Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Protect Dancehall

Published:Monday | December 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist

Another Sting has come and gone and the headlines are all too familiar: clash getting out of hand, fighting, gunshots fired, stampede, patrons beating a hasty retreat, artiste in trouble with the police.

I used to attend Sting regularly in my youth. (Yes, Sting was around in my youth.) It was a place to see great performances from the best in the dancehall genre, in an atmosphere of fun and good vibes. Yellowman, Josey Wales, Peter Metro, Charlie Chaplin, Brigadier Jerry, Papa San, Lieutenant Stitchie and their peers would perform, and clashes would be highly entertaining and the crowd would enjoy the friendly rivalry.

Sting gradually evolved into a battlefield. Clashes became personal to the point of physical altercations. Instead of championing lyrical prowess, personal attacks and obscenity-laced 'tracing' would be encouraged and applauded. Missiles would at times be hurled by patrons at acts that did not satisfy their musical or lyrical tastes. Every now and then an artiste would get themselves into hot water with the security forces for violence or for spewing obscenities.

Dancehall has a large following, but also many detractors who consider it to be "boogu yagga" trash of little musical or entertainment value, promoting slackness and violence. Such generalizations are unfair because, as with many other genres, different artistes have different styles of writing and delivery and will focus on a variety of topics. Also, whether one is a fan of the genre or not, it takes skill to create lyrics that rhyme in a particular way and to execute a song rhythmically, with the appropriate vocal intonations and dynamics. One has to also appreciate the mental alertness and verbal dexterity that it takes to enter a stage in front of a large crowd and freestyle with ease.

Unfortunately, incidents such as those which took place on Boxing Day this year only serve to feed into the stereotype, held by some, of dancehall being rubbish. I am a proud Jamaican, and am proud of our culture including our music. Dancehall songs have made the top 40 charts in many countries and been on the soundtracks of several Hollywood motion pictures. When the first western artiste to be invited to an Asian country (the Maldives) to perform in two years happens to be a Jamaican dancehall artiste (Sean Paul), our influence cannot be ignored.

Dancehall artistes, producers and promoters of dancehall shows need to protect the genre. To have the biggest dancehall show being streamed live, and to broadcast chaos and disorder to a global audience is potentially damaging. I see nothing wrong with having clashes, but maybe careful thought should be given as to who is chosen to clash, and strict guidelines issued and enforced. The entourage issue should also be examined, and restrictions probably applied to the number of entourage members allowed backstage.

Unfortunately, the mayhem on display at Sting is a reflection of the indiscipline and aggression in our society. Whether we want to admit it or not, it is a reflection of ourselves, and incidents such as the one that recently transpired are likely to recur unless the attitudes of our populace improve. We all need to take a serious look at ourselves; what we do, what we tolerate and what we encourage.

Music is supposed to be entertainment, not a blood sport. As Tristan Palmer sings in his popular song 'Entertainment', "entertainment is a form of enjoyment, nuh badda fight inna dance, dance, dance, we come fi enjoy wiself, we come fi enjoy wiself".
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and  poet. Email feedback to and, or  tweet @mikeyabrahams.