“Women, too, are universal.” – A Conversation with Jacqueline Bishop & Jamaica Creates

Ashly Cork
March 8, 2021

Cover Page of ‘The Gift of Music and Song’ by Jacqueline Bishop

AC: Jacqueline, it’s lovely to meet you and thank you for taking the time to talk with me. So, I want to talk about your most recent publication, ‘The Gift of Music and Song’ which, of course, is a compilation of interviews you’ve done over the years with Jamaican women writers. I really enjoyed getting to hear the backstory of these writers and getting a little sneak peek into what inspires them not just in their daily life but what inspires them in their literature. So my first question is, in the midst of issues facing women locally and globally, such as gender-based violence, abortion dialogues, the #MeToo Movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement – and all these things happening within the broader context of this global pandemic – why do you think it was important to create this book and highlight the experience and work of Jamaican women writers?

JB: Well firstly, I want to thank you Ashly for having me on your programme. I think that the work that you’re doing is very important and I want to salute you for doing this, one Jamaican woman to another. I think you might be slightly, slightly.. just ever so slightly younger than me [laughs] and so it fills my heart with a great deal of joy and love to see a younger generation doing the work that you’re doing so thank you.

AC: Thank you.

JB: I think that all the movements that you named and touched upon, one way or another, intersect the lives of women. Certainly Black Lives Matter intersect our lives and calls to the movement of #SayHerName, definitely the #MeToo Movement. All these issues and movements move through and impact the lives of women and I think that in one way or another the women that are in The Gift of Music and Song speak to, speak through, and speak about these movements. So, even when they do not name them as such, they’re speaking about the issues that generate these movements. I believe one of the main issues that Jamaica and certainly Jamaican women face is the whole issue of misogyny; and misogyny takes various forms – the numbers of girls and women in Jamaica being impacted by violence, you know, at the hands of men and at the hands of other women. We are very good at touting the female managers and whatnot that the island has produced – and we should rightfully tout that – but violence, misogyny, sexism and the willingness to uphold males who uphold those behaviours and to promote males that are doing whatever behaviour impacts directly on women’s lives and all the women in the book talked about this.

AC: In this book you make reference to how “submerged women’s voices actually are in Caribbean Literature.” It is interesting the common thread of migration and that definition of ‘home’ when you were speaking to these writers of which many are a part of the diaspora. Do you think in compiling these stories of these writers within the diaspora you’re sending a message that to be taken seriously as a woman writer in the Caribbean you must leave to another country? And what would you say to women writers, or writers in general, who may feel discouraged by that? 

JB: I think it’s a very important dialogue to have, whether to have a life as a writer you need to leave [laughs]. You know, to have a life as any kind of artist you need to leave Jamaica. I think that’s a critical and important dialogue to have. And I know of writers who have decided to stay and there is also a dialogue to be had with how do they then make their lives in Jamaica as people who’ve decided to stay. Your question brings up several issues, a multitude of issues but I want to talk about two or three of them because I know we don’t have all day to talk.
One is that I would hope that it doesn’t discourage anyone but it leads to more conversations like you and I are having about why it is that so many women writers feel the need to leave, right? Why is it that more of us do not feel supported enough on the island to stay? I would hope that it brings up discussions as to then what would be needed to support those of us who decide to stay. I would hope that it brings up discussions about the relationship between us who have decided to leave and those of us who have decided to stay. And by that I mean the book, in so many ways, is a collaboration between a writer who decided to leave (myself) and a writer who decided to stay (Sharon Leach) and this book would not be in existence were it not for the work of Sharon Leach, who is the editor of the Bookends section in the Jamaica Observer in Kingston. She made a space for all these women’s voices and continues to make a space for these women’s voices; we start a new series this Sunday with Curdella Forbes, and we will be doing it all throughout this month. So, there are ways in which both groups can anchor each other and have productive conversations. But yes, this is more of a dialogue that we need to have.

AC: It is very clear that many of these women writers have inspired each other as well as have been an inspiration to you. Do you find yourself more drawn to engaging in Caribbean Literature written by women as opposed to men? And if yes or no, why?

