Navigation – Plan du site
Poésie

“Oh Canada”: reflections of multiculturalism in the poetry of canadian women dub artists

« Oh Canada » : réflexions sur le multiculturalisme dans la poésie des artistes dub canadiennes
Kerstin Knopf
p. 78-111

Résumé

Cet article explore comment le multiculturalisme canadien est reflété dans la poésie dub des Canadiennes d’origine caribéenne Lillian Allen, Ahdri Zhina Mandiela et Afua Cooper. L’idéal représenté par le multiculturalisme a donné lieu à un large débat dans lequel le projet est parfois critiqué car, en dépit des objectifs d’inclusion sur les bases égalitaires au sein de la société canadienne, il n’a pas permis de répondre aux questions liées à l’hégémonie eurocentrique, aux inégalités socio-économiques et politiques, ni aux questions liées aux préjugés et au racisme. La poésie dub est née en Jamaïque ; ses racines se trouvent dans le Reggae, le Rastafarianisme et les traditions orales africaines et caribéennes. Dans leur poésie, Allen, Mandiela et Cooper exposent de multiples formes d’oppression et de censure dans le Canada multiculturel, qui se basent sur des discriminations raciales, sexuelles ainsi que de classe. Avec des stratégies textuelles variées, les auteurs reflètent la réalité des immigrants non européens et apportent un regard critique sur le projet multiculturel canadien. A travers leurs œuvres, elles affrontent les hégémonies culturelle, politique et littéraire occidentales, créant ainsi un discours de réaction aux discours littéraire et historique bien établis en Occident.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1This article explores how Canadian multiculturalism is reflected in the poetry of Canadian dub artists. It briefly outlines the concept of multiculturalism, its fallacies and inadequacies, followed by an introduction to dub poetry. The main part is dedicated to the discussion of dub poetry by Lillian Allen, Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, and Afua Cooper who present female Caribbean Canadian views of multiculturalism. Focussing often on the situation of women, their poetry exposes multiple forms of oppression and silencing on the grounds of the nexus of class, race, and gender. The article attempts to filter out textual strategies with which they mirror socio-economic realities of non-European immigrants and critically look at Canadian multiculturalism.

Canadian Multiculturalism Contested

  • 1  Cf. Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” in Peter S. LI (Ed.), Race and Ethnic Relations in (...)
  • 2 Ibid., 149-150. For criticism of the cultural pluralism concept cf. Ibid., 164-166.
  • 3  Evelyn KALLEN quoted in Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” 151-152, 167.
  • 4  Cf. Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” 152, 155-156.
  • 5 Ibid., 153, 158.
  • 6 Ibid., 167-168.

2The policy of Canadian multiculturalism developed in several steps that included announcing the multiculturalism policy in 1971, passing the Multiculturalism Act in 1988, and forming the Multiculturalism Directorate in 1972 and the Race Relation Unit in 1982. In 1990 the Department of Multiculturalism and Citizenship was set up and several multiculturalism programs were created, including “cultural Development” and “multiculturalism grants.”1 With this policy the Canadian government seemingly adopted a change of course in its dealing with Quebec’s striving for independence, with the growing demand for cultural and political autonomy of the Aboriginal population, and with the political and cultural needs of the increasing numbers of immigrants from non-European countries in the 1970s and 1980s. This policy is very ambitious and unique in its endeavour to create a model society that accommodates the needs of all its inhabitants. However, it fails to do so in various aspects and has been widely debated and vehemently criticized for many reasons. According to Peter S. Li, multiculturalism is a policy that lacks clarity because of changing official explanations and political emphasis. He observes that multiculturalism developed as an ideology and as a ‘muddled’ concept without precise meaning and a definite substantive content. Li argues that multiculturalism has been interpreted in a variety of ways that reveal very different views of a changing Canadian society. Multiculturalism is understood as “an amorphous version of Canadian pluralism” as opposed to US-American assimilationism and as an ideology to promote equality and to battle racial and cultural discrimination. It is also seen as a tool to describe Canada’s heterogeneous ethnic and racial composition and the “undesirable social changes brought about by a more diverse population.” In academic discourse, multiculturalism appears as synonym for “cultural pluralism” that characterizes “the degree to which a society organizes its ethnic and racial differences” and as a concept that serves to challenge cultural hegemony and cultural universalism.2 Evelyn Kallen argues that Trudeau’s “policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework” is in practice “a clear division between private and public sectors,” requiring “multicultural subjects” to adapt to the official languages in public, while encouraging them to uphold cultural practices in private and thus latently nourishing cultural essentialism. The policy constitutes linguistic rights and institutional obligations with respect to the norms and practices of the dominant two charter groups (English and French), without granting various cultural practices as collective public rights.3 Two different objectives of multiculturalism developed: promoting cultural retention and social equality. While the first objective seems to have been accommodated with the various official multiculturalism programs, the latter fell short of being realized due to the lack of political demand and pressure on key cultural, educational, and political institutions to fundamentally change their politics.4 Political, economic, and social equality was not achieved. Subsequently, Li concludes that the “highly publicized multiculturalism policy […] was mainly symbolic,” that it “offers a description of a form of ethnic relations that represents more an ideal than reality,” and that “the program contents have been ineffective in producing institutional changes.”5 Since non-European immigrant groups participate in societal institutions under the conditions of the dominant values and practices, the dominant groups enjoy more rights and powers than the non-dominant groups and their values and practices are consequently self-understood as the ‘norm.’ Hence in the public sector, Canada’s version of multiculturalism turns into a version of assimilationism.6

3More scathing criticism of Canadian multiculturalism comes among others from Marlene Nourbese Philip, Neil Bissoondath, and Himani Bannerji. Philip argues that multiculturalism is designed to equalize power between the two central cultures (English and French) as well as among the “individual satellite cultures”. In no way does it upset the power relations between the bipartite center and individual peripheral cultures as it fails to address issues of prejudices, racism, and Eurocentric supremacy. She says:

  • 7  Marlene Nourbese PHILIP, “Why Multiculturalism Can’t End Racism,” in Marlene Nourbese

Unless it is steeped in a clearly articulated policy of anti-racism, multiculturalism will, at best, merely continue as a mechanism whereby immigrants indulge in their nostalgic love for their mother countries. At worst, it will, as it sometimes does, unwittingly perpetuate racism by muddying waters between anti-racism and multiculturalism.7

  • 8  Neil BISSOONDATH, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Toronto:  Penguin Boo (...)
  • 9 Ibid., 43, 190.

4Bissoondath compliments the Multiculturalism Act as “activist in spirit, magnanimous in accommodation” but also makes clear that the policy/ideology fails to define the nature of a multicultural society and the consequences for the nation and its citizens. Thereby it lacks “any mention of unity or oneness of vision” and rather seems to nurture division so that it accommodates “a cleverly disguised blueprint for a policy of ‘keep divided and therefore conquered,’ a policy that seeks merely to keep a diverse populace amenable to political manipulation”.8 Like other critics, he accuses the policy makers of having acted in haste to attract “ethnic” votes and of indulging in the superficial and exhibitionistic.9 He asserts:

  • 10 Ibid., 192.

Multiculturalism has served neither interest [of the newcomers and of the receiving society]; it has heightened our differences rather than diminished them; it has preached tolerance rather than encouraging acceptance; and it is leading us into a divisiveness so entrenched that we face a future of multiple solitudes with no central notion to bind us.10

  • 11  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘C (...)
  • 12  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women (...)
  • 13 Ibid., 49.  
  • 14  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘C (...)
  • 15  Himani BANNERJI, “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation,” in Hima (...)

5Bannerji exposes multiculturalism as a political sleight of hand that purportedly establishes a non-partisan, transcendent Canada but in practice employs “the unassimilable ‘others’ […] boxed into this catch-all phrase” as “moral cudgel with which to beat Quebec’s separatist aspirations.”11 She furthermore points out that multiculturalistranslates issues of social [in]justice, unemployment, and racism into issues of cultural diversity, thereby ethnicizing non-European immigrants and freezing them into traditional enclaves that are then perceived as socially conservative. Hence, this policy/ideology diminishes structural, economic, political, and social inequalities, cultural hegemony, discrimination against and othering of non-European immigrants, male violence and patriarchy within non-European immigrant groups to political non-issues.12 Her view of multiculturalism is diametrically opposed to the proposed objectives of this policy/ideology: “The problem of multiculturalism, then, is how much tradition can be accommodated by Canadian modernity without affecting in any real way the overall political and cultural hegemony of Europeans.”13 The ideological Englishness / Europeanness / ‘whiteness’ is the hegemonic Canadian identity and forms the point of departure for multiculturalism, othering non-’white’ individuals and cultural groups and reducing them to Philip’s ‘satellite status.’ Because the ethnicity of English and French Canada is not acknowledged, Bannerji says, "the whiteness in the ‘self’ of ‘Canada’s’ state and nationhood” is left unnamed. Hence, this “white center” is rendered transparent and invisible and its identity universal so that cultures perceived as being different are marked “visible” and “multiculture” and placed at the orbiting margin.14 These selective modes of ethnicization constitute multiculturalism as vehicle for racialization.15 Bannerji concludes:

  • 16 Ibid., 79.

As long as ‘multiculturalism’ only skims the surface of society, expressing itself as traditional ethics, such as arranged marriages, and ethnic food, clothes, songs and dances (thus facilitating tourism), it is tolerated by the state and ‘Canadians’ as non-threatening. But if demands go a little deeper than that (e.g., teaching ‘other’ religions or languages), they produce violent reaction, indicating a deep resentment toward funding ‘others’ arts and cultures.16

  • 17  A term borrowed from John Porter in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), Other Solitudes: Ca (...)
  • 18  Cf. Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op. cit., 7-8, 13-14; Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox (...)
  • 19  Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op. cit., 14-15.
  • 20 Ibid., 15, 9.
  • 21  Judy YOUNG, “No Longer ‘Apart’? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature,” Canadian Ethnic (...)
  • 22  Sabine MILZ, “Multicultural Canadian World Literature, or, the Cultural Logic of English-Canadian (...)

