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Sound clash in uptown ghetto

Published:Friday | June 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

There was a time when dancehall DJs lived in downtown ghettoes. And they knew their place. No moving uptown into supposedly exclusive neighbourhoods and bringing their blasted noise to upset nice and decent people.

Bob Marley was not a DJ, but he was one of the first concrete-jungle musicians to break the 'sound' barrier. In 1975, he moved from Trench Town to 56 Hope Road, thanks to Chris Blackwell's marketing savvy. Bob Marley was a star and needed an appropriate address. But he never abandoned Trench Town.

Four decades ago, Kingston 6 was definitely uptown. It wasn't Norbrook. But still. These days, Norbrook is the preferred address for dancehall DJs. Some, like Sean Paul, were born uptown. Others, like Mavado, the Gully God, made a big move from the gullyside to the hillside.

There's a picture of Mavado's house on the Internet with this freestyle caption: "This is what you called hard work first thing I just want to say thanks to the true and living God for my blessings and thanks to all my fans and please to keep supporting my music Gullyside one love."

One man's divine blessing is another's demonic curse. Just imagine the outrage: "Lord, mi dear! Yu don't see who just move in up the road? Nuh that DJ from across the gully bank! Is where him get money to buy house up here? I just don't want the children exposed to that mentality." Never mind that the children already know every single line of the DJ's lyrics.




Once upon a time, you could buy protection from unwanted neighbours. Not anymore. Bob Marley completely understood the dicey nature of the real estate market. In 'Bad Card', he declares lyrical war:

Oh, man, you said I'm in your place

And then you draw bad card

Ah mek you draw bad card.

In response to those who wanted to keep him in his place and out of theirs, Marley launched a full-scale sonic assault:

I want to disturb my neighbour

'Cause I'm feeling so right

I want to turn up my disco

Blow them to full watts tonight

Inna rub-a-dub style.

If some of Marley's neighbours on Hope Road wanted him to go back to where he came from, it wouldn't be Trench Town. His origins were the wide, open spaces of rural Jamaica where noise is usually less of a nuisance than in congested cities. The same is true for Usain Bolt. And though he's not a DJ, Bolt seems just as unwelcome in Norbrook. Town houses, unlike country houses, don't give neighbours much breathing space.

It was the formidable journalist, Mrs Barbara Gloudon, who first made the point about the way in which language reinforces social divisions between uptown and downtown. High-density housing in the inner city is scornfully described as 'tenement yards'. Uptown, these yards become 'gated communities'.

Obviously, there are differences between uptown and downtown tenement yards. But conflict between neighbours, even in upscale communities, is sometimes caused by overcrowding. You see it all the time. A single-family house on a big piece of land is knocked down. Soon, 10 town houses spring up. And that's a conservative estimate.

Instead of, say, five people living in one house, there are now 50 or more squeezed up on what has now become a relatively small lot. Uptown tenement yard! Or ghetto, if you prefer. I don't know how we got caught in the town house trap. I suppose it was the need for 'security'. Proverbial wisdom promises that there's safety in numbers. But there's also a lot of contention.

I must admit I do have some sympathy for Jodi Stewart-Henriques. She's suffering from town-house syndrome. It's a condition brought on by living so close to your neighbours that everyday noise gradually gets on your nerves. Eventually, even the flush of a toilet enrages you, let alone loud music and dirt bikes. And you end up making unfortunate statements on social media about who should go back to where they came from.




Fun and joke aside, I really do sympathise with Jodi. Noise is a weapon that causes bodily harm. But that's not how we usually see it, unless it's coming from a dancehall sound system. One of the serious noise issues we're not addressing is all-night construction work in residential neighbourhoods.

A couple of years ago, a house quite close to mine was being renovated. Twenty-four hours, non-stop! There was the constant noise of drilling and hammering right through the night. One morning, at about 1 o'clock, I just couldn't take any more. So I went to speak to the workmen.

I got a good and proper 'tracing'. One of them told me I couldn't hear any noise from way over my house. Another one said he was doing honest work and if he had come to beg me money, I would have run him. He was right. He was an able-bodied man. I appealed to the architect, begging him to talk to the owners. They all acted as if they didn't know night work was being done. And it continued without relief.

I complained to the police. That was a complete waste of time. They admitted that all-night construction was illegal, but they did nothing about it. We simply must protect ourselves against invasive noise, no matter which kind of tenement yard we live in. We can't all go back to wherever we came from.

- Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at Email feedback to and