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Murder music and intolerace

Published:Wednesday | July 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

Social problems like homophobia and transphobia are so much more complex than many of us are willing to accept. Some of us conveniently ignore what people, especially those from vulnerable and marginalised groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people undergo.

It's no secret that these problems are difficult to address and require time, a multifaceted strategy and, of course, lots of resources to engender a more inclusive and just society. People who are LGBT aren't always treated with hostility because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Sometimes, they are discriminated against because they are poor and black before their sexual orientation comes into play and makes matters worse. And some people are clueless about how what they do or say can be harmful or problematic.

We must, therefore, endeavour to develop strategies to address homophobia and transphobia that are mindful of the many ways in which people are 'othered' and harmed in our society.

The contentious issue of what some call 'murder music' which refers to songs promoting the abuse of and violence against people reminds me of this complexity. In practice, anti-murder music campaigns tend to target (only?) Jamaican reggae and dancehall artistes who, metaphorically or otherwise, call for LGBT people to be alienated, beaten or killed.

These songs and sentiments are reprehensible. There is no question about it. Yes, you have your right to free speech but that comes with lots of responsibility. So you might not intend for people to harm someone but the truth is your music reinforces certain beliefs and behaviours.

Giovanni McKenzie, a 21-year-old Jamaican living in the United States, made a post on Facebook on July 16 after Caitlyn Jenner spoke at the ESPY Awards which illustrates just how harmful these songs can be. "I spent 16 years living in a country where people are killed for who they love and how they express their gender. I never knew I was going to live past 18. To me it was a fantasy. The only time an LGBT person was mentioned in Jamaican media was due to their murder. I had to grow up to the lyrics of my people's music that supported my own death. I'm still dealing with the trauma from my past in Jamaica. I don't know when it will be over, but I hope it will someday."

There are many others like Giovanni. These songs exacerbate their pain and suffering denying themselves, lying to their families, and the abuse they face. Giovanni suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)85 per cent of which is as a consequence of his experience in Jamaica.

When I think of the experiences of friends like Giovanni I can't help but wonder how efforts to stop murder music will help Jamaicans at home and abroad who are forced to listen and sometimes participate in the social exclusion, hostility and violence that these songs encourage.

I take issue with the way in which people organise themselves to 'stop murder music'. It's uncanny that few people seem willing to accept that getting artistes like Queen Ifrica and Buju Banton banned/canceled from a show because of 'homophobic lyrics' they have recorded and performed is a flawed strategy. I highly doubt it is efficacious to promoting the rights of and respect and tolerance for LGBT people in Jamaica.

It's funny that some of these artistes are signed to renowned international record labels but rarely we hear about efforts targeting these entities. Just the lowly Jamaican artiste. Where oh where is the balance in the strident activism?


imprisoned with fear

It is a fact that many LGBT Jamaicans are imprisoned with fear, and are anxious about the likelihood of being a victim of anti-gay hostility or violence. Some of our beloved reggae and dancehall songs play a role in the social construct of hostility towards LGBT people. Artistes who are culpable in this regard must understand this but we have to find a more effective way of dealing with this grave problem.

We must, however, recognise that promoting tolerance and respect for the rights of LGBT people cannot be at any means necessary. Cowering people into submission and silence doesn't really address homophobia or intolerance against any group for that matter. We have to find a more multifaceted way of addressing hateful and problematic lyrics in our music, including helping artistes and others understand how what they say can be harmful.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and