Rhythm of Hatred: Anti-Gay Lyrics Reflect an Islands Intolerance
August 5, 2001
1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132
Fax: 305-527-8955 or 305-376-8950
By Nicole White, firstname.lastname@example.org
In dancehall, a music of fierce lyricism and fierce battling for supremacy,
there are two things artists agree on: They will not perform oral sex; and
most unequivocally, they will not tolerate homosexuality.
Being gay or lesbian a "chi-chi" man/gyal or a "battyman"
is the ultimate sin in Jamaica, an island paradise so steeped in religion
that it holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of having the most
churches per square mile and where it is still legal to arrest two men caught
"It is better to be a gunman than a homosexual," said a radio
commentator recently in the islands leading daily newspaper, the Gleaner.
Even the islands Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson, felt compelled to deny
rumors of his homosexuality in the media: "My credentials as a lifelong
heterosexual person are impeccable," he said in a recent newspaper
So this music, born in the 1980s to reflect what was simmering in the
streets of Kingston, has become a lyrical reflection of sorts for the sexual
intolerance that continues to dominate.
One of dancehalls hottest groups, TOK, sums it up in its hit single, Chi
Chi Man: "From dem a par in a chi chi man car, blaze a fire mek we burn
dem. From dem a eat in a battyman bar, blaze a fire mek we done dem."
The song echoes the feeling of Buju Bantons controversial 1990s hit Boom
Boom Bye Bye. Tony Matterhorn, a leading Jamaican dancehall DJ, says the music
is reflection of how the majority of people on the island feel.
"Listen, the truth is we cant stop a man or woman from doing what
they want to do inside dem bedroom," Matterhorn says. "But they cant
stop us from lashing out against it and warning them not to bring that
argument to us."
But the warnings have turned into death threats. And death.
The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians All-sexuals and Gays J-FLAG is
celebrating its second anniversary on the island. It continues to win
international acclaim from the gay rights community for challenging the islands
phobia. But the truth is, the group is forced to carry out its advocacy under
a cloud of secrecy.
"We cant advertise the location of our office, we cant openly
mourn the murders of gay men and women that have been happening on the island,
because there is a very real possibility that we will be killed," says
J-FLAG member Lester Wishart, not his real name.
Although there are a number of cultural norms that promote homophobia
such as the anti-sodomy law make no mistake about it, says Wishart: There
is a direct correlation between the anti-gay rhetoric in dancehall music and
violence against anyone simply suspected of being gay.
"The music has become a form of rallying cry, a cry of solidarity to
rid the country of what is largely perceived as a disease," Wishart says.
But South Florida radio host and promoter Luther McKenzie says the artists
are merely mirroring what theyve grown up hearing.
"All of these guys are children of the ghetto and they DJ about what
they know," McKenzie says. "They give the people what they want, and
what the majority of the island wants is for homosexuality to not be a
McKenzie and others, like South Florida dancehall DJ King Waggy T., say
that despite the warrior-like posturing, the artists are not advocating that
people literally light a match and burn gays.
In the culture of the Rastafarians the traditionalist Jamaican
religious sect that has heavily influenced reggae and, by extension, dancehall
its meant to be more allegorical. For example, a performer like
Capleton, who has a CD called More Fire, uses fire as imagery.
Says McKenzie, "Hes not saying light a match and burn these people.
Fire is a purification of the mind; Capleton and others are saying clean up
those actions which they personally deem offensive and against their religious
King Waggy T. believes this preoccupation with homosexuality will die.
"People forget that dancehall music is a fad, and we are in that stage
where we hit out against a group of people," he says. "By September
that will be played out."
But Wishart says such thinking is dismissive of a music that is more than a
style; it is a music driven by performance and a need to involve its fans.
"We have a problem when young people in the island know about killing
a battyman before they even know what a battyman is," he says. "This
is not a fad. Something is not a fad when it is seen as a national discourse
to cleanse the island. It is not a fad when its almost like a public
Says Wishart, the reality is this: "Were like cholera, and being
gay is the scourge of the island."
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