This is an addendum to Hot Wuk in the Dancehall: What’s Sex Got to do with it? that’s been lurking around the place for me to finish and post. So a certain male, um, friend of mine, who likes to complain that I unfairly bash men all the time (so not true!), responded to my blog in person a while ago, by telling me that his beef with what I had to say was that “the women singing the same thing too!” I don’t know if I agree with that entirely or that it makes much of a difference to my stance in the original piece. Mainly because female performers like Tanya Stephens and Lady Saw still complicate their sexual experience(s) in ways that male djs hardly (n)ever do today.
For instance we can compare and contrast lyrics from the ole school “The Healing” (by Lady Saw and Beenie Man, released June 1997) with “Ninja Bike” (Tanya Stephens, released April 1998) for example and at least come up with some kind of range of experience between the two. Lady Saw wants to “stretch to the ceiling” and Tanya wants “a big ninja bike fi mi ride pon.” Someone said to me, back in the day, that “The Healing” at the time, was one of the best dancehall love-songs that he had ever heard and I think that description would still hold up today. After all, there is a sensitivity in Beenie expressed—sensitivity! Specifically in lines like, “you are di girl who brought di joy in my world” and “oh Saw dis is possible / I woulda wuk you even if you cripple / You coulda blind, you coulda deaf or full handicap too / I love di woman weh inside a you.” Sweet. [And yes, it’s also ableist as hell in that one verse, I’ve newly recognized. But this is also ole school dancehall so, um, yeah. Stuff like that comes with the territory. Doesn’t mean it’s less problematic].
Still, I don’t see nearly any semblance of diversity in male male djs singing about sex and appropriations of sexual behavior, these days. Everything is hard and fast and painful i.e. pleasurable. And not much else is going on. Furthermore, in terms of Lady Saw, Tanya and others aside, while I appreciate ‘the woman’s voice’ in song, the perspective and agency of female djs in music — I would still have a problem if women were only envisioning one kind of sexual experience. Just because a female employs a similar theme (though I think one can deconstruct and illustrate that they don’t all do so), that wouldn’t make it okay either. I’d want them to complicate their thematic concerns too — or at least, the ways in which they are presented. I’m gonna have a problem with every female now declaring in song that they want “it up inna mi tripe” or bitten nipples, alongside, “mi and him haffi go fight.” Seriously, I don’t see how anyone could not see the sexually violent overtures, all over the place in that song.
Additionally, in the sometimes complex grey-area of what exactly constitutes a dancehall love song these days — a hyper masculinized and hyper sexualized genre space — I mean the above quoted “Romping Shop” (release date, April 2009) is supposed to be considered one, depending on one’s taste and how you look at it. Ok, well maybe it’s a relationship-song. Either way, it’s a duo and duos tend to lend themselves to being categorized in that way. And Kartel and Spice are clearly singing about a relationship — their relationship, albeit essentially sexual, but presumably a kind of relationship anyway. Interestingly, as song duos go, usually there is usually a “man’s voice” and a “woman’s voice” going on in some of these songs. (Yes, they’re very gendered and stereotypical and all that). But in terms of diversifying a range of voice, “The Healing” exemplifies it quite well and there is a lyrical banter going back and forth between Saw and Beenie which reflects that “voice”. That clear notion of what Beenie Man wants and prioritizes (in the song) through his song persona and the same for Lady Saw.
What’s interesting about the monkey wrench that is “Romping Shop,” is the way in which Spice does NOT embody the voice of a lamenting female is this track. Many dancehall love-song duos don’t do that in the same way that genres like R&B, or pop or even soca do, plus there aren’t a whole heap of them to work with either. Granted a song duo can also be declarative but we tend to have an expection of the presentation of a male-female song duo. Forget the lament, furthermore, it’s what Spice is beckoning for in “Romping Shop” and the way she goes about expressing it which is central to the song.
Actually, there is almost no distinction in tone between her and Kartel’s stance with regard to their dealings (like poetic tone, if I may use that expression, not like vocal tone). Her aggro matches that of the contemporary popular dancehall dj culture that I critiqued before. Which is really fascinating and probably warrants some attention to detail; I don’t know if I will necessarily do that here at this moment AND I also really don’t know if I like it or not. Sure, I’ll listen to the song and even dance to it, (there are a couple dancehall songs that I will boycott in a party on personal principle and not dance to. Like anyone cares) but I’m not sure that I like or even embrace what “Romping Shop” represents. Really. But unfortunately, it’s fun to flex out to (insert self consternating gasp here).
It’s like bad liberal-feminist-cosmopolitan magazine-take-charge-of-your-sexuality-and-your-man ideals gone askew or something. Kartel — well, what do you expect. But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people who are wont to be scandalized by such things and are, feel that way not just by the whole song but what the female especially, sings and exemplifies. When you combine the two — well it’s just moreso. And I’m a feminist. And far from prudish. Waaaaay far. But jeez. Granted a song is a mere snapshot and you can’t read a performer’s entire artistic scope from one song but people will anyway and they will hold artistes accountable for the most memorable tracks (be that positive or negative) and the ways in which they have interpreted them through their music.
So once again, as I’ve said before, there are a myriad of ways to explore sex and sexuality in music and various kinds of art. In life in fact. In loving ways, in not so loving ways, problematic ways. And, yes, I’ll acquiesce, even some daggerin’. But there’s also more. Much, much more. When are people going to start back singing about that?