2FACED1.com shows one persons two different faces in photos;
Persona 1: WHAT YOU WANT TO BE CONSIDERED AS
Persona 2: WHAT YOU FEAR TO BE CONSIDERED AS
This leads to a discussion about stereotypes and inner fears of getting misunderstood by the surroundings. Thoughts that every thinking modern day person does reflect upon. We're asking every day people from an innercity context where old categories as ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality and class are reassessed, why they choose to look like they do. We’re diggin' deep, peeling off garments, codes and attributes. We’re searching for transnational identities - is the conclusion that we choose whoever we want to be today?!
A 2FACED1 STATE OF MIND
A 2FACED1 is highly aware of existing stereotypes related to your own ethnicity, color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and class. You’re trying to avoid them but sometimes also play with them to make people think twice about who you are. Two faced doesn’t mean anything negative here, it explains the double folded view you have on identity if you’re not the existing norm. Self awareness is a gift, because it also helps you to understand other peoples situations better. To be a 2FACED1 is to have the feet in different worlds, be able to move between them but feel rather at home in that space in between. You've stepped out of your comfort zone and has become one of the new identities where ol' categories are mashed up and rootlessness and non-given identity just means major possibilities.
2FACED1 is a state of mind, 2FACED1.com is a display-window for this mindset and the network of 2FACED1 includes all of you progressive non-stereotypes with a double perspective on identity.
Decida - Editor, Founder, Creative Director (Stockholm) Oscar Stenberg - Web, Photography (Stockholm) Linn Marcusson - Writer, Style Assistant (Gypsie's Mega Trip) (Stockholm) Spoek Mathambo - (the Zombo Blog) (Johannesburg) Alex Dabo - ( the Do The Dabo Blog) (Stockholm) Mira Bajagic - Event / Production (London) Pernilla Philip - Design (Amsterdam)
"Pinpoint People's Pedigree!" Artwork by Chrille Brun
On one of the last and sunniest days of 2012 I compared responses to the world’s dullest question with a filmmaker and a writer, both of whom – like myself – have spent most of their lives outside their countries of birth. Not that the answer to what we agreed is a personal, yet alienating question is unimportant. The problem is the habit of using it as a device to spot differences rather than to explore the vast common ground that exists between anyone in the world and ourselves. A habit that interferes with our ability to discover unfamiliar facets of the universally shared.
The seemingly innocent and polite five-word question is usually asked minutes into any first encounter and signals the beginning of a third degree inquiry. From experience we know that the probe, usually triggered by our names or hues, ultimately will lead to arbitrary verdicts in matters we never asked be resolved. Matters concerning affinity and, in the end, the right of belonging. Because it happens so often, we also know that such rulings will change within an hour, day or week depending on when next we come upon somebody for the first time.
I was much younger than the other two when I left my birth-country, unaccompanied by older and wiser people. Perhaps that is why I learned much later then they did, that I was under no obligation to contribute to the research of random people. Before that, in an effort to lessen the unease of oversharing, I rehearsed a short narrative, which was more of a summary (and became one myself in the process). Unlike the other two around the table I am not a born storyteller, which might be another reason why treating my story so carelessly came more naturally to me.
In stark contrast to my own sloppy narrative of some years ago stands the most striking and carefully told story I came across in 2012, which was the story of Satché - a man about to die. Alain Gomis’ latest film Tey (Today) unfolds as a journey between Satché’s mother’s house and the home of his wife and two children where he is heading for his final rest. While navigating through Dakar, Satché, played by poet and performer Saul Williams, is confronted with defining aspects of a life, which spanned over two continents. His, it is implied, was an existence that oscillated between close companionship and utter solitude, excitement and disappointment, as well as between hope for a better future and absolute despair. During the course of his walk Satché is celebrated at times and taunted at others. He is flirtatious in the company of an old girlfriend - or a mistress - and relaxed - at least for a while - together with his friends. Before the uncle who will perform the cleansing of his dead body the following day, Satché remains respectful and serene.
