Badness and beats in Grounation series
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The second event in the 2013 Grounation series at the Institute of Jamaica, East Street, Kingston, was a mixture of discussions on badness and musical beats - which was true to its title, 'Music, Rude Boy, Bad Man and Gangsta'.
The badness came from presenters Joshua Chamberlain, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, and Dr Clinton Hutton, a lecturer in the Department of Government at the same institution.
The beats were provided by No-Maddz, who started out strictly acoustic in a powercut, bass provided human beatbox style, electric bass added when the lights came back on after their first poem. Global Battle of the Bands champions Di Bluprint Band put on a strong show, the professionalism of their presentation enhanced by lighting effects.
There was song also from young students of the Calabar Primary and Junior High School, to the delight of the approximately half-capacity audience in the institute's lecture theatre.
Chamberlain presented 'Death Before Dishonour: Conflict, Confrontation and Civic Literacy in Sound System Culture'. After looking at events such as the Guinness Sounds of Greatness contest and the Death Before Dishonour clash, Chamberlain analysed the Rae Town Old Hits and Passa Passa (in west Kingston) events' negotiations with officialdom in the wider society.
Chamberlain concluded that "... sound system participation in street-level sound system culture simply provides a means to appreciate and practise democratic citizenship". And while "like the sound clash, the means might be confrontational, aggressive and profane", he argued that the objectives "empower alternative institutions which offer a conduit to civic skills development, negotiation and dialogue with each other, as well as the world around us".
This level of citizenship confirmed what Chamberlain said in the earlier part of the lecture, that "the dancehall space is not as hermeneutic as popular wisdom suggests".
Outright badness was in Hutton's 'Oh Rudie: Jamaican Popular Music and the Narrative of Urban Badness in the Making of Postcolonial Society'. There were a few interjections from someone in the audience who seemed in the know as Hutton discussed gangs and famed bad men, often tied in with the inner-city housing situation in Kingston and urban St Andrew.
"Housing is the pickney of colonialism, but the way we tried to deal with it becomes problematic," Hutton said.
And that was tied into politics, Hutton differentiating between the creation of housing for party supporters in Payne Land, where previously empty land was occupied, and what happened in west Kingston, where persons were displaced from Back-O-Wall to make way for Tivoli Gardens. This resulted in tensions between the new residents and the newly displaced.
There was a fascinating history of gangs and gangsters in Jamaica, names like the Spanglers, Phoenix, Vikings and Mau Mau (a name given by the police to ramp up the fear level among lighter-skinned Jamaicans) among the former and Zacky the High Priest, Claudie Massop, Bucky Marshall, Wappy King and Buzz Bee among the latter. The earlier gangs were formed in reaction to the police.
And, connecting it all to music, Hutton told the history behind Desmond Dekker's 007 (Shanty Town), Buzz Bee ordering Derrick Morgan to write a song about him and the penchant for songs pro and anti-rude boy up to Set Them Free (Lee 'Scratch' Perry) and Let Them Go (The Wailers).
"These two songs marked a turning point in Jamaican music to what we call the progressive songs established with The Wailers, Burning Spear, Bob Andy and others in the 1970s," Hutton said.
"These songs argue that the condition of the rude boy is a result of colonial history and the effect of the colonial condition and way of thinking."
The Grounation series continued last Sunday with Myrna Hague-Bradshaw, Marjorie Whylie, Fred Wilmot and Adrian Robinson exploring 'Jazz - What Does Jamaica Have to Do With It?' at the Institute of Jamaica.
Look out for that story in your Saturday Gleaner.