Brian-Paul Welsh | People a dead!
During the tumultuous nineties, a period statistically safer than our currently prosperous state, police and the elites they protect and reassure were waging a royal feud with the poor people's governor, Rodney Pryce, aka Bounty Killer, over a series of expressions channelling the popular sentiment of village folk at the time.
The songs Anytime, Poor People Fed Up, and Look Into My Eyes boomed from sound systems, minibuses, and 'robot' taxis everywhere, including from the lips of uptown children, much to the horror of their pious parents. In defiance of the prime minister's ban, these bellowing sounds of resistance echoed throughout the country, and by 1999, the situation exploded, with riots in the streets, sparked, in part, by another in the Government's frequent acts of callousness.
Almost two decades later and more than halfway towards our 30-year vision of an idealised nation, we are still embroiled in circular debates about artistes' unflattering depictions of the Jamaica of their lived experience when those representations conflict with the delusions fuelling our main business interest.
So now, like then, we furiously muzzle the messenger while deliberately missing the message, pontificating ad nauseam in spaces like these until we eventually adjust to a grimmer reality and a darker picture. Only Bounty Killer, blessed with the voice and presence of a tribal general, could deliver this important message on behalf of the peasants down below such that it would reverberate across a culture as fickle and prone to frivolousness as ours.
In those days, we hadn't yet crossed the now seemingly tolerable threshold of 1,000 murders per year, but having survived the political war and famine of the previous decade, the widespread dejection coming from even those once favoured became impossible to ignore.
With daily survival of paramount importance for most, and with many still reeling from the effects of the financial-sector meltdown and the reckless spending habits of unconscionable politicians that followed, the upper-middle-income country we are now said to inhabit seemed like an impossible dream at the time when Rodney's sonnets were treated like verbal assaults. The place was in turmoil, much like now, and yet with a dismal economic outlook, crippling national debt, blatantly corrupt officials, higher unemployment, and an abundance of uncontrollable and irredeemable criminal elements running amok, there were far fewer slaughtered citizens to hide from the foreign press than at this point in our story.
The rapid rate at which Jamaicans are being killed in deadly clashes and collisions has already overwhelmed the island's largest hospital with trauma cases, prompting our leaders to consider the re-enactment of several failed and antiquated measures to contain the rage so that it doesn't spread.
Now that, by all academic indicators, we are well on the path to prosperity, how will we reconcile the runaway crime statistics with our ambitious projections for economic growth? I wonder which art will be censored and which views erased as those so gifted continue finding inventive ways to recreate the horrible things they see before their eyes instead of painting the fantasy isle we encourage others to visit.
Since once again the singer of the moment is in hot water for realistically depicting the dreams of disenfranchised youth, we have another opportunity to look keenly at the bigger picture being transmitted instead of focusing solely on the unflattering way in which it was delivered.
Depending on where you sit, Jamaica can easily resemble the jewel of the West Indies. Turquoise waters, gentle breezes, and a warm and inviting climate beckon to those in need of rejuvenation from the rigours of metropolitan life, and we have invested considerable resources carefully crafting this mirage to entice weary travellers, luring them to come frolic on these shores and enjoy our lazy culture.
At the same time, we have perpetuated the systems of inequity that cursed our forefathers to suffer in poverty, cultivating a bleak outlook that for them paints this paradise like a prison where rebellion is the only escape.
After all the fuss to block honest sentiments and curate the delicate image of this peculiar place comes the unavoidable truth that when night comes, the ordinary subjects not protected by privilege have no assurance that they will open their eyes come morning.
Rodney Pryce's morbid catchphrase recounting the horrors of inner-city living still resonates in every Jamaican household. Despite the Government's IMF anointing and the development gifts it brings, there is still an uncomfortable dissonance between living in the country we are told will fulfil our dreams and waking up in a land of such frequent nightmares.