gall and gumption

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Passa Passa Melee

The island of Grenada is in a bit of an uproar these days because of something called "Passa Passa." It is described in a news item on Caribbean Net News, as follows:

Passa Passa involves crowds of music fans congregating late at night until the early morning in noted downtown areas to dance and chill out to music, while street vendors provide refreshments.

The GNCRC [Grenada National Coalition for the Rights of the Child] in a news release said that they believe this non-traditional form of entertainment has serious implementation [they mean implications, of course --kp] for the social development of the nation’s youth.

The release further added that this adverse cultural penetration, which can best be described as lawless, doesn’t uplift the morals of young people and “we are calling on the members of the Royal Grenada Police Force to take the necessary actions as the law provides.”

There are some metaphors gone amok in this whole piece, and the Minister of Education chimes in with a few contributions along the same lines.

The Education Minister, Claris Charles, in recent time has come out against the emergence of Jamaican-styled 'Passa Passa' entertainment events on the Caribbean island's entertainment circuit.

Charles noted that Passa Passa, the popular weekly street dance, has no place in Grenadian society and is definitely not welcome.

"I am hearing of something called Passa Passa which is creeping into the public," she is quoted as saying. "It's where persons are having dances and some young ladies are half-naked."

Continuing, Charles said, "I think when we want to be monkeys and copy other people, we should copy the right thing. There is no merit in young ladies exposing themselves in public and letting a DVD be made of them. These things are reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah. This has no place in Grenada."

The education minister urged the Grenadian people to "let Passa Passa pass Grenada by" calling it one of the biggest problems yet to face the island.

Consider that last statement, and consider that two years ago Grenada was hit by a hurricane that resulted in the destruction of most of the island's housing and infrastructure.

The people there lived in really wretched conditions for -- well, some of them probably still are.

And now, you see, this new threat.

Passa Passa is a dance style that comes from Jamaica. I remember an AP story that came out while I was in St. Kitts, I think it was an AP story, about a competition that had started as a local parish affair somewhere in the country and now women were coming from all over the world to join in.

The BBC has been covering the fuss and cites one promoter who sounds altogether sensible:

Speaking exclusively to BBC Caribbean Magazine from a Passa Passa dance in Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica on Thursday morning, Carlton 'Popcorn' McBridge said he'd been involved in Passa Passa events for more than a decade. He responded to Grenada’s opposition to Passa Passa.

"Its stupideness. Look at what they call Carnival. Look how they dress! Is there any murmur about that? They're almost naked! It’s the same thing – its culture.

"I don't understand why they would have anything to say about our culture. Passa Passa is one of the things that brings the whole island together. Everybody from all parts of the island come to Passa Passa. People can park their cars and leave them unlocked and come back and find them the same way. When Passa Passa finishes, you don't hear that someone has picked someone's pocket. You don't hear that anyone's been robbed or been raped. Those things don't go on at Passa Passa."

BBC Caribbean Magazine raised the issue Passa Passa DVDs. These are comprised of footage filmed at Passa Passas nights. Many are concerned at the unsuitable attire worn by women and young girls featured in the DVDs, and the overtly sexual dances that take place. Mr Mc Bridge said:

"That's not our fault you know. Before we came on the earth, there were people dancing naked. We must look back in our history, it’s the same thing."

Also, I'm wondering if Grenada is especially sheltered in some way from what goes on in the rest of the Eastern Caribbean. Most Carnivals there have wayyyyy dirty dancing as a matter of course, among the road marchers and on top of the trucks as well. I saw some amazing stuff in St. Kitts. And they are one of the more conservative places, surely. Also, Grenada is very near to Trinidad, which has Carnival and also a number of tabloid newspapers that are entirely dedicated to pictures of Dance Hall Queens in full gear, which is to say next to nothing at all.

DVDs are popular, a few of them actually teach you how to do it. When you look at the pictures in this link, you must remember that what you see there is not being done in some locked sound stage or motel room or other private location, but in crowded dance halls, on the densely crowded streets during Carnival, and pretty much everywhere where popular music is played -- which is to say just about everywhere. The women enjoy it at least as much as the men do. Which I think is wonderful.

For Grenadians, and indeed for a lot of the small islands, the fact that this thing comes from Jamaica is another sore point. All these Grenadian ministers think the solution is to promote their folk culture, which is really pretty much for museums and tourists. This is just another instance of the prodigious firepower of Jamaican music, the incredible energies it draws on from its sources in Jamaican life as it is lived now, it's this huge creative outpouring that has gone on almost without abatement for the last 40 years. The effect is felt all over the world, and in the Caribbean, as this illustrates, it's like King Log. And it wasn't all that long ago when a lot of these small islands were getting used to the idea of Rastafarians with dreadlocks showing up amongst them. It was only three years ago that the British Virgin Islands rescinded its "Rasta law" which denied entry to anyone wearing dreadlocks.

In about a year or two, someone will be offering Passa Passa at community centers and the YMCA as a new workout.

Correction: The BVI rescinded the Rasta laws in 2004. A whole big conference of Rastas promptly showed up to celebrate. So easy to forget, isn't it? Too many people think fighting for freedom is this big stupid business involving jets and bombs. But then you see this little step forward for some Caribbean people, they took care of it themselves and then showed up for the party afterwards.