Entertainment

When dancehall became responsible

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 01, 2019

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Ragamuffin, don't be silly, put some rubbers pon unuh willy

AIDS a go 'round and we don' waan catch it

Rude bwoy, don't be silly, rubbers pon unuh willy

AIDS a go 'round and we don' waan catch it

- Willy (Don't Be Silly), Buju Banton

Mi want a jook offa Jacqueline

But mi haffi draw for my rubbers, for my rubbers

Sex nice but the AIDS ting

Wi mek yuh die like flowers, die out like flowers

- Rubbers, Frisco kid

It was the 1990s. The AIDS epidemic was sweeping the world and the message of safe sex had to be communicated to the Jamaican people.

Among the tracks released by dancehall deejay Buju Banton 1993 album Voice of Jamaica, was Willy (Don't Be Silly). This was among the early songs which promoted the use of prophylactics as a means to combat what was now becoming a global epidemic and had begun to touch lives in Jamaica.

This track and its popularity would ignite a spark here in Jamaica, especially within the popular culture which was now coming to terms with the fact that HIV and AIDS was not limited to the homosexual community, as was previously thought.

Buju Banton and his team would go on to partner with the Ministry of Health and its epidemiology unit to launch Operation Willy, a campaign aimed at sensitising the Jamaican public, particularly those at a certain level, about the AIDS and more importantly safe sex practices.

For entertainment insider Clyde McKenzie this was a brilliant shift for the music, as it represented a shift in the thinking, with the music and its proponents being seen as important influences who could reach a wider audience.

“For something like dancehall which was seen as antagonistic towards victims of AIDS , based on the radical anti-gay stance of some, and the fact that the disease was first associated with persons of a particular sexual orientation, this was a watershed moment. The fact that AIDS was touching lives here, and it was now clear that it was not a gay disease, it was recognised that some local solution hard to be found. The shift also took place in terms of the use of the artistes by the authorities. It was wise of them to recognise the power, influence and value of popular culture,” McKenzie noted.

At the same time dancer and model, Carlene Smith was becoming the 'It Girl'. A fashion show featuring traditional models as well as Smith and her friends ended with Smith being dubbed Dancehall Queen Carlene. She was then caught in a whirlwind of appearances on stage shows, music videos and corporate events

As the notion of condom use as the most accessible prophylactic began to take root in Jamaica, at least one popular brand tapped into dancehall to spread the word.

Slam condoms drew on the popularity of Smith and dancehall culture by making her the face of the brand, with her likeness appearing on the packaging.

“When you look at corporate entities right now, so many of them are now utilising dancehall music and artistes to push their products. The Bank of Jamaica has been very proud of it use of dancehall to promote the country's fiscal matters. It has taken some time for corporate Jamaica to get involved and it was no doubt due to the success of these early initiatives that they have not become involved. In the early days where were sceptical due to the stigma of the artistes and their music and culture being loud, lewd, crude and vulgar. However, they have grown to understand the value of these influences and the important position they hold in conveying vital messages,” added McKenzie.


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