Trinidad vs. dancehall. Again.

Thankfully my desk at my day job was so busy I had a moment to calm down. Maybe it was the walk from the presentation that had my heart racing or maybe it was the inaccurate and near inflammatory content. Maybe I’m just really out of shape from a couple years of late night eating while completing my degree. Lets be real. I am out of shape. What has me this out of sorts? A paper that I got the tail end of that was entitled: The impact of Jamaican dancehall music on Afro-Trinidadian teenagers between the ages of 13 – 19. Public disclaimer it was a 10 minute presentation that I got 6 – 7 minutes of as I literally ran from one side of campus to the next. Please see above for my physical conditioning.

I sat and listened to a group of persons attempt to analyse dancehall music and its effects on the youth of Trinidad. Three things became immediately apparent. They had no idea about dancehall music, they decided that ‘popular’ dancehall music was sung by Mavado, Vybz Kartel and Patra (?) and the afro-trinidadian youth that they interviewed were mindless robots, ready to be programmed or re-programmed as need be. There I sat, in awe (and disgust) as their surface level research unfolded in front of me. I should take a moment though to place another disclaimer or better yet attempt to situate the presentation. The presentation was a part of the Communication Studies Research Day 2009, called the SUMMIT OF THE COMMUNICATORS. Presentations were very short, unfortunately so, as many were very good presentations from what I was made to understand, as my disgust resulted in my speedy departure after their presentation for fear of the usual rhetoric from old people who are removed from the many popular cultures that they smugly tear down. I think of a paper I once read (that they may wish to read) by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (2006) entitled Clashing Interpretations in Jamaican Dancehall Culture where Bakare-Yusuf states:

“No matter how involved we are in a debate about the sociocultural relevance and impact of a popular cultural form, it is vital that we allow for multiple positions within our own perspective. Popular cultural forms are after all always produced from within and outside the culture of production, which precludes any unitary interpretation. Openness and contestation to potentially different views and interpretations must necessarily be weaved into the fabric of our own interpretation. In such an arena of interpretations clashing against one another, dancehall is revealed to be a contested space where rival interpretations exist in conflict with one another. The notion of the singularly coherent, interpretive local voice falls apart. The alleged authority of indigenous discourse is transformed into a babel of alternative hermeneutic options.”

The smug singular voice spoke on. Discussions I had after one of their powerpoint slides came to be core reason for my disgust.

  • Language strategies used in dance hall (are) – sexually encoded messages
    • Daggering
    • Up in yuh belly
    • Ram Ram
  • and violent messages
    • Last Man Standing

My wandering mind makes me think of many things. Firstly, these so called ‘language strategies’ are not confined to the realm of dance hall music. I think of soca releases for the 2009 year where Madd Dawg proclaims that “ever gyal want them something” which turns out to be “daggering” in his single Come Fah Dagga or Jamsey P in Soca Daggering explaining to his lady friend how he will hold her and “uh ah dagger dagger” or (this is getting repetitive) Mr. Slaughter’s command to “hold a gal and dagger” apparently “till she start stagger”. I call a foul (on myself) as unlike this unfortunate group I actually know music well enough to continue this list for some time so lets just say that the terms that they have randomly pulled out are not as random as their research led them to believe. Now the assumptions that they have made led to my assumption. Their research began with a hypothesis to be proved. They found whatever anecdotal evidence they needed to say “ah ha we knew it!”. They ran off to present their paper. To add insult to to my injured ears at no point did they even attempt to explain their reasoning as to how or why these particular phrases should be classed as language strategies. I will assume that I missed that portion although I fear it was never present as their hollow explaination of the phrase “last man standing” involved killing or shooting opponents (?) and one remains as the last man standing. I am not kidding.

To add insult to injury the easiest dancehall song to bash in recent times they managed to muck up. I mean really how can your anti-dance hall bias be so strong that it clouds your ability to research and discuss Busy Signal’s “Up in her belly” – which they were either told or misunderstood to be a very trinidadian “Up in yuh belly” [sic]. Well the easiest way to muck up that discourse is to not have one at all. The presenters left the “language strategies” slide up and apparently expected George Bush type ‘shock and awe’ that such language vile language should bring. You were in shock and awe at the use of the term up in her belly aren’t you??? Well I still am in shock and awe. My very good friend sang a hit with Tizzy of the band El A Kru this carnival where he proclaimed that he will “ram it ram it” and “slam it slam it” till she “vomit(s) vomit(s)“. *ahem* I will now follow their presentation strategy by providing no rationale for why these lyrics or as they put it “language strategies” have some significance to this rant.

Using such accurate academic mechanisms I move on to the three questions that I was left with after their presentation ended. The group made a sweeping statement that (Trinidadian) society has taken an issue (suddenly I will assume) with dancehall music. When pressed as to why or how their research came to this conclusion by a member of the head table their scientific response revolved around some mumbo jumbo about ‘people’ that call in to radio stations and television stations like Gayelle (Gayelle being the all local television station that’s primary demographic is the 45+ audience in my opinion). I quickly scribbled the following question on the back of my programme:

Isn’t the ‘society’ that has taken an issue with dance hall music the clear, well-represented audience who, by choice or from their dislike of the music of the 13 – 19 audience, (themselves) listen to media outlets such as Gayelle and radio stations of a similar 45+ demographic? Or has you research accounted for a well represented portion of the society of Trinidad and Tobago which includes the forty odd percent of surveyed listeners on a Saturday morning that tune in to one of the nations three urban (soca, dancehall, reggae and hip hop) radio stations?