6In their introduction to Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions, Linda Hutcheon and Marion Richmond likewise point out a number of shortcomings of multiculturalism, among others that race is the “single most significant factor in the response to multiculturalism,” and that this policy/ideology has not really addressed Canada’s colonial relations to the Aboriginal population. The texts in their book bear witness to stereotyping and ghettoizing tendencies inherent in this policy/ideology. Various authors contest the myth of Canada being a welcoming tolerant nation in many narratives about Canada’s intolerance. According to them, multiculturalism has not managed to fundamentally upset Canada’s social hierarchies based on class and ethnicity; rather the ‘vertical mosaic’17 stands in stark contrast to the publicized ‘multicultural mosaic.’ There has been a shift from the lowest-paying work having been done by Slavs, Italians, Portuguese, and Greeks to being done by non-European immigrants, a shift that Bannerji describes as creating differentiated second or third class citizenships.18 But the authors also explain that productive results of multiculturalism are the creation of a national discourse about ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’ that gradually changes Canadians’ self-definition, the increasing academic interest in Canada’s diversity, and the massive expansion of the Canadian literary discourse that includes works from authors of various descents.19 A number of these authors understand this policy/ideology as having “the more positive possibility—if not yet completely realized—of being an innovative model for civic tolerance and the acceptance of diversity,” and they recognize its potential to make room for non-English and non-French authors in the Canadian literary discourse. These writers, in concert with English and French Canadian authors, create the multiracial and multiethnic nature of Canada as an immediate reality for Canadians and write this reality into their minds.20 In the same vein, Judy Young, in defence of Canadian multiculturalism programs, outlines a variety of such programs and their achievements and lists a number of writers, directors, and artists who were promoted through multiculturalism grants. As a result, she affirms that “Canadian literature displays a vibrancy and diversity that derives from a real mixing of sources, influences, and origins.”21 The vibrant and diverse Canadian national literature has become a significant part of world literature and its potential to globally advertise Canada in concert with multiculturalism was recognized and exploited by the Trudeau and Mulroney governments as Sabine Milz notes. Canadian literature and Canadian multiculturalism have been commercialized and are employed as advertisers to sell the image of a model nation state and to dynamize Canadian business relations. Milz, drawing on Kogila Moodley, establishes the connection between multiculturalism and global and national capitalism: “global capitalism has increasingly legitimized multicultural politics as a means to create economic progress and identity […] Canadian multiculturalism has become a positive guise for Canadian neoliberal capitalism and English- and French-Canadian cultural hegemony.”22

7To sum up the discussion on Canadian multiculturalism, one might say that this policy/ideology has managed to inscribe the immediate reality of a multiethnic society into Canadian public discourse and Canadian consciousness. It has developed a national literature that boasts a large variety of authors of multitudinous cultures and religions, although a number of authors still feel excluded from program promotions. While overtly focusing on cultural identity and selectively ethnicizing and racializing immigrants, multiculturalism failed to address structural inequalities, issues of prejudices, racism, cultural hegemony, and Eurocentric supremacy—issues that, some critics say, this policy/ideology never intended to address.

Dub Poetry as Immigrant Art Form

  • 23  Cf. Janet L. DeCOSMO, “Dub Poetry: Legacy of Roots Reggae,” The Griot, 14/2, 1995, 33-34.
  • 24  Lillian ALLEN, “Poems are not meant to lay still,” in Makeda SILVERA (Ed.), The Other    Woman. Wo (...)

8Dub poetry has its roots in Jamaican reggae, in the Rastafarian movement, and in African and Caribbean oral traditions and griot traditions. Dub poetry developed rapidly in the late 1970s as a new art form and became a strong component of Jamaican popular culture. It is performance poetry that is spoken or chanted to the background of reggae rhythms, using the Jamaican Creole/Patois. Technically, dub music is created by eliminating the vocals from the A side of a record with a dub machine so that the B side/dub side only contains the rhythm/instrumental track,23sometimes with amplified bass and drum. The Jamaican dance halls of the 1970s vibrated with the sound systems and voices of DJs that articulated their messages to dub versions of popular songs through refrigerator-size speakers, talking about private, social, political, and taboo issues. Then studio mixers, inspired by the work of live DJs, created remixed versions of instrumentals, working with the techniques of echoing, repeats, fades, and dropping in and out of instruments. These rhythms in turn sparked off the interest of a number of young Jamaican poets such as Oku Onuora, who coined the term ‘dub poetry.’24 These poets saw and utilized the synergetic potential of dub music and socio-political poetics.

  • 25 Ibid., 254. This ‘roots reggae’ with its political messages differs from ‘dancehall reggae’ that is (...)
  • 26  Loretta COLLINS, “Rude Bwoys, Riddim, Rub-a-Dub, and Rastas: Systems of Political Dissonance in Ca (...)
  • 27 Ibid., 171, 173.

9Reggae, says Lillian Allen, emerged from the grassroots and is thus the people’s voice with a rhythm of resistance and hope and a message of defiance and resistance. It subverts the complex system of class-based and racially-based standards for expression. She holds: “Without reggae, dub poetry could never have existed.”25 The sound repertoires of Jamaican DJs not only contained reggae but also American R&B and Afro-Latin rhythms.26 The practice of making incredibly loud noise, of creating mortally amplified sound, and of massively invading sound space with music and political messages emerged as a culture-specific way to fight oppressive political systems and hegemonic forms of cultural expression. Overamplified sound systems in open-air slum yards and rented halls offered an urban sound/dance space for the subaltern, for the underclasses, to spread their concerns and ideologies. Loretta Collins explains that third world sound technicians can recontextualize sounds from imperial discourses. Thus, as globalization furthers the flow of sounds “from one geopolitical soundscape to another, hegemonic discourses and sound fields are destabilized by the improvisational [and self-determined] sound repertoires of emerging nations.”27

  • 28  Afua COOPER, “Introduction,” in Afua COOPER (Ed.), Utterances and Incantations. Women,
  • 29  Brenda CARR, “‘Come Mek Wi Work Together’: Community Witness and Social Agency in
  • 30  Afua COOPER (Ed.), op. cit., 1.
  • 31  Loretta COLLINS, op. cit., 179.

10The combatant potential carried in the beat of reggae-based dub music, merged with mostly highly politicized texts, forms the essence of dub poetry that emerged as a hybrid art form at the interface between making noise, carrying the people’s beat in the rhythm, addressing socio-political issues, and blasting out people’s anger. Thus, it operates as a tool for political resistance and cultural and social change. Hence, “Dub poetry began as, and remains, rebel poetry,” as Afua Cooper says.28 Brenda Carr writes that “the menacing reggae bass line or ‘dread beat’ provided the driving rhythm of the dub poem. This heavy, pulsing rhythm is a musical embodiment of Rastafarian notions of ‘dread,’ an apocalyptic challenge to neocolonial economic and cultural powers.”29 From African Caribbean oral traditions dub poetry may incorporate proverbs, riddles, nursery rhymes, hymns, and ring game songs. Although mainly working with reggae, dub poets also draw from jazz, R&B, calypso, African drumming styles, rap, and Afro-Latin styles.30 Through its oral performance, with its pulsing dread beat and Jamaican Creole, dub poetry rebels against established Western poetry conventions and Western notions of ‘sophisticated’ art. It challenges hegemonic literary and musical canons, ‘mashing up’ “the colonizer’s poetic traditions, language, and ideologies.”31

  • 32  Cooper explains that there are several forms of Jamaican Creole: “In areas with strong African inf (...)
  • 33  By introducing Jamaican Creole into their poetics, dub artists retrieve it from the linguistic spa (...)
  • 34  See Christian HABEKOST, Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry (...)

11Dub poetry most often uses the Jamaican Creole32 as a means of resistance and self-determined cultural expression. Standard British and North American English as the languages of the colonizers and the languages of oppression are consciously avoided.33 But as Jamaican Creole is a cultural dialect of Standard English, the verbal emphasis on this vernacular works to disrupt and ridicule the colonizers’ tongues in the sense of postcolonial mimicry and mockery. Additionally, the Creole helps to constantly locate the performed pieces in their cultural context and to re/create African Caribbean cultural pride and self-consciousness. Christian Habekost explains that the Jamaican Creole also shapes the rhythm of dub poetry and that the rhythmical beat in turn supports the content of the lyrics. He says that the rhythm/riddim is the essential structural characteristic of dub poetry, the poets choosing the words so that they form a distinctive musical beat that corresponds to the rhythmical pattern of reggae. Very often, dub poets employ the call-and-response pattern, derived from African-rooted music, with a recurrent chorus or refrain that also influences the rhythm of a piece. The riddim of a dub piece is designed with the help of special rhyming models that serve as mnemonic patterns and often with alliterations and repetitions that also help memorization. The latter are rooted in African oral poetry with its governing principle of cyclic development. Sound painting and onomatopoeia are also devices for creating riddim as they may appear as distinct words or imitations of sounds and musical instruments.34

  • 35  Cf. Janet L. DeCOSMO, op. cit., 34.
  • 36  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 10.
  • 37  For a discussion of the various performance styles and possibilities and procedures of printing du (...)

12Dub poetry is most often performed on stage with the poet reciting, singing, and/or acting out the piece with or without background music. The voices of the poets are powerful tools as they may vary between chanting, crying, shrieking, screaming, or whispering, in combination with verbal dexterity, facial play, gestures, body movements and often clothing styles.35 Also the textual strategies of ‘signifyin’,’ deriving from African and Caribbean ritual insult games, and ‘testifyin’,’ drawing on oral public witness,36 contribute to the dub experience. Ideally dub poetry is performed live. A very specific performance style is dramatizing dub poetry pieces on theatre stage. Another means of distribution is recording the pieces in a studio to produce a cassette, record, CD, or video with printed lyrics. The big disadvantages with recording are that it freezes one final version of the piece and that the poetry loses its character of immediacy and improvising as well as the interaction with the audience. Video can at least secure the visuals of a specific setting, dress style, and performance with body gestures and facial play. Print in book form is, of course, another means of distribution but not the most fortunate choice as it loses the sound and the oral character of this poetry beside the disadvantages that recording brings.37 Often dub poems are printed in Jamaican Creole. If they are printed in Standard English, they are read and performed in the Jamaican rhythm that rather resembles a reggae beat with its different pronunciation, accentuation, and lighter stress than the heavily stressed RP English.

