Reggae and dancehall music are deeply entrenched in Jamaica’s cultural heritage.
These genres are two of the dominant forms of pop music to have emerged, but are also important art forms that instruct, criticize and entertain. Dancehall and reggae music are vital elements of Jamaican society. What would Jamaica be without dancehall and reggae? Indeed, these two genres of music help to form the very fiber of Jamaican society.
Dancehall and reggae music are cultures which impact dress, fashion and body language; they influence attitude. Dancehall however has moved from the niche that reggae occupies, in its promotion of social and political consciousness, to the elevation and glorification of sexual immorality and violence. Young, impressionable minds then adopt these themes as part of their daily lifestyle.
On the other hand however, both genres still motivate youth living in the ghetto to rise above their situation. According to an article published in the Sunday Gleaner (03.02.08) by Gareth Manning, Behavioral scientist and music educator, Dr. Marilyn Anderson sums it up this way "some rhythms, timbres and amplitudes of the music can affect emotional behavior in humans, particularly the young."
The Veneration of Feuds
The most obvious evidence demonstrating the influence of dancehall on youth is the veneration of feuds in the dancehall. It is customary for young people to affirm an informal allegiance and follow a clique blindly like characters in a play desperately searching for an author. The recent emergence of such factitious behavior is the much publicized clannish divide between Dancehall artistes Mavado (of the Gully Side) and Vybz Kartel (of the Gaza). The notorious quickly became not only the most prominent graffiti across the island, but part of the most familiar phrases used by young Jamaicans.
As such, clannish divisions have been created in segments of the society as fans latch on to their favorite artiste and their cohorts of whom many wear various paraphernalia depicting their preference and or allegiance. The 'Gaza' and 'Gully' was not only popular in the garrisons and inner cities, but even in the most solid middle class communities too. In fact, this behavior spread to other Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Guyana as well.
The Glorification of Violence and Sexual Immorality
The glorification of violence and sexual immorality are popular themes in dancehall. The promotion of the gangster lifestyle is a common feature. This has resulted in the banning of certain DJs from the airwaves or from performing in some countries. In the same article quoted above, political analyst Tazhmoye Crawford reported that ‘Teenagers are identifying music, mainly of the dancehall genre, as a trigger for early sexual intercourse’. This is according to a scientific study conducted by Crawford, at the University of the West Indies, Mona in 2007.
Regardless of the negative messages advanced by dancehall, and indeed to some extent reggae, there are positive messages as well. Many reggae and dancehall artiste sing about the current social, economic and political climate present in their communities, the country and by extension, the world. To this end, they often encourage the nation’s underdogs to elevate themselves.
Some lyrics stress the importance of education and encourage children to stay in school. Examples of such songs include ‘We Shall Overcome’ by Mavado and I-Octane’s ‘My Life’. Many ghetto youths can attribute, to some extent, their success to listening to positive, motivating and uplifting music released by dancehall and reggae artistes.
Dancehall and reggae music are staples of Jamaican life. Indeed, they are two of Jamaica’s more adored gifts to the world. There is no doubt that the influence of music on a whole on people is phenomenal. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt the extensive effect of dancehall and reggae music on the young and impressionable minds of Jamaican youth. It is rather devastating to consider the fact that the advancement of immorality is such a common dancehall theme.
The glorification of sexual decadence and criminal acts has become a feature of dancehall. To this end, youth are at the risk of falling into the kind of lifestyle portrayed by these artistes. On the contrary, there exist positive albums and singles released by dancehall artistes. While this is to a lesser extent, the impact of such music cannot be denied. It is important that Jamaicans support and promote positive messages in the music and to this extent conscious artistes; the fate of the music depends on it.
By: Norvan Martin