Other sides to Murder music – ‘Informer’ holds place of revulsion in Jamaican music (Gleaner article)

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

ANY number of theories may be advanced for the revulsion expressed in Jamaican music for those who cooperate with the authorities, whether agents of the state or owners/controllers of capital.

With the creators of the music – especially the performers and songwriters – generally coming from the lower classes, which had restricted access to the legitimate avenues of income generation, maybe it is a case of the illegal being seen as the accepted way of getting cash or assets.

Or it could be that the densely populated communities and often crowded homes of especially the urbanised setting lead to a lack of private space and hence a dependence on the silence of onlookers to protect the privacy of individuals.

There could also be the friction between and in communities, where the police are not trusted, hence the person with an illegal firearm is seen as a protector – and someone to be protected by silence.

Whatever the cause or causes, there is strong revulsion against the ‘informer’ in Jamaican music, who is one of several characters sentenced to death in the lyrically exaggerated dancehall setting. (Among the others down for dancehall execution are child molesters, ‘idle shottas’, rapists, petty thieves and, of course, homosexuals).

The revulsion against those who see too much did not start with dancehall music. In the Trojan Records release Peeping Tom, Toots and the Maytals lament the ever-present peeper with:

“Tom round the corner, Tom in the tree

Tom round the lane, Tom up the hill

Tom in the house, Tom down the street

Everybody cry out for Peeping Tom.”

At the beginning of the 1980s the reviled persona was named outright in dancehall, but not in the context of cooperation with the police. Lady Ann’s 1983 Informer spoke about the interference with her intimate relationship with:

“Certain bwoy ‘pon de corner, informer

Certain bwoy ‘pon de corner, informer

‘Ca ‘im a fight ‘gains’ me an’ me lover”

However, her chant of ‘murderer’ is more an exclamation of dismay than a lyrical judgement. Lady Ann deejays:

“Say informer inna de area – murderer

Him and a-watchin’ and a-peepin’ – murderer”

In the late 1980s, singer Admiral Tibet issued the general warning “leave people business alone/leave people business and mind your own”.

By the early 1990s, though, with digital dancehall well under way after the Sleng Teng rhythm-making revolution and an explosion of persons recording, the informer was squarely in the lyrical cross hairs and many a deejay hit out against them.

The death sentence was proclaimed liberally, but in New Gun deejay Bounty Killer not only delivered the judgement, but also declared lawmen off-limits. In the chorus he deejayed:

“New gun with shot bad bway a burs’

All informa, a dem a dead firs …

To be a informer that is not a nice work

Yu time no deh far yu life it don’t worth

A dead yu ago dead an go unda de eart’

Cause yu inform pon man a Park Lane an Dunkirk

Bout dem rob bank an butt up bank clerk.”

He went on to define the informer and make his position on the law officers clear:

“Informer give information

To police personnel an soldier man

I no sey yu fe shot policeman

Dem a do dem work an policeman no wrong.”

Canadian deejay Snow took up the ‘informer dem’, though in a less menacing way, as he simply referred to the informer and stated that “you know a Daddy now dem a go blame”.

The ‘informer’ was also despised in the workplace setting, with the same judgement being passed. Heading past the mid-1990s singer Wayne Wonder did his own ‘Informer’, this one about the ‘hustling’ on a work site:

“I’m in a factory working

Hustling on the side

See the informers lurking

Trying to break my stride

How you fi stop man hustling

Trying to swallow my pride

I gat pickney fi feed an a ooman a breed

An you nearly mek me lose my life

Informer muss dead.”

And the informer has continued to get flayed lyrically in dancehall, popping up even in the live clash setting.

At the much-vaunted clash between deejay Vybz Kartel and singjay Mavado at Sting 2008, when Mavado, who was on stage first, saw Kartel coming on stage in a soldier uniform, he announced to the crowd – and Kartel – that his rival was an informer.

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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