This week’s column offers three responses to Farmer Nappy’s Hookin’ Meh 2019 soca hit that is taking the carnival season by storm. Hinds’ article appeared in Barbados Today on February 1st, and Hosein’s column was carried in the Trinidad Guardian on February 12th. We carry both, along with an introductory comment by Roberta Clarke. Roberta Clarke is a human rights and social justice activist. Marsha Hinds is a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, public relations officer of the Barbados National Organization of Women. Gabrielle Hosein is a Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, and also writes a column in Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.
Part I – Roberta Clarke
The 2019 soca song by Farmer Nappy, ‘Hookin Meh’, has caused a stir for those who are unable to ignore the messages embedded in so much of Caribbean music. Soca music is dominated by men, both front and back of mic and stage. And a particular view of women’s instrumentality to men’s happiness – all carnal, whether on the dance floor, bed or in the kitchen – is a dominant theme. There is little popular soca that is romantic, evoking a kind, tender, giving, sensual love and enjoyment between people whatever their gender identity and sexual orientation.
Instead, we are treated, annually, to a diet of limited words and meanings- jump, wave, wine, bumper, rollback, possession, and also a recurring fantasy of the man who can jam all night long.
We feminists want to resist this music but can find it hard when sexism comes wrapped up in irrepressible rhythms. Soca is quintessentially happy music. And so we move to the melody or powerful rhythm, singing chorus and verse, and staving off that left brain which wants to do social analysis. It’s like Johnny King sang in ‘Wet Me Down’:
Seriousness does make me guilty
The message is I don’t care
When I drinking Vat, Whiskey and Beer
Trinidadian mas makers intend to free up at carnival time. To free up, the body and mind have to be in consonance- the mind should be kind of empty to allow the body to flow to all the vibes. When the mind reasserts itself and is engaged outside the rhythm, it can be hard to enjoy a lot of soca – for its gender stereotyping, for the limits of lyrical and intellectual content and for the narrow scope of themes.
And so once again, we are frustrated that soca is not capturing the changes in gender relations for which feminists are working. Farmer Nappy’s hit is about a man refusing to accept the end of a relationship, begging and putting the responsibility on the woman to explain how she could be so good for him yet not want him.
Marsha Hinds Layne finds the song evocative of unequal power relations. It speaks to some men’s impulse to control women, to resist taking no for an answer. It promotes an insistent intrusion on women’s autonomy. She has some support. But others wonder what the fuss is about. After all, when one party wants to call it a day and the other does not want that, begging back, refusing to go, is a predictable first response.
In time for Valentine’s Day, Gabrielle Hosein questions Farmer Nappy’s incomprehension with his partner’s decision. Instead of telling her how good she is for him, should he not be telling her how good he is for her? How is he present to be an equal partner? Does he share the tasks of the household? Is he an engaged father and an attentive partner? And how come he was unable to pick up clues that his wife had had enough of him? Why is he so dotish, in other words?
Both writers raise questions that we must address in promoting healthy, emotionally intelligent relationships between boys and girls, women and men. The feminist saying that ‘the personal is political’ means that all individual choices and actions have meaning and contribute in ways, major and minor, to cultural norms and power structures. We will never be able to transform social relations in politics, in the workplace, in faith institutions, on the sports field or in communities, if intimate and familial relationships between women and men remain unreconstructed with men taking for granted and taking advantage of women’s work and bodies.
Popular culture matters. That is what both Marsha and Gabrielle are articulating. Let’s engage with that instead of telling them, ‘steupps, your timing off. Iz just a song. You too serious!’
I was thinking about all of that as I was swept up with the crowd singing along with the fantastic Renegades steelband rendition of Hooking Meh:
“You pack all meh clothes in a garbage bag
Baby don’t do me that, you go break my heart’.
Part II – Marsha Hinds
Sometimes – scratch sometimes – advocacy in the women’s and girls’ space is always lonely, painstaking and melancholy work. The frustrations are many; there are people who seem to thrive on perpetually misunderstanding and misrepresenting what women are fighting for. Most disappointing and confusing of all though, are the women who remain deeply invested in patriarchy.
Trinidad Carnival is gearing up and the music sweet as ever. One song has struck a chord with me though, and it is not for good reasons. Farmer Nappy has a tune called ‘Hookin Meh’ that is to be added right up there with some of the more problematic songs in the various Caribbean genres of music.
I think the most dangerous thing about the song is that it is neither ‘Ragga Ragga’ nor bashment. The sound is a mellow, methodical, sweet soca but the lyrics make a mockery of women’s right to safely negotiate the end of a relationship and to have the power of a ‘done’.
The song is penned as a rejoinder to his girlfriend who has invited Nappy to her house for one last meal where she announces that she no longer feels able to carry on their relationship. Nappy informs the woman that due to the way she cooked and looked he was already hooked on her and he was not going to let her go.
The song glorifies possessive and obsessive tendencies in men and confuses them with markers of love. We have been trying to teach women that possessiveness and obsessiveness in relationships are warning signs of toxic unions and this behaviour should not be tolerated or encouraged.
