Institute of CaribbeanStudies discusses social impact
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Saturday's Institute of Caribbean Studies' (ICS) seminar was titled 'The Social Impact of Jamaican Popular Music', but it quickly became apparent that in this case 'popular' was primarily dancehall.
It was stated in the topics of two presenters, as Dr Donna Hope Marquis analysed 'Dancehall and Violence in Jamaica', presenting findings from a study of 300 15-24-year-olds in Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine and Clarendon between June and August 2009.
Also, Professor Frederick Hickling used lyrics from deejay Predator (as well as calypsonians David Rudder and Machel Montano) in addressing 'Madness as Social Defiance in African-Caribbean Youth: Evidence from the Dancehall'.
Although the other two presenters, Marcia Forbes ('Influence of Music - It All Depends!') and Cordel Green ('Media, Music and Popular Culture') did not have the 'd' word in their respective presentation titles, dancehall still figured heavily. This was especially so for Forbes, who presented a video clip with deejays Beenie Man, Macka Diamond and Vybz Kartel responding to her book 'Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica'.
Kartel makes it clear
In the clip Kartel makes it clear that the controversy which surrounds him is self-engineered. He says, "me ago say it now pon this camera and even when people hear it them still going to be like sheep to the shepherd".
"Mek me tell yu suppen whe nuff people nuh understand. Everything Kartel do is well planned and concise and precise, from bleaching ... everything," he said.
Kartel went on to say that when people react "little do they know they are just puppets on a string in my game", sticking out his hands and moving his fingers in the puppeteer's actions for emphasis.
Hope Marquis presented a finding from her study that music is used as an anger-control tool, as two of the many responses to anger that involved the use of music were 'chill and listen to music' and 'write a song'. She reported that the study could not find a correlation between violence and anger and dancehall music, which the respondents valued for its "energetic hype vibes and excitement".
Looking forward, Hope Marquis spoke about the exploration of careers in dancehall, as well as the formulation of dancehall songs as formal teaching material.
Forbes said that before starting her research she was determined to not focus on dancehall and slavery - but those were two issues that kept coming up. And while her work looked at 17 music genres, dancehall was recurrent and prominent.
Interestingly, hip hop also has a tremendous influence, as, while overall 47 per cent of the females said they want to be like the women in the music videos, 65 per cent wanted to look like the women in the hip-hop videos while 39 per cent wanted to be like those in the dancehall videos.
Hickling used Carl Stone's 1992 'Values, Norms and Personality Development in Jamaica' and his own work in cultural therapy, including 'Madnificent Irations at the Bellevue Hospital' in building the background to his presentation. Noting that African-Caribbean people are overrepresented in United Kingdom (UK) prisons and mental institutions, Hickling said a lot of effort had gone into trying to understand the reasons.
One theory that has emerged is 'Social Defeat' - the blacks are simply unable to cope with the civilisation of the UK.
"Whites misinterpret black aggression as social defeat, when what they are actually seeing is social defiance," Hickling said. He analysed five songs, translating the lyrics to Standard English, and putting the pre and post-translation text of Predator's Have Sense and Mad, Sick, Head No Good side by side on the big screen was an interesting experience.
"Even when we as Jamaicans listen to the creole, we do not really hear these issues. It is when you sit down and translate it, you see what's happening," he said.
Green identified a quintet of discordant principles in Jamaican culture, among them "discipline yourself but take risks - including sexual risks" and "fight for your rights but oppress women and men who are different".
And then there is the mother of all schizophrenia - that Jamaica is the third-happiest place on earth.
He related the macho image of the Jamaican male to themes in dancehall music, naming 'ole dawg', 'man a gallis', 'trailer load a gal' and "the most ambitious of them all - 'I want you and my sweetheart to be friends'".
Green went on to speak about the importance of media literacy, to ensure that the population is equipped to assess the impact of media on their lives and make decisions.
Clyde McKenzie and Robin 'Bongo Jerry' Small gave their reactions to the presentations in leading off the discussions, the latter noting the very low turnout and noting that the university has to learn that key component of popular music events - how to 'ram dancehall'.