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Small Axe 7.1 (2003) 95-115

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Is Not Everything Good to Eat, Good to Talk:
Sexual Economy and Dancehall Music in the Global Marketplace

Patricia J. Saunders

What is to stop the youths and them out of control
Full up with education, yet no earn a payroll
The clothes pon their back have countless eye-hole
Could go on and on, the full has never been told.
It's a competitive world for low budget people,
Spending a dime, while earning a nickel,
With no regard for who it may tickle,
My cup is full to the brim.
I could go on and on the full has never been told.

—Buju Banton, "Untold Stories," Til Shiloh, PolyGram Records, Inc. 1995

Buju Banton's artistic and spiritual journey, from a "slackness" DJ to "roots and culture," chronicles several of the complex negotiations taking place between musical artists and the global record industry. Known as a "conscious vibes" artist, Buju Banton's ascendancy to the top of Jamaican popular music is one of Jamaica's untold stories, a story that chronicles the struggle to survive in the marketplace. His is not simply a tale of individual sacrifice but an instance of how artists attempt to use cultural [End Page 95] value as a means of mediating the hegemonic force of market values in the age of global capitalism. Buju Banton is one of the more successful dancehall-DJs-turned-conscious-vibes artists. Banton's song "Boom Bye-Bye" serves as an occasion to explore how market values influence the cultural values expressed in Jamaican cultural commodities produced for "glocal" consumption. 1 The increasing desire for cultural commodities, particularly "diverse" or "exotic" music, clothes, and foods, were part of the market appeal of Jamaican dancehall music for Americans. The song received substantial airplay on the radio and in dance clubs, but when news of its (translated) content hit the airwaves, the song was immediately banned for its homophobic lyrics. The furor launched an international debate among cultural critics and common citizens about the competing "value" systems of Jamaican culture and those of the global marketplace, most specifically the record industry. When called upon to apologize for the lyrics in his song, Buju refused, pointing out that they represented his values and his cultural value system and, as such, were an artistic expression of his beliefs.

Some believed Buju's refusal to apologize for the song would spell the decline of his appeal to Americans and the demise of dancehall music in the American record industry. However, Buju's refusal to "bow" sent a loud signal to Jamaicans at "home" (in Jamaica) and in the United States that, despite the power of American markets to make or break imported products and even entire markets, dancehall music would reflect Jamaican sentiments and culture, no matter where it traveled. The "cross-over" appeal, so commonly encouraged in the music industry, ran head-on into its ideological antithesis, cultural value, or, some would say, artistic freedom. Shortly after the controversy, Buju Banton made an important career and spiritual shift, deciding to turn his creative energies away from "slackness" and toward the "roots and culture" model of Jamaican popular music. This brand of music takes social, cultural, and, most important, spiritual uplift as its emphasis. Once more, it professes an anti-institutional sentiment in relation to the Roman Catholic Church, militarization of the nation, government policies, and the like. But most important, conscious vibes artists (like Capleton, Sizzla, and Tony Rebel) are closely associated with, or are believers in, Rastafarianism. I should point out, however, that the line separating these two forms of Jamaican music (conscious vibes and dancehall music) is not at all solid. While Buju's music has taken a notably different turn, much of the anti-Western, anticolonial and antigay sentiment remains but is veiled in ethical, moral, and religious discourses that are part of the conscious vibes brand of reggae music. [End Page 96]

Buju Banton's career and his song "Untold Stories" on...


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