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Buju banter

By Terry Joseph
June 19, 2002

Big-ticket Jamaican dancehall acts Buju Banton and Beenie Man both readily admit a lack of extended formal education, but even that is no excuse for thinking us all fools.

Presented to local media for yet another time last Friday, the duo dutifully defended dancehall music but then went completely overboard, describing any link between its preferred lyrics and lawlessness among our youth as “Some Trinidadian way of mind.”

And while it is true that Mr Man and Bro Buju cannot be honestly accused of routinely releasing songs with violence-inducing lyrics, they were at the time acting as advocates for all of dancehall, “spreading the positive messages of reggae and Rastafari”.

Well, the first and most dramatic message that came to those of us who missed the news conference appeared on page one of Saturday’s Guardian, showing Mr Banton drawing on a marijuana spliff. No “Trinidadian way of mind” this time, but a clear shot of him endorsing lawlessness, dismissive of possible consequences.

On Monday, Magistrate Deborah Thomas-Felix described the area near the concert gate as a “one-stop shop” where two young men she convicted testified they had been able to purchase tickets and ganja with equal ease.

However liberal your views on the use of illegal substances, Mr Banton’s impudent demonstration neither helps bush protagonists nor enhances the story he and his countryman sought to have us believe that day.

But the scenario got even more bizarre. Several persons who attended Saturday night’s concert say a popular Cabinet Minister was at the show, openly expressing willingness to intercede on behalf of the Jamaican performers, if police attempted to frisk or fetter them on suspicion of drug possession.

Something is wrong with the larger picture when police chief Hilton Guy says lawlessness escalates sharply during periods preceding dancehall shows and one such artiste smokes a spliff for the cameras, then a Government official leaps to his defence.

Fact is, an artiste whose work and lifestyle has no impact upon anyone with whom he comes into contact is irrelevant. If Mr Man and Mr Banton are willing to concede that songs by dancehall colleagues leave listeners unmoved in any direction, then smoking drugs is hardly their worst breach.

You needn’t be grand vizier of The Mensa Society to understand Commissioner Guy’s statement. If Mr Man comes here to rake in Trini cash and by the same opportunity call the Commish a liar, then objectors to the dancehall styling may still be underestimating the full value of negative messages coming from that quarter.

Now hear this: Nigel Alleyne, 30, was in the cinema viewing a movie titled Rude Boy when he was shot to death. Mr Man, who starred in the film, scoffed at those who identified a connection between the subject matter on the screen and Alleyne’s death, saying we were seeking to blame the movie’s imagery for inevitable feudal consequences.

Well, Mr Man has either been in a lifelong drug-induced daze, or is deliberately treating us like idiots. With all the gang wars and Cosa Nostra vendettas obtaining during his lifetime, we don’t hear of many people being shot down while watching The Sound of Music.

Bringing the argument home, this country suffered no casualties by airing Bim, the local (1973) movie scripted by journalist Raoul Pantin and whose soundtrack was penned and performed by Andre Tanker, featuring class acts like Mungal Patasar, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Chris “Tambu” Herbert and (the late) Andrew Beddoe.

On the other hand, astute observers will tell you there was a concomitant rise in the intensity of gang-warfare here during the late 1960s when films like Rumble on the Docks and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue were hugely popular.

Nor could it have been purely coincidental that the violence subsided sharply with the coming of fresh messages from Hollywood a la West Side Story, a blockbuster that subtly removed much of the gang-members’ machismo; presenting leading men as falsetto singers and twinkle-toed dancers.

Better than most, Bro Buju and Mr Man know onstage you’re either part of the problem or its solution. And given their tremendous influence, we may conclude they have done relatively little to thwart violent tendencies among today’s volatile youth.

American counterparts, urban poets as they are loosely called, deliver both direct and subliminal hate messages while defending their latter-day art, saying they are only reflecting reality, even as they create DVD versions of a life dominated by gyrating booty, gaudy gold and “gangsta” images. Writing in the September 3, 2001 edition of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jessica Mc Bride’s gory story of a rap group that inspired enough of its followers to assist in bringing its lyrics to life, said Murda Mobb “attracted a ragtag following of ruffians”.

Members of the group and a few followers were later arrested for at least seven murders in a six-month span, including a summer killing spree in and around the Metcalfe Park area.

So, Buju is free to do what he likes in private and sing any song of which the gym-boots crowd approves knowing, as he does, the likelihood of our youth attempting to emulate his style and leaving us with the consequences.

Indeed, the only thing he shouldn’t even try to do is try to have us grown-ups believe otherwise.

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