A popular Jamaican reggae performer currently under fire in her own country for anti-gay lyrics is scheduled to perform at Rastafest Aug 24 in Toronto’s Downsview Park.
Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican-Canadian attorney, says Queen Ifrica is notoriously homophobic with a “musical repertoire of hate-mongering." He says she should not be allowed to perform in Canada.
“Even the government of Jamaica is rejecting her,” Tomlinson says, referring to an Aug 6 performance at a national gala celebrating the Jamaica's 51st anniversary of independence. During the show, Queen Ifrica declared her unwavering support of the country's controversial anti-sodomy law, which criminalizes homosexuality.
The incident prompted a review at Jamaica’s youth ministry, which released a statement expressing regret that the singer had expressed "inappropriate" comments at a publicly funded event.
Tomlinson says many found her outburst particularly insensitive because it came just days after the murder of 16-year-old Dwayne Jones, a queer teen who was beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car when he showed up at a party in women's clothing.
Tomlinson says Queen Ifrica would likely have heard about Jones’s tragic story. Yet, he says, she still made it clear during her performance that “no gays are allowed here.”
“Queen Ifrica could not resist the urge to spew homophobic vitriol at an event meant to celebrate Jamaica’s independence,” Tomlinson says. “This took place in the presence of children and the country’s prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller.”
The ministry's statement attempted to distance the government from the artist. "The ministry expresses our regret that the Grand Gala stage was used by one artiste, Queen Ifrica, as a platform to express her personal opinions and views on matters that may be considered controversial, rather than to perform in the agreed scripted and rehearsed manner consistent with the thematic production.”
It added, "Furthermore, the comments by the artiste were inappropriate in the setting of a national, state-funded event with more than 20,000 persons, including children, who were in the National Stadium and thousands more watching on television and online."
Masani Montague, the executive director of Upfront Theatre Foundation, the company presenting Rastafest in Downsview Park, says she doesn’t believe Queen Ifrica is homophobic. Queen Ifrica, whose given name is Ventrice Morgan, is one of several reggae performers on the bill, she says. “I spoke to her management team,” she says. “[Queen Ifrica] is totally not homophobic at all. That is totally not true. We do not advocate gaybashing.”
But Tomlinson — who fled Jamaica last year after receiving death threats when local news reported his marriage to a man in Canada — says Queen Ifrica is well known in Jamaica for her anti-gay lyrics.
“She sings that gays should keep it to themselves,” he says. “That’s one of her famous songs, ‘Keep It To Yourself.’ She’s a Rastafarian, and she says she doesn’t want any gays around her.”
The song also contains the word “fish,” which Tomlinson says is a derogatory term for effeminate gay men. The lyrics go on to praise heterosexual relationships and traditional masculinity.
“She was even denied status as a Unicef ambassador because of her homophobia. She is absolutely unrepentant,” he says.
Tomlinson points to a video clip of a 2010 performance in which the singer says, "We not going to legalize any faggotism in Jamaica."
Meanwhile, The Jamaica Association of Gays and Lesbians Abroad (JAGLA) has launched a social media campaign to stop Queen Ifrica from entering Canada. The local group is pressuring Canada's minister of citizenship and immigration to immediately withdraw a work permit issued to Queen Ifrica ahead of her performance at Rastafest.
In a statement, JAGLA says that by allowing Queen Ifrica to perform in Toronto, the government is sending a message that music from anti-gay performers is welcome in Canada.
“The Canadian government now has the opportunity to send a clear signal to groups, countries and individuals who wish to incite intolerance against gays and lesbians through various forms,” JAGLA states.
Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) spokesperson Julie Lafortune tells Xtra that the CIC is looking into the matter but could not comment further.
Kerron Orlando, from JAGLA, says the escalating anti-gay hatred and violence in Jamaica is fuelled by reggae and dancehall music. “We are concerned that she is even coming to Canada in the first place,” he says. “But we are even more concerned that major publicly funded organizations in Canada are sponsoring this event.”
The list of sponsors for the show includes Service Canada and the Toronto Public Library. Ana-Maria Critchley, manager of stakeholder relations at Toronto Public Library, sent Xtra a statement that says staff are looking into the matter. “We were not aware of the issues surrounding Queen Ifrica before today,” she says. “We do not support any form of discrimination and are investigating this matter.”
Orlando says sponsoring the show gives a stamp of approval to hate. “When a person goes onstage and sings anti-gay lyrics, that affects human dignity and peace of mind. By saying gay people should not exist in the same space as you, we need to draw a line. Queen Ifrica sings these lyrics consciously, and she will not apologize for that. Canada must send a clear message that this will not be accepted in the country.”
Sonya Bastedo, events manager for Downsview Park, says she is unaware of Queen Ifrica's anti-gay beliefs. She says this is the artist’s third year performing in the park. “It’s always been very positive. We’ve never had any problems.”
This is not the first time Downsview Park has hosted anti-gay artists. The park came under fire for hosting Elephant Man, known for violently homophobic lyrics, in 2009.
And other festivals in Canada continue to book so-called murder music. Just last weekend, dancehall icon Beenie Man, also known for anti-gay lyrics, headlined the 10th annual Montreal International Reggae Festival. Past songs by Beenie Man – born Anthony Moses Davis – urge listeners to shoot and hang people he abuses as "queers, faggots and bum-fuckers."
The fiercely homophobic content in some of Beenie Man’s song lyrics draws sustained ire from multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
Yellowman, another dancehall pioneer who opened the anti-gay floodgates, also performed at the Montreal festival.
“After Bob Marley died, the biggest star in reggae was this salacious, foulmouthed, homophobic, misogynistic rapper called Yellowman, and it changed the whole tone of the music. The music turned so foul, so debauched, I decided I didn’t want to be around it any more,” says famed reggae historian Roger Steffens, who chaired the Grammy Awards reggae committee for 27 years and was in Montreal to attend the reggae festival.
With files from Richard Burnett