This article contains graphic content which may be offensive to some.
Sex sells. It sells cars, it sells movies and in combination with music, it sells itself. Whether sex and its selling qualities are good things are under the microscopes of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, which has banned music with explicit sexual language and related videos promoting coital dance moves dubbed daggering.
Sex and music has also been studied by a group of American medical researchers who concluded that “teenagers who preferred popular songs with degrading sexual references were more likely to engage in intercourse or in pre-coital activities… However, higher exposure to lyrics describing nondegrading sex was not associated with intercourse.”
It’s a heated debate in the Caribbean island with moralists including politicians, government officials and some religious and social activist groups for banning with free speech advocates huffing at the restriction on expression.
“There shall not be transmitted through radio or television cable services, any recording, live song or music video, which promotes the act of ‘daggering’ or which makes reference to, or is otherwise suggestive of ‘daggering’,” said a directive issued by Dr Hopeton Dunn the commission’s chairman.
Another directive states “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.”
Dunn said that the directives have been taken to rid the broadcasting landscape of content that is inappropriate, particularly for children.
“They (children) internalize what they hear and what they see,” executive director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Faith Webster, told the Jamaica Information Service as she welcomed the decision. “Children live what they learn and particularly from adults and persons whom they see as celebrities and role models,” she pointed out. She said that from workshops on gender-based violence carried out by the Bureau in a number of communities and schools, it has been found that music with explicit sexual and violent content contribute to lowering the dignity and self esteem of young girls.
But some media outlets, the artists and music producers see in the directives a threat to their livelihoods.
The February 21 Jamaica Gleaner quoted record producer Jay Will as arguing that “implementing a wholesale ban on cable operators infringed on the rights of viewers who relished indigenous adult entertainment and created a double standard vis-à-vis foreign productions on other channels.”
Daggering dance moves and songs with lyrics considered obscene, such as the popular “Romping Shop” by Vybz Kartel and Spice have their support in University of the West Indies professor of literary and cultural studies Carolyn Cooper, an advocate for Jamaican Creole cultural expressions. Cooper seems to suggest that if the lyrics to recordings like “Romping Shop”, in which there is a man woman tussle for bed room supremacy, were done in standard English, they would be considered more polite and thus more socially acceptable.
“… I think the sexual interaction portrayed in Rampin’ Shop is rather tame,” wrote Cooper in the February 22 edition of the Gleaner, which has drawn swaths of criticism. “Here’s the scenario: Vybz Kartel and Spice, fully clothed in the music video, playfully talk about the pleasures of heterosexual intercourse – plain and simple. No bestiality; no necrophilia; no paedophilia; no sado-masochism; no whips and chains; no orgies. Just normal, old-fashioned sex: one man, one woman.”
By a slight stretch, the report in the article “Exposure to Sexual Lyrics and Sexual Experience Among Urban Adolescents,” to be published in the April edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine would give some credence to Coopers argument. The research team of Brian A. Primack, MD, EdM, MS, Erika L. Douglas, MS, Michael J. Fine, MD, MSc and Madeline A. Dalton, PhD used a model of degrading vs nondegrading sex based on lyrics that by and large suggests that degree of degradation is related to the politeness of the language:
“Get on top then get to bouncing round like a low rider
I’m a seasoned vet when it come to this shit
After you work up a sweat you can play with the stick
I’m tryin to explain baby the best way I can
I melt in your mouth girl, not in your hands
Ay bitch! Wait ’til you see my dick
Wait ’til you see my dick
Ay bitch! Wait ’til you see my dick
I’m gonna beat that pussy up”
“Come a little closer baby, I feel like strippin’ it down
Back to the basics of you and me
And what makes the world go round
Every inch of you across my skin
I wanna be stronger than we’ve ever been
I’m here to cater to you
Any thing that you want me to do I’lldo it
Cause I’ll be your lover
I’ll be your lover
I’ll be your best friend
Tell me what I gotta do
Tell me what I gotta do and I’ll do it”
This is the introduction and first verse of “Rompin Shop”
Kartel (man): Ah di techer
Spice (woman): And ah spice
Kartel: Every man grab a gyal
Spice: And every gyal grab a man
Kartel: Man to man, gyal to gyal dats wrong
Spice: Scorn dem
Kartel: All wen a nite yuh pussy feel like sun hot; wen yuh come inna mi ramping shop
Spice: Mek sure yuh kno how fi wuk and ah nuh chat yah ah chat
Hey, mi cocky longa than mi nike
Tell mi wah yuh like
Yuh wah mi try or yuh wah fi ride it like a bike
Well, yuh haffi ram it hard
Di cocky nuh fi lie
Damage it fi spite
Not becah mi pussy tight
Suppose mi put it pon di lef
Gyal yuh tek it pan di right
Mi nipple dem a ripe
Sen it up inna mi tripe
Wah titi appetite
Every nipple get a bite
Mi man haffi go see it
Mi and him haffi go fight
In the Caribbean/Jamaican scenario examples of nondegrading lyrics could come from such as Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” with its wood and fire metaphor “Stir it up/ Little darling/Stir it up…/I push the wood/Light my fire/I will satisfy your heart’s desire…/All you got to do baby is keep it in it and/Stir it up…” or the Mighty Gabby’s calypso “Hit it” cricket metaphor , “Hit it, How yu missing so../Hit it in midwicket/Hit it in de cover/ Hit it, hit it, hit it”. Still, these latter may fail the researchers’ degradation test as they present male domination over the woman, rather than a cooperative act.
