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[Today is International Reggae Day, though I have decided to extend the celebration for a whole week – from Friday to Friday. As well, I have decided to devote the next few blogs to reggae/dancehall songs. There is no real rhyme or reason to my selections and I suspect some of these ramblings will in the end not even be about the songs. But these are songs that, for one reason or another, I’ve thought about more than once. I am letting you into those thoughts. Oh, and the warning that record companies give – today’s song has rather ‘Explicit Lyrics’. I quote them without censorship]

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My father loves to tell a story about the week when the General Consumption Tax was introduced in Jamaica. Interestingly, it was introduced in 1991, and on my birthday. Can you imagine – on the day that I turned 13, the Government decided to put a tax on all my forthcoming years. I am sure this was a premonition of something, but I’m not sure of what.

Anyhow – my father tells this story of going out to buy bread. There is a tradition in my family to have fresh bread on a Sunday morning. Even if a loaf of bread had already been open, the bread that we eat at the table on a Sunday morning has to be just bought. My father goes to Captain’s Bakery in Cross Roads late on a Saturday night to buy the bread. So he tells us this story of the week when the GCT had been introduced, and how a few customers at the baker were surprised by the hike in price, but none so much as two prostitutes. Even prostitutes need to buy bread! When it was explained to them that the rise in price was due to the new tax, one of them laughed riotously, held on to her pantyless crotches and declared – ‘Eh Eh! Look like we goi haffi put tax pon this too!’

Sometimes I wonder if Mr Ugly Man, Shabba – that fallen king of dancehall –  was also at Captain’s Bakery that night, because soon after he would come out with the song, ‘Gone up’. That 1991 hit includes the controversial lines, ‘Everyting a raise so gyal weh unu a do? Unu naah raise di price of unu pum-pum too?’ (Everything is on the rise so girls what will you do? Won’t you raise the price of your ‘services’ too?)

Well, after all! Pum-Pum has always been big business.

If Shabba Ranks has lost his crowns (he was both King of Dancehall, and briefly, King of Slackness), Lady Saw hasn’t really lost hers. She is still Queen of both. Shabba and Lady Saw even declared their dual holding of this monarchy when they collaborated on the song ‘Tight Pum-Pum’. In Pum-Pum economies, the tighter and stingier the pum-pum, the more valuable it is. Anyhow, Lady Saw’s claim to the slackness crown notwithstanding, my favourite song of hers, for a long long time, had actually been ‘What is Slackness?’ In it she was savvy to the fact that she was being made into society’s scapegoat and so she redefined this word slackness as it was being used in popular discourse. In the song she complains, ‘From me say ‘sex’ them want to jump down mi case/ but tek di beam outa yu eye before you chat inna mi face!’ She then tells the powers that be that ‘Slackness is when the road want to fix/ [and] Slackness is when Government break them pramise!’ According to Lady Saw then, what she is singing about is sex – pure and simple. What ‘Bruce on the Loose’ Eli Golding has been carrying on with in Government is the real slackness we ought to be protesting.

Point having been eloquently made, Lady Saw has gone on over the years to sing what I think are some of the most wonderfully provocative songs. Of all her songs the one I keep on returning to now is her 2004 hit ‘Pretty Pussy’ which returns us to the world of ‘Pum Pum economies’, if you can call it that, except this time Lady Saw is extolling the pricelessness rather than the price of the pum-pum.

You can read the lyrics and listen to it here, though I know not everyone can. You see, the song is so purposely outrageous, having the word ‘pussy’ in almost every single line, as if it was trying out for a Guinness Book World Record or something. But I love it! The two qualities I look for in any art – the qualities I think which are so often missing – are joy and a sense of fun. (This, by the way, is part of the reason I like my friend Tanya Shirley’s poetry so much, but that is a whole other blog. Big up Miss T).

Each time I listen to Lady Saw’s song, I find more that is clever and wonderful. But also, in that fit of surrealism into which some poets are prone to falling, I sometimes imagine my pet cat is the pretty pussy being sung about, and then I imagine her, in a ghetto fabulous outfit, with opposable thumbs, flashing her lighter. When Lady Saw declares, ‘You have de pretty pussy wid di cute Teddy-Bear’ I imagine my cat ‘walking out’  dancehall style because this is indeed her (see below).

It is worth saying that the lyrics of ‘Pretty Pussy’ as approved and published by Sony Records aren’t always the most accurate, and there is in fact a whole other essay I have begun to write which I am calling ‘The Untranslatable Caribbean’. It collects some of the more bizarre translations I have found in the subtitles of Caribbean films and TV shows. Translation of course is another form of exchange – another kind of economy, as it were – but when Lady Saw’s pretty pussy enters this particular marketplace it doesn’t come out very well. The approved and published lyrics of Pretty Pussy are full of head-scratching translations. For instance, there is the moment when Lady Saw is singing about the things that the Pretty Pussy has managed to achieve. Here is what she actually sings:

Your pretty pussy give yu new drop top

Your pretty pussy give yu house a Leas Flat

Your pretty pussy good! It give yu rolex watch!’

If you don’t know, Leas Flat is quite a nice area in Jamaica with large houses that overlook the city. Leas Flat has also had a personal resonance with me. It is where my grandparents lived. I think they would have been most put out however if they had ever found out that a neighbour had acquired her house through the pum-pum economy.

But the word ‘Leas Flat’ is lost in the published lyrics. The line instead is rendered as ‘Your pretty pussy get yu outa means flat’. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean.

The published lyrics go on:

You put ring pon de pussy

Bling pon de pussy

Man say it fat you get sting pon de pussy

Man a sing pon de pussy

Put trim pon de pussy

Man de a foreign want link pon de pussy

You have pure ina de pussy

It na blue ina de pussy

Man get mad bell fear ina de pussy

Well … that was going alright until the last three lines. What Lady Saw actually sings is, ‘You have GLUE inna de pussy/ it nuh blue inna de pussy/ Man get mad, BELLVUE inna de pussy’. What she does with Glue inna de pussy’ and ‘blue inna de pussy’ and then ‘bellvue inna de pussy’ is of course a fantastically complicated (and appropriate?) feminine rhyme that extends over all of six syllables. This is a very talented pum-pum whose poetic abilities are being lost in translation. Here is a pum-pum, the likes of which have never been sung before, and listening to it even today I wonder how people can dismiss it as mere slackness.

My very favourite line is also, unfortunately, garbled in translation. For what is clear in this new millennium is that a real premium pum-pum is not only valued for what it can get (a house at Leas Flat), or what it can give (presumably, pleasure), but what it in fact does NOT give! Yes, the premium, grade-A pum pum must be disease free. Lady Saw makes this point magnificently when she sings,

‘Your pretty pussy don’t mark KILL MAN THERE!’

But for some reason this comes out as the bizarrely nonchalant, ‘Your pretty pussy don’t mark here nor there’.

WTF??

Anyhow, Lady Saw’s ‘Pretty Pussy’ may not give diseases, but the song does keep on giving, and what more could you ask for in any economy.

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6 thoughts on “Pum-Pum Economies – Lady Saw’s 2004 ‘Pretty Pussy’

  1. To my understanding, PUM PUM ECONOMY simply means that in an economy that is in shamble where inflation is the order of the day, the price for the female genitalia is no exception.

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