Expletives deleted!Wednesday, September 04, 2019
Every once in a while someone academically brilliant says something devoid of reason and common sense. A case in point, Dr Andre Haughton's preoccupation with lobbying for the removal of restrictions against dancehall artistes using profanity — “bad wud” as we call it in Jamaica — in their performances.
Haughton, a youthful lecturer in economics at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, political aspirant, and recent appointee to the Senate, has been venting his spleen on social media, through newspaper commentaries and interviews over an incident in which police brought a premature end to the expletive-laced performance of a dancehall group from Japan at the 'Fully Loaded' stage show held in St Ann.
For an accurate understanding of Haughton's views I quote him from an interview reported in the print media: “I think that these expressions are just a natural part of our language that should not be vilified in the dancehall space because it helps the artistes to articulate themselves in the way they want to. If you listen to them with objectivity you'll realise that these words have no underlying bad meaning.”
Dr Carolyn Cooper, who plays an important role in raising the cultural consciousness of the nation, supports Dr Haughton's position. She, too, was quoted in the print media saying the following: “Instead of diminishing our earthy bad words as signs of the devaluation of women, I take a different point of view. Jamaican bad words that refer to female genitalia and the bloody specifics of menstruation are signs of the potency of female sexuality.”
On their own these arguments seem to have merit. In the larger context of the harmful effects music can have, there is a preponderance of research that establishes a direct correlation between hard-core dancehall genre — violently homophobic, misogynistic, promiscuous and corrosive in its lyrics — and the risky sexual, violent and coarse behaviour especially of adolescents. At intervals, the contending views surrounding this subject break out into public debate and even quarrel. One such imbroglio was precipitated by an article written by Azia Kanika Auset, which was published in the local press on March 17, 2017. Writing under the caption 'Dancehall — Civilisation or Barbarianism', Auset took the general position that the degradation of society, particularly in relation to the low self-perception and self-esteem of black people in Jamaica, is perpetuated by dancehall music.
There is also a commercial argument to be made for not giving in to the “anything goes” argument of intellectuals and artistes more interested in a temporary hit (bus') than in making what music producer Tony Kelly calls “forever songs”. It is that clean sells and clean lasts. The artistes associated with the rise of dancehall that have achieved global acceptance and reaped financial success are those who have cleaned up their act by making music that reflect the spiritual and social consciousness associated with the more popular mainstream reggae.
Winston Powell, owner of the renowned Stone Love sound system, entered the debate. As one of the originators of the raunchy sound system clash before bad word cussing began to dominate the dancehall scene, his views carry a lot of weight. This is what he said recently in a newspaper interview: “Bad words should not be allowed to be used in any sound clashes. There are many people who would attend these events but just because of what these morally bankrupt guys choose to say, many people stay away.”
Brilliant economist that he is, Dr Andre Haughton should preoccupy his mind with finding answers to a problem far more important to the future of the music and its contribution to the Jamaican economy than bad word cussing and bad man lyrics.
Consider this: Although reggae is ranked high in terms of popularity and acceptance among the 400 or so genres of the world's popular music, it has not yet ascended to the height of, say, American pop or even rap music. A song that makes it to the top of the Billboard pop charts would have sold platinum or millions, compared to a song at the top of the Billboard reggae chart, which may have sold a few thousand units. And yet, a lot of the biggest pop and rap hits by global superstars use reggae and dancehall. Jamaica is at the back, not at the front, in maintaining the feel and investing in the music. This sobering point was made by two living legends of the music, Mikey Bennett and Ibo Cooper, at a Reggae Open University symposium organised by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) when it held celebrations of February as Reggae Month.
In the famous Watergate hearings to impeach US President Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee, in April 1974, ordered the transcripts of White House conversations which Nixon had secretly recorded. Listening to the tapes, Nixon was shocked by the amount of profanity used in private discussions between himself and his inner circle. In editing the transcripts for release to the judiciary committee and for public consumption, Nixon instructed that every use of a bad word be replaced with the words “expletive deleted”. And so, this now commonly used phrase entered the English lexicon.
Drs Andre Haughton and Carolyn Cooper along with many well-thinking and well-intentioned Jamaicans are of the view that the use of profanity by dancehall artistes should be normalised and legalised. I am of a different opinion. Expletives and violent language that debase the culture and retard the progress of this valuable national asset should be deleted from performances in the public space.
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