From the Dancehall… Trini Youth Prosper?

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If you set your clock to alarm with radio feed, your slowly returning consciousness might forget you’re in Trinidad (or Tobago) and give you delusions that you’ve woken in Jamaica, just by the emerging voices. We can’t get by a normal six to nine morning set without an idiotic announcer shouting, “What a gwaan star?” or “Yuh big yuh know…to the world!” Since an alternative universe will never exist with yardies shouting, “Whaz de scene famalee?” or “Allyuh lewwe go nah”, my quarrel has always been, from where did this trend emerge and where has our ‘Trininess’ gone?

The first embarrassing clue is in the dancehall culture, which whilst overshadowing our own, does not exist to provide a blueprint for successful living. It is street music, born in the underbelly of Kingston ghettos so impoverished and crime-ridden, that emerging lyrics define, “making a song cry”.

Even the more positive upcomers, Romain Virgo and G-Whizz, wail over catchy dancehall beats about impendent homelessness, and keeping the hope that one day he’ll ride in a car, much less drive one – in their tunes ‘Who Feels It knows It’ and ‘Life’ respectively. The second embarrassing clue is that the leading dancehall artiste and local household name is a far cry from Garveyite upliftment. What Kartel seductively sings on ‘Rampin Shop’ is an invitation to adolescent virgins to come into his bedroom that he has set up just to collect hymens. It is arguably the biggest tune Kartel has brought to our airwaves, and can be found on the playlist of most secondary school students’ cell phones. Seduced by catchy dancehall beats, our youth sing along, barely comprehending how low the music has gone, desensitized by the time they do.


“Are Trini youth so lacking of culture that they adopt another?  Or is the influence of your average radio DJ so strong, that they can control thousands of our school-attending teenagers with the switch of a mic?”


Our DJs, pipers of poverty tales, shout “Kartel, yuh large my yout”, and encourage full integration of yard culture by following the fashion statement of pedal pushers and flamboyant colours. Are Trini youth so lacking of culture that they adopt another?  Or is the influence of your average radio DJ so strong, that they can control thousands of our school-attending teenagers with the switch of a mic?

You argue, it’s just music, right? Yuh like the song. The chune wicked. And the dancehall artists with over 70  percent of our airwaves catering to them, chant homophobic lyrics, validate disrespect with gunshots, and tell our youth that males and females are for brushin’. And while we soak it all in, dancehall in its own birthplace is threatened by censorship.

One thought emerges strongly… do Jamaicans even listen to soca and calypso?

I don’t know the official stats, but after my trip to Jamaica in 2006, I could affirm, from my experience, not really. Only those who love soca play it in their own homes and cars. Not only did I not hear our music, but not one Jamaican after discovering I was Trini, ever looked at me and said, “Wha happpenin famalee?” (although they do think it’s humorous that we say ‘pardna’ and still believe that this is current slang).

They don’t ask about Bunji or Shurwayne Winchester, and the minority who know about Machel (probably because of his collabos with Red Rat, Busy and Kartel), pronounce it ‘Muh-shell’ Montano. Jamaicans are ferociously proud to be from ‘Yaad’. They wear their Jamaicaness like leather jacket – tough, long-lasting, waterproof. Even the females.

Here’s where I really battle any positive contribution of dancehall culture to our own twin-island republic. Patois, the dialect of the dancehall, is not the first language in Jamaica. It is not the language their first-year students are taught with their alphabet and numbers. Jamaicans speak English, the Queen’s English some have claimed to me in the past. Even in English, yes, they drop their ‘h’s’ at the beginning of a word and stress their ‘r’s’ at the end, but they speak ‘properly’, especially in the presence of elders.  I remember my evident shock when my then Jamaican boyfriend who constantly spoke patois amongst his peers, switched to an almost British English with a soft Jamaican inflection in his “yes m’aams” to his visiting grandmother. To make it clearer, you know how expletives emerge and grammatical rules vanish when speaking amongst friends at a lime? So it is with patois, fun to speak amongst friends, eyebrow-raising with hard slap potential at home.

Which is to say that since we ‘brought it home’ what does it mean for T&T’s future? Our youth is emulating a culture that has bred so much violence and crime in its birthplace, the authorities consider banning it? I don’t know what it means, as much as I know what I hope for. That with elections in the air and a distinct need for sound and reasonable leadership, whomever emerges as victor will instill national pride (without the $2mil flag) back into our country.  That UTT’s courses for cultural development will not only be supported, as sound career paths, but the Government will also create an influx of jobs in our cultural sector. That parents and elders will stop flinching from our responsibility to protect the youth from words and actions their young minds are incapable of grasping fully. And that our DJs and other media outlets will not only take responsibility but see it as their civic duty to broadcast national pride in their actions and speech.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect, once said:

“Noble life demands a noble architecture for noble uses of noble men. Lack of culture means what it has always meant: ignoble civilization and therefore imminent downfall.”

What then does this mean for us, and for our culture?


Image credit: 3rdeyek


Quilin Achat

Quilin Achat is an avid lover of reading, so it's no surprise that she runs a small, unconventional bookstore called The Fire is Lit, in San Fernando. Check out the Fire is Lit at

1 Comment

  1. Hello World

    April 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    As a Jamaican living in Trinidad and Tobago for some time I never could fathom why music that is banned back home or not allowed to be played on radio are freely played on Trini radio stations. It also gives people an incorrect impression of Jamaica and Jamaican culture as dancehall is just one element of Jamaican culture. Not all Jamaicans listen to dancehall music but somehow it’s the music that people from outside gravitate to most.

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