Patria-Kaye Aarons | Why can't we dagger to dancehall?
Another Carnival Sunday has come and gone, and never before has it been more glaringly obvious that all aren't equal on this here Animal Farm. The liberties extended to the carnival road march, dancehall has not been privileged to in its own home.
Since its launch in Jamaica in 1990, this season, more than ever, carnival here mirrored what transpires in the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. An increasing number of persons now routinely leave 'yaad' and head to Trinidad to experience the authentic revelry in bacchanal central, complete with the attendant sunup to sundown party scene. And they take these ideas back and implement them here. What was once a few isolated soca parties and a single Byron Lee-led road march in Jamaica have become breakfast parties and j'ouverts and Friday night fÍtes and all of four simultaneous road marches in city Kingston travelling along different routes. Hope Zoo to Half-Way Tree was on lockdown.
I strongly doubt a dancehall equi-valent would ever get approval from the Kingston and St Andrew Muni-cipal Corporation. Can you imagine if the promoters of Hot Mondays, Container Tuesdays, Weddy Weddy, and Bembe all approached the good mayor and requested that he close the streets in the heart of the city to vehicular traffic so that ghetto people could put on swimsuits and dagger each other across town drinking Boom and blaring Kartel? Oh, the horror!
Don't get me wrong. I do not hate carnival. On the contrary, I love the spectacle and bright costumes and the revelry and the dancing. I love the spirit of togetherness and the carefree attitude. But I'm all too aware of the hypocritical divide it highlights in Jamaica and the disregard for what is ours.
At just over $50,000 a pop, this year's costumes aren't for the faint of pocket. That's two months' salary for someone on minimum wage. Obviously, carnival isn't a poor people thing. It's really for the rich, and many believe that's the reason the celebrations are allowed to take over town.
Between the disturbance from the passing music trucks and the inconsiderate spectators who parked in private driveways, to people ticked off by the traffic changes, it appears that more persons are inconvenienced by carnival than by any dancehall event. And so invariably, the age-old question of classism and carnival continually becomes a hot-button item. Why is carnival allowed to get away with all this?
Dancehall not accommodated
Even with Kingston's designation as a creative city of music by UNESCO, dancehall still doesn't hold pride of place here. How is dancehall being accommodated, let alone promoted, in City Kingston? Dancehall continually is made to feel like an inconvenience in its own home. Sure, it isn't everybody's cup of tea, but the oppressive shroud under which it must always happen in back alleys, hiding from police after hours, shouldn't still be. There still exists the struggle with the Noise Abatement Act forcing early closure, which is completely against dancehall culture.
Here's another, more trivial way soca won this past week. We often criticise dancehall songwriters for the absence of imagination, (Exhibit A: Bruk It Down by Vegas. Exhibit B: Shampoo by Ding Dong). However, the chorus of this year's carnival classic was the most repetitive set of lyrics I've heard. Ever. It literally goes, "Hold dem and wuk dem"; repeat eight times. And people loved it. That's no more creative (and no less vulgar) than the dancehall hits.
Sum total: 'jackass say the world nuh level'. For there to appear to be equity, a legitimate place must be carved out for dancehall. It, too, must feel welcome in the nation's capital. At least as welcome as the carnival the city bends over backwards for every year. Unless and until that happens, dancehall will always feel like a stepchild.