Denmark/Jamaica: University thesis on dancehall reggae and homophobia

20 May 2009
 Johannes Frandsen Skjelbo, a student of University of Copenhagen, has written an analysis of Jamaican music culture in a postcolonial context, with a view to the Danish reception of Jamaican music. It was published in Danish language in March 2009.

The thesis seeks to investigate the relations between dancehall music, power structures and notions of gender in Jamaica seen in the light of postcolonial theory. The primary purpose of the study is to discuss the connections between the age of slavery, modern day society and dancehall music’s overt homophobia.

Johannes Frandsen Skjelbo demonstrates that there are many complex reasons behind Jamaica’s institutionalised homophobia — religion and slavery legacy being some of the oldest and most powerful. He also shows how music arguably is a part of the reproduction of this homophobia. Tentatively, he suggests that some pre-slavery, African, taboos concerning the body and its functions are also involved in the complex.

Research questions
“Elements which normally are considered as ‘belonging together’ in Western musicology, becomes somewhat detached in the Jamaican music-making process,” writes Skjelbo, explaining that this implies that intertextuality and coherence between text and music perhaps cannot (or should not) be interpreted like they are in the research of for instance rock music.

The debate surrounding homophobic expressions in Jamaican music has international political overtones. The thesis goes into depth with the lyrics of the anti-gay song ‘Boom Bye Bye’ and sees it as an example of how a small nation, Jamaica, uses popular music to claim its right to self-determination. Dancehall’s possible role in the spreading of AIDS is briefly discussed.

Dancehall in Denmark
In Denmark, as well as in other European countries, there has been a heated discussion of the possible consequences of letting unmistakably homophobic songs sound on the public arena. The discussion has been complicated by the fact that the Danish dancehall-communities are not homophobic, but rather see the debate as a discussion of freedom of speech. They also point to their detachment of music and words as a reason for playing songs, which, on the face of it, could be illegal under certain circumstances.

Johannes Frandsen Skjelbo concludes his thesis with a brief discussion of the connections between music and physical as well as symbolic violence.




The thesis – in Danish language


Open or download pdfOpen or download the thesis in pdf-format  

Click to see article (in Danish language) in Pride Magazine
Johannes Skjelbo wrote an introduction about the issues for the Danish-language Pride Magazine

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Extensive article with background information, interviews with Mapfumo, Mtukudzi, and with government officials.

Article from Time Europe

Thomas Mapfumo and Freemuse director Marie Korpe at the launch of ‘Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today’ in May 2004. Interviews with Mapfumo.
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