Monthly Archives: July 2007

  • MOVE, dirs. Ben Garry & Ryan McKenna

    Move Something! by Tom Jennings.
    Review of the MOVE documentary and UK tour, Star & Shadow, July 1st, 2007.
    published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 15, July 2007.Move Something!  by Tom Jennings
    [Review of the MOVE organisation UK tour and documentary, Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, July 1st 2007, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 15, July 2007]
    Screenings of the rugged and raw ‘MOVE’ (2004) have been introduced at venues across the country by the revolutionary back-to-nature organisation’s ‘Minister of Communication’, Ramona Africa. Narrated by prominent radical historian Howard Zinn, film students Ben Garry and Ryan McKenna’s documentary atmospherically details the decades-old Philadelphia government and FBI persecution of the group. Escalating vicious harassment failed to silence their vocal class- and race-conscious environmentalism (itself far ahead of fashion) even after the ‘MOVE 9′ were framed for the murder of a cop during a 1978 siege – culminating in the deliberate slaughter of six unarmed adults and five children on 13th May 1985. When floods of water cannons, tear gas and automatic weapons fire failed to flush out and finish them off, a bomb dropped on their house from a helicopter burnt the whole Osage Avenue block to the ground. Emerging with her daughter as sole survivors, Ramona Africa promptly got seven years for riot.
    Not surprisingly, MOVE has since concentrated on countering official and corporate media lies over these pivotal events, working for the release of those falsely imprisoned. The wider effort now encompasses the cases of MOVE supporter Mumia Abu Jamal (see update in Freedom, 2nd June), the American Indian Movement’s Leonard Peltier and various Black Panther and Black Liberation Movement stalwarts among countless other police and ‘justice’ system outrages. However, the fight against this particular ongoing judicial jihad soon reaches a critical phase with the MOVE 9’s impending parole hearings as their thirty-year minimum sentences expire. The authorities have recently been inclined to leave the organisation alone, given their admirably intransigent stance – but international vigilance and support are now more crucial than ever. Even so, despite understandable preoccupations, MOVE speakers scrupulously encourage and namecheck resistance against the capitalist system’s onslaughts around the world.
    MOVE’s astonishing fortitude, courage and commitment facing the US state’s brutal duplicity stem from 1960s/70s Black activism and the sheer longevity of a struggle characterised by steadfast refusal to collude in domination or remain passive about it. Nevertheless their ideology is only indirectly political, being rooted in spiritual convictions concerning the rationality of instinct – with a resulting confusion of philosophy and science, humanity and animality, and truth and morality giving room for profound contradictions in theory and practice. But unlike many religious bigots, animal libbers, primitivist propagandists or eco-evangelists, MOVE members don’t hide behind hysterical, self-deluding, fanatical rhetoric. Simultaneously humble, open and uncompromising, they engage with anyone actively recognising the unifying force reflected in the campaign around political prisoners, articulated as a common cause anticipating grass-roots rebellious self-determination as the ultimate harbinger of any freedom worth the name.
    * General information and news are available at and The MOVE documentary can also be viewed online at The MOVE Organization’s postal address is P.O. Box 19709, Philadelphia, PA 19143, USA.

