A reflection on the Carnival 2019 hit by Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp
ONE OF the most engaging pieces of music emerging from Carnival 2019 is the collaboration between Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano and Skinny Fabulous entitled ‘Famalay’. A major contender for this year’s Road March title, the song may be seen as a lyrical celebration of the enduring importance of family appealing to values such as love, loyalty, forgiveness and belonging.
The song is also notable for the fact that in Bunji and Machel, the Viking and the Monk lay aside the vituperations of the past and harness their warrior energies at the service of life and music. This and their collaborations of recent years signal an end to one of Soca music’s most prominent and long-running feuds.
The backstory of Bunji and Machel’s public quarrel which will not be recounted here is a powerful backdrop to this new chapter that the two men have reached in their musical relationship.
It sets the Christian imagination thinking a lot about the mystery of forgiveness. There is some faint allusion to this new chapter, this new understanding as Bunji chants:
Man even if we fall out
Breddrin we go all out
We will never watch we family dem fall and sprawl out
From everywhere we crawl out
We ready to b(r)awl out Lawd
Fire burn a friend
Is family we bawl out
In the book End of Memory Miroslav Volf, writes: “Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level.” I would dare say that the same could be said of our human relationships.
Our relationships are not defined by the ‘bad things they suffer’. More significantly, the ability of these artists to come together to collaborate signals that they have managed to escape the past imposed by the difficulties which passed between them.
As Volf observes: (wounds of the past) “…entrap us. Like a ball chained to a prisoner’s leg it drags heavily on our spirit and prevents it from roaming freely, stretching itself into the unknown, playing with new possibilities, imagining alternative futures”.
Thus, Bunji seems to be saying that “even if we fall out”, the bond of humanity which remains, moves us to feel for each other, “fire bun a friend, is family we bawl out”. My brother’s pain— even that of my brother with whom I am in conflict—is my pain. In this shared sense of humanity lies the ground and possibility of new relationship even after conflict.
Famalay…different from ‘bloodline’
Well let me tell you one time
Family is family
And that different from bloodline
Some say them is blood
But them don’t want to see the sunshine
Family doh ever fraid
To have your back at all time
Tell them and they friend
We feting with we
Fama-lay lay lay lay lay lay lay lay lay lay lay
– Bunji Garlin
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and
Mother” (Matt 12:49–50)
The song’s most moving passages are those which lay out their doctrine of family. Bunji, the powerful lyricist chants “family is family and that different from bloodline, some say them is blood but them don’t want to see the sunshine.”
I am reminded here of a saying among African-Americans: ‘All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk’. There is more to family than racial or genetic similarity. In the quotations above this section, taken in one instance from ‘Famalay’ and in the next, quoted from Matthew’s gospel, the reader can see that Matthew and Bunji are speaking of family in very similar terms (!)
This is very touching. It is possible that for many moderns, the significance of one’s biological, nuclear family is becoming somewhat relativised in favour of what I might call ‘families of choice’ rooted in some ethical or even political commonality.
Family is rooted in a shared sense of loyalty and mutual support. At a confirmation retreat recently I was struck to find that young men and young women each had powerful ‘familial’ expressions to express the solidarity among themselves as young men or as young women.
Our young men would say ‘brothers before others’ as part of their ‘bro code’, while the young women would have a similar saying ‘sisters before misters’. Perhaps it would be helpful for confirmation catechesis in our parishes to make use of ‘Famalay’ as we seek to teach our young people the continuing importance of family.
In the final analysis there is much more that can be said on ‘Famalay’, but suffice it to say that the song is not only wonderful energising music for the road. If one takes the time, the patient listener would find the lyrics to be richly evocative.
Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano and Skinny Fabulous take up the notion of family and in the process turn it into a modern metaphor for communities of choice, of belonging and mutual support.