Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jamaican performers and homophobia in dancehall reggae

An interesting article in Sunday's Jamaica Gleaner gives some perspective on the impact of international protests against homophobic dancehall reggae singers such as Beenie Man, Buju Banton, T.O.K., Bounty Killer and Elephant Man.

Apparently performers of other types of reggae seem to be making a conscious decision to distance themselves from dancehall out of fear of being boycotted, if not necessarily as a stand against homophobia.

In "Gay gap in J'can music," renown roots reggae performer Freddie McGregor argues that reggae genres should not be confused and that if homophobia is endemic in dancehall reggae, the same cannot be said of other reggae genres:
If you notice we are not involved in the broil weh a gwaan wid di gay people, so why dem a put di two music together if the genres are different? Relating that to reggae on a whole, goin' put a bad outlook on the music. I think it should a relate to the particular artiste involved, because not all dancehall artistes are involved. Is like a deliberate effort to smear the reputation of reggae. The dancehall genre has become a standard part of the thing, but what I notice is that every time a situation goes wrong that artiste is referred to as a dancehall and reggae artiste... This affects the whole thing greatly, because dem draw reggae into it and persons don't separate the two genres. So the emphasis should be placed on the individual or individuals, because it can hurt the entire music.
He goes on to say that even those dancehall performers who have been accused of being homophobic have shown in the past that they are creative enough to be successful without adressing the gay issue in their lyrics and should just avoid singing about gays but, interestingly, he also says "I am not a supporter of being gay, the world over knows that, but I do music about love and peace."

The same can be said of singer Ken Boothe who says "I'm not for it" (meaning homosexuality) but also says "If somebody love my music an dem gay, what must I do, deny them my music? No, I don't business wid dat, mi wouldn't mek dat bother me, me nah mek dem ting deh stop my music."

McGregor and Boothe, along with a third roots reggae performer, Bob Andy, say that dancehall reggae performers have indeed received the brunt of the international criticism but all share concerns that people outside Jamaica do not differenciate reggae from "dancehall" reggae and that ultimately the protests and boycotts might greatly affect all reggae performers.

It is obvious that the protests are having a deep impact in reggae culture in Jamaica and that performers within the island are, as a result, also putting pressure on homophobic dancehall singers to mute their views on gays, but it seems that change is happening mostly because of the threat of economic sanctions rather than a change in attitudes towards gays.

Interestingly, these interviews also expose the ongoing perception that homosexuality is a foreign entity and at no time do these singers address the gay community in Jamaica or the violence they endure at home.

It's good that international protests seem to have been effective in curtailing homophobic expression in dancehall reggae but that is akin to putting a band-aid on a wound. Until there are more performers such as Tanya Stephens who are willling to confront homophobia for what it is in order to root it out from Jamaican culture, these are just baby steps.


Anonymous said...

It's sad, but dancehall -- in terms of homophobia -- often mirrors its western cousin-genre, hip hop. Thank you for this post, Andrés, and all the work you do on behalf of the gay community.

Anonymous said...

Boom Bye Bye

No batty bwoy. Burn dem up