Dancehall hurting reggae - Diaspora sounds off on 'daggerin' debate

Published: Sunday | March 8, 2009

Contributed photos
LEFT: Members of the panel at a community forum in Brooklyn, New York, last Wednesday, discussing the contents and lyrics of dancehall music and its relationship with reggae. From left: Cristy Barber, vice-president, VP Records; music producer Jon 'FX' Crawford; Ed Robinson, reggae singer and producer; Sheron Hamilton-Pearson, president, People of Black Heritage, a community-based group; and Carter Van Pelt, radio host, Columbia University's WKCR 89.9FM.
RIGHT: Sharon Gordon, one of the organisers of the dancehall forum in New York last Wednesday.

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer


A hot-button debate in New York on Wednesday, stimulated by the Broadcasting Commission's banning of lewd lyrics from the country's airwaves, ended with the conclusion that dancehall is a troubled genre poised to render Jamaican youths an endangered species.

The highly anticipated community forum and panel discussion staged by Coalition to Preserve Reggae (CPR) music and ZYNC TV New York Links, titled 'Could dancehall be the ruination of reggae and, by extension, the Jamaica brand?' saw some 200 participants turning out at the Billy Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, CPR's Sharon Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner.

Corrupting youths' minds

"If something is not done soon, the minds of our youths will be corrupted by decadence and they will act out that decadence ... our youths will be in danger of being irrevocably impaired ... leading to a retarded society of tomorrow," was the strong message from Gordon and her partner, Carlyle McKetty.

The two, who had put together an impressive panel of journalists, musicians, producers, lecturers and community activists, said the group recognised that dancehall is only one of a number of ills that threatens Jamaica's youths, the others including lack of employment opportunities, poor education and social dislocation.

"This puts the responsibility squarely in the hands of the authorities, who must address the social, economic and educational deficiencies which will, in turn, have a positive effect on the genre," Gordon stressed.

Local psychologist, Dr Leahcim Semaj, supported Gordon's view that lyrics of popular songs have the ability to influence action.

"You can look back to the '70s with the dominance of Bob Marley and the number of Jamaicans who became Rastas and Afrocentric," said Semaj.

Dancehall has been under fire here in Jamaica since attention was brought to the lyrics of Vybz Kartel and Spice's combination, Rampin' Shop. The debate has since made its way overseas, receiving mixed reactions from the diaspora.

"I doubt that anyone would argue that there is a prevalence of lewd and violent lyrics in the current expression," stated Jamaica's Consul General in New York, Geneive Brown Metzger, as she addressed the large audience.

She added: "I, personally, welcome recent initiatives by the Government through its regulatory agency, the Broadcasting Commission, in saying enoughis enough to those artistes, producers and the mass media that have collaborated to bring the music and our popular culture into disrepute."

Noting that Jamaica's popular music culture, like the country's sports, is the backbone of 'Brand Jamaica', she said the debate was sending a very important message that discussion is needed on the subject.

Like Brown Metzger, panellist Sheron Hamilton-Pearson, president of People of Black Heritage, feels the time has come to raise the bar in the music.

Denigration of 'Brand Jamaica'

"The music definitely has to do with the denigration of 'Brand Jamaica'. We know that there are issues with so called 'murder music' (homophobic lyrics), which has boxed bread out of the mouths of not just artistes, but also their supporters," argued the former British Black Panthers member.

According to her, when the artistes see that concerts are being cancelled, they become more circumspect.

"Artistes like Sizzla says one thing in Jamaica but does something else when he goes overseas. He tempers his lyrics, because he understands that his livelihood could go up in smoke," said Hamilton-Pearson.

One of the few pro-dancehall voices at the forum, record producer Jon 'FX' Crawford, who has produced records such as Gun Session (Shabba Ranks, Vybz Kartel, Akon and Sizzla), Book of Life (I Wayne) and I Can Feel Your Pain (Gyptian), and who also did all the preludes on Mavado's upcoming album Mr Brooks ... A Better Tomorrow, stoutly defended his statement, "dancehall will never ruin reggae music or the brand of our culture".

He said the problem is the current sound.

Hitting out against the computerised sound, he said, "The day when we start to get back some musical instruments in the schools or in the communities, it will make a vast difference because our younger generation will know what the music is to sound like."

Dr Semaj likened the degradation of the music to the global economic meltdown.

"The absence of active regulations allowed for bad assets to be paraded as good, ultimately breaking down the system," he opined.

"The fact that a song is played on the radio, it automatically gives license that the song can be sung by anyone. The image our youths are fed is what they will internalise. Their values have been shaped by the music."

Satisfied they have achieved their mantra, Gordon and McKetty said the forum will inform CPR's advocacy, aimed at raising the bar in the production and performance of Jamaican music.

"CPR will continue its efforts to gather information regarding the state of the music and develop and implement strategies to effect its advancement," said Gordon.