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Smoke-free zones at Rastafari events

Published:Sunday | April 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Two Saturdays ago, I went to an excellent concert at the Police Officers' Club. The headliner was Vaughn Benjamin, a mystical roots-reggae artiste from St Croix. Of all the supporting acts, it was Jah9, Jesse Royal and Dre Island who, for me, gave the star performances.

Kabaka Pyramid made a brilliant cameo appearance with his mega hit Well Done. It's a mocking indictment of demolition politicians who have done an excellent job of wrecking Jamaica:

"Yu keep poverty an unemployment on the rise

Corruption an not to mention the lies

Election a when the tension arrive

So yu buy wi Kentucky, not to mention the fries

Anyting fi secure yu vote."

Kabaka's use of 'yu vote', instead of 'wi vote', makes a serious point. He suggests that the vote is just a commodity that can be easily sold to politicians. They buy our vote and it becomes theirs. And they often get it for next to nothing.

Rumour has it that one of the candidates in the last election imported a container of Brazilian hair for distribution in the constituency. This sounds like a malicious lie concocted by a political opponent. But if it's true, it was a brilliant tactic. A clever 'anyting' fi secure the politician's vote.

Even if the story isn't true, it's a great fable. How to sight a need and satisfy it! So many Jamaican women still want 'tall' hair! I'm sure they would sell their vote for a few packs of high-grade foreign hair. Things really bad with us. It's an epidemic of worthlessness.




These days, with all the deadly viruses in circulation, I really don't like to get caught up in a crowd. So, for most of the concert, I stayed on the fringes of the venue. But Vaughn Benjamin and his spirited backing band, Akae Beka, drew me to the front of the stage.

I was immediately smothered by ganja smoke, coming at me left, right and centre. I tried to avoid inhaling the second-hand smoke. But it was pointless. There were two people behind me who were blowing billows of smoke directly at me. Not intentionally, I suppose. Just carelessly.

I used my shawl to blow off the smoke and I even used my mouth to try and blow back some of the smoke on them. But in the battle of two concentrated spliffs versus a shawl and a spliff-less mouth, I was the definite loser. After the fourth song, I decided to stand up for my rights.

I turned to the two smokers and bravely reminded them that it was illegal to smoke in public. I also asked them if they couldn't smoke more sensitively, paying attention to the direction in which they were blowing the smoke. I thought they could at least try to blow it up in the air rather than straight ahead.

Before they got a chance to answer, a woman I knew 'buy out' the argument. She said, "Carolyn, is ganja. Mek the people enjoy themselves!" So I asked her if I didn't have a right to enjoy myself, too. She dismissively told me that if I couldn't deal with the smoke, I should go to the back.




I took the woman's advice and went way back. Back to mi yard! And I could still hear the sounds of the concert from the comfort of my smoke-free bedroom. I couldn't make out any of Vaughn Benjamin's words from that distance. But it no longer mattered.

The irreverent proverb about lying with dog and rising with fleas did come to mind. But I quickly dismissed it. No matter how vexed I was about being smoked out, I knew the spontaneous comparison was completely inappropriate. In our culture, calling people dogs is not a good idea.

Edward Seaga got into so much trouble some years ago when he foolishly described the PNP as a mongrel party. In his opinion, it was no longer the party of Norman Manley or Michael Manley. Under the leadership of P.J. Patterson, the PNP had become a mongrel party. The mongrels put two and two together.

It seemed obvious that Seaga was foolishly calling black people dogs. And since Norman Manley, and especially Michael, could accurately be described as 'mixed race' - i.e., mongrels - Seaga's insult to Patterson seemed quite ridiculous. But the mongrels were not amused and Seaga suffered the consequences at the polls.




My alternative to dog and fleas is, "if yu lie down with Rasta, yu rise up smelling of ganja." And you don't even have to lie down. You just have to go to a concert. But like all proverbs, mine tells only half the story. I know Rastas who don't smoke ganja.

Don't these non-smoking Rastas have any right to enjoy themselves at a concert without being stifled by ganja smoke? And what about other patrons who aren't Rasta and want to enjoy the music? It must be possible to come up with a compromise so that all of us can enjoy ourselves.

There should be smoke-free zones at certain Rastafari events. If it's a binghi, nuff ganja smoke is to be expected. But not at every single concert! The organisers of these shows must work out the logistics. Is high time.

- Carolyn Cooper is a cultural consultant. Visit her bilingual blog at Email feedback to and