February 20, 2009
Innovate or become obsolete
BY Alicia Roache
*A response to the Broadcasting Commission’s Ban
The repercussions of the Broadcasting Commission’s (BC) ban have reverberated across the entertainment landscape. Since the ban came into effect over a week ago there has been much debate over its appropriateness and the possible results of the censorship.
Dancehall music and its purveyors, like radio, are at a crossroads. The entire entertainment fraternity must undergo a painful rite of passage, innovate or become obsolete. Dancehall must now grow up and out of the ‘rompin’ stage.
The BC’s ban went into effect on February 6, 2009 and effectively prevented radio disc jocks from playing all songs that promote ‘daggering’ along with any song that uses editing techniques to remove expletives or other lewd content from music. For those of you not familiar with the concept of ‘daggering’, the Commission in its release sent to broadcast licensees, the Minister of Information, the Media Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Association of Community Cable Operators, describes daggering as a "colloquial term or phrase used in dancehall culture as a reference to hard-core sex or what is popularly referred to as 'dry' sex, or the activities of persons engaged in the public simulation of various sexual acts and positions." This ban prevents songs such as Bragga Dat’s ‘Dagga Dat Vegas’ ‘Daggerin’ and Aidonia’s ‘Hundred Stab’ from being played on air.
In addition, the Commission also specified that "There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any audio recording, song or music video which employs editing techniques of 'bleeping' or 'beeping' of its original lyrical content."
That move says the disc jocks, prevents the playing of almost 40% of local dancehall content. This is not because these songs are all ‘negative’ in content and expression; but often times is because the disc jocks have decided to self censor, in order to make them more palatable for airplay, especially during the hours when children might be listening. For example, disc jocks will remove the word ‘gun’ from a song regardless of the context in which it is used.
However, what is troubling is the selective application which the BC has taken to the issue. Because the ban specifically refers to dancehall songs, when there are other genres, such as soca, which present the same problem, the BC has indicated that what they call appropriate is more a matter of their mood at the time of the enforcement. Because if Colin Lucas’ ‘Dollar Wine’, which has no edits can be played on radio, but RDX’s ‘Bend Over’ cannot, there is an obvious literalism and prejudice when examining lyrical imagery.
The Commission in 2006 recommended that Chuck Fenda’s ‘Gash Dem an Light Dem’ be banned. At the time, many questioned the banning of a song, which though incendiary, was at the time, an accurate portrayal of the public’s collective feeling about the crime wave and the offences against children in Jamaica. The song goes:
“Gash dem and light dem
For the negative vibes weh dem a bring
Gash dem and lite dem
Mi come fi mash up and wreck up
Dem senseless killing
Gash dem and lite dem
Boy haffi reverse wid dem bag a gun ting
Gash dem and lite dem
Stand guard and come outa di wages of sin."
(Gash Dem an Light Dem, Chuck Fenda).
Fenda at the time defended his imagery as a metaphorical burning and purging of the negatives. The Broadcasting Commission did not agree. They had a duty to ‘protect’. But in order to ‘protect’ us, the BC is telling us we have to give up some of our freedoms, including what we can express and consume and where.
This puts the music industry in a very troubling position. Traditionally, the dancehall was a voice for all: the oppressed, the privileged, the educated and the untrained, the political and religious ideologies. Now, all must toe the line. All artistes- whether hardcore dancehall or reggae, lovers rock or party music- must watch what they say.
So what does this mean for the dancehall?
It means one of two things. Innovate or become irrelevant. If the BC is the arbiter of good taste, and dancehall might disagree with this estimation, then dancehall must do what it has always done. Reinvent. Because this is not the first time its music has come under pressure and it will certainly not be the last.
When the Broadcasting Commission places a ban on Vybz Kartel and Spice’s Rampin’ Shop and all Daggerin’ songs, effectively eliminating them from the radio airplay there is a massive outcry. But we must do more than protest. Because if the dancehall does not find more ways of making money through music, then the industry that contributes 4.8 % of GDP to the Jamaican economy in 2008 will be in trouble.
No one can deny that airplay contributes significantly to determining which songs are ‘hot’ in the dancehall. Then, it is this ‘hotness’ which determines how many stages shows an entertainer performs on and therefore how much money he/she earns. The decline in music sales is a well known fact. Artistes make money from shows. And with the exception of vintage artistes, who tour based on posterity, it is this local recognition of what is hot, that allows many entertainers to earn. Artistes must therefore find other ways of making money, other ways of getting airplay.
Radio will also be affected. Disc jocks are already claiming a reduction in listenership. Because, if the hottest songs of the moment cannot be consumed on radio, then the listeners will go elsewhere- the street side mix tape vendors, the street dance, the stage show.
Radio depends on listenership in order to claim maximum advertising revenue. When listenership decreases, then advertisers will go elsewhere. They are already going to the mix tape vendors, who mix in Ads on their most popular tapes. Of course this is a very simplified estimation of what can really happen.
The point is when persons start losing income then we will see the results of what the BC’s legislation has really achieved.
The contribution that entertainment revenue makes to the development of the country is documented. Entertainment lawyer and consultant Lloyd Stanbury who spoke at a ‘Wipo-Caricom Experts Meeting on the Creative Industries and Intellectual Property’ in February 2002 claimed that there are over 4000 local performers. This is a large workforce by any standard. Stanbury also claimed that in 1997, entertainment was the 3rd largest portion (10%) of 8 categories, of the total contribution of tourism to GDP, exceeded only by accommodation (51%) & shopping (16%).
Of US$300M tourism contribution to GDP in 1997, entertainment accounted for $30M in earnings. In 2000, the music industry earned US$60-100M for the country: sales of music and music related activities and products accounted for $40- 50 million, while foreign tours and local shows accounted for $20-25 million. These earnings do not include royalties due to songwriters & music publishers.
Translation, limit entertainers’ ability to earn- limit the amount of income for the country.
This does not mean that entertainers must do as they please however. Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. This is why a new dispensation is required.
The fact is the contribution of entertainment to the Jamaican economy is no small deal. So anything that may affect its ability to earn must be taken seriously. And must be responded to quickly. While Vybz Kartel commencing legal action against the BC may be misguided, it is an indication that the issue is being perceived with the requisite amount of gravity.
But, outside of litigation, deejays must also do what is required in the short run in order to ensure that they continue to earn. They must do what other artistes internationally have done (see list); record two versions of the song, one for radio and one for the dancehall, or change titles which may seem offensive. Others go the way of allowing others to do sanitized cover versions of their banned songs. Radio jocks must find ways of mixing and remixing that allows for the songs to be played, but in a way that does not break the BC’s rules. In some cases where the song is too controversial, the jocks can play the instrumental versions.
Whatever the case, it is obvious that it will not be business as usual.