A view from the outside: Has dancehall lost its way?
Screenshot of a photo posted by dancehall star Shenseea featuring her in bed with another female in a suggestive pose.
With Karyl Walker
A careful inspection of the content of some aspects of the modern dancehall culture and the way some of the artistes portray themselves on social media leaves a lot to be desired.
Most of the songs that seem to gain popularity these days heavily feature the mention of oral sex, female private parts and other forms of raw sexual innuendos.
There is a clear double standard in the industry of late.
Most recently a picture featuring female deejay Shenseea in bed with another female has been going the rounds. Both women were clad in undergarments and were in an intimate embrace.
The picture is just the latest of several lewd lyrics and social media posts by the latest generation of dancehall artistes.
It also brings into focus the deep degree of hypocrisy and double standards that reigns among us as Jamaicans.
Let us throwback to a few months ago when the talented Dalton Harris was on his quest to cop the top prize in the British competition, the X Factor. A picture surfaced of Harris sitting in another contestant’s lap and the young man came under serious fire. It went as far as his life being threatened as his sexuality came into question. No longer was Harris the darling of Jamaica with the golden voice. All that mattered was the questions surrounding his sexuality.
Now we see an even more revealing picture of a rising dancehall artiste in a very compromising position, half naked in bed hugging another woman suggestively and the responses are eye-opening.
Most of the males whose comments I have read on social media approve of the picture. There has been very little criticism of Shenseea and her pictured partner. Some men even voiced their desire to join in the tryst with the two females.
One dancehall act even blasted a popular selector for voicing his disapproval of the photograph and criticising Shenseea.
Make no mistake about it, whatever two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their bedroom affects none of us. It is not our business, but when a photograph is taken and released into the public domain, then all of us who have seen it are free to comment. This issue is not about one’s sexuality.
It is about how hypocritical Jamaicans are.
If we can get so hot under the collar if two men are caught in a compromising position; if we can call down hell and fire on two men; should not the same obtain for two women in the same situation?
It is an open secret for years that, although Jamaica has the reputation of being a fiercely homophobic country, that we have long accepted lesbianism and only run our mouths against male on male sexual affairs.
A recent viral video showing a cross-dressing male prostitute seizing a male customer's cellular phone, because the latter refused to pay the required price, is proof that homosexuality is more widespread in Jamaica than we think.
In the past, dancehall artistes came under a lot of flak from gay lobby groups for their stance against homosexuality and it went as far as some of dancehall leading lights losing their work permits to the United States due to the content of their lyrics. Some have still not been forgiven and are not allowed to perform in that market.
Now we see the genre devolving into a quagmire of soft pornography. Oral sex, which was once taboo, is now the flavour of the year. Every and any aspiring deejay sees it as a right of passage to include raw, uncensored sexually tainted lyrics in their singles.
Is it that the younger generation of artistes have let their hair down and no longer see oral sex as a taboo topic and are participating in that form of sexual behavior? Or is it that as long as a woman does it to a man, it is cool to sing about it?
Whatever the case, the dancehall industry and its major players need to do some serious introspection and clean up their act. It should be very instructive to them that few, if any dancehall acts are touring the major markets of Europe and the United States on a regular basis, in sharp contrast to the Reggae acts.
Jamaica’s music has always had ‘slackness’ in the mix. The difference was that kind of music was played in an adult space; now even a four-year-old can mouth off the lyrics to the most lewd song in the market due to the wide reach of social media.
The notion that outrageously, sexually tainted lyrics is what the people want, holds no water.
Why then is the most popular artiste out of Jamaica at the moment - that has grabbed the attention of the world and making great career strides - Koffee? Her music is played in every dance amidst the debauchery and all. The same people who were just dancing as if they were making mad love in the dance are the same ones who skank away to Koffee’s 'Toast' as soon as it hits the turntables.
In my view, Koffee is a deejay, she does a type of modern dancehall, but because of the bad name that dancehall now bears, she is considered a reggae artiste. Junior Gong has won multiple Reggae Grammy awards but careful perusal of his music shows that he does quite a bit of deejaying himself. Yet he is considered a reggae artiste, because his message is uplifting.
The same can be said of Chronixx, Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid, who all delve into the dancehall idiom.
That is how low the genre of dancehall has sunken. It has defined itself as a music without a message so much so if an artiste decides to do dancehall and their music has a message, they are considered a reggae act.
That is my view from the outside.
Karyl Walker is a multi-award-winning journalist who has worked for Loop Jamaica, the Jamaica Observer, the RJR Communications Group and Nationwide Radio among other media entities. He now resides in South Florida.