  • This Is England, dir. Shane Meadows

    The Archaeology of Aggro, by Tom Jennings.
    film review of This Is England, dir. Shane Meadows.
    pulished in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007The Archaeology of Aggro  by Tom Jennings 
    [film review of This Is England, directed by Shane Meadows, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    The latest project from the foremost cinematic chronicler of contemporary Britain is, unexpectedly, a period piece depicting the 1983 rites of passage of 12-year-old Shaun (Tommo Turgoose) finding acceptance among skinhead scoundrels convivial enough to include Milky, a Black lad (Andrew Shim), punks, and even New Romantics. Their summertime teenage kicks are then disrupted by the arrival of the charismatic Combo (Stephen Graham), who has incorporated fascist rhetoric picked up in the nick into a bitter, resentful worldview. Gang members refusing to kowtow melt away, and Combo leads those remaining into National Front meetings and increasingly malevolent racist attacks – until the brutal beating of Milky awakens Shaun from thralldom to this bad surrogate dad.
    Based on writer-director Shane Meadows’ own memories, the flawless filming and pitch-perfect performances beautifully capture the peer group mitigation of adolescent pain metamorphosing into adult conflict. Richard Griffin (Freedom, June 30th) has already discussed skinhead class orientation, diversity and ambivalence (and in the industrial town of my 1970s youth, two-tone adherents included middle-class and Jewish kids as well as working-class misfits into music and style; whereas the most violent were not necessarily racist). However, whether in subcultures or the mainstream, surface multiculturalism can merely mask rather than undermine prejudice. This Is England glimpses such complexity before, regrettably, backing hastily away.
    The best UK social realism painstakingly conveys the texture of experience in precise times and places – here, the fallout from Thatcherism and the Falklands tantalisingly paralleling New Labour and Iraq. However, just as denial, displacement and repression influence psychological development, wider socio-cultural processes weaving dominant discourses into everyday life get lost in translation into individual perspective. For example, vicious attitudes towards Black and Asian people have deep roots in white working-class areas – particularly among ‘respectable’ elders – which eroded as younger generations growing up together suffered similar institutional contempt. Nevertheless, housing, policing and immigration policies consistently revitalise them; so alien ideologists may parachute in to vampirise youth aggravation, but community and official collusion (conscious or not) seals the deal. Of course, such commonplace tacit support for hatred failed to register in Shaun’s awareness, and thus elude This Is England.
    Meadows doubtless understands this problem, but went along with the media marketing spin which Richard Griffin rightly sees as a misconceived attempt “to reclaim the skinhead movement” – whereas greater depth and breadth hover right at the film’s heart. Backstories were developed for the characters during lengthy rehearsals, and Combo being mixed-race fortuitously arose from the fact that Stephen Graham is too (accepting the role with great trepidation). Unfortunately, the golden opportunity to unravel the implications of intrinsic impurity and hybridity throughout this mongrel nation’s history was forfeited by isolating pathology in dysfunctional families – a persuasive, if predictable, macho mythos both in the microdynamics of violence and as metaphor for the disarray of Englishness. The result is surely superb cinema, but higher ambition could have achieved so much more.

  • Utopian (Euro) Visions? by Tom Jennings

    commentary on implicit bias and explicit prejudice
    Utopian (Euro) Visions?  by Tom Jennings 
    [commentary on explicit prejudice and implicit bias, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    Good to see Dave Douglass writing in Freedom – Pit Sense Versus the State (Phoenix Press, 1994), after all, is a touchstone for class-struggle anarchism, and I’ll always be interested in what he has to say. Appreciated the crack on Terry Wogan’s xenophobia, too (2nd June issue), but it was a little disconcerting to then read the suggestions for a more participatory Eurovision Song Contest. Sadly, Dave’s inclusive non-competitive “international folk and rock concert” would leave not only me, but many millions, out in the cold.
    I daresay there was no intention to exclude soul, reggae, R&B, bhangra and hip-hop, for example. ‘Rock’ was presumably meant to imply something like ‘popular music in general’ (minus the purely commercial). Trouble is, thanks to ‘progressive’ media like the NME and stars such as Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Morrissey (among many others), as well as official cultural institutions and music corporations, the dominant ideology of pop lionises folk and rock as serious and authentic. Other contemporary formations (along with their exponents, especially those marked ‘black’ and/or ‘working class’) tend to be dismissed as frivolous, degraded, corrupt and dangerous – until they can be incorporated and later safely relegated to a mythical golden age and retrospectively respected after all. The upshot being, therefore, that those at the sharp end now, marginalised and stigmatised (and worse) by such bullshit, know exactly what ‘rock’ means from their perspective. Consequently, it quite easily follows that ships pass in the night …                It just goes to show how otherwise irrelevant, harmless variations in everyday expression can become loaded with whole different realms of connotations, depending on your position and experience. Plus we’re all prone to minor unthinking lapses from time to time (I certainly am, anyway), whereas wankers like Wogan leak whoppers like colanders. Yet while we don’t want to quibble over trivial distinctions and nit-picking recriminations, this does seem a frustratingly tricky kind of subject to tackle publicly without being sidetracked by clashes of taste or having to wade through all that right-on PC crap. And that’s even before wider discourses are taken into account, such as the current vogue for misconceiving ‘racism’ as merely a problem of white working class ignorance, conveniently overlooking how situations are set up and manipulated to start with, in particular historical contexts and with certain interests at stake. Then, hey presto, the only apparent solutions are either outright denial or spurious debates gloating over, humiliating and hammering anti-social culprits (as in the recent Big Brother debacles). Still, without the myriad forms of low-level implicit bias, explicit prejudice wouldn’t succeed in dividing us – and the Wogan piece just happened to include what looks like a hint of the former while forcefully exposing the latter.

