Ska music started in Jamaica in the early 1960’s. After a really hot summer in 1966, the beat slowed down and then came rock steady. From this style came reggae. Over the years, the music evolved in different directions such as roots reggae, dub, ragga and lovers rock. Ragga started in the mid-1980’s from which emerged dancehall music. One way of describing the genre would be to say that it’s a cross between reggae and hip-hop, with a dance music vibe. It became extremely popular in the Caribbean and pretty much eclipsed the original form of reggae from the airwaves in the 1990’s. Some of it has an appealing dance beat, mostly composed with synthetized rhythms. Although some artists chose to sing about the same themes as did the initial form of reggae, such as repatriation, slavery, poverty, universal love and teaching Rastafarism, some others chose a romantic theme. Dancehall is also largely known for its slackness. Let's not forget that this music comes from the ghetto, which may explain some of its claims, but where reggae was able to address social concerns in a positive way, dancehall all too often does it through anger and negativity. Because of the beat, the way the message is delivered and its slackness, dancehall doesn't appeal to everyone. If you want to dance in reggae clubs, you have no choice but to be exposed to dancehall, which represents the majority, if not the entire selection, of some DJ’s play lists.
Being a roots reggae lover for more than a decade, I know that Rastafarians, followers of the Old Testament, cannot deal with homosexuality, as is true in many other religions. Over the years, the biblical concept has been prominent in their music, but dancehall singers have taken this to a completely new level. They now promote discrimination and violence towards gays and lesbians. When they sing about male homosexuality, they use street terms such as MAUMA MAN (Maama Man), FASSY HOLE (or simply FASSY), PUSSYHOLE, FAGGOT, FISHMAN, FUNNY MAN, FREAKY MAN, POOP MAN, BUGGER MAN and the most commonly used, BATTY MAN (but man) and CHI CHI MAN (chi chi, in Jamaica, is the slang for vermin). For women they use: SODOMITE, CHI CHI GAL or simply LESBIAN. I believe the majority of dancehall singers are not Rastafarians,but some seem to be strict followers of the Rasta faith. The Rastafarian movement has evolved into four, main distinct groups over the years: the Orthodox Rasta, the Nyahbinghi Order, the Twelve Tribes Of Israel and the Bobo Shanti. Some say that homosexuality is a Babylonian disease brought to the Caribbean by the white conquerors, and that it must be eradicated. They condemn it, as expressed by Judgement Day, to be thrown in fire. The Bobo Shanti seem to be the group that have the strictest views on homosexuality, and the way to deal with it. The Bobo Shanti, which include popular dancehall singers such as Sizza, Capleton and Anthony B, condemn everything that doesn’t go along with their beliefs: “Fire pon politicians, Fire pon Vatican, Fire pon chi chi man...” Singers defend themselves in interview by saying that it’s a "spiritual fire." Jamaican strong homophobia can be partly explained by the following factors: a society in which the majority of the population live in extreme poverty, and in which religion and machismo are very prevalent.
We all know that religion can sometimes abuse its authority in order to maintain control over people. Government refusal to abolish laws which condone discrimination against homosexuality does not help the situation. In Jamaica, like in most Caribbean countries, severe laws condemn homosexual acts and punisment include time in prison. Also, a macho temperament is predominant in these countries. Even if the women are the real providers of the families, the men like to pretend to be superior. In this context, feminine expression by men is strongly rejected. Chinese-Jamaican gay activist Larry Chang have his own theory about Jamaican homophobia which make a lot of sence: "in our inheritance from slavery, the primary function as a man is to breed. If someone does not fit into this category, than he immediately becomes a threat to the psychological security of self-identity of the average Jamaican male". Read more.
Alexis Petridis seems to perfectly defined the situation: "Homophobia seems utterly entrenched in the island's culture, thanks to a combination of the same kind of swaggering machismo that informs hip-hop, and, more seriously, religion. Jamaica has more churches per capita than anywhere else on earth, most of them preaching a brand of Christianity that would seem pretty familiar to your average US Biblebelt fundamentalist. As a side order, there's Rastafarianism, particularly the hard-line bobo ashanti variety adopted by current reggae stars including Sizzla and Capleton. As well as believing in racial segregation, bobo Rastas go in for a fire-and-brimstone reading of the Old Testament that makes Jamaican Christianity look liberal". (extract from The Guardian, December 10, 2004).
To me, reggae stands for fighting against oppression and that's what I'm doing with this website. I invite you to navigate through its different sections, beginning with my editorial in the LET'S TALK ABOUT IT section.
To learn more about ragga/dancehall: All Music Guide, early stage of dancehall: Get Riddim (March 1993)
To learn more about Rastafarians: NiceUp.com