The Mayjah Rayjah
It is harder to conjure words about ‘home.’ Home is the place I know most intimately. If I write about a new place, one I don’t yet appreciate the nuances of, and my writing washes away some of that nuance I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. It’s in the nature of writing to distort, and I’m fine with that, except that ‘home’ doesn’t deserve that distortion, or rather I don’t know how I feel knowing, so starkly, the difference between the reality of home and the stuff I see written on the page trying to reveal ‘home’ to me. And what about the people who would read ‘home’ but have never been? Sweet jesus they are gonna have nothing but the washed out gorges of my words. You poor things.
In Arizona, many bridges have signs which identify ‘washes’ that the bridges bridge. A wash, arroyo, or wadi, is a dry, desert ‘creek bed.’ The curious thing is, it doesn’t rain in Arizona. What is a wash if there’s no water? To Casey the visitor, these washes may merely be expensive pranks, names to ignore along with other useless signs dotting the road. My ignorance of the geological and meteorological happenings in Arizona grants me the luxury of ignoring.
Apparently there are seasonal downpours in Arizona and those downpours flood the desert terrain. Rainwater streams down hard-packed desert hills gaining speed as it reaches lowlands where all the rains from neighboring and similarly sloping hills meet and cause ‘washes.’ The washes flood the lowlands that the bridges bridge, washing sands, rocks, shrubs, and any debris it opts to pick up, downstream. So the washes are ignored as a desert prank by me just as whatever has grown or accumulated in these washes is ignored by the water that washes everything away with floodforce. These are travel writings.
The bridges maintain a distance between cars and riverbeds. To protect from the worst-case scenario that is car meets riverbed when river is flowing in riverbed. Cars and rivers don’t always get along well. But that is a worst-case scenario. Most times the bed is dry and someone could drive through wider washes and walk through narrower ones. Could explore them. Such explorations might even be profitable, because rivers aren’t super sentient and aren’t really motivated by profit margins and to them gold is just debris and they wash debris downstream. So if you know where and how to look, you could find gold in those washes. But if you don’t know to maintain an attention to detail, if you take only a cursory glance, if you just generalize and say that washes are practical jokes or dustbeds you won’t find that stuff that humans call “valuable” and rivers refer to as either “debris” or “gurglebsoshsshswooshgurgle.”
Travel writing is ‘they,’ is personal experience trumpeting to announce the reality of a place that the writer may only vaguely know. At its best it can be informative, inquisitive, revelatory. At its worst, it can be dismissive, reductive, ignorant. Writing about Maui, when I was born on O’ahu and raised on Maui from my first birthday onward, is a new and troubling endeavor. I worry that anything I say will be biased because it will be. I worry that it will tell too much, or not enough, that even in telling too much my writing will never be enough. There is a lot of Maui out there. There are heaps of humans, experiences, vantage points, realities. But all I can do is come from my experiences, using my words and my voice, and try to articulate some of this place that is so familiar and so foreign. It is quite possible that what I say will be from the perspective of a foreigner, because somehow, even after all these years, I still am one. My skin being proof of what Amiri Baraka once said: I can never be of this place because my skin brands me, at first glance, as someone who had been brought here.
While I wouldn’t dare be the wash that obfuscates the difference between being an ex-slave in America and a white person in Hawaii, I would dare to say that my skin starts a very specific conversation about me and within my self. Conversations, considerations, meditations of self wouldn’t be so complicated if I had been born to brown-er parents, be they hypothetically Hawaiian, Filipino, Brazilian, etc. Then I might look local to people who wondered, regardless of dress, speech, or any other markers I might deploy. But I look white and to people who wonder, that probably situates me among the ‘flew here’ referenced by the Hawaiian bumper sticker that reads: “I grew here you flew here.” The racism I experience, imagine myself to experience, have experienced and thus imagine to be continually experienced, is a difficult, remarkable, outrageous type of racism. I am never home. So that’s a little bit about my reality and what I might bring to an essay about Maui. And rather than go somewhere on Maui where white is pretty normal, I am going to Mayjah Rayjah. A reggae/jahwaiian music festival that is likely to be upwards of 90% non-white. Now, to be totally fair, I come to this festival not only as a white person, but as one that doesn’t necessarily like reggae. That distaste may stem from the idea that reggae is a ‘chill’ music which emphatically rejected me, even beat me up as a youth. Obviously it will be tough to go to this festival as anything other than an outsider, but I’m pretty fluent in pidgin, and we all know Shaggy, the concert’s headliner, so why not? I’m sure to find something I like.
