Reggae Music, Dancehall and the Subculture of Violence (Part Two)
U-Roy performing in later years
The the worldwide demand for reggae music improved the material well-being of the artist who had international appeal and could perform at festivals in Europe and concerts in North America and other venues in Japan and South America South.
But international influence has had its drawbacks. Weed or ganja was always ubiquitous in the music, and dreadlock badges added to the artist chaos. But cocaine has also infiltrated the living room of Jamaican artists and we have lost some of our great talent to abuse in the more addictive realm of hard drugs.
In the 1980s music was looking for a new genre and dancehall emerged as the new strain. Music has always been multi-dimensional, but with the emergence of dancehall, music began to extrapolate much of what was happening in society. The debate will continue on whether music is a dependent variable or an independent variable. The dancehall reflected the profound cultural changes taking place in inner-city communities. Beginning with the 1972 general election, music seeped into political campaigns and from the 1960s until the establishment of the Electoral Commission, political campaigns were plagued by intra-class violence.
Many of our lead singers grew up in West Kingston. Marcia Griffiths spent her childhood in Hannah Town. Joe Higgs, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Bunny Wailer and others spent their formative years in Trench Town.
The culture of wickedness has been reinforced by elected officials vying for office in Central Kingston, West Kingston, South St Andrews and morphed into a warring national faction that not only led to unnecessary bloodshed, but also threatened the viability of the democratic process.
In the 1980s, the ritual of Rastafari was still present but dancehall took the music in the direction of naked sexuality and romantic violence.
This is the new era of the sound system and sound clashes. Many dancehall lyricists have started working on the microphone of their favorite sound system. The use of often improvised language and the beauty of the rhymes reflected the verbal dexterity of the dancehall disc jockey.
Hugh Roy was one of the pioneers in this field even though he burst onto the scene in the late 1960s. There is no doubting the talent of a Beenie Man and a Bounty Killa . Dancehall has become entangled in the rise of donations and gangsterism.
There is a growing recognition of the unproductive nature of worship at the sanctuary of wickedness and adherence to the subculture of violence. The incarceration of Vybz Kartel and the sentencing of Movado’s son illustrate the damage that this type of musical socialization can be self-destructive.
Dancehall artists like Sean Paul are beginning to recognize the role they can play in minimizing the subculture of violence. In recent years, artists like Beenie Man, Bounty Killa and Capleton have become involved in uplifting the community. Beenie Man has contributed to community development in Craig Town and Waterhouse. Bounty Killa has contributed to Kingston Public Hospital and Capleton has organized an annual fundraiser for non-profit organizations like St Mary’s Hospitals.
Many of these artists have matured and understand much of the weakness of the cultural realm and how dancehall has exacerbated the condition of marginalized youth.
These individual efforts make a difference. Nevertheless, a greater impact can be achieved if dancehall and reggae artists establish a collective organization in which they can assert their influence, especially with young people. Music runs deep from an early age and have programs in elementary schools funded by dancehall and reggae artists and supported by the business community to establish after-school programs that focus on the musical heritage and folk culture of Jamaica would expose primary school students. to the richness of Jamaican music and would help nurture talent and benefit the developmental well-being of our child.
Children in many of these inner-city communities have been traumatized by the violence. Music and cultural programs would offer them wider exposure to the creative genius of the contribution they can make to their society. Rather than worrying about “making fools”, they will grasp the sacrosanct character of life.
The subculture of violence is the main reason why more than 1,000 murders are committed each year in Jamaica. Our educational institutions have a key role to play in repelling this nihilistic homicidal juggernaut. Resources are always scarce but elementary or primary schools in urban communities would be a good starting point for the musical and cultural socialization of impressionable minds and hearts.
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “If music is the food of love, keep on playing”. Reggae music has contributed to enriching the musical culture of the world. It is a rich part of Jamaican culture and investing in young people would reap untold dividends in years to come and help reverse the subculture of violence.
Professor Basil “Basil” Wilson, a former football star and Manning Cup scholar from Kingston College, is a retired Provost of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, USA.