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Showroom: The Exploitation of Migrant Women

The Caribbean Canon of music is rich in various aspects of culture and experiences. Whilst some songs celebrate the pride that lives in us for being a Caribbean Citizen, other songs highlight social ills, seek to challenge ideals or straight up present themselves in a very tone-deaf manner. Dancehall and Soca music have been around for decades. Personally I have a love for both genres; Dancehall, because of the poetically executed lyrics and Soca, for its upbeat feel good tempo. Listening to music has always been a task for me, because I listen to every word, deeply. My love for words also leaks into listening to music. My friends would get tired of me going on and on about how beautiful a literary device was executed or showing them the deepness to a double entendre. 

Artwork by 18 Karat Reggae

Dancehall music is storytelling, a peek into Jamaican culture; what happens in the dancehall, the dons, the hypermasculinity, the portrayal of women dancing; acrobatting themselves in all sorts of ways and the blasting music from speakers. The lyrical content of Dancehall songs are brilliant. The way artistes weave the words, crafts some valuable literature that I’ve found myself using to teach about Gender Based Violence and Violence Extremism in schools. From Super Cat’s mid-80s classic ‘Boops’, to Vybz Kartel’s 2009 hit, ‘Last Man Standing’

 to Trinibad (adaptation of Jamaican Dancehall by Trinidadian artistes) artiste of Trinidad and Tobago, Rebel Sixx’s ‘Rifle War’ are some examples of excellent storytelling and structure.

The origin of Soca is one that comes from a callaloo of histories. Coming from Calypso, you can trace it to the traditions of West Africans as it relates to its structure and function. Calypso as you’d see described in many places is dubbed, ‘the poor man’s newspaper’. The Black Power Movement in the 1970s birthed a new wave of singers like Black Stalin and Brother Valentino.

 Formerly a male dominated space in 1978, Calypso Rose was crowned the winner of the then Calypso King Monarch, which then went on to be renamed the Calypso Monarch, made a way for more women to partake in the art form. As the years went by, the Calypso Art Form stretched its branches to form several genres like Soca. Ras Shorty I, fused Calypso with Chutney to create ‘Sokah’ which we now call Soca. 

In recent times the content structure of Soca has been a bit shallow with the exception of a couple artistes who manage to get excellent songwriters to share magic. Back in 2019, Farmer Nappy sang “Hookin Meh” written by Nadia Batson, which sparked outrage on various social media platforms. Trinidad and Tobago had recently seen a spike in reported cases of violence against women where some women lost their lives in attempt to leave their abusive relationships. Nappy sang “if you want me to go, you can’t be cooking the way you do, you can’t be looking the way you do, because yuh hookin’ meh”. Not cool right? 

Nappy took the criticism and then included in his performances that he doesn’t condone violence against women… performative but we’d take it… I guess..

Soca Artiste, Erphaan Alves, recently released a song, ‘Showroom’ which makes for a super cringey and problematic experience. In an attempt to give context, let’s analyse this. Before you continue to read, lewwe watch this video here

The lyric video shows a fair-skinned woman, long hair in a bikini-like outfit dancing, splitting, contorting herself in many ways to the music. The Latin American looking woman was in a clean and pristine room by herself performing. Admittedly she looks uncomfortable, moving the ways in which she is guided to give body to the song. The song starts off with Erphaan speaking in Spanish, “Senorita, mas linda… Welcome to the Zess”. He continues by saying, “ready for d ride and d ride ready, Showroom gyal no owner transfer”. 

Zess in Trinidad and Tobago is very similar to the Dancehall; the music, the dancing, the hypermasculinity, the dons, the women. The idea of Showroom, has objects on display, particularly cars, where interested buyers are able to test drive/ride the car to see if it fits them. Showroom cars are usually brand new, there is no need to have an owner transfer, or papers signed over to the buyer. It begs the question, was the woman purchased? Was she dancing for herself or to satisfy the male gaze?

Taken from Pinterest, Photographer Unknown

The song progresses in a way that highlights the acknowledgement of a harsh past and awareness that the woman in question may have come to Trinidad in more ways than one. “When yuh tell me bout yuh past, baby girl it make me cry, can’t judge how yuh come in cuz is for a better life.” Venezuelan migrants sometimes enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally, through a boating service or pirogue in hopes to escape the painful living situation back home. 

At this point of the video, the girl splits, goes on her knees, “But let me give you the warning, you will never feel the same, when I hold you from the back, you will never wanna leave, when i hold you from the back”, leaves a lingering feeling of shock and discomfort. It is impossible to shake how much it feeds into this savior complex that men have for a ‘damsel in distress’. Migrant women in Trinidad and Tobago have unfortunately faced sexual exploitation in hopes of security. 

In a recent article published by the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights shared that there were 484 reports of sexual exploitation of migrant women reported with zero convictions. The cases included an infant, 4 teenage girls being trafficked and a 17 year old girl living with a 33 year old man of unstated nationality. The growing sexual exploitation makes this song a product of poor taste.

I shared a thread on Twitter interrogating the song’s content, acknowledging the great conversation starter that music is but unfortunately the responses by the artiste himself left much to be desired. In quoting my tweet, Alves shared “Great vibe, sharing your views. I’ll be doing a full vid explaining the song soon as well. ‘From the back’ by the way, relates to my support towards her holistic development etc…”

Taken from Twitter

Taken from Twitter


Caribbean lingo has connotations that are widely known, ‘from the back’ takes on a very sexual context to mean backshot. I was taken aback by the explanation. The video shows no inkling of holistic development but rather the portrayal of a woman as a stripper. Erphaan warns the woman that him holding her from the back will be life changing? Sexual exploitation is not positively life changing, women are not escaping various forms of violence to be greeted by another. The expression ‘No Owner Transfer’ goes into the trash can of sayings that imply sexual violence that upholds ownership on women’s bodies.

In a statement by Intersectional Feminist Organization, Womantra, they shared, “Sex workers are real people and sex trafficking is real too, right here in T&T. Sex workers are also far more vulnerable to being abused and sexually exploited, as is intimated in the song. Why then is the song called ‘Showroom’, further objectifying these women and why is the sexual domination of this woman cited as the solution?”

We must work harder to the narratives we share and how we portray women in our art. From Erphaan’s responses, it indicates the lack of depth that went into the execution of the song and music video. It feeds into the way Trinidadian men see Latin American women as commodity and as prey. Such a song, be interrogated and used as a tool to teach against exploitation of migrant women.

Now more than ever, there is a need for artistes to be open to criticism to create content not to satisfy anyone’s whim or fancy but rather a type of work that redefines traditional culture that has proven to be dangerous. Rather than be combative, there is a need to work hand in hand, acknowledge the tone-deafness rather than be pacifying. There is an opportunity for learning everywhere and everyday. We must choose to unlearn and learn better ideals.

Women are not cars to be driven. Women are not a commodity. Women are not slaves. Women are not objects.

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