Tanya Stephens and the Power of Music to Transform Society
Sound Culture Series
- Published: November 2020
Rough Riding: Tanya Stephens and the Power of Music to Transform Society is a groundbreaking collection of articles that explore the contribution of the cultural worker, feminist organic intellectual, and controversial reggae and dancehall artiste Tanya Stephens. An accomplished lyricist on par with the genre’s celebrated male performers, Stephens has been producing socially conscious and transformative music that is associated with revolutionary reggae music of the 1970s and 1980s. The contributors to this anthology – a diverse group of scholars, activists and reggae professionals – explore the range of ideas and issues raised in Stephens’s extensive body of work and examine the important role cultural workers play in inspiring shifts in consciousness and, ultimately, the social order.
Contributors: Tanya Batson-Savage, Elsa Calliard-Burton, Karen Carpenter, Melville Cooke, Ajamu Nangwaya, Adwoa Ntozake Onuora, Alpha Obika, Anna Kasafi Perkins, Nicole Plummer, Chazelle Rhoden, Sara Suliman
Foreword: Dancehall Culture Upsetting Delicate Sensibilities vii
Preface: Be Bold for Change: On Violence against Women and Girls ix
VIVIENNE ( TANYA STEPHENS) STEPHENSON
Prologue: Rough Riding: Tanya Stephens
and the Power of Music to Transform Society 1
ADWOA NTOZAKE ONUORA, ANNA KASAFI PERKINS AND AJAMU NANGWAYA
Part 1: Who Is Tanya?
1 Tanya Stephens as a Black Feminist Organic Intellectual of Dancehall and Reggae 23
2 The Tenderness of Tanya, Vulnerability of Vivienne: Reassessing Dancehall’s Ruff Rider 49
3 The Gangsta as Feminist in the Lyrics of Tanya Stephens 64
Part 2: “Still #1 with a #2 Pencil”: Producing and Disseminating Knowledge
4 “The Sound of My Tears”: Tanya Stephens and the Meanings of Crying 79
ANNA KASAFI PERKINS
5 Tanya Stephens as Apostle of Critical Literacy 93
ADWOA NTOZAKE ONUORA AND AJAMU NANGWAYA
6 “Yuh Cyaan Hangle di Ride”: Tanya Stephens’s Critique of Societal Inefficiency 113
7 The Call to Resistance: The Weaponization of Language in the Music of Tanya Stephens 127
Part 3: “Put It on You”: Tanya Stephens’s Erotic Playbook
8 A Lyrical Juxtaposition of Tanya Stephens and Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez 155
9 Collision of RastafarI and the Erotic in the Work of Tanya Stephens 179
10 “It’s a Pity Yuh Already Ave a Wife”: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Tanya Stephens’s Civilized Man-Sharing 208
11 Power and the Construction of the Erotic 221
Epilogue: “A Bunch of Righteous Freaks”: Tanya, God, Christians and the Bible 243
ANNA KASAFI PERKINS
- Int'l Book Awards, Finalist, Performing Arts
Be Bold for Change: On Violence against Women and Girls*
V I V I E N N E ( TA N YA S T E PH E N S) S T E PH E N S O N
BEING BOLD MEANS BEING WILLING TO TAKE A RISK , a willingness to exceed set limits, even the limits which were set by us. This boldness can be a big action, challenging us to step outside of our own personal space, and enter the space of others. One example from US history is a black woman who brazenly sat at the front of the bus in a time of racial segregation. A more recent example closer to home was demonstrated by a “spunky woman” who impulsively used a tambourine to impact an unapologetic “alleged” sex offender, giving the Tambourine Army its name.
Most of us would not even dream of being that bold! That’s okay. We don’t all have to be bold in the same way. Those acts are necessary catalysts in every revolution. But of equal importance is the bold action which needs to follow. For some of us being bold will mean allowing others to be bold without our interference or even simply acknowledging and appreciating the potency of our sisters’ works. On that note, let me pause to acknowledge a sister who last year pioneered this spot from which I speak and has made her position very clear in this revolution. I extend my gratitude and appreciation to my sister Imani Duncan-Price. Women like her, Latoya Nugent, Nadeen Spence and Taitu Heron inspire and motivate me every day to push harder, to breach boundaries, to get up out of retirement and pick up back weapon because this is war. And, if dem
*Speech delivered at the Women’s Empowerment for Change Ltd (WE-Change) annual #HerLegacy International Women’s Day event in March 2017. The event was hosted as part of the Tambourine Army’s activism in support of victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. want war, you know wi a go deal wid di case cause mi have piece a sopn weh mi keep pon mi waist! Identify your weapon and back it. This is war.
