Research Seminar Series

TB1 2023/24


1. Jaspal Naveel Singh (Open University): Appropriations of Jamaican Patwa Lexemes in the Speech of Indian and British Reggae Artists
Monday 9 October.

Reggae music, when it is played, performed and celebrated globally, brings Jamaican styles of speaking and singing into contact with local languages and dialects. In such linguistic contact zones, reggae musicians and audiences appropriate Jamaican language features (e.g. elements of its phonology, lexis, morphosyntax, orthography) to create unique translingual practices and to renegotiate global language ideologies connected to histories of colonialism, race, class and gender. In this paper, I will present an analysis of appropriations of Jamaican Patwa words (lexemes) among Indian and British reggae artists as they engage in musical and DJ performances, and when they speak on their social media video posts.  

This analysis is part of a larger research project that investigates what I call Global Patwa. I use the term ‘Global Patwa’ as a shorthand to refer to social evaluations of a contact register in which Jamaican-inflected Englishes are appropriated in musical-linguistic performances by non-Jamaican reggae artists and audiences. The project is also interested in studying the sociocultural effects of such linguistic appropriations and the resulting negotiations of histories of colonialism, language and race. While Jamaican Patwa (also called Jamaican Creole) has a particular racialised and classed history in Jamaica (e.g. Farquharson 2007), Global Patwa can create new types of racialisations and social meanings wherever it is taken up and used, as demonstrated in sociolinguistic research conducted in Nigeria (Gaudio 2011), Vanuatu (Levisen 2016) or on the internet (Moll 2015). In my project, I take a comparative view and study the differences and similarities between raciolinguistic negotiations of Global Patwa in India, in Germany and in the UK; three national contexts with different but related colonial histories and experiences with Black migration.  

In this paper, I focus on a selection of Indian and British reggae artists’ appropriations of Jamaican lexis. Using remote ethnography (Postill 2017), I will show how lexical items emblematic of Jamaican Patwa are appropriated by Indian and British reggae musicians to index their affiliation to a global reggae culture and to create linguistic distance to Indian English and British English respectively, thereby constructing unique global identities for themselves. Appropriated lexical items include discourse markers such as seen, right, big up or mash up di place, spiritual terminology such as foundation, blessings, yes-I, and overstandings such as downpress or politricks (see also Slade 2018). During DJ performances, Indian and British artists frequently use ‘selektah talk’ to comment on the tunes they play and animate their audiences, e.g. hear dis massive, big tune, run de dub, pull up, version. Oftentimes, these non-Jamaican reggae artists also pronounce these lexemes in a distinctive way, using approximations of Jamaican language phonology and intonation. Thus, it is not merely the semantic meaning of Jamaican lexical items, but also their proximity to Jamaican pronunciations that make appropriations meaningful in Global Patwa performances.  

Appropriation usually refers to the use or misuse of cultural and linguistic elements and practices of a historically marginalised group by a socially privileged group. My analysis aims to develop a specifically sociolinguistic understanding of appropriation. I first show that appropriation allows for an important empirical access to study translingual and transracial processes across the postcolonial world. Secondly, my research aims to clarify if and how appropriation – as it appears in the ethnographic reality of a global reggae performance – is connected to the well-known sociolinguistic concept of appropriateness (to context). The objective of this inquiry is to understand how global reggae artists and audiences recognise and negotiate which forms of Global Patwa are (in)appropriate to the micro context of the performance as well as to the macro context of postcolonial histories, migration and (mediatised) experiences with Blackness.  

Wine and snacks.

Humanities Building, The Research Space (first floor, room 1.H020).

2. Workshop with artist Oshii and Cleo Lake: The Art of Liberation: Before and After the Bristol Bus Boycott
Tuesday 17th October, ​3pm – 5pm.

Join us for a workshop of thinking and making, as we join Bristol-based artist Oshii and Cleo Lake in working through the intersections of art and activism before and after the Bristol Bus Boycott. This workshop is convened in collaboration with the History of Art Department.

Arts Complex, Lecture Theatre 2.

3. Inka Rantakallio (University of Helsinki and University of Bristol Visiting Fellow): Translating Hip Hop Feminism: Identifying Norms and Intersecting Identities in Finnish Rap Music
Monday 23th October, ​4pm – 6pm.

Hip hop feminism’ was first coined by US journalist and scholar Joan Morgan in 1999 in her ground-breaking book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist. She created a remix of Black feminism that openly interrogates the contradictions of being a Black woman and a feminist who loves hip hop and who also critiques the masculine, often sexist culture. Since then, several generations of hip hop feminists have continued to theorize the roles and lived experiences of Black women and women of colour, queer people and other minoritized groups in hip hop. In this presentation, I argue that these critical perspectives can be applied to various hip hop scenes if we remain mindful of the contextual shift and critically analyse how societal power structures such as normative whiteness shape hip hop.

