Let’s face it: Alcoholism has been, for quite some time, a problem in Grenada. Sadly however, for some Grenadians, acknowledging this truth has not been that important. In fact, there are those who will denied this truth or even become defensive when brought to their attention. Making such observation, to them, amounts to a literal attack upon their person and upon an aspect of the Grenadian culture they feel obligated to protect. I most certainly understand such patriotism, but these concerns notwithstanding, by not recognizing the seriousness and realness of this problem, we, as a people, have failed to create any real solution to the problem, which continues to grow. And even as Dave Alexander, the drug control officer attached to the Ministry of Education, explain that the report given by the World Health Organization (WHO) that claims Grenada as having “the highest alcohol consumption per capita in the Caribbean” (Jamaica Observer) does not mean that Grenadians are consuming more alcohol than their regional counterparts,” the report “is a cause for concern.”
Soca artist Jalon “Boyzie” Olive in his 2015 song titled “Beating Rum” brought into sharp focus Grenada’s problem with alcohol. This may not have been Boyzie’s intention. For Boyzie, his concern is to produce an excellent song with a catchy hook line “ah beating it,” that captures the imagination of the people. Signing about rum is not unique to Boyzie, for many Soca artists have relied upon the country’s alcoholic cultural experience upon which to base their songs. Mandella Linkz & Squeeze Head’s 2015 “Rum for Cup” and Lavaman’s 2014 “Strong Rum and Base,” are a couple of examples. There is, of course, what appears to be an intentional double entendre in Mandella Linkz & Squeeze Head’s “Rum for Cup,” whereas Lavaman is clear in his message that it is overdosing on strong rum and having some good baseline music that makes for a good time. In both cases, the messages are understood to be the same.
Boyzie stresses in his song that as soon as he wakes up in the morning, his first act is to pray and then head straight to the rum shop where he will be “Beating Rum” all day. This phrase, in my view, is not just a lyric in a Soca song. It is much more. I believe phrases like this often becomes part of the larger culture and acts like a vehicle in which cultural ideas, symbols and practices are transferred from people to people. The concept of transferring ideas, symbols and practices within a culture is referred to as a meme. Thus, I am saying that phrases like Boyzie’s can be seen as part of this cultural dynamics. In other words, Boyzie’s “ah beating it (rum),” carries suggested behaviors that, over many years, can and have evolved into cultural norms.
Since Soca and Calypso artists tend to draw themes from the culture in which they live, there is a strong relationship between Boyzie’s words and a reality within the Grenadian culture. Indeed, Boyzie’s words is a window into the alcohol drinking cultural of Grenada, and a close examination of his words reveals a disturbing trend to which we cannot afford to turn a blind eye.
“Ah beating it (rum),” is not just a phrase. It is not just a catchy Soca line to be vocalized during carnival. One can hear it or versions of it being expressed by many Grenadians at any time during the year. The imagery that this phrase conjures is an accepted norm within our culture. It has evolved and materialized literally. Many people have taken this phrase and others like it to heart. To them, beating rum is the thing to do. And it has evolved from being an act done during the holidays and carnival time to being a regular staple in the lives of many Grenadian, exactly as Boyzie expressed in his song. Many men and women spend virtually all day, every day in the Rum Shop drinking alcohol. No regards to their health.
As noted above, Grenada has the highest alcoholic consumption per capita in the Caribbean according to the WHO, and as serious as this sound, there are many Grenadians who take this as a badge of honor. As a friend reminded me; “rum must drink.” In other words, rum is made to be consumed, and it must be.
Alcohol is not a benign substance. It has been shown to be more dangerous than many of the major drugs consumed. Heavy alcoholic consumption has shown to be connected to a number of physical and mental illness. Here are some health risks that are associated with heavy drinking.
The effect of alcoholism, however, does not stop just at affecting the user him or herself, but it has a strong correlation to domestic violence, which is a serious problem in Grenada.