  • Ten Canoes – de Heer. Djiggir – 2006 Australia

    adrin neatrour writes:
    Ten Canoes is an idyll – beautifully shot respectful treatment of the Australian aboriginal world. But ultimately it made me think of Walt Disney’s ‘Bambi’. Ten Canoes is set in a primeval forest world where man and nature are so closely intertwined that the natural and social systems vibrate sympathetically in close harmony. But it doesn’t have a ‘Bambi’ movement.
    Ten Canoes – de Heer. Djiggir – 2006 Australia – Crusoe Kurddal; Jamie Gulpilil
    Star and Shadow – 8-07-07 Ticket price £4-00

    No ‘Bambi’ moment here…

    Ten Canoes is an idyll – beautifully shot  respectful treatment of the Australian aboriginal world.   But ultimately it made me think of Walt Disney’s ‘Bambi’.  Ten Canoes is set in a primeval forest world where man and nature are so closely intertwined that the natural and social systems vibrate sympathetically in close harmony.   But it doesn’t have a ‘Bambi’ movement.

    Where ten canoes ceases to resemble ‘Bambi‘ is that it lacks in the whole of its course a real moment that connects this virtual idyll to the actual encompassing world that threatens it with a specific set of other desires.  ‘Bambi’ which is also set in an idyll – a drawn animated world comprising a natural forest setting – has as its central feature groups of heavily anthropomorphised animals and insects whose function is to legitimise the Disney values of  family and America.  The great set piece in ‘Bambi’ is the sequence portraying the destruction of the environment by a natural force – fire – which destroys both habitat and individual animals who fail to escape in time.  But before this disaster ‘Bambi’ has one other real moment: a moment that sabotages the idyll;  a moment that briefly but completely undermines the whole Disney sugared world of American family values.

    Hearing a sequence of loud short retorts (gunshots) Bambi’s mother calls him to her in alarm.  Nestling close together mother and son watch as in the distance a figure carrying a gun emerges out of the trees into a clearing. This distant image is all we see of the hunter. Bambi asks his mom, what creatures are these? And Mom answers ‘Man’.  Man enters the forest by right to hunt and kill without discrimination.  Man is the terrible reality invading and subjecting the forest to his will. Mom will eventually fall before the hunter’s gun but it is in that short moment  when the man appears – the white man –  from out of the trees that the Disney film rents the veil of illusion that covers the myth of  the expressed primal forest kingdom.  The idyll is revealed as a sham state: a escapist fantasy nurtured by idealists,  animation artists, dreamers and children.   After the ‘Bambi’ moment (even given the ‘off screen’ death of  mom shot by the men) the film returns straight back into the recreation of the self contained vacuum packed ideal forest world.

    We know whatever the cartoon creators may represent to us that today the forests are not the kingdoms of old.  The contemporary forest is a satrap state, a political dependency that endures only at the willing connivance of man.  Its survival rests on the changing needs and desires of the state.  Because ‘Bambi’ allows itself a real creative moment where an actual state of affairs is revealed, we know that the last shot of Bambi as he takes his father’s place as a majestically pointed stag represents a perilous condition.  Man will want his horns and pursue hunt and run him down in order to kill him and acquire the antlers as their trophy by right. 