This presentation discusses contemporary feminist women rappers in Finland and how they talk about their intersecting identities vis-à-vis perceived norms in Finnish and global rap music. During its 40-year-long history, Finnish rap has been dominated by middle-class white men; this differentiates Finland from many European countries where largely working-class communities of colour have been central to the development of local rap scenes. In recent years, however, more and more rappers of colour, women, and LGBTQ+ artists have entered the Finnish scene, challenging the white heterosexual male norm. The presentation is based on the ongoing project “Women rappers in Finland – The multimodal construction of hip hop feminism, gender, race, and whiteness” (Research Council of Finland, 2021–24). 

Humanities Building, The Research Space (first floor, room 1.H020).

4. Oshii and Cleo Lake: The Art of Liberation: Political Art and Allyship Autumn Art Lecture and Exhibition Launch                                Thursday 9th November, 6.30pm – 8pm

Join us for a conversation with Cleo Lake and Oshii around political art, allyship and the need for Black curators.  This event, held as a part of the 2023 Autumn Art Lectures series will also celebrate the launch of the exhibition The Art of Liberation : Before & After The Bristol Bus Boycott, which will be hosted by the Centre for Black Humanities from November 2023 – February 2024. 

Humanities Building, Lecture Theatre B.H05

5. Postgraduate Network Launch and Takeover Event
Monday  20th November, ​4pm – 6pm. 

Join us to celebrate the launch of our Black Humanities Postgraduate Network! This session will include some snapshots of current work being done by our PG community, time to discuss ideas, plans and directions for the Network and a chance to socialise and mingle.

Humanities Building, The Research Space (first floor, room 1.H020).

6. Artist Veronica Ryan in Conversation with Robert Leckie (Director, Spike Island): Autumn Art Lecture

Thursday 30 November, 6.30pm-8pm

A conversation between Turner Prize-winning artist Veronica Ryan and Spike Island Director Robert Leckie. They will discuss Ryan’s 2021 solo exhibition at Spike Island, Along a Spectrum, and its wider relevance to the artistic programme of this thriving arts centre. This event is held as a part of the 2023 Autumn Art Lecture Series.

Booking is required.

Spike Island, 133 Cumberland Road, BS1 6UX

All welcome!


 Seminar Series

TB2 2023/4

1. Simon Bright in conversation with Dr José Linga Nafafé, ‘The Untold Story of Southern African Cinema’

Monday 29 January, 5-7pm with a reception to follow

The session will begin with a screening of the film Corridors of Freedom (1987), followed by a discussion featuring Director Simon Bright and Dr José Linga Nafafé. 

Humanities Building, Lecture Theatre B.H05

2. Clive Nwonka (UCL) : Black Boys: The Aesthetics of British Urban Film

Wednesday 7 February, 3-5pm 

Prof Nwonka’s presentation “Black Boys: The Aesthetics of British Urban Film” will make the case for “a critical rethinking of the context of and aesthetic factors in the visual constructions of Black urban identity. 

Nwonka is Associate Professor with the Institute for Advanced Studyand The Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation at UCL. His new book Black Boys: The Social Aesthetics of British Urban Film (which was recently profiled in The Guardian). His past research includes critical investigations of diversity discourse in British creative industries and curation around issues of race for the ICA, BFI and Tate Modern. He is co-author of several books, including Black Film/British Cinema II (MIT 2021).

This seminar is convened in collaboration with the Department of Film and Television.

Richmond Building, Floor 5, Lecture Room 5.65

3. Dr Matthew Williams : Gospel Codes and Sacred-Secular Binaries

Tuesday 27 February, 4:30-6pm

For decades gospel music stylisation has been a significant influence on pop music. Artists from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé have acknowledged the centrality of gospel to their musical development. In the UK, performers from the Rolling Stones to Stormzy have drawn on the influence of gospel music. In this paper, Matthew will present concepts from his in-progress monograph (OUP) tentatively titled Gospel-Pop Crossovers. Through a concept he calls ‘gospel codes’, Matthew will examine elements of the gospel sound as heard in popular music. Despite the decreased commitment to organised religion in the UK, gospel stylisation continues to appear in popular music with its accompanying religious connotations. What (if anything) does this mean in a secular age? Matthew’s work explores this question.

Dr Matthew Williams joined the University of York in September 2022 as a Lecturer in Music at the School of Arts and Creative Technologies. He obtained his PhD in music from the University of Bristol. Matthew is interested in secularisation, popular music and religion; his current work utilises semiotics to examine meaning-making in gospel-pop crossovers. He is currently working on a monograph under contract with OUP related to his thesis topic.

This event is co-hosted with the Department of Music

Victoria Rooms, Victoria’s Room


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