There is a mountain of credible research findings that pinpoint a direct correlation between music and the way humans feel and act. Yet, like the proverbial ostrich, some among us — for reasons and motivations best known to them — continue to bury their heads in the sand regarding that fact.
Since music can make us feel relaxed; influence our buying habits, levels of productivity; improve our mood; lower our blood pressure; and, among other things, influence our perception of the world, it is a common sense deduction that music can do and influence us in the exact opposite ways.
Music can influence aggressive thoughts and encourage crime and violence. It is not rocket science, well, maybe except for those among us who are hell-bent on investing in ignorance. Sponsors of this kind of delusion are no different from the purveyors of misinformation and disinformation. Those who pretend to be blind, dumb, and deaf to the debilitating impact of music that promote murder, mayhem, and the belittling of innate human worth, usually because of personal financial gain, do not mean this society any good.
Unfettered freedoms, really?
“Even in hell there are rules,” my late grandfather used to tell me. These days advocates of all forms of relativism, much of it imported from elsewhere, tell us that nothing/no one is absolutely right and nothing/ no one is absolutely wrong. These geniuses, usually individuals with a long trail of letters behind their names, tell us that because nobody is right or wrong and nothing is right or wrong, all behaviours are to be tolerated and embraced, even when the majority of a society disagrees. This is madness!
Unfettered freedoms do not exist in real life. I believe that is why self-respecting societies are governed by the rule of law. Yet, over many decades, some among us have been tacitly and overtly advancing a rotten relativism which has helped to significantly undermine the social infrastructure of this country.
Of course, there is right and wrong. Right and wrong are the adhesives which help to hold societies together. When that adhesion is removed, in part or whole, the results are often catastrophic.
We, in Jamaica, have been ignoring that reality for far too long, and today we are reaping the whirlwind. The deadly consequences and are evident all around us.
I grew up in a Jamaica in which folks would move to immediately lend a helping hand, for example, at the site of a motor vehicle accident. Today, a majority stand aside and use their smartphones to capture the lowest points of human misfortune with a single perverse objective: I must post it in on social media first.
Those who advance relativism as the formula to propel us into the stratosphere are, in effect, selling lit fuses that are directly joined to powder kegs. Locally, some have continued to close their eyes to this reality, and many have sheepishly followed them, maybe because they fear being relegated to a minority. In the meantime, Jamaica continues her long-standing and rapid drift socially. This is crazy!
Those of us, especially, who have been educated at significant public expense have a duty to repudiate the faulty perspective that unfettered freedom is our saviour.
Long in the making
I agree with Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the basal elements which some promote and put on a pedestal should not define us as a people. Said Holness: “Whap whap and chop chop and Ensure and all a dem...all of those things have their place, but they can’t define us, we should not allow that to define us. When another country says I don’t want your artistes in my country, it’s an embarrassment.” (Jamaica Observer, June 13, 2022)
For many years the deadly descent of the genre call dancehall was evident. While some, including me, repeatedly rang the alarm, some romanticised the descent and vociferously maintained that art was simply imitating life. Dancehall music, they insisted, had little or no agenda-setting functions.
Recall the ‘clashes’ between then ‘ruling’ DJs — Ninja Man vs Super Cat, Ninja Man vs Vybz Kartel, and I could on. Many of those clashes ended in violence onstage and off. In numerous instances people suffered serious injuries, and in several instances patrons lost their lives. Some mollycoddled and intellectualised the descent.
Many years ago I interviewed musicologist Bunny Goodison. He made a remark that has stuck with me. Goodison noted that slackness was always a part of the landscape of local music. “There was always the fringe element,” he noted. “However,” he remarked, “slackness, and crassness were just a theme; they were never the dominant theme”. He added, “Today slackness and crudeness are taking on the appearance of the dominant theme.” That interview with Goodison was 19½ years ago.
Things are substantially worst today. Crassness is now a full-fledged disease in our music. Violence is celebrated. Objectification of women is glamourised. Smoke emanating from assault weapons, sending the clear message they have just been fired are now commonplace in what some continue to hold up as art. Gang wars, the defence of turf, ganja smoke rising like a cloud cover, drinking of expensive liquor, and women gyrating in various states of undress have all but eclipse the social agenda that our music used to be famous for. Yet, some continue to close their eyes to the vicious and deadly impact on the entire society. Frankenstein in now at our doors.
In the mentioned article, Holness also noted that: “We see it trickling down into the fights in the schools. We are concerned, very, very concerned, and worried about it. What has happened to us as Jamaicans is that we are being defined by some very limited things. Jamaica has allowed itself to become defined by a limited way of thinking.”
I believe our music, dancehall in particular, has near lost its mind. And thousands who imbibe it are rapidly losing theirs. We are deep down a rabbit hole, and some would want us to keep digging, even faster. While many locally refuse to see the obvious danger, some of our Caribbean neighbours and several countries globally have been seeing the red flags and taking action by banning artistes from Jamaica whose repertoire is encapsulated in that which is grotesque.