Overtly sexual lyrics are not new in the Jamaican situation. In the early days of reggae, there were songs like Prince Buster’s 1969, “Wreck a Pumpum” set to the tune of “Little Drummer Boy”: “Tonight I want to wreck a pumpum/A fat fat girl to wreck a pumpum…/I’m feelin’ fit, I’m feeling fine/I want a win’ I want a grind/lawd, I wanna wreck a pumpum… if she’s ugly, I don’t mind/It’s not her face, it’s her bodyline, boy/When you go tear a pum pum” to which The Souls Sisters replied with “Wreck a Buddy”: “I need a man to wreck ‘im buddy/A big, strong man to wreck ‘im buddy/And if he’s ugly, I don’t mind/He has a dick and I want to grind/I want to grind, I want to grind, oh/A wreck, a wreck ‘im buddy.”
Those songs never made it to radio which did not need an edict from the Broadcasting Commission to banish them from the airwaves but they still filtered to the streets and were sung by many primary and secondary school children at the time. Between then and now artists such as Yellowman and others have catered to that segment. The artists and the producers say they are only providing what is demanded by the consuming public.
The proliferation of the type of lyrics today is enhanced by the increase in the number and types of media available to the public: As late as the 1980s, there were only two broadcasters, the state Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) with the lone television licence, and the conservative Radio Jamaica (RJR); now there are about a dozen broadcasters and a string of cable TV operators showing a profusion of music videos. Then there is the arrival of more portable music via CD and MP3 players and the growing access to the internet.
The method and sociology of public transportation have also contributed greatly to penetrating the youth as the fall of organized public mass transit, which did not carry music, gave rise of an array of minibuses offering discourtesy, loud music and sexual abuse onboard. Further, the dancehall culture that once promoted “conscious” reggae, alongside an element of rude boy culture and a little bit of “slackness” is now dominated by sessions of skimpily clad women who willingly display their skimpy g-string underwear without prompting.
Over recent years the popular “Pasa Pasa” events with their risqué celebrations, that started in West Kingston, have spread to Port of Spain, Trinidad and other domiciles of the Caribbean Diaspora. The events and the daggering dance have pulled in tourists and attracted Asian, American and European followings, some of whom clothe their interest in dance and social anthropology.
Sexually suggestive dance exists in much of the world, from the ballet of Europe, through the belly dancing of the Middle East and the Polynesians with their fertility dances in their skimpy straw skirts. What has the Jamaicans and the American researchers concerned is the explosion of early sexual behaviour with its impacts on teenage pregnancies, school attendance (early drop out) and the rise in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
“Of the 2.6 citizens million in Jamaica, one-third affected are young people. HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death in the 15-24 in 2006. Between 1995-2006 HIV/AIDS reports have doubled in the 15-24 age group and 47 per cent of the people 15-49 age group have admitted to having sex for money or drugs,” Dr Rebecca Tortello, senior advisor to the Minister of Education Andrew Holness told an audience February while speaking on his behalf.
“In Jamaica, as elsewhere, adolescent pregnancy presents a serious social and public health problem,” wrote Elizabeth Eggleston, Jean Jackson and Karen Hardee in a June 1999 article “Sexual attitudes and behavior among young adolescents in Jamaica” in International Family Planning Perspectives. “Forty percent of Jamaican women have been pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20, and more than 80 per cent of adolescent pregnancies are unplanned. Sexual activity begins at an early age for many Jamaicans: Among young people aged 15-17 who were surveyed in the 1997 Reproductive Health Survey (the youngest age-group studied), 38 percent of females and 64 percent of males reported having had sexual intercourse.”
The 2002 Reproductive Health Survey reported no improvement in the figures and the 2008 survey, which was to have been conducted over three months starting June, has not yet been made available.
What makes the American journal report particularly relevant to the Jamaican situation is that one of its findings was that “higher exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex, older age, male gender, African-American race, lower grades, higher sensation seeking, and higher rebelliousness were all associated with having had sexual intercourse.”
We can make a link between “African American race” and our Jamaican discourse through music. There is hardly any distinction between the rap, hip-hop and dancehall cultures whose artists regularly cross over and collaborate in each other’s genres and projects.
The Jamaican Ministry of Education has been doing its part to help counter what is considered the unwholesome lessons of the streets. The event at which Tortello spoke was a National Sexuality and Reproductive Health Expo dubbed “Nuh LInga, Nuh Badda Dweet, Sweep Weh Sex or Mek A Propa Flex” part of the ministry’s drive to increase information available to teens about sex. Nuh Linga is another popular dance in the pop music milieu, presented to the world by the Usain Bolt at Beijing Olympics in summer 2008, after the Jamaican sprinter romped home with the 100 meter world record.
About 100 schools from across the island, were represented and there were booths from Rise Life Management Women’s Centre, National Drug Council, Children First and other sex counselling and reproductive organisations.
ASHE, a young adult drama group sponsored by UNICEF and which has been doing continuing work in the area of teen sexuality was one of the most popular presenters at the expo.
It is obvious that the debate has to go beyond side issues of class/cultural bias and freedom of expression. With Jamaica in persistent social and economic disarray for at least two decades, sex and music are all the entertainment many in the underclass have as consumers and sellers.
The government, its social partners and those who have established themselves as the moral arbiters, such as the church, may have to find a way to sell the other side of the sex story to the Jamaican populace as authoritarianism and paternalism have never but riled youth resistance.
Caption: “Daggering” captured from a YouTube video