A few weeks ago, Guyana’s Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Robeson Benn announced the imposition of a ban on Jamaica’s dancehall artiste Skeng from performing at any public events in Guyana. The ban was announced following an incident at the Baderation concert held on May 22nd, 2022, which caused the concert to end prematurely after shots were fired and bottles thrown. The Guyanese Home Affairs minister insisted that Skeng and other artistes who had a record of promoting vulgar and lawless behaviour including firing gunshots in public spaces would be prohibited from performing publicly in the country. The development has elicited a fair amount of discussion back home in Jamaica where Prime Minister Holness who was addressing a Jamaica Labour Party Area Two Council Meeting in Sydenham, St Catherine on June 13, 2022, stated that the developments have left him feeling ashamed. In addressing the issue, Prime Minister Holness pointed out that the contents of many popular dancehall songs should not define Jamaica. According to reports, Mr. Holness has maintained that “Whap-whap and chop-chop and ensure and all ah dem …all of those things have their place, but they can’t define us. We should not allow that to define us…and it is an embarrassment to me when another country says I don’t want your artiste in my country,” he lamented to the Sydenham gathering, adding that while the situation is humiliating, the Government of Jamaica could not intervene. And he is correct, as the Government of the people of Guyana has every right to take whatever steps they deem necessary to ensure the protection of their people from negative influences, even if their attempt resembles censorship.
Predictably, and quite rightly so, Jamaican media houses have pounced on the comments of the Prime Minister as he used the speaking opportunity to express his concern that some of the very issues portrayed in some of these songs were seeping into the nation’s schools and has left him very concerned. Previously in April of 2021, Prime Minister Holness had danced down this very same wicket in an address to the Nation’s Parliament where he stated that violent music plays a role in influencing the behavior of some people who carry out vicious acts on their countrymen and women. All of this comes against the background of the Prime Minister’s tacit adoption of the moniker ‘Bro Gad’, a term made popular by 6IX deejay Daddy1 in his Trap Dancehall song Bro Gad. In my opinion, any embrace of such a moniker, given its reference and origin, provides a tacit embrace of not only the artiste but the associated lifestyle. In the circumstances, the Prime Minister could be deemed a hypocrite when his utterances are placed alongside the subsidiary Bro-Gad image that he has tacitly embraced.
Beyond that, Prime Minister Holness’ expression of embarrassment is in my opinion completely misplaced. Jamaica has been swimming in an ocean of crime, punctuated by a ridiculously spiraling murder rate for more than four decades. During this period, Jamaica on several occasions has statistically led as the most murderous country in the world on a per capita basis and as of May 2022 ranks as the second most murderous country with more than 48 murders per 100,000 of population. While this is a problem that Holness (like some of his predecessors) has inherited, he had campaigned in 2015/2016 on addressing this monster, which has only seen additional growth since his party’s election in 2016. In the circumstances, Holness’ references to dancehall music and its associated culture being responsible for the nation’s crime problem and school indiscipline problems must be seen for what it really is- a government looking for an excuse on which to pin its crime fighting failures.
It is intriguing that while the issue continues to raise temperatures at home and in the Diaspora, we seem locked into ascribing blame without attempting to find meaningful solutions. The starting point would have to be an answer to the question of how much support has been provided to the island’s music industry over the years? From its inception through its growth years of the 1970s to 1990s, Jamaican music has received very little in terms of policy support, and despite the music’s global impact and influence, structured private capital has given the island’s music industry a very wide berth. Well-placed sources in Jamaica have identified that such a vacuum has now been occupied by monies from other less desirable sources including scamming, drug-runners, and gunrunners who now exercise the kind of influence which pushes the badman, murder, gunman, and other lewd lyrics. After all, isn’t it a case of he who pays the piper that calls the tune?
Clearly, what is needed in Jamaica is a change of approach that is designed to bring about a change in the lives of Jamaicans, particularly those population members involved in making music. We only succeed in fooling ourselves by not recognizing the varying levels infused in our music industry. It is my view that unless we change the circumstances affecting the lives of our people, unless we create positive environments, we will never realize the positive social outcomes that we crave.
It is a fact of our history that our recording artistes and musicians have always created lyrics from the experiences within their communities. As far back as the early 1960s the ‘Rude Bwoy” phenomenon provided material from which artistes inked and recorded songs. The Wailers’ Simmer Down, Desmond Dekker’s Rude Boy Train, Alton Ellis’ Dance Crasher, and The Slickers’ Johnny You Too Bad (to name a few). These and other songs were all influenced by the social and economic conditions of the 1960s and provided the canvases on which these songs were raised. The current gun, drugs and pro-scammer lyrics are doing no less than what developed sixty years earlier. Had the powers that existed then, taken a different approach, perhaps our subsequent experiences would have been different.
I am submitting that our current experiences are no different as it is the environmental experiences of these impressionable youngsters which provides the subject matter for these musical creations. Change the experiences of the youth, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and you will change the influences that they write and sing about. Change their life experiences and you change not only the lyrics, but you might also bring about a change to the country’s crime problem.