the outrage continues (on both sides)
a couple weeks ago i received the following forwarded message from a friend in jamaica. i didn't post it at first since i wasn't sure it was real or not. in the current climate of intolerance on both sides, it's quite possible for rumors, exaggerations, and fabrications to circulate. and the implication that joey budafuco is now promoting reggae shows definitely raised my eyebrows. (turns out, it's not that joey buttafuoco.) at any rate, the content was by no means incredible:
> From: Kirk Bonin
> Subject: Re: Buju Banton In South Beach Memorial Weekend!!!
> Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 08:47:16 -0700
> To: "Ms. Tracii McGregor"
> Please remove me from any list having to do with
> this artist or any Jamaican artist actually.
> Kirk Bonin iTunes Music Store
> Manager, Artist/Label Relations
> On May 25, 2005, at 5:05 AM, Ms. Tracii McGregor
> > For Immediate Release:
> > BUJUMANIA JUMPS OFF IN SOUTH BEACH MEMORIAL
> > International Reggae Star Buju Banton to Host
> > Star-Studded Welcome to Miami Bashment & Headline
> 2ND Annual VP Records Memorial Day Concert
> > (New York/Kingston/Miami - 25, May 2005) Gargamel
> > Music, Inc. is pleased to announce that
> international Reggae artist Buju Banton aka Gargamel will host
> the official "Welcome to Miami" pre-concert bash to be
> > held Saturday, May 28th at Pure Night Club in
> downtown Miami. On Sunday, May 29th, Buju will headline the
> VP Records Memorial Day Concert at Bayfront Park, his
> > first US performance in over a year.
> > "Miami has waited a very long time to see Buju
> Banton on this stage," says Joey Budafuco, President of
> > Rockers Island, the company responsible for
> producing both high profile Reggae music events. "We are
> proud to be the first promoters to bring the Voice of
> > Jamaica back to America so he can continue
> delivering his uplifting music to the people." Performing
> > alongside Buju Banton at this year's show: Beenie
> Man, Capleton, Luciano, Sizzla, I-Wayne, Assassin and
> Edwin Yearwood. [...snip...]
the email, and some additional commentary (i.e., a press release by the offended), has now generated at least one genuine article (appearing, not insignificantly, in a black british news source), which has been picked up by a few caribbean sources. that it seems not to be circulating more widely perhaps speaks to people's weariness about the issue. the story set off yet another conflagration over at versionist.com, complete with bible quotations. while at the same time, though seemingly for another reason (i.e., someone objecting to anti-gay sentiments in sanchez's terribly catchy song, "frenzy"), the bloodandfire board also erupted into a flame(r)-war of sorts, in which some posters, including a local colleague of mine, burn fire on that which reggae songs and (limited?) interpersonal relationships have convinced them is an abomination while other posters plead for tolerance and others bemoan the whole stupid conversation. i think maybe more folks on all sides need to read elena oumano's piece from a few months back. shedding balanced and expansive perspective on the issue, elena tempers the conversation with information--hopefully without forestalling forward movement.
and maybe that's what this latest flare-up is about. but i'm not sure. feels more like going around in circles, only more frequently than we used to. is anyone actually learning anything in this exchange? are opinions changing? on a massive scale?
jamaican lit-critic and dancehall-defender carolyn cooper seems to think so. in her recent book, sound clash, cooper argues that all the noise about homophobia in (and out) of jamaica in the last few years has less to do with entrenching attitudes than the palpable imminence of cultural transition. she sees the public discussion, ever since buju's "boom by by" (cooper emphasizes the original spelling of the title to argue for its less-than-literal significations), as moving in a positive direction, as least insofar as "Jamaican society has been forced to confront openly the taboo subject of homosexuality" (p.167). an interesting possibility, for sure. at the same time, she advises that "The DJ must learn to censure herself or himself, otherwise someone else will do the censuring" (p.158). this gets a little close to condoning the dominant position (when does community consensus become tyranny of the majority?) and giving up on a vanguard position (or rearguard, as it may be) vis-a-vis the status quo, but it appears to be a pragmatic position that many DJs are taking. i have made a similar argument myself, at least in terms of how DJs will have to consider their options as they "market" themselves outside of jamaica.
other aspects of cooper's argument deserve attention here as well, as i think they represent a number of common, if somewhat specious (in my opinion), views. for one, she affirms the longstanding assertion that "homosexuality in sub-Saharan Africa is not socially constructed as normative" (p.165). but where in the world is homosexuality constructed as normative? some parts of san francisco? the cambridge city council? not many places, i'd say. this line of reasoning about cultural difference tends to overlook that, despite such "mainstream" moments as the red sox getting queer eye makeovers, a great many americans and jamaicans tend to agree in their condemnation of, discomfort with, and/or confusion about sexual practices that deviate from what they feel are traditional, heterosexual norms. thus, the following paragraph, in which cooper reproduces some well-worn notions about jamaican views of homosexuality, could easily be written substituting "America" and "Americans" for "Jamaica" and "Jamaicans":
In Jamaica, homosexuality is routinely denounced because it is perceived as a marker of difference from the sexual/cultural "norm." Further, many Jamaicans vigorously object to being labeled as "homophobic." Claiming their sexuality as "normative," they reject the negative connotations of the "phobia" in homophobia. For them it is homosexuality that is the morbidity--not their culturally legitimated aversion to it. (p.162)
not sure what exactly is so distinctively jamaican here, save perhaps that few americans are as vocal about their dislikes as jamaican artists and audiences. the online discussion among the international (and wired) reggae community demonstrates that there is at least as much sympathy as opposition to "the jamaican stance" on homosexuality. sometimes it seems strange to be making so much noise about jamaican homophobia when there's plenty of intolerance to deal with right here at home. toward that end, i think we need more work in the cultural realm, and less in the purely critical realm. although i've weighed in on this issue before in prose form, i still think my most persuasive argument is soggae.
incidentally, an article in the jamaica-star that mentions the badly-named event that served as partial inspiration for "soggae" (and is one of the few records of it happening--wish i took a picture of that sign), begins by discussing the rude reception staceyann chin was given when she tried to recite some of her poetry at a kingston night club a couple years ago. i was living in jamaica at the time that this happened, and although i was not at the event i was pretty surprised that an audience of jamaicans, despite their training at numerous shows to burn fire on anything faintly gay, would so denounce a fellow jamaican, and a famous one at that. sure, jamaican audiences are notoriously hard to please, and poor performances can easily result in someone being hit with a bottle (though stale bread seems like a nice substitute). but jamaican audiences are also difficult to top when it comes to national pride, so considering chin's accolades and recognition a farin, it is surprising that knee-jerk fiyah couldn't be put aside, especially at a club that caters to an uptown crowd.
at any rate, i'm pleased that this article brings these threads together because i see in the work of staceyann chin another powerful way to confront the stereotypes and tired performance styles that have locked jamaican music into a kind of stubborn pose. this week staceyann launches her new one-woman show "off-broadway" in new york. i am told by a friend and creative-consultant on the show that it is fantastic and that the previews have been quite promising. we're headed down to the big apple this weekend to catch it for ourselves. i wonder whether jamaica will change its tune if it sees that there is plenty to love about its queer heritage.
as far as iTunes and jamaican music go, no need to worry: apparently, they still offer plenty of reggae for download, buju included. babylon's not stupid, though a little self-censure might be in order, seen?