A few months ago, I received a quick call from my mom. “Tun on CIN now!!” So without hesitation, I turned to CIN TV Jamaica and saw Columbia’s Chris Emdin and dancehall artist Tifa on screen. A proud, warm feeling came over me. Tifa, a dancehall artist, was wearing a white lab coat and was being announced as one of the ambassadors for the Science Genius program in Jamaica. She along with other artists, such as Bugle, Marshall, and Ding Dong are full fledge supporters of the Science Genius Dancehall program in Jamaica.
The ‘Science Genius Jamaica’ education project officially launched in February of 2017. Science Genius, already established in the United States, is a program that uses hip-hop music to teach students science and math. The program was created by Dr. Chris Emdin and the GZA of Wu Tang Clan. Science Genius Jamaica will incorporate the usage of dancehall music to make those subjects more engaging for students and teachers. The “Dancehall Clash Competition” is geared towards helping them explore and discover the wonders of science using dancehall music.
As a practitioner of culturally responsive pedagogy, it is affirming to know that Jamaica is NOW ready and willing to use dancehall and its infectious nature as a “funnel” for their science and math curricula.
Dancehall mirrors hip hop in its origins as a subculture that has become an international, revolutionary movement. In fact, anyone listening to Hot 97 or Power 105.1 can hear the explicit diffusion of both music genres on a regular basis. Artist like Tori Lanez, Drake, Sean Paul, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Kid, and most recently, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and many others have used elements of dancehall to compliment their musical expression. So why not use this cultural capital as a bridge builder to two of the hardest subjects to tackle in present day education?
Dancehall is not Reggae music. Its origins stem from a defined perspective of social commentary and the political climate of Jamaica in the last 70s. The voice of dancehall is more akin to the streets, everyday lifestyles, and candidly discusses topics like sex and politics in a very raw and open manner. Dancehall music has also been used to evoke social consciousness around topics such as politics, belief systems, economic hardships, crime, poverty, illiteracy, and many others. Artists like Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw and many others have contributed to the development and evolution of the thriving beat of dancehall.
This “open” discussion has been somewhat of a point of contention between the Jamaican government and dancehall artists. The “establishment” has frowned on the dancehall community in the same way that hip-hop artistry is “minimalized” and looked down upon. Dancehall artists have been berated by the government and media for being “decadent”, “lewd”, and “vulgar”. These artists also have a significant history of being fined, banned from performance, banned from travel, and having less access to certain levels of mobility.
The creation and implementation of the Science Genius Jamaica program is a huge victory for the dancehall community and the Jamaica government. It symbolizes an intentional establishment of a unified approach towards comprehensive, culturally based education in Jamaica.
Salute to Chris Emdin, the GZA, and the entire Science Genius team for spearheading a global movement to utilize culture and music as the framework for academic success.