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Jaevion Nelson | Do not blame dancehall for all our social ills

Published:Thursday | March 2, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It's interesting the way in which our moral compass spins conveniently and how blinded some of us are to our blatant hypocrisy. Quite often our insincerity reveals itself when dancehall - its music and culture, and the people at the bottom of our society - are the subject of debates about societal problems.

The most recent discussion about dancehall's contribution to our social maladies has been sparked by comments made by Lisa Hanna, the former Minister of Youth, who, among other things, in an interview on Nationwide News Network called for Vybz Kartel's music to be banned. I note as well, based on comments on Facebook, that the Prime Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness remarked in another forum about violence and daggering.

Everyone now has an opinion about dancehall and our social problems. Unsurprisingly, as is the seeming custom, dancehall is again being held accountable for the violence ravaging our communities, adolescents and youth sexual proclivities, and every social problem we must contend with.

Unlike Damion Crawford, I won't ignore the impact dancehall can have on us and that it may contribute to some of the issues we spend millions of dollars to address through various social interventions. Dancehall is problematic in many ways. We acknowledge that.

However, notwithstanding this admission, we should not ignore the tendency to blame dancehall and the poor for all our social problems while pretending we are not equally or sometimes even more responsible because of our roles and responsibilities.

Our insistence on blaming dancehall for our problems hinders our ability to respond to the issues effectively and cause them to exacerbate. It's alarming the extent to which dancehall and the poor are such easy targets for blame, are scapegoats for everything.




It's interesting to note that the discussions about the impact of music isolate dancehall from other genres like hip hop, reggae, and soca which are also enjoyed by many Jamaicans. Oddly, dancehall has earned itself a special category. It's the pariah among the genres of music played by disc jocks. I suppose this is because dancehall is creating all these miscreants and wreaking havoc across our beloved country.

Why should dancehall be treated differently from all other genres of music, other forms artistic expressions and the media which also include the problematic things we are contesting? Obviously, Kartel shouldn't be recording music now (not because he is incarcerated but the fact that he does not have permission to do so). I agree with the Prime Minister that while censorship is necessary and needed to control what is transmitted via certain channels and at certain times, wholesale banning of some artistes' music will not be effective.

I believe what is critical is how we help people, especially children, engage/interact with the problematic lyrics and content to which they are exposed. Why do we believe people can responsibly engage the violence in films but not in dancehall music? Why do we believe the people uptown can engage dancehall more responsibly than the people downtown? Do we not see how our commentary is rank with classism, pretence, and scapegoating?

It might come as a surprise to you that the masses, the poor people you think lack the capacity to engage problematic dancehall music in the way you do, are just as capable as you are. Yes, like you and I, they are equally able to write, listen, sing and enjoy such lyrics without believing they should act on everything they hear in these songs. In fact, some/many of them are perhaps better able to engage such lyrics because of their own experiences.

We can argue about the problems of dancehall lyrics without looking down on them and thinking they are woefully incapable of understanding that the lyrics are problematic. It might help us to listen a bit more to the people we think are beneath us as we go about our business. Let's discuss the utility of banning certain songs or artistes and the impact it will have. Let's talk about the root causes of crime and violence, gender-based violence, and other problems and what relationship they have with this genre of music. Let's all take some responsibility.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and