During one hour and a half, Gomis captures the extremes and in-betweens of what appears to be a far from unfulfilled life cut short. Through texture rather than detail and through suggestions instead of clarifications and declarations, Gomis gently invites his audience to share a life, which is unique for his protagonist, but which in essence could have belonged to anyone. The ambiguity and tranquillity of the tale makes for an atmosphere, which enables the audience to immerse in shared emotions of happiness, lust, sorrow and fear. Gomis offers an exceptional, but not at all exclusive opportunity to discover ourselves in someone else and the other way around. An opportunity, which presents itself every time we stand before another person for the first time, as long as we refrain from asking that uninspired question “Where do you come from?”
Katarina Hedrén is a constant foreigner, a film programmer, film festival organiser, previous chairperson for the Swedish film festival CinemAfrica and the contributing editor for film for Efrika.tv and the author of the blog “In the Words of Katarina”. She occasionally writes, mostly but not exclusively, about film for various websites, papers and publications – many of her film reviews appear on the African review site Africiné. Katarina also sometimes works as an interpreter and translator between English, French and Swedish.
Question: What item wore Alexander Salzberger at his first day of school at Södra Latin's Teater Linje? Clue in a link in this post..? Email your answer to email@example.com
It's a festival with several acts so if you want to be sure to not miss Alex you should be at the Kägelbanan stage where he is performing well in time before 20.00 since it might get packed otherwise. Schedule.
The reviews has been pretty amazing so far (all articles in Swedish):
“Salzberger [...] successfully maintains the dark core of the story, even though there are rarely more than seconds in between laughs” - Jonas Holmberg, Expressen
Om att växa upp i ett hippiekollektiv. Om att skaffa sig en identitet som inte är "svensk". Om att ljuga om en pappa som man aldrig mött. Om att ha joggingbyxor under de tajta jeansen för att man ser för smal ut. Om att motvilligt vara klassens mobbare. Om att inte få åka med sina halvsyskon på den årliga familjesemestern. Om att röka hasch. Om att ta heroin. Om att ha en god vän som blir skjuten i skolan. Om att försöka bryta med en alkoholiserad mamma. Om att sälja in sin egen berättelse. Om att våga ha en dröm.
Alexander Salzberger är välbekant för Backa Teaters publik. Denne mästare i publikkontakt gjorde en minnesvärd roll som "Klitoriskillen" i Anna Vnuks Kött och kunde senast ses som Josef K i Processen. Nu är han tillbaka med en egen spokenwordmonolog eller som han själv beskriver det : "En stand-up comedy utan punchlines".
Som 21-åring satte Alexander Salzberger upp sin egen monolog Måsarna skrattar sig hesa på Södra teatern i Stockholm. Det blir nu första gången sedan 2007 som Alexander återigen ställer sig på scen med helt eget skrivet material.
Why are we suddenly talking about skincolor as something that should matter in Sweden 2012? Isn't that way of defining people totally defuncted?
Yes, but also no, what's important when we speak about skincolor or race here is; we are talking about it as a social construction of color/race, nothing biologically true that should define your identity for realz. 2FACED1s comes in all shapes and colors, and they never let history define them. But as long as old ideas of race and colors keeps affecting people's lifes we need to talk about these constructions. The thing is that most of the ones who are really affected by it doesn't even know about it; that's the ones of the color white. Because being white in a white majority culture brings a privilige, but you only see and feel it if you lack it.
2FACED1 State Of Mind felt the urge to remove the dust from a Peggy McIntosh* piece (1988), a text from the US, a country with another history in some ways, but still a must read for anyone, anywhere, who ever thought:
"Can people stop talking about racism? Can't all people just get along?!"
Unfortunately that's not the case for the ones behanced by racism, as long as to stop talking about it, doesn't make it go away.
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
3. I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
The 2FACED1 honorary member, Saul Williams, breaks it down the way only he can:
"My question to you tonight is,
what is your mind's immigration policy?
Do you detain foreign thoughts that may have entered your mind illegally
against the wishes of your parents, pastors, teachers, leaders,
or perhaps simply against the security of your own comfort?
Are there other thoughts that you have perhaps allowed to go unchecked,
unquestioned because they seem aligned with your so-called identity?
Are you certain that you are not a victim of identity fraud?"
I'm calling it a true privilege to hang out with Saul in the beginning of 2011 in Paris some months before he released Volcanic Sunlight. we listened to some of the, then not yet released, songs, checked out Spoek's "Control" video and also stopped by Damir's house of Doma fashion. A visit that resulted in Saul Williams in Damir Doma for the Berlin Film Festival and the screening of TEY by Dirctor Alain Gomis. (PS read a review over at Africiné by Katarina Hedrén).
