I am warning you in advance, this post is about Lisa Hanna, Chronixx and Fr. Ho-Lung and it is a ‘little’ longish. But, mostly, it is about Lisa Hanna and Chronixx. So, proceed at your own risk…!
I have said before and am going to say it again, public figures, including government officials, entertainers and athletes – many of whom have very visible profiles, must be mindful of how they engage with public spaces. Their comments, though intended to say one thing, can be articulated into consciousness in entirely different ways and with unintended consequences. This is especially given the media saturated environment in which we live now.
With that said, let me back-track to a certain ‘year-in-review’ offered by a certain Roman Catholic priest about a certain Minister of Government, who formerly occupied the enviable role of ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’. Sure, some of us will disagree on that title, but still…!
Needless to say, all were convinced that the priest in question was out of line and some even claimed, very harsh, in his critique of the charming, young Minister. His comments were deemed all the more objectionable, given that he is supposed to be in the business of understanding the weakness of the human condition, even as he and others like himself, seek to direct us to a higher plane of existence through an invocation of the Divine.
People were not so understanding, however; after all, as an old man who has taken a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience what could he possibly know about the sharp-witted and, unanimously agreed, beautiful Ms Hanna, herself in the bloom of youth? He was definitely off-base.
However, let us step back for a moment and consider that sometimes we say things and in ways they were never intended to be said in terms of how they came out. The critique of the Minister of Youth and Culture by Fr. HoLung was, by all accounts, one such example. It was heavy-handed.
It is worth remembering that when Fr. HoLung wrote, at the time, it was with the painful memories as well as the full account of the history of the Alpha Boys’ Home and the subsequent closure; and all the factors surrounding that, as his context. He may not have clearly articulated his criticism in a way to convey the veracity of his upset but the sincerity of the pain which motivated his remarks were shared by many. And not just by Roman Catholics.
Many others also felt that the way in which the closure of the Alpha Boys’ Home had occurred and the manner in which the rich and powerful history of the institution was treated, further to the Minister’s comments, were tantamount to an egregious betrayal of public trust. Fr. HoLung did not disguise his feelings very well on that day. The varnish came off.
Fast-forward to just under a week ago and the comments made by up-and-coming Reggae artiste Chronixx in the aftermath of the POTUS’ visit to Jamaica suggesting that President Obama is equivalent to a ‘waste man’ – a term used in the Jamaican popular culture lexicon to reference superfluity and an extremely reduced sense of significance. Should we assume that the post was intended as critique for the President, in particular, and United States foreign policy, more generally, it is safe to say Chronixx has a very large bone of contention with the two.
Shortly, after the hastily removed post, itself screened shot for the purposes of making ‘news’ in Jamaica – and, one assumes beyond these borders, the erstwhile Youth and Culture Minister took to social and other media to register her reaction to the young artiste’s comments. Her remarks were, rightly, taken as a very strenuous reprimand.
Caught up in the euphoria of the official visit of the 44th US President, Ms Hanna may have crossed the line in her rebuttal of the young Reggae artiste’s social media rant.
We need to remember that at twenty-two years old and with lesser amounts of experience and comparable exposure, Chronixx may well have spoken out of turn. it certainly behooves all of us to be a little more careful in our criticism in this scenario.
Note, as an artiste and a young man living not just in Jamaica but also the world, Chronixx has every right to register his disagreement with the circumstances in which he finds himself implicated and the political agenda(s) he believes himself to be vested with, given his role as performing artist.
Still, there is also need for balance and respect in how we conduct ourselves in certain (public) spaces. disrespectful behaviour cannot be overlooked in the name of ‘youthful exuberance’. In the same way, ‘elders’ must justify their billing and be more mindful of and reflective in how they offer needed feedback. Shooting from the hips is rarely ever the answer.
Both Minister Hanna and Fr. HoLung and now Chronixx are, at various points, all intersected in that discussion. How we proceed from this point forward is a matter on which we will have to earnestly decide as a society.
Personally, I vote for forgiveness, understanding and respect. However, that has to come through a meaningful reflection on exactly what constitutes the issue. Otherwise, it will all ring very hollow.
…What say you?
‘A queen knows her worth and does fight for it!’ – Iyanla Vanzant, Value in the Valley
The ‘clash’ culture which has now been extended to the female actors in Dancehall was perhaps a long time in coming. Indeed, if ‘clash’ is really cover for ‘tracing’ then it is a perfectly acceptable female activity in our context.
After all, it is what some women do – trace each other and say who is better at having and keeping a man as a way of proving their worth whether to others and or themselves. Either way it is classic female activity in Jamaica.
In that case both Lady Saw and Macka Diamond, formerly Lady Mackerel, who clashed rather dramatically at Sting 2013 were true to form. Needless to say, Saw who by her own antics was anything but lady-like came out the undisputed champion. While a hapless Macka, who sometimes go by the moniker without the precious stone part added on, stood like a deer in headlights for long periods of time unable to ‘answer-back’. She was cut down in a hail of lyrical verses by the ever-green Saw who made it abundantly clear that she does not plan on relinquishing the title of ‘Queen of the Dancehall’ anytime soon. Or so it seems.
Notably, I have liked both artistes for some time; with Saw being one of my all-time favourites, whether male or female. In fact, I was troubled to learn that Saw had agreed to participate in a ‘clash’ at this year’s Sting event at Jam World in Portmore, St. Catherine. Because she had stated rather confidently this year that she was retiring from Dancehall and would ultimately pursue a more spiritual path.
Saw was electing to become Christian – a path others like Carlene Davis, Chevelle Franklyn, Junior Tucker, Lt. Stitchie and Papa San have taken at various points, to much acclaim. Given both my experience and understanding of Sting I was, therefore, nervous.
