Five Things I Learned This Week

French Caribbean Shattas, Framing Canada, etc.

Alison Isaac
6 min readDec 12, 2020


Before getting into it this week, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who wrote me with interesting new things to explore/learn about/check out. Usually I get to the weekend and I’m squeezing out this writing, slowly and painfully. This week, my cup runneth over, so thank you. Keep the cool stuff coming!

1. Thunder Bay Podcast

Thunder Bay podcast cover art

Technically, I didn’t just learn about the Thunder Bay podcast this week, someone had told me about it in the fall. I finally decided to check it out, after my cousin responded to an Instagram story I posted about Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories (you should read it).

I shouldn’t have waited so long. There are two seasons, and I listened to the most recent episode, thinking I might work my way backwards if I liked it. I liked it. It’s along the same lines as most of what I’ve been reading lately regarding the lives of Indigenous people in this country. It’s like a continuation of Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers (or, a good alternative, in case you’re one of those people who’s “not into books”).

One of the details that jumped out at me while listening was something called Starlight Tours. If you’ve grown up in the hood, or you’re racialized, you’ve heard of a version of this. A Starlight Tour is when police pick up Indigenous people, drive them to remote locations and leave them there. As you can imagine, this is especially dangerous in a place like Thunder Bay where temperatures drop to those minus degrees celsius in the winter, easily.

The podcast always begins with a trigger warning for Indigenous people due to the difficult themes and stories, and I’m sharing that here, now, so you know. I still encourage you, dear reader, to listen if you can.

2. French Caribbean Shatta Culture

Datcha Dollar’Z and crew

“Think Patra.”

That was a Martinican friend’s response when I asked her to explain “shatta” to me. She warned me that she’s not a “shatta historian,” and like many cultural movements, I acknowledge that the details are up for debate. But here’s what I’ve learned.

Shatta is a relatively modern term that popped up in the French Caribbean about 10–15 years ago. Based on the sound of it (the word itself and the music that shares the name), we can assume it has roots in Jamaican dancehall.

To clarify, shatta isn’t only used to describe music, although I came to learn about the term via DJ MisteuRing’s radio show, Cooking Something, (live on iLive Caribbean every Tuesday 8pm-10pmET). To paraphrase my friend, shatta is a whole vibe. An attitude. A mood. An energy. It’s a way of being. And if you, dear reader, are familiar with Jamaican dancehall artist Patra, you already have an idea of what I mean.

Shatta music has a dancehall energy to it, with lyrics in Creole (usually from Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana), but also in French with splashes of English and Patois. It seems the word itself has taken on many meanings. You can use it to speak of a good friend or an amazing party. Martinican YouTuber Specta (aka F. Baby) has a Creole/French/English Twitter thread about the multiple meanings of the word. MisteuRing has sent along this list (listen/watch at your own discretion) in case you’re curious.

CöCö feat DJ Skunk- Malpwop (Explicit)

70 SHIINE feat Nacho- Domino (Explicit)

BigRoots — Jiman (Explicit)

Panik-J, T-Jy, Maureen, Naamix, 70 SHIINE, Delia, Renel and N’Ken — Mada Dancehall

BigRoots — Tighty (Explicit)

CöCö, Ayewai, 70 SHIINE — Quick (Explicit)

Lieutenant feat DJ Charlan — Beatmaker

3. Frame Canada

Wendell Potter

NPR’s show Planet Money aired (uploaded?) an episode in October called, “Frame Canada” (yes, it reminded me of the South Park movie as well). The show begins with an anecdote from one of the Canadian hosts, which recalls curious comments from Americans about how Canadians are left to die on gurneys in hospital corridors. I still remember my reaction to hearing the term “socialized healthcare” during some politician’s speech from down south. How did all this happen?

Wendell Potter knows. He’s former vice-president of Cigna, a U.S. insurance company, who refers to his former self as a “corporate propagandist.” He says it was his job to mislead Americans about Canadian healthcare.

Potter says he was “paid to obscure important truths about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems” back in the 90s. His playbook was a text he had read in college: How to Lie with Statistics.

According to Potter, a group of top healthcare executives got together to form the Healthcare Leadership Council and launch a “FUD” campaign — a campaign to plant “fear, uncertainty and doubt.” As part of that work, they launched the Harry and Louise ads and came up with specific terms chosen for impact, such as “socialized” healthcare.

During Obama’s term, Porter and friends saw an internal poll that showed most Americans were in favor of Canadian-style healthcare system and it left them scared silly. In a reprise of the Harry and Lousie ads, a real Canadian, Sally Pipes (she actually called herself “a former Canadian”), was used to publicly bash Canada’s system.

Potter has obviously had a change of heart, and is now president of Medicare for All Now!

4. Black American Sign Language

Nakia Smith, aka Charmay

What do you know about Black American Sign Language??

Yes, it’s as creative/well-seasoned as you think it is.

Candas Barnes, an ASL interpreter, expresses it better than I can:

“Black ASL paints pictures and expresses messages in ways that just bring another layer and another flavor to the whole notion of what Black language is.”

According to this video explanation by Nakia Smith (aka Charmay), BASL was developed in the 1800s and 1900s during segregation. Charmay speaks about how the first American school for the deaf didn’t start accepting Black students for over 100 after it was founded, so it makes sense that the language would develop differently among different communities.

Not understanding sign language has never stopped me from appreciating the beauty of it. Check out that video, linked above.

5. Kettle scale collector

Kettle Scale Collector

There is such a thing as a kettle scale collector. This may have been general knowledge but I had never heard of it until seeing it in a Home Hardware shop a few days ago.

The scale collector is basically stainless steel wire rolled up into a ball (kinda), and you put this into your kettle to collect the calcium/limescale that would otherwise build up over time. Seems weird, but I have one now.



Alison Isaac

I’m a writer and teacher from Toronto, with roots abroad and interests everywhere.