Few people I know can live up to the title "Stylosopher" as this man can.
Compared to the United States’ “First Gay President”, Barack Obama, who has the whole normative heterosexual family package back home, USA’s “First Openly Gay Rapper” - despite not being a rapper (ehrrr), at least don’t have that. On the other hand, Frank Ocean is, in his latest video “Pyramids”, giving us, the old rock star* myth complete with decadence, female strippers, bikes and booze. What exactly does this mean?
Because there are reasons for why a heterosexual man, year 2012, is appointed “the First Gay President” instead of a president who actually was a homosexual person. It raises the question; does becoming an official, read “popular”, LGBT role model has more to do with “acting straight” and heterosexual ideals rather than actual sexual preferences and equality?
Given the scrutiny about Frank Ocean’s sexuality, it’s not like we’d expected Ocean’s upcoming music videos to consist only of grinding naked men on rainbows - hey, we’re stereotyophobes! But to see Ocean looking depressed, surrounded by boobs, bikes and booze in a video MTV called “a defiantly dark, definitively druggy thing—a near eight-minute nightmare of excess, hallucinations and violence”, feels like stereotypophobia going pretty wrong. Of course, maybe this is Ocean’s way of showing that he’s stuck in a normative world, but still, for many of the viewers it’s just eight more minutes of stereotypes - how beautifully it might ever have been captured in motion picture (it was).
And on top of this we happen to know that there’s never been a lack of gay rappers in the hiphop world, so we invited Sanna Berg from the PUSSY MADE OF GOLD - blog to, well uhm, straighten out the facts about the Perfectly Gay Rapper. 2FACED1 State Of Mind proudly presents;
"Ocean Of Love" by Dennis Sehlin for 2FACED1 STATE of MIND
The Perfect Gay Rapper?
Words by Sanna Berg
At first I didn't really get it. Some sort of hashtag hysteria had broken loose on Twitter and in the middle of it a letter from Frank Ocean’s Tumblr. Soon my entire feed was praising Frank Ocean for his courage, talking about how he'd forever changed the music we love and the stereotypes it promotes. Then online newspapers wrongly referring to Ocean as rapper, with headlines spelling out "the First Openly Gay Rapper". Conclusion: the genres of hiphop and rnb desperately in need of someone to openly represent the LGBT-community.
The Ingredients of a Real Rapper
Don't get me wrong. Frank Ocean coming out as bi-sexual made me happy and proud and it was a big deal. But the reception of his letter tells us something about how hiphop relates to sexuality and gender; the wait for a "real" rapper to come out. “Real” as in someone who sounds like, acts like and looks like all the straight male rappers. Someone who's "just like us". Like a rap equivalent of the character Omar from The Wire. Omar may have had serious relationships with dudes, but he was gangsta as fuck, the city’s most ruthless stick up man. That's the type of gay rapper worth waiting for. An openly homo thug. Someone respected. THAT would have a big impact, THAT would change something...so an indie type of rnb-singer coming out as bisexual, it’s not really the same thing...Aaand we’re back to the eternal question: When will there be a gay rapper?
The problem with that question is this: there are. New York has a flourishing underground scene with rappers who happens to have sex with the same sex, like Mykki Blanco and Cakes Da Killa. The "Sissy Bounce" of New Orleans has given us bounce stars like Big Freedia and Katey Red. Sure, these rappers may be underground, but they still exist. More important; the "when will there be a gay rapper"-question ignores something really important. There are gay rappers, many of them just happen to be girls. For example. Angel Haze, a promising young talent who recently signed to Universal, is openly bi-sexual. So is Kelow, one of my favourite musical discoveries the past year. Azealia Banks came out as bisexual in february. In her GQ-interviewKreayshawn labeled herself "an occasional lesbian". If we take a look at the underground scene there are even more lesbian and bi-sexual rappers, like Siya, Psalm One, Kin4Life and Oh Blimey. And for a while it even looked like Nicki Minaj, the biggest female rap star of the decade, was bi-sexual, rapping about only stopping for pedestrians or a "real, real bad lesbian", bedding women, stealing Cassie from Diddy or autographing the boobs of female fans. Nowadays Nicki denies having any romantic or sexual interest in women, and whether her bisexuality was just a publicity stunt, a part of one of her many alter egos or her true orientation repressed in the fame game will probably remain a mystery.