Would Saw descend into the gutter where most of the ‘clashes’ seem have taken place lately in order to prove that she is still the ultimate champion? Or would she opt to take another approach? It is, after all, hardly a good look for one professing Christian values to so conduct him or herself. But that is for another day.
Having watched the video of Saw and Macka dueling each other, not so much with musical verses, but the very raw and coarse language about how ‘good’ their bodies were, all my worst fears were confirmed. My heart sank.
Now, do not get me wrong. I understand that this is the nature of ‘Sting’ and that it is ‘big people business’. However, it was my fervent hope that the creeping crassness which has characterized some previous clashes would somehow not show up last night.
Given also that this has largely been a male domain at the annual Sting stage show, it is interesting to see the reactions to women participating in these ridiculous theatrics, presumably in the name of musical supremacy in Jamaica’s Dancehall.
Significantly, last night is the third time that this has happened to Macka. She and Spice had a go at it at the 2012 show. Before that the same Macka had a go at it with Queen Paula in 2003.
Last year, however, it was widely believed that that was an anti-climax. According to Macka in a subsequent interview with CVM’s Onstage host Wynford Williams she had to leave to perform at a show in Clarendon that same night. The ‘sting’ of their rivalry was not fully realized then.
So the question is: how can grown women allow themselves to be part of this ‘passa-passa’, notwithstanding that this may well be their jobs for which they are paid? What is more, if Lady Saw is, in fact, the undisputed ‘queen’ why has she allowed herself to ‘bow’ to this pressure?
Was this a purely commercial deal or was she genuinely motivated to take on the pretender Macka in an effort to prove to adoring fans that she still ‘has it’? It would seem reasonable that the title of ‘queen’ is not one that everyone can assume. Surely, Macka and Lady Saw jumping around, cursing at each other and basically reducing themselves to the power – however fleeting, that their bodies have over men is not a good example we want little children to see let alone emulate.
Surely, they are both aware that little girls are looking on at their behavior as examples of proper womanhood? Or perhaps it is that ‘clash’ culture has rightly come home to where it has always belonged – to the domain of tracing women?
On a side note, I am entirely amazed that some people feel it is okay for this kind of behaviour to be broadcast not only to a national but also an international audience without concern. Is there no regard for the impact that such displays like this can have on Jamaica’s international brand value? Or is it business as usual?
Some commentators on the video of the clash which I watched pointed out that the levels of crime is of greater urgency compared to whether two women, who are admittedly past their prime, are seen ripping into each other in the most obscene ways possible on a stage in full view of an international audience, while representing Jamaica.
Unfortunately, though even while crime is a very real issue in Jamaica I still believe that both issues are of urgent concern.
This is, especially considering that women are supposedly the transporters of culture and with it bear the responsibility – however unjust, of nurturing and therefore, making ready the members of the next generation to take up their place in the world. Are we sufficiently satisfied that the actions of Saw and Macka at Sting 2013, including D’Angel who was also seen splayed out on the stage with her feet up in the air in a barely-there outfit while veteran deejay Ninja Man towered above her, demonstrate the examples we want little girls to have?
Or even a wider audience in their assessment of Jamaican ‘culture’?
We are fresh off the Tessane Chin high. How do we make the comparison, if not the jump from the one to the other?
I am a little unclear.
‘Gay’ violence at local university symptomatic of Jamaica’s increasing descent into anarchy and mayhem!
The rule of law and democracy are under severe threat in Jamaica. From by all accounts, the situation is extremely dire. Not even Usain Bolt’s world record efforts can save us now.
On Thursday, November 1, 2012, a male student at the University of Technology was set upon and severely beaten by security guards, after being chased by a mob of his peers. The reason? He was suspected of being gay and was presumably one half of a duo caught in a ‘compromising situation’ on the campus.
Mob attack/ nightmare
Having run to the security post to escape the mob attack, the ‘gay’ student had his worse nightmare come true. His source of refuge turned into the very thing he was fleeing.
Degraded and dehumanized in the worst way by the security personnel on duty, the ‘gay’ student was mercilessly beaten while an entertained audience filmed the obscene event, their bloodlust clear in the expletive filled chants for him to be killed. This was, undoubtedly, a surreal scene from the theatre of the macabre.
But sadly that was real life and this is relatively commonplace in Jamaica. Indeed, mob violence has been routinely used to intimidate and in some instances kill those against whom it’s been directed in the past.
Recall, the killing of a man two months ago by a mob in the community of Zion, Trelawny. The man’s neighbours felt he was the father of a man alleged to have raped and murdered two little boys in the community. The deceased’s daughter was also injured in the attack.
Before that, a policeman shot and killed a woman seven month’s pregnant for using a curse word – another clear example of a society stuck in the ‘Dark Ages’. The policeman also shot and injured the woman’s sister in the incident.
So it is clear that, in the absence of an effective and meaningful state response previously, the UTech students felt no compunction in their savage venting of their ‘hatred’ of their colleague’s actions. Thanks to their frightening display of incivility and barbarism Jamaica’s name is now, effectively, in the toilette.
The students must be very proud of themselves. They did seek to deny one of their colleague’s right to his humanity, even while others reportedly sought to justify their actions in the aftermath, by declaring their belief in a ‘higher form of morality’.
The Bible, in effect, justified their near fatal abuse of a ‘gay’ student. After all, homosexuality is an abomination, according to Leviticus 18:22. All discovered to be so ‘guilty’ should be put to death in Jamaica and several other places like it.
Homophobia; hatred of life
But while this incident was certainly homophobic, it also smacks of a telling and deep-seated hatred of life; law and order and the basic democratic principles of the right of self expression.
Note, this is not to deny the stunning lack of thought which may have initially prompted the ‘gay’ student to express him and his partner’s desires in the manner which reportedly lead to this gravely unfortunate incident.
