My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding

Counting down to the big day

Fake Patwa

on May 2, 2012

Shortly after I wrote the last post Making Patois Official, I began to think of this song by New York-based hip hop group, Das Racist.

Das Racist- looks like a hipster band to me

Depicted in a low budget, vintage-style video footage of a dance show, Fake Patois is a song about just that.  Fake Patois in popular culture.  As convincing as their lyrics sound, imagine how dooped I felt when I learned that none of the members of Das Racist is Jamaican.  Two members are of Indian decent and the other is Afro-Cuban and Italian.  Das Racist could be Jamaican.  Indians have lived in Jamaica for generations arriving as indentured workers post-slavery in the 1800s.  In Cuba, Jamaicans have worked as labourers (including my great grandmother).  There were also Cuban schools in Jamaica for several years.  Hence Das Racist “fake patois”-ed through this song.  Which after some evaluation, I realized that it is not so difficult for non-Jamaicans to learn Patois especially if they live in urban cosmopolitan centres of North America and England.  Jamaicans have resided in New York for more than 100 years creating a huge cultural influence.  In fact, there is a Jamaica in Queens in New York City.  Something is going to rub off.

So I decided to dedicate this post to bad examples of “fake patois” spoken in popular media.

11 Examples of Fake Patwa in Popular Media

1. Miss E. Elliott in Need You Bad by Jazmine Sullivan

This has got to be some of the worst patois in any song.  C’mon Miss E share the spotlight.  The patois rap is terrible. You’re a big time producer.  Why didn’t you pay female MC like Blakka Diamond or Queen Ifrika or get a special appearance by Shelly Thunder or even Lady Saw to do that part?  You could have still sold a lot of records doing what you do best– producing albums, rapping, and finding new talent.  I love this song however especially in the bass-heavy reggae sections of the song.

Miss E. Elliot, knows de fake patois

2. The Simpsons

There are a number of examples in which “Ja-fake-ans” and patois make an appearance on the Simpsons.  This one was my favourite and I was remarkably impressed with Homer’s attempt at Rastafarian English phrases.

Ras Homer

3. “Informer” by Snow

This 1990s classic was a huge hit first in Canada and then in the US, Europe, and even Jamaica.  Darrin Kenneth O’Brien, better known as Snow, broke out on the scene with this tune about a situation turned bad.  With a catchy tune and smooth lyrical flow, if you listen closely you will realize that there are some patois phrases in this song more of the “watered down”-variety that you will often find in Toronto and many a neighbourhood.  This variety of patois is spoken by everybody, Jamaican and non-Jamaican alike.

4. “Baby Girl” by Nelly Furtado

What’s up with us Canadians?  We do get a heavy dose of our fake patois up here in the north.  I immediately loved Nelly Furtado when I heard “I’m Like A Bird”.  I’m talking Nelly Furtado pre-the Timbaland makeover.  When I bought the CD, I was impressed with her attempt at a dancehall-flavoured tune called Baby Girl.  The verbal scatting that she sings at different intervals in this song sounds reggae-ish.  Then there was her hit Turn Off the Light which became a bit of a hit up here in Canada.  And then guess who Nelly re-recorded this tune with?  None other than Miss E. Elliott.

Nelly Furtado- before the Timbaland treatment, either way she still sounds good

5.  Futurama

Matt Groening must love Jamaicans.  Besides Homer, there is this animated Ja”fake”an named Hermes Conrad.  Hermes is an accountant, bureaucrat, and retired 2980 Olympic limbo champion complete with an authentic steel-pan playing Trinidadian wife.  (At least, she really sounds Trinidadian.)

Hermes Conrad

Here’s a clip.

6.  Dave Chappelle in Half Baked

This Ja”fake”an is one of Dave Chappelle’s characters in this 1998 stoner comedy is Mr. Nice Guy but he can’t fool Samson Simpson, played by Clarence William III.

Dave Chappelle

7.   Ms. Cleo

This American television psychic tried to capitalize on “claiming she was from Jamaica” with her infomercials in which she proclaimed, “Call me now!”  What is her accent?  American or Jamaican or Jamerican.  Regardless, her ad provided plenty of fodder for 1990s comedy spoofs.

