Fri | Jan 22, 2021

Letter of the Day | Can Reggae explain our crime predicament?

Published:Tuesday | February 25, 2020 | 12:22 AM
Bob Marley.
Bob Marley.


As we become increasingly bewildered about the unexplainable, widespread shedding of blood in Jamaica, the lyrics of Bob’s Natural Mystic seem prophetic. “There is a natural mystic blowing through the air”, he observed, and later explained the mystic as “… many more will have to suffer many more will have to die.”

Like us, Bob had no answers, as he cautioned, “Don’t ask me why”, and ends that verse with our own observation in this Reggae Month 2020, that:

“Things are not the way they used to be,

I won’t tell no lie,

One will have to face reality now.”

For those caring to continue listening, Bob confesses that he – like us – has been trying to find the answer to all the questions the senseless killings raise, but he just cannot.

But, now, the group Morgan Heritage, created long after Bob penned Natural Mystic, has offered us Nothing to Smile About, where the foreigner asked, “how come Jamaica full a so much screw face?” Morgan Heritage then asked the foreigner to take a ride around the city, and our crime mystics seem to have found some answers in this song of lamentation:

“Look pon di gully side

Do you see anything fi smile ‘bout?

Look at that hungry child

Do you see anything fi smile ‘bout?

Look at the school weh deh youth dem go fi get dem education

Do you see anything fi smile ‘bout?

Look at the conditions of our police stations

Do you see anything fi smile ‘bout, no.”

Our choice of violence to settle conflict is deeply rooted in our culture. I recall in 1975, as a student in Barbados, a Jamaican student reached for his knife at the very early stages of a verbal conflict with a Bajan.

The young Barbadian said something I will never forget. Rather than escalating the conflict, he said, “Can’t we talk about it?”

As a young, 21-year-old Jamaican youth at the time, I felt he was a coward to be seeking reasoning over violence. As I matured and reflected on our lust in Jamaica for physical violence to settle conflicts, I realised that the Bajan was correct.

Can this long heritage of violent crime find its roots in the plantations of horror – which were penal institutions of labour – from which we emerged in 1838?

Come on, my fellow Jamaicans, can’t we just talk about so many of the things we kill for?