Wed | Sep 28, 2022

Ian Boyne | Independence not song and dance

Published:Friday | August 4, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Jamaicans will today flock to the Grand Gala at the National Stadium. There has been quite a hustle for tickets. We love song and dance. But don't mistake our passion for celebration with enduring national pride.

Our Emancipendence celebration is more style than substance. Nothing shows up our lack of national purpose more than anniversaries like Emancipation, Independence and National Heroes Day. These anniversaries are out of sync with our day-to-day culture - our values and mores. On these occasions when national leaders recall people like Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Bustamante and Manley, the heroes' spirit of self-sacrifice, patriotism and devotion to a cause outside themselves just don't resonate with our lives.

The language of sacrifice, struggle, and nation above self is so foreign, so archaic. So yesteryear. The leaders make these speeches because they have to, but they should know they mean very little, for Jamaicans can't identify with the values being espoused in these messages. Who is thinking about country today? Who is willing to put his personal interests behind national interest? Who is talking about 'building a new Jamaica'?

Individuals are busy chasing their own dreams and only think about Jamaica in terms of what Jamaica can do for them.

Professor Don Robotham is even more on point today than when he uttered these words 20 years ago in that pivotal GraceKennedy Foundation lecture titled 'Vision and Voluntarism': "There is no common vision which strongly unites a wide cross section of the people of what it means to be a Jamaican. Therefore, there is almost no sense of what are our mutual obligations to one another ... . There is no longer any clear vision of what Jamaica is or should be. There is no rationale behind the term 'Jamaican' that expresses any sense of common purpose. That is our fundamental problem."

There must be something fundamentally wrong with this society when a national poll found, as reported in The Gleaner on Thursday, that the convicted criminal Vybz Kartel is among the list of people who featured as possible candidates for national hero getting the same percentage as Portia Simpson Miller, Andrew Holness, Edward Seaga, and Louise Bennett-Coverley! We need no greater indication of our sickness as a nation.

Prominent dancehall apologist Dr Donna Hope, in an interview with The Gleaner commenting on the poll showing that the majority of Jamaicans don't think there is anyone else who deserves national hero status, agrees, saying that while people like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt are, indeed, icons and legends, they don't exemplify that self-sacrifice for nation that would qualify them as national heroes.

As Dr Hope puts it, "We shouldn't be saying, 'Oh, this person did well in music or sports so make him a national hero.' I mean they are working for a living, but just because they do well in their career doesn't mean we should turn them into national heroes." Well said. She added :"A national hero is someone who selflessly really gives of himself or herself in the project of building this nation that we are a part of."

Frequently in elections, we hear pleas from various factions urging constituents not to be bought or to "tek dem money and vote dem out". That emerged again in last weekend's election in St Andrew South West. Both sides accused each other of buying votes. In fact, a major point that was being made was that the poor and largely unemployed people of that constituency had to be careful to choose a candidate who could pull in big money so things can be 'nice' with constituents. If your candidate can't get 3,000 Easter buns, dem nah seh nutten. The winnable candidate haffi have friends in high society.

Our democracy is imperilled when we are so licky-licky. There was a time when people joined political parties because of what they wanted to give. They saw those parties as vehicles to channel their nationalistic and patriotic ideals. Not anymore. People are active in political parties for political spoils and scarce benefits. The political parties can no longer depend on a hard-core cadre of loyal, dedicated, hard-working people to put party above self. No, the parties have to pull in enough cash to buy people's loyalty.

How do you build a nation like that? In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, our young people were idealistic, fired up with zeal for building a truly independent and strong Jamaica. There was a wave of patriotic fervour and an upsurge in voluntarism. Young people were interested in ideas. They were talking about Black Power, Rastafari, African liberation, cultural identity, socialism, nationalism, building an independent economy. Today, young people are talking about their high-end mobile phones, busily exchanging social-media trivia; lost in their world of illusion and mass distraction fed by American cultural dominance.

Our young people's values are determined by American pop culture. Our young people know more about what is going on in American pop culture than about what is going on in Jamaica. They only reside here, but their hearts are lodged overseas. Foreign minds, with stomachs filled with American fast foods and spirit fed by Hollywood.

In her poignant song, Times Like These, Queen Ifrica laments:

"It's times like these

I'm missing our heroes

Times like these I really wish they were around

Shouldn't have to be like this

Marcus Garvey ... Bob Marley. Sam Sharpe ... Nanny ... Miss Lou

They took away the voices that gave the people pride

Now we're plunging into darkness."

In times like these, we have a dancehall artiste like Ishawna dissing cultural icon Miss Lou, flaunting her cultural backwardness and ignorance. Happily, she was roundly slammed for it. It was refreshing for me to see the heavy outcry that accompanied her dissing of our Cultural Great. That was redeeming for a cynic like me. It was also good to see Ishawna sternly rebuked at Sumfest.

Our indigenous music, dancehall, which should be championing our cause for Independence and cultural liberation, is largely serving the interest of Babylon, turning our women into whores and offering up our young men as sacrifices to a life of nihilistic violence. The people ruling the dancehall today are projecting the worst in us.

Fortunately, we have an Ifrica as a cultural warrior standing up for our Independence and chanting down our Babylonian cultural captivity. What a strong performance she gave at Sumfest, belting out her powerful lyrics in Black Woman, blowing the whistle on those empty-headed and brainwashed female deejays who are selling out our women under the guise of sexual liberation.

In her powerful lyrics, Ifrica says:

"It seem like black woman nuh love themself no more

She seh she nuh mind being called a whore

No, black woman, hold up yu head, black woman

A sell dem sell you out, black woman

Nuh mek dem tek you fi nuh piece a meat

Look how you sweet!"

Our dancehall should be used to promote independence, not dependence. It should be used to uplift our people, rather than incite them to whoredom and criminality.

Our Independence Project has been derailed by our own corrupt politicians who have created garrisons, divided the people and who have promoted cronyism and clientelism. They have been aided by American cultural imperialism, which has thoroughly captured the minds of our people and seduced them with bling and the weapons of mass distraction unleashed by capitalist society. While we are turned on by the song and dance of independence, we are owned by foreigners and our minds have been recolonised.

Don Robotham was again dead right: "Nobody knows what Jamaica stands for any more or what this term 'Jamaica' could possibly mean." I wish I could genuinely wish you happy independence. But I can at least say, enjoy the song and dance at the Grand Gala to this evening. At least we still have that nostalgia of our rich artistic culture to savour, before we are completely overridden by American culture, made more dominant now through social media.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and