So with that as preface, at 6pm (an hour after the concert ‘started’), my copilot slash co-criminal and I pull into the parking lot of Maui Community College, across from the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) where the concert was being held. Upon pulling in, we immediately see the ‘rules’ which accompanied the tickets being broken.
There are multiple tailgate parties occurring alongside Toyota truckbeds. The tailgaters are exclusively “skins.”
Skins is short for “brownskins” or “darkskins” and is a synonym for moke, all of which are terms used as opposites of “haole.” Haole means “without breath” and the legend goes that the term stems from the first meetings of Europeans and Hawaiians. The traditional Polynesian greeting is to touch faces, nose to nose, and exchange the “ha,” or sacred breath, and of course the Europeans arrived in Hawaii and tried to “shake hands,” not exchange “ha.” Thus, no breath, or, haole. So haole is a bit like saying foreigner, but is often used dismissively to refer to all whites. This usage effectively implies that all whites are ignorant of Hawaiian culture, are foreign. For a local “white” to refer to a “dark-skinned” local as merely “local” would be to self-impose an alien-ness. Skins, or mokes are thus terms used to refer to dark-skinned locals, as differentiated from the mass of ethnically diverse, ethnically mixed, locals. That way it is understood that there are “kama’aina” or “locals” running the gamut of the ethno-racial spectrum and further specificity can be lent to the physical description of a local at the same time that further specificity is leant to the residential status of the person being referred to.
Toyota is the official motor vehicle of Maui, so the presence of the trucks establishes the tailgaters as skins. Black/dark colors are the preferred colors at this event. I will be reminded of in various ways and at various times. I’m in a Honda CRV. It’s white. I’m already uncomfortable. Luckily the tints are dark on the white CRV. My copilot is concerned that we might not be able to drink the Jim Beam we brought. Or the beers. She’s a worrier. We pull into a stall in a distant corner of the parking lot, under the last row of awnings that provide afterthought covering for some parking stalls. We back in and starting with the row opposite us, the stalls become after-forgotten as evidenced by their lack of coverings. There are no cars next to us when we arrive, but a white, 4-door, 90’s-era Tacoma pulls in across from us immediately. At least it’s white? The backseat passenger gets out to eat his Jack-in-the-Box. Several stalls down from the white Tacoma there is another Tacoma, this one black, aughts-era, and two shirtless males stacked with muscles and tribal tattoos are leaning against it and talking between shots of Jack Daniels. One has a skateboard and is wearing a Schoolboy Q bucket hat. The shirtless pair know a dark-blue-aughts-Toyota full of ‘skins that arrived 5 stalls down from our CRV. At least it’s in the same row as us? The skateboarder now cruises between the two vehicles serving Jack and Coke by the mouthful to any interested ‘skinsociate. One of the occupants from our row brings out an unlit torch for fire-dancing and directly in front of our vehicle he hands it to the non-skateboarding shirtless bradda with the long curly hair pulled back under a black hat who also has jean shorts on. The bradda with hair pulled back begins to do a brief, impromptu, fire dance sans fire. After a minute of twirling and whirling he succumbs to his intoxication and drops the fire-free-torch. He and his friend shake hands and retreat to their respective Tacomas. I had forgotten that black shirt and jeans are the official ensemble of the Maui concert scene. I’m dressed improperly. But we will get to that.
While that transpires on our living windshield tv screen, inside our car the Jim Beam pint is running out of liquid. We open our beers. As we drink, a security golf-cart rolls past. They don’t bother anyone, in spite of all the rules being broken.
Copilot: “Do you think we’ll see a fight tonight?”
A car pulls up and parks two stalls to our left. It is a 60 something year old white couple. They pack a bowl and begin smoking weed in front of the security guards, who laugh. We laugh too, in our tinted whip. A pair of platform black Scott slippers is spotted. A throwback to high school from my perspective, but maybe they never went out of style. I’ve been gone for a while.
Copilot: “Do you think it’ll be women or men?”
Copilot: “Do you think we’ll see any women fight?”
