After decades of presumptions and ignorance, Grenadians (over fifty) finally got a reminder of the true culture of the ‘Jab Jab’. Answers are being given as to who is the ‘Jab’, why he/she demonstrates and what forms of expression he/she chooses.
One is pointing to the character, the purpose, and the methods/messaging, respectively, which define ‘Jab’ culture. It is a mistake to believe that ‘Jab Jab’ is a creature of carnival, though it is true that it is now practised in that national festival, as a staple. Importantly, ‘Jab Jab’ may be legitimately practised outside of carnival.
The ‘Jab’ culture has historically been about protest. It was a statement of confrontation of the establishment which, back then, comprised of the planter class and others in the upper class in Grenada. So that poor people then stirred themselves to say to their estate owners and others that there were several things in the society that they were unhappy about and needed to be put right.
The protest ethic, therefore, was dedicated to change, respect, rights, and freedoms, in the main. It was agitation for a cause. The body language and the body cover communicated serious resolve while aiding in protection against reprisals.
Relative to carnival, the ‘Jab’ mas of the sixties and early seventies was a statement of disruption, fear, terror, and scattering, in a symbolic display of what the planter class and the establishment faced decades before. The ‘Jab’ stood in opposition to the established order. Today’s ‘Jab Jab’ literally owns and rules the J’ouvert, and all may play in the band.
Essentially then, what we are experiencing now is a watering-down of the original ‘Jab Jab’ to the point where it has become a virtual fashion statement. People from all walks of life and of whatever nationality or race, ride the ‘Jab’ as the most unique, authentic, and trendy aspect of Spice Mas. In that space, it is solely about fun.
Read this carefully: the fashion statement ‘Jab’; the ‘Jab’ on Sesame Street; the ‘Jab’ in the city; the ‘Jab’ jamming to studio-produced, amplified music, is not the authentic ‘Jab’ at all! The cultural ‘Jab’ is the poor Grenadian deep in the belly of the ‘crumbs economy’ (little, less or nothing), chanting his lyrics and cussing those considered to be ‘cursed’ (guilty of unconscionable wrong-doing).
One is here identifying the village roots of the ‘Jab’, marked by poverty, pressure, and pain. Then there is the route to confrontation whereby the source of that hardship is called out and cautioned to make change.
Understand, therefore, that the ‘Jab’ had energy and passion to cuss his enemy by way of ridicule, condemnation, and embarrassment, but he had no power to curse him in terms of inflicting spiritual harm, blight, or disfigurement. So, there is no demon spirit involved.
Within the genuine ‘Jab’ culture, there is always an object of protest. Yesteryear it was British planters. In our era, it is local political leaders of which two stand out, Eric Gairy in the early seventies when he tried to ban the ‘Jab Jab’ in carnival, and Keith Mitchell of 2020, who has become the symbol of disappointment and disaffection for poor people in the context of his vast personal riches and his mistreatment of citizens, not to mention his prolonged abuse of power.
So, it was very curious to see Mitchell in Parliament feigning shock over the attack directed at him by the ‘Jab’. He portrayed himself as being perturbed, almost hurt, by the language with which he was described and defined. Then, in a machine- like shift, he summoned a fighting spirit to declare that whatever they may say, “I will do what is right”. Selectively, of course, not as a guiding principle of governance. That makes his pronouncement untrue.
And talking about language and lyrics, one recalls that employed by Papa Jerry when he wrote and sang, ‘The Grenadian Ruler’, 2005. Singing of, to, and in the voice of Keith Mitchell, Papa Jerry scathingly declared, “Yes, ah crude, ah black and ah vulgar”. To be similarly indicted fifteen years later by the ‘Jab’ says that Mitchell has not bothered to conduct himself any better. He must be ‘happy in his self-crowned skin’! “Jab doh care”! Sadly, his is a mentality problem with grave national consequences.
The context in which the ‘Jab’ confrontation of Keith Mitchell has occurred (and continues) is worthy of attention. Firstly, there is economic and social hardship in Grenada under Mitchell’s watch. Thousands have had to return to the parishes with the loss of jobs in the south of the island, principally in the tourism sector.
Secondly, people see discriminatory treatment whereby some well-connected folks get all they wish for whereas others are brushed aside or ignored or forced to comply. Thirdly, Mitchell is singled out as the object of protest because he has disappointed the poor with repeated sprinklings of ‘gold dust’ while embedding himself deeply within the upper class.
Not surprisingly, the target is not the upper class as a section of the population, but the rulership of Mitchell himself. The rural poor are speaking.
One may also understand it this way, the Estate System has collapsed and has been replaced by a system called Government. The estate owner is no longer here, and he has been replaced with someone called the Prime Minister. That is why the primary target or object of the protest is Keith Mitchell.
While one may not be sure as to where all of this is heading, one notes that whereas in the recent past the Jabs’ chants were heard in the particular season, today, there is a long shelf-life made available by social media. So that minds will continue to be impacted by the lyrics of protest. Like other groups/classes in the society, the poor have their means of communicating protest and that must be respected, however irksome or unsettling or threatening.
Many will agree that Moss International’s ‘Jambalesse Rule’ (1991) stands among the most profound contributions to Grenadian literature and music. Many will also agree that the cussing ‘cut-ass’ put on PM Brathwaite and Finance Minister Brizan in that ‘Jab’ song supplied emotional energy for the defeat of the NDC in the 1995 Elections. When ‘Singing Emcee’ sang, “Mister Taxman doh come in meh yard” and “dey kill us wid thirteen taxes”, the indictment was that ‘dey too wicked’ which is the very same thing that’s being pronounced today.
He who receives the gifts of the culture without bothering to understand the giver will neither respect the giver nor honour the gift. Sadly, for him, he is not likely to check himself until the gifts are withdrawn and the oil ceases to flow.