Dancehall artiste Alkaline (foreground) in a scene from the 'After All' video, which came in for heavy scrutiny for allegedly promoting violence, including murder.Dancehall artiste Alkaline (foreground) in a scene from the ‘After All’ video, which came in for heavy scrutiny for allegedly promoting violence, including murder.

A rash of events over the past few months has resurrected fears that dancehall’s long flirtation with violence and death may be shifting into a new dangerous phase – one where the trigger-pulling gun-fantasies that dominate dancehall songs now turn into reality when the guns are turned on members of the entertainment fraternity.    .

In the past three months, two artistes, namely Gaza Maxwell and Donovan ‘Unicorn’ McMurray, died violently while two well known producers, Ralston ‘Tru Blue’ Wellington and Cleon ‘Corey Mineral Boss’ Jones were also mowed down in gun violence.

Have the chickens come home to roost? Music consultant Clyde McKenzie doesn’t believe so.

“There is a co-relation between the two, but the causal links between violence and music are not clearly established in an empirical sense. There are no definitive studies which show a link, but there is a co-relation because violence informs the art, the art informs the violence. It is a cyclical thing, some reflect the realities on the ground, while some of the violence is informed by the utterances,” he told Loop Jamaica reporter Claude Mills.

McKenzie… there is a co-relation because violence informs the art.

He believes that music is part of the “influential complex” that makes the Jamaican society such a violent one. As of December 10, 1,517 people were killed since the start of the year, and as the year inches towards a close, the murder rate has shown no signs of slowing down, and more industry professionals could find themselves victims of the violence.

One must remember that dancehall chronicles in scathing scatological terms the violence and feats of sexual gratification that run like a fault line throughout the Jamaican society. It is what it is.

Certainly, the blatant gun worship has shown no signs of abatement as recent rhythms such as Anju Blaxx’s ‘Zombie’ are dominated by violent songs. McKenzie says that the problem with artistes is the violent subculture that exists on the island and the fact that artistes often “find themselves in the inner city, amongst the dispossessed where violence is rampant”.

“If I had a choice as an artiste, I would not put out certain kinds of music right now,” McKenzie said somberly.

Semaj… The problem is not what we create, it is what we choose to do.

So what then is the solution? Censorship?

“I believe that art has a cathartic value, artistes often purge themselves through art, men sometimes negotiate their vulnerability through music with fantasies of trigger pulling and violence, men who are not great in bed even do songs about their masculine potency, so much of it is just art. I don’t believe in the censorship of problematic speech either, because art that is considered to be subversive and dangerous in one era may be liberating and valuable in another,” he said.

He believes that the government could legislate certain laws to ensure that “public passenger vehicles don’t expose the public to certain songs” and “create a code where children are not allowed into certain places of amusement and venues”.

But the undertone of violence still exists, with minor dust-ups between rival factions in dancehall popping up on social media sites and newspapers. If you listen to industry insiders talk, there is no rhyme nor reason for the edgy tension and animosities in an industry where having a good time is the major raison d’être. So is the problem a cultural one?

“Our music personifies violence, even how we use violence to personify positive elements. Look how we talk about sex, ‘dig out her belly’, and ‘kill her with it’, but the real truth is that even though the music personifies violence, the problem starts when the artistes themselves try to personify the character they create. That is why Kartel’s music is still dominating but Adidja Palmer is in prison, and the reason Desmond Ballentine is in jail. The problem is not what we create, it is what we choose to do,” psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj said.

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. Dr Semaj doesn’t believe anything is wrong with dancehall.

“Music is just a soundtrack to the violence in Jamaica. It describes how the people live, but whatever we consume, we metabolise and transform us. The music itself doesn’t make you violent, it makes the violence easier to digest, and desensitises you to violence,” he said.

Instead, Dr Semaj pointed to “corporal punishment” as a major causal link to the cycle of brutality that leads to several cases of domestic violence and murder. Just last week, in Portland, two taxi-men, long time colleagues, argued over a parking space, and one stabbed the other, then the aggressor committed suicide.

“When we beat our kids, we teach them that when someone disagrees with you, disrespects you, disobeys you, or disappoints you, the solution is to hit them,” he said.