To our right, a white Pontiac Grand Am pulls up. A 45year old white woman with blonde hair is driving. In the passenger seat is a white woman who looks like she could be the driver’s daughter. Meaning she is also blonde, is wearing glasses, and appears to be in her twenties. In the back seat is a long-haired blond creature. Looks like an 8-10 year old girl. There is a golden retriever in the back seat as well.
One fact from that last paragraph is false.
Across the aisle, the white Tacoma has been surrounded by people drinking Heinekens. Heineken has long been the official beer of Maui County. Things haven’t changed much since high-school it appears.
In the Pontiac, the child leans into the front seat as the two older women drink colorful liquors out of single-serve shot bottles. Then the women in the front break out a weed pipe and smoke while the child takes this opportunity to belly-button fondle. The girl eventually climbs out of the sunroof and becomes a boy in a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt. Not sure how I feel about Hpnotiq and weed being injested in the car with this little boy, but at least he has that new TMNT shirt. And his hair is longer than whichever of these women is his mom.
Copilot: “Do parents in Denver smoke weed in front of their kids?”
A white Ford E-150 pulls up next to us. The windows are tinted making the van opaque. I can no longer see the Tacoma 5 stalls down nor the old pair smoking weed. The van has caulking sealing the rear window, probably against leakage. The driver gets out and begins to change clothes for the concert. He could live in his van if he doesn’t. He could live there with this woman in the passenger seat who is now changing her clothes too, if they don’t already. Once he gets his clean shirt on he puts deodorant under his arms on the outside of his shirt.
Having finished our beers, we are ready to go. We get out of the car and join the caravan of humans moving towards the entrance. The combination of my intoxication with the still-day-lit reality of the scene, highlights, in my own mind at least, how ill-dressed I am. The Scott’s are still in style and edgy hasn’t reached Maui. As far as men’s outfits are concerned, it’s black shirts, jeans or jean shorts, black slippers or black or white shoes, and black or white hat or no hat. Accompanying chains and/or a watch are also allowed. I wore black pants, vaguely a no-no (at least they’re black?). I wore a button-down shirt with a collar. A no-no. It’s a green shirt. No-no. At least I wore a hat? It features a loud floral print. No-NO. I wore “grizzled chestnut” brown leather high-top sneakers. NO-NO. And we know I felt uncomfortable with my whiteness before I arrived. So now I’m white and wearing an outfit that says NOT FROM AROUND HERE. So that’s nice.
Gotta ignore that. Conviction. I’m chillin. Walking in as the sun dips behind the West Maui mountains. It’s a pretty setting for a concert. As we enter, I am slightly disoriented by the diverse sets of stimuli. Ushers take our tickets, which are tagged with another rule ‘no re-entry.’ Too bad, because there is nobody inside yet. I mean, less than half of what there will be because for now it is too light out to get raucous. Even the pleading of the first band, Kapena: “Can I get a cheeeeeheeeeee?” is met with only mild enthusiasm. As Kapena winds down and Anuhea prepares to come onstage, the MC, an MC Hammer-style-capri-wearing Asian woman with a short boy-cut is grooving. She has great energy and is a fantastic hype-woman. She is also wearing a hoodie, navy blue with white zipper and drawstrings. Looks like it could have come from Target because it has no labels, but it still looks hip and chic.
While we wander towards the script tent where dollars are exchanged at a 1:1 ratio for tickets which are then exchanged at an 8:1 ratio for beer, a profound character walks past us. He has a cleanly shaven head and swastikas tattooed under each eye like tears. There are heaps of vicious-looking tattoos on his chest which is fully exposed as he has no shirt on under a military-issue jacket which he has chosen not to button. At all. He is also wearing green military issue cargo pants meticulously tucked into his combat boots whose laces are elaborately wrapped around the tops of his boots and the exposed portions of his lower pants to keep the bottoms of each pant leg secured in his boots. His white, sun-burnt face looks like it could be fighting Vietcong or trying to escape from prison to return to a neo-Nazi gang. I must watch this character for the rest of the night. Apologies to any musicians or Asian MCs who receive short-shrift, but the focal competition was fierce and this guy needs some eyes on him. You can tell because his camouflage outfit has him “blending in” in a most outstanding way.
