On Reggae For Swans

Boffins recently conducted a study which showed that, of all aquatic birds, the swan was least responsive to reggae music. As so often happens in science, the findings were counter-intuitive. We would expect swans to be more susceptible to reggae than, say, coots or herons, but it is difficult to argue with the boffins. At no fewer than a dozen sites, including ponds, reservoirs, lakes, riversides, and meres, they set up scores of loudspeakers pounding out non-stop reggae music, from dawn till dusk, and in some cases from dusk till dawn too. Careful observation of the behaviour of all forms of bird life in the experimental zones, and analysis of electroencephalograms generated by sensors attached to the heads of selected birds, were combined with several other avian-reggae methodologies, and the results were clear. While some coots, herons, ducks, reed warblers and moorhens showed a marked response to roots stylee rhythms, every single monitored swan was utterly impervious, and went about its business, by turns gliding with matchless elegance through the water or savagely attacking things, as is the swanny way.

In one phase of the experiment, the non-stop pounding from scores of loudspeakers of classic tracks from Peter Tosh, Misty In Roots, King Tubby and others was accompanied by the display, on hoardings erected next to the experimental ponds, reservoirs, lakes, riversides, and meres, of large portraits of Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie, and Jah Rastafari, the latter two being more or less indistinguishable. Most of these portraits were daubed in red and gold and green and black, irrespective of the range of the colour spectrum visible to birds, which is a separate area of study and one which neither I nor the boffins have pursued. Herons proved to be the birds most drawn to Jah, in some cases seemingly almost hypnotised by the combination of sound and image, though buffleheads scored highly here too. Once again, swans showed no response whatsoever to the visual stimulus, gliding past the hoardings with matchless elegance or savagely attacking unrelated things in the vicinity, as is the swanny way.

The study has sent shock waves through both the reggae and the aquatic bird communities, one upshot being a particularly vituperative war of words erupting in the correspondence columns of the leading academic journal devoted to both fields. It was in a long article in Aquatic Birds And Reggae Weekly that the boffins first announced their findings, with lots of diagrams and even a photograph or two of a boffin attaching a brain sensor to the head of a reed warbler. Now the letters pages have been expanded to fill over half of the magazine, as rival boffins contend with each other. Perhaps the most constructive reaction has been from Professor Lars Talc of the School Of Applied Swan Studies at the University of Qaasuitsup in Northwest Greenland. Working with a team of reggae experts and swan lovers, he has posited the idea of creating “reggae for swans”, a specific sub-genre of the music designed to somehow bash into their birdy brains a deep and responsive enthusiasm for the music which they seem to shun.

As part of the project, one group has been assembling as much documentation as possible on any pronouncements Jah Rastafari made, or is alleged to have made, on the subject of swans. Certain wicked persons in Babylon have been putting it about that the material thus far gathered is all forged, counterfeit, or otherwise false. Wicked or not, this charge is convincing in the case of a woollen knitted baggie beanie hat on to which has been embroidered the phrase “I And I Swans”. It is exceedingly unlikely that this hat actually belonged to Jah himself, as is claimed.

Professor Talc has also suggested that the scores of loudspeakers pounding out non-stop reggae music erected next to the ponds, reservoirs, lakes, riversides, and meres in the experimental zone be made permanent. Indeed, he has gone as far as to say, from his quiet retreat in the Arctic wastes of Northwest Greenland, that wherever on earth swans are to be found, they should be subjected to constant reggae music blasting out of loudspeakers. This has not gone down well with fuddy-duddies who wish to preserve the peace and tranquility of many ponds, reservoirs, lakes, riversides, and meres. Nor does the idea find favour with wet blanket bird welfare types who accuse the Professor of swan cruelty. In response to the latter charge, he has issued a long-winded and in places incomprehensible press release, in which he states baldly that his eventual aim is to create what he calls “a modified swan”, genetically programmed not only to enjoy reggae music but actually to require it in order to remain alive. No wonder Talc has been compared to a latter-day Frankenstein.

There are no swans in Africa.

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