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'Ranting' Against Bad Entertainment Journalism
Dancehall commandeered the Devonshire at Devon House on Wednesday night when Dr. Dennis Howard launched his book Ranting from Inside the Dancehall, a collection of journalistic essays that focuse on the genre. The night also became a biting indictment of the state of entertainment journalism in Jamaica.
Dr. Clinton Hutton, in his presentation began the questioning of entertainment journalism in Jamaica as he contextualized Howard’s history as an entertainment journalist and pointed to the potential importance of the book.
“There is a way in which some of what passes as entertainment journalism is really kass kass,” Dr. Hutton said, noting that deep analysis had been replaced by hype. He argued that entertainment journalism is however a critical aspect of the artistic community and its absence stymies artistic development.
“Critical reviews constitute an indispensable factor of the entertainment landscape,” he said. Hutton further argued that Jamaican culture has become a global superpower but many of our journalists had not achieved a similar standing.
“We require more of our entertainment journalists,” he said. Hutton also argued that insufficient training was also an aspect and noted that while the University of the West Indies needs to offer more, journalists also need to engage in self-education.
“Training is just the beginning,” he said. “What you become after that is up to you.”
Fae Ellington, who hosted the event also added to the discussion when she returned to the microphone after Hutton’s presentation.
“Maybe if so many of them were not involved in payola they could do more research,” she asserted. Ellington, who is a veteran of the broadcasting community, explained that her statement was not an idle comment as she spoke from knowledge of the industry.
Howard, during his short response after the speeches, explained that he had been moved to enter journalism due to the dearth of critical entertainment journalism. He explained that he was influenced by the first hand experience he had with the burgeoning Reggae scene during his youth in West Kingston. He explained that Reggae icons such as Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Lee Scratch Perry were a part of the daily scene at the time.
“When I was writing I drew on all these things,” Howard said, pointing to all the knowledge he had gained from bars and dancehalls.
Of course journalism has also been described as the first draft of history, and the evening’s guest speaker, Alma Mock Yen, focused on the importance of chronicling history, especially to the next generation.
“They will have to negotiate the treacherous bends and sharp angles of change,” Mock Yen said of Generation Z. She explained that to successfully do this, the next generation will require books, whether they are hardcopy or digital. “Their function is to preserve knowledge beyond what oral culture could manage,” she explained.
“When we fail to read what our authors write, we limit them severely by cutting them out of our consciousness,” Mock Yen said, explaining that it is equally important for us to read what has been written.
Mock Yen praised Howard’s collection of articles. “Ranting from Inside the Dancehall is not Ranting at all,” she said. She noted instead that is a collection of carefully considered and collected articles that trace Dancehall and the issues surrounding it, from emergence to ascendancy.
The value of Ranting from Inside the Dancehall was also contextualized from he perspective of the Institute of Caribbean Studies by Dr. Julian Cresser. Cresser noted that the ICS was proud that Howard was both a product of and a producer for the department. Ranting from Inside the Dancehall joins the growing list of books exploring Caribbean culture being produced by members of the ICS.
The evening closed off with a performance by Chronixx and the Zince Fence Band who impressed the burgeoning audience with their delivery of ‘Africa’, ‘They Don’t Know’, ‘Warrior’, and ‘Odd Ras’.