Legalizing ‘Bad Words’ In Dancehall?
Written by Midwest Reggae on August 26, 2019
Spice wants Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness to legalize the use of “bad words” in dancehall because it’s holding back the culture.
Earlier this month we published two articles detailing Popcaan and Bounty Killer’s outcry for lifting the ban the Jamaican government has on profanity in dancehall. In Jamaica, whenever an artist is performing, they have to ensure that there is no profanity used. The use of such results in imprisonment or a fine. For songs played on the radio, the expletives are also removed. The Queen of Dancehall uploaded a video showcasing the concert she is performing at in Belgium. The name of the concert is Bumbocl**t which she stressed throughout the video.
In the video Spice says, “Me a make da video ya fi show unuh the name of the festival.. The festival name Bumbocl**t Music Festival right here in Belgium and let me tell unuh something. I’m doing the video so maybe it can reach to the head of the Prime Minister in Jamaica. This is the word that unuh fight we for if we call it on stage we get locked up and charged for it. My thing is why is it that things that unuh Nuh like bout we is that the tourist dem love. You know what I feel like they’re gonna make somewhere named Jamaica right here in Europe, get some white sand and rasta man put on it and get some weed and people are gonna be able to come to Jamaica and do what they feel like because unuh a fight out the things dem weh ppl love bout we. When I travel this is the first word the tourist dem ask me to cuss, Bumbocl**t. There is a rum named Bumbocl**t. Why is it that these people are making money off the things that unuh a fight against? ”
This aligns with the message that Popcaan and Bounty Killer have been trying to get across for which they have many supporters. But there are also those that point out that in those countries our swear words aren’t seen in the same light. They are harmless. But for the host country, they won’t allow their own bad words to be broadcasted, so we need to understand the core reason behind it.
What no-one seems to make note of though, is the historical meaning of the words. Bumbocl**t, Rass Cloth, Bloodcloth, and P**sy cl**t were used to describe strips of cloth used in the days of slavery by slaves at the restroom or while menstruating. So why is it that they were banned?
Back in the day, ‘Bad words’ were described as 40 shilling words as that was the fine imposed for using them under the colonial master rule.
One can make a compelling argument then that the law was put in place to restrict the use of slang words that were being used by slaves. As these words were not easily understood by the slave owners, they felt threatened and had to make use of their authority by imposing such laws.
The original law was drafted in 1834 and was amended once since then in 1997 but does not detail the words or phrases deemed to be obscene, profane or indecent.
So why is it that we class these words as inappropriate. This is a very outdated law, and it needs to be addressed. Cultural expert Professor Emerita Carolyn Cooper also voiced her support for the removal of this ban. She told The Gleaner, “the language of these bad words is often of African origin. So it’s almost impossible for some of us to fully appreciate the explosive power of a big, fat, bad word. It’s positive energy, not just negative. But we can’t see that. We’re still trapped in damning stereotypes about our culture”.
The issue is something that late reggae icon Peter Tosh agrees with. He has his very own song titled “Oh Bumbo Klaat” which appears on the album Wanted Dread And Alive (1981). In an interview that he did in the 1980s, Tosh explains the word “bumbocl**t” saying, “Bumbocl**t is one of Jamaica’s password, one of the most highest potential of culture that relieves the spells of evil.”
Tosh went on to explain that he grew up in the time of colonialism and exploitation. He explained that these words were around from before he was born and that he has always been told that the words are ‘bad words,’ but when he came face to face with a demon it was the only word that could release him from its hold. He shouted, “move yuh bumbocl**t and was finally freed.”
Spice elaborates on this concept. The concept that these words are positive and should be embraced by Jamaicans as countries all over the world are using our native slangs for entertainment and financial gain. It is not just about being able to curse bad words on stage freely. It goes way beyond that. It is truly about how we, as a people, fight against and put down our own culture while others profit from it.
We can only hope that the Prime Minister does, in fact, watch her video and hears her plea and takes up the call that many artistes, DJs, and cultural influencers are now endorsing.