Jamaica’s “elite” or “upper-class” as they are called have always had a problem with Jamaican cultures. They used to mock and jeer Rasta, even going as far as calling them “dirty dreads”. They used to refer to reggae as “boogey yagga” music, a term used to say that reggae is a music for a lower class of people and created by a lower class of people.
It was only after they saw the huge financial impact that both reggae and Rasta had on certain sectors of the country, mainly tourism, they they began to embrace the subcultures of the island.
Today, the elite has chosen another subculture to hate and that is the child of reggae, dancehall.
From as early as Ninja Man and Shabba Ranks, dancehall music seems to have been thought of as the deviant, shameful little child of reggae music, or maybe just a stepchild. Criticism of “dat nasty music” comes easily to the lips of many a decent and modest Jamaicans and perhaps that is their right.
The elite have shown total disrespect and disregard to parts of Jamaican culture like dancehall reggae, street dances and even patois / patwa.
The glee with which members of government and public service witnessed the downfall of Vybz Kartel seems to mirror a vilification of dancehall music. Vybz Kartel, of course, has been convicted of a grave crime, and that should never be condoned. Permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education earlier this year, though, went so far as to say: “I don’t like Vybz Kartel, and I’ll tell you why, his lyrics are just filthy, awful, degrading.” Her justification: “the minister [Reverend Ronald Thwaites] has said it, so I can follow back a the minister”. Surprisingly, this statement did not draw much criticism in public circles. As deserving of criticism as his criminality is, perhaps Vybz Kartel’s immense contribution to the body of culture that is dancehall should not be ignored.
However, that is one instance, and standing alone perhaps only shows the rejection of criminal behavior in a public figure. Worthy of mention though, is that the lewd and lascivious carnival merriment is seldom described as ‘filthy and degrading’ by an officer of government. Worthy of note also, is the recognition value of Richard Wagner’s contribution to the body of culture that is classical music, despite his Nazi leanings.
Recall the attempt to curb the ‘violence’ of dancehall with the anti-gang legislation. State minister of entertainment Damion Crawford was heavily critical of this. Respect to him for recognizing the need to put as gentle a limit as necessary on music, for public order, without pandering to the over-developed sensitivities of an influential few.
Artistes such as Beenie Man and Mavado have been critical of the Government for policies such as cutting off street dances at 2am on a weekend and arrests for indecent language. Meanwhile, politicians have been heard using indecent language, without any arrests to date.
Coming to the end of their current term, this government seems to have followed the trend of dragging their feet on the long-heralded ‘entertainment zones’ so as not to disturb residential areas. To date, we could find only one confirmed entertainment zone, with others ‘earmarked’.
Now, we are not saying that children should hear inappropriate dancehall content simply because it is part of our culture. It nevertheless is our culture, and arguably the most representative of culture of the Jamaican majority.
Perhaps dancehall music should cease to be our dirty little secret, the anthem of a disturbed subculture. Respect is due, even if it offends our personal tastes.