Voices in the Wind
I’ve been trying to post this entry forever but time has not been my friend. So here it is.
Someone recently sent me the Time magazine article that tried to discuss Jamaican society’s homophobia. The author got the genres wrong – it’s dancehall not reggae that has been ardent about expressing the anti-gay sentiment – and as usual Buju Banton was held up as the poster boy (because of “Boom Bye Bye”) for some movement or other in Jamaica to bash gays at every opportunity. While the critics of dancehall on this issue still identify Buju as the main “culprit” they have also caught on to other artists such as Elephant Man. And we all know what happened at theMOBO Awards in Britain a few years back – OUTRage got on Kartel’s, Sizzla’s and Ele’s case, they were “disinvited” and “de-nominated” they lost some dates, etc…. Hypebrole aside, the article was instructive in one thing: it showed how disorganized and scared the Jamaican entertainment industry is at confronting critiques of Dancehall as it concerns anti-gay lyrics. Apparently losing a few dates here and there isn’t enough to force dancehall artists, producers and managers to unite as one response to the critiques of dancehall on this matter. Each voice is being lost in the wind. Buju apparently declined an interview for the article – wise since I suspect they would have twisted his words in very way possible because he and others seem to lack a cohesive defense – but Buju’s manager offered a comment about the lyrics not being literal and just a continuation of the “metaphorical tradition” of Jamaican music, not much else was said from a Jamaican standpoint. As I read the manager’s comment I leaned forward willing him to take that other step but he never did. He never defended an artist’s right to free speech with the caveat that we don’t condone, support or accept violence against again group of people. This is why I love Sizzla’s Don’t Apologize. Artists should not be apologizing for expressing their views.
Just as gay people and gay rights activists love to say that they must be allowed to freely express/flaunt/showcase and practice their life preference, any artist should be allowed to express his views through his music. This how hate speech (think Ku Klux Klan speech) is freely allowed in this country (the U.S.). People decry it and protest so it’s deemed socially unacceptable but it isn’t illegal. It really is a PR game, a matter of reframing the argument. Once we (i.e. Jamaicans who are interested in the future and sustainability of dancehall AND those who value the right of every citizen to be able to freely speak his mind) decide to frame this argument in terms of free speech then we immediately take some wind out of gay activists’ sails. Furthermore, Buju’s manager is correct in saying that dancehall lyrics are part of a metaphorical tradition. I don’t believe that Capleton means for his listeners to actually light people on fire but I do understand what he means by the “fire is for the purification/how the hell can you fight against fire.” Literally fire has always been a purifying element for everything from gold to silver and metaphorically it simply means that choices or people need to be purified by trial by fire, i.e. they need to be criticized and urged to change their ways. “Purification” implies change and moreover change for the better to something more pristine or even valuable. In this case, “bun a fire” means a strong encouragement to make the switch to heterosexuality.
I think the only valid aspect of the critique of the argument is about the lyrics and violence. A denunciation of violence – which we should do anyway considering Jamaica’s high murder rate and desperate need for peace – is key to leveling this argument and also important for Jamaica’s society. I firmly believe that no song, artist or other media should be advocating violence against any group regardless of that group’s beliefs. We simply do not have the right. We do have the right to freely criticize another person based on our own morals and values but we don’t have the right to kill that person or encourage someone to kill because we have a moral disagreement. That said, perhaps I or someone else should sociological skills to work and figure out exactly how many people have been killed as a direct or even associated result of song’s anti-gay lyrics. My gut feeling is that it hasn’t been many.
If someone wants to physically harm someone because of their homosexuality they don’t need a song as inspiration or encouragement. However, the fact still remains that violence in any form is wrong and mentions of violence, whether or not they are incendiary, have no place in our music or society. We have it bad enough as it is. A by-product of this response to gay activists is that we can start to influence change within our own society to one that is more tolerant, and here I’m not talking about tolerance of homosexuality. I’m talking about a fundamental respect for life and for each other. From the manipulative politician who endorses guns for votes to the dog-heart who rapes a grandmother or kills a child, we need a change. Lately it’s like Jamaica is seething with anger and frustration and that has to change.
Tackling the gay vs. dancehall argument by claiming our right to free speech and denouncing violence will help to accomplish what I’ve stated immediately above and will also display a level of professionalism, sophistication and savvyness that is absent from the Jamaican Entertainment Industry. I point this out not only because we do need to change the culture of the business into one that is less cut-throat, bad mind and more quick on its feet, but also because I have a healthy suspicion that underlying all of these critiques of dancehall is a healthy dose of racism. We need to combat that from all angles by showing that we understand your argument, you have your point but listen up, this is how it is from us. I don’t know if the activists are being overtly racist or it’s so ingrained in them that they don’t realize but whenever I read these articles or hear them speak, I get the feeling that they’re saying: these black people need to get with it and improve themselves…they’re so backward. And even if it’s a black representative from this organization, don’t get it twisted. Black people can be racist too. In fact, they can be the most virulent kind. This argument is more than jus’ lyrics being anti-gay, it’s a leftover part of the civilizing project. The same beliefs that hauled us over from Africa or India or China and taught us about a white God as the only God to save our souls (no offense to Christians as I am one myself) is at work here but it’s being done in a different way. Just like how England is not the “Mother Country” or Jamaica isn’t its colony anymore and we instead now have the IMF and World Bank and the Privy Council, it’s the same thing here. Accepting gay people and the gay “lifestyle” at the expense of your own values and morals is the new way to enlighten your mind and be civilized. Bullshit.
Sticking to your morals and values whether you get them your parents, the Bible, the Koran, the Buddha – being true to yourself – is being civilized. Acknowledging that not everyone will agree with us and sending them on their merry way with the best defense possible is civilized. Not killing someone in cold blood or for any other reason is civilized.
We need to get it together for the sake of our country’s future and our music is an important key to that turnaround. Jamaica and Jamaicans have so much to gain from our music and a change in our society. Too much blood and tears went into creating the music and other treasures that we have today; our ancestors went through too much to see it now laid to waste when we can gain so much.
I’ll go to the Bible in closing:
Judge not lest ye to be judged.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Turn the other cheek.
Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.
Think on these things.