Queen Ifrica’s grim picture of Montego Bay
Six years ago Ventrice ‘Queen Ifrica’ Morgan released the Montego Bay album, which was officially launched in Jamaica at Kabana on Hope Road, near Half-Way Tree, St Andrew. I covered the event, at which Queen Ifrica explained the context and creation of each song on the set.
The second track on the set is, Welcome to Montego Bay. After it was played, Ifrica said, “Montego Bay is special to me. That's where my whole Rastafari development took place." Still, she noted, the inner-city communities do not see the benefit of the 'lush' from the tourism industry.
I cannot remember a time when the tourism industry was not trumpeted as Jamaica’s engine of growth, with Montego Bay known as the tourist city. Yet, when I started going to Montego Bay regularly as an adult, I did not see the stereotypical tourist figure on the streets. Not only that, but I could not reconcile the city’s reputation for generating foreign exchange with its poor infrastructure.
This is what Ifrica put into song in, Welcome to Montego Bay. She starts with a comparison of the income from visitors and the penury of residents on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder:
“In the west of an island there is a parish i know
I am the one to tell yuh cause that's where i grow
Nuff money deh deh but eeh juss nah show
Tourism a flourish while to ghetto dem a perish”
She then moves to what the city needs to make it comfortable for its citizens and the persistent violence:
“MoBay need a public park
Decorate wid flowers weh wi family go walk
Clean up di garbage outa di city
Di public facilities fi more sanitary
A bigger Strand Teata very necessary
Where is di futcha fi di yutes mi nuh si any
But mi notice di gunshot a buss many many”
Then there is the desire for the tourism income to trickle down to MoBay’s residents and an implicit criticism of the all-inclusive hotel model:
“Tourist come deh every day
Welcome To Montego Bay
All inclusive dem a stay
Welcome To Montego Bay
Free up di tourist dem outa di hotel
Mek di people dem ina di craft markit get fi sell…”
Then there is another poke at MoBay’s poor infrastructure:
“Saint James Street narrow like trench
Nose haffi caaulk up cawn tek di stench...
Lang time wi a suffa mek wi mek a statement…”
Now Montego Bay and its environs are infamous for murder and mayhem, related to the terrible practice of lottery scamming where the vulnerable and especially the elderly become prey. However, as we increase the police resources we throw at the problem and bring in the military, have we stopped to ask why this heinous practise of lottery scamming has flourished? There are many factors, including greed, laziness, corruption and outright cruelty,
But there is also the uncomfortable truth of limited economic opportunities for many citizens in the presence of a thriving tourism business which excludes them literally through the walls of the all-inclusives or generally pays very, very low wages. So while I follow the body count and various plans to solve the crime situation centred around Montego Bay, I am reminded of the words of Queen Ifrica’s Welcome to Montego Bay.
I seriously doubt that as a nation we have listened to that statement, in which Ifrica fulfills her role as a spokesperson for the citizenry. The world she recreates for us with her words represents a very different reality from the tourist brochures.
And now we are accustomed to the body count from the second city. When it is reduced, as is inevitable, will there be efforts to build a better Montego Bay for the people who live there, a city in which hustling like drugs (not a strange practise to the city) and lottery scams find it difficult to take root.
I lived in MoBay when the pyramid schemes were rampant in western Jamaica during the early part of the 2000s. Now it is lottery scamming. Without some attention to the social infrastructure there be something else. Count on it. The tourism dollar can help in this regard.
Welcome to Montego Bay.