  • 38  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 9; Lillian ALLEN, op. cit., 258.
  • 39  Lillian ALLEN, op. cit., 258-261; Afua COOPER (Ed.), op. cit., 7; personal conversation with Ahdri (...)

13Major dub poetry centers developed in Kingston, Jamaica, with Oku Onuora, Michael Smith, and Mutaburuka, in London, UK, with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Jean Binta Breeze, and in Toronto, Canada, with Lillian Allen, Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, Clifton Joseph, Devon Haughton, Ishaka, and Afua Cooper as the main protagonists.38 The objective of the Toronto group, says Allen, was to create a new form of expression that could increase the dynamism of poetry and strengthen its impact and immediacy, while incorporating many aspects of performance such as drama, theatre, music, opera, scat, a cappella, comedy, video, storytelling, and electronics. They address multifarious issues such as slavery, colonialism, racism, sexism, social realities of immigrants, police brutality, urban poverty, the plight of single mothers, women’s oppression, and the power structures within Canadian society. Likewise, they contextualize personal issues such as love, sexuality, spirituality, and death. In Canada this poetry became a voice for those who are/feel ignored by and excluded from the dominant culture as well as a means for re-establishing self-respect and a spirit of defiance, celebration, and empowerment.39

“I Fight Back”—Lillian Allen’s Struggle

  • 40  This paper focuses on her earlier work and does not deal with her latest CD.
  • 41  This piece is included in Family Folk Festival: A Multicultural Sing Along (1993), a collection of (...)

14Lillian Allen emigrated from Jamaica to North America in 1969. She helped to establish dub poetry in Canada and is now one of its leading figures. Allen has published several books of poetry, including dub poetry, has produced several plays, and has released three dub poetry albums, Revolutionary Tea Party (1986), Conditions Critical (1988), and Freedom and Dance (1998). For the first two albums she received a Juno Award.40 Her dub poem “Colors”41 is a piece that propels us directly into the way multiculturalism is reflected in most of Allen’s dub poetry: on the one hand, it asserts the existence of various different cultures side by side, here expressed through the various colours in which the lyrical subject is dressed, on the other hand it poses the question of who subdues/marginalizes these colours/cultures:

Colors

Blue tights/green overcoat/polka dot underwear
Yellow ribbon/brown bobby pin/hanging from her hair
Black belt/purple shoes/mauve hat/striped socks
Red and white Crinoline top
Who done it
Who made the sky blue
Who made the pink hot
Who took day and night
Joined them back to back
Who thinned the paint for the atmosphere?
Blue tights/green overcoat/polka dot underwear
Yellow ribbon/brown bobby pin
Is anyone listening here?

Blue tights/green overcoat/polka dot underwear
Yellow ribbon/brown bobby pin/glad you are here

  • 42  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 24.
  • 43  Here I am playing with the notion that Caucasian cultures understand themselves as non-ethnic, by (...)
  • 44  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women (...)

15The poem is performed in the call-and-response style reminiscent of Caribbean oral culture with first Allen and then a children’s chorus singing the stanza. It is accompanied by an easy-going, non-aggressive reggae rhythm that runs through most of Allen’s work. Other pieces come along with a more aggressive reggae that has an accentuated drum and bass line. Carr observes: “Though Allen asserts the transformative pleasure of the body through reggae and dance-hall rhythms, she does so without inversions of male-originated strategies of sexual boasting. Instead, she adopts the tradition of griot-inspired, broad-based social commentary central to the African-Jamaican national liberation struggle.”42 In her dub art Allen makes use of the pleasures of dance and rhythm, of body movement consistent with ‘the people’s rhythm’ in order to call for societal change. She constantly asserts Rastafarianism and “Black is Beautiful,” and in that way helps to re/create cultural pride in the subaltern. As reggae is also popular with many people who belong to privileged cultures and classes, Allen eases the rhythm of socio-political messages into the minds of her listeners and pushes these concepts through the back door of the mainstream cultural establishment. The poem “Colors” works with dub rhyme schemes, word repetitions, and rhetorical questions. The latter imply that the various immigrant cultures introduced in the first four lines have enlivened the societal space under the illusion that they did so, on an equal basis, “back to back,” while constantly taking repressions from “them” that were joined. Not really accusing the “them” of oppressing the colours, the poem nevertheless asks who is washing out the colours from the societal space to keep this “atmosphere” colourless. This metaphor suggests that in Canadian society, the means of control are to a large extent in colourless/’white’ hands. The two questions “Who thinned the colors for the atmosphere?” and “Is anyone listening here?” more directly address the audience because the act of questioning is supported by quotation marks. In that way, Allen demands an answer to why the proposed concept of multiculturalism utterly professes cultural acceptance in the guise of a colourful outside but in fact strives to maintain the status-quo of the “colourless,” transparent, non-“ethnic” center,43 as Bannerji has also pointed out. Allen not only asks the children to join her singing this song that questions the publicized concept of multiculturalism but extends her call to her indirect audience in order to inspire reflection. At the end the lyrical voice repeats the manifestation of various colours/cultures living side by side and concludes “glad you are here.” At this point, it welcomes all those who feel unwelcome in the purported multicultural society that does not leave non-European immigrants in doubt that they are admitted into society “on public and official sufferance” for which they have still to be grateful.44 With this declaration she corrects the practice of othering on behalf of the dominant group and puts a welcoming message into the mouths of those who belong to that group whom she can convince to sing (and think) along.

  • 45  Lillian ALLEN, Women Do This Every Day, Women’s Press, 1993, 139-140. A slightly different version (...)
  • 46  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 25, 10.
  • 47  Ibid., 25.
  • 48  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women (...)

16One of the most articulate poems on Canadian multiculturalism by Allen is “I Fight Back:”45 In the mode of the “cuss poem” and the textual strategy of “signifyin,”46 this poem puts on trial Canada as part of the first world that scrupulously exploits third world countries and manipulates the global economy in order to uphold its economic hegemony and its forms of superior living standards. NAFTA and other free trade agreements, the IMF, and the WTO promote the free flow of capital and allegedly support third world economies. However, seen from a third world perspective, they only benefit the first world and push third world countries more and more into political and economic dependency. At the beginning, Allen throws the reader/listener right into this clash of first and third worlds in Canada by screaming out (signified by capital letters) the names of Canadian companies which have business interests in the Caribbean.47 “ITT ALCAN KAISER/ Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce/ these are privilege names in my country,” the lyrical ‘I’ says, “but I am illegal here […] I came to Canada/ found the doors of opportunity well guarded.” Allen here creates an indictment of the hypocrisy of multicultural Canada that is on the one hand part of the group of global economic players, is deriving substantial profits from business activities in the home countries of many of its immigrant groups, but on the other hand is not willing and/or able to grant third world immigrants equal job and business opportunities. In short, it is not ready to share the wealth and status quo of living standards achieved through manipulation and exploitation of third world economies with individuals from these countries, who knock on its “well-guarded” doors. There is no mutual benefiting; non-European immigrants to a considerable extent make up the class of the working poor who contribute to the production of the profit and wealth of dominant Canada. In the national Canadian economic system they have the same position as their home countries in the global economic system. This latent economic incongruity is disguised with the policy/ideology of multiculturalism that does however not rock the foundations of the nation that is built on social, political, and economic inequalities and instead focuses on cultural preservation. It thus appears as blank hypocritical concept that seeks to remain silent about this form of neo-colonialism. Bannerji explains: “this story of neo-colonialism, of exploitation, racism, discrimination and hierarchical citizenship never gains much credibility or publicity with the Canadian state, the public or the media.”48

  • 49  Himani BANNERJI, “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation,” 70-72. (...)
  • 50 Ibid., 65.

17The lyrical ‘I,’ defined as a woman through her jobs, is a single mother and overworked doing menial jobs for low pay: "I scrub floors/ serve backra’s meals on time/ spend two days working in one/ twelve days in a week.” By choosing a female illegal non-European immigrant as the lyrical ‘I,’ a person that would be at the bottom of economic, racial, social, and political hierarchies, Allen draws attention to what Bannerji has described as “feminized poverty,” “raced poverty,” and “race-gendered class forms of criminalization, marginalization, and exclusion” in Canada and its public discourses.49 In the same vein, with “they label me/ Immigrant, law-breaker, illegal, minimum wager,” Allen critiques the practice of labelling individuals according to the categories of race, gender, class, and social status in public discourses. Labels such as “visible minorities,” “immigrant women,” “multicultural communities,” “ESL-speakers,”50 and others become signifiers of otherness that sustain the societal colonial matrix. The question of dominant Canada in the sixth stanza why a person would leave the “beautiful tropical beach/ with coconut tree and rum” exemplifies the first world’s clichéd and exoticized notion of many third world countries that tends to blot out thoughts on their economic status. It also denounces the practice of many first world individuals of taking holidays in beach hotel chains and all-inclusive clubs in these countries. By preferring this holiday-making pattern, they hardly support the respective third world economy but only the hotel and club owners and subsequently a first world economy. In this context, this reference exposes this tourist industry as a form of economic and ecological exploitation. With the answer “for the same reasons/ your mothers came,” Allen ostentatiously reminds her readers that, except for the Aboriginal population, all Canadians are immigrants or have immigrant ancestors who, like contemporary immigrants, often fled economic instability or political persecution in their home countries. On behalf of the third world, the lyrical ‘I’ repeatedly screams out its resolution to expose and battle economic and political inequalities on a national and global level: “I FIGHT BACK.”

