Two Cents: A week in dancehall

14 May

This week has been more then trying on the nerves of Jamaica’s general populous. With Imagelala, I try refraining from political commentary, as the blog is intended to be more of an emerging music site then a culture zine. However, Jamaican politics is deeply interlinked in dancehall music. Sometimes it emerges as a lulling hum of conversation, lyricism, and banter and at other times it’s as crippling as a bullhorn in bed. This week has led to the latter as two artistes were shot down and hospitalized within 24 hours of each other, adding to the growing anxiety of the public as there seems to be an epidemic of killings occurring across the entire nation. Numerous Jamaicans were brutally murdered last week– including, and not limited to, community leaders, children, a mother of five and a peace organizer. Some people have responded violently, some with prayer, some with anger but almost all are looking for a direction to vent their frustration.

In the midst of all this, Drake introduced a new music video for “Find Your Love” that details the gritty underbelly of Jamaican gun culture in a time when no one really wants to be reminded of how gritty the grit could get. Instantaneously, the bad timing catapulted co-star Mavado in a light that he’s been deviating cautiously from for months now– Mavado hasn’t written a “gun” song since “War is in the Air” dropped last December. It made me wonder if the screenwriter/director had a relationship with dancehall, Jamaican culture or even singjay Mavado. More then that it made me wonder if the video was a manifestation of Drake’s eagerness to prove his weight in the American rap scene, as he has been and is often criticized for being too “soft.” This isn’t really the point though. The video itself is not the epicenter of the issue, it is just an overly romanticized side effect. The real issue is that Jamaica is at war. Whether it be a violent act against an artiste or community member or child, the violence is blinding. The most significant dancehall-related question right now is, where does dancehall and the dancehall community take part or how does it react?

The responses have been various. A prayer meeting was set up in Half Way Tree after the shooting of Voicemail’s Oneil Edwards last week and artistes came out to support the cause and stir up conversation about change. On the other end, the dancehall critics are quick to blame the violence on dancehall’s gun culture and its often trigger-happy content, warning artistes that Jamaican youth seem to be listening with open ears and even more open minds. Specifically, there has been some talk of a “fight for peace” from the Mavado camp and the Peace Management Initiative. Still, the riddle never really unfolds as the dancehall industry is suffering from the same problems as our governments: bipartisan politics and personal agendas. It would be naive and optimistic to believe that these issues can be eradicated, but a glimmer of hope lies in the fact that people are talking, actions (however little) are being taken, the bullhorn is blowing.

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