Don’t sentence the music - Stakeholders want imprisoned artistes to record from behind bars

February 22, 2019
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston.
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston.
Vybz Kartel
Vybz Kartel
Ninja Man
Ninja Man

The panellists (from left): Heavy D, Lisa Tomlinson, Micheal Dawson, Dr Donna Hope and Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah.
The panellists (from left): Heavy D, Lisa Tomlinson, Micheal Dawson, Dr Donna Hope and Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah.
Jah Cure
Jah Cure
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At last Sunday's instalment of the 'grounation' series, staged by the Jamaica Music Museum in honour of Reggae Month, the panellists took a long look at the whole issue of artistes recording behind bars, and concluded that the music should not be sentenced when an artiste flouts the law and ends up in prison.

The panel comprised Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, director and senior lecturer, Institute of Caribbean Studies and Reggae Studies Unit; Dr Donna P Hope, professor of culture, gender and society at the UWI; Michael Dawson, co-author of Vybz Kartel's book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto; and Junior 'Heavy D' Fraser, artiste manager, booking agent and event promoter. Dr Lisa Tomlinson was the moderator.

The sub-theme of Sunday's panel discussion was 'Dancehall Stardom, Version 1 - Crime And Punishment'. Not surprisingly, the name Vybz Kartel popped up, and the eternal question of whether or not the dancehall artiste, who remains as prolific as when he was free, has been releasing music from behind prison walls.

His business partner, the poker-faced Michael Dawson, who had been the recipient of many, not-so-subtle glances when the question was thrown out, told the audience calmly, "I have no evidence of anybody recording in prison. I don't know anything about that."

Professor Donna Hope, however, was not shy in her expressions.

"You would never know that Kartel is in prison, there is just so much music from him," she stated, echoing the sentiments of many in the room.

Dr Hope, however, wasn't complaining. She was leading the conversation exactly where she wanted it - why shouldn't artistes be allowed to record in prison? Or, as Heavy D puts it, why should the music be sentenced just because the artiste is imprisoned?

They cited precedence, highlighting the case of reggae artiste Jah Cure, who was allowed to put out songs while in prison. That 'privilege' has not been extended to any other incarcerated artiste.

A very animated Stanley Niaah, lambasted the prison system for what she calls its lack of foresight.

"We have two big artistes in Jamaica in prison - Kartel and Ninja man, and there is no proper programme in place that uses music in the rehabilitation process," she said.

Both entertainers are serving life sentences for murder.

On Sunday, Stanley Niaah proposed that a meaningful music curriculum be implemented as a matter of urgency. Heavy D, however, while endorsing this suggestion, was also cynical.

"Dem not teaching music in school, so don't expect them to do it in prison," he said, referring to an earlier discussion in which it was revealed that in some schools where provision is made for a music teacher, that teacher is often asked to teach other subjects to alleviate a shortage in other areas. He, too, is appealing for artistes to be allowed to record music and feed their families while incarcerated.

Some in the audience, however, were uncomfortable with this suggestion, and questioned quietly the efficacy of punishment for a crime if this were to be implement. One very vocal audience member accused Dr Hope of trying to "intellectualise the violence in the dancehall and give it acceptance".

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