Bans, stop orders and incarceration. Is Jamaican music, or more specifically Dancehall, under threat? Are forces hostile to certain strains in popular Jamaican musical expression conspiring to suppress what they deem a cultural contagion? As I indicated in one of my recent articles in which I supported Charles Campbell’s position that overseas opportunities for Jamaican acts are dwindling the doors are closing.
Many reasons are being adduced and much blame is being ascribed. Whatever the reasons and whoever the culprits there is one inescapable fact: we are running out of options. This is certainly not a matter on which I take any pleasure reporting.
The recent announcement of a ban restricting Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Mavado from travelling to the United States is the latest in a series of what must now be worrying developments in the Jamaican music industry. The bans come in the wake of a temporary stop order (subsequently rescinded) imposed on Elephant Man from leaving the island. Are the two issues related? Is this all part of grand international conspiracy involving domestic and foreign actors to destroy Dancehall and perhaps Jamaican music? Yet one must admit that, when viewed against the backdrop of Vybz Kartel’s inability to travel to the United States and Buju Banton’s present incarceration in a Florida jail, the current ban on these acts paints a most troubling picture of Jamaican music.
It should be noted that neither Beenie Man, Bounty Killer nor Mavado have ever been charged with a felony. Could it be that there is more concern overseas about what our artistes say than what they do? The sad reality, though, is that the Jamaican music scene, and not just Dancehall, is a dangerous space to navigate. Artistes by the nature of their visibility (often brought about by conspicuous consumption) are high-profile targets for robberies, and worse. They will sometimes try to protect themselves through association (gangs) or appropriation (guns).
An American road manager once told me that he was a “walking violation” as he could not travel without his illegal firearm. Feminists will point out that female acts have been having few difficulties entering foreign spaces, suggesting that the women in the music business walk the straight and narrow path. Who should feel more vulnerable — the men or the women? This is a query which comes from those who seek to debunk the argument that the artistes sometimes use illicit means to protect themselves. Should not women be the ones to arm themselves or have more criminal associations since they are more vulnerable than their male counterparts to violence?
This argument seems patently logical and might very well be true except that female artistes might depend on the men in the business to provide them with protection. If this is the case, then one would understand why women would be spared the hassle of arming themselves. hey would not be on the front line of the defence apparatus. What is more is that women see homosexuality as far less threatening to their sense of self. So they make fewer pronouncements on the matter. Hence they are not in the cross hairs of gay rights groups.