Explicit lyrics and minibuses Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 9, 2007

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It is hard to find ten popular songs today without at least two of them containing some lyrics that could be considered obscene, graphic or otherwise objectionable. It is equally hard to five out of ten children who don’t know the lyrics to these songs by heart.

There is hardly anyone who does not know some part of Tony Matterhorn’s “Dutty Wine” or Akon’s “I wanna”. While both songs have versions in which the explicit lyrics are edited out, a great many people have been exposed to the ‘raw’ versions.

In today’s world of cheap multimedia reproduction technology and Guyana’s poor copyright environment, this familiarity with the lewd and explicit may be easily explainable.

However, while the low cost of CDs and the easily disseminated format of most music make the widespread proliferation of songs like these possible, the public transportation sector – more specifically, minibuses – is arguably the key source of musical entertainment for young people in Guyana; and hence the main agent for the provision of explicit lyrics to the ears of not only youth but the general public.

While vulgarity has arguably always come hand in hand with the minibus sub-culture in Guyana, the fact that we have failed to form an adequate response to this particular aspect of it. Policy has been crafted, for example, to deal with the question of tinted windows, partly to curb the “mobile motel” phenomenon that was taking over the public transportation sector. Traffic regulations prohibiting the possession of boom-boom boxes

As this paper dealt with in an article last year, the playing of songs with explicit lyrics on minibuses has evolved to the screening of x-rated music videos on portable DVD players in minibuses. This has largely not changed since then.

It is time some clearer steps be taken in cracking down on the type of music made available for public consumption without the public’s consent. Consider for example that recently in the United States, the parents of a thirteen-year-old sued Wal-mart for selling a CD which contained explicit lyrics, but which did not have a “Parental Advisory” sticker on the cover. While Guyana may hopefully never become as litigious a society as America, this story underscores the degree to which other societies hold both public and private institutions accountable for what

There are two things which need to inform public policy on the sale, public playing or broadcast of music with explicit or otherwise controversial lyrics. The first is that some reasonable standard needs to be set on what is considered as explicit or controversial, and the environments which qualify it as such. While public dissemination of songs with explicit lyrics should be regulated, people should be free to listen to what they want in the privacy of their homes, or I-pod enabled individual environments – or conceivably in a social environment which excludes minors and where there is a reasonable consensus on what is appropriate or allowable.

Secondly, the application of this standard needs to be set consistently across the board. While NCN Radio either does not, for example, carry songs of an explicit nature or opts for the ‘clean’ version of these songs at any period of broadcast, NCN Television does broadcast movies with violence or explicit language or nudity/sexual content, although those containing the latter are often shown late at night. Television channels often air music videos of the same songs played in minibuses. Any legislation should apply in all fairness not just to minibuses, but to any entity which otherwise broadcasts music with explicit lyrics to the general public.

For a variety of reasons – ranging from the heterogeneous nature of our society, to our institutional incapacity to establish a censorship board, to the political schism which has been known to affect virtually every facet of public life – the likelihood is small that we can anytime soon create a system to effectively protect the general populace (or that part of it which either wants or needs protection) from morally harmful material.

However, certain basic measures can be taken in the interim to ensure that children at least are protected from lewd or otherwise explicit lyrics. Cracking down on the music played in minibuses would be the first and most concrete of these.