The Day Dancehall Went to Jamaica House: Questionable Acts of Governance and Political Posturing

The following post is both a commentary on some recent developments in Jamaica regarding the now infamous ‘Gully-Gaza’ dispute being fought out, almost as a routine part of Dancehall artistes’ quest for more power, fame, glory and authority among their peers. It has spilled over into schools and the wider society. This post is an effort to speak to some of those concerns, as well as to reference some other interests in Dancehall research/ scholarship. Your feedback is appreciated.
To say that I was surprised to learn of the ‘very important’ meeting scheduled for this morning at Jamaica House between the Prime Minister and four of his Cabinet Ministers, along with the heads of Dancehall’s two most (in)famous artistes – Vybz Kartel and Mavado, is to put the issue very mildly. In fact, on my way to work today (date of the meeting – Tuesday, December 8, 2009), I could not resist polling the opinions of several of my colleagues, in an unofficial discussion about their thoughts on the matter. Indeed, the comments reflected much of what another friend said to me the evening before – ‘onnuu Prime Minister igle, ehh?’ (read: how come your Prime Minister is so idle?).

The comments were all peppered with questions of the hanging Balance of Payment agreement between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also the United States Government’s request for the extradition of West Kingston ‘strong man’ Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. Included in that list also were other concerns about the Crime Plan unveiled by the Acting Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington and other related issues of known criminality, for which the police are also now implicated. So, how is it that the Prime Minister in his infinite wisdom could either find the time and or the energy to entertain the chief architects in the ongoing dispute between the Portmore or ‘Gaza Empire’ lead by Adija Palmer, also known as Kartel and or the ‘Teacha’ and the ‘Gully Squad’ ably lead by Mavado?

Please bear in mind that the Ministers of Information, Education and National Security will also be attending this meeting which will, presumably, be convened to discuss ‘confidential matters’, ostensibly aimed at ending the Gaza-Gully dispute in the Jamaican Dancehall. Now, beyond whether this issue is legitimate or whether there is a basis for convening such a meeting is not really the purpose of this post. Indeed, I am significantly less interested in the way that the Political Directorate has abdicated its responsibilities to a group of otherwise idle entertainers and more with whether there is a justifiable way in which Jamaicans should be outraged by this action.

In fact, not only am I interested in hearing whether the Administration could reasonably explain its position in the face of all else that impacts the country, but to also determine from this, whether the expectations of solutions to these problems are to be mobilised within the context today’s meeting. It is worth noting, as a consequence, that the meeting is being conducted with people whose values the PM has been on record as saying exemplify ‘what is wrong with Jamaica’.

Indeed, insofar as the Mr.Golding and his Cabinet feel vested in a meeting of this kind and with people, who previously were the brunt of very harsh criticism, both by himself and others reflects not only the changing importance of Dancehall to Jamaican society but also points squarely the failures within the governance structure that help to promote this state of affairs. As a result, there can be little in the way of denying that Jamaica is in a state of full blown crisis. Any belief otherwise, I would hazard, is a clear case of denial that will, ultimately, be our undoing.

JLP’s Annual Conference:

Indeed, only weeks ago Mr. Golding’s gave a forceful critique of the Dancehall artistes and their less than sensible conflict about who has ultimate bragging rights at his Party’s annual conference at the National Arena. Reading from which, it might be useful to argue that the conflict discursively reflects a construction of the ‘Gully-Gaza’ dispute which suggests a weakening within the structures of governance in Jamaica. If the agenda of a political party in its sixty-sixth anniversary of existence, in other words, is comprised of issues pertaining to entertainment – however questionable or even deadly, in the midst of a global economic crisis which now threatens to irrepparably undermine Jamaica’s economy and a crime rate that seems, at best uncontrollable, clearly indicates that we have headed over a cliff and our driver has jumped ship.

The wreckage that will ultimately become Jamaica, as per this analogy, points clearly to how political leaders have not only abdicated real power to non-state actors, especially in times of crisis, but also how that act is, itself, representative both of an inability to lead, as well as a refusal to learn. In that regard, the PM’s meeting while, on the face of it, useful in bringing national attention to the question of violence and criminality in Jamaica does not get to the core of the problems, whether of crime or that which plagues Dancehall.

