The fascinating case of Vybz Kartel
IN the 65 days that the longest ever murder trial in Jamaica occupied our minds, many of us seemingly forgot that Jamaica had other problems — critical ones. But the intrigue, the twists, the turns and the gladiatorial contests between the top legal luminaries in the courtroom had us all spellbound.
From one week to the next, the betting on the directions as to where the top-rated popular entertainer would be headed — home or to prison — rivalled that of a poor man trying to seek out dinner money through Cashpot. In the end, Vybz Kartel was found guilty.
To bring veracity to the weight of the evidence which eventually brought down the entertainer, immediately after the jury had returned the guilty verdict, the presiding judge told them that based on what had been presented in court and keenly listened to by them, the guilty verdict was the obvious one.
Now, I am not into the business of gloating over another man's misfortunes, especially in a country where there are more than enough misfortunes to share. Vybz Kartel is going to prison, that is, he is going to be caged for a very long time, unless the appeal that is going to be mounted on his behalf (expected to be another long process) finds success. Based on much of the evidence presented, however, it seems that he allowed his stellar career to intersect with a dark, sub-cultural behaviour that really was never needed as any add-on.
At this stage let me state my biases. I do not like much of what passes for the genre called deejay music. The politically correct explanation for that is for me to say that heading to 64 years old I am simply not au fait with the trends of the 'now' generation. I am too encapsulated in foreign music, and worse, I simply do not understand deejay music.
Well, let me debunk all of that. I was brought up listening to jazz, light classical and American pop music in the home. In primary school (Jones Town Primary) I was taught the rudimentary aspects of music. In high school (Kingston College) more of the rudimentary and, much to my displeasure, then headmaster Douglas Forrest immersed us in European classics to the point of nearly drowning us in it. Unlike the brainwashing of religion, I eventually grew to love Beethoven, Bach and the rest of that foreign company.
After and during those years of the 1960s I became fascinated with local pop music, which was mainly ska and love ballads. Then I discovered Russian opera, choral gospel, German folk music and, of course, I was still inundated by American pop, even as the Jamaican music had U Roy toasting over much of the musical fare as ska dissipated and gave way to rocksteady and then reggae.
In those years I found Chinese and Indian music to be styles that I would never come to love, but Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela from out of Africa had me humming along and certainly set my feet and waistline on fire.
So, I do not understand deejay music?
Much of what is involved in the 21st century evolution of Jamaican deejay music is neither culture nor music. To me it is merely a menu set out and deliberately tweaked by a bunch of musically dunce producers catering to quantity and to a nation of youngsters who have been made dumb over the last two generations by an education system in the same quantity and anti-quality chase.
The way I have seen it, these producers saw a way of catering to the dispossessed but highly talented youngsters from the dense inner-city regions and, instead of bringing them up, took the easier path of taking them down in encouraging gun lyrics and that which denigrated the very women who were sustaining them in hard times.
In the process, an entire nation of youngsters who, in turn, bore youngsters, found themselves exposed only to one form of music and, to them, that was it all.
Along the way there were standouts like Beenie Man, Bounty Killer (when he wanted to) and, of course, the son of the Gong, Junior Gong, certainly has become the cream who has found his natural place at the top. These were the poets for the dispossessed and the great communicators who could do it while stirring our feet to move and driving some of us into a frenzy of true excitement.
So, I don't understand deejay music?
Could there have been redemption for Kartel?
A week or so ago, my ace journalist friend from the Jamaica Observer, in expecting that Vybz Kartel had a greater chance of been freed than found guilty, had begun to formulate a process whereby he would link with Kartel and 'minister' to him on the basis that he was still young and whatever street grit he had allowed to attach to himself, there would have been sufficient time left for him to rid himself of it and take a new direction.
"So, you are going to redeem Kartel," I said.
"Yes, Mark. Here is a young man at the very top of his game, a phenomenon in Jamaica estimated to be making J$10 million per month. He doesn't need anything else but the music. He can change," he said.
"So what, you are going to give him religion, turn him into another 'Brother Desmond?'" I asked.
"Stop joking, Mark. Anyone can change," he replied.
I then attempted to give him a lesson on power. Many of Jamaica's top deejays were born in 'Crappy Lane' and not 'Heavenly Heights'. Their art is essentially the truest reflection of their lives and those around them who have no voices. Many up-towners seem to believe that life in Crappy Lane is one-dimensional, and so the art form that deejay music hopes to represent is much easier than, say, a youngster born in Heavenly Heights moving to some place like the Sorbonne and eventually becoming a composer of the classics.
