Sunday, February 16, 2014


"If Sting dies, dancehall dies." (Isaiah Laing)

While Jamaican remain largely unconcerned with the progress of pro-gay tolerance, we must not believe that such a stance is the norm globally. In most first world countries, the positive self-affirmation of the gay individual is very much a huge human-rights issue…and music has not been spared. In 2010, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, through changed laws blacklisted several dancehall albums due to their homophobic and violent content. That’s well-needed money being boxed out of record labels and music promoters hands, not to mention the artists themselves.

Said Ellen K√∂hlings, editor of German reggae magazine Riddim to the Sunday Observer four years ago, “ dancehall is ironically filliping the gay lobby's agenda. "These lyrics violate German laws which gives the lobbyists legal grounds to successfully censor music and gain media exposure," Interestingly, she added that artistes could compromise by maintaining their anti-gay stance but avoid the use of violence. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears, which leads one to really assess whether local artists see it as an insult to themselves or what they perceive as a God-given right to ensure violent lyrics are used.

Sting is now in its 30th year and its CEO, Isaiah Laing has been warning for a few years now that it’s getting harder and harder to draw sponsors for the one night event. According to Laing, sponsorship covers approximately one-fifth of Sting's expenses. He said since its inception in 1984, he and his partners have negotiated with loan agencies, including banks, for support.

"There are times when it gets so bad that we have to sell personal properties in order to repay the loans, so Sting is not always a profitable business as some may believe. We had a good relationship with a particular bank for years but in 2010 when there was a no-show of Vybz Kartel we lost a lot, hence shattering our relationship with the institution," he said.

Mr. Laing says he has sacrificed a lot to keep Sting alive and his expansion into a worldwide pay-per-view service can only been seen as a positive step to ensure the event continues. Naturally, with expansion comes change with moderation.

Of course, not everyone will play along: Sizzla has been routinely side-lined from several countries and events because of his anti-gay lyrics. This year already, organisers have withdrawn him from performing at the ‘Melkweg’ festival in Holland. Melkweg said it had been made aware of Sizzla’s performance at a recent show in Jamaica (Sting) where he did a song against gay relationships. Melkweg said it does not want to provide a stage to anyone who sings such “very hurtful and hateful lyrics”. Sizzla, whose real name is Miguel Collins, has not held a US visa or work permit since 2008 when it was revoked. In 2007, his concerts in Toronto and Montreal were cancelled after protests by members of the Canadian Stop Murder Music coalition. One year later, he was sent back to the US after arriving in Madrid, Spain, for a concert. Spanish human rights organisations objected against his "hatred against homosexuals". There have been periodical bans on Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Mavado from travelling to the United States and even Elephant Man had a temporary stop order imposed on his travelling.

Now, it may very well seem odd to Sizzla—indeed the majority of us Jamaicans—that a festival would feel so strongly against homophobia that it rescinds an invitation to an artist long held as one of dancehall’s finest but therein lies the cultural divide. Whereas organizers in Jamaica give a “bly” to such things, the gay rights movement in a country like Holland is significant enough to affect patronage. The average Jamaican may or may not support the killing of gays but it factors little into whether they turn out to watch a show. Or, rather, that concern is on the lower rung of personal values culturally associated with Jamaicans. Even here in the Caribbean, where average Jamaicans have been increasingly reporting discrimination at Bajan and Trini airports, the link between our music being violent is clearly being made. This may not be essentially because of homophobia but it is very hard to escape the close implication. Europe, well not the parts close to Russia, is moving in a direction where hate lyrics are not acceptable and the parts of our music that insist of recycling hate will be left behind.

But, as noted music industry Clyde McKenzie has said, ““If an artiste deems his message to be integral to his identity then he has the right and the option to eschew financial considerations and adhere to his beliefs. An artiste will have to decide which is of more importance -- his being able to secure a visa or his having the ability to say what he believes. Assuming that this might be the main reason for the ban in some territories. In this present scenario it might well be unlikely that he can eat his cake and have it. Strategy is about choice. It might very well be that a body of work which is now deemed offensive will find future redemption. There sometimes has to be a trade-off between longevity and immediate gratification. It will be incumbent on each artiste and his management to make the determination of which path they will take.”

