‘I am glad that J’cans have such a wide mind’
Japanese dancer Cornbread hopes to be held in the same regard as Ding Dong
Jamaica’s culture and cultural products are debatably among the most marketable, exciting and intriguing worldwide. Reaching all corners of the globe, many have fallen in love with different aspects and have become completely immersed. This is the...
Jamaica’s culture and cultural products are debatably among the most marketable, exciting and intriguing worldwide. Reaching all corners of the globe, many have fallen in love with different aspects and have become completely immersed. This is the genesis of popular Japanese dancer and artiste Kenta ‘Cornbread’ Tezuka who, along with his dance crew, went viral for their participation in the a popular We A Run E Grung TikTok dance challenge. The entertaining video sparked much debate about what exactly is appropriation or appreciation of culture.
Speaking with The Gleaner, the ‘artical’ Cornbread explained that he fell in love with Jamaica and dancehall when he was just a teenager.
“I discovered dancehall and reggae, and when I watched DVDs of Passa Passa and Dutty Fridaze at that time, I was impressed by the energy of Jamaica and wanted to dance in dancehall. I was in high school when I was first exposed to dancehall and since then it has been a part of me. I got the name Cornbread the first time I travelled to Jamaica by an MC named Likkle Shabba and I have used it ever since,” he shared.
Cornbread has spent much of his time travelling back and forth between Jamaica and Japan and over the years and has created strong ties with the dancehall community and crews. Back then, he realised a lack of community in his home country and that was the beginning of his own team JAtoJA which stands for Japan and Jamaica.
“In early Japan, there was no environment where men learned the Jamaican steps in Jamaica and taught them in Japan. I wanted more people to know about Jamaican dance, and I am still doing it, and the students who gathered there became my current friends,” he shared.
In 2017, he appeared on stage during Spice’s performance to show off his skills. But due to the pandemic he has not visited the island for a while. Nevertheless, Cornbread, along with his crew, has continued to study and perform dancehall in Japan, the only challenge being a slight difficulty picking up the dances on the Internet. Sporting short dreadlocks and normally attired in signature Jamaican streetwear style, Cornbread proudly represents the island. This is why he was so confused at the outrage seen on social media over the video he had done to show his love for the island.
“Jamaica’s motto is ‘Out of Many One People’, right?” he questions when asked his thoughts on the feedback.
“While I am glad that Jamaicans have such a wide mind, I can’t understand why people from other countries criticise us when this music is Jamaican music. I myself want to be in a role that connects Jamaica and Japan more culturally to show that it is love and a connection. I would like to participate cooperatively if there is a Jamaican festival in Japan or a Japan festival in Jamaica. I want to be a person who creates a deeper bond between these two countries,” he continued.
Cornbread isn’t swayed by the criticism and has no plans of slowing down when it comes taking Jamaica to the world. With hopes of eventually being held in the same regard as Ding Dong and the Ravers. This year he is releasing an EP recorded in Jamaican Patois and taking it on tour in Japan.
Cultural commentator and professor, Donna Hope, says there is a thin line between appropriation and appreciation, but says there is clear evidence of Cornbread crediting originators in the past. “He (Cornbread) considers himself to having been authenticated because he has a lot of connections in dancehall [and] with dancers from Jamaica. That particular video,is a part of a challenge on TikTok and one of the things that he does on his Instagram page which I know he cannot do on TikTok is credit everyone. All the dancers were credited for their dance moves so it was clear that he was not appropriating it terms of the moves,” Hope explained after a review of the video and conversation surrounding it.
This does not negate some of the deeper issues. “There is a thin line I find between appropriation and appreciation. There are all of these different things that are happening so it is a very thin line because of the way that those persons in Europe and Asia are able to move more freely across borders not only because of the visa challenges that we have here but also the financial restrictions our dancers face. Also, they enjoy better economies of scale where they have more people in their physical location. If they put up a video, they get more visibility. That particular video has over a million views already, it is difficult for a Jamaican dancer in the Jamaica to get over 100,000 views. We are really three million in and three million out, so geographically we don’t have the numbers in terms of population size for percentages to rack up those numbers. So, these persons who are outside of the Jamaican culture, whether they are borrowing or appreciating or they are appropriating, they tend to end up better off even if they [indicate that Jamaicans have] the intellectual property,” she continued.
Hope also furthered that the issue that often arises from content with non-Jamaicans toting parts of our culture is that many times Jamaicans forget to value it for themselves first. “Another thing that also opens it up for cultural [imitation], cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation, cultural borrowing by outsiders is this thing here where you are throwing it out into the garbage heap as if it has no value and then someone from elsewhere see it, sees the value in it, takes it up and brushes it off and realise that it is platinum and diamond we had there. So, I feel like we make a lot of fuss about it when someone else from another culture shows us the value. We have a lot of people here, hundreds and hundreds of people who are involved in that industry and they are not getting the support,” she shared.