18The piece “Unnatural causes” contextualizes the clash between Canada’s postcard image as the perfect multicultural nation and the various images of (immigrant) poverty and homelessness that are likely to be ignored in national discourses. In the poem’s idealized city and country “a curtained metropolitan glare/ grins a diamond sparkle sunset.” The picture postcard of Toronto that is sent home transports false illusions into the world. Canada’s postcard images construct it as an immigrant “fairy land,/ where everything is so clean/ a place where everyone is happy/ and well taken care of” as the voice of the receiver of the postcard reflects. But the postcard glosses over society’s unpleasant spots and does not reveal that in the “silvered city/ hunger rails beneath the flesh,” people make their homes in streetcars and bus stops and stay thirsty “at the banks of plenty.” To affirm this ‘unpostcardlike’ side of Canadian society, Allen introduces the character of Caroline Bungle, a homeless woman, who “tugs her load […] on the front steps of abundance” and whose life is a “dungle of terror/ of lost hope/ abandonment.”

  • 51  The sound track on the record and in the video is the same.

19Allen has translated this poem into a short film where she recites the poem, complemented with music that is created from various guitar motifs mixed with echo effects,51 and visuals that illustrate and develop her words. These visuals are black-and-white archival footage and photographs of Toronto, political protesters, poor houses, and political events, juxtaposed with colour footage of a contemporary spotless Toronto and a brightly coloured studio space. The film features Aboriginal playwright and actress Monique Mojica as Caroline Bungle who wanders the streets of contemporary Toronto with her cart and tries to chase away the intruding photographer who creates an ‘unpostcardlike’ image of Toronto by photographing her. Like the poem, the film largely works with opposites to drive the argument home. For example, when Bungle asks “Can you spare a little social change, please? […] a cup of tea […] a place to sleep […] a job…????,” the film shows archival footage of a politicians’ banquet. The beggar’s phrase is politicized by means of inserting the term ‘social,’ and by that it calls for politicians to take responsibility for the lower classes of society. In concordance, the counter pointing visuals help to expose the stark contrast between affluence and poverty that exist side-by-side in Canada. The poem testifies to the plight of homeless people in the harsh Canadian winters and also views Canadian society from the perspective of the poor and homeless who find themselves exposed to indifference and coldness. Thus Bungle is “an explorer in the arctic of our culture,” “gone frozen/ on many things/ bare back. no shelter/ iced hearts in the elements/ impassioned is the wind.” The advice for her is: “You can make it through winter if you’re ice.” The cynical reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “All people are created equal except in winter” further exposes the contrast between the official version of Canadian self-definition and some of its ‘unofficial’ aspects. Complementing these lines, the film alternately features colour postcards of a tourist Toronto and black-and-white archive photographs of poor and jobless people, of demonstrations, of marching police squads, and of children behind fences. Most of the shown faces are ‘white’ and thus Allen makes clear that poverty and marginalization in Canada runs across colour lines. In that way, she also unites voices of Canadians of several cultures in their call for political and societal change.

20In contrast to the archive images and the juxtaposed footage of contemporary Toronto, the studio where the film is created is a space of abundant loud colours. There Allen, in a brightly coloured dress, recites the poem before a mural that mirrors aspects of African Canadian experience in multicultural Canada, featuring city images, a sun and flowers, Black protesters, policemen ready to attack them, a fallen Black woman on the floor, and a banner across the mural that reads “Freedom and Justice.” Caroline Bungle dressed in similar garish colours connects the studio space with the city space by being part of both. With these loud colours in studio space and costumes, Allen affirms multicolour in a multicultural society. By having Bungle walking the streets and superimposing an artificial bright yellow sun from the studio space on footage of Toronto, Allen transports this affirmation of colour and warmth into the ‘silvered city’ and “the arctic of our culture.”

  • 52  Lillian ALLEN, Psychic Unrest, Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1999, 43-45.

21In a more subtle way, Allen exposes the labelling of culture and status as well as the ‘career choices’ of immigrants in "Stereotype Friggin’— The Ethnic and the Visible Minority … in Stereo-Typed to Fit.”52 This poem relates the acculturation efforts of a female Greek immigrant who nevertheless cannot manage to fit and get the typing job she trained for. “Downpressed, ethnic and Greek/ the immigranted woman did the stereotyped thang/ stayed home and cleaned.” Like non-European immigrants, she is culturally and socially marked with such labels as ‘ethnic,’ ‘Greek,’ and ‘immigrant’ that are repeated several times in order to critique the practice of labelling in public discourses. Realizing her need to acculturate, the immigrant gives up her aspirations to be the poetess in Canada that she was at home as she would only be able to create “monotyped Greek” and be “chained in monologue” because of lacking language skills. She knows that what is wanted in multicultural Canada is not traditionalist cultural enclaves but cultural groups that are open to cultural and linguistic influences of the host culture. She has to come to terms with the cultural two-ness of immigrants who constantly negotiate home and host cultures. Her fate stands for that of most immigrants whose professional achievements in the home countries are not recognized by Canadian institutions so that many immigrants work for example as taxi drivers, waiters, or nurses although they have been engineers, teachers, or physicians. Their choices are to get a new costly education or work in menial jobs or in jobs below their qualifications. Thus, Allen creates this immigrant persona with the same limited choices: stay home, do menial jobs, or learn how to type in order to fit, the poetess still being overqualified for a typing job. She is “the Greek poetess/ [who] explores her ethnicity/ far from the roots of any struggle/ in Stereo… ooooooooo/ Typed to Fit!!” Allen’s wordplay with ‘stereo,’ ‘stereotype,’ and ‘type’ emphasizes the cultural liminality of immigrants and the social reality of many who do menial, underpaid jobs, which has become sort of a stereotypical immigrant status in Canadian perception. In a way, by learning how to type, the immigrant poetess ‘types’ her cultural liminality and stereotyped status into public discourses.

  • 53 Ibid., 65.

22Cultural liminality and transculturalism as results of immigration are seen in a much more positive light in “In these Canadian Bones.”53 The poem bears witness to the liminal and transcultural developments at the multitudinous intersections of immigrant and host cultures through the voice of an immigrant persona.

In these Canadian bones
where Africa landed
and Jamaica bubble
inna reggae redstripe
and calypso proddings of culture
We are creating this very landscape
we walk on

23In the first stanza, the immigrant persona affirms that African and Caribbean immigrants, and all other immigrant cultures respectively, create the cultural landscape of Canada that depends on their influences for the programmatic multiculturalism. Here she turns the tables and manifests non-European immigrants not as disturbing elements because of whom an ideology/policy needed to be formed, but as creative elements that conceive a beautiful multicultural society. The immigrant persona no longer feels like a public and socio-economic burden, but like part of the whole society that only exists in this quality because of these positive creative influences. In the transcultural moment it ceases to be outside and supplementary and becomes an integral shaping part. The flipside of ‘the immigrant coin’ is the creation of transcultural identities at the interface between cultural retention and acculturation. In the second stanza the persona says:

My daughter sings opera
speaks perfect Canadian
And I dream in dialect
grown malleable by my Canadian tongue
of a world where all that matters is
the colour of love/compassion/heart
and music that grooves you

  • 54  Lillian ALLEN, Conditions Critical, 1988.

24The stanza reflects the gap between first and following immigrant generations and the respective various stages of acculturation that are among others expressed through proficiency of the host language. It also accounts for the process of acculturation within the first immigrant generation whose cultural roots get more and more trimmed by the influences of the host culture, again expressed through the home dialect that becomes ‘malleable’ to suit the sound of the host tongue. At the heart of this transcultural moment lies the idealistic vision of a country where individuals are not assessed along race and colour lines but according to character and of a society that is not built on differentiation but on compassion and inclusion. Allen counters Canadian multiculturalism that sustains cultural and social differences and boundaries with her visionary society that focuses on commonalities. The persona voice keeps up its inclusionist spirit by affirming also the French Canadian and Aboriginal contributions to the project of multicultural Canada. It recognizes the latter as the original inhabitants that came (by way of force) to share the country with all immigrants: “And I thank the natives for this country.” It also acknowledges the traditional Aboriginal belief that ownership of land is impossible and that the world’s inhabitants have to understand themselves as respectful guests: “a guest on the planet/ we all are.” Here, Allen’s eco-critical agenda shows that is outlined more comprehensively in her piece “Dis Ya Mumma Earth.”54

“Ice Culture”—Ahdri Zhina Mandiela’s Canada

  • 55  See <www.griots.net>.
  • 56  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.
  • 57  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, “Introduction,” in Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, Speshal Rikwes, Toronto: Sister Vis (...)
  • 58  Makeda SILVERA, “An interview with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela: the true rhythm of the language”, in Make (...)
  • 59  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, Speshal Rikwes, 38, 40-41. “Black Ooman” also features on Ahdri Zhina MANDIE (...)

