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When reggae and politics collide

HERE COMES TROUBLE: Reggae singer Chronixx was criticised for apparently calling Obama a ‘waste man’

OFFICIALLY born in 1969, reggae music is the national prose of Jamaica.

Despite the fact that some of its denominations, such as lovers rock and dancehall tend to cater to other topics nowadays, reggae has always been something of a socio-political commentary.

Outlining a constant strive for justice and betterment, it was essentially born out of the oppression of the poor from the 'powers that be'.

Lauded musician Jimmy Cliff once stated that “reggae music is the cry of the people…a cry for recognition, identity, respect, love.”

Similarly, celebrated scholar Dr Carolyn Cooper described reggae as “the voice of the oppressed.”

Given its inherent concern with social, political and economic issues, is it still the duty of reggae artists to address said matters in their music, the way it once was considered to be?

Jamaican selector DJ Paparazzi says: “All reggae artists have a duty to speak out, in some way, about any form of oppression. Nowadays, the thing has been watered down due to money and the attainment of raw means of survival. As such, the motives of the artists and patrons alike, has been susceptible to change."

Indeed, some have defined the continued plight of the poor as ‘postmodern slavery’. But it makes sense for an artist to choose not to speak out on sensitive issues for fear of their very livelihood being at stake, particularly in Jamaica.

The island is currently being run by a Government whose agenda has been widely questioned.

Moreover, Jamaica has been brought to its knees economically through involvement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA.

We are talking about over seven billion dollars’ worth of debt, acquired at the hands of the world's superpowers. But Jamaica’s cultural influence all over the world and that age-old ‘no problem’ façade has acted as a smokescreen to the real issues.

The musicians and those involved in the arts remain real leaders as their potential commitment to truth and creativity can reach and teach.

So whilst the formidable and charismatic US President Barack Obama recently visited Jamaica and wooed the masses with his impressive use of the vernacular, reggae artist Chronixx could be forgiven for his fiery conviction, as he took to social media to make what has been widely interpreted as a swipe at the US President.

Referring specifically to the fact that Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey still has a criminal record in the US, Chronixx posted: “This man [Garvey]… still have a criminal record in the United States and we glorifying some waste man!”

This resulted in heavy backlash for the 22-year-old, who earned criticism from some reggae fans and a much-publicised dressing down from Jamaican Culture Minister Lisa Hanna.

While Hanna hailed Chronixx as an “incredible artist with a lot of talent”, she said the Here Comes Trouble hitmaker should “recoginse that he lives in a global space” and should therefore “have some temperance in the way that you display what your personal convictions are about another person.”

But surely a reggae artist addressing these issues offstage is an extension of responsibility as leaders and social commentators? It seems not.

Surprisingly, most of the anti-Chronixx uproar appeared to come from his fellow Jamaican citizens, who ought to have been able to identify the most with what he was saying.

One disgruntled person commented on social media: "As a Jamaican, I am ashamed of the fact that he [Chronixx] would call the POTUS [President Of The United States] that. He’s a disgrace."


OUTSPOKEN: Jamaican Culture Minister Lisa Hanna waded into the Chronixx-Obama debate

Another said: "That one comment can set us back a long way and make Americans hate us."

Frankly, 'waste man’ is tantamount to the various colourful terms that many have used to describe their country’s leaders during private ‘kitchen table talk’. What’s more, reggae artists have, through song, been giving politicians and bureaucrats unflattering monikers for years from ‘crazy baldheads’ to ‘dutty’ and ‘teefing.’

So what was the problem with Chronixx’s comments? Were his views a problem because he did not have the accompaniment of a backing track?

In part, I believe music can awaken listeners to social/political issues, but many tend to miss the real message of a song because the riddim is sweet. This could be why messages are often better received when sung rather than said.

Journalist and reggae historian Orantes Moore states: “Reggae is fundamentally black protest music and so it should be no surprise that its proponents highlight issues relating to that agenda.

“I’ve been impressed with some elements of Obama’s presidency, but don’t think these diplomatic successes should shield him from criticism. Chronixx simply expressed something that many others were thinking, but were either too inhibited or star-struck to say publicly."

Popular blogger Carla ‘Babbzy’ Babb disagreed, feeling strongly that music stars should not be hailed as political orators.

“Chronixx is an artist,” she posted. “Holding these entertainers that cannot chew gum and rub dem head at the same time to a high standard is not a wise idea.”

Dancehall DJ Robbo Ranx is also not convinced that reggae has any real influence in the political arena, stating on social media that artists should simply “use your gift and make music.”

He added: “Music can't make laws, legislations, oppress other humans, send people to war, etc. Music isn't politics. Anything can influence laws, sports, natural disasters, the economy… Music has the least influence on politics!”

Producer/artist Curtis Lynch is of the view that "we march to the beat of foreign drums too much" but also states: "If you are a musician with political views, put it in a song! If it’s done right, your message will be heard.”

London-based reggae artist Randy Valentine is known for his insightful social commentary and believes that "reggae artists are the voice of the community” and hence, have an obligation to address real issues that affect people.

“It’s not about forcing your beliefs on listeners of your music,” Valentine says. “But it is about bringing certain important issues to the forefront for people to think about, definitely.

“Interestingly, no one has asked 'why would Chronixx say such a thing?' Have you heard anyone ask?"

Renowned reggae DJ Daddy Ernie commented on the issue, saying: “If the artist can affect change and there’s a strong belief in what is being said, then why not put it in a song?”

Concluding, he added: “You just have to be careful how, as politics is a sticky business."

What do you think? Tell us your thoughts. Email: newsdesk@gvmedia.co.uk

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