    To a degree, ‘Bambi’ is informed by its own content that it is propagating a childish illusion.  There is no such ‘moment’ in Ten Canoes. Ten Canoes is a distillation that encases the viewer within a perfectly sealed hermetic image of the aboriginal world.  There is no referent in the movie to the encompassing political world that presses in on the originary domain. Today when we are sensitised to and aware of  the atrocities predations and betrayals that have been perpetrated on the aboriginal peoples of Australia in an attempt by the whites to deny and destroy them, this lack of external referents turned Ten Canoes into vacuous experience, something irrelevant to both aboriginals and the white world.  The unwillingness of Ten canoes to allude to the forces controlling the Australian forest and desert, make the film read like a children’s illustrated book,  a Disney cartoon –  a film about a remote far off people not the actual aboriginal men and women who have to come to terms within the compass of contemporary Australia.       

    The directors of Ten Canoes, de Heer and Djiggir might contest that so deeply have the aboriginal people and their culture been derided and unvalued, regarded as something grotesquely primitive and worthless,  that their film had as its overriding  purpose the affirmation of these people, their society and their culture.  To restate the worth and dignity of the autochthonous culture in order to restore respect and balance after 150 years of genocide attrition and cultural defamation.  And it’s true that in its representation of the physicality of the people and their beliefs, in the acting, in its cinematography and in its story telling form, Ten Canoes treats the indigenous people with respect and observes their lives as interactions with both endogamous social forces and the natural environment. Ten Canoes expresses the sentiment that these are people who live their lives in tune with each other and the environment.  They have the wisdom to know that in this land this is the only way.   In the act of filming de Heer and Djiggir  using mainly wide and medium shots with long steadicam tracks and takes find a style that is in sympathy with the way they want to represent their subjects.  The music in the film the didgeridoo rattles and percussion is an exquisite extension of the natural sounds everywhere about, in the trees and swamps.  The structure of Ten Canoes that shifts in time between the story teller and the story he is telling, creates a simulacrum of aboriginal life as locked into a primordial reality where everything happens in one big reoccurring time. de Heer and Djiggir do justice in simulating this world as a place to be valued but at a cost.  The cost is that the production starts to look false; to resemble a cartoon film whose concern is with appearances, and  to reduce judgement to values that can be ascribed to outer forms,  rather than actual inner situations and states of affairs. 

    One of Disney’s big hits of the ‘50s was a film called The Living Dessert.  In the Living Desert the lives of desert creatures were subjected to anthropomorphic interpretation so that their behaviour was simply reduced to the level of the cartoon  creatures.   The film was heavily loaded by the presence of an avuncular voice over.  A voice – never seen and existing on a different track and plane within the movie – which purported to understand and explain everything we saw.  Real elements in the natural history of the  animals were by and large omitted in favour of a sort of make believe recreation of their lives as creatures of Disney’s polico-semantic environment complete with humanised motivation ( “…here’s a cute little fellah {speaking of a racoon) what’s on his mind….?) The Living Desert showed that in the animal kingdom contrived shot and edited footage can be easily manipulated into signifiers of Disney values.  Although  the values are different  the same falsifying process seems to be at work in Ten Canoes.  Using a heavy interpretative voice over technique, throughout the film the aboriginal culture is reduced to an exemplifier of certain moral values.  The story teller appropriates all of the interpretative space in the film and speaks for everyone  It is done perhaps with good intentions but its effect is to substitute judgements for other expressive possibilities. .

    Ten Canoes presents an autochthonous originary situation that is a hermetically sealed world in which the indigenous people are part of a primal kingdom.  This Aboriginal world,  some of whose inhabitants are played by actors, is represented as a model idealised world in which everything is more or less perfect.  The men are strong hunters, in the young there is respect for the elders and the traditions, the spiritual element of life is recognised and given due weight, the women are wives and behave as women should behave they do not transgress into the world of men, and ( as in the jungle book) the tribe behave and respect the law.  Everyone is satisfied with their place in the order of the cosmos. The film as an interpretive narrative is didactic, pointing up the necessary relationship between the world as a paradise and the social wisdom necessary to sustain it.  Unfortunately this model is a lie.  The behaviour of the people and the world sustained by this behaviour in Ten Canoes is a contrivance.  It is a mythologised state that owes everything to Walt Disney and the world of children’s illustrated bibles and nothing to life itself.  In an important sense Ten Canoes is  contrived and well intentioned lie that peddles a bowdlerised world without conflict, where wives all behave like women are supposed to, where the young do as their elders say and where there is no conflict.  It is of course a world without the encompassing discomfort of white civilisation.  It is the world of the lie just as Disney is the world of the lie.

