Edward Seaga | Crime: it’s not the music; it’s education
Jamaican popular music provides more internationally frequent brand exposure for the island than its powerful athletic teams that make global appearances only from time to time. The value of this brand is enormous and must be protected. Of course, there were embarrassments from recordings that were vulgar and shocking in the use of inappropriate and/or violent language. But largely because of the threat by the major concert promoters, in Jamaica and overseas, this embarrassment is now largely subdued.
Jamaican popular music is virtually based on its own creations of what is called dancehall music, which critics condemn as promoting criminal behaviour in inner-city areas. As such, and by extension, this is said to add to Jamaica's position near to the top of the criminal charts.
But is this so? The great majority of those who listen to the music are either moved by the exciting rhythms, beautiful melodies, and lyrical content of ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Dancehall has cleaned up much of its vulgar act but is still attractive based largely on its rhythm, not lyrics or melody.
The reason for this is that Jamaicans in inner-city and rural Jamaica have always been attracted to the rhythm of drums and other such percussion instruments. Pop music without 'riddim', whether soft or heavy, will fail, no matter how rich the melody or profound the lyrics. Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, Toots and the Maytals, Ernie Smith, and Desmond Dekker, among others, recognised this. But that group is now gone. Other artistes in dancehall music have to rely on the percussion riddims for musical thrills.
But there is a narrow group of those who love this limited music that can infiltrate the mind and intoxicate behaviour.
As I outlined in my inaugural address on becoming distinguished fellow for life at the University of the West Indies in May 2005:
"This dynamic segment is to be found among young people who have shallow religious roots, are detached from civil society, distanced from the tradition of family, impatient with frustrating economic barriers, and deprived of social space, creating their own order, rooted in their own values and imperatives. They translate these into a way of life honouring respect, power, money, and sex, and, where necessary, the retribution of violence. They exist in a counter-culture that has broad support without theology, ideology, or even social commitment.
"It is individualistic and impulsive, deeply grounded in an expressive and creative self. As such, it carries a powerful base of cultural release, which has solidly captivated a segment of youth as a renegade route to respect. These indicators of success emphasise material wealth. This culture allows those with few resources to posture with bling-bling indicators of material success, ensuring that they can never be ignored. Dancehall is the musical expression of these realities."
It is enlightening to know that the highly popular hip hop in America and other metropolitan areas was created from Jamaican deejay music. The story of the development comes from the visit of a sound system operator/owner of Jamaican origin from New York, Kool Herc, who, on a visit to Jamaica, heard the music being played at a dance. He took a recording to New York, where it proved to be immensely popular, and over time, morphed into a new music called hip hop, known to millions. There is a huge connection, which Jamaican music can claim credit for, but this has not been done.
Let me state for the record that I am not a fan of dancehall music. I like melodious music, and very few recordings have been made in dancehall that attract me. But for Jamaica as a whole, excluding the particular category of youth that I have identified above, dancehall is a musical high for entertainment, not for use as a criminal opiate.
It is the uneducated youth, the misfits of the society, who feed the criminal gangs. They fail on virtually all the opportunities of education, and on leaving school, have nowhere to go but to offer criminal or sexual service to someone who has found what is considered a way out in the hope that this will satisfy their needs. From this point, they dig a hole, which gets deeper and deeper.
The dysfunctional education system has neglected poor children in the early stages of life in order to emphasise later stages. Paying attention only to those who received a good starting platform makes it impossible for the late bloomers to ever catch up. This accounts for the roughly 70 per cent of failed education performance that follows them throughout their lives. Eventually, this 70 per cent have to depend on the 30 per cent who have functioned in the system and are able to take care of themselves. Those who have diligently worked for an education have to bear the burden, through life covering the cost of lives of the failures.
So what is to be done? If a car has four flat tyres, a sputtering engine and no gas in the tank, which do you fix first? The engine, can be fixed, and gas can be put in the tank, but the car still will not drive, even if you installed a new engine and filled the gas tank, unless you put air in the tyres.
Air in the tyres is the equivalent of development of the early childhood education system, a song I have been singing since the 1980s. Teachers cannot be asked to tailor their teaching to focus on the 70 per cent who cannot function. That is a long-term mission that should have been done in the earlier education stages of those children so that they could keep pace with the 30 per cent group. If they cannot keep pace, they will fall farther and farther behind until at graduation, they are without any passes or have insufficient passes to graduate.
This is where the real problem begins: the graduating 30 per cent can more or less take care of themselves, but the 70 per cent, by and large, cannot. That 70 per cent is not going to fade away, not going to be able to migrate, and they are not going to die. So how do they live? Off the crumbs that fall from the table?
Things have changed since the 1970s. More and more boys and young men who don't want crumbs are taking away tables full of food, and if you try to stop them, they will fight to death, yours or theirs. They were neglected too long, and because they don't see a way out, they consider themselves in desperation: 'done dead already'.
It may be said that it is already too late to find a way out to use early childhood education seriously into the system to begin a real transformation. "It would cost too much" would be the response. But if we think that would be costly, we should check the cost if it is not done. It is the major part of the cost of fighting crime.
- Edward Seaga is chancellor of the University of Technology,a distinguished fellow at the University of the West Indies, and is a former prime minister. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.