Crime and violence are are not only overlapping and intertwined, but are also a systemic part of the relations of governance here. Politicians routinely resort to the use of violence whether in the form of provocative speech acts/ rhetoric, or what is widely rumoured, though rarely ever proved – of handing out guns and such like during turbulent and difficult periods of governance such as, inter alia, elections. To which end, the genuflection to Dancehall as a space in which non-state actors are allowed the freedom, if not the mobility to use state resources, both in terms of media attention, as well as the needed time and energy of important leaders of Government to discuss trivial concerns which do not get to the heart of the problems in Jamaica, is very telling.

Dancehall and Violence:

Indeed, this analysis is not to suggest that Dancehall is not directly implicated in questions about criminality in Jamaica or that Dancehall’s leaders, including the likes of Kartel and Mavado have not had their own responsibilities in championing such violence, including that manifested in the form of sex. On the contrary, rooted within the acts of regard in which political leaders who, on the one hand, demonise Dancehall deliberately or as a routine act of inconsideration about real issues for national discussion; and, on the other implicitly encouragie the overly inflated sense of importance of their champions, is a clear gesture to a problem of governance.

Both the state and those who are set up to run its have failed to articulate a meaningful vision in which much hope for a future can reside. This is not to suggest that the picture of nihilism suggested by this perspective is solely the responsibility of Dancehall and its supporters, producers and consumers. Rather, it is to argue that not only is the Dancehall being utilised as a strategy to deflect attention away from real issues but also that, by that very act of deflection the state, itself, reifies many of the intractable and, indeed, unacceptable values within which Dancehall is implicated.

Dancehall Values:

By not calling Dancehall artistes to book when they promote songs about taking the virginities of young women/ girls, as well as to suggest that the level of discourse on Dancehall needs to be raised to acceptable standards flies in the face of civility and respect. It questions the integrity of political processes which claim to champion productivity and, with that value intelligence and wholesomeness.

In effect, the Dancehall needs to be cleaned up but not by way of a closed door meeting with significant members of the Cabinet, supposedly in an effort to end the much touted, though disputable turf war being fought in the name of ‘Gaza-Gully’ proponents. What would it take, therefore, for these erstwhile members of Government to learn that there is significantly more that hails Jamaica than is suggested by these acts of posturing which themselves do very little, if anything, to speak to some of the core failures of the structures of governance?

Noise Abatement Act and the Usain Bolt 9.58 Party:

In fact, I could not end this post without also commenting on how the issue of the Noise Abatement Act is currently being politicised in an effort to suggest that the police force is hard at work and that much is being achieved in the way of addressing questions of public and civil disturbances. Most notable among the instances which gesture to this problematic, of course, is the recent 9.58 Party hosted by Triple World Record Holder, Olympic and World Champion Usain Bolt in the interests of charity.

‘Lightning Bolt’s party was eventually shut down at 4:00 a.m. However, not before he was instructed two hours earlier that the proceedings had to come to an end, in keeping with the terms of the permit issued for the party and the requirements of the Noise Abatement Act. Indeed, it was also reported that the Irie Jamboree entertainment event, attended by no less a person than the Deputy Leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Mayor of Kingston, Desmond McKenzie, which ended at 6:00 a.m. did not have the requisite permits.

Notably, both Mavado and Kartel performed at this event. However, if the reports are true that there were no permits given for the event and the activity was allowed to go on, four hours after the required time. Obviously this event did not abrogate the law, as per the Noise Abatement Act and its 2 o’clock cut off time. What explains this inequitable balance of (in)justice?

More than that, the fact the Police have since reminded party promoters that, come this festive season, there will be a zero tolerance approach to the issue of enforcing the Act, is itself telling. What is to be achieved through the curtailment of the enjoyments of an otherwise stressed out population, particularly with the impending dilemma of a shortage of funds all round, including also in Government?

Indeed, while it is obviously important that the law abiding members of the citizenry like me, who also contribute to the tax net, presumably, through the act of gainful employment sleep before heading off to work the next day, it does raise the question of how best to meet at a crossroads. This is especially now that the economy is as bad as it is and the murder rate as high as it is and the people are as dissatisfied as they are.

