Ian Boyne, Contributor
Red Stripe has blown the whistle on negative dancehall which glorifies violence, and has finally announced that it would no longer be sponsoring live dancehall events like Reggae Sumfest and Sting, of which it was a major sponsor. The other beverage companies who are the main culprits in bankrolling gangsta performances should follow that pro-life stance.
Red Stripe has decided that it is about time that it should back up its rhetoric of peace and good citizenship with concrete action. If the principals of Wray and Nephew, Wisynco and Lascelles are really serious about promoting civility, decency and in giving substance to their after-dinner speeches, then they should do likewise and withdraw sponsorships from events which feature and profit from artistes who unapologetically and defiantly promote violence, misogyny and bigotry in their music.
Forget all that PR propaganda about having artistes sign pieces of paper agreeing not to deejay violent lyrics.
When you book artistes like Mavado, Bounty Killa and Vybz Kartel, how can they face the massive and not 'talk the things dem'? The reporters who cover events like Sumfest tell us year after year that the PR niceties which are announced at the launch of these events are never honoured. It's time these people come clean and cut the hypocrisy and deception.
How can you have certain artistes on your show who have marketed themselves as gangstas and 'bad man', and not expect them to sing their signature songs? That would be taking patrons' money under false pretence and these show promoters should be charged for false advertising, for patrons come for the hard-core stuff.
Red Stripe has done the only correct and decent thing: Withdraw sponsorship from events like Sumfest and Sting once they insist on having certain artistes. The moneyed promoters of these shows don't care one damn about what the artistes say on stage once they pocket patrons' money and can smile all the way to the bank.
They feel no way about giving speeches decrying the lack of proper values in the society or the galloping murder rate. They will even contribute money to the Private Sector of Jamaica's Crime Stop programme or pay to support lofty, nice-sounding public service announcements. Yet, they are profiting from and propping up artistes who make their living glorifying the death of poor, oppressed people in our inner cities.
The people who own the big beverage companies which put millions behind big-time dancehall shows are wealthy members of the ruling class who live in palatial homes with the best private security facilities and services. They must pull their money from these sponsorships until they extract meaningful concessions from the name-brand gangsta, shotta-promoting artistes.
If the companies join Red Stripe and the artistes know that Big Money is serious, then changes will be made. These artistes have no cause, no ideology, no set of principles beyond bling and making money. They will 'bow' for money for they worship at the altar of money.
If their god - Money - is threatened, they will come to their knees and do penance. As Red Stripe puts it in the statement issued recently, "It is our hope that our action will cause the proponents of this destructive trend in local music to stop and take stock of the negative impact of their actions on the society and seek to make a change. Red Stripe looks forward to the time when good sense will prevail and we can see a return to improved quality and standard of music that all Jamaica can be proud of. At that time we will review our position."
Red Stripe does not want to kill the dancehall. I don't want to kill the dancehall. I don't write off Bounty Killa, Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Bling Dawg and Assassin. I believe that they have the talent to produce good lyrics which promote life and good 'levity'. I don't believe that 'nothing good can come out of them' because they come from the inner city. That is a slander on our inner cities.
I interview people almost every week on television who come from some of the toughest communities in Jamaica and who have achieved notable successes. Nobody can lecture me about the potential of the inner cities, for no one has done as much to promote the success stories from the inner cities as I have done over decades on Profile. My record is unequalled. It is precisely because I am convinced of the potential of inner-city people for good and for wholesomeness why I refuse to accept the deterministic and reductionistic 'reasoning' (for lack of a better word) of some from the University of the West Indies who feel compelled to offer excuses for the treachery of reggae music that negative dancehall truly represents.
I have been heartened by the very strong and vehement stand which Mutabaruka has taken against negative dancehall. I sat transfixed before my television last weekend as I saw on PBC Jamaica - a wonderful addition to the Jamaican media landscape - a brilliant lecture he gave recently on what has happened to the music. Muta on his Cutting Edge programme on Wednesday was forthright, trenchant and powerful in speaking out against violence in the music. Muta is saying explicitly, fearlessly and firmly that there is a connection between the violence and the music, stoutly rejecting the view that music has no effect on behaviour.