But these are negligible matters which must be expended with, at least so it seems for the UTech students in question. Their indiscriminate use of violence coupled with their demand for blood and an obviously rank stupidity devolved into anarchy and mayhem – a reality about which they do not seem especially concerned.
Why then has the state never effectively addressed this problem before now? How is it that students set to lead a nation in a few short years are not able to see the implications of their actions and what it means in the context of a wider set of issues such as governance, rule of law and national development?
Furthermore, whose agenda is served by this apparent silence, even as the ‘rabblement’ turns on itself? That nebulous group called ‘the authorities’? Do they not have an investment in fixing these issues?
Business as usual
Or, is this ‘business as usual’ and in the ebb and flow of life here on the Rock?
The alarming erosion of the rule of law vis-à-vis citizens’ democratic rights to life and self-expression in Jamaica is an extremely serious issue. It must be addressed as an act of great urgency. A strong, clear and fulsome response is vital.
Condemnation alone not sufficient
The routine condemnation of ‘lawlessness’ and ‘violence’ alone is not enough. More is needed.
The state must take a stand; regular citizens included. This is especially if the guarantee that the the rights of all, regardless of race, colour, class or creed is protected under the Jamaican constitution is to be believed.
For Jamaica to take its rightful place in the world then silence cannot be the appropriate response.
Jamaica needs to wake up! This cannot and should not be allowed to continue unaddressed.
Recently, the affiliate arm of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Generation 2000, or G2K as it is more popularly known criticised local media
for what it claimed was the biases of some of its proponents in terms of support for the Opposition, Peoples’ National Party (PNP). Among the key
concerns raised by the G2K was the question of polling, as well as the need for people with affiliations to the PNP to indicate that this is so by stating their status in said Movement.
The young Labourites suggested that the question of media bias (in favour of the PNP) was part of what explained the gap in the numbers between itself and the party currently in Opposition, which most people (according to the polls) are of the view will make up the next government. By this action, the G2K opened further an already ajar door, in the process, calling us to scrutinize the subject of media bias vis-a-vis
the political process in Jamaica.
The G2K also encouraged, though perhaps unintended, an exploration what, at least one member of the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) – Vice Chairman, Brian Schmidt, has called an increasingly hostile attitude toward the Jamaican media by public figures. In this regard, helping to foreground some central considerations about the issue of bias and the media in the, often virulent political culture in Jamaica.
According to Schmidt, in discussions with To The Point on Tuesday, July 26, 2011, the attitudes of hostility toward the media coupled with the
onerous fines levied against in Libel Laws, are justifiable reasons to be concerned about the G2K’s comments. Indeed, the MAJ Vice-Chair argued that the media cannot remain healthy in a context where they must strive to prove their own credibility, especially considering that in other jurisdictions it is the other way around. He insisted accordingly that, public figures must operate by a higher standard. They rather than the media must prove their credibility.
This is, especially in the case like that in which the G2K has found itself – questioning the methodology of media research as well as the
integrity of the narrative around these issues. AS a result, the critique of media and the political process, as tabled by the G2K, must also take account of how such attitudes contribute to the growing sense in which the Jamaican media are constantly at the mercy of powerful public figures and organisations.
According to Schmidt, this prevents the media, in theory, from carrying out their tasks effectively. Significantly, the MAJA’s critique of the
G2K’s remarks also included actors in the last administration, who are now in Opposition. It cannot, therefore, be read as an effort to single out any one group, individual or party in what he defines as sending chills through the local media. This is in terms of conveying a sense of increased hostility towards the media; that is, in their look at the political process in Jamaica and ensuring that democracy works in the best interests of all.
According Schmidt, the media are increasingly under attack. The rhetoric of certain public figures only adds to this tense state of affairs. Thus, it is necessary to ask whether this is a reasonable contention, especially given the extent to which the media currently does not operate without a complaints or an oversight body. Such an organization, in theory, would sit in judgment of the fairness and professional codes of of the media.
In fact, Minister of Information, Daryl Vaz, has rightly raised the concerns about giving life to such an organization. He contends that such a
group would serve to ensure that where there are concerns about fairness of coverage, impartiality, among other concerns that these are addressed as a means of urgent action.
In responding to such a charge, however, Schmidt says that the issue of a complaints body is superfluous. In his view, it is neither sufficient nor necessary. According to the MAJ Vice-Chair individual media houses already are constrained to obey the broadcasting regulations, as well as
that there are options of appeal. These can be tabled before the MAJ, which is a body comprised of media managers and owners. Included in that group also, is the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), which acts as a quasi-professional grouping for local journalists.
Effectively, Schmidt believes that the media landscape is already ‘policed’ by various mechanisms to ensure that the Four Estate, as it is often
called, does what it is set up to do. However, one cannot help but ask whither the effectiveness of such groups and whether such a complaints body would, necessarily, be redundant given the highly partisan and ‘tribalised’ nature of the Jamaican political scene?
Is it sufficient to argue that the media are already under obligations and, therefore, do not require this means of regulation? That is, regarding the requirements of the PAJ, MAJ and the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ), itself a unique grouping in the discussion which warrants its
own analysis? What harm, in effect, is there for introducing a regulatory body for the local media? And should such a body be responsible for ensuring professional accreditation and possibly also offer ratings for journalists, broadcasters, columnists and talk show hosts?
Schmidt noticeably did not offer a position on those questions in his review of the subject, choosing to argue instead that the media are, effectively, already sufficiently ‘policed’ by the current context. He further maintained that hostile attitudes in the current economic climate, given the burdens of disproving culpability in the case of defamation lawsuits, could potentially harm the media. This is not an ideal state of affairs.
