Murder Music

I’m real late to Instapaper, but I’m wholly in love with it. Yesterday I read a piece I never would have gotten around to without it. “Murder Music,” in Guernica magazine, is an excellent piece of journalism about the contradictions and dangerous homophobia within Jamaica’s dancehall music scene:

Homegrown music in Jamaica fulfills a cultural role far larger than popular music in the US or indeed in most other countries. As an export it is a major factor in Jamaica’s economy—and helps fuel Jamaica’s massive tourism industry, the country’s largest economic sector, with about 1.6 billion dollars in annual revenue and the source of employment for more than 10 percent of the Jamaican population.

Music is a vital component of Jamaican national identity—in much of the world, after all, it is what puts Jamaica on the map—and it acts as social glue in a nation of extreme disparity, where the middle classes are bundled inside gated housing developments while the majority of the population sprawls across crowded urban garrisons. Jamaican music is a sort of lingua franca for a country with two halves literally speaking different languages (English in the hilly subdivisions; Jamaican patois in the ghetto). Only the hated gas tax seems to rival music as a common conversation topic from Kingston’s manicured uptown to the city’s ravaged downtown.

I’d argue pride in Usain Bolt is another thing all Jamaicans share (based on interactions with both my upper-class aunties and working-class cousins), but this story does a really good job of contextualizing dancehall before explaining how damaging and homophobic it, and the country, can be:

A top dancehall performer named Bounty Killer sings lyrics, among many other examples, that include, “Burn gay men until they wince in agony/gay men should drown.” A dancehall singer named Elephant Man, one of Jamaica’s top dancehall musicians, a charismatic performer with multicolored hair braids who headlined a Fourth of July concert in Rochester, NY, has a hit song with the words “When you hear a lesbian getting raped/it’s not our fault/it’s wrong/two women in bed/that’s two sodomites who should be dead.”

In a country where gay people are routine targets for violence, where the homes of suspected gay people are burned down at night and lesbians frequently confront the threat of rape, where police habitually refuse to intervene in crimes against gay victims and where men do not sit next to each other on a public bus in fear they will accidentally brush up against another man and consequently expose themselves to violent attack, dancehall implacably channels the country’s anti-gay animus.

The piece is long, but you should Instapaper it and read it when you get a chance; it’s well worth it.

(And, relatedly, I just blogged about sexism in hip-hop at Pinna Storm, in reference to Kanye West’s “Monster” video.)


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One response to “Murder Music

  1. Pingback: Give Me Something to Read | Shani O. Hilton

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