MsLou, Culture, Language and Criticism.

Posted: July 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

I have tried not to write about this non-issue turned issue because…I thought first Ishawna would apologize or clarify! I then thought folks would move on because there are honestly bigger issues to contemplate than whether one I consider a cultural icon at the same level of Bob Marley was dissed by a young artist seeking further publicity. Then Tanya Stephens got in the mix then Miss Kitty got in the mix last night at Sumfest and now I give my take publicly.

Disclaimer: I love Ms Lou and what she has represented for language and culture in Jamaica and beyond. I call myself a “student” of Ms.Lou. I have had the distinct honour of performing her pieces in front of her in Toronto. I am a part of efforts to have her legacy known and continued.

Who was Ms.Lou? A writer, a folklorist, a performer, an educator, a producer, an actor and more! She was and still should be considered a cultural icon of Jamaica as her work spanned touchstones such as children’s shows, language recognition, inserting patois into popular culture, social commentary and more!

Did Ishawna diss her? My take is “why for you to shine I must decline?”. Instead of Ishawna choosing to claim her style over her contemporaries (Spice, Macka etc.) she went and dragged an icon. I can only suggest she is victim of “click culture” where history takes a back seat to the search for popularity. I can also be dismissive of her comments because she is young and apparently wasn’t raised in JA. So for her MsLou has likely less significance (something we can work on) and I could also see where after her track “Equal Rights” she must be desperate for another such hit or at least to remain relevant. I don’t see what Ms Lou do har or haffi do wid har seeking shine mark yuh!

But Tanya Stephens now come add another sauce to this already insipid meal. Tanya was vehement in her take on Ms.Lou; feeling “Ms Lou Neva liberate me”, “Ms Lou outfit/costume represent servitude” “we did talk patois commonly without a Ms Lou” “Ms Lou liberated the elite Jamaicans to speak patois” –to paraphrase and quote.
Now ladies and gents we have a full fledged cultural/social callout of Ms.Lou…what ah prekeh!!??? Now Tanya is admittedly old enough to remember Ms.Lou on TV probably with shows like “Ring Ding”. And while I have not enough space to determine what the costume represents (servitude or culture) I must correct some half analysis she is doing. In saying Ms Lou never liberate her to speak patois she is not being fair… for I too am old enough to remember being forced to speak the “Queen’s English” in school and daily life etc. And I am also old enough to know that had Ms.Lou not utilized our language (patois) in her work on TV in Britain and Jamaica etc. it would not have received this much acceptance. Did she liberate the elite to speak it? Mi love dem did always speak it tuh!

Her (Ms Lou’s) work was to get them (elite or other influential Jamaicans) to appreciate its significance to culture and identity. Aunty Roachie became the conduit character for her to critique politics, to situate language, folklore and proverbs as our inheritance of everyday sense and wit. Without a Ms.Lou we do not now have a patois bible, without her Tanya and Ishawna cannot opt to wrap the nuanced expressions which patois affords into the lyrics of their songs and have them globally recognized and accepted. I would even argue that Ms.Lou’s work had that impact on other islands of the Caribbean who were also seeking to “reclaim” their tongue (real regular folks have told me this much).

I am disappointed that neither of these ladies (and I am a huge fan of Tanya’s music) seem to understand what it means to have “Jamaica Labrish ” widely purchased. What it means to have Ms.Lou narrate the meaning and significance of songs like our former “digging songs” or the stories she told to generations and now have these available to be heard online or purchased etc.
In fact their criticism reeks a little! Like why you mad at Ms Lou? Wah she duh unnu? She set unnu back? Ya’ll are a bit immature for this one. Mi not a fan of Bob’s approach to women but I’d be damned if I diminished what his work meant for Jamaica. Similarly if Tanya and Ishawna feel dem nuh connect to the “quadrille” outfit that is fine. But they should be damned for seeking to diminish the impact Ms Lou had on our culture/language and further that impact having reached global proportions. In fact unnu can tek many a leaf outta Ms Lou play book to garner cultural significance with your audience.

I am happy this conversation has allowed all people who neva recite a Ms Lou poem to do so now. I am hopeful that this may bring a bit of a cultural moment/rebirth . A moment where we can honestly put our icons in their context, appreciate the work they have done and do full not partial critiques.

Honestly please let Ms.Lou rest in power!


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