Still, it bears being asked now that Jamaica is constitutionally due another elections in the next year, how will those issues play out in the
ensuing period? This is especially, considering that the Fourth Estate plays such a key role in who gets elected to public office?
In fact, buoyed the poll numbers over which the JLP has raised concerns, the PNP has begun its demands for an election. According to Julian
Robinson, Deputy General Secretary of the PNP, that is partly the result of the public’s refusal to be contained within the mediocrity of the current administration (To The Point on Tuesday, July 26, 2011).
The electorate has grown impatient with the mismanagement and, one could argue based on Mr. Robinson’s position, corruption of the JLP in its
stewardship of the country, specifically on issues like the economy, the administration of justice and others. Thus, while the polls are not sufficient by themselves to underwrite the confidence of the PNP, his Party is nonetheless hugely encouraged in the stridency of its demands.
It is this context in which the JLP’s concerns about bias in the media must be investigated. Are the polling numbers being manipulated to
reflect a biased view of the political landscape at this time? Or, is it simply because they are behind and, in some instances, dramatically which warrants the tabling of this ‘new’ debate about how media operate and the need for greater regulations?
Is there merit, for instance in the claims raised by commentators like Kevin Obrien Chang (also a guest on To the Point) and others about the
biases of certain media toward the sitting administration? They have pointed out that the recent reveal, courtesy of the whistle blowing organisation WikiLeaks about the attitudes of Dr. Peter Phillips, the current PNP Spokesman on the Economy, toward Portia Simpson Miller, the head of the PNP, as one such example.
That story was broken by the Jamaica Observer and not the Gleaner. Significantly, the former has long been felt to be anti-PNP, whereas the
Gleaner has now come to be regarded by some in the JLP as being in bed with the Opposition. Has the G2K and by extension the JLP raised a legitimate concern, therefore, going into the election year?
This, notwithstanding an apology from the Gleaner about its failure to publish the story first, especially given that it had started the process by introducing to the public, cables presumably aimed at ‘getting to the (whole) truth’. Are there legitimate issues surrounding how media are
manipulated in the ongoing electioneering politics, locally?
This, especially, as the various candidates vie for status and advertise themselves as winnable and therefore, trustworthy ahead of the next national polls?
…Tell us what you think? Post your comments below.
(To the Point is a new radio interview, news and discussion programme aired on www.bessfm.com, every Monday to Thursday, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Listen and let us know what you think!)
Needless to say Clifton Brown of ‘nobody canna cross it’ fame has exploded into celebrity. His recent sets of speaking engagements across the body of the local media landscape testify to this, with even this author interviewing him on a programme called ‘To the Point’ on Bess 100FM sometime in the previous week.
Most people have wanted to know, perhaps with justifiable humour, whether he has travelled outside of Jamaica as a means of explaining his seemingly acquired ‘accent’ for which he has gained notoriety. Indeed, the curious case of Clifton Brown is that, he is a most unassuming gentleman, rather unflappable in the face of great ridicule heaped on him by the members of the middle-class media establishment in their arrogant presumption that only those who use the English Language (well) are intelligent.
In fact, it needs to be said that Clifton Brown has maintained much of his originality by insisting in almost all of the interviews done with him to date that his case of the inadequate bridge is still very much real. He has not veered from that position, even though it has been said he has since acquired a Manager and, possibly, a Booking Agent to take advantage of the rumoured earnings at his expense.
Note, I say rumoured not so much because I disbelieve that there is a cash register that keeps ringing up earnings unbeknownst to Clifton but rather to point out that the actual details of those earnings may yet be beyond his immediate understanding. This is not to imply that Clifton is not smart; just not savy enough, at this time, to understand the nuances of the earning potentials.
Indeed, I submit that I too am a little behind in my awareness of how this process actually works. Though, there is no doubting that the use of his intellectual property by the enterprising D.J. Powa is a key part of the problem.
Based on the last information received, the creative, young deejay feels that he both has a right to earn from Clifton’s efforts to represent his community’s lack of needed infrasture and has insisted that the remix of the news report is his intellectual product. Indeed, he has even gone so far as to create t-shirts with some of the more notable soundbytes from the TV J report, among them ‘the bus can swim’. Thereby, clearly making known his agenda – profit at the expense of the poor, on account of their desperate circumstances and, in the specific case of Clifton Brown, his evident lack of training in proper presentation skills and sufficient exposure to media.
In fact, it is necessary to say that media use and interviewing skills, as well as language abilities are all talents which are not easily mastered by most. Those within the confines of air conditioned television and radio studios with the capacity to edit themselves before broadcasting their messages know that only too well. They are also aware that, they are sufficiently ahead of the curve, given how dependent media are on the efficient use of language in a myriad of contexts. There is no excuse for ridiculing and laughing shamelessly in the face of one not as accomplished but who is nonetheless concerned about a very serious problem in his community. The safety of residents who remain at the mercy of the elements given their under service by civic and other government institutions is very serious business.
Indeed, that Clifton has taken it on himself to highlight that he is a Christian and not an artiste, though he has perhaps unwisely gone ahead to retain the services of a management team also speak to the nature of the problems presented by this exceptional set of circumstances. It highlights just how confused we can become after making what are clearly well intentioned interventions in terms of bringing attention to certain matters of egregious civic neglect. Clifton’s goodwill, in other words, has now been subverted, in part, by the disrespectful media narrative sustained in some parts of the public middle class culture to which we so often defer in Jamaica.
In this way, highlighting why the poor often do not get heard and understood in their efforts to gain access to the seats of power. This is perhaps part of why at election times people do not bother to ask about platform issues and elect instead to vote on the premise of who can finance their children’s immediate need for school fees, a graduation dress, or even more urgent a day’s meal. It is entirely shocking and especially disrespectful too that more members of the viewing public, have not made a greater public outcry against the evident exploitation and generally uncharitable manner in which Clifton and his well intended interview has been treated.
