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Election soundtrack

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The use of Jamaican music in political campaigns is nothing new.

The growth of indigenous Jamaican music coincided with the political and social development of post independent Jamaica. As a result political campaigns have become a space for the showcase of local music to accentuate the message of the particular political party or a specific candidate.

The 1976 general election campaign showcased the use of Jamaican music as the Michael Manley-led People's National Party utilised Neville Martin's The Message and Pluto Shervington's I Man Born Yah to great effect. Four year's later it was the catchy jingle to go along with the Jamaica Labour Party's slogan of “Deliverance is Near', that rang out and will always be remembered.

This current campaign has served up and exciting playlist of specially created tracks based on popular songs, by an impressive roster of artistes for a number of the candidates contesting the September 3 poll.

Within hours of Prime Minister Andrew Holness announcing in the House that a general election would be held on September 3, the wave of dubs and specials began rolling out as political candidates used the prevailing conditions as a result of COVID-19, with the ban on mass gatherings to get their message out using social media.

In weighing in on the current situation, cultural commentator and head of the Institute of Caribbean Studies at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, noted that the use of popular music in a political campaign is by no means novel, but has become more pronounced given the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Electioneering in Jamaica has taken on a new face. The technology affords us the quick turnaround of dubs, which is drawn from the sound system culture which gives us the robust nature in which rhythms and lyrical turns of phrases which is now being fashioned towards electioneering. Of course, there has never been a separation between music and electioneering. There have always been sound systems and deejays associated with political parties. So it is no surprise that we would have, in this context, an increase in the ways in which technology now affords us a dub or two for each politician.”

Stanley Niaah is, however, cautioning these politicians against exploiting the artistes in the name of their campaigns and then not being willing to support the creative industries with the necessary investment once the election has passed.

“In the same way that we have been given these creative riches from our deejays associated with dancehall, I want to caution politicians who will forget after the election the very people who have provided these dubs for them. I want to caution them against doing that. We must be able to advance those creative riches we have been seeing on the campaign by the kind of investment that politicians are known to provide for health, fighting crime, building roads, enhancing constituencies, for even even making sure people vote for them.” she told the Jamaica Observer.

“We must be able to provide the creative industries in Jamaica with the resources needed so that those industries can be maintained. Just don't be exploiters and culture vultures. Let us make sure that after we use those dubs and increase the popularity of those very artistes that the investment is made to sustain the industry. I say this with all seriousness, because we have been a Jamaica very much interested in using culture to advance our needs, but when it is time for real investment, to put our money where out mouths are, we fall short,” Stanley Niaah continued.

Music insider Clyde McKenzie noted that this development is neither helpful nor harmful to the artistes.

“I see it as a way for artistes to have it both ways supporting a particular candidate who might be their friend while being able to claim that they are not supporting a political party, they are backing an individual candidate.

“The dub plates I have heard seem only to be praising the preferred candidates of the artistes and is not belittling of their opponents. In fact, there is little, if any reference, to the opponents of the artistes' preferred candidates in these specials. Whether this will change, I doubt it. Will the same artistes be doing dubplates for competing candidates as can be the case in the dancehall?” McKenzie said.

People's National Party (PNP) candidate for St Ann South Eastern, Lisa Hanna was among the first out the blocks dropping her dub of Independent Gal by Shenseea. Since then she has released So Mi Like It, by her close friend, female deejay Spice. Her party leader Dr Peter Phillips, who is contesting the St Andrew East Central seat, has released his version of Dovey Magnum's raunchy Bawl Out; candidate for Manchester Central Peter Bunting has made use of Stylo G's Dumpling; while Beenie Man has given support to his girlfriend Krystal Tomlinson, who is contesting the St Andrew West Rural seat. While not voicing a dub, the 6ixx boss Squash has openly endorsed the candidate for St James West Central Dr Andre Haughton.

Across the aisle, the situation is just as colourful with the candidate for St Elizabeth South Western Floyd Green utilising Owna Lane by Teejay. Singer Christopher Martin's Big forms the mantra for two hopefuls, Alando Terrelonge, who is seeking to be returned as Member of Partliament for the St Catherine East Central constituency, and Robert Nesta Morgan, who is running over in Clarendon North Central. Jahvillani's Clarks Pon Foot is the dub of choice for Dr Nigel Clarke as he seeks to return as Member of Parliament for St Andrew North Western.

Given her close ties to the entertainment industry, the dub from the candidate for St Catherine Central , Olivia “Babsy” Grange is eagerly anticipated. She told the Observer that, while all other candidates are releasing a single, hers will be a “dub album”. She will be dropping her contribution later this week.

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