A close examination of the arguments to ban dancehall music.
Dancehall is a genre of music born during the 1970s in Jamaica. Dancehall, also referred to as “bashment”, should not be confused with reggae. Whereas reggae music, which is influenced by ideologies of Rastafarianism touches on many socio-economic and political issues, dancehall is characterized by faster rhythms and high energy dance moves. Dancehall is a trademark of Jamaican culture. Many persons visiting Jamaica often speak of the unique experience of attending a “bashment” or street party. Dancehall has also influenced many mainstream artistes such as Rihanna on her song “Work,” Drake, Alicia Keys and Jazmine Sullivan. Beyonce, on numerous occasions, has also performed dance moves such as the “dutty wine” which is a dancehall dance. Beyond influencing international artists, dancehall music sometimes bring awareness to the socio-economic and political struggles facing Jamaicans. It often serves as a voice for the oppressed. Dancehall is woven into the fiber of Jamaican society and influences fashion, personal style, dance, slangs and everyday life.
In recent times, there have been calls to ban dancehall music from the airways primarily because of the subject matter of the songs. The lyrics are undeniably vulgar, homophobic, profanity ridden and promote violence, drug use, criminal activity and promiscuity. Beyond the music, some persons have criticised the dances that accompany the songs. Dances such as “daggering,” “puppy tail” and “dutty wine” are viewed as degrading to women, barbaric and disrespectful. Moreover, opponents of the art form have pointed out the fact that children are part of the public audience and such lyrics erode the moral fibre of young people. Notable actions following these complaints include the banning of certain dancehall artistes from travelling to some countries, and there is some suggestion that overseas opportunities, primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom, are becoming less for dancehall artistes. However, dancehall artistes remain unapologetic about the messages of their songs. Additionally, many Jamaicans believe that there is a conspiracy to suppress the art form.
Although there is merit to these arguments, one must ask whether in lobbying to ban dancehall music, are we active participants in cultural erasure? It is undeniable that the nice grooves and mellow vibes of dancehall's past have morphed in different ways inside contemporary dancehall. However, culture is dynamic, culture adapts and changes over time, and dancehall has changed overtime. Moreover, we must also ask, if a form of cultural expression is offensive to some groups in society, should it be banned entirely? The culture of a society is often misunderstood and frowned upon by persons as a result of ethnocentrism or ignorance. However, it does not change the fact that it is the lived reality of a group of people. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, one thing remains, dancehall music ignites interest, triggers curiosity and fuels some form of emotional reaction whether outrage, shock or joy.