Anyone unaware of the sexual depravity of current Jamaican music has had to be hanging out under a stone for the last three decades.
Reggae music has continuously held the higher ground of decency and respect, mainly through the influence of Rastafarian themes. Dancehall, however, has sunken into the pits of sexual decadence and is now an embarrassment to our society and has produced a subculture of ‘deplorables’ that demean our unique culture.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently stated, “Dancehall should not define us as a country.” I have other issues with the prime minister concerning his dancehall linkages, but I am in lockstep with him on the current state of the genre. He is one of the few brave voices to speak out about this disgusting, emerging subculture.
Of course, I expect to be lectured on my opinions by the blinkered sympathisers of this increasingly offensive musical genre. I know all the talking points about racism, class, poverty, oppression, and others. However, we were all raised by good parents to know right from wrong and decent from indecent behaviour. Therefore, I have little respect for those who defend wrong and indecency.
The once-revered topic of sex is now on the rampage in dancehall songs and videos. I am disappointed at the overt, obnoxious content of today’s music and how it has affected social behaviour. I recently listened to a radio station in Baltimore playing songs laced with the P and F words. The DJ didn’t even care to cut out the offending sections. Actually, most of the new songs are laced with such words anyway, so I guess he would have had to cut the entire piece.
While I recognise that I may be on a slippery slope, it seems that some aspects of this explicit sexuality may be a part of our African construct.
Before I jump all over dancehall, it is only fair to look at the big picture of our musical forms.
This issue of extraordinary sexuality has been a dominant theme in Jamaican music since the days of slavery. There are historical accounts of how the white English plantation owners were appalled at the dancing of the enslaved people, especially the women. They complained that the dancing was too suggestive, sensual, and sometimes explicit. These Christian-minded gentlemen found the dancing styles abhorrent and, at times, vociferously reprimanded the dancers. Finally, they swore to use their musical styles to replace this perceived decadence.
Now, one can well imagine the sight of these women gyrating to the melodic beat of their drum-dominated African music. They were probably well proportioned, as are most African women, with curvaceous bodies bulging from their clothes. Add to that the imagery of these ample-bosomed women with prominent buttocks prancing to the bass drum. In some instances, the women’s breasts would jump out of their clothes without effort to cover them. After all, these were Africans with their own customs.
In this hurried clash of cultures one can understand the planters’ disgust and the African women’s casual exuberance. But is this an indication that the explicit sexuality of Jamaican music is a part of our heritage? If so, is it that I am being unfair to dancehall? Could this genre’s behaviour be a throwback to our African culture? Have I been so Europeanised that I have lost my way culturally, and perhaps there is nothing wrong with the music being so sexual?
Regardless of this big picture, I still detest what I see happening sexually in dancehall today.
Jamaica’s first recognised genre is called mento. This music originated from the work and play songs of slaves and transitioned after Emancipation into the theme of the rural folk. In its early stages mento suffered the same fate as the earlier African music. It was frowned upon by the colonials, near whites, and aristocrats for several reasons, but mainly for its tendency toward negative social commentary and its openly sexual vocals.
Mentonians were not constrained in the early days, and many songs would have attracted a PG-13 label to protect the young. However, these songs, like Big Bamboo and Miss Goosey, flourished underground.
We have also had songs with explicit sexual connotations in our other genres of ska, rock steady, and reggae. Ska was so happy that it had no time to be sexual. Still, sex-tinged ska songs, like She Pon Top and Whine or Grine, left nothing to the imagination. Prince Buster never hesitated to tell everyone in his rock steady ballad, “Tonight I want to wreck a pum pum.” To seal the deal, the Soul Sisters responded, “Tonight, I want to wreck a bu**y.” Both songs were underground hits. Prince Buster’s song titled Big Five was even more sexually atrocious.
Early reggae also has its catalogue of sexually oriented songs. Max Romeo’s Wet Dreams and Hole In Your Crotches are incredibly explicit, as are also pieces like Barbwire by Nora Dean and Ram You Hard by the Bleechers. Some of these songs were even sung by us primary schoolchildren. But, of course, out of the earshot of our elders.
As reggae evolved to pattern American R & B styles, the music transitioned into various groups singing pure love songs. In addition, the introduction of Rastafari into the music helped improve its lyrical content.
