Kingston, Jamaica — The debate over the potentially harmful influence of the dancehall culture on youths and whether it fuels crime and violence is nothing new in Jamaica, but nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in the life and career of Adidja Palmer. Better known by his stage name, Vybz Kartel, he was convicted for the 2011 killing of an associate, Clive “Lizard” Williams, after being acquitted of an earlier murder charge. Palmer was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 after a 65-day trial and will not be eligible for parole for 35 years.
Yet, Kartel’s popularity (some call it a cult following) among Jamaican youths has not waned. Kartel continues to release new music, which is played regularly at parties. His album, King of Dancehall, topped the reggae music charts in the United States upon its release in June 2016 and was the highest-selling album in that genre for the year. His book, “Voice of the Jamaica Ghetto (Incarcerated but not Silenced),” co-written by Michael Dawson and published in July 2012, has reportedly been placed in Princeton University’s library. In February 2017, the glitzy, fan-based Youth View Awards nominated Kartel in eight categories by popular vote; he won in five.
Imagine the outcry then when Lisa Hanna, the country’s former culture minister and current member of parliament, suggested that there may need to be “less of a democracy” when it comes to trying to instill values in youth — values that are at odds with the messages they hear from the music being played on the radio. Even though Hanna did not call his name, she singled out Vybz Kartel when she spoke about “persons we know are incarcerated … persons we know have questionable value systems.”
Her comments soon went viral, provoking an extreme and vitriolic backlash that included death threats. This social media response has caused the greatest shockwaves in the public arena. Some have accused both Hanna and the prime minister of hypocrisy.
Hanna, a former Miss World famous for her glamorous Instagram account and, therefore, no stranger to social media, defended her stance in a lengthy Facebook post:
“I’m an unapologetic lover of music including dancehall. But there’s no necessity for some artists to use music as a medium for promoting violence and abuse of women. The data confirm that violent and sexually explicit lyrics have negatively influenced many Jamaican youth’s thought processes through increased feelings of hostility and aggression. These negative influences are exacerbated when we turn a blind eye to radio airplay of new productions by persons we know are incarcerated so may have been abetted by corruption in our prison system. This reality necessitates us being urgently honest with ourselves. We should be prepared to have a national discussion about messages glorifying criminality being conveyed to our children that’ll ultimately bring deleterious consequences. These messages have been pushing us towards a different society from the one in which we all say we want to live… I pray that all Jamaicans who value common decency will find the courage to push back against this new normal and defend Jamaica’s true culture. If we lose this battle, however unpopular the battle or its choosing may be, we will have lost Jamaica.”
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