Monday, 12 March 2012

JAMAICA JOURNAL: The bigger picture behind controversial new Vybz Kartel issue

TRUE COLOURS: Vybz Kartel graces new issue of Jamaica Journal.

Embattled dancehall entertainer Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer strikes a characteristically rude-boy pose on the cover of the newest issue of culture bible Jamaica Journal, which has published “Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art,” the text of a lecture the deejay delivered to a huge UWI Mona audience exactly one year ago under the auspices of the university’s Department of Literatures in English in association with the Mona Centre for Gender and Development Studies.

Heavily tattooed with his facial features partially hidden beneath a street-style cap, the deejay appears caught in a moment of fleeting introspection. The brightened flora adorning his tattooed hands adds a touch of eye-catching beauty to (and somehow softens) the rugged image.

As is common knowledge, the Jamaica Journal is the enduring landmark magazine (tasked with chronicling inspiring aspects of the culture) put out by the Institute of Jamaica. The new issue is labeled Volume 33 #3.

Considering the squeaky-clean history of the high-brow publication, the selection of Vybz Kartel (currently incarcerated on murder/conspiracy charges) to grace the cover is a somewhat astonishing choice, to put it mildly. That is not to say the deejay hasn’t made any significant-enough cultural contribution; To wit, his infectious hits and charismatic Gaza-bred lingo have helped to revolutionize the modern dancehall while influencing an entire generation. But still. This is Jamaica Journal – and, for some, it’s the last publication one would ever expect to have such a notorious public persona selling its cover.

But try telling that to UWI professor Dr. Carolyn Cooper, the ardent Kartel advocate, who was instrumental in the genesis of the very lecture that is now the magazine’s telling cover story. “Vybz Kartel’s picture on the cover of the high-quality, undersubscribed journal is likely to attract new readers,” argues Cooper in her latest Sunday Gleaner column. “The Institute of Jamaica must be congratulated for understanding the broad appeal of dancehall culture. If the French newspaper Le Monde can capitalize on our notoriety, why not Jamaica Journal?”

As it turns out, Dr. Cooper’s reasoning is not lost on long-serving editor of the Journal, Dr. Kim Robinson-Walcott, who points out that the issue of skin bleaching, which forms the crux of Vybz Kartel’s piece, is one of national import that her team felt compelled to shine the spotlight on at this time.
“In terms of an official comment, with Jamaica Journal it is important for us to be recording, documenting all aspects of Jamaican culture, and the whole bleaching thing is an important aspect,” she observes. “I certainly have my concerns about it, very strong concerns, but I think it is something that needed to be recorded, and the marketability [of the cover] does come into the whole picture.”

As for the actual cover image, Dr. Robinson-Walcott emphasizes that there is more to it than meets the average eye. “I have my own views about what we were trying to convey with that cover, but I don’t want to say. I want to see if anybody gets what I wanted to convey. An artist never wants to say, ‘I was trying to depict so-and-so or convey so-and-so.’ You kind of hope that the audience gets it. And eventually if the audience doesn’t get it, then you might sort of say, well, ‘I was trying to do this or that.’ So I’m curious to see the feedback we get, other than the horror or the astonishment of selecting Vybz. I’m hoping that a little more comes across than that.”

Perhaps more importantly, the editor is confident that the magazine’s open-minded readers will get a real sense of what she and her team were trying to accomplish with this Kartel-led issue. “I doubt it is going to alienate the bulk of subscribers because it is the weight of the content that matters – and it is recording a very fascinating aspect of contemporary Jamaican culture,” she says of the publication that has previously featured the likes of Etana and Queen Ifrica. “Whatever one’s opinion of [Vybz Kartel] may be, I think that you will find the article a very interesting read.”

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1 comment:

  1. As Jamaicans we must understand that there are many aspects to our culture whether we like it or not. Congrats on this feature.