Corporate Jamaica hypocritical in dancehall support
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
DR DONNA HOPE Marquis, senior lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, positions dancehall as critical to doing business in Jamaica.
"Research tells us that dancehall still has the eye of the Jamaican people. It is their 'Jollywood'. Artistes' lives are discussed and debated. Styles and slang are made. This is the essence of Jamaica in the 21st Century," Hope Marquis said.
And any company which does not recognise it runs the risk of falling behind. Plus, she says, "remember we are in a recession. People have to sell their products".
With Digicel, Courts Jamaica, Red Stripe and LIME (then branded as Cable and Wireless) a part of the six-member Coalition of Corporate Sponsors which took a public stance against deejays on-stage profanity and offensive lyrics in 2005, but now utilising dancehall heavily, Hope Marquis sees a definite change in position.
"They have not come out and renounced the statement, but we say action speaks louder than words. The action that is opportunistic would suggest a total right about turn," Hope Marquis said.
"Dancehall is the main popular music of Jamaica and it is integrally committed to the main market of these four companies, especially the cellular companies," she said.
Looking at the campaigns, she said the 'swaggerific' Claro is going after the youth market "with more disposable income and less responsibility". It is the same with Digicel, while LIME is cutting across generations, with its positioning alongside artistes of different generations. "I see LIME has stepped in sponsoring Sting, Mavado's Birthday Bash. Perhaps LIME is trying to build back a certain currency with Jamaicans that they lost as Cable and Wireless/Telecommunications of Jamaica," she said.
"Digicel and Caro have run with the popular culture, LIME is now running with it," Hope Marquis said.
She said that "Courts has had a long relationship with working class Jamaicans, so branching off into dancehall is just extending their reach into another tool to access the market".
Red Stripe, with its huge Arthur Guinness Day celebration at the National Stadium, "is doing their own thing. They are not sponsoring as they used to. I know they no longer brand the corner bars - you would see coasters, calendars and so on".
"Dancehall artistes and dancehall icons are seen as feasible to get in with the masses of the Jamaican audience, but they are challenging at other times," Hope Marquis said. And, in that situation, she says, "I find a lot of hypocrisy exists in the whole discussion.
"I think where the hypocrisy lies is that corporate Jamaica and its representatives are quick to jump on the bandwagon and dismiss dancehall in its entirety, based on any problems that deejays have and it is the root of all the problems in the society. When it comes to the bottom line they sing a different tune," she said.
"Where it will help market a product, they will use it and dancehall is a very rich area for profit-making," Hope Marquis said.
She singled out Red Stripe, which made a much-publicised withdrawal from sponsorship of live events in 2008 but sponsored Reggae Sumfest and Fully Loaded over the 2010 summer season, as "trying in many ways. They have had to come back to their roots - ordinary Jamaicans".
Hope Marquis said the practise of companies addressing issues surrounding dancehall with severe statements is "hypocritical and I hope that whatever problems arise, we can help them (the performers) out instead of sending out large press releases".
And she says that corporate Jamaica's utilisation of dancehall is "parasitic in a sense, because they are not willing to support any major initiative in the industry, but they are willing to draw on the energy". However, she said: "I think it is a good move for dancehall and the industry for the money to be pumped into long-standing events". One of those is Sting, about which Hope Marquis says, "the product must have some consistency to it" to have attracted huge audiences over the years.
"I get the feeling that various corporate entities have been utilising dancehall to serve various ends," whatever they are.
With dancehall artistes, including corporate spokespersons, having much-publicised run-ins with the law, Hope Marquis does not see a negative effect on the product in that eventuality. "There is some element of risk, because of how Jamaicans see the spokesperson associating with the company. But I can't say necessarily (that) it will affect the bottom line in any way," she said.
"People know that dancehall music is many things Jamaican. I don't think they will stop buying a product because an artiste gets into problems. They may not support the artiste. They may be calm at a performance," she said
However, with Red Stripe, she says it is the reverse. "What happened to Red Stripe, they (consumers) punished the product because they turned on dancehall," Hope Marquis said. "It (Red Stripe) reneged on the symbiotic relationship they had with dancehall."
"Regardless of the problems many have with some aspects of the culture, it is still rich in value," she said
Hope Marquis said she hopes the artistes understand the value of the endorsements and the onus on them to "keep their lives more sanitised".
"They have to do that now," she said.