As a young youth, I played ball several times every week, without fail. And my shot was the fade away (like Jordan or Ewing, too). I was po, all legs and arms, only
so big, with a kind of longness-in-waiting that would become my present six-foot-two frame. Either with the neighbours on the lil rim outback behind the tennis court
or with my Daddy, my brother, my cousin, and my uncles every Sunday evening on Uncle Jimmy's full court. We play bush ball in the Bahamas, you see. No
referee, no fouls, all body crashing, ramjamming, a kind of honour system. Someone would always be hacking- cheating a little, grabbing arms, bumping, knocking
wrists. Usually, my cousin, who called himself "The Leopard."
These days, in Nassau, Bahamian taxi drivers are protesting--- toting placards, cussing, spitting, preaching loud and violent. Protesting against Haitian "hackers"-
Haitian illegal immigrants who are providing taxi service, without permits, to tourists, Bahamians, other Haitians, anyone.
Gathering up these Caribbean conceptualizations of "hacking" allows me to think about the way black people worldwide maneuver and unleash language as
disruptive, slick, sly, violent, violet, dangerous, explosive. We hack-- we arrange and dismantle codes and lash apart language blockades and make movements
happen that are not necessarily meant to happen and create the most beautiful (mis)readings. And not just for so. Hacking is a way to resist language/codes as tools
of division and containment. The translations, the slipping through a mirror of water. A way to play mas with cultural and colonial expectations and to mamaguy a
history that wishes to silence us.
Last week I went to a concert featuring Baaba Maal with an opening act by the Ethiopian vocalist, Gigi. Now I was wearing, as I usually do, my red, yellow, and
green Lion of Judah scarf that I bought in London. I didn't really sit down to think about what the audience at this concert would be like-I just was excited about
entering this blackzone. There were plenty white people. Plenty. But we managed to claim the space. I also didn't really meditate on the way in which we,
non-American black people, attend certain events in the US that represent our cultures. We come correct-with we flags, we colours, zapping across time and
space. A group of women that looked Ethiopian (which can mean many things) were sitting two rows behind me. We exchanged glances. I understand the glances to
be 1) flirtation 2) wondering if we are both Ethiopian because of the space and our 'looks' (I have been mistaken many times for East African, Somalian usually,
which can mean anything) and my scarf in the colours of the Ethiopian flag (i.e. unknowingly, for Gigi). One in particular, we nodded at each other, acknowledged
each other's African presence. For whatever reason. I wear the scarf as a way to flaunt my stylee and my consciousness-Pan-Caribbean and Pan-African. But it
can be read in any number of ways-Ethiopian nationalist maybe to Ethiopians and, if I wear certain hats, Rastafarian to Rastas. No words. When Gigi came on
stage with her beautiful self and sang- the space was ours. The Ethiopian women behind me bust out this shrill, tumbling, tonguing call to
Gigi-LuhLuhLuhLuhLuhLuh. My words are not quick enough. It was plenty tongues flapping like slow hummingbird wings. It meant, We are here. We are
Ethiopian. This we tings. We not Home but Home can be built. Listen. (my translation). Gigi said a few things in Amharic and others in the crowd went crazy. Her
voice gave me nuff to grapple with- it was so joyous to hear how an uncolonised black voice sings. But most of all, what happens to the aesthetic event when you
cannot read the codes? What does the untranslatable do to the way that we listen? It made me envision her voice and it forced me to appreciate even more her
amazing technical skills. Gigi's voice was running water, a river, then a stairwell, then a desert. I'd call her a powerful soprano but I don't want to call her that. She
did these runs that knocked the breath out of me-her trills, she did trills like a hurricane, twisting up and twisting up and twisting up the air. I could see it.
Now when Baaba Maal came on stage, it was all over. Tall and slight and regal, he raised up one of the most biggoty voices I have ever heard. Thankfully, we were
already sitting down. My boy was chatting, chanting, charting, chastising. Baaba Maal sings in Fulani and, this time, his language that I could not translate became
something else. I don't know Fulani but I ended up translating anyway, hearing my language in his, the most wonderful misreadings/mishearings. And it is partly about
Anglo-centrism, the need for English to be everything, though it aint always English we speaking. So is just a mix-up mix-up. One time he sounded as though he was
saying "Come gyal." There was an exciting moment when I could have sworn that he was saying something like "Want calypso, gimmee calypso." I mean, it wasn't
only the words but how he was songing them up, the riddim, texture, attitude that was so Caribbean for me. The music sounded very much like kaiso and Baaba
Maal's chopping hand gestures, his preaching, shoulder highness. He was singing, boy, and he wanted us to overstand. His body was the music and how black that
I wish I could have telekinetically transported Bounty Killer onto the stage to hear them together. It so funny though, I love dancehall, I grow up with the reggae, and
I am true-true but I can't always understand Jamaican nation language (don't feel like calling it patois). The humour is because I am supposed to be Jamaican,
because I am from The Bahamas/Trinidad, which is in Jamaica, which is the Caribbean (I need to write a few essays about how oppressed I feel by
Jamaicacentrism). But anyway when I was in secondary school, you wasn't saying nothing unless you knew the lyrics to at least a few of the most popular dancehall
songs. So my brother and I would get our tapes from Hit City and study. Mind you, with our different nation languages, sometimes we couldn't translate the lyrics
but we sang anyway. There was a song that we loved, "Dollar." We thought that it went- Jamaican girls, own a fish or cow. . . In college, I finally learned from a
Jamaican friend, that it's-Jamaican girls, unnu fi shock out. . . I mean, I thought the "dollar stylee" was also about what you could buy or own but it really about
how bad you could carry on. Also, we thought another line went-someting someting someting Inagua fi she. Now Inagua is the southern-most island of The
Bahamas and we couldn't figure out what it was doing in this dancehall song but we liked it. Or maybe we knew we were wrong and said it anyway because thas
ours. I learned from the same friend that it's actually-tings dat gwan fi you, a nah gwan fi she.
So it is precisely where language unravels that the interesting, unexpected connections take place. Can we tongue our way into other bodies? You never know or,
rather, you know how black people go. What else we supposed to do in Babylon Babel babble bauble bubble of the sea?