25Jamaican-born Ahdri Zhina Mandiela works in a variety of fields, poetry, music, film, theatre and dance, between which she continually interweaves while creating her work. She is the founder and artistic director of the Toronto-based theatre company B current, has published the poetry collection Speshal Rikwes (1985), and has released three albums of dub/performance poetry First & Last (1987), barefoot & black (1992), and step/into my head (1996). She has created the dub theatre piece dark diasporain dub (1991) as well as the independent film on/black’stage/women (1998).55 Mandiela returned to Jamaica to work for a few years and says that to her the process of creating art is more fluid there. But also the Canadian environment with its multifarious cultural and artistic influences has positive energies and she explains that she does not feel crammed here either.56 In Speshal Rikwes, she deliberately trains the readers to become fully enmeshed in the dub poetry experience. She first introduces them to a mix of English and Jamaican Creole poems to “slowly tune[s] the ears to a sound style,” then produces “total familiarity with the language and rhythmic style,” and finally propels them into the “true dub fashion.”57 For non-Jamaican speakers she provides an introductory note on her spelling and also gives a glossary with the English translation of a number of Jamaican Creole terms. Writing in Jamaican Creole is necessary to her as it “seems to yield more precise symbols, hence crisper, more descriptive images.”58 The poems “Ooman Gittup” and “Black Ooman”59 are both outcries against the social situation of Black women in African homelands and diasporas and thus vehemently attack patriarchal systemic oppression and Black male dominance in the private sphere that are also common in Canada. In “Ooman Gittup” a lyrical voice addresses the implied (Black women) readers, trying to open their eyes about their social situation as housewives without rights and then calling upon them to resist and fight back. It testifies to the daily struggles in a Black woman’s subservient life with ‘dem’ introduced as unspecified husbands and agents of male aggression and oppression who initially are “genkle an sweet/ but jus fih show.” Two stanzas read:

cause dem cum ome
an dem waan dih food
all cook an reddy
den pan top ah dat
dem waan yuh mek
pickney [children] stan steddy

yuh wuk like a auss [horse]
day in
an day out
den dem waan yuh luv dem
evvy nite
tiad out

26The final call for resistance in the last stanza denominates the spaces of sexist and economic exploitation, the kitchen, the bedroom, and the work place, and also identifies enforced motherhood as one form of patriarchal exploitation: “ooman gittup/ owtah dih bed/ an from ovah dih stove/ now/ eekwal pay an birt kantrol.” In the last two lines the lyrical voice offers support in sisterhood fashion: “wih elp yuh mek it/ sum ow.” The title and twice repeated “ooman gittup” pays respect to reggae’s leading exponent Bob Marley by quoting from his title “Get up, stand up” but claims the call to struggle for one’s rights exclusively for the women’s sphere. “Black Ooman,” homage to the ‘Black ooman’ community in Toronto, is a “classic piece of dub in style, form and content” as it orchestrates militant resistance poetry, a grooving rhythm,

  • 60  Makeda SILVERA, op. cit., 89.

27[a fast pulsing reggae], and raw Jamaican Creole.”60 In this piece the voices of several women address agents and victims of oppression alternately. They employ metaphors in order to account for the effects of constant maltreatment and abuse and the feelings of the victims that are reminiscent of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred:”

if evvy day pure strife
only bring more wrawt
like a shawp blade knife
ah cut inna wih awt […]

evvy jook
mek it wuss
like a sore
full ah pus

28Combatantly the women voices threaten the male addressees: “whe mek yuh kwivvah/ ah chat deepah dan silent rivvah […] but wih will kill too/ if wih mus/ suh jus/ back awff/ Black ooman rebellin.” In the CD version, ‘rebellin’ and ‘back awff’ are repeated several times and amplify the women fighters’ defiant resolution to battle male patriarchy and exploitation. Similar to quoting Marley’s line, in this piece Hughes’ strategy of metaphorical expression to speak out against colonial oppression is reserved for the empowerment of Black women. The exclusive usage of Jamaican English in these two poems not only disrupts linguistic hegemonies but also enables the author to more effectively reach subaltern women that speak this language.

  • 61  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, “evolution of this dub,” in Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, To (...)
  • 62  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.
  • 63 Ibid. Mandiela explains that she envisions the piece also be performed by fifteen to fifty women.
  • 64  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, 18; Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, step/into my head, 1996. M (...)

29dark diaspora … in dub is a theatre piece that is composed entirely from dub poems and that integrates single and choral vocals, dub rhythms, drums, choreographed dance, and elaborate costumes.61 This piece manifests the emergence of dub theatre as the first dub theatre piece in Canada.62 It was performed in call-and-response technique by one lead character and six dancers and ‘chanters’ without musical instruments, using minimalist design and focussing on dub voices and bodies.63 The piece ”blues bus”64 is arranged with lead voice, vocal background chant, white radio noise, and an unobtrusive saxophone placed intermittently. In this piece Mandiela testifies to recurrent racist incidents in multicultural Canada for which the poeticized Toronto subway incident is exemplary:

melting in the
pungent mosaic
of coloured faces/racing
thru wind-drawn subways […]

enter: wide-eyed shopper
spits/indignance/ easing onto the front
seat reserved for paid
passengers: “fucking slave”

30The term ‘pungent mosaic’ denotes people of various cultural backgrounds riding the subway. In an exaggerated way, it pinpoints existing racist stereotypes of non-’white,’ non-privileged Canadians within mainstream society as they are often seen as a ‘pungent’ nuisance. It also attacks the self-serving notion of the Canadian multicultural mosaic by attaching to it the adjective ‘pungent.’ This symbolic concept has gone bad, is rotten, it smells—it is not the ideal concept with equal opportunities for everyone that the state likes to propagate, not least through various multicultural festivals across the country. The exclamation “fucking slave” stands exemplary for racist remarks that non-European immigrants are sometimes exposed to. Also the opposition “paid passengers” versus “fucking slave” evokes the wide-spread notion that non-European immigrants are given a free/cheap ride on the cost of Canadian tax payers as Bannerji has shown, whereas the status of many non-European immigrants as second class citizens and cheap labour force rather creates a class of ‘working slaves.’ The lead voice begs “today: ‘just a peaceful ride home/ please’” and admits “can’t hide my feelings of in-/equality.” The line break within ”inequality" only stresses social and political inequalities in multicultural Canada and divides Canadians into those who enjoy and those who do not enjoy equal opportunities. The closing stanza “in a city where the sun/ doesn’t melt/snow/ no one sees black/ in the rainbow” recalls the cultural opposition between the Caribbean homeland and the Canadian diaspora that is characterized as cold and unwelcome and that creates the national myth of multiculturalism although Black voices and cultures are often silenced and excluded.

31Also “a snow white morning” constructs Canada as a space of ‘whiteness’ as seen from the perspective of non-’white’ citizens/residents:

A snow white morning

got up this morning
saw a white man
in white shirt & tie
standing: off white walls
in his white/office
blowing his white nose
in some white/tissue
i
reached for some white/
paper to record the white/
words i knew could not describe
the colour of my disgust.

  • 65  Of course there are exceptions and also members of ‘visible’ minorities sit in the Canadian parlia (...)

32‘Whiteness’ here refers to the climatic conditions of diasporic Canada and to the hegemonic dominance of its ‘two founding nations.’ Whereas the first part creates the space of political and economic power as purely ‘white’ and exclusionary,65 the second bears witness to feeble assimilationist attempts of the lyrical ‘I’ that realizes, however, that adapting to dominating values and customs does not automatically entail inclusion into dominant culture on an equal basis. Within the system of the poem, ‘colour’ suddenly ‘sullies’ this pure space of whiteness. On behalf of the disadvantaged it demands entrance for multicoloured Canada into the spheres of political and economic decision-making on an equal basis.

  • 66  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diasporain dub, 32-34. The poem appears as second part of the piece (...)

33In “ice culture”66 Mandiela works with the dichotomy of a lively and warm Caribbean and a frigid and cold Canada. The piece is recited to a fast percussion rhythm with a recurring bass line. The first three lines “sugar & spice & rhythm/ on ice/ spell resistance” may account for feelings of cultural suspense and inappropriateness of non-European immigrants in the colder diaspora. Their cultures do not seem to fit into this climate and northern culture, and in the process of assimilation they might have to freeze aspects of their customary way of life in order to adapt. The almost clichéd signs of Caribbean economy and culture, sugar, spice, and rhythm, served ‘on ice’ create the image of a drink to be consumed and thus evoke practices of (auto)commercialization and tokenization of non-European cultures at festivals and events celebrating multicultural Canada. This poetic image leaves open the possibility ofresistance against unconditional assimilation and the economic and political marketing of culture. In the third stanza the immigrant lyrical ‘I’ addresses mainstream Canada. It testifies to feelings of inferiority and marginalization non-European immigrants might have in contact with mainstream Canada, the thickness of their accents that shows in conversations (“do you listen when I speak?/ my accent glued to my teeth”), the perceived opulence of Canadian life style in contrast to that of most immigrants (“beer for you/by the jug […] no black mug”), the dominance of Caucasian faces in the media (“no face/no black mug/ plug/on your tv”), and to limited possibilities on par with the perceived restrain and coldness with which immigrants are welcomed (“no/nothing for me: just/ice/ the coldness that I breathe”). When ‘just/ice’ is read without break, also the justice system that has higher conviction rates for members of ‘visible’ minorities than for the rest of Canada is put on trial. In the fourth stanza, Mandiela polarizes non-European immigrants’ realities in Canada with the life style they had imagined they would have:

as the spears from my nostrils drip
onto my chapped lips/my frozen
finger tips jingling
dust/pennies
from your streets fountain/flow: milk
& honey & ice.
the coldness that I breathe

  • 67  Makeda SILVERA, op .cit., 89.

34The last three lines also account for the fact that immigrants trade their cultural autonomy in their homelands for relative economic and political stability in Canada that however comes with a colder geographical and social climate. Mandiela comments that “‘ice culture’ is the chilling scream or silent plea we all make realizing there’s no milk and honey ah fahrin [abroad], especially when you’re trapped there.”67

  • 68  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, op. cit., 42-47.

35The piece “afrikan by instinct”68 summons African homelands, the various African diasporas, and the history of slavery and immigration that links them. It is sung in call-and-response technique by a lead voice and chorus accompanied by a fast-paced calypso rhythm. The lyrical voice observes that although African diasporic identities are based on African home cultures, they are not least constructed together with the various cultural, political, and social influences from the diasporic host cultures that can be both oppressive and liberating:

original australians
diasporic black canadians
money makers/city council shakers
from rio to belize
street musicians/politicians
strait/talking/hippin-hoppin
thespians/gays & lesbians
shape identity;
in mo’town / watts / yo’town/any downtown
d.c. / l.a. / green bay / north bay / vancouver / calgary
live/walking graffiti: you & me

  • 69  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.

36The lyrical voice affirms cultural contacts as positive constructive moments that create colourful ‘graffiti identities’ and resounds Mandiela who says that her personality and art work are shaped by the various influences that multicultural Canada offers.69

“Griots Rising”—Afua Cooper’s Voice

  • 70  Afua COOPER, Worlds of Fire (In Motion), 2002. A slightly different version is published in Mauree (...)
  • 71  Cf. COOPER in Sheila NOPPER, “The Dearth of a Nation,” Herizons, Summer 2003; Maureen G. ELGERSMAN (...)

