Aug 11, 2007

Guyana's Homosexuals attack Dr Evil

"My name is Dr. Evil"
Austin Powers aside, the intro is as notorious now as the musical assault that typically follows: a rapid-fire burst of raucous rhymes layered over frenetic up-tempo dancehall riddims. The headliner of the Jamzone Summer Break billed for the Splashmin's resort this weekend, Dr. Evil is arguably one of the most controversial acts among the current dancehall artists - not an easy feat with the likes of Elephant Man, Mavado and Vybz Kartel as contemporaries.

And while the Trini gospel reggae singer Isaac Blackman and Bajan soca star Peter Ram also share top billing for the Hits and Jams event, all eyes will be on the Jamaican sensation. At a time when established names like Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton have renounced homophobia and added their voices to condemnation of violence against gays and lesbians, Dr. Evil remains an unapologetic exception to the rule, deliberately courting controversy with a small but wildly popular catalogue of anti-gay hate songs that advocate the murder of gay men:
I bought this AK/
To spray on all gays/
Including OutRage!/
Who's fighting all our deejays/
Gunshots for all you faggots/
I really hate you maggots/
(From "JA Don't Like Gays" by Dr. Evil, 2006)

It's that kind of defiant bigotry that has made Dr. Evil a cult figure on the dancehall scene, where inciting violence against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community remains in vogue under tenuous cultural and theological guises. There are no illusions about dancehall-it's all about getting behinds shaking on the dance floor and there's no denying that Dr. Evil's signature sound is what the masses are stepping to, which is how they ended up the unlikely headliner for an event that has been heavily promoted as being for the entire family.

DJ Kerwin Bollers admits that Hits and Jams is aware of concerns about the musical content, but he has assured that Dr. Evil will not be performing any songs that advocate homophobia. He tells me that the performers will not be allowed to use explicit or obscene lyrics, or material that would discriminate against anyone, given the event's family-oriented nature. "They know the nature of the event," he says, "They alter performances to suit the venues."

Asked if Hits and Jams is worried about being seen as endorsing the artist's homophobia, Bollers says there is obvious concern but he is adamant that they would not encourage it: "We are promoting a family event, it's just clean fun… we don't indulge in certain things. Fortunately or unfortunately [Dr. Evil] is one of the artists in demand at this time, but we do not seek to offend the gay community or to offend the general public at large." Additionally, he points out that for Hits and Jams, the 'Summer Break' is not a one-off event and as promoters, they don't plan to jeopardise their reputation by offending anyone. Indeed, the promoters do have a lot at stake, including a bevy of huge corporate sponsors, including GT&T, DDL, Ansa McAl and a few others. Added to that, is the Ministry of Tourism, which has been sponsoring the Miss Jamzone Beach Pageant for the last few years.

Esther Sookraj, the spokesperson for Tourism Minister Manniram Prashad, maintains that the ministry's sponsorship is limited to the pageant, which has a focus on sport tourism. (Each contestant is expected to be campaigning on a selected area of sport as her platform.) "When it comes to entertainment we have no say, but as to the music and the content, we do not support violence of any kind against anyone, based on age, gender or anything else," she says, adding, "We believe that women should be treated with respect and I also want to add that the ministry does not propagate hate of any kind."

As fans know by now, Dr. Evil is a side-project of Jamaican dancehall duo Leftside and Esco of "Belly Nuh Bang (Tuk Een Yuh Belly)" and "Wine Up Pon Her" fame. During the last year and a half, Dr. Evil tracks steadily appeared on riddim compilations, often upstaging more established acts with its often raunchy and more often acerbic plaints. (In fact, with the success of "More Punany", "JA Don't Gays", and "Marijuana", it seems that the creation has outshone the creators, who have yet to produce anything near as interesting.) The songs are playful, clever and subversive, but they are also equally sexist, homophobic and hateful-hell, some might even ignore the wisdom of avoiding bad punning and simply call it evil.

During our chat, Bollers made a point of mentioning that Dr. Evil does have positive songs. He was referring to condom promo "No STDs" and the social commentary track "Jamaica", where the standards "batty bwoy" "chi-chi" "sodomite" and "child molester" are missing. The same can't be said for the caustic "Stay Far From We (Batty Bwoy)" and "Osama". While the former speaks for itself, the latter is a dis track targeting rap producer Dr. Dre (referred to as "Dr. Gay" and a "homof#@*" during a two-and-a half-minute tirade) in which Dr. Evil, with faux Arab accent, raps as bin Laden over the beat of Dre's "The Watcher". It is an ironic scenario when you consider the uncanny similarity between Dr. Evil and Dr. Dre's protégé, Eminem, who rode on the back of controversy on the way to mainstream success.

But for all their dazzling inventiveness, Dr. Evil is the stereotypical dancehall homophobe, and those superbly crafted rhymes are laden with the bigotry gay rights activists have been campaigning against since "Boom bye bye" created such a storm more than a decade ago.

According to the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), dancehall 'murder music' singers like Dr. Evil have been at the forefront of a homophobic campaign in Jamaica, leading to the murder and the maiming of men and women presumed as being gay.

In a statement that was issued on Thursday, the gays rights group urged the Ministry of Tourism as well as the private sector sponsors and promoters of the show to reject the homophobia of Dr. Evil and to distance themselves from incitement to murder any section of the Guyanese society. "Homophobic violence and discrimination is a flagrant violation of human rights, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination and protection from violence of HIV/AIDS," the group says.

SASOD has also called on the government and the Guyanese public to reject calls to kill homosexuals, noting that violence in any form is detrimental to the society on the whole.

The group reminded that in the past the Guyana National AIDS Committee condemned the murder of gay Jamaican AIDS activist Steve Harvey, while calling for the Caribbean community to reject the violence perpetuated by the likes of artistes like Dr. Evil. "The Caribbean has suffered from serious problems with growing violence in recent years. This development is mirrored in the growth of dancehall music that promotes extreme violence," it adds.

During the last few years, gay rights activists on both sides of the Atlantic have waged successful campaigns against reggae and dancehall acts that perpetuate homophobia. The Stop Murder Music campaign organised by UK LGBT group OutRage! is perhaps the most well known: it convinced sponsors to drop artists; forced the cancellation of concerts in the UK, Europe and the US; and successfully lobbied for an entry ban on musicians who advocated violence against gays. The huge financial losses coupled with the pressure from record companies and promoters resulted in many performers eventually signing a Reggae Compassionate Act, agreeing to renounce homophobia and the incitement of violence against homosexuals in their music.

It's unfortunate that homophobia is so ingrained in dancehall listening as to be a guilty pleasure. (You might feel similar pangs of guilt about R Kelly or any of those American gangster rappers who perpetuate stereotypes of the African American experience in rap and hip-hop.)

Debates over the merits of form versus content will persist in all arenas of social discourse, but whether there is any question of limits on freedom of speech is by now a moot point. There is no denying the considerable influence of the dancehall culture on our society, which behoves us to acknowledge bigotry, as it relates to race, gender or sexuality, for what it is.


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