Arts & entertainment
5 min

Queer party puts the prance in anti-gay dancehall music

‘It’s kind of like taking back the music,’ says co-organizer Camille Heron

Camille Heron and Marcus Marshall hope you’ll join them in flipping the script on dancehall music this Friday, May 27, 2016.

The Vancouver locals are partnering with Vancouver Art and Leisure (VAL) to produce PranceHall, a queer-friendly reggae night that’s raising awareness about homophobia in dancehall music.

“It’s kind of like taking back the music and making it more accessible,” Heron says.

“So with our night we’re kind of flipping the script.”

Marshall, a queer movement artist, says he was inspired to do something after reading an article on LGBT activist Jason Latty, 36.

Latty is the president of Caribbean Alliance for Equality and has been living as an asylee in Philadelphia since fleeing Jamaica in 2001. Daily Xtra reached him by phone on May 23.

For Latty, dancehall music’s left a lasting impact on his life.

(The comments page under the official Youtube video for “Chi Chi Man”  is sprinkled with support for the lyrics./TOK via Youtube)

 

Latty says Jamaican police beat him and his friends on a beach in 1998 while they were mourning the loss of a friend who had died of AIDS.

“The police came along, accuse us of giving each other blowjobs, tried to lock us up,” he says.

Shortly after the incident his neighbours burnt down his home in Montego Bay while chanting lyrics from “Chi Chi Man,” he says.

(A poster for PranceHall explains the term “chi chi man.”/Vancouver Art and Leisure)

The song says if you’re hanging out or seen with a homosexual person that individual should be burnt to death, Latty explains.

“They were singing it, they were chanting — give me fire let me burn them.”

Heron finds the rise in dancehall music’s popularity amongst some North American artists like Drake concerning.

Heron is of Caribbean decent and says the song “Chi Chi Man” is especially worrisome because on the surface it seems innocent.

“It is a gentle song, very popular, it’s very well known, but not a lot of people know the message or the direct translation of it,” she says.

(Camille Heron says few people know what the song “Chi Chi Man” is really about./Kendrick Dettmers via Vancouver Art and Leisure)

When he was there, Latty says, dancehall music played everywhere in Jamaica, including in bars, on the streets, and in homes, usually through loud sound systems.

“Children are singing these songs and dancing to them,” he says.

Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica and Latty says dancehall music blares when gays and lesbians are beaten or killed in the country.

“They’re singing these songs in the background while they’re doing this to these individuals.”

Latty says he’s glad the word is getting out in Canada about dancehall music and the persecution queer people face. “It’s very important because we’re talking about lives here.”

He says many youths are kicked out of their homes in Jamaica when they are suspected of being gay or lesbian.

Marshall hopes PranceHall will spread the word about dancehall music amongst Vancouverites. He doesn’t think many people in Vancouver are aware of the persecution gays in the Caribbean and Jamaica face.

“It’s actually shocking,” he says.

A portion of proceeds from the event will go to Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBT people overseas escape violence.