37Poet, writer, historian, and sociology professor Afua Cooper is of African Caribbean origin and is also one of the pioneers who spearheaded the dub poetry tradition in Canada. She has published three books of poetry, a collection of Afro-Canadian women’s dub poetry, Utterances and Incantations, a CD with dub poetry, Worlds of Fire (In Motion) (2002), and four books on Afro-Canadian history. In “Negro Cemeteries”70 she deconstructs the popular myth that Canada was only a haven for fugitive slaves from the US. Accompanied by a grooving reggae rhythm the lead voice makes clear that Canada is also haunted by the ghosts of a slave past under French and later British rule that lasted until 1834 when Great Britain abolished slavery.71

“Negro” cemeteries are surfacing all over Ontario
ancestors are rolling over
bones creaking
skeletons dusting themselves off
dry bones shaking in fields of corn

Never knew that cemeteries could cause so much ruckus
as descendants who have gone into whiteness
clamour to make
“Negro” cemeteries into
golf courses
recreational parks
and shopping malls
afraid that somebody discover the links between them
and the writings on the tombstones.

  • 72  Although under the Cemetery Act the disturbance of a burial site is prohibited, there are instance (...)
  • 73  “Damballah and Ogun are deities/spirits in the Voudou and Yoruba religious pantheons.” COOPER in M (...)
  • 74  Cf. Afua COOPER, “Doing Battle in Freedom’s Cause: Henry Bipp, Abolitionism, Race Uplift, and Bla (...)

38Cooper also condemns instances when former cemeteries were developed into roads, housing units, golf courses, and other commercially used areas with and sometimes without the removal of the human remains that according to African, Aboriginal, European, and other cultures’ religious beliefs are sacrilegious and desecrating acts.72 She furthermore makes the point that for African Canadian citizens/residents and immigrants the negotiation of cultures can be complicated. Adaptation to the mainstream in order to achieve economic and social stability as well as the temptations of the superfluous material culture may carry cultural and spiritual alienation in its wake. But it is more the slandering of one’s African heritage while buying into mainstream culture that Cooper criticizes. Later in the poem Cooper demands that African Canadian history and culture be included in Canadian discourses in a proper way when she says: “ancestors are rolling over/ from the fur-trader to the loyalist to the mariner from Dominica […] Like Osiris, they burst from the earth […] African skeletons shaking the dust from their bones […] Griots rising from their graves […] Babalawos emerging from the storm […] Papa Damballah hissed his displeasure at his long internment/ Ogun squats, ready with his iron bow.”73 She thus reminds us that African history and culture are firmly planted in Canadian soil but that this African Canadian cultural and political history needs to be communicated in order to revise English and French Canadian historiographies and topple the Canadian myth of the ‘two founding nations.’ As well she roots African Canadians into this soil and creates it as a cultural space where they too belong and have their ancestral roots. Like African gods and storytellers rising from the earth, she has the former slave Dorinda sitting on her tombstone, “a pipe clenched between her teeth,” and reciting her “stories of her many passages/ the stories of her many transformations.” Here, Cooper makes the point that revisionary historiography must come from African Canadian sources in order to ensure an anticolonial perspective. The subtext is the parallel between Cooper’s poetry and academic writing on African Canadian history and the fact that she actually does what she calls for the moment she writes poems like this one and “Marie Joseph Angelíque.”74

  • 75  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue. Poetry by Afua Cooper, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1992, 43-4 (...)

39In “Oh Canada”75 she testifies to the cold geographical and social climate as a culture shock as well as to the state of ‘visible’ immigrants as secondary citizens and cheap labour force. The lyrical ‘I’ recounts the tale of her immigration to Canada:

VI
two children with yellow hair
six and eight
they ask her questions
in your country do you live in trees
how did you know english

VII
the missis told her that her duties were
light housekeeping
but she was up from six o’clock to
whenever the family went to bed,
which was usually by midnight

VIII
cooking
cleaning
washing
ironing
her weekend began saturday night and ended
sunday evening
at five, and this was every other weekend. spring.
time for spring cleaning
her missis told her to climb on the ladder
so she could reach the top windows. she said she was
not used to climbing, saw herself falling off
missis ask if back home she never used to climb trees.

  • 76  Again, these ignorant opinions seem overdone but only by this overdoing Cooper achieves the intend (...)
  • 77  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue,op.cit., 85.

40In Canada the immigrant lyrical ‘I’ finds herself confronted with ignorance, prejudices, and outright racism, and she is overworked in her job as housekeeper for a mainstream family. Here Cooper echoes Allen’s rage against exploitation of non-European immigrants’, and especially women’s labour. By having the mainstream subjects referring to African Canadians as people formerly living in trees and climbing trees,76 she establishes a bridge between ‘benevolent,’ ignorant racism and outright racism that both exist in Canada and underlines that in all forms of racism there resonates a notion that situates African people into lower stages of human development and considers them as an inferior ‘race.’ Cooper’s poem “Oh Canada II”77 is a postcolonial subversive revision of the Canadian national anthem:

Oh Canada II

Canada
of genocide you are accused
why is it your jails are filled with Black men
why is it your prisons are filled with Native men
what are your intentions Canada
that you seek to bound us so

Canada
of genocide you are accused
why is it 60% of Black children will not finish
high school
why is it that those who do are streamed into the
lower levels

Canada
of genocide you are accused
why is it your police officers
constantly shoot Black youths in the head and back
why is it your officers constantly rob Black mothers
of their sons and daughters?

41Like in the national anthem, the lyrical subjects address Canada. But instead of feeling “True patriot love”78 the immigrant and Aboriginal “children” accuse Canada of genocide; to them the “True North, strong and free!” is a country where the Black and Aboriginal prison inmate population is disproportionally high and where Black and Aboriginal school drop out rates are n times the national average. The “glorious and free!” land is one where police racism and brutality is rampant as the police shootings of African and Aboriginal Canadians in Ontario and Quebec in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the Ipperwash inquiries have shown.79 In this context, Black and Aboriginal people do not see mainstream Canada rise “With glowing hearts” as the rise of this country also owes much to their economic contribution and their relinquishment of most parts of their traditional territories respectively. The piece makes clear that most of them do not participate in the “glory” of Canada and are systematically kept in the lower levels of society.

  • 80  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue, op.cit., 73.

42In the “The Power of Racism”80 Cooper attacks the racially motivated assaults and murders of two Black men in the US in the first two stanzas and parallels these to the exhibition “Into the Heart of Africa,” November 1989 until May 1990, at the Royal Ontario Museum in the third one:

the power of racism
the power of racism
the power of racism is such
that the ROM could mount an African exhibition
without consulting Black people.

  • 81  Cf. Lynne TEATHER, “Transforming Museum Studies: Educating Museologists for Cultural Diversity”,<h (...)
  • 82  “Canadian Multiculturalism Act,” in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.),  op.cit., 371.

43This controversial exhibition was criticized by the African Canadian community for its “use of ironical messages in quotes, and other design elements to critique imperialist messages of the missionaries and the collections that came to the ROM.” These messages were misread and without proper context reiterated the original racism of the missionaries.81 At the heart of this controversy lies the fact that the African Canadian community was not consulted in the curatorial process, a practice for which also other exhibitions were heavily criticized around that time. So Cooper asks: where is the promulgated multicultural inclusion and acknowledgement of “freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage”82 when it comes to showcasing the culture and history of one group of this multicultural society? Echoing the element of repetition in African song and oral tradition, the line “the power of racism” appears nine times, three times in each stanza where it outnumbers the two lines recalling racist incidents. By not including more line breaks in the last two lines of each stanza and creating this 3:2 structure, Cooper visually emphasizes the dominating force of ‘power’ and ‘racism’ that sustains Eurocentric hegemony in North America.

Final Remarks

  • 83  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘C (...)
  • 84  Canadian Multiculturalism Act, in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op.cit., 369.

44The discussed poems of the three Caribbean Canadian dub artists Allen, Mandiela, and Cooper reflect their responses to Canada’s policy/ideology of multiculturalism. Their socio-political art mirrors the perspective from what Bannerji calls “the dark side of the nation.” This perspective ultimately questions the “transcendent, universal, and unifying claims of its multiculturally legitimated ideological state apparatus.”83 The authors employ symbolism and metaphors, subversive revision, oppositions, counter pointing, minimalism, end rhymes and repetitions for emphasis, and the translation of riddim into their texts in order to mirror non-European immigrant realities and critically look at Canadian multiculturalism. With their art work, they confront Western cultural, political, and literary hegemonies and create a counter discourse to established Western literary and historical discourses. In their poetry they testify to the fact that not all individuals in Canada are equal “before and under the law,” do not “enjoy equal status,” and do not “have an equal opportunity with other individuals” as the Multiculturalism Act promulgates.84 Multiculturalism is a great, very aspiring, yet ideal concept that attempts to include all individuals in Canadian society and to tackle the problems linked with cultural and social inequalities and racism. It thus creates a national myth of equality and integration that also deceives the majority of French and English Canadians of good-will. The reality for many ‘visible’ minorities is a different one, however, and they painfully realize that the ‘two founding nations’ still dominate all spheres of this multicultural society. And yet, cultural contact benefits all individuals who are receptive to the multifarious cultural influences Canada offers. Thus, the discussed poems exemplify both destructive and constructive experiences in multicultural Canada.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

ALLEN Lillian, Psychic Unrest, Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1999.
----, “Poems are not meant to lay still,” in SILVERA Makeda (Ed.), The Other Woman. Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1995, 353-262. ----, Women Do This Every Day, Women’s Press, 1993.
----, Rhythm an’ Hardtimes, Domestic Bliss, 1982.

BANNERJI Himani, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘Canada’,” in BANNERJI Himani, The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000, 87-124.
----, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’,” in BANNERJI Himani, The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000, 15-61.
----, “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian

Nation,” in BANNERJI Himani, The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000, 63-86.

