Is “Rowlee Mudda Count” racist? Good question. The double entendre political commentary from Nermal “Massive” Gosine has been sparking intense discussion across social media and real life. As a political commentary it falls on the soft side; it leans heavily on the crudeness of the double meaning. Rowley, having acquitted himself terribly in some recent PR gaffes, deserved some more potent lyrical body blows. I woulda lend a hand.
As a matter of fact, few have any problem with the song’s content per se. In the context of Calypso picong it’s far from savage. In my opinion it scores 8.5/10 on the offensive scale with 1 being Chucky, 9 being Sugar Aloes and 10 being Cro Cro. The video however, is a completely different story.
Perhaps realising that the song itself doesn’t have enough sting to cause a true commotion, Massive decided to hire an actress to depict Rowley’s mother for the video. The character portrayed is decked in some interesting regalia – she has on what appears to be black face complete with exaggerated physical attributes consistent with what I guess was imagined to be the build of a prototypical elderly Tobagonian woman. And not long after the video release, the backlash was instant and relentless.
Most significantly, Massive has been barred from entering the 2018 Chutney Soca Monarch. In a recent update he actually paid his fee and entered and stated that he will take legal action if the barring is upheld (I don’t blame him tbh). The PNM Women’s League, not exactly the most objective group involved, was one of the first to strongly criticize “Rowlee Mudda Count” but mainly for sexism. Several other promoters and radio stations have reportedly vowed to not support the song either. So is “Rowlee Mudda Count” racist? Let’s analyze.
I myself honestly didn’t really take on the song until recently. What interested me is that the majority of the backlash from online commentators is concerning the “blackface” element of the video in particular. Blackface has a long and uncomfortable racist history in the US. In T+T, it isn’t that big of an issue because the majority of the country is ‘black’. Still we largely avoid depicting other races theatrically.
I think the blackface is problematic because of the stereotypical way in which a black woman was presented. I didn’t feel offended watching the video but I’m not surprised that many were. I also pondered about the reaction if an old indian woman was portrayed in a similar stereotypical light. Or if it was an old Syrian woman (I’m totally ignorant to this stereotype tbh). And also what would it mean for the country if this were to become a trend? Not sure but I believe it would be negative.
Even more problematic, or maybe most, Rowley’s mother is not alive. And she is being resurrected in the video as a fruit and vegetable counting stereotype. Maybe she really was a market vendor while she was alive. But maybe she was a doctor. Either way, attacking someone who isn’t your main target and isn’t even alive to protect herself is indefensible.
Main takeaway, if you’re going to hit someone, leave family and children out of it. From the audio alone, it was understood that any reference to Rowley’s mother was fictional and only a device to set up the tongue in cheek chorus. But actually portraying someone’s mother in the video with assumed look and mannerisms crosses the line.
RACISM IN CALYPSO
The video is not without defenders though. Most of them fall in the category of revenge – they believe (African) calypsonians have been racist for years with their target often being the Indian community. I have heard from many people that a lot of Indian people stopped attending tents because of this. And they see “Rowlee Mudda Count” as being able to give African people a taste of their own medicine.
This is something existing calypsonians will have to look at. I don’t have recent examples but there have been calypsoes in the past that I felt crossed the line and have made me uncomfortable. And yes the Indian community has been the brunt of offensive even racist calypsoes in the past. But that is still no excuse for a video that goes in on someone’s mom. At best, both are examples of crossing the line and both should be discouraged.
That being said, I feel a little more sympathetic for the video when I place myself in Massive’s shoes as an artiste. Had I wrote this song, how would I have promoted it? What video would I have shot instead? If you don’t show “Rowlee’s Mudda”, you’re essentially removing the song’s core appeal. And what about some of the calypsoes of old like “Oma Account Big” by Rootsman? If those songs had videos chances are they would have been just as offensive.
I don’t know Massive, but I don’t think he was trying to be racist. I think like any artiste he was trying to generate as much publicity for his song as possible. Let’s face it, in this day and age, controversy sells. And he hoped to ‘count’ dollars from now till February. An unenviable position yes but is he deserving of a pass? I still say no.
“Rowlee Mudda Count” is not a racist song. It’s a somewhat offensive song. It curses the Prime Minister on de lows (though he prob deserves it). As far as calypsoes go, I doubt it would make the top 20 offensive list.
As a video, it negatively depicts Rowley’s moms in blackface.
Did Massive mean to be racist? No.
Is the video racist? Yes, slightly.
Why? Because it depicts Rowley’s mom as a caricature in blackface featuring many racial and cultural stereotypes. Even if Massive didn’t aim to be racist the outcome was as such.
But let me add to it. I don’t believe we should crucify Massive. This discussion is good. Him owning up to the problematic aspects of the video would be great. Do I wish him much success? Yes.
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