Dancehall ‘Peace’ or ‘Piece’

Marcia Forbes PhD

The furor over whether or not there should have been a Jamaica House meeting with the now infamous Gully Gaza protagonists was expected. Damned if you do! Damned if you don’t! Symbolism is necessary. Unfortunately, it is never sufficient. We must now move beyond simply ‘meeting’ to the more important matter of working together toward solutions to the ongoing trace outs among our musicians.

There is a new promotional CD labeled ‘not for radio play’. It features several dancehall artistes cursing each other. It kicks of with Bounty ‘cussing’ Beenie, then Beenie ‘traces’ Bounty, Sizla takes on everyone, making it clear that “me no trace like bitch”—the name of his track. There is no doubt the promoter will do well from this CD. Jamaicans love ‘suss’, ‘cass cass’/‘passa passa’ and ‘throw wud’. This promotional CD will provide our youths with street news—the only kind that most of them are interested in.

Media proliferation has helped to fuel the ‘passa passa’ mentality as each entity rushes to capture its share of ‘eyes and ears’. A friend of mine believes that most of Jamaica’s problems are a result of the highly competitive nature of our media and the manner in which the industry adds fuel to fires and fans contentions. We have agreed to disagree on this but media is not blameless. In this latest round of Dancehall cass cass the industry must take its licks for seeming to sometimes salivate as the fire raged.

All of us in Jamaica need to accept that Dancehall is not some little ‘fly by night something’. Not only has it gone abroad but more importantly, Dancehall is the lifeline and lifeblood for a huge segment of Jamaican society. In a country where the formal system cannot deliver ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’, where ten percent of university graduates are still unemployed up to one year after having graduated, people turn to their own creativity in order to survive.

Dancehall-- the music, events, venues, fashions and overall lifestyle-- allows thousands of Jamaicans from uptown and downtown, to not just ‘eat a food’ but for many it allows them to ‘live large’. It is not just sound systems, selectors, suppliers and street sellers but also promoters, producers, videographers, fashion designers, hair stylists, make up artistes. Importantly, radio and TV stations, cable systems and newspapers devote hours or pages to Dancehall—the music, the events and the lifestyle. Capital in the form of sponsorship or by way of using the music in advertising and promotional campaigns derives tremendous benefits from Dancehall.

In my research work on the influence of TV and in particular music videos, one youngster opined that without Dancehall Jamaica would ‘shut down’. Tourism in particular, the youngsters felt, would suffer. In a recent panel discussion gospel artistes who perform throughout the region explained how in St. Lucia, Antigua, and Trinidad, Gully Gaza has taken root and is creating tensions in those societies. The church discussion was streamed live via the internet and persons from France, St. Lucia and Florida participated. They wanted Jamaica to get a grip of the problem and as we say ‘sort out the tings’.

So what solutions? One han caan clap. Partnership is essential. Government, civil society, parents, youths, entertainers, media are important stakeholders in charting the way forward. As a country Jamaica needs to coalesce around some common values, even if they are only minimum standards for our music. At the most fundamental level what are those things we will or will not accept for ‘air play’? This cannot be entirely driven by the Government, as important a player as the state is. Those in the Dancehall who deejay ‘murder music’, explicit or violent sex or other socially unacceptable lyrics are not ‘aliens’. They are from and of us and must be a part of the constructive engagement and solutions.

At a recent session at UWI, musicians spoke about the challenges of getting their clean songs aired. The media has a critical role to play. The problem of payola continues to be rife it seems. Media bosses what are you doing? Is it sufficient for the programme to have ratings? One radio host, a well-know name with a very prominent station, told me that he has taken a stand against lewd lyrics. Unfortunately, the station managers have responded by telling him that his selections do not fit the profile of the station. He is now worried about his job security. The good media manager must find that delicate balance between rating and a social conscience. All of us need to play our part in building back Jamaica.

Word is that Sting, the largest one day music event in Jamaica, has staged a Bounty/Kartel clash. Other clashes are in the plan. Isaiah Laing, the promoter, has apparently indicated that without sponsorship dollars, it is clashes which will guarantee him a payday from the gate. Having been involved with the video production of Sting for over a decade before in disintegrated into fling and became too dangerous, I know the pull of that event. It has a massive following. Is there a way for Capital to participate without this event having to depend so heavily on clashes, especially at this time?

One meeting at Jamaica House cannot sooth seething passions. It would be naïve to believe that the Gully Gaza crews will just ‘cease and settle’ or ‘haul and pull up’. It is more likely that a Sting clash will give them ammunition to ‘bullet, bullet’ opposing factions. Phase Three’s numerous years of involvement with Reggae Sunsplash showed me that clashes do not have to be violent. But we are into a different time socio-economically and even culturally. Where is the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture in all of this? This ministry is an important one in helping to chart the way forward. Minister Grange is ‘street-wise’ with ‘music smarts’. Why was she ‘invisible’ at the Jamaica House meeting?

I come back to what I have been calling the ‘Ps’ as solutions—Partnership, Parenting, Policies (Government and otherwise) and Policing. The latter involves not just the police enforcing government policies such as removing tints and video playback machines from public passenger vehicles but equally important is for parents to parent and police their children. I repeat, each of us has a role to play and the media has a big part in this play. We cannot continue to hide behind the ‘it wasn’t me’ syndrome. Yes, you didn’t started the fire but will you just let it burn? Will we have ‘peace’ or ‘piece’ in the dancehall-- with the latter of a sexual or violent type? It’s up to us--all of us in Jamaica and it will take much more than a concert with Mavado and Kartel on stage with the Prime Minister, as important as that symbol might be.