BISSOONDATH Neil, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Toronto: Penguin Books, 1994.

BRISTOW Peggy, BRAND Dionne, CARTY Linda, COOPER Afua, HAMILTON Sylvia, SHADD Adrienne, We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up’: Essays in African Canadian Women’s History, Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1994.

BUCKNOR Michael Andrew, “Body-Vibes: (S)pacing the Performance in Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” Thamyris, 5/2, Autumn 1998, 301-322.

CARR Brenda, “ ‘Come Mek Wi Work Together’: Community Witness and Social Agency in Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” ARIEL, 29:3, July 1998, 7-40.

COLLINS Loretta, “Rude Bwoys, Riddim, Rub-a-Dub, and Rastas: Systems of Political Dissonance in Caribbean Performative Sounds,” in MORRIS Adalaide (Ed.), Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies, Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1997, 169-193.

COOPER Afua, The Hanging of Angelique, Canada: HarperCollins, 2004.
----, “Redemption Dub: ahdri zhina mandiela and the Dark Diaspora,” in SEARS Djanet (Ed.), Testifyin’. Contemporary African Canadian Drama, vol. I, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2000, 440-444.
----, “Doing Battle in Freedom’s Cause: Henry Bipp, Abolitionism, Race Uplift, and Black Manhood, 1842-1854, PhD thesis, U of Toronto, 2000.
---- (Ed.), Utterances and Incantations. Women, Poetry and Dub, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1999.
----, Memories Have Tongue. Poetry by Afua Cooper, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1992.

DeCOSMO Janet L., “Dub Poetry: Legacy of Roots Reggae,” The Griot, 14/2, 1995, 33-41.

ELGERSMAN Maureen G., Unyielding Spirits. Black Women and Slavery in Early Canada and Jamaica, New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999.

FISHER Jacqueline, “St. Andrew’s Burying Ground, Cambridge (Galt), Ontario,” The Ottawa Archaeologist, 33/3, 2005, 4-5.

HABEKOST Christian, Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry, Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993.

HUTCHEON Linda and RICHMOND Marion (Eds.), Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions, Toronto: Oxford UP, 1990.

LI Peter S., “The Multiculturalism Debate,” in LI Peter S. (Ed.), Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada, Oxford et al.: Oxford UP, 1999, 148-177.

MANDIELA Ahdri Zhina, dark diaspora … in dub, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1991.
----, Speshal Rikwes, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1985.

MILZ Sabine, “Multicultural Canadian World Literature, or, the Cultural Logic of English-Canadian Economic and Political Power,” Zeitschrift für Kanada-Studien, 25/1, vol. 46, 2005, 147-161.

PHILIP Marlene Nourbese, “Why Multiculturalism Can’t End Racism,” in PHILIP Marlene Nourbese, Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture, Stratford, Ontario: The Mercury Press, 1992, 181-186.

SHADD Adrienne, COOPER Afua, SMARDZ FROST Karolyn, The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!, Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, 2002.

SILVERA Makeda, “An interview with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela: the true rhythm of the language,” in SILVERA Makeda (Ed.), The Other Woman. Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1995, 81-92.

TULLOCH Headley, “The History of Slavery in Canada,” in TULLOCH Headley, Black Canadians. A Long Line of Fighters, Toronto: NC Press Ltd., 1975, 71-90.

YOUNG Judy, “No Longer ‘Apart’? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature,” Canadian Ethnic Studies/Études ethniques au Canada, 33/2, 2001, 88-116.

WHYTE Maureen (Ed.), The Edges of Time. A Celebration of Canadian Poetry, Toronto: Seraphim editions, 1999.

Discography

ALLEN Lillian, Freedom and Dance, 1998.
----, Conditions Critical, 1988.
----, Revolutionary Tea Party, 1986.
----, “Colors,” in Family Folk Festival: A Multicultural Sing Along, 1993.
COOPER Afua, Worlds of Fire (In Motion), 2002.
MANDIELA Ahdri Zhina, First & Last, 1987.
----, barefoot & black, 1992.
----, step/into my head, 1996.

Filmography

ALLEN Lillian, (Writ.), Unnatural Causes, JUDGE Maureen, (Dir.), National Film Board of Canada, 1989, 6:45 min.

Internet Sources

Archaeological Assessment McBurney Park, Upper Burial Ground Kingston, Ontario at <http://www.cityofkingston.ca/pdf/engineering/McBurneyPark_Stage1.pdf>

“Babalawos”: Alternative Religions at <http://altreligion.about.com/library/glossary/bldefbabalawo.htm

Canadian National Anthem at http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/anthem_e.cfm#h2>

CATO Jason, “Par for the Course”, <at http://www.free-times.com/archive/coverstorarch/golf_graveyard.html>

The Cemetery Act at <http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Statutes/English/90c04_e.htm#BK9>

“Environmental Justice Case Study: Ipperwash Provincial Park and Stoney Point First Nation” at <http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/cheshire.html>

Griots Net at <http://www.griots.net>“The Ipperwash Inquiry” at <http://www.ipperwashinquiry.ca/index.html>

Legislative Assembly of Ontario, “Official Report of Debates,” 25 Nov. 2004 at <http://www.ontla.on.ca/hansard/committee_debates/38_parl/session1/justicepol/pdfJP018.pdf>

NOPPER Sheila, “The Dearth of a Nation,” Herizons, Summer 2003 at <http://www.herizons.ca/magazine/issues/sum03/index.html>

Ontario Genealogical Society Cemetery Transcriptions at <http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/interloan/cem_grey.htm> and <http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/interloan/cem_peel.htm>

TEATHER Lynne, “Transforming Museum Studies: Educating Museologists for Cultural Diversity” at <http://www.city.ac.uk/ictop/teather-2001.html>

Haut de page

Notes

1  Cf. Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” in Peter S. LI (Ed.), Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada, Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press, 1999, 148-156.

2 Ibid., 149-150. For criticism of the cultural pluralism concept cf. Ibid., 164-166.

3  Evelyn KALLEN quoted in Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” 151-152, 167.

4  Cf. Peter S. LI, “The Multiculturalism Debate,” 152, 155-156.

5 Ibid., 153, 158.

6 Ibid., 167-168.

7  Marlene Nourbese PHILIP, “Why Multiculturalism Can’t End Racism,” in Marlene Nourbese

 PHILIP, Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture, Stratford, Ontario: The Mercury

 Press, 1992, 186.

8  Neil BISSOONDATH, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Toronto:  Penguin Books, 1994, 42-43.

9 Ibid., 43, 190.

10 Ibid., 192.

11  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘Canada’,” in Himani BANNERJI, The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000, 94.

12  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’,” in Himani BANNERJI, op. cit., 45-48.

13 Ibid., 49.  

14  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘Canada’,” in Himani BANNERJI, op. cit., 110-111.

15  Himani BANNERJI, “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation,” in Himani BANNERJI, op. cit., 78.

16 Ibid., 79.

17  A term borrowed from John Porter in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990, 13.

18  Cf. Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op. cit., 7-8, 13-14; Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’,” 46.

19  Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op. cit., 14-15.

20 Ibid., 15, 9.

21  Judy YOUNG, “No Longer ‘Apart’? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature,” Canadian Ethnic Studies/Études ethniques au Canada, 33/2, 2001, 109.

22  Sabine MILZ, “Multicultural Canadian World Literature, or, the Cultural Logic of English-Canadian Economic and Political Power,” Zeitschrift für Kanada-Studien, 25/1, vol. 46, 2005, 153.

23  Cf. Janet L. DeCOSMO, “Dub Poetry: Legacy of Roots Reggae,” The Griot, 14/2, 1995, 33-34.

24  Lillian ALLEN, “Poems are not meant to lay still,” in Makeda SILVERA (Ed.), The Other    Woman. Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1995, 256-257.

25 Ibid., 254. This ‘roots reggae’ with its political messages differs from ‘dancehall reggae’ that is  rather characterized by its slackness and sexy lyrics.

26  Loretta COLLINS, “Rude Bwoys, Riddim, Rub-a-Dub, and Rastas: Systems of Political Dissonance in Caribbean Performative Sounds,” in Adalaide MORRIS (Ed.), Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 174.

27 Ibid., 171, 173.

28  Afua COOPER, “Introduction,” in Afua COOPER (Ed.), Utterances and Incantations. Women,

Poetry and Dub, 2.

29  Brenda CARR, “‘Come Mek Wi Work Together’: Community Witness and Social Agency in

Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” ARIEL, 29/3, July 1998, 12.

30  Afua COOPER (Ed.), op. cit., 1.

31  Loretta COLLINS, op. cit., 179.

32  Cooper explains that there are several forms of Jamaican Creole: “In areas with strong African influences as in Eastern St. Thomas, Southern Hanover, and in Maroon communities, the dialects spoken tend to be more ‘rootsy’.” Afua COOPER (Ed.), op. cit., 6.

33  By introducing Jamaican Creole into their poetics, dub artists retrieve it from the linguistic space of derivative, ‘mispronounced,’ and ‘wrong’ English. They employ it to disrupt the colonial linguistic matrix, where colonial English is established as the ‘non-audible’ center (as one aspect of the ‘invisible’ cultures), and where differing speech patterns are reduced to ‘incorrect derivations’ that become the ‘audible’ margin (as one aspect of the ‘visible’ cultures). Linguistic ‘non-audibility’ and ‘audibility,’ like ‘invisibility’ and ‘visibility,’ thus characterize non-’ethnic’ cultures and the ‘ethnic’ others.

34  See Christian HABEKOST, Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry, Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993, 91-97. Habekost’s book is, beside its focus on African Caribbean dub poetry, a comprehensive analysis of the concept of rhythm, aesthetics, and performance styles of dub poetry in general and a must-read for anyone interested in this art form.

35  Cf. Janet L. DeCOSMO, op. cit., 34.

36  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 10.