To suggest that, DJ Powa, however enterprising, has any claims on the language use of Clifton Brown and the contents of the TV J news report is ludicrous at best. Note, no one is denying his obvious creativity. As a matter of fact, so creative is he that his talents have been acknowledged in the CBS news report which further catapulted the unsuspecting Clifton and the eager DJ Powa to fame and, possibly, fortune.
However, hardly much has been said in all this as to whether the bridge needed in Mr. Brown’s community, as well as the host of others which remain underserved by the state is being addressed. Indeed, no one has indicated too whether Clifton’s rights are to be protected and safeguarded in the current context, given the wide circulation of the video in the US and the Caribbean and, possibly, beyond.
Mercifully, Professor Carolyn Cooper, who has resolutely defended the language rights of poor Jamaicans and is a known cultural theorist has offered to intervene on Clifton’s behalf. More power to her, I say. However, I would also urge her to ensure that the officials consider naming the, hopefully, soon-to-be-built-bridge in his community ‘The Clifton Brown Bridge’. And that, some of the proceeds earned from the mass marketing of his image abroad be used to ensure that any of his five daughters, should they so choose, may take advantage of the university education Clifton has openly acknowledged he aspires to but did not attain (for obvious reasons, lack of sufficient means). It is perhaps why he has opted to remind that though he is not an artiste, having been offered the opportunities to record Dub-Plates for several sound systems since the remixed news report went viral.
Say what you will, Clifton suspects that something big is happening around, though he also appears somewhat overwhelmed by how to take advantage of what might well be an opportunity. I endorse, wholeheartedly, therefore, any project to get Clifton that bridge so that he can cross to the other side safely, especially as we are now in the Hurricane Season which started on June 1 and is officially scheduled to end November 30. That said though, I strongly believe Mr. Brown is also to be paid for the use of his image, against his wishes (‘I am not an artiste!). The benefits accrued from the subsequent creation and sale of t-shirts with his soundbytes should also redound to him in a meaningful way…
…This way, both Mr. Brown and the other concerned residents in his community of Robert’s Field will be able to cross the Yallahs River safely whenever it rains!
Below is the second of a two part report/ commentary on the state of the local Reggae and Dancehall music industries vis-a-vis what I regard as the ‘take over’ of these two Janmaican brands by others within the Reggae/ Dancehall Diaspora. The first post received interesting feedback.
In this entry, I hope to generate a discussion around likely solutions for addressing what I perceive as a serious decline, from Jamaica’s standpoint. Neither articles are intended to be either anti-American/ European or anti-gay.
On the contrary, they are aimed at building bridges and increasing awareness about this issue across the spectrum of the Reggae/ Dancehall universe. Your feedback is always welcomed.
Red, Green and Gold/ Green, Yellow and Red
Summer Jam 2010 utilized various aspects of Jamaican culture to promote itself. These included anything from the colours, foods and music. From the inverted ‘red, green and gold’ of traditional Rastafari – SummerJam used green, yellow and red, in that order, to the bamboo styled ‘Press Area’, in which all refreshments were sold, to the sale of pieces of coconut, kept fresh in a permanent supply of coconut water, ‘Jamaican culture’ was well represented in Germany.
The food was somewhat reminiscent of local cuisine. Supplied by a Jamaican who has lived in Germany for thirty years, Koala Mini Catering had an abundant supply of jerk sauces, curries and even elements of the national dish – Ackee, but without the requisite Salt Fish. George Llewelyn whipped up several ‘Jamaican’ specialties. Minus the lamb from the very popular curry stew, or even that there was meat available in a major food spot in a Rastafarian themed event and you could have imagined you were slumming it ‘island style’ in Germany.
Asked about the representation of Jamaican culture at the event, one patron, a university educated, second generation Jamaican living in Britain felt the issue was merely a question of entertainment. In his view, whether Jamaicans see a need to be at an event like SummerJam was entirely up to them. He soon disappeared into the packed auditorium, after a passionate defense of his point, refusing to engage further in the discussion.
Jamaican Diaspora in Europe
However, Jamaica-German transplant and soon-to-be minted Ph. D. Marlene Calvin, a Diasporic Studies expert, feels that festivals like SummerJam afford some measure of connection to Jamaican culture, albeit small. Calvin admits that she is conflicted about how SummerJam and other European festivals appropriate Jamaican culture. However, she says it is the only means of connection which she has in this section of the Diaspora.
In Calvin’s view, the state needs to do more outreach to Jamaicans in Europe, in particular those as far north as Germany. She is sympathetic towards those Jamaicans who feel no conflict over the trade and consumption of their culture, out of context, especially in foreign spaces like Europe.
Calvin maintains that is part of the experience of being a migrant in a foreign land. Children grow up without the same sense of bonding their parents feel towards their homeland. According to her, sometimes they see it as a shackle, holding them back from being part of the mainstream home society.
Calvin believes they are effectively, ‘Black Europeans’ who also aid in the appropriation of Caribbean culture in their new home spaces. For some, this is their (only) connection, however limited to their parents’ cultures and societies.
The three day Reggae festival also had a mix of Dancehall thrown in for good measure. Even the performance of Trinidadian Soca star and Road March King Machel Montano proved just how closely SummerJam patterned itself off indigenous Jamaican Dancehall with its penchant for fusing various forms of popular music.
Montano, who performed on the smaller of the two stages – the ‘Green Stage’ on Sunday, rocked the house. The first Soca artistes and, possibly, first Trinidadian performer to set foot on a German Reggae stage, Montano had patrons flying the red, black and white of his country’s national flag.
Asked what explained the flag waving and continuous cheering and dancing, even to the slower Reggae ballads included in Montano’s repertoire, Pete Lilly of Riddim Magazine said, ‘well, they do not really understand what he is saying.’