    Ten Canoes says little about the experienced conditions of life of the Aborigines.  It is happy to peddle a cleaned up sort of politically environmentally acceptable aboriginal face for white inspection.  As such it leaves us out of touch with the Aboriginal condition today, it leaves us out of touch with a people having to come to terms with their own experiences of degradation devaluation and near extermination. 
    Perhaps these films makers and their collaborators have a bolder more difficult film within them but this is a film that is static and goes nowhere.  There is a line in the film when one of the men jokes about a stranger who has been found in their territory. This stranger covers his loins with a clothe. Why does he do this the men ask? Perhaps he has a small cock: “ – never trust a man with a small cock…” jokes one of the men.  This is a film that goes off half cock.
    adrin neatrour

  • The Medusa Touch – Jack Gold (UK 1978) Richard Burton – Lee Remick

    adrin neatrour writes: Jack Gold’s Medusa Touch has a simple enough plot structure. The protagonist John Morlar is a man who believes that he is able to induce catastrophe by actively imagining the event. Like some modern theme parks, certain movies feel like psychic rehearsals for disasters and calamities yet to come. 
    The Medusa Touch – Jack Gold  (UK 1978)  Richard Burton – Lee Remick  
    Viewed – Star and Shadow Newcastle – ticket price £4-00

    Crystal balling
    Jack Gold’s Medusa Touch has a simple enough plot structure.  The protagonist John Morlar is a man who  believes that he is able to induce catastrophe by actively imagining the event.  His murder kicks off a police hunt thriller, headed curiously but entertainingly by a Parisian tec on loan from the Deuxieme Bureau. The action is relayed via flashbacks to a series of psychiatric sessions in which Morlar is being treated for his ‘delusions’ by the coolly costumed Lee Remick. 
    Like some modern theme parks, certain movies feel like psychic rehearsals for disasters and calamities yet to come.  The Medusa Touch  disguised as a run of the mill thriller anticipates the development of forces already evident in the societal matrix predicting the evolution of their logical spiralling expanding trajectories.  In its connecting of individual alienation from and anger with the prevailing social body Jack Gold  draws forth a thread of understanding that in a sense prepares us for a present lived in atmospheres of fear and insecurity brought about by such ties.  The fictive material of the Medusa Touch  featuring  sabotage of commercial flights and nuclear power stations, and the collapse of  public buildings, prepares the way for its audience to develop  those psychic states necessary for life in the 21st century.    When the technical bases of our civilisation and culture are turned against us and used as the basis to harm and even destroy us a whole new range of predispositions emotions and attitudes are evoked in society.  The Medusa Touch reads as a film that is pre-sensitised to this necessity. 

    What is interesting is that the underlying motivation of the main character John Morlar is moral.  Richard Burton morphs from his role as the angry Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger (1958) into the role of John Morlar a middle aged man literally possessed by anger.  Although both performances may be unidimensional, it’s a broad banded dimension and Burton who nursed a clenched fist of fierce anger in his belly makes of his portrayal of anger a real felt thing.  Burton knows rage and how to locate it in his performance. Morlar’s anger is triggered sustained and vented as a coherent statement that indicts what he perceives as a corrupted culture.  Morlar’s response which is intentional but at the same time uncontrollable, is to punish us for our arrogance and smugness: to make us suffer for our overbearing pride and to destroy us should we not see the intolerable nature of our lives.   Wrapped as an individual aberration with the trappings of a paranormal explanation (the telekinetic talents of Ted Serios and Mme Kulagina feature prominently) the Medusa Touch describes a moral revolt against a sick culture.  It portrays an individual and enraged terrorism that has no political agenda, and unlike the hokum of Batman and his ilk or inflated gangster/redemption movies such as the Die Hard series, there is no issue of personal gain.  The issues for John Morlar  are simply a distilled righteous moral rage.  A moral rage of such amplified intensity that he is forced into acts of large scale and widespread destruction without compunction or concern or compassion for any victims. The Mantra:  all are responsible all are guilty all will suffer.