Not everyone will understand what you’re doing. Neither will everyone agree with your methods or expression. Some people will just be uninterested, while some will even be offended. Don’t you allow that to faze you. When you know what you are doing and you can see clearly the path leading from your actions to the solutions you seek, do not break your momentum to explain anything to anyone who isn’t instrumental to the process. Some people work for applause and awards, but your perseverance depends on those who work for results. People with good intentions will advise you to aim at building a fan base. Thank them graciously and continue building your momentum. Don’t waste time worrying about who and who get big up and who breaking bread. You waah break bread wid dem? I much prefer a rich, moist, gooey chocolate cake anyway. So let us allow them to break bread while we continue to break the chains that bind us. When it comes down to it, we really are not here to impress each other. We are here to effect change. The speeches we need to worry about are the ones which inadvertently reinforce a dangerous present. The speeches we need to worry about are the ones that subliminally blame and muzzle victims or survivors of violence and abuse. We need to frame our statements so that they remain aligned with our intentions.
As a survivor of gender-based violence, I do not appreciate even the slightest suggestion that improving on my resume could possibly have prevented attacks on my person. Education, independence, and safety are not interchangeable words. When we speak, people don’t hear our intentions, they hear what we say. So, we must make sure to say what we have to say in the way we mean. Let us be responsible enough to know when to simply be supportive. Do not try to silence a victim; a survivor. Especially when they are identifying their attackers. People who are lucky enough to enjoy the freedom of speech purchased by the spilt blood of our ancestors should never allow themselves to get so lax, so cocky, and so arrogant, that they fail to appreciate the luxury of it.
We are going to have to operate by a higher standard than we demand from men. The truth is, we can demand more from men than we women demand of each other. But this will only undermine our credibility and return results which defeat our purpose. Hence it is time we start loving us, start being more aware of what we do to us, even unwittingly. Because continuing on the same old path is not an option. Continuing to live by the archaic superficial and demeaning models for women set by chauvinists is no longer an option. It is not conducive to the safety and well-being of women today. And, as we progress and seek more for our offspring, it will be even less acceptable for the women of the future.
Today we have to upset delicate sensibilities, because the time for being petite in our proceedings has passed. Occasionally, we will have to rip some fabric. It is not sustainable for us to stand under machine gun fire while we maintain composure and worry about [our] image. The only images we should be concerned about are the images of mutilated bodies of women and children being displayed on the nightly news, images of crimes and crime scenes being circulated all over social media, the desensitization of our population to the wholesale verbal, psychological, physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse of our women and girls, with fear silencing too many of us. Those are the images we need to worry about. Stop fixating on preserving the integrity of the language of our ancestors’ enslavers. Understand that our speech reflects our passion and is nuanced to impact those at whom our communication is aimed. Communication is about getting your point across. And, effective communication means getting your point aligned with your intention.
Some of us have allowed ourselves to become outmoded in this new era of media and communication, presiding pompously over a dying kingdom. Mrs Bucket and all of your friends, we love you. But I have news for you! The new breed of advocates that I am proud to call my family are not about finding ways to survive in this hostile environment. We are not about maintaining the tradition of suffering in silence while we wait for the prayers to kick in. We are not about preserving the image created for us by those who offend and oppress us. We are not about the family portrait with the paedophile patriarch resting his hands triumphantly on his victims’ shoulders. Dat naa hang pon fi wi wall! We are not about treading lightly. We will not allow ourselves to be content with patiently chipping away inches of rubble while our oppressors are laying rows of brick and building new and even more intrusive walls. We do not limit ourselves to your methods and neither do we limit you to ours. We respect your immense potential and we want to combine our varied efforts. But please, stop trying to bring us “back into the fold”. We prefer to be bold! The times we are living in [demand] it.