Music to nobody’s ears

Guyana President Dr Irfaan Ali - Angelo Marcelle
Guyana President Dr Irfaan Ali - Angelo Marcelle

CARICOM HAS a lot to be worried about these days. Venezuela is threatening to annex Guyana. The climate crisis looms. And tragedy in Haiti continues.

But for Dr Irfaan Ali there is another pressing matter with which regional leaders should be concerned.

“We do not need lyrics that promote violence,” the Guyana President said as he addressed the 46th regular meeting of Caricom heads in Georgetown on Sunday.

“As leaders of this region, we have to take this situation very seriously and ensure the lyrics of the region are the lyrics of Bob Marley, the lyrics of positivity.”

Saying “tough positions” need to be taken, Dr Ali said his country has made a conscious decision to invest in culture as a unifying tool and as a means of telling a people’s story.

However, investing in culture is one thing, censoring it is another. The first encourages art to soar. The second turns art into propaganda.

The Guyana President did not name names, but he may have been contemplating recent cases in which law enforcement authorities have had cause to act.

In June 2022, Guyana banned performances by Jamaican dancehall artiste Kevon “Skeng” Douglas.

Earlier this year, St Kitts and Nevis banned Kashif Sankar, known as Kman 6ixx, following “a comprehensive security assessment.” Authorities in Grenada had also reportedly issued a similar ban in relation to the Trinibad artist who has since been charged and who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

Where there are individuals who have attracted the attention of police and who have cases to answer, such individuals should be fully prosecuted under the law. That is uncontroversial.

If these individuals happen to be musicians, that is neither here nor there.

But clamping down on music that seemingly glorifies violence or that conveys a message with which we are not in accord achieves little else besides shooting the messenger.

Without a doubt, music can influence mood and encourage aggression. It can also do the opposite, acting as an outlet to exorcise emotions.

There is a school of thought suggesting art is the result of social currents, not the other way around. Songs can bring us news of conditions on the ground.

If music is the cause of violence, we could solve crime tomorrow by shutting down the airwaves.

But clearly the problem would remain because there are other factors at play. To wit: even Mr Marley, whose “positive” music was cited by Dr Ali, was shot at before a concert in 1976, in an incident recounted in the recent film Bob Marley: One Love.

Little has ever been achieved by banning art.

Lest we forget, a decade ago Guyanese authorities banned calypsonians who sang about corruption on state airwaves. Those singers went silent, but corruption still soared.


"Music to nobody’s ears"

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