The Gender Issue
Let's take a short look at how openly gay or bisexual women in hiphop are treated. When Azealia Banks and Kreayshawn came out it did get some media coverage, but it was nothing compared to the commotion surrounding Frank Oceans Tumblr-letter. I see this as one of many examples of how society treats same sex relationships between women as something not really worth caring about. A bisexual female rapper is not nearly as threatening as a bisexual male rnb-singer. Can it be that the bisexuality of rappers like Kreayshawn or Azealia Banks is not truly taken seriously? Maybe it's a consequence of how the bisexual antics of Nicki Minaj was written off as a publicity trick. Maybe it's connected to the fact that female bisexuality in a way could speak to a male audience, and is often framed as an invitation for dudes to play the third part with two ladies, who are, or not, "bisexual"?
Do you remember Ray Lavenders rnb-hit My Girl Got A Girlfriend? A characteristic type of representation of same sex relationships between women in rnb and hiphop - Lavender sings about walking in on his girlfriend in bed with another woman, and then goes on to claiming it’s alright "as long as I can be with her too". The straight man’s fantasy about bedding two ladies, at the same damn time. What if Lavender’s girlfriend was cheating with a man? He would probably be pissed, feel betrayed and make a song about what a hoe she was. He would definitely not accept her cheating, as long as he could “join in”. THAT would have been an awesome song by the way!
But even in the rnb-scene, things are changing. One of my favourite rnb-ladies, K. Michelle, sings about being into girls here and there, and a couple of weeks ago the trailer for the reality show “Rnb Divas” aired 90's rnb-singer Monifah coming out. Monifah is married to another woman, and a short clip screens Monifah’s daughter’s lack of acceptance towards her mum’s partner. What’s it really like for a women who love women, a reality with few things in common with the threesome fantasy of any male rappers or rnb-singer...
How to be a Rapper vs. How to be a Girl
How hiphop deals with same-sex-love also has to do with gender. A butch - type of gay female rapper has an acceptance, basically because she "acts just like a dude", confirming the heterosexual norm. But at the same time it's more difficult for them to make it big and land a major record label deal, aiming for a bigger audience. The whole situation for lesbian and bisexual women in hiphop is a catch 22; If you're open but still "look like a girl" in other peoples eyes, your sexuality is not really taken seriously. And if you're open with a butch image you're not very likely to get signed by one of the bigger labels, because even though dudes can in a way relate to you, the industry still wonder how to market a butch female rapper.
Depressing as it might sound, I feel optimistic when I think about the future. Rappers and rnb-singers choosing to be open about who they are and who they love may not change all the stereotypes about sexuality and gender within hiphop overnight, but hopefully it will make a difference in the long run. We can help this process along by representing reality like it is, for example by stop asking when there will be a gay rapper, when obviously there already are more than a few. I would also like to emphasise the importance of not labeling rappers who aren't heterosexual men. Talking about "female rappers" or "gay rappers" implies that a rapper is really supposed to be a straight dude, everything else is an exception. We need discussions about sexuality and gender within hiphop, but we also need to I don't know... just kick back relax and enjoy good music. Stop comparing all female rappers to Nicki Minaj, talk about their music instead. Stop asking about gay rappers and actually listen to the ones who are out there doing their thing. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Enjoy!
You find Sanna Berg over at the hiphop/rnb blog Pussy Made Of Gold and as one of the founding hosts of the Swedish music podcast “Vad Blir Det För Rap”. Besides studying to become Tony Sopranos new psychologist, Sanna’s time is first and foremost dedicated to the biggest feminist pioneers in Sanna’s life - rappers who are/are seen upon as women!
Over at 2FACED1 we have this idea of a Transnational identity based on the share-ability of pop culture in an Internet-connected world, where huge amounts of people also have migrated/emigrated the last century. Pop culture is, in many aspects, a phenomenon driven out of today's market capitalist economy, but we refuse to just see it as something trivial and dumbed-down for the masses. Instead we label it a common language, that at it’s best moments encourage people to create their own identity, without basing it on a specific ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality and class. We think pop culture contain important knowledge that just hasn't hit the Universities yet!