Muta is calling names, pointing out those artistes who are misleading the youth through their music and asking, "How we reach yah so, Rasta?" Don't be intimidated, Muta, carry on the struggle. Many people are joining the struggle, and it does take courage, for we know the elements we are up against.
What we are trying to do is to save dancehall, not destroy it. It is the negative, limiting dancehall lyrics which are destroying dancehall and the industry needs to understand that. Promoters, artiste managers and record companies need to know that people like me and Muta are not your enemies. We are trying to warn you of the dangers of playing Russian roulette.
If Red Stripe succeeds in forcing some of the gangsta deejays to change their ways - you have to hit them in their pockets - and if the other companies join them rather than simply think about profits and narrow self-interests, then a world of good would be done.
Don't talk nonsense about 'fighting ghetto people,' or being 'envious of ghetto people' or of 'not wanting ghetto people fi live in a good house and drive good car like unnu'. There is a lot of good in the dancehall and many fine, uplifting positive dancehall artistes. Don't deliberately misrepresent me.
Some talk about the artistes merely reflecting what is going on in their inner-city communities. They see people murdered, so they sing about it. They see death sponsored by politicians and big men and 'you can't blame the youth' for singing about their reality. This is the view. I keep saying if you actually listen to the lyrics you see that these gangsta artistes are not merely giving commentaries: They are recommending a course of action that is detrimental. Well, let's hear the lyrics and you judge for yourself. (I hope the McConnells, the Mahfoods and the other high-society people in the beverage companies will be reading this). They must hear what they are sponsoring.
I focus on just one artiste, Mavado. In his song Last Night he sings:
"Mi give them copper (gun shot) fi chaw (eat), mi nuh shoot fi jaw
Straight head shot, boy get murder."
Is that merely 'describing reality' or glorifying, rhapsodising violence? You judge these lyrics as to whether it is commentary or glorification.
"Tell some fool seh man wi corridor
Killa Five star so dat a gorilla
Copper(shot) in yuh face
Nah go trace
Nah go coroner
Lef' him f...ing head pon di corridor."
Now listen to Don't Mean It:
"Don't start a war if yu don't mean it.
Real gun mi pop off and blue steel it.
Kill him and bun him head cause him hav a gal a run him head."
Now listen to Shotta Nuh Miss:
"Top shotta nuh miss
Dem seh me ah rise crime
Mek people eat fish and bread
And have a nice time
Dem a chat and them a quarrel
Yu mek mi rise the double barrel
Killers mi par (associate) wid
Wid mi gun mi a squeeze."
Crime Stop supporters
The beverage companies and others support the PSOJ's Crime Stop to encourage informers, yet they sponsor events featuring artistes like Mavado on Sumfest and Sting to sing New Name Fi Informa. Hear it:
"If a killing busy mek we go fuss him
Killer low mek we crush him
Mi a real bad man mi nuh too join di cussing
Well, a straight gun bussing, blood crushing
Before doctor fish touch him,
Guns out right away ..."
Some in their cloistered upper-class homes don't know what is taking place below and what our inner-city brothers and sisters are being bombarded with day and night. It is not the dancehall which has produced this violent society. If you lock down all dancehall events you would still have violence. But dancehall reinforces it, it glorifies it and music has influence. That has been empirically proven. It is impatient of discussion.
Yes, movies are violent. Yes, cable is too violent. Yes, the politicians have sponsored violence and they created this tribalism which is feeding our violence. Political corruption fosters violence. I accept all of that. In tackling violence, we have to do it holistically. But that does not mean that companies like Red Stripe should do nothing because they can't do everything.
If promoters can't find sponsors for their dancehall events which feature gangsta artistes, a chain of events would be created which could result in the baptism of the dancehall. We must save the dancehall, for it is worth saving, as many fine artistes inhabit that space. We owe it to them. Let's take it back from the miscreants.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org