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CULTURE CLINIC: Defending The Bajan Dancehall Artists

Artwork for the Trojan Riddim.

A 16-minute TROJAN RIDDIM Barbados Dancehall 2021 Mix video, produced by Lil Rick HD and Dwaingerous, in development since 2020, was released April 6, 2021 on InGroove and Fox Fuse online platforms. The artists involved ply their trade by sending songs and albums to online platforms to gain international recognition and sales. Dancehall is often known to reflect content and themes with violent references, misogynistic lyrics, and strong language. As such, it remains controversial and underground. These artists recognize the differences between dancehall and soca when creating and expressing with lyrical genius.

COVID-19 has affected economic stability, job security, and the movement of people in Barbados. On Saturday, May 30, 2021, hours after the state’s CBC Barbados hosted a highly anticipated online entertainment event featuring Lil Rick and Peter Ram, the Trojan Riddim mix-video, featuring lyrics and images about guns and violence, went viral online. By Monday, June 1, 2021, Barbadians were a-twitter. VOB’s David Ellis speculated that the album celebrated gun violence and that this was reprehensible. Conservative, middle-class Barbadians were outraged.

Cropped photo of the cover of the Nation Newspaper on June 2nd.

Corporations, journalists, and politicians reacted, demanding the video’s removal and apologies from the artists. A few people apologized. Lil Rick HD’s unremorseful written response served as the most rational one to date, while Digicel Chairman Bizzy Williams’ reject-and-renegotiate move, followed by Lead Pipe’s declaration of non-interest, was the saddest. The album and video surged in popularity.

I believe that these artists were being unfairly targeted for reflecting unpopular sentiments at play in Barbados. How did corporate and state agencies fail to see the larger picture? How did we get here?

It is conservative, middle-class fragility that accuses artists of condoning crime and violence when ongoing destabilizing socio-cultural and economic conditions prevail. Such fear is misdirected: we are uncomfortable at what the mix-video has revealed about a sub-sector of our society and fearful to implicate the source of buyers, importers, and distributors of drugs and guns in the “paradise” that is Barbados’ image.

Also, it is unwise to expect dancehall artists to represent strict codes of decorum. Ironically, corporations and agencies are barely held accountable when engaging with the same artists to primarily affect popularity and sales by association. The role of the state deserves examination as well.

Artists and producers like Lil Rick HD, Dwaingerous, and others have been very involved in state campaigns, events, and training videos over the years. This was a moment for diplomacy, for stakeholders to meet, concerns and issues discussed, and a press conference called to address the public as a united front. For now, I am heartened to hear articulate and intelligent young people demanding consistent application in our use of codes of conduct and the law. I hope that the lyrical “gun is longer than the arm of the (illusion of the) law” (Screwface). Like film and literature, I think we need to give Barbadian consumers and producers more credit to recognize the difference between actual and metaphor even if they do not appreciate the music genre.

Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. Photography by Adrian Richards.

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