    The Medusa Touch of course takes up borrows and develops from contemporary developing responses by individuals to what they saw as the West’s arrogance and deeply inlaid corruption.  The ‘70’s see the rebirth of individual terrorism that legitimises extreme actions in the name of morality.  Bader-Meinhof, the Red Army and  the Angry Brigade all had broad political beliefs and agendas, but the perception of their actions was that they claimed legitimacy and immunity from judgement by appeal to the corruption of society and their own moral purity.  The Medusa Touch understands the tendency of moral issues to push disempowered individuals into extreme purist positions.  It certainly anticipates individual careers taken by many who have espoused the beliefs of the Animal liberation movement and the extreme fundamentalist Christian and Islamist groups such as Al Quaida.  Such groups  premise their existence on the destruction of society or societal traits seen as unclean and pursue a kingdom of the saints, a holy city on earth.  Individuals are not contained within a tight political structure (viz Bolshevism or Nazism) but psychically sustained by an expressive belief system. Adherents are supported and encouraged to pursue the ‘movements’ aims and objectives using whatever means they possess and as they see fit.  To the pure all things are pure.  The cost in life and suffering is irrelevant to  John Morlar: it is the moral lesson that is central.

    Although filmically the Medusa Touch is conventionally shot and paced the film does create some powerful tense atmospherics.  This ability to create strong theatrical tensions within film seems to be a constant feature of British film making from Powell and Lean through to productions such as the Medusa Touch.  The crafted merging of cinematography direction editing and acting seem to imply a deeply engrained response in British studios and traditions that was and independent of individual directors and producers and consistent over a considerable period of time.
    adrin neatrour