So, after all, it seems we do have a legacy of sexuality in our music. But, unfortunately, the current trends are appalling and not fit for decent consumption.
With the ascendancy of dancehall in the 1980s, sex and sexual exploits came roaring back. Artists like Mad Cobra, with Flex, Time to Have Sex, and Shabba Ranks, with his Needle-eye Pum Pum, became international stars. This type of music, popularly referred to as “slackness”, would receive gun salutes, real and mimicked, at dance events. Shabba Ranks, who refers to himself as Big Dutty Stinking Shabba, merrily told his fans that a woman’s private parts “caan done” because it was made out of “foot bottom material” so it “caan rub down”.
Without any apology, I found many of these songs repulsive and degrading to our womenfolk.
Did I say degrading to our womenfolk? Ironically, the biggest fans of these outrageous songs were the women themselves. That’s where the depravity comes in. When a “slack song” is played, the women en bloc would, in Jamaican terms, “skin out”. The nastier and more revolting the song, the more extensive the skinning out dance moves.
To this day I cannot fathom these women’s thought processes. Many had children for whom they should have been role models; instead, they ensured their daughters learned to do the latest skin-out dances from the tenderest of ages. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that “children learn what they live and live what they learn”.
Things got worse when female artists like Lady Saw, Lady Patra, Macka Diamond, et al joined the fray. To compete with the men, they naturally had to be more audacious.
This Jamaican subculture has gradually spread throughout society. No longer is there a distinction between class, wealth, and all those other pretty words like decency, appropriate behaviour, and respect for our women.
The music became a free for all with no parts of a woman’s body excluded from a detailed analysis by the artist. Was it this type of debauchery that the early English planters found sickening?
I must confess that I like a few slack songs, like Position by Terror Fabulous and Shabba’s It Caan Done. However, I find maybe 90 per cent of them repulsive.
How was I to know that things would get worse?
Well, things have got worse in this the 21st century.
With the advent of social media and cellphones with video and photographic applications, all pretence of decency has evaporated. The sexual musical offerings of our current crop of artists are beyond despicable and are downright disgraceful. Inappropriate wording is the order of the day, and our women artists’ repugnant behaviour is again in the spotlight. Many female artists are an embarrassment to their gender.
The slackness of dancehall music has gradually drilled down to our youngsters who know the songs’ words and the dance moves. Schoolchildren, especially our young girls, have embraced the wild abandon of this loathsome music blaring from the speakers of the dancehall, public transport, and even the radio stations.
Sex is no longer taboo. I have seen videos of children having sex in the classroom in front of other students who seemed uninterested in what was happening. Videos also abound of young girls publicly performing simulated oral sex as encouraged by a song promoting the milky Nestlé product Ensure.
Music videos now publicly promote the deviant sexual behaviour of our artists. It is one thing for sexual activities to be respectably confined to a person’s bedroom, but quite another to exhibit one’s sexuality publicly. I have seen sexually oriented videos that would make Sodom and Gomorrah look like a kindergarten school. Selectors complain that playing certain songs in the dance encourages public displays of woman-on-woman sexuality. Meanwhile, female artists come on TV to discuss their experience with anal sex. What disappoints me most is that these female artists who flaunt their sexuality so inappropriately are beautiful women.
During the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a party was promoted on social media as a combo event, a la fast-food servings. But, of course, one gets a better deal when purchasing a combination of products. This combo party offered “straight-up” sex, oral sex, and other sexual fantasies at deal prices. A video emerged of the event, in which a man and a woman were seen having sex openly; another showed a pair enjoying oral sex and women walking bare-chested. What amazed me most was that the other patrons were unmoved by what was happening around them. Were I there, I would be guilty of staring.
Prime Minister Holness, I agree with you. This behaviour should not define us as a people. However, it does.
I may be suffering from a generation gap dysfunction, but I am not a happy camper. I think that sooner or later some sort of censorship must be applied to Jamaican music to protect our youngsters. As such, I will leave all the guilty artists a warning, as per an old Jamaican saying, “Chicken merry, hawk deh near.”
Rohan M Budhai is a tax consultant, writer, and history enthusiast. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org