A few years ago I read an article about various reggae artists’ reactions to the Reggae Compassionate Act. The Reggae Compassionate Act was drafted by the homosexual community and required certain Jamaican artists to sign it if they wanted to perform in certain countries. In the article, the great Freddie McGregor took the stance that only dancehall artists should have too sign the act and reggae artists should not be required to do so. Freddie went on to say that reggae and dancehall are two distinct genre of music and not one of the same. The following was the argument made by Freddie McGregor:
Di part a it weh me nuh really into is that dah act deh haffi guh re-write. Jamaica has developed two genres of music, reggae and dancehall. Wi all embrace dancehall, because is a part of our culture, but di problem is dat it seems like every time there is a problem wid di dancehall community, dem waan get reggae involved an eradicate. But there is no reggae artiste signature there, and mi nuh hear nuh gay a advocate ‘gainst we. Me want dem people deh fi first an foremost change di word ‘reggae’ to ‘dancehall’.
Dem haffi mek a differentiation, cause dat would a include me inna di ting, an me an my peers nuh have no bangarang wid nobody suh how we a get drawn in? It look like a deliberate ploy fi get rid a reggae an a from long time dem a try.
The truth is dancehall is a child of reggae, so whether you like it or not Freddie, dancehall is reggae. I have never heard of ska trying to disown or distant itself from reggae, so I can’t understand why a reggae great would try to shun dancehall in her time of turmoil and trouble. That is like handing the gay community an undeserved a victory on a platter. Other great Jamaican artists like super Cat and Major Mackerel have came out in public and said, reggae is the music and dancehall is where you go to enjoy the music.
At the time of Freddie’s statement, the two hottest producers in dancehall reggae were Don Corleone and Freddie’s own son Steven McGregor. Stephen’s company is even named after one of Freddie’s biggest hits ever, “Big Ship”.
One of my favorite Freddie McGregor albums “Hard to get” has a song by the same name on the bogle rhythm. Now, the bogle rhythm was a hot dancehall rhythm in the nineties. So Freddie, were you doing reggae or dancehall on that rhythm?
In my humble opinion, as an elder and a reggae great, Freddie McGregor has two options. Either he believes that the artists with homophobic lyrics are wrong in which case he has a responsibility to try and guide them in the right direction or he believes they are right in which case he should stand up and defend them to the fullest. The whole “that’s a dancehall problem and this is reggae” is a cop out. Dancehall is reggae; there is no ifs ands or buts about it.
Whether you are a fan or an artist of reggae or dancehall we should all remember Half Pint’s classic “One big Family”. Even though Half Pint is a singer, he did not limit the big family to singers alone but he extended the love to the DJs as well:
“Josey Wales, Admiral Bailey
Peter Metro and Michael P
Flashing it said speed
We are one big family
Living in a dis ya country
We are one big family
And that’s the way it ought to be – One big family by Half Pint
So whether you see dancehall as reggae or if you choose to divide them with your chalk line, just remember it is still the same family, we are not Israel and Palestine so we must stand up for each other, especially in the heat of the battle.