the first four lines or quatrain of this poem of 14 lines. By the last four lines the poet must answer the question, and/or resolve the concern.


Browning’s sonnet, and best known of love poems is, “How Do I Love Thee?” It was written in response to a question from her husband, Robert Browning. She, because of her dark complexion, and teased by him as “his little Portuguese” was at the time living inItaly, while he was away inSpain.


Her husband, also a poet, had created a new form of poetry, the Dramatic Monologue. For example, in one of these, “My Last Duchess”, two speakers create dialogue. However, while the questions and answers of one speaker are explicit, those of the other are not. The reader’s task is to determine from the explicit responses of the one speaker, what are those otherwise implied by the other.


With regards to their resistance activism, what is not well known is that these two timeless poets were born of Jamaican slave ancestry. In fact, not only were they both involved in anti-slavery networks, they also had to marry in secret because Elizabeth’s father, Edward Moulton Barrett, himself a slave owner, but nonetheless “cursed with the taint of slave blood in his family”, was thereby further opposed to any of his 12 children, sons as well as daughters, marrying, and thus continuing this curse. Fortunately for Cleveland Moulton, a Jamaican andTorontofounder of the BADC, Edward Moulton Barrett, failed in this.


Robert Browning was probably also darker thatElizabeth. In fact he was forced on one occasion while attending church to sit, not with the Whites, but up in the balcony with the “coloureds”.


More can be gleaned about these poets in the May 1995 issue of Ebony magazine. It carries a review by Monique Burns about a biography, Dared and Done, written by Julia Marcus. Both predicted “A Cultural Bombshell” exploding on the world of English literature, and revealing the fact that the “World’s Two Greatest Lovers” were descendants of Jamaican slaves.


Finally, as possible myth-maker and myth-replacer, enter the impact of the griot through another English poet, Rudyard Kipling. His “Recessional, Lest We Forget”, put him at polar opposites from the Brownings. In it, describing the peoples of Africa and Asia, he writes about “lesser breeds without the law”. Another example of the possible impact of the “griot”, Kipling epitomized how myths are made and maintained. Rule Britannia, that rallying cry and anthem for Victorian Britain, was seized at the point of British arms, but secured with the pen of British arts.


This is because, while the griot persona, occupying a world without horizons, is most directly associated with Africa, his impact is exponential. His is that of a larger-than-life figure whose impact for good or ill can be seen and felt among other races, peoples and eras. For, like a farmer planting seeds or weeds, what flourishes will change history and humanity in different eras and places, for better or worse.


In addition, and describing further their roles and impacts on society and culture, consider the possible impacts that two accomplished Caribbean artistes of griot status – Robert Nesta Marley and the Mighty Sparrow, Francisco Slinger – might have had on how Black women are today depicted. What myths about us, negative or positive, have they reinforced? Myths also reinforced for ill or good by others like Snoop Dogg, Fifty Cent, Tupac, Beyonce, Oprah, Rihanna, etc.?


Listen, for example on YouTube, to Bob Marley’s, “No Woman Nah Cry” (1973), and “Three Little Birds” (1980) before listening to Sparrow’s magnum opus, “Jean and Dinah” (1956) and his road march, “Sa Sa Yea” (1969).


Finally, if today you are a teacher of Black students, keep in mind the likelihood that two decades hence (2034), or earlier, they and you as adults will be unable to distinguish between a human being and a machine – that is between a conceived huMan and a conceptualized huMac.


By then would have arrived the Singularity, the event horizon when technology replaces biology; when the Tools overtake the Tool-maker; a time prophesied about by a Black female griot, Sophia Stewart. These, she prophesied, writing about a post-apocalyptic world, subsequently made into the acclaimed Terminator and Matrix movies.

TO BE CONTINUED: Resistance art and the coming of the Singularity.


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