JB: Absolutely! I am more drawn to Caribbean literature written by women without question [laughs]. In fact, I am more drawn to literature written by women period, not just Caribbean women. But I have to say that I came to literature… I think I was just born a writer, I think it was something that was always within me. I think before writers publish their first thing they know. They know inside of them… they have an urge, a feeling inside of them… They know. But once you begin to put those marks on the paper, one of the main ways of growing and being and becoming as a writer is looking around the world and seeing who are my people who have done this before? And who are my models? You consciously or unconsciously begin to seek for models. I don’t think your model has to be a Caribbean writer or a Jamaican writer if you’re Jamaican or Caribbean, but I think it helps to bolster you if you know you’re not the first or the only. It did help enormously that there was a Lorna Goodison, for example. It meant everything to me… And just to have people writing about streets that I knew and using sayings that I knew. I oftentimes say my audience is my grandmother and my great grandmother hearing a discussion. You know like, they’d hear me and you talking, Ashly, and they can understand every word… They are my audience, right? And so to get to the place where you feel confident enough as a writer to write for them to understand, it helped enormously that Hazel Campbell existed and did the work that she did.

AC: One of the chapters in your book is called ‘Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves’  and in a climate where people are deeply seeking to self identify, particularly when it comes to notions of gender, what do you think your book has to offer to men or even gender non-conforming individuals?

JB: In the same ways that women were expected and didn’t slip in high school in reading Shakespeare and be expected to get all sorts of things from Shakespeare and from Walcott and from Brathwaite – men can get enormous things from this book and from reading these women as well and that’s what I’ll say to that. There is a stance that, “oh we have to think about the men’s feelings here, and whatnot,” but we don’t think about that when it comes to women reading male writers, right? Male writers, they have achieved, it seems, a kind of universality that “women have not”… Bullshit. I cry bullshit to that. Women, too, are universal. Right? So if you want good writing, if you want good interviews, if you want all of that, women can provide it as well. So male writers will get the exact same things and male readers will get the exact same things here that they would get from any good book.

AC: My last question is, what advice do you have to give aspiring women writers in Jamaica and the Caribbean today?

JB: I would say to them, “Write and write and write and write! The future depends on you writing. There cannot be too much of us or too many of us. Don’t buy that story. We need your voices. We need your story. The future depends on you writing.” We only, each of us, have a finite number of time here on this earth, and so each generation will bring forth, hopefully, new writers. So I want every woman writer, every young female in Jamaica who wants to write… to write! This only adds to the complexity, the abundance, the generosity of the Jamaican story. This frees us, I want the young writers to hear me very very clearly… This frees us to tell our individual story. The worst thing that can happen is one or two voices predominate, this is a terrible terrible situation… So we need more writers from Jamaica. We need more women writers from Jamaica, we don’t need less. 

AC: I love that, thank you.

Jacqueline Bishop is a writer, visual artist, photographer and professor. Her other publications include My Mother Who is Me (2006), The River’s Song: A Novel (2007) and The Gymnast and Other Positions: Stories, Essays and Interviews (2015)

Defying the Barriers of the ‘Genre’- An Interview with Tessellated and FRIDAY NIGHT CRU

Ashly Cork
July 31, 2019

Left: Tessellated
Right: FRIDAY NIGHT CRU (L-R: KinDah & Dash D)

Defying the Barriers of the ‘Genre’ : An Interview with Tessellated and FRIDAY NIGHT CRU

It is human nature for us to place all aspects of our lives into categories. Philosophical theory dating to ancient philosophers Aristotle and Plato in 300. B.C. speak to ways in which humans categorise to make their lives more simple. But does this really make life more simple, or does it create limitations on the vast possibilities that exist, particularly for parts of life like the arts? Taking musical genres as an example, consider the ways in which music and musicians themselves, are influenced by various genres, and thus many modern day artists are not able to seamlessly fit into the categories that genres characterise. 

Jamaica has gifted the world six unique genres of music since the 20th Century, the only country to do so. These genres are: Ska, Mento, Rocksteady, Reggae, Dancehall and Dub. Currently, the most popular genres in today’s Jamaica are Reggae and Dancehall, with Dub having a huge influence on international music (such as EDM), but not necessarily the same level of popularity in its home country. In 2015, as a testament to this immense level of creative production, Kingston, Jamaica was declared a UNESCO Creative City of Music.

I sat down with two of Jamaica’s next generation of artists, Tessellated and FRIDAY NIGHT CRU (a duo), to discuss the idea of genres, and how they, as artists, do not particularly think their music really adheres to the distinctions of any one genre, and specifically, not any one of Jamaica’s indigenous genres.

Dancehall and Reggae, Jamaica’s Genres

To further this discussion we must start from the drawing board. The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term ‘genre’ as, “a category of artistic, musical or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form or content.” These characteristics form the checklist that is used either informally or formally (for music charts such as Billboard) to group music together based on these similarities.

