I could not say a half-assed goodbye to this meme of gluteus maximus acrobatics which at its best is funny and at its worst, a dizzying cellulite assault on the eyes. During the MTV Music Awards, it was given the coup de grand by Miley Cyrus. Now that a former Disney princess has been there done that, twerking is officially over. I must confess that I will not miss it when it goes the way of the Lambada and Macarena among other misappropriated cultural amputees. Sorry twerkers!
That said, I cannot cast the first stone at anyone who feels compelled to shake their rear end. My waistline also has a mind of its own whenever soca, chutney, Orisha drums, Indian tassa or any tribal music is playing. Even good old-fashioned soul, stanky funk and Mick Fleetwood's drum work in Tusk gets my mid-section going. I am a true Trini at heart.
But twerking in my humble opinion is just a very silly answer to the call of the drum. It's the equivalent of a posterior raspberry a la Jim Carey. It's one body part, muscle-isolated to the degree of caricature, devoid of context, save that of the Champagne room. It added nothing of worth to the greater pop culture ragout. How could it? It was like adding plain capsaicin to a stew instead of the whole freshly chopped, fragrant and spicy chilies.
Somehow, we need to resolve as a society that if we are going to add flavor from another culture/subculture let's try to understand and appreciate the original context of its use before exploiting it. How else can we create something wonderful from it?
When I listen to Madness and The Clash, I can tell they were genuinely in love with reggae and its deeper consciousness. Paul Simon's Graceland and George Harrison's passion for the sitar are other examples. I've got nothing but mad love for 311 and one of my favorite bands is Orange Sky, a local rock band mixing Trini rhythms with heavy metal and reggae with mind-meltingly good results. Their cover of the Scorpions' Is There Anybody There is fricken awesome. And they are that good live too.
What I am talking about is the difference between Vanilla Ice and Eminem. It's why no R&B lover can question Adele is a true soul-sister and no opera lover could question Jessye Norman's operatic heart. It's the reason Miley Cyrus' twerking is questioned but the skills of these Norwegian ladies are not.
Urban Tribe (and all the party-hunting Millennials from Scandaniva and Japan who have discovered Trinidad's vibration), have fully embraced the spirit of the thing. I will now attempt to explain what the spirit of "wining" (gyrating) to the drum is.
First of all, there is no denying there is something pagan, tribal and primitive about perfectly timed, sensual movement to percussive sound. If your culture is one where thighs, loins, hips and derrieres are uninhibited and respond automatically to the call of the drum it means you or your ancestors somehow escaped total sexual demolition by some prudish imperial power. Tribal dances in Africa,The South Pacific and India reflect societies that were not inspired by Leviticus, virgin male Gods and celibate priests but instead, virile, sex-positive Gods and Goddesses.
Trinidadian soca artiste Bunji Garlin expresses in his song "Savage" how we appear to outsiders observing our festivals.
N.B. (For those who click the link- the word "stush" is Trini slang for "highfalutin". What "anti-stush" should now be clear to you).
The hidden irony of course is that this pagan, "savage" behavior is inherent in every Trini whether black, white, Indian, Chinese, Syrian, Amerindian and every combination thereof. Our shared culture transcends race and class. Everyone wines, from Miss Universe to the female Head of State to nice Catholic school-girls from "good" families to their school teachers to the actual ole ho in a rum shop (bar). This may be confusing and culture shocking to foreigners but most Trinis who wine in public consider themselves to be respectable, decent, God-fearing, spiritual people. Sensuality is not synonymous with being low class, evil or immoral. All save strict Muslims, charismatic Catholics and members of the various American derived Protestant sects; JWs, Mormons, Pentecostals and Seven Day Adventists etc. partake heartily of the "wining and jamming" culture. Yes, even the old grannies and grandpas.
I was fortunate enough to witness a Maticoor or Lawah Night, which is part of an Indian wedding tradition. The Maticoor Night, is for women only. There would be off-color jokes and recounting of former romances. The old aunts and grandmothers would gather with the young women and the bride and rice would be roasted as an offering and the drums would begin. Then these old aunts and grandmothers would start to dance. As the night goes on, it would go from mildly eyebrow raising to downright scandalous.
What was the point of all this? This was one of the traditional ways of teaching the young bride how to please her husband in bed.
Many cultures around the world placed a high value on practicing love-making skills as essential to spiritual and marital bliss. The older men instructed the younger men and the older women instructed the younger women, through dance among other things. Then at tribal dances men and women would get together and show off their skills. Yes, men were expected to dance too, not just sit lazily watching, with a stupid look on their face, as women "shook it" for them.
The USA had a brief moment when men sensually showing off their skills was considered rock n roll and bad-ass. Now it has been labeled "gigolo-ish" and "gay." Why? I'm still wondering about that. Feel free to share your theories in the Comments Section. All I know is the ladies strongly disagree that it makes someone less of a man, as if their ear-drum splitting screams during Magic Mike aren't enough of a clue.
One constant theme in Trinidadian music is the male artists commanding the women to wine and the female soca artists challenging the men right back to deliver a strong, coherent and complimentary "reply".
Wining is sexual. *Duh* But only at its most rudimentary level.
It can also be a pure expression of euphoria. I've been at fetes(parties) where everyone gets possessed by the same escalating vibe and perfect strangers will just begin wining on each other. Think of it as a mosh pit of colliding bums and groins instead of limbs, craniums and torsos. It's a lot less violent and comes with natural cushioning. Nothing beats spotting a friend you have not seen in ages, in your Carnival band and springing a "wining surprise" on them. I should mention wining comes with its own etiquette that you should get right before you participate with friends or strangers.
Rotation of the lower body can also be spiritual. I remember playing Carnival with Peter Minshall's band's presentation of M2K, in 2000. Anyone who knows Minshall's mas (masquerade band with costumes, music, food and drink) knows participating means getting into the real spirit of the thing. He had the Lavantille Rhythm Section in his band and me and my friends were dancing in the road for hours behind the spirited percussionists, losing ourselves to the slow, rolling rhythm. Then, somewhere on Ariapita Avenue, the band picked up the tempo and there was some major Kundalini uncoiling. Other women immediately joined, some old enough to be my mother, every color and hue, stush and anti-stush. A circle formed all by itself and each woman took a turn inside, dancing with almost superhuman power. We were all feeling the same superlatively wonderful thing. It was a connection to something higher, bigger, deeper, wider, a kind of beautiful "transcendence" that was happening.
Want to know the best part? The men instinctively kept a respectful distance. They knew this was not a sexual invitation. So, on behalf of all native Hawaiian hula dancers, Tahitian dancers, Indian Bhangra dancers, belly dancers, samba dancers, Zulu dancers, "Take that twerking! Goodbye! And don't let the door hit you on the way out."