Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Get tough on murder music

Published:Sunday | July 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Music that promotes crime bosses like Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and his Shower Posse should be outlawed, says Ian Boyne. - File

Ian Boyne, Contributor

What could make a rational, reasoned and well-thinking person justify the production or performance of songs glorifying murder or toasting criminal gangs responsible for the death of thousands of Jamaicans? What happens to the thinking process of a person which would lead him or her to take to the press to say freedom of speech entitles one to celebrate murder?

What is clear is that defective reasoning is involved in such thinking. There are a number of predictable, time-worn, diversionary red herrings which are drawn across the trail to block the logically compelling arguments against murder music. The primary argument is what is called the 'Argument from Hypocrisy'. Here is how it goes: Middle-class people like Ian Boyne who are in the pockets of the politicians are afraid of them or too beholden to them to confront them and their role in our murderous political culture, but they seek instead to cowardly pounce on ghetto youth who only have a mic to take them out of poverty.

It is hypocrisy to seek to punish deejays for their lyrics while 'the politicians who have brought in the guns' and who use ghetto youth for their cynical political purposes are lionised on television and in print as role models and Honourables. Sheer hypocrisy and rank class prejudice!

It is these politicians who have created this rotten, sick society. It is those 'Gangs of Gordon House' which are the greatest threat, not One Order, Clansman or even Shower Posse, it is said. So why focus on deejays and give a pass to politicians? Hypocrisy! It is true that Section 15 of the anti-gang bill, which says, "A person shall not ... produce, record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organisation," is not a panacea. If you were to lock up every deejay who sings a song glorifying gangs and dons, you would not solve Jamaica's crime or gang problem. If deejays stop singing about guns and glorifying violence, we would not eliminate crime.


I accept that the gangsta deejays are symptoms of our deeper problems, not our fundamental cause. It is, indeed, the politicians who created garrisons. It is politicians who have used criminals to gain and retain power. This is impatient of discussion. Politicians have played a far greater role in creating and fostering this sick society than have deejays. I say that. We must reform our political culture, we must break the links between politics and criminality, and we must press for stricter laws to bring to book politicians who promote criminality.

But should we take the view that until we can put in short pants all the politicians who have been involved with dons and gangs, we should do nothing about deejays who say "informer fi dead" and man who support this or that group fi dead? Would it be okay for a deejay to produce a song glorifying rape? Would it be okay for deejays to sing songs saying sex with an eight-year old is great? Until we lock away all corrupt politicians, should we not condemn deejays who sing songs to glorify a man having sex with his daughter?

So what's wrong with a law which criminalises murder music? Don't come to me with arguments about social and economic inequities creating poverty and underdevelopment and that deejays are just "reflecting reality". I have been writing consistently about the inequities and injustices of this society. I have pointed to the structural violence embedded in this classist and socially unjust society. That's the bigger issue. But we can't ignore what is happening in our music.

Defenders of negative dancehall always use a number of diversionary arguments to evade the pointed issue of how gangsta lyrics hold back our music, victimise ghetto youth, and stigmatise our country. Chukwumeka Cameron, in his article in the Observer of July 2, worries that Section 15 of the proposed law "will have a chilling effect on those persons who want to legitimately exercise their right to freedom of speech". Now, tell me, which decent, well-meaning, conscious artiste, aware of Section 15, would feel a "chilling effect"?

Would any patriotic, humanitarian, loving artiste be bothered by a law carrying even 100 years' mandatory sentence for doing a song promoting a criminal organisation? If you were an artiste, would that have a chilling effect on your creativity and productivity? Would you experience writer's block when writing lyrics because this mandatory law exists?


In Cameron's view, this law is so nefarious and anti-human rights that "instead of facing the possibility of spending a number of years in prison, they would just opt not to create music, even if it was not their intention to promote criminal activities". Now, like seriously? Is Cameron for real? "In essence", the attorney-at-law counsels, "The chilling effect would mean the certain end of a rich part of our culture." SMH!

