This isn’t what reggae used to be about.
But if you listen to dancehall reggae today, you know this has become a seriously homophobic and violent genre. In a typical song, the homosexual ‘batty boy’ is frequently the target of derision or outright violence – an unfortunate aspect to an otherwise vibrant and energized form of music.
It’s easy to find the hate. This lyric from ‘Boom Boom Bye’ by Buju Banton offers a more well-known example:
“Boom bye bye, in a batty bwoy head,
Rude boy nah promote no nasty man, dem hafi dead.”
That is all part of a Jamaican culture that is quite inhospitable to gays and lesbians. Which is why the entrance of a pro-gay reggae release is sadly surprising, and remarkably brave. The release, Tolerance, comes from Mista Majah P, who is not gay himself but hopes to work against prevailing homophobic threads in the genre and broader culture.
In fact, he may have just released the first overtly pro-gay reggae release in history. “Reggae music used to be about love, peace and unity,” Majah P said. “Now it is too often about bigotry and violence. I want to bring the music back to its progressive roots.”
Not everyone shares that sentiment, to put it lightly. Majah lives in California, but has received numerous death threats and stern warnings not to return to Jamaica. And, part of that pressure is being generated – indirectly – by leading dancehall reggae stars like Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla, Beenie Man, and even crossover stars like Sean Paul. “Because of the hateful songs that some performers have been singing, gay people have been threatened and harmed. Some foolish people act upon what these artists are preaching because they worship these artists like gods.”