Thu | Jun 8, 2023

Dancehall dulls the senses, poisons minds

Published:Wednesday | March 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM


When Minister of National Security Peter Bunting asked for divine intervention in Jamaica's crime situation, he could not have anticipated the speed and nature of the intervention. The murder conviction of Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel is of such proportion that it is a mortal wound to the dancehall ethos. Kartel has risen to prominence through dancehall music; he has become its icon. Indeed, he calls himself 'World Boss' and uses terms like 'Gaza Empire' to describe his fiefdom.

By all accounts, children in their formative years have given Kartel cult status and his lyrics have become their anthem.

What may have been lost on the society in terms of the nexus between the lyrical content of dancehall music and the ready resort of violence at the community level has become palpably clear after the verdict was announced in court on March 13. Many of those whose comments have been available through vox pops appear to have lost any sense of the rule of law and the fact that murder is a crime. One person said that since no body was found, Kartel ought not be convicted. Another said that Kartel and Lizard were friends, so killing him ought to have been nothing (between friends.) Whatever the defenders of dancehall may wish to say, the outcomes on those who imbibe its ethos is a loss of nobility, the eroding of conscience and the pitting of neighbour against neighbour. Where has dancehall ever promoted unity or civility? Are these no longer essential social values?

I make no apology for saying that my tastes never allowed me to listen to Kartel before this case, when upon hearing the details of the plot, I took the time to do so.

The Observer juxtaposed the story of Kartel's murder conviction with some his lyrical content. Born Bad includes: "Chop him up fine and fling him in a bush fi yo rotten an stink and swell up an pop."

In Buss mi Gun, he chimes "Bwoy a beg fi him life like kids beg money at di stoplight. Mi put di glock right up inna him face an buss it till him red like mi bimmer backlight. No bwoy nuh bad like me dem just act like."

Betrayal of reggae

How does somebody sing that? These are evil words. Kartel is not an aberration in dancehall, he is its icon, its legend.

I have always maintained that dancehall is mercenary music and a betrayal of the legacy of reggae.

Dancehall has no metanarrative or big story, only fragments, discontinuity and nihilism. It has made the poor appear to be a people without imagination of the ideal. The poor are made to appear that they cannot see beyond their existential struggle, or see a bigger and greater good for which to strive. Their god is money, and their desire the consumption of consumer durables and consumer items.

Contrast the lyrical content above with Marley's angriest song Crazy Baldhead.

Them crazy, them crazy

We gonna chase those crazy

baldheads out of town

Chase those crazy baldheads

Out of town

I and I build a cabin

I and I plant the corn

Didn't my people before me

Slave for this country

Now you look me with a scorn

Then you eat up all my corn

"I and I plant the corn" is in reference to Rudolf Franklin, the Rastaman whose plot of ground the police raided in 1963, leading to the infamous Coral Gardens uprising near Montego Bay. The uprising resulted in the death of eight people, including two members of the police force and the declaration by Alexander Bustamante that all Rastafari should be brought in dead or alive.

Marley's song is full of subtleties and is layered. It is protest against a wrong, but is full of restraint. One difference between dancehall and reggae is what dancehall does to ordinary people. It makes them gullible to buy shoddy goods, clothes, shoes, bleaching cream, hair, jewellery, cars and most of all, guns. It dulls their senses. It is the new opiate of the people. Dancehall divides the poor, it promotes paranoia and self-hate.

We must do everything to hasten the demise of this sponsored music and allow the people to dream again to sing again, to laugh again and love again.

Email feedback to