Welcome to the 2FACED1 State Of Mind Blog - a think tank for the ones skilled with the gift of being self aware enough to have a double folded view on identity, featuring loads of certificated 2FACED1 writers!
First out is Nathan Hamelberg's "One Love vs. Murder Music"- an article looking upon Homophobia in Jamaica as a last chain of Colonialism, while also shedding light upon common reference points between the American Gay-liberation movement and the conscious reggae and dancehall scenes. Is a more mutual understanding of the parallel histories of the movements possible?
In line with the Transnational 2FACED1 State of Mind, the documentary "AUDRE LOURDE - The Berlin Years" by German Dagmar Schultz is a must see! In the movie we meet the practesing Intersectionality pioneer and Harlem born Lorde who "arrives in Berlin in 1984 as a visiting professor, she immediately sought out Afro-Germans—who were then known only by pejoratives like “cross-breed,” “mulatto” and “brown babies”—and taught them how to see themselves outside of what she observed as “the pain of living a difference that has no name.” (Source Colorlines)
"As Audre Lorde’s German publisher I have completed a film on Audre Lorde’s years in Germany 1984 - 1992. The film demonstrates how Lorde’s ideas about human differences inspired the development of a Black German movement and the growth of consciousness around racism among white women—a subject few people outside of Germany are aware of. The project is a very timely one given the renewed US-EU struggles against racism and around race and ethnic integration. Audre Lorde’s work and legacy are central to US-German cross-cultural exchanges and coalition building in the context of the Black diaspora"
In 2012, fifty years has past since Jamaica achieved freedom, the British colonial reign ended and the Jamaican flag finally was unfurled for the first time. For us 2FACED1s the music and culture of this tiny island has functioned as a huge influenced on our common pop culture, and in many ways presented alternative ways of looking upon the present Western society.
A couple of months ago a polarized debate, took place in Sweden concerning homophobia and dancehall music, and with this article by our fellow 2FACED1, Nathan Hamelberg, we wish to broaden the perspectives, 2FACED1-style, bridging some gaps and shed light on facts that we feel are too important to overlook. Could a lot of ignorance have been avoided if there was more mutual understanding of the parallel histories of the movements? The 2FACED1 State Of Mind blog presents;
"Kissing Sizzla" - Artwork by A Lowe Thing exclusively for 2FACED1 STATE of MIND
One Love versus Murder Music
Words by Nathan Hamelberg
Is there anything, politically speaking, as depressing as trench warfare between different liberation movements?
The worldwide campaigns against murder music has, starting off roughly with reactions Buju Bunton's "Boom Bye Bye" (1992) led to two previously unknown phenomenons. First, it sparked debates about reggae in general or dancehall in particular, especially about lyrical content outside of the universal tribe of aficionados that reached worldwide and had repercussions inside Jamaica. Secondly, it marked a shift within the LGBT - activist community, going from celebrating icons to boycotting bigots. Twenty years onward, the No Murder Music - campaign was vibrant in Sweden, with a campaign against Nyabinghi rasta practitioner and "conscious" Reggae superstar of the nineties, Sizzla.
The boycott campaign sparked off a lot of debate in Swedish media as well as social media. By and large, it was a two sided affair, with anti-homophobia activists demanding a clear stance, against Sizzla and other artists encouraging violence against and murder of homosexuals, from reggae event organizers. On the other hand, dancehall die-hards deriding the opposition as a manifestation of racism and a colonial view of sexual politics.
The online debate was characterized by entrenched positions, generalizing statements going far beyond the subject matter and for LGBT people of color or in love with caribbean music, as well as anti-homophobia dancehall lovers, it was nothing short of a secular version of the purgatory. The facebook group Rainbow Riots gathered both LGBT Reggae lovers and haters, as well as committed anti-racists and others who saw it as simply an issue of combating homophobia. In the end the Jamaican LGBT group J-Flag's views of different dancehall artists came to set the standard against which they should be measured and any boycott should take its cue from. In the end, the nightclub Slakthuset decided to cancel the gig, organized by independent promoters, and taking an economic hit but probably gaining some goodwill from the LGBT community in Stockholm. Having said that, 'Sizzlagate' amounted to an attempt of communication and reconciliation between the Swedish LGBT and Reggae community. A few things are certain: there are vast problems of homophobia in dancehall, and the Swedish LGBT-scene is not a free heaven from the racist structures that shape Swedish society at large.