37  For a discussion of the various performance styles and possibilities and procedures of printing dub poetry cf. Christian HABEKOST, op. cit., 98-112. Cf. Michael Andrew Bucknor who proposes that the binary of the oral/scribal inherent in the procedure of printing performance pieces is bridged in Caribbean performance/dub poetry. With his ‘theory of body-memory’ he argues that cultural codes, which to my view include historical, religious, and cultural knowledge and oral, music, and dance traditions, are inscribed into the material text by means of ‘vibrating currents,’ body currents that are “energy coded in the verbal rhythms of a text.” According to him, Caribbean body-memory and the oral character of a piece are translated into the printed text through graphic and spatial configuration, syntactic inversions, a vibrant mix of English and African Caribbean language structures, a mix of English and African Caribbean semantic, and even new word formations. Michael Andrew BUCKNOR, “Body-Vibes: (S)pacing the Performance in Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” Thamyris, 5/2, Autumn 1998, 309-318.

38  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 9; Lillian ALLEN, op. cit., 258.

39  Lillian ALLEN, op. cit., 258-261; Afua COOPER (Ed.), op. cit., 7; personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA.

40  This paper focuses on her earlier work and does not deal with her latest CD.

41  This piece is included in Family Folk Festival: A Multicultural Sing Along (1993), a collection of children’s songs from the Caribbean, Africa, and North and South America.

42  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 24.

43  Here I am playing with the notion that Caucasian cultures understand themselves as non-ethnic, by that establishing themselves as the ‘invisible,’ unquestioned norm and applying ethnicity to cultures that become ‘visible’ through their deviations from that norm. The term ‘ethnic’ is thus only used when denoting all cultures in Canadian society or is otherwise put in inverted commas.

44  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’,” 46.

45  Lillian ALLEN, Women Do This Every Day, Women’s Press, 1993, 139-140. A slightly different version already appeared in the self-published Rhythm an’ Hardtimes, the first book to include dub poetry in Canada. Lillian ALLEN, Rhythm an’ Hardtimes, Domestic Bliss, 1982, 15.

46  Brenda CARR, op. cit., 25, 10.

47  Ibid., 25.

48  Himani BANNERJI, “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’,” 47.

49  Himani BANNERJI, “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation,” 70-72. On exploitation, marginalization, and criminalization of immigrant workers cf. also Himani BANNERJI, op. cit., 76-78.

50 Ibid., 65.

51  The sound track on the record and in the video is the same.

52  Lillian ALLEN, Psychic Unrest, Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1999, 43-45.

53 Ibid., 65.

54  Lillian ALLEN, Conditions Critical, 1988.

55  See <www.griots.net>.

56  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.

57  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, “Introduction,” in Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, Speshal Rikwes, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1985.

58  Makeda SILVERA, “An interview with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela: the true rhythm of the language”, in Makeda SILVERA (Ed.), The Other Woman. Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1995, 82.

59  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, Speshal Rikwes, 38, 40-41. “Black Ooman” also features on Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, step/into my head, 1996.

60  Makeda SILVERA, op. cit., 89.

61  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, “evolution of this dub,” in Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1991, x-xii; Afua COOPER, “Redemption Dub: ahdri zhina mandiela and the Dark Diaspora,” in Djanet SEARS (Ed.), Testifyin’. Contemporary African Canadian Drama, vol. I, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2000, 443-444.

62  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.

63 Ibid. Mandiela explains that she envisions the piece also be performed by fifteen to fifty women.

64  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, 18; Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, step/into my head, 1996. Mandiela explained that step/into my head is not reggae-based but that in each piece the instrumentals embellish the spoken words. Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.

65  Of course there are exceptions and also members of ‘visible’ minorities sit in the Canadian parliament and work in higher levels of the industry. But only through exaggeration Mandiela is able to make her point.

66  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diasporain dub, 32-34. The poem appears as second part of the piece “sugar & spice/ on ice” on Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, step/into my head, 1996.

67  Makeda SILVERA, op .cit., 89.

68  Ahdri Zhina MANDIELA, dark diaspora … in dub, op. cit., 42-47.

69  Personal conversation with Ahdri Zhina Mandiela.

70  Afua COOPER, Worlds of Fire (In Motion), 2002. A slightly different version is published in Maureen WHYTE (Ed.), The edges of time. A celebration of Canadian poetry, Toronto: seraphim editions, 1999, 30-32.

71  Cf. COOPER in Sheila NOPPER, “The Dearth of a Nation,” Herizons, Summer 2003; Maureen G. ELGERSMAN, Unyielding Spirits. Black Women and Slavery in Early Canada and Jamaica, New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999; Headley Tulloch, “The History of Slavery in Canada”, in Headley TULLOCH, Black Canadians. A Long Line of Fighters, Toronto: NC Press Ltd., 1975, 71-90.

72  Although under the Cemetery Act the disturbance of a burial site is prohibited, there are instances when neglect of former burial grounds or inappropriate background research has allowed real estate development on the lots of former cemeteries without the (complete) removal of the human remains. Cf. the case of the St. Andrew’s Burying Ground, Jacqueline FISHER, “St. Andrew’s Burying Ground, Cambridge (Galt), Ontario,” The Ottawa Archaeologist, 33:3, 2005, 4-5 and the case of the Upper Burial Ground in Kingston, Ontario, <http://www.cityofkingston.ca/pdf/engineering/McBurneyPark_Stage1.pdf>. Cf. also Jason CATO who relates an incident in the US where a golf course is situated above a former burial ground, <http://www.free-times.com/archive/coverstorarch/golf_graveyard.html>. Under the same law, a cemetery might be closed and the disinterment and reinterment of human remains at a different location ordered if the closing is in the public interest. Cf.

<http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Statutes/English/90c04_e.htm#BK9>. The Oka crisis of 1990 developed because the Oka municipality decided to extend a nine-hole golf course onto the area of the Sacred Pines, an Iroquois burial ground. Similarly, the Stoney Point community holds that Ipperwash Provincial Park is situated above a ceremonial burial ground. Cf. <http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/cheshire.html>. Also the Ontario government ordered to relocate the St Alban’s Anglican Church cemetery in Palgrave, Ontario, for real estate development. Cf. <http://www.ontla.on.ca/hansard/committeedebates/38_parl/session1/justicepol/pdfJP018.pdf>. Likewise, in Peterborough, Ontario, the Armoury was built on a historical burial ground. Meaford Golf Course in Grey County and Devil’s Pulpit Golf Course in Peel County, Ontario, are located on the lots of former burial grounds, cf. <http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/interloan/cem_grey.htm> and <http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/interloan/cempeel.htm>. I am much indebted to Carmen Bauer, Archaeological Consultant, Ottawa, Ontario, for supporting my research in this matter.

73  “Damballah and Ogun are deities/spirits in the Voudou and Yoruba religious pantheons.” COOPER in Maureen WHYTE (Ed.), The edges of time, Toronto: seraphim editions, 1999, 32; Babalawos are the highest priest ranks in the African Cuban syncretic religion of Santeria/Lukumi. <http://altreligion.about.com/library/glossary/bldefbabalawo.htm>.

74  Cf. Afua COOPER, “Doing Battle in Freedom’s Cause: Henry Bipp, Abolitionism, Race Uplift, and Black Manhood, 1842-1854, PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 2000; Adrienne SHADD, Afua COOPER, Karolyn Smardz FROST, The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!, Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, 2002; Peggy BRISTOW, Dionne BRAND, Linda CARTY, Afua COOPER, Sylvia HAMILTON, Adrienne SHADD, We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up’: Essays in African Canadian Women’s History, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994; Afua COOPER, The Hanging of Angelique, Canada: HarperCollins, 2004; The poem “Marie Joseph Angelíque” tells the story of this Montreal slave woman, who, after setting parts of the city on fire in an attempt to escape, was tried and hanged.

75  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue. Poetry by Afua Cooper, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1992, 43-46.

76  Again, these ignorant opinions seem overdone but only by this overdoing Cooper achieves the intended effect.

77  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue,op.cit., 85.

78  Cf. the official lyrics of the Canadian anthem at <http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/anthem_e.cfm#h2>.

79  Brenda CARR, “‘Come Mek Wi Work Together:’ Community Witness and Social Agency in Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” 27. Aboriginal man Dudley George was shot during a protest of Aboriginal representatives at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. Tapes of conversations among police officers during the raid of the Ipperwash protest have revealed racist phrases used in regard to Aboriginal people. Cf. <http://www.ipperwashinquiry.ca/index.html>. The website does not, however, give access to the tapes.

80  Afua COOPER, Memories Have Tongue, op.cit., 73.

81  Cf. Lynne TEATHER, “Transforming Museum Studies: Educating Museologists for Cultural Diversity”,<http://www.city.ac.uk/ictop/teather-2001.html>.

82  “Canadian Multiculturalism Act,” in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.),  op.cit., 371.

83  Himani BANNERJI, “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of ‘Canada’,” op.cit., 104.

84  Canadian Multiculturalism Act, in Linda HUTCHEON and Marion RICHMOND (Eds.), op.cit., 369.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Kerstin Knopf, « “Oh Canada”: reflections of multiculturalism in the poetry of canadian women dub artists », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. III - n°2 | 2005, 78-111.

Référence électronique

Kerstin Knopf, « “Oh Canada”: reflections of multiculturalism in the poetry of canadian women dub artists », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. III - n°2 | 2005, mis en ligne le 27 octobre 2009, consulté le 22 octobre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2562 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.2562

Haut de page

Auteur

Kerstin Knopf

(Greifswald, Germany)
Kerstin Knopf holds an M.A. in American/Canadian, Hispanic and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Greifswald in Germany. She studied also in Pomona, Los Angeles (USA), Regina (Canada), and Gothenburg (Sweden). She received her Ph.D. from Greifswald University with the dissertation Decolonizing the Lens of Power. A Study of Indigenous Films in North America. Kerstin Knopf has worked for the International Office and is now assistant professor to the Chair of North American Studies at the University of Greifswald. Her main research interests are Indigenous literature, film, and media as well as Canadian 19th century women’s literature.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • OpenEdition Journals