According to blogger Rueben Raman (no date), a defining factor of the Reggae genre is the use of the “4/4 meter with heavy emphasis on the backbeat… The average tempo of a Reggae tune ranges between 80-110 BPM (beats per minute). Most Reggae songs have the bass upfront in the mix with low subs…” Dancehall, on the other hand, is characterised by the “pumping lower frequencies of the Reggae bass line” (Julian Henriques, 2011: xxi). 

As it relates to the content (themes of the music), Reggae music is heavily influenced by the Rastafari movement, therefore the focus tends to be around consciousness, Black empowerment, anti-establishment, marijuana, love and overall positivity, to summarize the themes. Dancehall, on the other hand is characterised by, as Prof. Donna Hope (2011) stated as “the six G’s”: gun, gyal, ghetto, gays, ganja and God. As you can see, many of these themes overlap giving rise to the initial situation of blurred lines.

The Next Generation of Jamaican Musicians- Who are Tessellated and FRIDAY NIGHT CRU?

To help tell this story I’d like to introduce my readers to Tessellated and FRIDAY NIGHT CRU; two Jamaican music acts that have sought to make music that goes against the mainstream notion we may have for what “Jamaican music” sounds like.

Tessellated, whom many of us may have met before from his massive hit, Pine and Ginger (2017) which has racked up an astounding over 5 million views on Youtube, hails from Kingston, Jamaica. In June, 2019, Tessellated’s song I Learned Some Jazz Today was scouted by Apple Music and used in their commercial for the new Apple AirPods. Tessellated’s sound is very unique, using parts of Dancehall, Reggae, Jazz and many more influences.

Image of Tessellated Photographed by Joshua Solas

FRIDAY NIGHT CRU is a Jamaican duo, friends Dash D and KinDah. Both of these men also representing Kingston, Jamaica. An upcoming musical act with growing traction on the social media stage, FRIDAY NIGHT CRU’s single Monáe has racked up just under 3,000 views since the music video was released last year. They had their first taste of live performance at this summer’s Fi Di Culture Live. The duo’s sound resembles RnB, Rap and Hip-Hop.

FRIDAY NIGHT CRU Image Taken by Dacx Photography
Artwork for FRIDAY NIGHT CRU’s Single Monae done by Joshua Solas

What these two have in common is the ways in which they’ve sought to represent Jamaica, but not solely represent Dancehall and Reggae. Neither of them would choose one genre as the embodiment of their music, and our discussion sought to get more in depth with the notion of genres and the expectations Jamaicans have for their locally grown acts.

Expectations as Jamaican Musical Artists: 

When you think about the term “Jamaican Musician”, for most of us, we already have a preconceived notion of what that sounds like and most likely this fits into one of the six indigenous genres listed above. So, because there already exists this notion it further stems an expectation, a box we ourselves have created based on what this idea represents in our heads.

This does not in any way mean that Jamaicans only listen to Jamaican music. Actually, this is extremely far from the truth. It has been reported that the Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (JACAP), a collecting society in charge of distribution of royalties, pays more of its royalties to overseas entities than local creators due to a saturation of foreign music being played on the Jamaican radio stations. In 2015, 85% of JACAP’s royalties were paid overseas. (The Jamaica Star, April 23, 2017). 

KinDah of FRIDAY NIGHY CRU lamented on this notion saying, “I feel like although Dancehall and Reggae are more prominent here, most people you talk to are listening to American artists… When we think about going to a Jamaican concert we think about which Dancehall or Reggae artist is on, even though day to day we’re listening to American music…” In the position of assuming some Jamaicans have an aversion to hearing their own making the similar music they listen to day to day, KinDah continued by saying. “… it’s kind of strange when it’s not as accepted in a way but I think we’re becoming more open to other styles of music; and that’s through like social media as well.”

Tessellated, on the other hand, thinks that it’s our assumptions that have limited us, even from the creators’ perspective. He says, “one big part of it is that people don’t give people enough credit for what they may or may not be open to. So there’s this mentality in Jamaica, especially with the music industry, that Jamaicans only want Dancehall or Reggae; so people only give them Dancehall and Reggae! … With the Internet and just the generation we’re in, people listen to music from all over so people are actually open to a Jamaican artist doing different things, it’s just not really presented to them. But a lot of people, once they actually hear it, once they’re exposed to this new type of music or this ‘fusion’, they love it ‘cause it’s music, it’s good music.”

