This is the first in a series of stories that bounce876.com will be doing examining our unique subculture and how it is sparked and influenced by dancehall music.
IS DANCEHALL TOO VIOLENT? We spotted a headline in the newspaper last week where a columnist suggested that dancehall had devolved into ‘duncehall’, a dumbed-down caricature of what was once a viable art form but which was now centred around bling, violence and the degradation of women. When we were growing up as teens, we admired the rude bwoys of dancehall: Ninjaman, Bounty Killer, Cobra, Cutty Ranks et al. By and by, those heroes have given way to a new generation of youngbloods such as Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Idonia, Busy Signal, Munga Honorable (Gangsta Ras) and stage show expert Hitman Wally. The lyrical wordplay has grown more complex and innovative and most dancehall heads love the artistry that now goes into dancehall. But as one grows older, one has to wonder if the exaggerated image of male aggression actually reflects male insecurity and longstanding powerlessness of the black Caribbean male. I still love dancehall and I want our artistes to keep making megabucks and do well overseas, but in a quiet moment after watching the bloody carnage on the 7 p.m news, you may have to ask yourself, ‘What are they saying? What is the image of manhood?’ ” Mired in a reality of reeking slums, joblessness and crippling poverty, many young males act out and court death in much the same way as their dancehall heroes rather than face the soul-sucking experience of just trying to make ends meet and survive in the tough neighbourhoods of urban Jamaica. And with the commercial success of dancehall, which portrays men as extravagant thugs and women as sex toys, a long-simmering debate has gained currency among parents, community leaders and scholars about the impact of dancehall and violent subculture it glorifies and documents. However, I cannot agree that dancehall is to be the primary factor to be blamed for the failures and isolation of our black youth on a self-destructive subculture in decrepit, poverty stricken urban areas. Dancehall’s many critics are safe in their airconditioned offices and cushy jobs, and fail to acknowledge that there are deeper roots of the problems. The major argument against dancehall, I think, is about the children who became obsessed with it, and who may unconsciously adopt the themes in this music as their lens for viewing the world. One has to wonder what the cumulative effect of the relentless pussy worship by Vybz Kartel, the trigger-pulling fantasies of shooting babies by Mavado, and the unrelenting aggression of Bounty Killer, has on the mind of a young teenager who is already frustrated by the hopelessness of his own little universe. I still love dancehall. It is music created by people your age who looked like you , talked like you, dressed like you and weren’t apologetic about it. I don’t think dancehall is necessarily a bad influence. Dancehall artistes are just ‘street reporters’, just speaking about how it goes where they come from. If the people who listen go out and do these things, then the onus falls on them and the system will punish them accordingly. The question is, if dancehall were to change and do an about-face towards positive values and culture, would the kids want to listen?