Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Africanist Abomination: Homophobia as a Business

Anyone who believes the West Indian homophobia Peter Noel and Robert Marriott described in last week's Voice is a strictly "underclass" or "rude boy" affair should have been at the Reggae Music as a Business conference in Kingston on November 2 and 3. Sponsored by Jamaica's Eagle Bank, the conference sought to establish proper indigenous capitalization on the base of the dancehall boom, with the input of American experts in such matters as management, marketing, copyright law, and artist development crucial. One of the speakers was Dr. Carolyn Cooper, a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies who has made an academic specialty of dancehall lyrics. Her paper addressed the Stateside controversy over Buju Banton's "Boom Bye Bye" with an argument from cultural difference. What New Yorkers might see as DJs' homophobia, she contended, could just as well be understood as an Africanist affirmation of complementary opposites: earth and sky, male and female. Still, she acknowledged, Jamaicans would have to be realistic about commercial viability. She suggested that for international consumption Banton, rather than endorsing the murder of gays, merely declare "`pretty' complexions" and anal sex an "abomination."

By all reports, Cooper's speech was the most enthusiastically received of the conference. A room full of 300 lawyers, bankers, and music businesspeople greeted references to "buttocks" and a Jamaican proverb that goes "Two pot cover can't shut" by whistling and banging on tables and gave the professor a standing ovation when she concluded with her rewrite of "Boom Bye Bye." According to Payday Records' Patrick Moxey, the Americans stood around afterwards saying, "Jeez, these people are pretty out there," but saw no way to convey their reaction to their hosts. "I don't agree with her views," Moxey told us, "but I think she was right about what she was saying about Jamaica--that everyone is completely homophobic."

"There must be people who deliver speeches about hatred against blacks or any other group who are just as slick," commented Jive Records' Sophia Chang, who was also dismayed by how avidly the women at the conference seemed to support homophobic sexism. "She was so well-spoken and so articulate. What really scared me was how much she believed in it as part of her culture."

Village Voice, 1993