Bob Marley and the 1978 ‘One Love Peace Concert’:

Is there no consideration in the esteemed halls of the Cabinet that these forms of entertainment, however contrary, are part of what keeps people hinged to some semblance of reality in an otherwise seriously dysfunctional society? Is it the case that these matters will be discussed in today’s meeting? And, if they are how will this reflect on the largely role reversal of the ‘One Love Peace Concert’ held at the National Stadium in 1978, when entertainer, Reggae icon, de facto National Hero and unheralded (Black Nationalist) prophet Bob Marley brought together the leaders of the two main political parties, at the time, Leader of the Opposition Edward George Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Washington Manley?

Note, the entertainer in the personage of Marley saw the obvious need for unity in a country reeling under the pressures of entrenched political violence, as reflected in the holding of hands between the two leaders and the symbolic act of the striking lightning in the background. Hence, the 180 degrees that we have come to since then, in terms of the Head of State farcically bringing entertainers to book and, in no less a place than behind the closed, if not largely inaccessible doors of Jamaica House resonates in contradictions.

Dancehall Research:

This is not so much to criticise the lack of foresight demonstrated by this act of political will. Rather, it is to determine whether the PM considers, carefully, how such demonstrations of high office are to be perceived in the wider Jamaican body politic? How much consideration, in other words, is given to the political implications of this short-sigted and short-term ‘fix’ to what is clearly a much more complex problem? This is compared to, for example, empowering researchers to conduct real analysis of the Dancehall and, therfore, report recommendations to meaningfully understand the complexities of the problems represented by and in this form of culture?


Where are the scholarships and the Research Chairs to engage with these issues? Who is going to suggest that through a real promotion and enshrinement of appropriate values and attitudes in Jamaica that the values championed by Dancehall though reflective of many of the problems in the country, are still in need of being fixed? Until this has happened today’s meeting is a grand waste of time.

Indeed, until the Political Directorate gets it that, ceding its powers to otherwise irresponsible, non-state actors, albeit symbolically, further compounds the problem inherrent in what the meeting is supposedly aimed at fixing then we really have not achieved much. We are, obviously, in urgent need of an alternate route towards achieving the noble goals of governance exhorted by the two political parties in heat of the 2007 battle for national office. What now obtains is very far cry from those promises.

Whiter the rest of the nation in all this? Will we also be entertained at Jamaica House? And, if we are, will this fix the problems threatening to cripple our productivity? I wonder…!


12 thoughts on “The Day Dancehall Went to Jamaica House: Questionable Acts of Governance and Political Posturing

  1. Comment on behalf of Long Bench:

    The PM should be meeting with these folks, but this is hardly the time
    to be doing it. And it’s not clear what the point of such a meeting
    would be, except to give these two eediyats more legitimacy than they
    need, and to score points with the younger population who feel
    alienated from politics. Maybe he’s recruiting them to create music
    for his campaign, when he calls the next election.

    The PM is hardly a knowledgeable man when it comes to anything about
    culture. Instead, he should be meeting with a broad range of people
    who have ideas about how gov’t resources can be leveraged to address
    the vacuum created by unresponsive cultural institutions; when folks
    are not sidetracked by foolishness and have the capital and creativity
    to create a more discerning public, that will make it less easy fi di
    Mavado/VK types to parlay just any old crap and call it music or
    themselves “artists”.


  2. Now my response:

    The PM should find another way to intervene in this issue, such as it is! He should not appear to be courting this kind of nonsense, especially after being so vocal in his criticism of the ‘Gully-Gaza’ conflict! These people really need some proper advice! Believe me!

    Then, of course, there was the bit with the PM on the front cover of the Gleaner either on Sunday, or Monday feeding a member of his constituency cake out of his mouth.

    Mind you the woman was older than him, however, it does not change the larger politics involved. He would not have been caught in a similar position on the front pages of the papers with his wife, so why is it appropriate to do so with some woman to whom his only relation is that she attended his birthday party? What is going on! Seriously!


  3. Raw Politics, the piece I am referring to is located in the Arts&Entertainment(A&E) section of the Boston Globe if you access the above link.


  4. Raw Politics, I visited your site hoping I would see a piece on Professor Nettleford written by you. That most likely is forthcoming in the medium term. Nuff respect, Star!!


    1. Esteban, I have been a little too busy for my own good! I am actually in the process of sorting out some things to create more time to update this blog! But, yeah man! It deh pan de way! Dun know! LOL!


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