Past the lyrics, there are also some alarming and, in my mind, insensitive images in the video to the song. Machel Montano brands the woman a trophy in response to an image that Nappy sends of her. This reinforces the objectification of women and diminishes her worth as anything other than an appendage that is to look pretty and not cause her owner any stress.
What looks to be the male child of the couple portrayed is present through some of the ‘adult’ conversations in the video. He is also pictured dragging the father’s bags back in when his mother puts them out. Again, the suggestion that the child gets between the father and mother and upholds his father’s wishes is problematic. The child is portrayed as an upholder of the toxic masculine traits of obsession and possession. He is ‘another generation of man in training’.
In a cruel and memory triggering scene for many victims of attacks and families who have lost loved ones, Nappy is seen next to the woman he vows not to be leaving carrying out a task with a knife. Those of us who work with victims of intimate partner unrest know that men are very good at manipulating objects such as knives, or guns, or other implements while threatening their victims covertly or overtly. The scene in the video is downright reckless and insensitive.
One of the scenes in the video portrays Nappy’s inability to have a mature discussion when his partner indicates that she wishes to end the relationship. Men are not to have or express emotions and it is often that inability to adequately deal with problems that arise that leave men feeling as though harming and blaming others for their actions is acceptable. Nappy concludes that relationships are stress – again removing responsibility from himself and placing it on the woman who ‘hooked’ him.
Perhaps I would not feel so dejected explaining these things over and over if it were only men we still needed to educate. However, Farmer Nappy’s manager is female. It really makes me wonder if our work to teach women relationship red flags and problematic behaviour is strategic and intensive enough.
Worse, when we put our stamp of approval on those songs as women by grinding to them in fetes, we defeat our purpose and send confusing messages to our men. I think that at the rate that women are being killed and maimed across these islands we can no longer simply condone such songs.
Part III – Gabrielle Hosein
In his 2005 hit tune ‘Ah Hook,’ Blackie sings about how he and his lady living nice. In the video, he’s washing and hanging panties on the line, ironing clothes, giving her exaggerated amounts of money for cinema, and hugging her all about town.
The aproned depiction of washing and ironing represents a man publicly losing his manhood in the eyes of other men. Tricked by sweat rice, Blackie tells other men that this isn’t their business. Men say he’s a chupidee, and a mook, but he doesn’t care. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to make his lady happy. He’s so hooked, his feet (and shoelaces) are literally tied and he is unable to leave.
Without having to resort to sweat rice and tied shoelaces, I want a man hooked like that. More importantly, I want him to hook me.
I imagine if he’s looking and cooking the way he does, if he is smart and knows how to spend, and is so good about looking after the children, he could hook me back. He’ll know a hard-working woman wants a man to share, not just the costs, but also the labour and care that goes into everyday living. Relationships require more than love and lyrics alone.
I want to be hooked because he sees how I’m feeling, asks me questions and listens so he could try to understand. In his eyes, I’m more one-and-only than mere trophy, and his daily inspiration to become a better man.
He’s hooked me through his commitment to giving whatever it takes to the life we are building. He knows apology comes with accountability, and can be trusted to make promises that don’t end in a garbage bin. Because he wants to grow on his own from his, and our, mistakes, he keeps hooking me in.
Relationships are hard, but things don’t mash up just so. He’ll think for himself about all that I’m feeling so if I’ve decided to leave him, he’ll look into my heart, right where it needs mending, and see how he was taking his woman for granted from long, long ago. He takes responsibility for his choices and his reliance on our relationship inequalities. He knows not to beg to come back without a plan. He won’t force to me to have to be so strong that I say no to yet another chance.
I want a man hooked enough to step up and honest enough to step back because being hooked is not enough, and he knows that a woman needs no reason to leave other than that she wants to go. Ending a family is never an easy decision, but a woman can’t stay when she feels better on her own.
Blackie might have been a mook, but he’s not the one put out in the road. It’s not about being unable to leave. It’s about making it worthwhile for someone to stay. It’s about respecting when she’s done with less than she’s worth, and becoming better or walking away. It’s about self-reflecting as a man without relying on a woman to justify and explain. What is remorse if it doesn’t heal hurts? What value is sweet talk if things remain the same?
Without putting panties in a pot to sweat rice, what does it take for him to pay attention to what’s happening before it all falls apart? I could do without the begging. Where’s the man who can hook me everyday with his loving? He’s washing and looking after the children, and we are a partnership with connection and communication where my needs and emotions matter too. Anything else is too lonely and even children suffer in this story while he’s on the pavement without a clue.
While Kenneth Salick still wondering why Radica left him alone, like a dog without a bone, Farmer Nappy can’t believe the bridges his woman is burning despite his love so true. These songs of men’s heart-break show incomprehension about how women experience men and why they eventually leave them. They show insufficient attention to how and why to keep hooking her so two of you could live nice. Maybe, Blackie could give them some advice.