So, if, for example, Sizzla has no problem with being barred overseas because of anti-gay lyrics then why should those who defend his right to sing such hate music? Jamaicans see these visa blocks as oppressive yet do not want to state unequivocally that the killing of a male just because he is gay is also oppressive. That’s exactly the point we’re at in our 51st year of independence. Our artists have not come up with any public statement that strikes a compromise so both ends are holding firm to their positions with fans being the ones suffering most. It doesn’t help that Most of us see and appreciate dancehall as interchangeably aggressive in its hetero-normative affirmation of manhood. Homosexuals are just one minority that are routinely denigrated in the genre—women, police, informers—are targeted too, the latter also subject to chants of death. Women are to be “murdered” sexually only and police to be avoided because they are of the “Babylon” system. I suspect a lot of dancehall acts wonder why it’s the gays of all these groups that must be resorting to action given that what they do is “wrong” but then all these groups are retaliating…women’s movements have been decrying the inequality in dancehall for years and just look at that anti-gang piece of legislation our politicians are set to pass soon. What may be stinging the genre is how organized local entities have been in identifying their brands as ones of inclusiveness, not discrimination. They have to though because they too rely on all types of persons to buy their various products. Which global brand is really going to go out there now and deliberately let is seem as if they don’t want to include gay buyers. A gay dollar is a dollar to any business after all. J-FLAG may not have as much pull as other LGBT organizations but it’s found allies willing to assist and highlight hate music and use it to their own means.

Even gays themselves, I suspect, do not determine their participation at local music festivals on whether a homophobic act is performing. Indeed, it may spur them on to show up in greater numbers just not to be “outdone” and sing along (sometimes even louder than anyone else) as an act of defiance. in 2009, J-FLAG estimated that up to 270,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people lived in Jamaica. That represents "between three to 10 per cent of the population". That number may have increased given the wide exposure of information and openness young people have access to, in terms of identifying and self-asserting their sexuality. The gay community isn’t as intrinsic on issues as overseas groups, instead its splintered into little pockets of ideology and has its own major issues to confront like gay-on-gay crime and the monster that is LBGT homelessness. It is many years away from being able to effect policy changes in Jamaica much less dancehall.

Of course, the way Laing told the press that both D’angel and Sizzla were banned from subsequent Sting events makes one wonder if this was a knee-jerk reaction or some actual policy being entrenched in the show. Laing said Sizzla was repeatedly warned but was this put in a contract or was it just an oral arrangement. Was there a meeting or communication sent to artists beforehand to state what was acceptable and what would not be? D’angel being barred as a patron was even weirder.

Said Laing:"What kind of image is D'Angel portraying as a mother? She's saying she came to clash but that's not how the clash went. It was not about Ninja Man, she embarrassed herself. At least a five-year ban for D'Angel." I can understand a public cussing about her trying to get on the stage when not billed but the mother bit does smack a little of sexism. I mean, how many of the men that clash at STING are behaving like fathers (when most of them are)? This, mark you, from the show that had the atrocious Lady Saw/Macka Diamond clash which had even liberal-minded adults cringing. Even Lady Saw stated that she regretted her behaviour subsequently. Also, the part about “at least a five year ban” makes me wonder if these bans are subject to change to Laing’s mood or her apology (if she ever apologises).

Laing did go on to state, "We have written to the artistes about their behaviour at the event, and we are committed to further steps when and where necessary,". This gives Sting the opportunity to implement what could turn out to be landmark decisions that reach deep within the dancehall community. Music lovers, local and overseas, now wait until this year’s edition to see just how effective these policies are.

This articles owes a lot to clippings/articles from The Jamaica Observer.