Politicians should learn from our dancehall
The dancehall scene with all its creativity (Photo: KARL MCLARTY)

Most of you may know that I am a lover of dancehall. My passion is not an overnight love affair but one I've had since I was a little girl and honed as a teenager. There was not a big sound system that I didn't follow — Bass Odyssey, Metro Media, Body Guard, and Stone Love were my favourites. Today I still go to Stone Love on a Wednesday night when I need to clear my head and hear some good selecting and juggling.

This past week I needed a little motivation to improve my energy. It had been a tiring couple of days and I was feeling low. So I called up "di crew" and said, "Stone Love later! We rolling at 11:00 pm."

As we drove out together, late Wednesday night, something within me needed to go downtown; I wanted to smell the heart of Kingston. Driving past Heroes' Circle at night is serene; the street is clean and quiet. From Duke Street to King Street, Harbour Street, and Princess Street, all of us remarked on the beauty of the buildings despite their antiquity. A friend commented that it reminded him of Miami's Art Deco district. I agreed and added Old Havana in Cuba.

From the record-pressing studios to the National Gallery, Liberty Hall, the National Library, Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), museums, National Heroes' Park, old churches, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and so much more, downtown Kingston is a sleeping beauty waiting for an awakening.

An inspiring discussion ensued as we drove back uptown. Given its history and how much visitors to countries now yearn for experiential vacations rooted in culture, we lamented the 'gold mine' of downtown Kingston. All of us concluded that it lacks leadership. In other words, successive governments have only spoken to the lofty vision of downtown's development but lack the technical capacity to drive the management and implementation of the big picture.

On our way, we stopped at the 'Dumpling Shop' on Waltham Park Road to have some coffee, Milo, and a fried dumpling. Standing on the piazza of the shop I observed as people came to buy their fritters and fry dumplings, as we all mingled, having different discussions with a common thread.

"Yow, mi bredda, yuh nuh si how di ting set? If yuh nuh have a bag a money yuh nah guh survive..."

I listened and, despite the language, all of us were speaking about life and the various systems in Jamaica. It's always a surreal feeling to see 'out of many, one people' in action. There's an extraordinary unity and love when Jamaicans come together regardless of our different addresses. I always feel happiest when I leave Kingston 8.

Pulling up to 41 Burlington Avenue, home and headquarters to Stone Love Music, creates an adrenaline rush. At midnight, cars are lined on both sides of the road, the pan chicken man is in full swing, the crown and anchor man already has up his board, several 'parking attendants' beckon to you, and you hear the bass of the music reverberating. It's a spiritual feeling of our culture which is difficult to describe. You must experience it to understand it.

There is authenticity. What you see is what you get. However, there is also a genuine sadness for me. No one should be relegated to having to buy a squeeze of toothpaste, a tablespoon of oil, or one frankfurter. It's bittersweet, but it doesn't have to be.

I've learned over the years the elements that make for a successful dance are not dissimilar to those that make for a harmonious society.

There are 12 essential criteria for the dancehall to feel sweet and people to enjoy themselves:

1) a seasoned lead selector with good musical juggling, management, and history skills

2) the person that comes to enjoy him/herself by him/herself

3) the crew that can't dance

4) the group of dancers that know every dance

5) the surprise entrance of an international superstar musician

6 a random performance by an artiste whose song you know

7) the weed, peanut, 'grabba', and Wrigley's man

8) the video 'light' man walking up and down to capture the happenings

9) love, unity, and straight dancing

10) celebrities and fashionable people among the crowd

11) overseas visitors

12) the pan chicken man/men outside the dance

Like any street dance, every country needs a lead selector or leader that the people respect to guide them with the best choices for their happiness and peace of mind. Juggling and management skills are critical. In these times of great uncertainty, a leader must know when to "pull up", "wheel and come again", and understand the history behind their craft to move the people's dancing forward to where they want them to go.

Leaders should spend some time learning how the logistics of the dancehall work. The truth is, anyone can come to the dancehall, whether by yourself or with your crew, because from the time you reach, "nobody nah trouble yuh"; you are safe because people are there to enjoy themselves. And even though the video light man is there to capture clothes, the dancing, and the vibes, he also creates a deterrent to anyone who wishes to be covert or unlawful.

The dancehall promotes small businesses. From my early teens you know you will see the 'crown and anchor man', the soup and corn lady, the pan chicken man, and the weed man parading their goods for purchase from patrons. In a country with a large informal economy, currently, it is Weddy Weddy Wednesdays, Boom Boom Sundays, Boasy Tuesdays, and Romeich in Kingston, to name a few, that ensure some of these people earn a living. Jamaica ought to recreate a 24-hour, 7-day-per-week entertainment street downtown that showcases and helps many Jamaican entrepreneurs like these all year round.

Then, perhaps the most significant lesson politicians can learn from the dancehall is how to promote live Jamaican music to overseas visitors and locals to enjoy during the week with a vibrant nightlife. When you can have a Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Fantan Mojah all at the same place enjoying themselves and may give a surprise performance is as priceless as any experience.

Plus, like in every dance, there are the groups who know every dance and those who come to learn. So, too, is society. There will always be people more knowledgeable with better technical skills. But the beauty in the dance is that the overwhelming unity and love cause everyone to move to the music. Whether dancing on the treble or the bass, our bodies cannot be still. Our actions are positive towards the instructions of the music and the selector. We leave the dance better off than you came; never ridiculed or feeling inferior, but emboldened by the experience.

Perhaps before the next budget presentation, Jamaican leaders should go and spend some time in the dancehall and sit with those who have given some respite to the weary once per week and kept our culture going for decades.

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