Dancehall Music: Shooting itself in the FOOT!
Yes I said it and I won’t be taking it back. Like other Jamaicans I have listened to the jeering and mockery made of Keith “Shebada” Ramsay as speculation of his sexuality looms. I have pointed my gun finger to songs by artistes like Elephant Man, Assassin, and Vybz Kartel using ‘Shebada’ as the symbol of a ‘battyman’. I am 27 years old but I have worked in entertainment for more than five years and without fear I state that dancehall music is advancing the gay movement.
Dancehall Artistes have taken a clear and affirmed stance on homosexuality. So vocal has the industry been of its dislike of homophobia that I posit that it is the music that is the primary contributor to Jamaica being labelled the most homophobic place in the world. We witnessed Shabba Ranks catapult from the top to the bottom with a single opinion. Buju Banton’s career though reflective of maturity seems to be forever overshadowed by the lyrics of Boom Bye Bye. Elephant Man, Beenie Man, Capleton, Sizzla and so many more have all been dropped from concerts for their violent and homophobic songs. Dancehall would argue that with groups like OUTrage and the Stop Murder Music Campaign it wouldn’t be such a big deal but I beg to differ. This is suggestive of a larger societal problem- the trivialising of violence but that is for another article.
In spite of it all the one question we can’t seem to answer is from whence did this lyrical obsession come? I theorise that homophobic lyrics are simply a natural progression from the violent lyrics that have been a dancehall music staple. There is a violent dancehall song for every societal wrong- aggression seems to live in the heart of the music. Take for example, the way these repeatedly self-proclaimed heterosexual men speak about women- violently. Sadly, dancehall music and the artistes that produce it are a reflection of the wider society. However, if the sale of cake soap has proven anything, it’s that dancehall music possesses great influence.
“The militant anti-homosexual attitude of Jamaicans, men and women alike, is startling. Few subjects arouse such strong emotions here and polls have shown a strong majority in favour of jailing homosexuals,” leading to a situation where, “no stage show goes by without at least one ringing condemnation which inevitably draws a huge chorus of approval from the crowd.” (Chang & Chen, 204) Barrow & Dalton attempt to explain, although not justify, this bigotry. “Some psychologists, accurately or not, attribute this to a lack of real male self-confidence in a society where 85 per cent of children are born out of wedlock, and the vast majority of boys lack full-time male roll model while growing up.”
- ‘Reggae routes: The story of Jamaican music’, written by Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen. Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1998.
Do I agree with the above statement? Yes. Does it apply in 2011? Yes. But I add this, in seeking to affirm his heterosexuality the dancehall artistes has embraced ‘homosexual stereotypes’ with the hope of undermining the movement. This action will inevitably aid homosexuals in ultimately attaining their just reward- basic human rights.
Let us begin with the supreme symbol of homosexuals receiving rights in Jamaica- Adidjah ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer. I would go one step further and say the Gaza is making it easier to be gay in Jamaica. Dancehall’s current ‘hero’ has released a statement addressing his hair extensions much in the same way he released on addressing his skin lightening. Kartel as always is baffled by the uproar after all he had extensions at Sting as he flew fist first into the face of Ninja Man and claim that TOK and I-Octane have also worn extensions. I join Kartel’s name calling and present my own example- Harry Toddler. We all know that blonde mane is not his. And let’s not forget Beenie Man’s curls from the early days. Yet, dancehall artistes continue to wear these “homosexual” styles with their only defence being “bad man nuh dress like girl”. Yes they do. Dancehall music has become increasingly homophobic while the dancehall space and its artistes have become increasingly feminine. To what else do we owe songs such as “Too Much Bull” by Macka Diamond and other female artistes or “Couple Up” by Elephant Man. “Too Many Men” by Busy Signal focuses on the massive male entourage but it’s a testament to the feminising of the space. Think back? How often did you see a car full of men before the turn of the century? Or ten men walking into a party that made no attempt to get a girl? Exit Ouch Crew and enter Ravers Clavers. This musical space founded on violence, rebellion and misogyny is shooting itself in the foot. Dancehall music is a slap in the face of men and women who struggle to live their lives as humans.
Elephant Man with his penchant for hair dye, extensions, costuming and pageantry is dancehall music’s Elton John. Both artistes flamboyance are legendary. It seems to me that that dancehall’s over-emphasis is fuelling the fight, energising the charge, giving the movement greater purpose and support. And the industry is scared. I-Octane has released 3 songs in less than six months lauding homophobia. The ‘rules and laws riddim’ released in April is dedicated to the advancement of homophobia, Assassin’s song the ‘Type R riddim’ is also rooted in homophobia. Dancehall is dancing around itself as homophobia struggles and acceptance saves itself from drowning. Female artistes are spitting lyrics like some of the greatest rappers of all time while their male counterparts are ‘tracing’ like vendors in coronation market. Jamaican women are wielding their gay best friends like treats and treasures through Kingston’s streets. The more you attempt to prove that pink is a manly colour is the more blurred the line that separates heterosexuality and homosexuality becomes. Popcaan’s song ‘Tight Jeans’ on the Type R riddim is in defence of his tight jeans. For an industry that’s trying to detract gay attention they are calling a lot of attention to their masculine parts.
Dancehall music is a witch’s brew of hypocrisy. It says one thing and does another, creates stereotypes and then represents them. Thus can you honestly be shocked by the new found confidence of the homosexual on Jamaica’s streets? Can you be shocked at last year’s march in Montego Bay? More importantly can you truly find a justifiable reason for your homosexual hatred with all that has happened? Is it truly necessary? As dancehall artistes lose concert dates, salary, radio airplay, CD sales and continue to be labelled some of the most violent people in the world- is the price truly worth it?
They say when you tell a child not to do something that’s the moment they choose to do it. So is it safe to say, the more you tell a man not to be himself the more likely he is to embrace who he truly is? The graduation from ‘Boom Bye Bye’ to ‘marrow on smouldering asphalt’ only seems to be deflating the movement. Anti-homosexual songs aren’t number one anymore just another moment on the riddim. Where do we go from here dancehall? What’s the plan? Dancehall will never permeate the world as it predecessor reggae has for one reason. Reggae was founded on love while dancehall is angry and in pain. Interesting… Homosexuals are angry and in pain. Dancehall music in 2011 finds itself still struggling to be accepted as just another form of music. Homosexuals in 2011 find themselves still struggling to be accepted as just another form of human. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we’re at a stalemate.