Another important point that came up, with the interjection of Odessa Chambers, a member of Tessellated’s management team and a media personality herself, was that Jamaicans have never had an issue consuming international music or music outside of the Jamaican genres, it is just that this is expected to be produced by international acts, not Jamaican ones. Why are we putting limitations on our artists?

Stepping Away From the Normative ‘Genre’ Labels

Upon asking these gentlemen the simple question of, “what genre would you classify your music as?”, I did not really get much of a solid answer, as I anticipated. “Genre is not a thing nowadays to be honest…. You don’t think for example, ‘Tessellated is doing Dancehall’, you think, ‘Tessellated is doing music’” Dash D proclaimed, with his music partner adding, “… we just make music, whatever comes, comes.”

The idea of moving away from using genres to define music isn’t simply because we want to move away from placing restrictions on artists, the idea is the restrictions are really not there when you consider it, every artist is influenced by many different kinds of art and thus whatever they produce is a by-product of all their influences. Every kind of music, and genre in itself is built off of something else, Dancehall is an influence of Reggae and Rap; Reggae is influenced by Rocksteady and Ska; Hip-Hop is even influenced by Reggae. Every genre that is created is a ‘fusion’ of some other form of music. 

Of his music, Tessellated stated, “growing up in Jamaica, obviously I have the root of Dancehall/Reggae, but then my music tastes are obviously wider than that too. So everything I do, it starts with the foundation of the Jamaican music and then it’s embellished with things from all over the world.” Most, if not all, artists, even outside of music, will relate to this statement, we do not exist and create in a bubble. “There are very few artists that don’t mix [genres] at all,” KinDah stated and Dash D joked, “We don’t do boxes!”

How Do We Encourage Moving Away from the Limitations Placed by Expectations and Categorisations?

When we sought to discuss what the solutions are for this change of mindset and for the reception of their music, but also for the encouragement of other artists to not limit themselves, FRIDAY NIGHT CRU And Tessellated referred to this stride as “a movement”, one they are proud to be a part of. They acknowledged both the time it takes for mindsets to change, and the numbers required for a movement to be noticed, it doesn’t take one or two artists, more artists need to be unafraid to give their audiences something new, something unexpected.

They acknowledged the importance of the creation of platforms for these types of artists, outside of social media. Most concerts and stage-shows are very Dancehall and Reggae centred, and the audiences at these events are not expecting to hear anything that deviates too far from this. Events like Fi Di Culture Live (in Kingston) and Asura and Friends (in Montego Bay) offer a stage for next generation artists, and particularly allow those who divert from the mainstream to have a space to present themselves to a live audience. 

FRIDAY NIGHT CRU spoke to the ways in which the opportunity of performing live had provided them with a transitional space between the Internet and real life. “When you put out a song it’s like numbers and comments, but you don’t get to actually see it in person,” KinDah stated. For them, performing in person was a way to connect with the crowd and show their personality to the people who don’t get a chance to interact with them outside of behind the music.

“The movement is being made in the music and in the streets… but when you have.. event(s) like this, the movement is kind of pushed into something more. Having these events are a part of the history of everything, it’s one thing when people are actually listening to music but it’s another thing when they’re actually paying to come out their house and attend an event,” Tessellated described to which Dash D agreed saying, “well said, sir.”

Genres are important when you think of numbers and data, for example streaming data, categories for award shows, popularity and productivity of music types. So in no way is this argument suggesting to completely eliminate genres, as it’s addition and productivity to the music industry is instrumental. However, the push is to not place artists in boxes of expectations which seek to limit their creativity, as it is next to impossible for a music creation to not be influenced or have traces of several types of music.

I’ll close this by quoting the ever philosophical Tessellated who proclaimed, “the basic jobs/ doctors, lawyers, those things are what society needs to run but they aren’t the things that people live for. People live for the culture, people live for the music, people live for the arts.. that’s the things that people live for, that’s where the love is.” 

Let us not place our artists in boxes, let us not be afraid or skeptical by our artists stepping away from our Jamaican culture, let us continue to encourage and support the immense creativity that will continue to be produced from our little (but HUGE) nation.

Check out some highlights from the performances of both Friday Night Cru & Tessellated Below:

FRIDAY NIGHT CRU Performing at Fi Di Culture Live 2019:


Tessellated performing at Sumfest 2019:


Keep up with their upcoming projects by following their Instagrams: @tessvibe and @fridaynightcru