This is unfashionable, but I agree 100 per cent with the banning of those who spout deadly lyrics. Countries have a duty to protect their borders not just from physical incursion from external forces, but also from putrid influences that will maim and damage their citizens. We have neglected this critical role for far too long.
I expect some are going to bellow, “But what about soca music?” What about it? Any music form which debilitates human worth should be relegated to the scrap heap, in my view.
Then there are those who are going to call out, “Free trade and freedom of travel is a pillar of several long-standing agreements signed by Caricom members and these agreements guarantee that the region’s professionals and skilled persons are allowed access to regional markets.” I think those who canvass this argument needs to revisit these agreements. As I understand it, regional access to trade opportunities, freedom of movement as regards professions and skilled persons, and related terms are conditional in all of these agreements.
I anticipate that some are going shout, “Higgins, you don’t like ghetto music, you are fighting against, ghetto people eating food.” On the contrary, I like all genres of music. What I detest is music which is helping to turn our people, youth especially, into mental midgets. I frown on the fact that those who wholesale and retail poisons are allowed to invade and infiltrate public spaces with little or no restriction.
Last week, Guyana’s Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn was reported in sections of that country’s media inter alia: “I have to say here and now, that no artiste like Skeng will ever come again into this country.” For years, numerous dancehall artistes from Jamaica have been banned in our sister islands. Some, in order to get a political ‘forward’, as we say in local parlance, have sugar-coated and excused away the fact that many of these individuals are purveyors and sponsors of crime and violence.
Consider this: “Disturbed about the arbitrary banning of Jamaican entertainers by countries within Caricom, Jamaica’s minister of state in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, Damion Crawford, is urging the nation to take a firm stance against the practice.
“Likening the situation to the blocking of patties, beer, and other Jamaica-manufactured goods, the state minister, during the sectoral debate in the House of Parliament on Tuesday, argued that there was a need to ensure free movement of Jamaican entertainers, including dancers, singers and other acts.
“Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada have been known to impose bans on Jamaican entertainers. The now-jailed Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer was banned from performing in St Lucia and Grenada in 2010, while David ‘Mavado’ Brooks was banned by the Trinidadians in 2008. That ban was lifted in 2011. Explicit lyrics and promoting violence were among the reasons cited by these Caricom countries.
“Crawford described the issue as ‘a sore point currently being faced by our industry’.
“ ‘We must stand against the arbitrary banning of our entertainers from performing on shows in some of these countries on the basis of lyrical content.’ “ (The Gleaner, July 19, 2012)
I believe it is time that all well-thinking Jamaicans use all democratic means to push back against this kind of injurious and half-baked performing. It is not too late to stop the rot. We owe it to our children to do better.
Preserving rich legacies
Prime Minister Holness is right, we cannot allow Jamaica to be defined by the lowest common denominator.
Incidentally, Whap Whap is a hit single by Skillibeng, which glorifies gun violence, while chop (scamming) is a term used in the music to promote ill-gotten gains. Ensure became a trending topic following the breakthrough song Code by Montego Bay artiste Brysco and references females performing oral sex with the nutritional drink.
Jamaica has long been recognised as a country that punches way above her weight class. That hard-fought recognition has not come easy. We are known on the world stage for the production of numerous and great trendsetters of monumental importance. We are known for people who have positively shifted the tectonic foundations of the globe. I will not begin to name names because I do not have space to include all who would deserve to be listed. We must not allow myopic actors and elements to devalue the rich legacies of those who sacrificed even their very lives to make Jamaica a world beater.
Recently, I heard a discussion on radio about what the priorities of the country should be at this time. One of the discussants made the following comment: “Highways cyaan nyam, and smart city cyaan nyam.”
This is the kind of short-sighted thinking has held this country back for decades.
I believe Jamaica’s decision to use much of the Chinese line of credit to improve the road infrastructure, in particular, is prudent. It is evident that our road network, especially in many of the major urban centres, were built for traffic loads of the 70s and 80s. On a typical workday we collectively waste hundreds of precious production hours stuck in traffic jams in some critical commercial centres throughout this country. One does not need to be a transport economist to figure that our failure to transport goods and services more efficiently is costing this economy dearly.
Those who hold the short-sighted view that: “Highways cyaan nyam, and smart city cyaan nyam” should consider this finding from an International Monetary Report (IMF), entitled ‘Where Are the World’s Fastest Roads?’ The report is dated June 15, 2022. It noted, among other things: “High-speed roads that can carry goods to customers in far-off markets raise productivity, reduce poverty, and are an important contributor to sustainable and inclusive economic development.
“This is why economists spend time trying to assess the state of the world’s roads through surveys and the like.”
Those with the mistaken view that the Administration should stop the highway projects and pump the funds elsewhere need to read the mentioned report.
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education and youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.