Still, the sight of Germans attempting to ‘take a wine’ and ‘tip behind the truck’, while funny in some respects, resurrected the old concerns about Caribbean languages and how those are understood by Europeans and the rest of the western world. This is especially regarding the continued insistence of the hatred said to be associated with Dancehall music.
Patois/ Dancehall Translation
According to Lilly, Volker Beck, a member of the Green Party in Germany and an openly gay politician and a chief proponent behind the ban against Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae music in Germany, recently, translated at least one Jamaican Dancehall tune. In Lilly’s estimation this was completely inaccurate, particularly when read by Jamaican linguist and local university lecturer, Dr. Hubert Devonish.
While, the details of the actual translation were not expounded on, what was clear was the obvious double-standard in terms of how charges about a lack of understanding were applied to foreign music. While not a Jamaican language expert, Beck and others claiming to understand Jamaican Patois and its various meanings seem to know enough to institute bans against Dancehall and Reggae artistes, without hesitation.
Ironically, however, the German audience felt not to know much of what Montano said danced continuously to his lyrics just the same. Machel’s reference to national pride was also greeted with thunderous applause when he asked for people from the various Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Germany to cheer to represent nationalist sentiments.
Hitler/ Xenophobia/ Homophobia
Germans are historically, conflicted over the theme of nationalism, given the intense xenophobia and racism which informed Hitler’s Nazi movement just over two generations before. According to Lilly, Jamaicans artistes have become some of the main victims to this new form of political correctness in Germany, which is ostensibly, aimed at stamping out all forms of hatred in artistic content. This is especially given the country’s history of persecuting homosexuals under Nazism.
Certain groups of musicians are barred from performing and earning in the German and other European Reggae markets, as a result. In the process, hijacking several sections of the local Dancehall and Reggae music industries; creating more than adequate space for foreigners to enter and take over.
According to Austrian academic and member of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, Werner Zips, who is a self-described, ‘white, bald head Rasta man’, ‘the offerings of German Reggae artistes are really good. They actually sound like [real] Reggae from about a decade or so, ago.’
The unvoiced portion of Zips’ remarks are, before the blockades, boycotts and bans preoccupied Jamaican artistes, whose attentions have been reoriented towards defending themselves against these attacks. Left with an obvious void, others have stepped in to fill the deficit.
But, if the take over of the Reggae and Dancehall music industries is cause for concern, it appears to have escaped the notice of many on the inside of SummerJam’s organizing team, possibly many inside Europe’s Reggae scene. Journalists were, largely, unable to talk with artistes or even the promoters of the event, given the many boundaries and barriers created in the backstage area.
Personnel in the ‘Press Area’ could not readily enter certain sections of the event, and were actively prevented from doing so by the various numbers of security guards and green suited Polizei on patrol of the grounds, guns clearly displayed. There was no room for misunderstanding; ‘no entry’ meant just that. Otherwise, the consequence could be deadly.
Still, it is important to add that magazines like Riddim have featured Jamaican artistes who have been banned in Germany, as well as have suffered their fair share of homophobic smear because of it. What is doubtful, however, is whether that by itself is sufficient to build consensus across the range of the Reggae continuum in Europe, in terms of critiquing the bans against Jamaican artistes in the industry.
According to Lilly, Gentleman, himself, has also acknowledged the power of race and nationality in affording him passage through the turbulent international waters in which Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall music have found themselves. While, not fixating on race as the only cause for concern, Gentleman’s remarks are instructive in focusing attention on some of the critical issues and needed solutions facing the industry, albeit in Jamaica.
Wheel an Come Again! Pull-up!
Jamaican artistes will have to repackage and reposition themselves, or as we say in the local parlance ‘wheel and come again!’ The ‘pull up’ must as an act of necessity involve the merging of the popular and the historical as well as the academic. The classic class tensions which structure much of Jamaica’s internal politics need to be replaced by a greater sense of trust, partnership and communication between the various arms of the society engaged in the production and circulation of local popular music.
Shows like Sumfest, Rebel Salute and East Fest and have a great role to play by using the backdrop of these festivals as a meeting place for ideas. Regular folk should be invited to sit and reason alongside those engaged in academic and social research on popular music. Artistes should be centrally involved in these exchanges of ideas which are necessary for stimulating conversations about appropriate themes for production in their works.
Artistes also need to educate themselves fully beyond just the mere scope of the classroom or even the even the narrow interests of ‘the streets’, notwithstanding that this is a dynamic part of their music. Questions about the law and what it says in terms of the use of provocative language, expletives as well as choice need to be learned and attitudes adjusted to reflect these positions.
The rehabilitation of Jamaica’s public international image as a site of hate and fear, as regards questions of sexual choices need to be corrected urgently. The Government’s role in promoting a distilled position about Jamaican identity is central to this process. They need to say what it means to be Jamaican in clear and simple language. This should be broadcast to visitors and locals and alike and agreements signed by those entering the country to uphold the values of ‘Jamaican-ness’ expounded in such documents.
Government needs to say specifically why Jamaicans feel the way we do about questions of sexual choices, particularly homosexuality. Does this really matter in the overall construction of citizenship here and how does that prevent or promotes one’s access to the state and its resources? That needs to be clearly explained, given Prime Minister Golding’s 2007 announcement on British Broadcasting Corporation’s Television show Hard Talk that gay people are not allowed in his Cabinet.
Addressing the fall-outs from those destructive remarks means that Jamaica needs to show what the Government has done to advance human rights, within the context of sexual freedoms, by passing legislation empowering the protection of such minority groups. The Dancehall and Reggae music industries need to get onboard this bus. By advocating peace and tolerance, regardless of creed religion and politics, they allow their audiences and supporters see that Jamaica is a place of tolerance and brotherhood.