Cameron raised with me in a discussion on Nationwide's 'This Morning' programme last Wednesday the issue of the supposed ambiguity of the law. A deejay might not really know that it is a criminal gang that he is bigging up. Now, as I asked then, do we really think our deejays are that naïve? Do you think when they are bigging up certain dons, they really think those dons are 'elders' in the biblical sense? Do we think when they are giving the 'forward' to certain prominent gangs, they think they are just bigging up a group like the Boy Scouts?

And you really think that an artiste up to any good can only be creative and lyrically commanding when he can think of some gang or even corner crew to big up? Section 15 is clear that prosecution is only liable when someone is promoting "the criminal activity of a criminal organisation". That's specific enough. It does not have to provide a schedule naming all our gangs for it to be specific. In gangland Jamaica, gangs are constantly forming and reshaping.

The recently launched book, Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica and the Americas, draws on statistics to show that there was a fivefold increase in the number of gangs in Jamaica between 1998 and 2010 when we were said to have approximately 268 gangs. "Gangs are a major contributor to Jamaica's murder rate," says the book. Most of murders are committed by gangsters. This is why we need an anti-gang legislation.

And while this legislation won't solve all our problems and we do need to deal with our corrupt political class, as well as the systemic inequalities and economic oppression in our society, we can't ignore dancehall's impact on ghetto youth. Remember, it is ghetto youth who are the primary victims of this violence. Lyrics glorifying violence are lyrics against our poor people.

When we pressure gangsta deejays, we are speaking out against the murder of our ghetto youth. When we say leave gangsta deejays alone, we are saying, in effect, 'we don't care one damn what unnu waan do wid unno one another.'

By the way, we are also helping the deejays themselves when we criminalise their bigging up of dons and gangs. For the fact is some of them are under bondage, too, and don't freely big up dons, but do so because they have to. When they can tell gangsters they are afraid of prison, gangsters are likely to understand and give them a pass.

As Dr Dennis Howard explains in that must-read article in Jamaica journal, 'Political Patronage and Gun Violence in the Dancehall', (Volume 32 No. 3), "The bigging up of garrisons is not a voluntary act by artistes, but is a demand by area leaders and dons. Entertainers who refuse to big up an area leader or don live or on records feel the don's wrath. With no other option, many artistes have felt the need to protect themselves by bigging up leaders from both parties."

Such is the reality of the Jamaican garrisons created by our politicians. You have to get that Dennis Howard article.

Artistes can now say to gangsters, "A fraid dem lock me up, boss!" The chilling effect, Mr Cameron, is from the don's M16, not Section 15! That section seeks to cut the links - however forged - between the artiste and the don. Dennis Howard enlightens: "The relationship between artiste and don is a symbiotic one which, by its nature, supports and promotes the criminal acts that are sometimes performed by these badmen/rudebwoys."

Section 15 is intended to deal with dem case. Hope the politicians will not be spineless and gutless and thereby excise it.


Stop raising foolish arguments about "fighting gainst ghetto youths". We are fighting to save lives! We are fighting to promote human rights - the most fundamental of which is the right to life. This law is sending a signal about what we as a society both abhor and value. We abhor gangs and murder. We value life and we don't believe that poor people's lives, snuffed out so easily by gangsters, are worth less than the lives of academics and lawyers who live uptown.

Cameron makes an embarrassing error in his Observer piece. He says legislation already exists to deal with murder music, and then, startlingly, cites the Broadcasting Commission legislation. "The right to freedom of speech which Section 15 seeks to restrict would be less curtailed if, through the Broadcasting Commission, the State uses its power to ban certain songs from being played on a case-by-case basis." Now I thought everybody knew that, as its name suggests, the Broadcasting Commission only deals with music that is broadcast on radio and television. It has no jurisdiction over what is played in the dancehall, which is where our ghetto youth hear most of their music. I thought everybody knew that!

But this whole discussion of Section 15 has been laced with misunderstanding and some mischief. No matter what is said, it's hard to convince me that people have a constitutional right to promote murder in their music.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to and