Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Dancehall Must Rehabilitate Its Public Image!

Below is a letter I wrote in response to the discussion around the banning of certain Dancehall songs in Jamaica. I sent it to the local media, here, a few days ago. However, I have not seen it in print yet.

I also forwarded the blog link to other local commentators. Perhaps they might comment on some of what is said here. Hopefully, I will be acknowledged.

Your comments are always welcomed!


Dear Editor:

I write to acknowledge my endorsement of the efforts of the Broadcast Commission to review and address the untenable state of affairs regarding the wholesale promotion of values and attitudes contrary to the upliftment of the nation. Its decision to discontinue further airplay of the popular Dancehall tune 'Rampin' Shop', though belated, is a timely reminder that the uncontrolled state of permissiveness encouraged in many areas of the Jamaican media require very careful monitoring.

This is not the same as suggesting that there is no place for Dancehall or that the heavy hand of moral arbitration is beyond being questioned. Far from it. It is to foreground instead, the singular importance of popular culture in shaping our collective national outlook in Jamaica, currently. Dancehall plays a crucial role in this regard. It is more than just a genre of popular music. Dancehall is also a very developed culture and includes issues related to economics and power, some of which often run counter to the goals of the state.

Indeed, there is no expectation that, Dancehall should fall neatly in line with the requirements of ‘establishment’ and sacrifice, in the process, its artistic integrity in the effort to school and parent Jamaicans. On the contrary, it is to highlight that whether wittingly, or not Dancehall has contributed much to the process of values formation in Jamaica and has become, as a result, a critical institution of socialisation.

This coupled with the increased weakening of some of the traditional systems, previously, responsible for socialising the state has resulted in the creation of a vacuum. New and different forces have risen up to fill these gaps. Dancehall is one such force. Alongside an acknowledged dissonance about what constitutes appropriate values in Jamaica, therefore, it is not hard to see how Dancehall may be regarded as more than just casual ‘adult entertainment’. For better or worse, it may be regarded as holding a preeminent position of socialisation within the society.

Dancehall must seriously consider rehabilitating its public image, as a result; not just in the interests of practicality given its increased powers of importance in the society, but also as a means of demonstrating its inherent versatility/ creativity. The latter, as we are aware, goes beyond a focus on only themes of sex and violence. Excuses regarding a chronic lack of education on the part of many of its producers and artistes are an insult to the diversity of intelligence and depth of talent within the industry/ culture. These must yield to the more urgent demands of true national development, cultural pride and meaningful progress.

The banning of 'Rampin Shop' as well as all other songs with words considered more generally offensive must be viewed in context, then, in terms of its attempt to guard against a moral opprobrium, especially in the interests of posterity. It is more than a mere question of 'freedom of expression' or even censorship, though these are also crucial considerations.

We are far more than just thugs for hire and sex crazed party-goers. I am confident, as a result, that it is well within our capacity to clean up Dancehall and as well as all other forms of entertainment which often fall outside of the boundaries of acceptability. Self regulation, education and civic responsibility must not be sacrificed, therefore, in the efforts to win popularity, wealth and power.

We can do much better! I am sure of it!

I am, etc.



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Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

are you suggesting that this is part of what is needed in the industry?

NotUrAverage said...

This is not about Jamaicans or race...this is about right and wrong...Im sorry, but Im much more frightened of those slasher rock bands that talk about disfiguring people, being sadistically evil against what is differnt, and glorifying satanism....To me thats a true abomination, where as Hip Hop and Reggae is based on poor people struggling to survive in an overly aggressive place and identifying with there struggle...they just say what they feel they have to and they should...the degrading of women was popular long b4 hip hop and reggae through rock...but who talks about that...violence...well, if thats what u see every day where u live, and if u feel that if u dont speak like u would do the same thing that u saw sumone do, but still knew it was wrong, then it could happen to you, can u really blame them...and the gay thing, well...sum people were raised one way and reLLY dont know any better, the Jamaican cultur is highly against gays and thats just the way it is...can anyone get mad at the Jews for saying if ur not Jewish ur going to hell...or Christianity or Islam for that matter...? its all a matter of opinion, dont ban the music, try to understand the culture, theres more to reggea hip hop and other black music then Bling Bling, shoot em up, and lets all F*ck these B*tches...it just doesnt get mainstream radio play...I am a Jamaican that loves all types of music, I dont promote negativity and I seldom listen to music that tells me that being negative is good...but I must admit that I love sex, drugs and guns in movies....so whats worse...? the 10 highest paid musicians that get promoted to glorify guns, violence, anti gay & degrading of women to the people that want to hear it, tune in to the radio stations, buy tickets to concerts or purchase the CDs ...or the TV and movie makers that promote those very same things but even more graphically as they include imagery and advertising that make it even look better to children and adults alike...actually to everyone that has a TV and watches commercials and movies on them...? If you want to talk about wrong, we should start there...Music is all about self expression, negative or positive, right or wrong...it cant really be judged cause its personal preference...If you dont want to hear it or see it, dont promote or support it...Now, for the people that for what ever reason do support it and promote it, its there choice to subject themselves to it...God gave us choice, and it shouldnt be judged or taken away, cause wheres the freedom and democracy in that!?!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks for your response, NoUrAverage!

However, I will have to disagree with you on several points, not the least among them being where you say that this is a matter of opinion. It is not. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the matter of whether this is an opinion based discussion is moot, especially as it regards Dancehall, itself. This issue has less to do with Dancehall and more about media permissiveness, as explained in the post above.

In fact, as I recall, this letter was not published, in part, for said reasons - as it calls into question the sterile conventions of this debate about 'freedom of expression', to argue instead about media responsibility and standards in Jamaica. It is not enough to suggest that there is need to listen to another station if what is being played offends the sensibilities. After all, these are not private sound systems. They are national media, presumably being played and operated in the interests of a national audience.

Your comparisons between Dancehall and religion, though flawed in some respects is spot on in others. It is the new religion of the modern era, as the society claims a curious position of secularisation. In the process, delimiting the boundaries of what are considered appropriate criticisms against it. If you criticise Dancehall in any way, you are to be percieved as guilty of fighting 'poor peoples' culture', as well as to be seen as making excuses for what happens elsewhere. The reality being, however, that we do not live elsewhere and we are not speaking, in this instance, about Hip Hop, Rock or for that matter Hollywood.

It is completely legitimate to criticise the producers of Dancehall and expect criticism, in turn, from them. What I am not so sure is an appropriate response though, is where such criticism is reduced to issues related to a sort of relativist comparison to other genres of music (elsewhere). As you may have seen in the post above, I am arguing that there is more value to Dancehall than just 'mere entertainment' and that, that value must be appropriately harnessed for the good of the society.

Unlike you though, I cannot endorse the wholesale destruction of the society in the interests of 'freedom', as you percieve it!



How important do you rank Dancehall's contribution to national development in Jamaica?