8.  The Cosby Show

If you were a die-hard fan of the Cosby Show like I was, you would never forget this scene in which Denise (Lisa Bonet) and her boyfriend are singing along to a reggae song.  Only they are not singing the words of the song.  They are singing fake patois “a me say ‘eh mon'”.

Here’s the actual song by Black Uhuru:

9. Calabria

I love this song but it is not sung by a Jamaican but a Danish woman.  The song is called Calabria by Enur featuring Natasja.  The late Natasja was a winner of international dancehall competitions in Jamaica.  Unfortunately she died in a car crash 2007 on a Jamaican highway.

The stunning Natassja Saad- loved and lived the music of Jamaica

I won’t call her lyrics exactly fake patois since she is really good considering that her mother tongue is not English but Danish.  There is a burgeoning dancehall community in Scandinavia.  Named after a reggione italiana (I’m glad I’m able to use my five years of Italian studies), to me, Calabria is a very European music video in its lack of Black- or Jamaican-looking representation instead White actors/dancers/supermodels are used other than Natassja Saad who has both Danish and Sudanese ancestries.  Also there is a non-chalance about the use of semi-nudity and gyrating female forms that I find slightly irritating.  I say slightly because I also think the video is well done.   (Flash: There’s a crotch, there are rotating hips, there are synchronized half nude women in hoodies, a tennis player stroking a racket, model washing a car, and who can miss the ‘camel toe’.)  This video does not apologize for this lewdness and they are not subtle in their sexual suggestions or objectifying the female form.  If this were a North American video, I am sure there would be at least one Parent Advisory label flashed across the screen in the first few seconds.  On the other hand, dancehall and some other types of Jamaican music have a long history of acceptable lewdness otherwise known as “slackness.”  In dancehall culture it is okay for women to dress in revealing clothes and dance in sexually suggestive ways.  To the unknowing eye, they may consider that degrading to women yet to those in dancehall culture, it is often considered empowering to women.  What are your thoughts?

10. Russell Peters impersonation of Jamaicans

Canadian-born comic Russell Peters gets a free pass.  Although he is of Anglo-Indian ancestry, he grew up in Brampton, Ontario with Jamaicans.  He wanted to be Jamaican and began to speak patois.

The following clips contain some Jamaican profanities and coarse language.  Viewers’ discretion is advised.

Russell Peters- in the Flesh

Russell Peters does different his Jamaican accent here.  You can hear the difference between the Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Guyanese accents.

I saw Russell Peters perform about 12 years ago but he wasn’t that funny (or maybe we were a tough audience.)  Watching him on video, I must admit that he’s so much funnier now.

11. Gabourey Siddibey in Tower Heist

Adam told me about this one and man is this accent awful.  After her success as Precious in the feature film with the same name, she has made cameo appearances in films and television shows.

Gabourey Sidibe- stealing a scene

Here is the scene with Gabourey.  Besides the terrible accent, her character is a bit stereotypical but I guess who would give up a scene with blockbuster actor, Eddie Murphy.

Gabourey Sidibe stealing the scene

Runners Up:

1. Cookie Monster

Okay, okay!  Maybe he does not speak patois but I thought the way he put “me” at the start of every sentence was very Jamaican.

2. Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid

What a parody!  Is this accent Jamaican, Trinidadian, or some sort of watered down Caribbean mish mash?

3. Dexter Poindexter in Hot Hot Hot

Ugh!  I hate this song.

4. The Headley’s in In Living Color

This sketch was hilarious to me in the 1990s.  I could so relate to this family.

5.  All of the movie Cool Runnings

In 1993, Disney came out with this movie about Jamaica’s first bobsled team.  I think Malik Yoba’s Jamaican pep talk sounded more authentic than any other character in the film.  (I saw Malik Yoba last  summer hanging out at the Harbourfront in Toronto.)  I think he has some Jamaican ancestry which explains why he actually sounds convincing.  Set in Calgary, the late Canadian comedian John Candy playing the coach, the movie is filled with blind optimism and such a “feel good” family vibe.

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