Gordon Robinson | Love thy neighbour and his Vybz
The following story is true.The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Thirty years ago, I represented Lloyd, now deceased, a big property owner in a rural parish and a high-level activist for one of our political tribes. One night, while trying to relax at home, his neighbour, hosting a 'session', turned the music up too loud. The police version of what happened next was Lloyd walked over and shot his neighbour.
Lloyd's version is that an altercation ensued because he asked his neighbour to turn down the music; his neighbour reached for a gun; and Lloyd outdrew him. According to Lloyd, the neighbour's gun was picked up by his policeman friend and 'disappeared' after being entered in the station diary which itself also disappeared.
Lloyd maintained he was convicted because of a series of mishaps and sentenced to a term of years at Her Majesty's pleasure. The neighbour was severely injured and sued in the Supreme Court for damages.
That's where I came in. Lloyd's wife, a decent, upstanding professional in deep distress, asked me to represent Lloyd in the civil suit. I told her I would, but "where your husband is vacationing is not a place I voluntarily visit. So, I'll enter an appearance for him and ask the other side for time. When your husband's holiday is over, he's to come and speak to me."
The matter remained in limbo until Lloyd was able to come to my office. After the niceties, the first thing he said was, "Mr Robinson, how come we're only just meeting on this?" I replied, "Didn't your wife tell you? Where you were is not a place I visit."
He laughed, "Den, Mr Robinson, she never tell YOU?"
"Tell me what?" I said with wide-eyed innocence.
"Mr Robinson, I never spend more than two days a week in that place. You coulda visit me at mi yard any time!"
I recalled Lloyd's case during the raging controversy over Vybz Kartel's recording of new music and winning awards while, as a convicted murderer, he was supposed to be serving a life sentence. Let's not confuse issues.
1. Much of Kartel's music (not all) is vulgar, violent and antisocial. Worse, it encourages violence. This is nothing more than a sad reflection on Jamaican society as seen by Kartel. All artistes, from time immemorial, have been social commentators. That artistes like Kartel are rapidly becoming role models for Jamaican youth is a tragedy, but not one of the artistes' making. It's we who must tackle the societal problems identified by Kartel and reflected in his music.
2. If the content of Kartel's music breaches the Broadcasting Commission's guidelines, as it often does, for public discourse, those recordings should be banned from the airwaves.
This should be music to Kartel's ears, as history teaches that 'banned' recordings usually sell the most and rule the dancehall. In the 1960s-1970s, much less harsh comment such as Carry Go Bring Come by Justin Hinds and the Dominoes and Fatty Fatty by the Heptones were banned from airplay and became anthems.
3. The significant issue is whether the recordings indicate that Kartel has been allowed out of prison illegally or has been breaching prison rules regarding communication devices. I know studio engineers are magicians these days, but the sound quality of Kartel's recordings seem too clean to have originated telephonically.
4. There's nothing wrong with any artiste producing while in prison if it can be done within the rules. 1970s dub poet Oku Onuora (born Orlando Wong) wrote while serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. In 1974, he was permitted by prison authorities to read his poetry with Cedric 'Im' Brooks' Light of Saba band performing in the prison. Afterwards, his work had to be smuggled out of prison (labelled 'subversive'). By 1976, all was forgiven and he won three prizes in the Jamaica Literary Festival. In 1977, he was allowed to perform in public at Tom Redcam library.
If Kartel has corrupted the prison system to make this music, he should be convicted and sentenced along with prison officers found helping him.
Any music produced by this method should be withdrawn from all aspects of the market. The fundamental characteristic of a prison sentence is that it's decided by a judge, not the convict. Also, it's meant to restrict the convict's freedom. Why should Vybz be free to bend prison rules as he likes while police hunt down robot taxis and strip off their tints?
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law.
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