  • Rebelution, by Tanya Stephens

    No Woman Definitely No Cry, by Tom Jennings.
    [music review of Rebelution, by Tanya Stephens,
    published in Freedom magazine, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    No Woman Definitely No Cry  by Tom Jennings 
    [music review published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    Tanya Stephens’ new album ‘Rebelution’ is subtitled ‘a movement of truth without denial or regret’ – making class-conscious ethics central to reggae’s message. Tom Jennings rides its rhythms.
    Tanya Stephens’ fourth album, 2004’s Gangsta Blues, arguably moved contemporary reggae onto a new level – both lyrically, with its critical (and self-critical) intelligence and hatred of oppression; and musically in combining the passionate lower-class panache of the ragga dancehall with roots, Lovers Rock and lighter, singer-songwriter instrumentation behind her gorgeous rich contralto. Rebelution (VP Records) is even better, so I’ll suspend my usual overheated overinterpretations and let the artist speak for herself.
    Sure enough, the opening ‘Welcome to the Rebelution’ sets an agenda for present conditions in culture and politics:
    ‘Came to pass in the days of glorifying everything wrong / That the standard for girls became a bra and a thong / Wholesome values like curling up with a good book and a bong / Went out the window along with making a good song / … So I say to you now, the Rebelution is urgent / Stand before you  not as queen, but as your humble servant / Fake leaders claim thrones without building kingdoms / Same as the music business in Kingston / We need to fight for the future for our daughters and sons / Instead you’re tripping your brothers, fighting for crumbs / But we will not be deterred by knives or guns / Go tell it on the mountain; the Rebelution has come’.
    Such pronouncements are placed pithily in the history of Black struggle in ‘Come A Long Way’:
    ‘Tell me now Malcolm, do we hurt your pride? / Can you hear me Rosa, was it worth the ride? / Can you see me now Marcus, we’re still not unified / So tell me now Martin, is this why you died? / So we’ve come a long way from picking cotton / Many never thought they’d live to see the day when Bush pick Rice / But if all you’ve become is another house nigga, baby / Tell me, was it worth all the sacrifice? / Get outa my way while I climb to the top now / But be sure to catch me if I fall from grace / Cause heaven forbid if what I chase should reject me / You know I’m gonna need a warm black embrace / We used to stack guns, prepare for revolution / Was the only way of getting wrong put right / Now we think all our problems can be solved with shooting / And we’ve forgot why we started to fight’.
    Meanwhile, ‘Do You Still Care?’s interlocking stories amplifying the implications of prejudice weave together the baleful power of dominative discrimination – from a white cracker offered a liver transplant but whose donor is black, to justifications for war exploiting culture and ideology. More controversial in the Caribbean context is Stephens’ consistent public stand against homophobia:
    ‘Bigga was hustling on the corner, making some cash / When he bumped into some beef that he had from the past / He watched the guns raise and the bullets fly / In disbelief as his friends all jumped in their rides / Left him in the gutter, didn’t care if he died / He was rescued by a car with plates that said “Gay Pride” / It would have been fatal, the shot in your head / They saved your life, though you always said “chi-chi fi dead”.’
    Then, having obliquely critiqued organised religion’s mystifications in ‘You Keep Looking Up’ (‘Don’t be compelled to look above / Look around you, look with love’), ‘Warn Dem’ muses furiously on ghetto poverty and desperation – with its video (on the DVD accompanying the album with unplugged performances and interviews) showing a young blood carjacking before robbing a pharmacy, finally using the proceeds (an oxygen mask) to save an asthmatic baby’s life:
    ‘Things bad now but, trust me, them could get worse / Unless of course we come together and do something first / And all the mothers just gwaan pray / Cause it go tek a lot more than a politician fe save the day / When we actions nuh mirror what a come from we lips / Simply means we must be a nation of hypocrites / Politicians come from among us, as far as I can see / If somen wrong with them, somen must wrong with we / A we mek them, a we elect them, and all the crap them a dish a we a take them / So it’s a little insane when we start complaining when the bullets start raining / When a we a the creator fi the harm them …’
    This song’s epilogue characteristically reiterates Stephens’ trademark humility and humour to heighten and season her most trenchant insights: ‘You know what? Me can’t promise you say the youths dem a go drop the Beretta / Hell, me can’t even promise you say ME a go act better / But one thing’s for sure, we can mek a effort / And that a the least we can do before we lef earth’.
    Tanya Stephens’ first three albums (Big Tings A Gwan, 1994; Too Hype, 1997; Ruff Rider, 1998), incidentally, were among the best – and most pleasurably barbed – of the obscene ‘slackness’ subgenre popularised back in the day by Yellowman and Shabba Ranks (1). Here again several tracks explore the pragmatics of sexual relations, emphasising womanist strength and autonomy and emotional and sensual directness and honesty – with no politically correct pieties and the sharpest tongue and most hilarious wit ever put on wax on the subject. The lyrics of ‘Spilt Milk’ give a characteristic taste:
    ‘You’re spilt milk, no use crying over you / It’s only natural that a rogue will do what a rogue will do / And besides goodbye there’s really nothing left to say / Cause if you never spilled, then you woulda gone sour anyway / … Swearing I’d be lost without you, but it was your loss / I’m not even angry any more / I’ve mopped bigger messes than you up off my floor / You’re just another chore’.
    But whether expressing lust, anger, affection, bitterness or sympathy for ghetto men and women, these personal narratives reliably correlate naturally, unpretentiously – and, apparently, effortlessly – with other levels of analysis too.
    Nevertheless it’s rather early, on the strength of two albums, to compare her significance for this era with Bob Marley’s previously. She certainly has high-profile support (including leading Bobo DJs such as Sizzla and industry heavyweights like Dr Dre); however, Rebelution’s sonic backdrop does sound slightly anodyne (searching for crossover appeal?), and the decided dearth of club-friendly beats behind the down-to-earth lyrical populism risks losing touch with the grass-roots (2). However, if the musical development only matched the patter, Stephens could well surpass Marley in chanting down Babylon – not least in her appreciation of the complexities of class, gender and race with recourse neither to righteous mysticism nor simplistic faith in better leaders.
    1. as greatly illuminated in Carolyn Cooper’s crucial book Sound Clash (reviewed in Freedom, 19th March 2005).
    2. as also noted in my review of Gangsta Blues in Variant, No. 22, 2005.