"I knew a man, years ago living in Yallahs, working at a retreading company, drinking too much rum, which eventually killed him, and that man, a Jamaican, composed classical music and jazz. Was he any less Jamaican, even though he was a tortured soul? Was Don Cosmic any less Jamaican for blowing on his trombone some of the best jazz/ska fusion that Jamaica had ever heard?" I said to my friend.
"I don't know where you are going with that," he said.
"My point is that when a Jamaican deejay makes it to the top, it is very difficult to escape the clutches of that which held him trapped in poverty for all of the years of his childhood. Those clutches are mainly the prevailing community criminality and, of course, the supply of guns. He is not going to remain in the ghetto, but when he physically moves to Heavenly Heights the ghetto and its underbelly are likely to follow him there.
"A deejay becomes rich and is floating on an excess of adulation. Young women from Heavenly Heights, bored with their one-dimensional life, flock to him. Academia, in need of other dimensions and ego-baiting, makes him a hero. American pop stars pay more than homage to him. As I have repeatedly told you, power will naturally seek out other sources of power because it is a common interest shared, whether it is party politics, big business, organised criminality. It is all about power and maintaining it," I said.
"But what does this have to do with Kartel?" he asked.
"It may not have anything to do with Kartel, but if we assume that he had taken a wrong path, do you believe that a source of what you saw as his redemption would be a lessening of the awesome power he had among the Jamaican youth?" I said.
"I still believe that he could take a new direction, even change some of his lyrics, make them less raw and, with the power he has he could lead the youth to any direction he chose," my friend insisted.
I decided to change the direction of the subject.
"Why was it that the police were using cellphones that were in custody as evidence? Is what? Dem never have no credit? Is what type a foolishness that? Then some policemen could not find important notes, or some were leaving keys for locked-away items on top of cabinets. Was that plain incompetence or something much more sinister?" I asked.
"Mark, I gwine keep my mouth shut," he said.
We eventually retired to a place where they sold less pseudo legality and psychology and more beer.
Security guards afraid to speak out
For many years now one of the biggest open secrets has been the appalling treatment meted out to security guards by some of the companies, especially the fly-by-night start-ups.
I had a friend who once worked a 12-hour shift in an uptown plaza. At close to the end of his shift they came and told him that there was no replacement and he had to work another 12-hour shift. By that time his shirt collar had turned brown and was clinging to his dirty neck. To make matters worse, there was another guard working nearby who had a dog. When they carried food, it was for the dog, and the men had no way of leaving to buy anything to sustain them.
My friend told me that that time was the closest he came to eating dog food.
One security guard emailed me recently.
"I am one of your weekly readers. Because of your article is the reason for me to buy the Thursday Observer. Am a security guard for six years now, am wondering how the injustice we face in this industry is not talk about much in the media or on talk shows, better yet you sir, I would love to buy my Sunday Observer one Sunday and see you write on the topic cause your article is like drugs to the likes of me who love to see a straight talker who does not comes of bias.
"Many of us are deny the common workers' rights like no sick or vacation leave, we don't get pay time-and-a-half on Saturdays nor double on Sundays. Only on public holidays they give us double time. Our normal duty hours are twelve hours per day no overtime after eight hours. Uniforms and boots, caps that are issue to us -- costs are deducted from our wages fortnightly until full cost are retrieve. Same goes for hard hats and goggles if are required to be worn by us at some locations.
"We are told whenever we are leaving the company we can return our uniforms and be reimbursed but to date I have never seen it happen. If while on duty and a supervisor write you up for say sleeping or not properly attired, you can be charged and the punishment may vary. Hours already worked can be deducted from your wages or suspension or being warned.
"If found sleeping at say two or three hours before the end of your duty you can be charged half tour of duty even though your location was not compromised. If your location was broken into and you didn't report it soon enough, anything the client say are missing you will be forced to sign document to say you will pay for it even though no stock taking was done before. I have seen this happen more than once.
"If while driving the company or a client vehicle and you met in an accident from it your fault you will be ask to pay the full cost, even though you are not paid to drive which I think is a work by itself.
"You have some guys that are paid to drive but the majority are not. Security are being sent to some location even though no bathroom facilities are there.
"We are crying out for help sir.'
If this is true, and I believe much of what the writer said, then the situation is really bad. Unfortunately in Jamaica with high unemployment, there is a huge pool of 'reserve workers' from which employers can pick and choose. But certainly, both company and worker must share the same objective, especially the onsite objectives to ensure that the clients' property is protected in crime-filled Jamaica.
Where objectives are the same, compromise ought to be natural or it should be.
Is even one owner of a security guard company likely to respond to this?