Note: forty plus percent (40%) with another probably fifteen (15%) to twenty (20%) percent accounted for on the other two of the nation’s radio stations. I will assume from the 2007 survey results that the majority of the population either like urban music which includes dancehall or they really dislike it and then call Gayelle to express their discontent. To simplify – your research seems to be based on callers to media houses that represent a hyper-patriotic, bring-back-sparrow, older generation (old people) who themselves have little or no understanding or like of ANY of the urban, younger music of today which includes, but is not limited to, Hip Hop, the new-fangled Soca, Reggae and yes Dancehall. So now that we have identified and better defined ‘society’ as represented in your research we will move on to my second question.

When you gathered data from your seemingly limited group of young adults (that I assume are all a part of the same congregation) did they (those dancehall loving christian children) mention or did you find as a result of your research any positive effects of dance hall music?

Their discussion on the big-bad dancehall music that populates Trinidad’s airwaves made me think about one of the songs on high rotation on at least one of the 3 major radio stations Laden – (Time to) Shine. Laden sings, “…when Friday come mi nah get the big pay check, but me still ah work fe reach the top of the apex…” – not possible! Lyrics not endorsing violence or being sexual suggestive! Their (extensive) research however was unable to cover the idea or at least make some mention that all is not lost. Apparently once there is dancehall on the trinidadian airwaves all, especially the mind of the nation’s youth, is lost.

Lastly, their research findings somehow have Jamaican dialect being used over (standard?) English because it was ‘easier to use’ in Trinidad. Easy to use? As in WTF?!?! See easy! Three letters! Again that in no way has any academic rooting, but I fear neither does the majority of the research that went into this paper. This one I am just going to leave alone as I have done no research into language use in the 13 – 19 year old bracket in Trinidad, but I must say that I find it quite difficult to believe that it is somehow ‘easier’ to understand and correctly use Jamaican patois – which I have often seen subtitled – by persons who often sing the wrong lyrics to songs or worse ‘only like it cause the beat bad’ in day to day trinidadian life. To quote Mike Alleyne (2006):

“The Jamaican language has been subject to cross-Caribbean misinterpretation, as I have witnessed in Barbados, suggesting that recuperative critical strategies may be as applicable to audiences as they are to academics. “Shock-out” became “Shack-out” in the early 1990s, as the vowel articulation did not translate itself clearly across Caribbean waters, thereby evaporating the intensity, value, and meaning of the original statement as it was intended to be heard.”

See? Trinidadians have a leg up on Bajans… We are able to use Jamaican dialect over english. I have no idea how but hey they presented it so it must be true. Alleyne goes on to mention that:

Cooper highlights the difference between merely critiquing the culture and actually engaging with it, successfully demonstrating that there is a fruitful wealth of sociocultural discourse in texts too easily dismissed as merely vile and obscene.

*ahem* To conclude I will present my findings in brief as I have intentionally rambled for the past few paragraphs as I needed to vent. I have summarized their presentation to read as follows:

  1. Dancehall music is bad for the young afro-trinidadian youth.
  2. We actually knew this going into the research and our questions were asked in such a way as to prove (1) one.
  3. We really know nothing of dancehall but we took whatever poor advice that we recieved via our channels rather than read Carolyn Cooper’s work or many of her detractors that are freely available on the internet. Why? See (1) one.
  4. We actually (like most trinidadians) are unable to separate morals and spirituality and present this research as an attempt to lessen our need to parent our children. This will be accomplished by having someone in power assume that this is academically sound and pass some law ridding us of Mavado, Vybz Kartel and Patra (?).
  5. We cannot expand our research into other forms of music as it walks a thin and dangerous line of being misunderstood as being “un-patriotic”
  6. (or) We prefer to have our young afro-trinidadians wine and dagger to soca.
  7. We are out of touch with reality.

I think of my aunt’s adult-contemporary cassettes (as they were so labelled) and the plain fact that I could not put god out of my thoughts and play them as the word adult was on the label. When will we realise that this nonsense really only proves one and only one thing.

  1. Take time to instil some values in your children or else the big bad jamaican will corrupt them and have them ramping in shops while everybody lays down and your child is the last man standing.

Serious research has well documented that “metaphors can create social realities that may have an impact on future actions” (Bakare-Yusuf, 2006) with the key word there being can. Parents can really shape social realities that may have an impact on future actions or make it even easier for the evil dancehall music to control the minds of the afro-trinidadian youth.

To borrow TOK’s album title, this ‘Unknown Language’ of dancehall may be better understood by deeper research that is not rooted in a hidden agendas and wilful bias.

Go figure.

[UPDATE]

The presentation (no surprise) was cited as the best presentation for the panel Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Gender Issues in Communication. The ivory tower continues to rise.

References

  1. Alleyne, M. (2006) Inside Out: Dancehall and the “Re-Cooperation” of Meaning. Small Axe 11.1 150-160 [Online] Available from: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v011/11.1alleyne.html
  2. Bakare-Yusuf, B. (2006) Clashing Interpretations in Jamaican Dancehall Culture Small Axe 11.1 161-173 [Online] Available from: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v011/11.1bakare-yusuf.html
  3. Etana sees positive future for dancehall (2009) [Online] The Jamaica Star Online. Available from: http://www.jamaica-star.com/thestar/20090408/ent/ent6.html
  4. Watson, J.K. (2008) Dance Hall Music and Jamaican Society. YardFlex.com [Online] Available from: http://www.yardflex.com/archives/002444.html

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