‘Jamaicanisms’ ‘Germanized’ by VW – How Cool is that?

Marcia Forbes PhD

Published Date: 

February 2, 2013

Keeping Abreast via Tweets

I noticed excited tweets about Jimmy Cliff’s music being featured in a Volkswagen (VW) ad for Super Bowl 2013. Tweeps seemed genuinely impressed with this recognition of Jimmy and of Reggae music, one of Jamaica’s indigenous music forms. Later I noticed a few tweets about how cool it was to hear the ‘Germanization’ of the Jamaican accent in a video take-off of the VW ad.
Then came a tweet from @anniepaul, cosigned by @JanziB. They wondered about my “missing voice” from the cybersphere and wanted to know my thoughts regarding the VW ad. Going about laying my loving Aunt and surrogate Mother, Muriel Maud McLaverty- Ho-Yen, in her final resting place in Orlando, Florida, I had no time to check YouTube to see the ad. Having only seen some tweets, I had no thoughts to satisfy my tweetrines’ curiosity.

A Potpourri of Jamaican Accents

Aunty’s funeral was attended by over 50 family members who flew in from various and sundry places, including the UK, Canada, USA and Caribbean. When we congregated it reminded me of being at a United Nations’ meeting. There were Blacks, Chinese, Whites, Indians and a variety of Mixed-Races. We came in a blend of shades. Whether it was at the ‘Wake’, the ‘Viewing’, the Funeral, Burial, Repast or the full-fledged Reggae Party which followed everything, there was a potpourri of Jamaican accents.
Aunty had taught over 20 of us as children in preparation for sitting the Common Entrance Examinations, a prerequisite for ‘high school’ education in Jamaica. Her husband, Oscar Ho-Yen, was full Chinese and she a ‘mulatto’, with a white father and black mother. Children from both sides of the family made Craighton, Irish Town, St Andrew their home for varying lengths of time. For almost 20 years Aunty served as Principal of the All-Age School there.  Most of the ‘children’ migrated and over the decades blended their Jamaican accents with those of their adopted countries.

The VW Ad

Being back in Jamaica on February 1st finally allowed me time to watch the VW ad. Seeing people of different races talking with Jamaican accents in the ad seemed normal and natural enough. After all, that’s exactly how it was at the various events hosted for Aunty. When Jamaicans blend their accents with those from elsewhere, one never knows how we’ll sound. Listen to former sprint Queen, Merlene Ottey.
I easily identified with the broad-faced Chinese man (a description written with much love) in the VW ad. He could pass for Aunty and Uncle’s first son, Donovan. The lead talent, Erik Nicolaisen (who @corvedacosta copted for an exclusive interview - great going Corve), looks a lot like a slimmer version of their second son, Brian. That’s how it is with mixed-marriages in Jamaica, and elsewhere. You never know how the children will look.

Nationalism, Race & Colour

Donovan and Brian may not be immediately identifiable as Jamaicans by those unfamiliar with this island and its multi-racial mix, recognized in its national motto, “Out of Many One People”. The brothers can talk very Jamaican if they choose to, as too they can don the ‘American accent’ of their adopted country. But they know and claim their ‘Jamaicanness’ – their national identity. In fact Donovan, a former US Navy Officer, revels in it. They also know and claim their Blackness. Both brothers were married to Black Americans.
As @anniepaul, originally from India but now fully Jamaican noted of the comments pertaining to the VW ad, “it’s fascinating to me. To Jamaicans this ad is about Jamaicanness, in the Diaspora this is about Blackness.” While @brooklyn_soul10 found the ad hilarious, she saw it as “stereotyping us as goons.” Her ‘us’ may have been in reference to Jamaicans or to Blacks. Based on her Twitter name, I suspect it’s the latter. As a Black Jamaican, my views are different from hers.

Media & Audiences

I will refrain from commenting on statements by the US media and focus on how we Jamaicans view the ad. We are not offended by it. Quite the opposite, as voiced by the Minister of Tourism in Jamaica, Wickham McNeil, who wants to partner with VW. The Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, also expressed support for the ad. The Governing Party and the Opposition are agreed that the VW ad is good for Jamaica. Recently they have not agreed on too many things.
To me the motivation and intent of the ad was to play on an accent and a country regarded as ‘waaay cool’. After all, Jamaica was voted among the coolest countries of the world as well as among the happiest (despite our dire economic straits). We are a resilient people. Did I not mention the Reggae Party after Aunty’s burial? Family and friends congregated at her house and led by one of the full Chinese nephews at the ‘turn table’ (really a computer), we jammed to the sounds of old-time Reggae.
The VW ad is doing what it was designed to do – grab our attention (it has gone viral) and generate a great deal of talk (cursory online search turned up several hits with discussions by US news entities). These are precursors to VW sales, no doubt. My very first car, given to me by Uncle, was a blue VW bug. I loved him and I loved my bug. By the way I love Germany too, where, during my 2003 visit, I saw many flashes on black, green and gold, colours of the Jamaican flag, on the streets, courtesy of Puma.

Get Happy

Driven by the VW ad, @cucumberjuice, @stannyha and @kelster engaged in comedic repartee on Twitter. They bastardized the German language while having a whale of a time. As Cucumberjuice tweeted, “Bwahahahaha, also das ist gut…deutsch ist ein gute sprach zu lernen.” Following Jimmy Cliff’s call to action on behalf of VW to, “Come on, Come on, Get Happy”, they did just that. Let’s all lighten up and get happy. Aunty was good at that and I learnt well from her. “Reespec Boss Man”