Boyzie’s song and others like it are calls for over indulgence in alcohol consumption, which young and old alike gladly accept. It is disturbing to hear Grenadians make statements like “rum was made to be consumed, and rum must be consumed.” How many times we are told the story of someone supposedly going to the doctor and being warned to stop consuming alcohol because of the risk of losing his or her life, and this person somehow became convinced that the doctor wants the rum for him or herself. I once believed that these stories to myths, but understanding the significant of memes as cultural glue, means that these stories have made themselves into cultural reality. Of course, most of us will react by laughing off these stories, but they are no longer funny, people’s lives are at stake: My family, your family.
The excessive drinking culture in Grenada is not a new phenomenon. It has been growing for a while. As a young lad growing up, I had watched many men and women deteriorate mentally and physically as a result of this high level of alcoholic consumption. My experience, of course, is not an isolated one. There is a sameness in this experience for most, if not all, Grenadians because it has been a reality in all parishes and villages. Yet, for many of us, escaping this melancholic behavior seems unachievable. In fact, the age group in which this obsession with alcohol consumption begins seems to be becoming even younger. Why? Schools have been for years selling alcoholic beverages at school functions, prompting the formation of the National Schools Policy on Drugs in 2002, which has forbidden schools from engaging in such action. Sadly, however, some schools continue to violate this policy.
The problem with this excessive drinking culture is many fold. There are those who tend to place the blame on the government, and, to an extent, they are not mistaken. To the extent that this is not a misappropriation of the blame, there are always things the government can and should do to stem the problem. Creating laws, for example, like the passing of the drug policy mentioned above and ensuring that they are enforced, is movement in the right direction. The challenge, of course, is the enforcement of these laws. In a country like Grenada where the reach of the government to enforce laws, especially in the country side, is anemic at best, makes achieving this goal an extremely challenging task. In addition to enforcing the laws, an active education policy to educate the people, especially our young people, about the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, is an important and needed act that must be taken by the government, including the Non-Government Organizations (NGO) that exist in the country.
However, should the government assume all of the blame? I beg to differ. Sure, they should bear a fair share of the responsibility. Be this as it may, we the Grenadian people also have to assume some of the blame. We are responsible for embracing and promoting these memes. We have allowed a culture where phrases like the one sung by Boyzie to enter and shape our reality. The glamorizing of excessive alcohol drinking culture has become the lyrical staple of our Soca and Jab Jab music.
How many of us have often heard people tell stories like this.
“Person X says rum took him to court. Rum won the [court] case. So he is drinking rum and is either he kills rum or rum kills him.”
Of course, we are well aware of what the outcome will be. Yet, these stories are told with a sense of pride. The person relating the story is often seen with a happy smile upon his or her face, as if to be totally oblivious of the extent of the harm caused by excessive drinking. In fact, it has become a kind of spectacle where those suffering from alcoholism, are verbally and sometimes physically abuse in the rum shop by those waiting to take their place. I am not sure about you, but it is hard for me to leave a young man or woman who had a great education and a good job, travel overseas, only to return to witness the inability of this young man or woman to function. It saddens me greatly. Guys I went to school with, played cricket with, football and basketball with, today are mentally and physically challenged because of excessive alcohol consumption.
The business community of course isn’t exempt from this problem. In my view, this community is to be blamed for the brunt of the alcoholic problem. Local shop (store) owners have a history of selling alcoholic beverages to adolescents, despite being aware of the laws that prohibit such act. The business community has invested time and huge sums of money in fostering and promoting this overconsumption alcoholic culture. They have employed these Soca artists that use and promote these memes as the basis for encouraging excessive alcoholic drinking. This truth is even more visible during the carnival season. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on advertising alcoholic beverages, which are made to look glamorous and fun. Indeed, Soca artists like Boyzie, aren’t making it any easier to curb this dangerous trend in alcoholic consumption. It is not an attack upon our Soca artists to conclude that they are accomplices in promoting this melancholic culture. Of course, there are those in this community who has argued that this high consumption of alcohol has been good for the country’s bottom line. However, we must shy away from such analysis. It is a dangerous one. Instead, ask ourselves these questions. How important to us is our country’s health? How important to us are our family and friends’ health? In my view, it should never be an issue of economics vs. my country’s health.
Let’s do something.