The question is whether not a lot of ignorance could have been avoided if there was more mutual understanding of the parallel histories of the movements?
Children of the Same Kind
Let us begin circa 1970, when both reggae, - as a social movement, lifestyle and a anti-colonialist musical culture, and the gay liberation movement* celebrated it's largest victories. Bob Marley put global injustices and the colonial heritage on the pop cultural map more or less at the exact time that the gay liberation Stonewall riots turned streets, squares (pun intended) and discotheques upside down. The evolving LGBT movement as well as the solidarity movement emboldened by Rastafarianism would inspire working class youth, feminists and second generation immigrant youth throughout Europe. More precisely, the American black, gay liberation movement and reggae children of the same kind.
Both trace their political, and to quite a great extent cultural, roots back to the Harlem Renaissance movement. Many of the most well known figures of the movement, from Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith were gay or bisexual, and outspoken supporters of the most militant political leader of the movement; Marcus Garvey. Garvey was a Jamaican emigré in New York where he organized UNIA**. Second in importance only to Haile Selassie in symbolic importance within roots reggae, Garvey was the most successful organized Pan-Africanist in the years preceding African and Caribbean de-colonisation. Besides initiating the "Black Star Liner/Back to Africa" project/movement, he also played a pivotal role in organizing international support for Abbessynia against the Italian invasion. Second to the international anti-fascist brigades fighting Franco, Mussolini and Hitler in the Spanish civil war, it was the most well organized international anti-fascist solidarity campaign of the mid war years. On a more general level, the literature, the magazines, the poetry and music of the Harlem Renaissance was the cultural soil that a lot of the Civil Rights Movement sprung out of some twenty years later. And obviously, it served as the political ground for Reggae.
Back in the streets of Harlem, the music, dance and poetry of the Ballroom scene during the whole twenties and most of the thirties was the direct precursor to the vogueing scene that developed in the late sixties.
Music and Dance as a Prelude to Rebellion
Back to the 1970ies: for the African diaspora as well as the gay community the way out of oppression was intrinsically about the creation of a collective. That meant to liberate space from the oppression. And using culture as a means to rally the tribe. In Jamaican slavery days, slave owners were fined as much as fifty guineas if any of their slaves were caught with a drum, simply because of the rallying power of loud, rhythmic instruments. Dance was a gathering, and a gathering a prelude to a rebellion. Just as a lot of the 70'ies American gay culture organized itself informally around loft parties, somewhat separationist before bursting out in the mainstream, revolt against slavery centuries before came through creating a collective strong enough to survive any coming clash and also, to put enough distance enough from the slave owners and colonial powers that be.*** Not a small amount of propaganda was spread, probably often in vain, against successful refugees from slavery.
That topic, of creating your own heaven, your own republic, is a dominant theme in so much of reggae as well as (gay) disco - although reggae rather stresses place ”Zion” than place, as in so many disco anthems: ”Weekend”, ”Saturday”. The through Rastafarianism popularized concept of Exodus from Babylon to Zion means literally to go from hell on earth to heaven on earth, and thus stands in opposition to a paralyzing traditional Christian view that rewards come in the afterlife, and for LGBT-movement shaking of conservative religious concepts of piety have been essential to take steps towards liberation.
The End of a Period - Where Gays, Blacks and Woman Took The Center Stage of Pop Culture
Uncannily, the backlashes against both reggae and gay-movement coincide historically. 1979 witnessed the incident that has later been identified as the onset of downfall of disco; Disco demolition night, later called ”The Comiskey Park Riot”, in July the 12th, 1979. Tens of thousands of baseball fans gathered for a Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers double header, and were given a beneficial discount if they brought disco records to be destroyed on the occasion, bringing to mind the Nazis ritual burnings of Jewish literature. It marked the end of a short period when women, gays and blacks took the center stage of popular culture. In a few years after the routing, with homophobic overtones, of disco from the musical mainstream the AIDS epidemic spelled anti-gay backlash worldwide.
