Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Yellow Pages cover reflects dancehall’s business influence

Published:Thursday | December 22, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
The revised cover of the 2017 Yellow Pages.
The original Yellow Pages cover.

Now that the flurry of comment over the dancehall scene on the 2017 Yellow Pages cover has subsided, I hope that we can see past the composition of the image which has caused controversy to what it says about the impact of dancehall on business in Jamaica. So this column is not about whether or not the specific image was appropriate. Neither is it arguing that a dancehall scene is appropriate, simply because it is an intrinsic part of Jamaican culture. I am proposing that dancehall is important to doing business in Jamaica, and since the Yellow Pages lists the FLOW landlines of companies in its white and yellow pages, the cover is an implicit acknowledgement of this connection.

This is something that I believe was overlooked in the debate sparked by the Church's complaint about the scene, with the attendant rush to attack or defend dancehall, depending on personal perspective and professional engagement. I am not seeking conflict over or trying to justify the specific image which is on the Yellow Pages cover. I am hoping to use it as a starting and ending point for sober acknowledgement of how much impact dancehall has on businesses in Jamaica, otherwise totally unrelated to music, which use it as a communication tool to drive demand for their goods and services.

There is not enough space to give anything near a comprehensive overview of this utilisation, so a few examples will have to suffice. An obvious starting point is Red Stripe beer's revisiting of its Life Is Just for Living advertising campaign, the current version also involving Ernie Smith, who did the original in the early 1970s. The 2016 remix also features Wayne Marshall and Mystic, and the message is the same as over three decades ago - Red Stripe beer is the perfect alcoholic beverage for experiencing life at its fullest.


Clarorific Mr G


Alcoholic drink brands, cellular phone handset and service providers and carbonated drink producers are among the business sectors which tend to utilise dancehall especially heavily. The Clarorific advertisements with Mr G are not so long ago that we would have forgotten them, the deejay redoing his popular Swaggerific song for the AmÈrica MÛvil brand during its brief presence in the Jamaican market. I-Octane has represented for Bigga soft drinks, and Busy Signal has done the same for Pepsi Bubbla, the low-cost, budget packaging of the product, doing advertisements jingles - in effect, short songs - for the sodas. Flourgon did a LASCO ad and proceeded to perform it at concerts on a couple occasions.

But there are some instances of dancehall being used to communicate messages outside of consumption. The exhortation to "no dutty up Jamaica, please don' dweet", which is getting extensive airplay, is a government-level utilisation of dancehall as a means of communication - and Dr Michael Abrahams' advice about measures to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and thereby minimise Chik-V (and ZIKV) is a private initiative which got to a national (and international) level. Listen to the Math Counts advertisements and tell me that is not dancehall.

The interaction between dancehall and corporate entities is not a one-way FLOW (pun intended). In the 2006 article, 'Entertainment marketing and experiential consumption', Hackley and Tiwaskul define entertainment marketing as "the placement of brand references within mainstream entertainment" and "any means of inserting brands and brand references into entertainment vehicles".

While there is now a furore over a secret US$1 million payment to rapper Pitbull in return for doing this for the city of Miami, Jamaican popular music has done this - I suspect unpaid - entertainment marketing function for many brands, local and foreign. There are so many music references to Clarks shoes that there is a book - Clarks in Jamaica (did someone say "a whe yu get da new Clarks deh dawdy?"). In 2014, Bugle did a song about self-confidence, saying "just like Guinness we made of more", a direct quote of the drinks' slogan. Konshens uses the Red Label tagline, Turn on the Thrills, in his encouragement and observation "gal a bubble"; in the 1990s, Terry Ganzie deejayed, "gal bless yu body whe yu have is like Hardware an' Lumba, good gal fi deal wid" (Hardware and Lumber's slogan was 'good people to deal with'. Yellowman put a dollop of a Grace Ketchup advertisement into song.

In a popular song early in his recording career, Ninja Man used the Family Planning Board's message in the song, Protection, done with Courtney Melody, deejaying "two is better than too many/no bad aroun' an get a lot a baby".

The products are in the visuals as well - in the video for Same Thing Again, when Assassin/Agent Sasco deejays "dinner share, dumpling and mackerel/we give thanks cause suppen inna de pot still", there is a clear shot of a tin of Grace mackerel.

When Christopher Martin did Big Deal, it was a song expressing self-confidence - but the popular saying is also the name of a KFC meal, so in short order, there was a Big Deal song for the Colonel.

FLOW, JPSCo, Jamaica Tourist Board and The Gleaner, are among the numerous sponsors for Rebel Salute 2017, but in addition to the sponsorship of major entertainment events, we may not realise how many companies utilise dancehall directly by staging their own events. FLOW has Skool Aid in late August annually, Digicel has the Bob Marley birthday celebration Redemption Live, Guinness has the Sounds of Greatness sound system contest, CB Chicken's Pan X hit a new high in Half-Way Tree this year, Best Dressed Chicken's gospel event Fun in the Son is huge, and I am seeing advertisements for Magnum Live at Sabina Park in January 2017.

A major political speech is an immersion in sound system presentation, where the politician speaks and their point is emphasised with an appropriate song - just like in a dancehall. Revisit the election date and victory announcements in particular.

All this is a miniscule example of how much dancehall is utilised by businesses that do not sell music products and how much dancehall independently contributes to brand messaging. How deep-rooted is it? I once heard a car-battery advertisement in which a man said he needed a new one because his died when he was playing in a car stereo sound clash the night before.

I see the dancehall scene on the Yellow Pages cover as an acknowledgement of this interaction between popular culture and business. Saying whether or not the specific image was appropriate is not my objective; recognition of dancehall for its utility as a vehicle for brand messages of companies otherwise not involved in music business is.