Reggae music, dancehall and the subculture of violence (part two)Sunday, February 28, 2021
The worldwide demand for reggae music enhanced the material well-being of the artiste who had international appeal and could perform in festivals in Europe and concerts in North America and other venues in Japan and South America.
But the international influence has had its drawbacks. Weed or ganja was always omnipresent throughout the music and the dreadlocks regalia added to the mayhem of the artistes. But cocaine also seeped into the living room of the Jamaican artistes and we lost some of our great talent to the overindulgence in the more addictive realm of hard drugs.
By the 1980s, the music was searching for a new genre and dancehall emerged as the new strain. The music has always been multi-dimensional but with the emergence of dancehall, the music began to extrapolate much of what was taking place in the society. The debate will be ongoing as to whether the music is a dependent variable or an independent variable. Dancehall reflected the serious cultural changes taking place in inner-city communities. From the 1972 General Election, the music seeped into political campaigns and from the 1960s until the establishment of the Electoral Commission, political campaigns were plagued by intra-class violence.
Many of our leading vocalists grew up in western Kingston. Marcia Griffiths spent her childhood years in Hannah Town. Joe Higgs, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Bunny Wailer and others spent their formative years in Trench Town.
The culture of badness was given legs by elected officials competing for office in Central Kingston, Western Kingston, South St Andrew and spiralled into a national warring factions that not only led to unnecessary bloodletting, but also threatened the viability of the democratic process.
By the 1980s, the ritual of Rastafari was still present but the dancehall took the music in the direction of naked sexuality and romanticising violence.
This is the new era of the sound system and the sound clashes. Numerous dancehall lyricists began working the microphone of their favourite sound system. The use of language often extemporaneously and the beauty of rhyming reflected the verbal dexterity of the dancehall disc jockey.
Hugh Roy was one of the pioneers in this field even though he burst on the scene during the late 1960s. There is no question about the talent of a Beenie Man and Bounty Killa. The dancehall got entangled with the rise of dons and gangsterism.
There is a growing recognition of the unproductive nature of worshipping at the shrine of badness and adhering to the subculture of violence. The incarceration of Vybz Kartel and the pending sentence of Movado's son illustrate the damage that this kind of musical socialisation can be self-destructive.
Dancehall artistes like Sean Paul are beginning to recognise the role that they can play in downplaying the subculture of violence. In recent years, artistes like Beenie Man, Bounty Killa and Capleton have become involved in community upliftment. Beenie Man has contributed to community development in Craig Town and Waterhouse. Bounty Killa has contributed to the Kingston Public Hospital and Capleton has held an annual fund-raiser for non-profit organisations like hospitals in St Mary.
Many of these artistes have matured and understand much of the weakness in the cultural realm and the extent that dancehall has exacerbated the condition of young people who are marginalised.
These individual efforts do make a difference. Nonetheless, a greater impact can be made if dancehall and reggae performers establish a collective organisation in which they could assert their influence, especially on young people. The music is deep from an early age and having programmes in the primary schools financed by dancehall and reggae artists and supported by the business community to establish extra-curricular programmes that concentrate on the musical heritage and the folk culture of Jamaica would expose primary school students to the richness of Jamaican music and would be instrumental in cultivating talent and beneficial to the well-being of our child development.
The children in many of these inner-city communities have been traumatised by violence. Musical and cultural programmes would provide them with a more expansive exposure to the creative genius of the contribution that they can make to their society. Rather than being preoccupied about “making duppies”, they will grasp the sacrosanct nature of life.
The subculture of violence is the principal reason why every year there are over 1,000 murders that occur in Jamaica. Our educational institutions have a key role in beating back this nihilistic homicidal juggernaut. Resources are always scarce but the elementary or primary schools in urban communities would be a good place to begin in the musical and cultural socialisation of impressionable minds and hearts.
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “If music is the food of love, play on”. Reggae music has contributed to the enrichment of the musical culture of the world. It is a rich part of the Jamaican culture and the investment in young people would pay incalculable dividends in later years and help to reverse the subculture of violence.
Professor Basil “Basil” Wilson, a former Kingston College Manning Cup football star and academic, is retired Provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, USA.
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