Similarly, in Jamaica 1978, a political civil war was averted probably only because of the One Love Peace concert in Kingston where leading roots reggae musicians gathered to promote unity and broker peace between the rival gangs affiliated with the conservative Jamaican Labor Party and the socialist People’s National Party. The idea behind the concert came from rivaling gang leaders Claudius 'Claudie' Massop (JLP) and Aston 'Bucky Marshall' Thomson (PNP) who discussed how to put a stop to senseless violence, and Massop contacted Bob Marley and courted him to return from London where he lived in exile since the failed assassination attempt against him two years earlier.
Three years later Marley was dead from cancer, political gang war was fought in the streets of Kingston, CIA intrigued to stop Jamaica from coming under Cuban influence. More than anything else, the aggressive homophobia from ’Murder Music’ stems from the extreme machismo from the paramilitary gangs.
Homophobia is the blind spot of reggae, the part of Caribbean colonial heritage and the legacy left from slavery that a emancipator musical culture such as reggae has not yet dealt with. But everything is not black or white. Whilst reaction set in both in Jamaica and the US during the Reagan years, with AIDS and gang war running wild in parallel, the eighties underground disco sound – garage – was thoroughly infused with reggae. The most successful Jamaican rhythm section of all time, Sly & Robbie, left Jamaica for New York (and Nassau), and threw hurled themselves into the centre of the world of American dance music, producing and performing with some of the giants of Gay music; Grace Jones and Larry Levan – resident DJ of the Paradise Garage, arguably the most important black gay club of all time.
- A bit reductionist perhaps, but the template for garage music can be written disco + dub. Check Grace Jones' ’Pull up to the Bumper" above, or Gwen Guthrie's ’Seventh Heaven’ for instance.
the Centrality of Family as a Right
Another striking resemblance between reggae and the LGBT-movement – the centrality of family as a right. In Jamaica, just as in most other societies built on slavery, family is not just an institution like any other but something that was effectively denied for the majority. As such, it was also space of collective resistance against oppression, much like the church. Just as so many gays and lesbians have fought hard for legal rights to marry, adopt, inseminate and have a family, so too have slaves and the descendants of slaves. Jamaican masculinity is, and Jamaican families are, heavily scarred by the fact that so many men and family are dependent on the possibility of migrant labor opportunities – economically beneficial, but ruining a lot of communities socially. ’Successful’ Jamaican men often have to sacrifice living close to their loved ones.****
Intersectionality and the Last Chain of Colonialism
Anyone pondering whether homophobia is endemic specifically to reggae and Rastafarianism would do well to compare Jamaican sodomy laws with British Victorian laws – as well as look at how countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc. all have inherited the same laws. Sadly, homophobia is a mainstream tenet of faith in Jamaican Christianity, but from a distance it might seem as if it stems from reggae given that reggae is the one facet of Jamaican culture that most non-Caribbean people know about. If the gay world and the world of reggae music could meet in exodus on dance floors in the midst of the 80'ies that gave us AIDS, Cold war, Reaganomics, Thatcher and Jamaican gang wars, they must be able to meet without ’worries in the dance’ today. To complete its confessed liberation mission, reggae needs to rid itself of the last chain of colonialism; the bigotry of homophobia.
*for lack of better words, I chose not to say LGBT or Q for that matter, that would be a bit untrue to history ** Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities *** Maroonage it was called, from the Spanish word cimaron - savage. **** Historically, the Panama canal was built chiefly by immigrant workers, a great part of them Jamaican – which has led to Panamanian music being more receptive to reggae influences, Panama being called ’Black Colombia’ already.
This is an expanded and reworked version in English of a piece originally posted in Swedish at Tidningen Kom Ut.
Nathan Hamelberg is a music archaeologist/obsessive of the ninth degree who unknowingly picked up his addiction some quarter of a century back when he set out on a shaky career as a hiphop DJ at the age of twelve. In his free time he combines editorial work for online street culture video magazine www.stocktown.com with spreading of the gospel of Hip Hop studies in Sweden through the study group Each One Teach One. A few years back he co-founded the activist group Mellanförskapet ('The Betweenship'; a wordplay on the Swedish words for citizenship and exclusion) to put focus on the missing piece in Swedish anti-racist and integration discussions - people of mixed ethnic background. Otherwise he splits his hours evenly between spinning records on his clubs Bring The Noise and Belleville in Stockholm nighttime and hacking away as digital editor of the Swedish Museum of Architecture, getting paid to put his obsession about cultural sustainability, design and urban issues to use online.