Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Michael Abrahams | Jamaica's culture of violence, disrespect, indiscipline and misogyny

Published:Monday | February 27, 2017 | 12:05 AM

During a recent radio interview concerning the connection between violence and popular culture in Jamaica, Member of Parliament (MP) Lisa Hanna was asked by veteran journalist Cliff Hughes if there should be a ban on music produced by incarcerated artistes such as Vybz Kartel.

The conversation was a follow-up to her recent article, “We Reap What We Sow”, where she expressed concern about the unprecedented levels of physical and sexual violence that our children experience and are exposed to.

During the discussion, Hanna said, “To set examples, we have to identify what rules are rules, and what privileges are privileges. If you are convicted, perhaps it is that your music needs not to be played on the radio.”

She added: “The issue where Kartel’s music keeps coming out more than any new person – because I haven’t heard any new songs from Buju (Banton) since he has been incarcerated – we need to get to the root cause of that.” She also made the point that she was not picking on Kartel, stating, “We need to find out how the songs are being made. How are they getting out? Is there corruption in the prison system? Not only for Kartel. I’m not singling out Kartel alone. I’m singling out, across the spectrum, those who are having an imprint on our children’s value system.” At no point in the discussion did Ms Hanna say that Kartel’s music must be banned or make any disrespectful comments about him.

Unfortunately, the responses from Kartel’s supporters were swift and brutal. Among the comments in social media were many repulsive remarks, absolutely incongruous with the tone of the MP’s expressed views. She was told to ‘suck her mother’ by numerous persons, who also gave the same advice to her defenders, and descriptions were given of her genitalia, in addition to sex acts that she has allegedly performed or should perform. Regarding ‘punishment’ for dissing the ‘World Boss’, rape and gunshots to her head were described, with statements being made about her ending up in a ‘closed casket’. The death threats were taken seriously and were reported to the police.

Kartel’s popularity, for a Jamaican entertainer, is at a level probably rivalled only by Bob Marley. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented dancehall DJs ever. But his penchant for violence is no secret. His songs are not limited to violence and graphic sex, but a significant proportion of his catalogue is concerned with these topics, and this content, combined with his popularity and influence, and the wide availability of his material, and similar songs by other artistes, to our youth, is what Hanna expressed concern about.

A prison sentence is supposed to be punishment, and punishment includes the revocation of certain privileges. So, another concern of Hanna’s was that if one is incarcerated for murder and one’s music continues to be produced and distributed, the perception is that it is “business as usual” and life goes on with little interruption, which sends a bad message to our youngsters.

Hanna did not blame Kartel for corrupting our youth, and as the DJ said in one of his songs, “My music is a reflection of the broader society. Without a violent society, we wouldn’t have violent music. Art is an expression of life.” He is absolutely correct. Interestingly, by stating that “We Reap What We Sow”, Hanna’s observation is actually in agreement with Kartel’s.

I support freedom of artistic expression, so I defend Kartel’s right to express himself. Even if his songs were to be banned from the radio, our youngsters would have no problem obtaining them from the Internet. What we need to do is look into ourselves and take responsibility for creating an environment in which a dancehall artiste who often spews violent lyrics, and is incarcerated for murder, has one of the greatest influences on our youth, to the extent that he copped five awards at the recent Youth View Awards, more than any other artiste.

We must examine our political history, and the way our leaders have created garrisons and supported the “don man’ and “bad man” mentality and helped to normalize the gun culture in our inner cities, while manipulating and exploiting ghetto youth. Our leaders must also admit that their corruption, greed, and neglect of certain sectors of our population have compromised their leadership, resulting in the voices of others, with whom these people identify, and who are often poor role models, becoming of greatest influence. We must also accept responsibility for supporting, defending and voting for those who have empowered thugs with the authority to ‘run’ communities.

I also support freedom of speech, and the vitriol spewed on Ms Hanna is a national disgrace. She is entitled to voice her opinion without being crudely disrespected. We are indeed reaping what we have sown. What the ignoramuses in social media fail to understand is that their attacks on Lisa Hanna have not only served to validate her concerns, but have exposed our culture of violence, disrespect, indiscipline and misogyny that we have so carefully nurtured.

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.