Word on the Street

african, design, illustration, North London



This phrase is essential of you are travelling to or living in a West Indian neighbourhood .(that’s ‘neighorhood’ to all the Americans in the house). It means, ‘What’s going on?’ in the Marvin Gaye sense.

It has a few versions, namely Wa’ Gwaan, ‘Wa’pn’, and can be used in many situations. like the one illustrated below;

At the African Carribean market when buying your weekly supply of yams,

Shopkeep: Wha’ gwaan. You wan a yam?

You: Na, me no wan a wole yam.

Shopkeep: Ar-right

From the sketchbooks: Six foot, seven foot, eight foot, bunch!

Activities & Play, african, children's books, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

West Indian culture and folklore is often forgotten in favour of African. Maybe forgotten is the wrong word; more like pushed aside. But it is a rich and lyrical source of material for children to learn from and enjoy. Its educational value is not in question as it indirectly chronicles the days of slavery when different cultures (African, European, Creole and Native American) were thrown into a melting pot and allowed to bubble away. That period of the world’s history was both exciting and dark. That’s how I see it, anyway.

As a child in the 60’s I watched Harry Belafonte sing the Banana Boat Song with absolutely no understanding of its meaning, but an addictive curiosity  about why its rhythm made me want to move…

I get it now and the story it tells is rich and deceptively simple. I’ve started to research more songs and stories in the hope of making books about them in my own way. Post a comment if you want to see more.


Urbanation: words from the streets

design, idea, Ken Wilson-Max

“Wattagwaan” or “wha gwan” is patois ( Jamaican slang) for ‘what’s going on?’ or ‘whats up!’