These sentiments, however, need to become more than just words on a paper but must also be incorporated in to attitudes of those engaged in this kind of work. Public partnerships between the music industry and the Ministries of Education and Culture need to be explored as an urgent matter of course in this regard. These should include field trips into studio sites, as well as the dedication of land space and resources to set up of a Reggae/ Dancehall museum exploring the history of the music as well as that of the society and the link between the two.
Jamaica’s history must be foregrounded in the telling of the nation’s history and the construction of the national public identity by which they country should become known. Stories outside of the National Heroes need to be explored and told in relevant and easily understood formats for all to understand Jamaica’s commitment to the goals of democracy and human rights; that is, through the long struggle of African slaves and Indian Indentured labourers for freedom.
These should not be removed from the current context in which the obstacles towards the holistic development of the society are also acknowledged. While not aimed at highlighting crime and violence, these stories should nonetheless inform how the narrative of ‘Jamaican-ness’ is constructed as a means of informing visitors who Jamaicans are and how they seem themselves in relation to others.
Documenting Jamaica’s Role/ Funding
Documentaries outlining and documenting the history of Jamaican music industry should be made available readily digested formats and easily understood portions for a range of audiences. As part of that thrust, the Government needs to make grant funding available for such projects through state and community agencies like Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Jamaica Social and Development Fund (JSIF) and the Social Development Commission (SDC).
They should also incorporate programmes at the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Edna Manley College School of Music into this process. The exploration of the idea of attachments to other schools and media and music training programmes in other parts of the Jamaican musical Diasporas need to also be part of this process. The Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), as well as the Reggae Studies Unit at the UWI and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) have a key role to play in this regard.
Dedicated music programmes should be incorporated into public libraries and information made available via the Internet to facilitate students conducting research, as well as those interested in leisure reading. Graduate funding for ongoing research projects should also be explored and be made available for those with such interests.
Students should also be encouraged to see the Reggae and Dancehall music industries as legitimate places in which to gain employment by encouraging their participation. They should be advised, through the provision of scholarships, bursaries and endowment funds attached to the music, more highly skilled and formal training to the sector. Professionals trained in music marketing and promotions, branding as well as research and development should be encouraged to work in the sector.
Media managers and publicity and promotions people involved in the industry also need to conduct more face to face workshops and seminars aimed at facilitating understanding on matters of entertainment and the question of the public’s interest. The Broadcasting Commission should be incorporated into this process, as well as Disc Jockeys.
Issues of ‘Payola’ would, therefore, need to be fully ventilated and updates given as to the state of the legislation aimed at addressing this; in the process, regularizing the industry. Media training for artistes as well as producers is also necessary and vital.
The curtains came down on SummerJam 2010 with a barrage of fireworks in the still bright night. The sun sets in Cologne near eleven o’clock in the night give or take fifteen or so minutes.
However, the unsettling feeling that the work of the international gay lobby, while certainly noble in getting local artistes to change some of their tunes, has also had a devastating impact on Jamaica’s ownership of the music unless the recommendations noted above are addressed. Before long, local artistes will be completely removed from the picture, only able to perform in local circles.
The massive transference of Jamaican culture to foreigners is happening with rapid speed and in a format equivalent to the rise of a new form of imperialism, in which cultural resources are colonized and controlled for the benefit of more powerful elites, resident within the developed west.
The time has clearly come for a game-change. All within the Dancehall and Reggae universes, specifically those in Jamaica are called to immediate action.
The decline is the result of a complex set of factors. Chief among them the coordinated attacks by the international gay lobby coupled with the use of effective media campaigns and unofficial political and economic blockades. The Jamaican music industry is in deep trouble, as a result.
Indeed, the development of other forms of Reggae music across the globe while obviously a testament to the reach and coverage of Jamaican music, should nonetheless be cause for concern for local artistes and producers. In fact, the SummerJam Reggae Festival held in Cologne, Germany is a telling example of some of these development. Among others, there was a noticeable absence of big named Jamaican acts at the July 2-4 show. Underlining in the process, the extent to which foreign produced Reggae/ Dancehall shows are able to successfully organise themselves without the heavy involvement of Jamaican artistes.
One of several concerts scheduled for European Reggae circuit this summer, SummerJam’s line up, organization, brand and marketing clearly indicate a growing trend in industry practises, internationally – the creeping disappearance of Jamaican control of the Reggae brand. The consequence of which is that, anti-Jamaican sentiments as they affect the performance and selling of local Reggae and Dancehall music in some of the biggest markets in Europe and the United States has impacted the musical outputs from ‘the Rock’.
Thereby, resulting in a breakdown in some of the key thematic concerns generally associated with traditional Reggae music. This has created space for the emergence of European and other foreign nationals who are able to colonise, as well as to organise and profit from the various brands.
Coupled with the recent spate of United States (US) Visa cancellations affecting some artistes, the gravity of the situation is made all the more apparent. Reduced travel, especially during peak summer tour seasons mean reduced earnings and bans equal less air play.
The sum of which is decreased earnings by Jamaicans, particularly big namd stars like Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel and others. Consequently, enabling the re-branding of Jamaican music as a risky business investment and politically unappealing. That is, given the other messages associated with Jamaican musicians internationally. Placing, in the process, local Reggae and Dancehall musicians at risk of developing not only a bad reputation, internationally, but also casting an impression of Jamaica as a nation of unprofessional bigots.
Part of the reason is that, Jamaican artistes are felt to be homophobic bigots who constantly preach the violent deaths of homosexuals as a group. As a result, wholesale pressure has been brought to bear on the local industry; effectively, stymieing its development and bringing with it the eventual replacment of Jamaican control through increased foreign participation, management as well as profits. Shortly, the brand will no longer be ours.
