no_free_speech.jpgFreedom of speech for everyone except a Jamaican
By: Maria Jackson

I am a bit reluctant to write this article because I am aware that composing it will bring a lot of things to light that some would like to see kept in the dark. However, I have been quietly watching Jamaican artistes being denied their right to freedom of speech as well as being robbed publicly for a while and no one seems to be doing anything about it. I am not proposing that I alone can stop what has been going on, but I hope that this article will wake up some of the radical heavy weights in the industry. It all started some time ago when someone, somewhere, decided that the content of reggae/dancehall was too homophobic. As a consequence, it was suggested that a restriction should be placed on the whole genre. These restrictions were imposed with no understanding of the culture, language or style of reggae music. These constraints have prevented reggae artistes from performing at certain venues in North America and Europe.

Last year Time Magazine published an article entitled "Curbing Homophobia in Reggae". In my opinion, the article insinuated that since the passing of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh reggae has taken a turn for the worse and is now only advocating violence against gays and lesbians. The article also went into great detail outlining all the artistes (and there were some big ones) who once denounced homosexuality in their songs but have now signed a document called "The Reggae Compassionate Act", and therefore agreed not to publicly perform their "homophobic" songs.

Before I go any further into this article I think it is important that I say I do not think violence, on any level, is right. That being said, I also believe that dictating what one is allowed to say or not say is not right. How can you threaten the livelihood of an artist because you do not agree with their opinion? Whether you agree or not, that is basically what you are doing when you petition for an artiste not to perform at a venue.

Reggae artistes, like all other performers in the music business make the majority of their money from touring. It is difficult to give an approximate or accurate figure of the monies that have been lost by the reggae industry due to shows being canceled. Different venues give different reasons as to why they choose to cancel their shows but at the end of the day it all boils down to being pressured internally by gay activists.

All one has to do is type "reggae vs. gay" in Google or any search engine on the internet and you will automatically get hundreds of sites all with articles depicting reggae music as the problem. What troubles me though is most if not all these authors are not familiar with Jamaican culture, vernacular or way of life. I will even go as far as to say I doubt most if any of these authors are of Jamaican background. If you are wondering what their nationality has to do with them speaking out against violence in music the answer is everything! I am a Jamaican. Whenever I am hanging out with my friends from other nationalities I always find myself explaining my vocabulary. Likewise, I am always asking them to explain what they mean when they say certain things.

Like all other nationalities and cultures, religion is extremely important in Jamaica. The two main religious beliefs in Jamaica are Christianity and Rastafarianism. Both religions are grounded in the belief that God is against homosexuality. I don't think it is necessary to get into the importance of religion in one's life. But believe me when I say that who we are and what we do has everything to do with whether we believe in God or not and if we do, which religious organization we follow will determine how we live our lives. One's religious beliefs are very personal and should be respected. I think it is so wrong for someone outside of your religion to question your actions that are influenced by those very same religious beliefs.

Religions aside, let us look at the language in Jamaica. I was once told that Jamaicans are feared because when we speak we seem so angry. That made me laugh but I have since examined myself and my fellow Jamaicans and I can understand why someone would say that. Jamaicans are naturally very assertive in their speech and action, and sometimes assertion can come across as aggression. Our dialect is so farfetched that if you are an outsider you will be totally lost. I think it is important to mention this because while conducting my research and preparing for this article, I came across a story that pointed out words in some of the artistes' songs that they think are inciting violence. At the risk of sounding silly, I am going to say that doing something like that is like me trying to interpret Spanish when I obviously do not speak that language.

I am shocked that reggae community has not gotten together to fight these ridiculous petitions and show cancellations. As a Jamaican and a member of the reggae community I consider this article to be my part.