Speech, sound, politics - dance!

September 18, 2017
Part of the crowd at Reggae Sumfest 2017, Catherine Hall, Montego Bay, St James.
Yaniq Walford
Members of the crowd at a People's National Party (PNP) rally in 2002.
Part of the crowd at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) meeting and gospel concert, held at South Parade, downtown Kingston, in December2011.

At yesterday's 79th People's National Conference, held at the National Arena, St Andrew, once again Jamaican popular music was utilised heavily. Among the songs that were played as party president Peter Phillips spoke was 'I Need a Roof' by the Mighty Diamonds. The song played at an appropriate point in his speech.

It was the latest example of a politician using the sound system style performance in his or her speech, an almost standard way for Jamaican politicians to speak at mass rallies. During the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) successful 2015 general election campaign, current Prime Minister Andrew Holness used Nesbeth's My Dream repeatedly.

With the politician's speech replacing the mic man's talking and the common objective of fusing speech and song effectively, Yaniq Walford of Bass Odyssey sound system says: "political speeches are one big dance. The only difference is the food is free - and the liquor".

"Definitely, you can tell they spend a lot of time in the lawn. It is after all the number one form of entertainment in the island. For the most part though, I think our most successful politicians know when to sweet talk and when to draw card and that is the work of a MC in a dance, to keep the people enticed," Walford said.

Although the JLP and PNP meetings are not held in the same space at the same time, as happens when sound systems square off, the competition is very real with political power - and not a trophy or bragging rights - at stake. With Bass Odyssey famed as much for clashing as well as playing party style, Walford said at the political rallies "I guess it has some element of sound clashing, when it comes to throwing word, because one politician 'a try kill a tin pan politician or dibby dibby politician'. Same vibes, just a social class limitation really."

With not only politicians but also advertisers using sound system performance heavily, Walford said: "The sound system is abused for its greatest value, talking newspapers. It's how the masses communicated since its inception, it's how we still do. We get use and fling weh - get murder with regulations and lock off until a politics time again."

She urged more consistent support of sound systems, saying "the politicians with the most wit and full of vibes will take the dance on speech night. However, my advice is that sound system culture continues long after sound lock off and people go home. Clearly, they have the craft locked. But they need to put more effort into strengthening the back-end - like sound owners, as their personal interest is closely aligned. Pump resources into the culture. Start by having the same regulations they enjoy in politics time a year round norm - so that everybody can nyam a food."

Bass Odyssey is owned by Keith Walford,. former PNP member of parliament for South West St Ann.

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