SummerJam celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this year under the theme: ‘Let the Spirit Rise’. The three day concert, held in Cologne, Germany is an interesting case study in some of these dynamics. From the limited numbers of Jamaican artistes on the show to the inversion of the colours of the Rastafarian religious icon often used to brand Reggae and even Dancehall, to the wholesale trade in and consumption of Rastafarian/ Jamaican craft items by Europeans, the massive transference of controlling interests in Jamaican culture is actively underway in the ‘Old World’.
Trade/ Brand Jamaica
Vendors at the popular Reggae event claimed that they stood to gain as much as forty thousand Euros from sale of Jamaican and Rastafarian icons. This, after paying only two thousand Euros to rent the small space. Part of that arrangement, they say, comes with providing their own security.
However, none of the vendors were perturbed by the small inconvenience. After all, there is much to be gained from trading in ‘Brand Jamaica’. Jamaican made and represented craft items like carvings of Rasta men with guitars to blankets and shirts with the Jamaican flag emblazoned on them, to photographs of Bob Marley and other Reggae paraphernalia provided the means for a stiff trade in local brands at the event.
Still, with the absence of an official Jamaican delegation at the concert, benefits from the mass marketing opportunities, or even a chance to promote accurate information about Reggae’s history and its association with Jamaica were not available to the patrons. At nearly a hundred Jamaican dollars to one Euro, the monetary implications may become more apparent and serious to stakeholders.
German artistes controlled the opening night of SummerJam, which was dedicated almost exclusively to European Reggae acts. Headlined by blockbuster Gentleman, the foreign performer was accompanied by a slew of other German acts including the Jamaica-Trinidad connected Cornadoor, as well as Nikitaman and others. Of the four big named artistes on the show, only two were Jamaicans, Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley and Toots and the Maytals. American, Hip-Hop star Nas was the other headline entertainer.
However, the absence of Jamaican celebrity artistes did not completely escape the audience’s notice. One Gambian complained that, for a twenty-fifth anniversary staging there was no Beenie Man, no Vybz Kartl or even Taurus Riley.
But that could easily be explained. Jamaican artistes are blocked from working in certain international markets due to their ‘homophobic lyrics’. At least eight Jamaican albums have been banned from German airwaves, having been placed on a list of music considered dangerous to children. They cannot earn from the music whether in recorded or video formats.
Unprofessional Jamaican Artistes
Speaking at the Reggae Conference in Kingston in February, German Reggae promoter Klaus Mack, head of Contour Music and organizers of SummerJam noted that Jamaican artistes may no longer be needed in Europe. According to Mack, their ‘unprofessionalism’ and super large egos are costing European promoters monies some are not willing to invest (anymore).
Mack’s insensitivity aside, his comments were spot in gauging the mood in Europe, currently. German Reggae and Dancehall artistes are coming of age and Jamaica is rapidly being routed from the picture.
In the estimation of the Gambian vendor, European Reggae events like SummerJam are a rip-off. He should know.
Gambia recently awarded deejay Sizzla a Diplomatic Passport and routinely conducts Dancehall Queen Competitions as well as Passa-Passa street parties. There is a great deal of supporters for Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall in the African country. Summer Jam, according to the Gambian vendor, has become ‘too commercial’. He feels that the promoters presented a less than spectacular show.
Commenting on the cost of the three day pass, the foreigner who has lived in Germany for approximately eighteen years pointed out that the promoters stood to gain a lot from the one hundred Euro fees. Given the nearly forty thousand or so patrons at the event, many of whom live in tented residences on the festival grounds, as a means of cutting costs, the economic reality may become more apparent.
But the jury is still out on the weakness of the German Reggae and Dancehall industries. Some European Reggae insiders believe Reggae music (in Germany) has come of age. According to Pete Lilly of the German Reggae magazine Riddim, there is even an indigenous Dancehall industry in that part of the world. He notes that that process is now actively underway.
The Chief Editor of the German language magazine says that, while some singers have mimicked Kingston’s hardcore themes of guns and ghetto youths, more and more German Dancehall artistes are focusing on things unique to their experience. According to Lilly, they are even engaging in clashes and sound system competitions, as well.
European Pride/ Sound Clash
Lilly’s statement reflects pride, an emotion also noted in the attitudes of others on the inside of Europe’s ‘niche’ music scene, as they call it. They are proud they are able to rival the Jamaicans at their own game. In fact, sound systems like Sentinel and Pow Pow have also won clashes with their Jamaican counterparts and were even doing dub-plates.
And there is some truth to the remarks. The play out on the unofficial ‘Dancehall Night’ seemed more like a Jamaican ‘Passa-Passa’ styled set. The Selector played a slew of current hits in the Dancehall, as well as Reggae and even Soca.
However, there was none of the fashion and preening associated with Jamaican street dances. The patrons were mostly dressed in cargo shorts and not much else. The strong smell of perspiration clearly indicated that not all elements of ‘being Jamaican’ has yet been mastered by teh Germans.
Still, the cause for worry is real. Jamaican music is in urgent need of an image make over. That reality cannot continue be brushed aside by industry insiders as an ‘uptown/ academic fixation’. Self criticism and an active move to clean up the music and professionalise the standards must become one of the hallmarks.
Artistes need to educate themselves about the world and learn how to conduct interviews with foreign press without seeming defensive. They need to recognise that an advertisement of their personal beliefs and in such a very public way, as conducted in Dancehall, will continue to result in them being sidelined, internationally.
More work has to be done with the artistes and state agencies like the Culture Ministry as a means of closing the gaps in this process. We have to actively work at changing Jamaica’s image in a very comprehensive way. Otherwise, all three brands – Dancehall, Reggae and even Jamaica will all become foreign owned and controlled.