Saturday, July 22, 2006

Riddim magazine: Homophobia in dancehall music

The 4th issue of the English-language version of Germany's Riddim magazine is out in the stands and selling for $5.99 in local magazine shops. Each issue takes a look at an array of reggae artists, some from Jamaica and the Caribbean, others from the Caribbean communities in Europe and the United States. Each issue also has a free CD packed with music that often showcases some great stuff from known and not-so-known acts.

A few days removed from the LIFEbeat debacle, it's interesting to note how a magazine devoted to reggae culture does not shy away from the issue of homophobia in reggae dancehall music.

Yup, that's Elephant Man on the cover. Some of us staged a protest against him and others for their homophobic lyrics when they performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in September of 2004 at a concert promoted by local radio station Hot97 in New York.

In a featured interview, Elephant Man talks about his love for strip-bars, his many girlfriends and his 'anaconda' ("which I'm informed by a reliable source is eye-watering large" writes the British reporter), his glorification of guns and gangster culture and, oh yeah, his love for God.

He also addresses recent ellegations that he has AIDS by giving a direct if somewhat myopic response, considering his repeated boasts about the number of sexual partners he has: "That is the most terrible rumor there could ever be about you. When people spread those kind of t'ings, they trying to hurt you very bad but I got over it. Whoever started it know it's not true. They see me every day at stage show, dancing, performing, drinking liquor with my friends and doing all dem good t'ings. How could I have AIDS?"

Hm, at least he wasn't on the original LIFEbeat line-up.

Of the 2004 protests against "murder music" he is less forthcoming and, while there are no appologies, he does seem to indicate some sort of truce brought upon by the demands of being on a major music label: "I know why all that happen, but now we put it aside. We don't talk about them. We just do music, we happy, they happy. Nobody wanna go back to being a problem to nobody. Everyone's just taking it easy and being cool. If you'e on a major label, you can't think of saying those kind of things."

Turn over to page 44 though and you'll see another side of the issue. Tanya Stephens, a Jamaican reggae singer and songwriter who has been in the industry for more than two decades, is also profiled in advance of the August 29th release of her new CD Rebelution, which the magazine crowns as the release of the month. In the review Riddim says "It seems unlikely that any other [reggae] album will be able to top Tanya's this year" ("These Streets," a track from Rebelution included on the free covermount CD is simply beautiful, hear it and more on Tanya Stephen's myspace page).

In an amazing interview in which she talks candidly about the state of dancehall reggae, her refusal to play into industry pressures to be more "sexy," her repudiation of the "lynch-mob mentality" that permeates some dancehall culture, and her new found responsibility to serve as a mentor to a number of upcoming female performers, she also talks about breaking sexual taboos through her songs and the issue of homophobia in dancehall lyrics.

Take "Freaky Type:" In the song, Stephens questions some men's hatred of "bow-cats" (other men who perform oral sex on women) and confesses that she rather enjoys "being bowed" but also says that what two people do between the sheets is nobody's business. She tells Riddim "People in Jamaica need to understand the concept of free will. As long as you're not affecting or hurting anybody in a negative way, what right have people to intervene in a way like that?"

In the new album, the magazine contends that the track that will probably draw the most controversy will be "Do You Still Care?" In it she starts by asking listeners to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is different than them, someone who needs help. She then flips the situation and asks people to think if, in a time of need, they would accept help from someone who was different from them. She ends by explicitly drawing comparissions between racism and discrimination based on sexual identity.

"By tying the race issue to the homophobic issue I'm making the point whether someone is different by birth or choice they should be accepted for what they are. We need to learn to leave with each other and share the space that's not intrinsically yours, but ours. All discrimination is as stupod as the next; one shouldn't be more acceptable than the other. I felt it my duty to make that point."

Memo to LIFEbeat: How about a Caribbean benefit concert featuring Tanya Stephens?

By the way, talking about the LIFEbeat incident, Terence Heath has some interesting comments on possible next steps and on how the issue reverberated through the blogosphere (just thought I'd share).

And, talking about homophobia in the Caribbean, after initially runing an excerpt, Out magazine has decided to give complete online access to a feature story in this month's issue on the recent attack in St. Marteen that left two gay US tourists with massive head wounds. Although the attack still seems the result of a homophobic reaction, the article dares to question whether there was some provocation and indicates that one of the gay Americans who knew the victims and was there at the moment of the attack called one of the assailants a "crazy nigger" while the attack was taking place. The article still condems the vicious attack but, not surprisingly, most readers who have left comments at Out online are up in arms about some unflattering details about the American tourists' aggressive behavior.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They have a problem with men giving oral sex to woman, too? Beautiful Jamaica has some really fucked-up issues around sex. Until Jamaica deals with its "sex facism" I won't be going there anytime soon.