Listen to the Lyrics

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain- Trenchtown Rock, Bob Marley, 1971

(Now if only that were true…)

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Jamaica is known for its vast land of beauty, beaches and music. People love to dance regardless where they are- at the grocery stores, in the car, or walking down the street – specifically the genre of “dancehall”.  It is a cross between reggae and hip hop, with a dance music vibe. You learn dancehall at “street parties” that rotate around the communities. Signs go up on the poles all around the community announcing the location and time of the Jamaican street party. Massive sound systems are brought in with guest DJs, food is prepared (often soup and a barbeque). Then- everyone dances until the wee hours of the morning (until 5-7 am literally). Popular artists include Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man, Sizzla, etc. Although there is a craze, some of Jamaican dancehall has been bubbed “Murder Music” because it promotes violence towards the LGBT community. It differs from reggae because the social message it delivers is through anger and negativity.

Dancehall singers have taken a new level when singing about male homosexuality, as they use the street terms such as “MAUMA MAN, FASSY HOLE, PUSSYHOLE, BUGGER MAN, and the most commonly used, BATTY MAN and CHI CHI MAN (slang for vermin). For PRANCEhall_definition_DXwomen, they use SODOMITE, CH CHI GAL, LESBIAN. Singers defend themselves by saying it is a “spiritual fire” but Jamaican’s homophobia is partially explained as it is a society in which majority of the population live in extreme poverty, and in which religion and machismo are very prevalent.

Some of the homophobic popular songs that you may have listened to include:

  • Bun A Chi Chi Man (2001) – Hot Shot Crew
  • Bun A Fag (2000) – Demo Delgado
  • Bun a Sodomite (2004)-Spragga Benz
  • Batty Man Fi Dead (2004)- Beenie Man
  • Batty Bwoy Fi Dead (2005) – Vybz Kartel fest. Beenie Man

Human beings have always been afraid of the things they don’t understand- we are born different, with different attractions and different tastes. Unfortunately, common practices and beliefs in communities around the world refuse to accept homosexuality. In order to encourage a greater acceptance, we need to talk about the issue versus singing about promoting violence against these populations.

Jamaica has been dubbed as the most homophobic country in the world in 2012 by the Human Rights Watch. More and more in my position at the CVC am I learning about these stories. CVC works to address these issues in vulnerable populations for not only in Jamaica but the Caribbean Region. I asked my colleagues- what country do you think needs the most work? What country has the most to overcome? Jamaica was the answer. The ideology behind homosexuality is not something that the locals fathom. The Government refusal to abolish laws which condone discrimination against homosexuality does not help the situation. Although there are strong organizations and campaigns such as the J-FLAG/CVC “We are Jamaicans” in 2013/2014 with testimonials to counter homophobia with community building, story-telling and safe visibility (http://www.soulrebels.org/dancehall/v_article_066.pdf) , it has not done enough on a whole to change the mindset of individuals and prepare them for a discussion.

Homophobia is entrenched in the island’s culture due to its past colonialism history from the old British law from the 19th century- “Whoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed with either mankind or an animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding 10 years”. If I traffic drugs, I get three years. If I have anal sex, I get ten years of hard labor. All it takes is a phone call from a neighbour. These lyrics that incite attacks on the LGBT community raise the tangled relationship between homophobia and the legacy of colonialism.

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I don’t condemn dancehall music as there are some great songs and great singers that I personally listen to. I love the art, I love the rhythm it brings -but LISTEN TO THE LYRICS before you claim it to be your favourite song. Be aware of what they mean. Dancehall is listened to children and teenagers who are influenced by the lyrics. The DJs in the Caribbean and elsewhere must understand their responsibility of sharing their art. The promotion of violence should not be accepted in any song, any method. Several concerts across North America and Europe were cancelled due to LGBT organizations lobbying for change which has pushed notable artists such as Beenie Man, Sizzla, Capleton, and Buju Banton to sign the “Reggae Compassionate Act” which states they will no longer perform or write songs that discriminate gays and lesbians. This push for Jamaican artists to uplift the situation is a step that needs to be taken in the music sector. Big Youth, a reggae artist states

Music is very powerful and I use it to get my message across by singing about togetherness love, not boy-girl love. In the record business, Rasta couldn’t get a foot in, with a sound system, Rasta could run their own. A lot of these deejays nowadays, they need to research and see where the music is coming from. What some of them are singing, they are not teaching the people to come together to live and love, some people disrespecting women, and promoting guns, hating gays and that’s not reggae music. They need to clean up their acts, realize music has no barriers, it has no language divide. It should bring people together, have all different sounds, suit all different mood, be for all people.

Murder inna Dancehall. Retrieved from http://www.soulrebels.org.

Tara Tai-Wen Chen

Tara Tai-Wen Chen

Tara is a recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. She was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario with a great ambition to work in an international health setting. Tara is excited to share her experience abroad in Kingston, Jamaica and hopes to inspire others to partake in these programs.
Tara Tai-Wen Chen

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Tara Tai-Wen Chen

About Tara Tai-Wen Chen

Tara is a recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. She was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario with a great ambition to work in an international health setting. Tara is excited to share her experience abroad in Kingston, Jamaica and hopes to inspire others to partake in these programs.
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