Luciano, left, and Buju Banton


Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

LOVE IT or hate it, none can deny the power of dancehall. Whether for good - as in Sean Paul's phenomenal international success, or for bad - as in the recent 'terror at Sting' - this music has an uncanny ability to excite people.

There are a lot of myths about dancehall being tossed around. It's nonsense for instance to say that the top deejays are media creations. Press coverage plays a role everywhere, but no popular music is less amenable to 'corporate hype' than dancehall. Dancehall - like ska and rocksteady and reggae - has not been thrust upon the masses by slick marketing or central planning committees, but has grown directly out of the experiences of our people. Like Bob and Toots and Jimmy before them, Bounty and Beenie and Ninja have become stars by articulating in a compelling form the dreams and desires of their audience and spontaneously touching a chord in the Jamaican masses.

The deejays' chantings may not always be pleasant, but as Shabba said 'a just reality'. Take Vibes Kartels' Tek Buddy Gal, which many have condemned as 'misogynistic garbage'. Apart from being a very catchy tune, its lyrics clearly ring a bell with this society as it's tearing down the place everywhere. And judging by the way the women especially go wild to 'Buddy', it's hard to believe females find it offensive.


None of the young women I've talked to has a problem with it. As one put it, 'That's just the way things work. No mine, no wine; no money, no honey; no finance no romance, everybody knows that. A man who gives and doesn't get, well that is a boops. But when a guy spends money on a girl and she gives him back some loving he is only getting a proper return on his investment. Anybody who can't relate to that is living in fantasy land.'

As to the claim that dancehall is anti-woman, well all observers agree that it's the females who get most excited by 'slackness'. I've personally witnessed girls gleefully 'railing up' to songs like Backshot and Nine Inch. And I remember shaking my head a few years ago at an uptown party as well educated women squealed in delight at Nuff Gal and Old Dawg. As much as I love the Lord's loveliest creations I will never pretend to understand Jamaican women. But that is another topic entirely.

Much of the criticism dancehall attracts is a result of the musical generation gap which has probably been around since creation days. It's a safe bet that Adam shouted 'turn down that rubbish' when Cane and Abel played their new drum beats. I'm no expert but it seems to me that after a certain age our brain finds it difficult to adjust to new rhythms and as a wag once put it - "when you turn 40, something horrible always seems to happen to popular music". It's sort of funny to hear commentators who horrified their parents by 'maxing' their radios to the likes of U-Roy lambasting the 'garbage' being played on the radio and in effect calling for musical censorship. But every generation has the right to enjoy it's own sound.

There is always some chicken and egg, but dancehall like every other form of music is primarily a reflection of the society in which it's created. Our 85 per cent out of wedlock birthrate is not a result of sexually suggestive lyrics - our artistes sing a lot about sex because for good or bad we are a very sexually permissive people. And 'badmanism' is not responsible for Jamaica having one of the world's highest murder rates but merely some deejays' vocal rendering of the violent society they live in. It's ridiculous to blame the messenger for bad news.


Yet to me, dancehall's positives far outweigh negatives, for no other music on earth gives a more genuine expression of its country's concerns. And by giving a unique channel for our most angry and frustrated elements to express their resentments, dancehall has to a certain degree been responsible for this country's relative political stability.

Is it mere coincidence that independent Jamaica has not only remained free of major riots but also become a world musical power? And can you imagine the mass social unrest any attempt to ban dancehall would cause?

None of this argues that 'the massive' is always right. There can be no place in the national media for violent or obscene songs. And what happened recently at Sting is entirely unacceptable as it was only by the grace of God that no-one got killed. But the blame for this debacle lies squarely on the shoulders of the promoters who allow the artists and the crowd to come closer every year to the abyss of anarchy. Only inadequate security could have allowed the crowd to get its hands on bottles. And where were the metal detectors to keep out the guns?

There definitely needs to be stringent Government regulation of stage shows before a serious tragedy takes place. For one thing the authorities must crack down on both promoters and artistes for the 'no show' syndrome which is the catalyst for most of the violence at these events. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) should investigate whether Supreme Promotions or Bounty Killer's is telling the truth about his non-performance at Sting and charge the guilty party.

As for 'clashes' I am in two minds. On stage rivalries have been an integral part of our music from Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan days and even before that in 'ex-tempo' calypso. To do away with them would be to dilute our musical heritage. But if artistes are unable to act responsibly on stage we may have no choice but to ban them. Emotional expression is one thing, social anarchy is entirely another.

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