Art versus Life—The Gully Gaza Feud

Marcia Forbes PhD

Vybz Kartel has done the right thing in coming out against the use of his image accompanied by guns and other anti-social messages emblazoned across pins meant for adorning apparel worn by youths or whomever so desire. I heard him speak against the piracy of his image on merchandize he did not authorize nor from which he will derive any financial benefit. 

I was heartened to hear that these pins were not of his making but in the vicious Gully Gaza Feud he will perhaps derive benefits, although not financial. His fans will sport “his” pin in a show of support, moving the rivalry with Movado to a visible level. Unless Kartel is very different from entertainers in general he will enjoy the notoriety of having his picture on pins. If he really does not support this latest thrust in the rivalry then he needs to get to the bottom of who is making money off him in this socially unacceptable way.
In the news clip Kartel was eager to highlight the responsibility of parents to teach their children to differentiate art from reality or life as he termed it. He sounded reasonable, rational and intelligent as I know he is based on my research. For the past several days I have agonized about sending Kartel an open letter by way of the newspaper. I wanted to quote from the numerous young people between 10 to 18 years of age who have spoken to me about the negative influence of his lyrics and music videos. 
Yet even as they complain, the majority of young people I spoke with love Kartel.  Even when they believe he goes too far with violent and sexually explicit lyrics, generally describing them as ‘disgusting’, they listen to and enjoy his witticisms and his views on life. Vybz Kartel has POWER over what Jamaican teenagers think about and how they see themselves based on his lyrics.
One girl was delighted with herself because she met Kartel’s standard by having a tight “pum pum” and not one that “placka like mud”, as he disparagingly described vaginas with lax walls/insufficient muscle tone. She used his lyrics to validate herself and her sexuality. One boy explained that Vybz’s Tek Buddy song of some years ago was good because it gave power to men. To this boy the song showed that men were taking back power from women who were usurping men’s roles. Teenagers really listen to Kartel.
Coming back to his reasoned proposition that parents teach their children to recognize art versus reality, Kartel may find some of my research findings instructive.  When asked whether music videos reflected mostly real life or mostly fantasy, over 80 % of the young people said that reggae music reflected mostly real life. Almost two-thirds of them felt this way about dancehall. So we see that the vast majority of those in the survey of 447 adolescents believed that our two indigenous music forms really reflect life; A case of art imitating life.
Kartel’s lyrics are primarily about sex and guns. He will very likely tell you that this is what life in Jamaica is all about. Artistes will tell you that their lyrics simply reflect life so they are not singling about what people don’t already see all around them. They will tell you it is society that’s to be blamed and not them, so clean up society.  Here we have Kartel admonishing parents for their failure to educate their children. But what are parents to do when lyrics really reflect the horrors of everyday life in Jamaica?  How do parents separate lyrical art from murderous life in Jamaica where we do “murder people inna broad daylight” as the pin proudly acclaims?
DJs know their power and must begin to act more responsibly in their lyrical art form. But as we know in Jamaica, “finger never seh look yah, it always she, look deh.” My finger is doing just that. Look deh, how dem a mash up Jamaica.  I’m pointing to the DJs to step up to the plate and stop reflecting so much of the negative reality. We already know about the murders and mayhem, we don’t need the continued heavy dose of this in our music. Kartel you are smart. Help the parents to differentiate your art from their life.