We are exchanging our dollars for tickets. The script tent is made up of to two tents lashed together, giving the tent a width of about 20 feet. In front of each script vendor a ‘line’ has been formed out of a piece of rebar bent at the top with rope tied to each looped post. Each ‘line’ is wide enough for two people of average build standing back-to-front, spoon style. This is where the trouble starts. And there are so many problems that I can’t decide which problem starts the series of problems. I guess I’ll start with the fact that, as I have been acknowledging, the average Mayjah Rayjah-goer is a heavy-set Polynesian type. From my descriptions, it is a diverse audience, but that would have to be the most common type of human at the concert and if two of these body-types tried, they could not fit down one lane. Usually at least two people are in line together, so they want to stand and talk to one another while they wait, meaning they are often staggered in line leaving no more space for extra humans to maneuver between the two ropes. Suddenly this is a cholesterol-filled ‘line.’ That alone isn’t a huge problem though.
So we get to the front of the line. At the front of the line, I realize something. This is the MACC, so the concert volunteers and the film showing volunteers are drawn from the same pool of senility, osteoporosis, arthritis, and sweetness. So as much as inebriated me might like to hurry Tamiko Tucker along in the 1:1 exchange process, I don’t say anything. Nothing I do will stop Tamiko from being too old and too Asian to count to eight in under a minute. Nothing I do will keep Tamiko from double-checking her eight counts. Nothing I do will keep Tamiko from shaking so much that she nearly has to count a third time. And I’ll be damned if she isn’t still the cutest little shriveled thing I’ve ever seen.
Five minute 1:1 exchange completed, scripts in hand, we are ready to walk to the beer tent. But this is where the line problem really manifests. In an effort at maximizing the number of available sales-people and minimizing wait time, the organizers forgot to create an ‘out’ line. At first it seems that we might be able to walk along the face of the tent and out one of the sides, but as everyone is intoxicated and eager to get more intoxicated, the 2-3 feet of space between the end of the rope/rebar situation gets so congested that since we entered by one of the central lanes, we would have to maneuver through the front of 4-5 congested lines in either direction to get to the outer edge. The horizontal option therefore doesn’t seem inviting. There is the chance that entrants were supposed to have one half of the ‘line’ be an ‘in’ and the other half be an ‘out.’ The vertical option. But of course that’s not very easy for reasons already discussed. Either way, I envision “excuse mes” and bumping and too close for comfort interactions and all that ‘cultural difference’ stuff I worried about before ever arriving smacking me in the face. Ultimately I try different things each time I get to the front of a script line or a beer line, but there’s no right answer here and most times I’m too eager to get beer to remember the problem that’s about to arise so I am alarmed and disconcerted each time and that’s without worrying about spilling my brimming 8oz cup of Stella Artois.
It is still 7:39 and I am still working on my first Stella. Anuhea finishes and suddenly everyone in attendance is listening to dubstep and the Asian MC loves it. She is dancing and yelling and her enthusiasm is spreading throughout the Alexander and Baldwin Ampitheater. I didn’t know I came for a dubstep show. But she is so enthusiastic that suddenly I am too. Maybe Stella is working because I have just made my first ‘approaching dance move’ move. God I suck at being a reggae fan. My first knee-jerk dance reaction at the Rayjah was to dubstep and a Target hoodie.
Now it’s 7:55 and Rebel Souljahz come onstage. They start their set and you can see the clusters of people that formed away from the stage, where people had been laying in the cut, begin transforming into large swaths of green grass again. The clusters turn into caravans before materializing as an undulating mass of fandom in front of the stage. Not very rebellious of them.
I turn to my right and there is the neo-Nazi soldier. Now he is wearing an Under-Armor skull cap as well. It must have come from one of those cargo pockets. I wonder what else he has in all those pockets? He has gotten closer to the dance floor as well, but seems to have been sidetracked en-route. He is talking to a pretty female ‘skin. On my second visual interrogation I realize I recognize the girl as my barista! My barista is having a jovial conversation with the camouflaged inmate. Maybe my outfit doesn’t compromise my status as a “local” after all. Given his appearance, if this guy can be a down-ass homie I shouldn’t fret over my outfit.
