Caribbean Journal of Philosophy, Vol 12, No 1 (2020)

Word, sound and power: Evaluating Dancehall hypocrisy or sincerity in its critique of Babylon

Tanesha G. Gibbs


The peculiar history of Jamaica, the Caribbean and the Americas make for historical clashes that has manifested in diverse ways and through the agency of various mechanisms. When the indigenous peoples of the various New World European adventures were decimated with genocidal policies of deliberate overwork and killings upon disobedience, captured Africans were shipped into these locations to work on plantations as enslaved chattels with no human rights, human dignity and human historical connections to their past. Numerous wars were fought by the indigenous populations, albeit mostly loosing ones and by the enslaved Africans who were not used to such dehumanization. In many instances, these wars led to liberation, as in the case of the Maroons of Jamaica and Haiti, the first liberated republic in the Western Hemisphere. Many insurgences, rebellions and acts of sabotage were engaged in to make the local and absentee European plantation owners suffer losses and feel similar anxieties to the enslaved.

It is the cultural and artistic rebellions, revolutions and repulsion of enslavement, domination and dehumanization that is the subject of this discussion. And for a proper understanding of the issues at stake, we will use the lens of Dancehall, the popular musical genre that evolved in Jamaica, as a mechanism of critique of Babylon, the Biblical symbol of oppression, domination, expropriation and dehumanization of Jews as incorporated in Rastafari religions and scholarship.

The essay will proceed along the following sections, after this Introduction, which is Section 1. Section 2a will examine the “Word, Sound and Power” iconography, with a view to introducing the revolutionary foundations of Jamaican artistic traditions, in historical perspective; while Section 2b will examine “Word, Sound and Power” within the context of Jamaican musical performance. The Third section will examine the genre of Dancehall, its emergence and the place it has occupied in Jamaican culture of resistance and economic empowerment of artistes. The Fourth section will examine the traditions of resistance which have been the basis of art – dance, music, performance, cartoon, etc., primarily using “Blood Money” by Protoje as case study. The fifth section will evaluate the nature of the current Dancehall relative to socio-economic, religious, cultural and international representation. The final section will be a summary or conclusion derived from the discussion.

The methodology employed is critical interrogation of extant literature relating to issues treated, teasing out the philosophical and cultural foundations of relationship between the intersections of Reggae Music, as pioneered by the Wailing Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley. The explication of the connections enable us to examine the extent to which contemporary Dance Hall has stayed true and sincere to the founding cultural traditions of protest, consciousness and the extent to which a Peter Tosh could have jettisoned the lucre of money to stand against the gale of oppression, thereby forming their own “Word, Sound, Power” foundational organizations to stand with the people against the forces of human inhumanity to other human beings which racism, plantation slavery, colonialism and oppression constituted in the annals of black humanity.

Key words: Dancehall, word, sound, power, sincerity, hypocrisy, blood money, elite, Babylon.

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