Features — 05 March 2009 — by Evan Mose Hyde
I have unbridled admiration and respect for the Jamaican culture and its various accomplishments, primarily its greatest contribution to mankind: the sweet reggae music which has rocked the planet for the last five decades. My affection doesn’t stop there, however, as I also have quite an affinity for its culinary delights. In fact, very often I make it my business to devour some of my mouthwatering favourites at “Jewboy’s Restaurant”, such as curry goat and jerk chicken at the Farmer’s Market. What befuddles me and causes me great concern is what appears to be the wholesale Jamaican accent transplant that has been performed by so many of the young rapping talent, radio disc jockeys and sound system mic men.
The rappers have always struggled with this affliction, trying to sound like a watered down Buju Banton. However, when it actually occurred I am not sure, but the Belizean airwaves have started to sound like a Tony Matterhon mix tape on steroids. Reggae music has always been an influence and conduit for slangs and popular phrases from the island’s vernacular—terms such as “big up” , “bun fire” and “lick shot”, to name a few. However, this type of language cross pollination is universal and longstanding. It must be admitted that Belizeans seem to have a special talent for accent mimicry. Everyone I am sure knows the family member or friend who spends two weeks in Los Angeles and comes back home speaking like a born and bred Crenshaw native. It seems to come naturally, as if though our accent is a recessive gene—only in its own accompaniment can it exert its flavor, but in contact with another it surrenders its attributes.
For the record, I am extremely fond of the Belizean accent. There are those amongst us who make it sound like a flowing river, twisting and turning with flow and power. I think of someone like the well-known politician Michael Finnegan, whose three to four-hour budget presentations— when divorced from the Queen’s English—is a thing of amazing rhythmical beauty, showcasing the full majesty of our way of speaking and our vocabulary seasoning.
To my young brothers, I say, it’s obvious you have all been gifted with great instruments for voices; feel confident that you sound more colourful and natural when you weave your spoken fabric with the threads that have been nurtured here in Belize for generations—threads that have been dyed by generations of a unique mixing of cultures and tongues. We can enjoy Jamaican culture without surrendering our own. No ackee and saltfish for me. Weh mi rice and beans deh?