Eli Mac joins Rebel Souljahz. She used to be Camile Velasco, of American Idol fame. She has a nice voice for anything, reggae included. The Souljahz and Eli have worked together before, so they play “Take it Slow,” which is something of a jam. Souljahz stick around and act as Eli’s band. They play her song “Dubstop,” which is also a jam and has a wild Hawaiian/Jamaican/Ghettofabulous music video. Next Souljahz lay down a beat that sounds familiar, but which I can’t place. And just as it hits me, Eli breaks in with the vocals for a cover of Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants.” “This is gonna be badass” is all I wrote in my notes. And it was.
It strikes me that Eli Mac, “Camile” backwards, is part of a camouflage. Camo is a fabric, socially coded to connote a ‘blending in.’ The valences of meaning that camo gives off as it stops being militaristic and starts being ‘fashionable’ multiply and can be contradictory. I could take this metaphor in any direction I want. Or I could let you decide what it means, because like Roland Barthes I don’t think that ascribing a definitive reading, “closing” meaning, is constructive.
I will say that a brown Eli Mac, doing a reggae cover of Ace of Base, who was born in the Philippines as Camile but who called Maui home on national television has something in common with a white Casey Dyson who was born and raised in Hawai’i as a haole listening to Hip-Hop and also with a white swastika tattooed souljah happily joking with a ‘skin at a reggae concert.
I will also say that I don’t think the similarities are as simple or as superficial as calling Maui home or being at Mayjah Rayjah. And I do think that camouflage is a valuable metaphor when thinking about all of this.
As badass as Eli Mac was, Shaggy’s arrival is even better. He keeps saying “hello Maui,” which is cool. And he is wearing glasses, which is cool as it’s only vaguely nighttime now. And it’s even cooler that DJ Q is teasing us with the beginnings of Mr. Bombastic. As Q does a little start/stop/scratch routine, Shaggy is doing a ‘back to the audience pretend I’m making out with someone’ routine. Like you might have done or seen done in middle school. Like the way you pretend to make out ravenously with someone before you’ve ever made out with someone. Like with your arms wrapping around your own back as though they are the hands of the person you are making out with. Like shaggy is really good at it. Like he must practice. I don’t know the significance of this or whether it is a staple of his shows, but he can’t have thought that Mr. Bombastic’s menace would be enough to distract me from the fact that he was fake making out. I did notice, Shaggy, I did.
But the beat drops for the final, official time and it’s almost enough to make me forget the make out. Maybe it was a psychology test. Maybe they will have people taking a poll on the way out of the concert to see if anyone remembers. I will. Then he spins back around to face the crowd. He has pulled his designer shades off and as he spins, he proceeds to throw them into the crowd. Badass.
After further theatrics, showmanship, and a tour of his songs from the aforementioned “Mr. Bombastic” to “Angel,” the 10pm Maui concert curfew hour was approaching and there had been one glaring hole in the set list. And just as I was getting really worried, Shaggy began an interlude:
“There’s no love song like a reggae love song,” Shaggy said.
“You are all invited to come and visit me in Jamaica” Shaggy said.
“But first, can you wine?” Shaggy asked.
“Allow me to observe. Wine.” Shaggy said, as he stuck the microphone down the top of his pants so that only the head was showing. He then put his feet about shoulder width apart, bent his knees, balled his hands into sensual, down-facing fists, crossed his arms at the wrists, just in front of and above the microphone, let his arms hang in front of him bent comfortably at the elbows, closed his eyes and with a powerfully seductive look on his face, proceeded to “wine” for all in attendance.
He paused. “Check it out. There are many kinds of wine. From Caribbean Barbados, to Haitian wine. Caucasian wine. There is none like Jamaican wine. Jamaica has that ‘get you pregnant wine.’ Observe.” Then he resumed the stance and the motion, but this time the whole audience knew somebody was getting pregnant off of this iteration.
“I’ll teach you how to do the wine.” Shaggy said, then proceeded to wine for another few seconds, this time more slowly and deliberately, looking out at the audience. “But you can’t just do the wine like that. You gotta make the face.”
“Yeah, there’s a face. You gotta put swag to it. This is that Jamaican face.” And then he closed his eyes, resuming the hyper-sexual facial accompaniment. And just when you thought things were getting too weird, the beat dropped and Shaggy’s Rikrok wannabe sidekick came onstage for the concert’s finale: “Honey came in and she caught me red-handed/creepin wit the girl next-door./ Picture this we were both butt-naked/bangin on the bathroom floor.”
Say it wasn’t you. Camouflage.