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Dancehall’s long flirtation with violence and death may be shifting into a new dangerous phase – one where the artistes themselves may be living out the trigger-pulling gun-fantasies that dominate their songs, and worse yet, becoming victims of gun violence. themselves.


In May, O'Neil Edwards, one-third of the dancehall group, Voicemail,
was shot by gunmen on May 10th as he made his way home to his Belloc
Road home in Duhaney Park. He was shot five times, and once in the
head. He eventually succumbed to his injuries on May 26th. One of his attackers was killed, while
the other was arrested by cops. Also in May, deejay Mad Cobra was shot in the right shoulder during a heated exchange with men in Braeton Phase I, the circumstances of that attack are still murky, but the deejay's house was shot up only a few days after he returned home from the Spanish Town Hospital.

What happened to O'Neil and Brown is symptomatic of the gun violence that has long plagued Jamaica. One need only look at the apocalyptic scenes from the last explosion of violence in Jamaica which has left scores of young men dead on the streets of Kingston, their broken bodies filling the morgues, and also claimed the lives of several members of the security forces. This blood climax is merely a final act of several previous chapters of bloody street theatre p layed out by bloody armed gangs in the major urban areas of Jamaica. Now artistes are left to mourn one of their own even as Jamaica mourns its fallen brothers and sisters. Two weeks ago, several artistes who were shocked at the attack staged a prayer vigil in the middle of HWT to voice their concerns. However, for a society inured to violent, they simply believe that the chickens have come home to roost for an industry which has allowed itself to be overtaken by violent songs glorifying violence. Artistes attempt to defend this practice by saying they are simply mirroring an already violent society in their art, but this argument is dangerous because when that society pushes back, the consequences can be deadly.

"Bwoy, this is really terrible what happened to ONeil, and he is not one of those who encouraged violence or made violent songs. the man dem who attack him come fi assassinate him and we don't know if is extortion because him nah gi dem no money, or if is bad mind. What is sure is that dancehall must wake up and realize that their legacy of violence sends a wrong message to the young hotheads in our society," one industry insider said.

If you listen to industry insiders talk, there is no rhyme nor reason for the edgy tension and animosities between rival camps in an industry where having a good time is the major raison d’etre. Although Mavado and Kartel have done a lot to ease tensions, there is still that unsettling feeling that the zinc fences erected in dancehall are a permanent part of the music milieu.

There has always been a bit of an uneasy ‘alliance’, if you
will, between death and dancehall, one of the island’s indigenous art
forms. Jamaica itself is an enigma because there is so much that is
attractive about this country and so much that is repellent. Europeans
jam by the thousands to roots rock reggae with its conscious vibe,
while the more rebellious young people have a great fascination with
the younger idiom, dancehall, with its outsized ‘anything goes,
nothing is verboten’ full throttle take on life.

Dancehall chronicles in scathing scatological terms the violence and
feats of sexual gratification that run like a fault line throughout
the Jamaican society. The genre itself, by its very nature, creates a
paradoxical set of issues that can bolster a dancehall artiste’s
careers even while putting that artiste’s life in mortal danger.

Most artistes, once they ‘buss’ and gain wealth, become folk figures
in their community, and build mini-fiefdoms around themselves where
they call the shots. However, Isaiah Laing, head of Supreme Promotions
contends, most entertainers are not natural leaders who can handle the
power that they suddenly wield.

“They can’t handle the hype,” Laing concluded. “And they have to
understand that these are serious times. There are too many guns in
the wrong hands, and given the fact that there are not many
convictions for murder because of the justice system, a killer might
get away scotch free, or without even being arrested, so these
followers might be inclined to do anything.”

Laing says he understands the unique pressures facing these young men.

‘“I was glorified as being a bad boy police, but if you were to come
in a crowd where I was, you couldn’t know who is Laing because I was
humble, even though deep down, I was hype because I know that I could
do when it was time for action when me and he real bwoy dem buck up.
They need to know that they are role models and act in ways that
command respect from the entire society.“

Since 1980, the violence in Jamaican society has reached pandemic
proportions, and the continued murders that occur merely underscores
the increasingly perilous state of young black men in Jamaica. Not
even entertainers are exempt from the mad carnival of criminality.
Gerald ‘Bogle’ Levy was killed by assailants in January 2005, He was
hardly the first dancehall personality to die in a hail of bullets
because General Echo, Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, Dirtsman, Panhead and
Early B all met brutal early gunshot-related deaths. Some schools of
thought blame dancehall deejays and personalities for the poor choices
they make once they acquire wealth and material success because
several continue to pledge allegiance to the ghettos they grew up in
and the often exhibit a willingness to partake in dangerous

“Some get too rich and tun eediat. Dem come from nowhere and ah drive
X5, Rolls Royce, BMW, so dem de pon top of the world, two yute ah call
dem bossy, but none ah dem anno real bad man,” one deejay, who
has had several scrapes with the law himself, said.


He also warned the entertainers that the “fans will take the powers
away from you” if they continued to abuse the respect they had been

“If they should take time to drive around Jamaica and see the
development taking place, they would not want to destroy this country,
they need to make their minds develop much the same way the country is
developing and be aware of themselves so that Jamaican can prosper and
create a future for them and their children,” he concluded.

Many deejays feel that they have to spend their time in the
‘garrisons’ to maintain their street credibility.

“We have to be out there, in the garrisons, that’s where our hardcore
audience is. If you’re hot, you’re hot in the streets, and that’s also
where you can run into a lot of trouble. That’s the risk, doing what
you do to ‘buss’ is what can get you shot,” one deejay who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said.

The fact still remains that there is an attraction to criminal and
violence for the nation’s huge pool of undereducated men who are
falling even further into a maelstrom of joblessness, poverty and
prison. Dancehall, by its very nature, represents a unique subculture
of Jamaica, and it has its own particular sets of laws, idiosyncracies
and rules that govern it. You got to be in it to understand.

In Vybz Kartel’s single, ‘AKA’, he deejays: “AKA, we don’t play, f*&
all night, smoke all day/cloth A.K./Still deejay/We play music, we
don’t play…” That shows that dancehall is one of the few professions
where you can drink Guinness all day long, and smoke weed, and it can
still be considered “working”. Many of its heroes come from
dysfunctional backgrounds, and despite their material success, they
have little chance or desire to achieve ‘upward mobility’, and despise
the’ cocktail party culture’ of the island.

“I live uptown, but I party downtown. In Jamaica, the ghettos are
everywhere and the people are real, and loyal. My uptown neighbour nah
go watch my headback, mi need the ghetto so mi stay well protected. I
have to stay in the streets to keep current in the dancehall, and if
that means exposing myself to danger, that’s just like in
Jamaica….death de everywhere,” another top deejay reason.

Dancehall’s cousin has the same problem. The twin patron saints of
slain rappers, Notorious B.I.G, whose mother is Jamaican, and Tupac
Shakur, both of whose fascination with thug life and death meant they
were doomed to repeat the macho street theatre they lived out in their
songs. Other rap stars such as Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay (slain in 2002
in a New York recording studio) and Scott La Rock (whose 1987 killing
in New York was the first high-profile rap slaying) died in their own

THE ULTIMATE-I WISH by millsydon
Read 3778 times Last modified on Thursday, 27 May 2010 12:58

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