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Dancehall Directory? A New Yellow Pages Cover Stirs Controversy in Jamaica

Artist Lennox Coke's controversial dancehall image adorning the cover of the Jamaican Yellow Pages directory. Image courtesy Joel Nomdarkham, used with permission.

Artist Lennox Coke's controversial dancehall image adorning the cover of the Jamaican Yellow Pages directory. Image courtesy Joel Nomdarkham, used with permission.

Whenever a new telephone directory comes out, it is usually no big deal. In fact, it often finds practical uses — such as propping up a chair leg — since it is now much easier to look up the Jamaica Yellow Pages online.

This year, however, Jamaica's phone directory (which often portrays some aspect of Jamaican culture on its cover) has ruffled feathers. The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS), a fundamentalist Christian lobby group, has forced the publishers of the 2017 directory for the major metropolitan area of Kingston and St. Andrew, Global Directories Ltd., to come up with a completely new, alternative cover.

Why? Because the original cover, created by a local artist, is a depiction of dancehall culture, showing a typical street dance scene with men and women gyrating, a deejay, and other aspects of dancehall “bling”.

The alternative directory cover that is also in circulation. Photo courtesy Joel Nomdarkham, used with permission.

The alternative directory cover that is also in circulation. Photo courtesy Joel Nomdarkham, used with permission.

After the lobby group's protest, Global Directories quickly apologized and the company's chief executive officer (CEO), Ian Neita, explained the publisher's position in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner: “A church may be listed in the book [and] once they advertise in the book, in a kind of way, they become a co-sponsor. If it were a private magazine that we were putting forward in the public space, I think it would be a little bit different…” He noted that the “power” of the local religious lobby could not be ignored, acknowledging that Jamaican society is “fundamentally based on Christian principles” and that his company therefore “took the high road” by giving people a choice when it came to the cover. The alternative shows a man on a motorbike with a mobile sound system on the back.

Neita also made the point that while the company was sensitive to the lobby group's concerns, its decision to provide an alternative cover was in no way an admission that the dancehall scene was was inappropriate, “because that is a matter of interpretation”.

Donovan Watkis, who describes himself as “the grandson of a Jamaican Pentecostal Rev.”, observed caustically in a blog post:

It is a continuation of society's main moral point of reference, that historically has marginalized certain groups of people, most notably ‘dancehallers’ and labeled their every cultural activity as lewd and out of order. Everything from hairstyle to language and even painted works of art in the dancehall culture is seen as obscene…It is such an unfortunate bully attitude for the privileged self-governing members of the noble second estate to be judging and exercising powers well beyond their spiritual powers regarding an embossed image of Jamaican culture in performance on the cover of a telephone directory.

He added that this may also be a rejection of the black physique as an expression of dancehall culture:

I do believe part of the problem that exists between the church and the progressive society is the continuous assumptions made when the black body is in performance and at excellent play at the highest levels. In September I wrote an article about people having a problem with Usain Bolt’s black body which caused much uproar from high ranking governing officials about his personal life despite his great achievements for the country. These are some of the same folks who had a problem with the erection of the Emancipation Park statues on Knutsford Boulevard in Kingston.

Glenroy Murray of Equality for All Foundation added another aspect to the argument in a Letter to the Editor, suggesting that it was a class issue:

To those privileged Jamaicans, I ask, ‘How do you benefit from a society with a large population of poor people and then turn around tell them that their culture is not good enough to be seen?’ ‘Ghetto people’ are the consumers of your imported goods, the drivers of your economy and the people who borrow your money to achieve life goals. They are the ‘vibrant people’ that our tourism advertisements speak about, not so much you. So how is it then that pictures of you may be represented in media, but not pictures of dancehall culture?

Radio producer Patrick Lawson shared similar views on his blog:

The JCHS might have bitten off more than they could chew with attacking Dancehall. Dancehall has always had a mixed reputation in Jamaica, it’s the in your face and cuss yuh out cousin of Reggae and a voice founded in the Downtown which the Uptown disliked but can’t help but feel drawn to.

When the JCHS attacked the Yellow Pages for their representation of this aspect of our culture, they didn’t just attack a genre of music… they attacked an identity, a way of life, a fighting force of the downtrodden and everybody knows Dancehall takes no prisoners in a clash. Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, you came to the wrong sound clash. Pack up and go home. Ring di alarm, another church is dying.

Marketing consultant Joel Nomdarkham tweeted the covers to be used for the residential and island wide directories, covering two other Jamaican music genres — ska and reggae. Artist Lennox Coke created the Dancehall cover, Raymond Jackson painted the Ska scene, and the team of Karla Gauntlett and Esther Beckford worked on the Reggae illustration:

Entertainment lawyer and music business consultant Lloyd Stanbury observed with irony on Facebook:

While Jamaicans debate, dissect, stereotype and overlook the global economic impact of the musical genre called Dancehall, foreign based artists such as Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Drake, Weeknd, and Major Lazer are laughing all the way to the bank by presenting Dancehall music to the world.

Many Jamaicans were not happy, noting that perhaps religious groups should focus on bigger priorities, such as the soaring crime rate:

Press Association of Jamaica head Dionne Jackson Miller responded:

Liberal clergyman Sean Major-Campbell commented on Facebook:

Would it have made a difference for those offended if the dancers were depicted in winter gear?
Frankly speaking, I am tired of persons from the church arena scratching where no one is itching; answering questions no one is asking; and fighting for causes that make no sense to the the well-being of people's lives.
It is such a pity that Global Directories gave in to such nonsense!

As often happens, however, the Jamaican public's concept of “the church” is blurry and confused. Human rights activist Jaevion Nelson opined:

Nelson added:

One dancehall production company observed humorously:

One young Jamaican tweeted:

Winsome Chambers summed up the general feeling of online commentators:

And one Jamaican doctor put everything in perspective:

2 comments

  • Dennis Jones

    JCHS didn’t ‘force’ anyone to do anything, except in the press media rendition of events. Flow and Yellow Pages had already been dealing with a barrage of online complaints (which is an aspect absent from the press reports) and acknowledging that some people were finding offensive the choice of cover on ONE of the several directories, in some cases with people stating they would tear off the cover. Others (myself included) had earlier suggested to YP that they offer people an alternative cover, which is what they have decided to do.

    Conflation was on its high horse and riding along happily for a good 36 hours.

  • […] The 2017 Jamaican Yellow Pages cover. ©Lennox Coke, the artist who designed the cover expressed disappointment at the controversy. | GlobalVoices. […]

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