Donna Hope-Marquis one of Buju Banton's ardent supporters and a scholar documenting several aspects of Dancehall over the years.
Clyde McKenzie speaks to Donna Hope-Marquis’analytical work
BY BASIL WALTERS
UNLIKE its predecessors, dancehall attracts the most analytical discourse in popular Jamaican music. And for at least one good reason. It is the longest surviving genre since ska eclipsed mento to herald in our nationhood almost 50 years ago. Dancehall has been around for three of those five decades.
Its analysis continues with the coming of Dr Donna Hope-Marquis' second book, Man Vibes: Masculinities in the Jamaican Dancehall. "A piece of scholarship that is relevant, entertaining and provocative," was how guest speaker Clyde McKenzie described the book at its launch at the Undercroft, UWI, Mona.
McKenzie offered his perspective on aspects of the dancehall covered in the newly published work by Dr Hope-Marquis. These include the badman image, aggression, fashion and homophobia.
He contextualised his discourse by noting that notions of masculinity in the dancehall have been affected by an increasing tendency towards what he would describe as the feminisation of commerce in mainstream cultures.
The music industry insider observed that historically, there has been the use of the feminine form to sell everything from food to fantasy. Against that background, he advanced the view that convinced of the awesome commercial power of the feminine essence, and pressed by the need to expand their product lines and profitability, marketers have moved decisively to induce men to exercise cosmetic choices which would have traditionally been the preserve of women. Hence the rise of the metrosexual — a person (usually male) of indeterminate sexuality whose cosmetic choices approximates those of his opposite sex.
"Yet I submit," McKenzie argued, "that there might be other forces at play in the feminising of the dancehall some of which might seem counter intuitive. As we noted earlier the image of the bad man occupies an exalted space in the dancehall cosmology. One of the features
of traditional hegemonic masculinity and its expression in the dancehall is aggression. In fact so entrenched is the perceptual association of aggression and masculinity that violence was often considered primarily a male prerogative."
The well known guest speaker went on to articulate the point that we have not only witnessed the masculinisation of criminality, but have also seen the companion phenomenon which is the criminilisation of masculinity.
"It is no secret that in many innercity communities one seems marked for death for carrying the Y chromosome. The natural assumption is that to be a young male in the inner city is to be criminal. This begs the question whether the increasing examples of feminised men in the dancehall is an example of camouflage. Are these men in the dancehall subconsciously assuming more effeminate appearances in order to forestall the violence being visited upon them by the police and thugs who sometimes cannot be properly differentiated."
As he continue his indepth examination of the dancehall, he arrived at the position that informs that both men and women now have greater freedom to do and say what they wish with the growing recession of moral absolutes.
"No book examining attitudes in the dancehall would be complete without the issue of homosexuality which perhaps more than any other issue has managed to place the dancehall community at odds with mainstream society.
"The lyrical posture of dancehall has been strident in its condemnation of homosexual and transgendered forms of behavioural expressions. This stance has struck many outsiders as strange given what appears to be the increasing feminisation of the dress codes in the dancehall as Hope informs her readers. Yet while the dancehall might not be deemed a homosocial space there are indications to suggest that the charges of homophobia being levelled against its adherents might be overblown."
McKenzie then went on to suggest that there is a growing level of tolerance within the dancehall space for homosexuals. And that much of the negating rhetoric from the dancehall is perhaps diversionary, a tactic to allow dancehall adherents to continue their lyrical forays into delicate feminine spaces without being charged with being morally bankrupt and close-minded.
"Holding the conservative line might well be an attempt to be exonerated from charges of immorality particularly in the face of what many would consider patently offensive examples of lyrical creativity in the dancehall," he added.
"However," McKenzie asserted, "no account of the issues addressed in Man Vibes would be faithful to its contents without paying some attention to the vagina, that site of nativity and frequent metaphorical excursions. As (Dr) Hope points out this area of the female anatomy is possesses mystical properties that is both loved and feared.
"(Dr) Hope points to what can be described as the celebration of the mother and the denigration of the babymother in the dancehall. This placement of these two important players of the feminine in opposition to each other is perhaps a scheme in the grand power design of hegemonic masculinity to neutralise the perceived power of womanhood. After all it is often the mother who has the spiritual antidote to neutralise the the spiritual venom of the baby mother.
"It should be noted that the denigration of the babymother is often a defence mechanism employed by putative fathers to deny maintenance to their children.
Hope speaks of the promiscuity which is rampant in the dancehall and which is epitomised by the old dawg mentality. She adduces a number of reasons for what many would consider irresponsible behaviour. She also lists the penchant for pavanage which is characteristic of many of the more financially stable members of the dancehall who seek to flaunt their new found wealth, imagined or real."
But what was the thinking that inspired the author to write Man Vibes. "Who is a Jamaican man? Who is this person that we talk about, who is a real Jamaican man...Who are the men that I met in my life and who influenced me significantly. ...Man Vibes is dedicated to particular men in my life who impacted on me up to that time in my journey. The memories of my father Lloyd, my grandfather Wilbert, my mentor Rupert Lewis (I call him Sir Lewis...), my brother Trevor who is here, my son Kirkland and my friend, partner and husband Mr Marquis... And these men for me at that time, represented my man vibes in a very important way," revealed Dr Hope-Marquis