Did “Boom Bye Bye” Ever Go Away? A Gleaner Article, and a Response from “It”

I am re-publishing below an article from the “Jamaica Gleaner,” and a response to it from one of the “things” referred to in this article.

Yes, “things.” This is how the writer, Mel Cooke, refers to his fellow Jamaicans, whom he happens to self-righteously disapprove of. Clearly he has written this to create a stir – and will include responses to this airing of his personal prejudices in his next column. Wow, that is something to look forward to.

Below this article, I am printing a piece by Afifa Aza, Ph.D., about whom I wrote a profile in an earlier blog post. Both Mel and Afifa are well-educated, intelligent, creative people. Mel Cooke is a published poet and writer; Afifa Aza is a social activist, educator, writer and DJ. And yet, the gulf between them is enormous. But isn’t that Jamaica for you? It’s sometimes a very sad place.

I am sorry, Mr. Cooke. “It” is how the Nazis regarded Jews (and black people, and homosexuals, and Roma people, and people with disabilities); “It” is how the colonial slave masters regarded the slaves. “It” is how the members of ISIS are allegedly treating the young women they capture, buying and selling them. Mr. Cooke rails against former President George Bush etc., but still he himself embraces that kind of mentality in this article.

You can find Mr. Cooke’s column at jamaicagleaner.com/article/entertainment/20150604/bye-bye-boom-bye-bye and you can find Afifa Aza’s response at amedjafifa.wordpress.com/20150608/open-letter-to-mel-cooke/

P.S. Personally I have never been, and will never be, a fan of Buju Banton – who for those who don’t know, wrote and sang the homophobic “Boom Bye Bye,” and subsequently performed it numerous times for his adoring fans. It would be unkind of me to say that Buju’s current incarceration in the United States might be karma. But then, I cannot help wondering if it is…

As another, much greater reggae icon, Burning Spear sang: “Where is your love, Jamaica?”*

* “Black Wa Da Da” from the album “Garvey’s Ghost,” in case you’re wondering…


Writer/poet Mel Cooke at a poetry reading session with the Drawing Room Project participants and Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris in St. Ann on Sunday, June 7. (My photo)
Writer/poet Mel Cooke at a poetry reading session with the Drawing Room Project participants and Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris in St. Ann on Sunday, June 7. (My photo)

WARNING: This edition of Music and More with Mel could be particularly dangerous to your sense of well-being. You will find yourself either overly irritated or enthusiastic, maybe concurrently. You will find yourself cheering or booing, maybe consecutively. These extreme vacillations are not good for your heart. However, despite this warning, you will still, at least, begin to read this column today. And, if you finish, you will read it again, to more stable results.

I was in Courts on Constant Spring Road, St Andrew, in December when I saw it. There were two of the things, but one was especially itty. It wiggled up the steps to the store’s upper level behind a store employee. It wiggled, it simpered, it held its handbag in the crook of an arm with the wrist especially limp. It preened and smoothed down its hair and revelled in an oddly bronze complexion and surreptitiously glanced around to see the effect on those who were around.

It was disappointed. No one batted (and that is a pun, in case you missed it) an eyelid.

What did I do? What anyone interested in observing human behaviour would, naturally. I followed back a it. And upstairs I saw a person reclined in one of the chairs on display, pouting as he looked at his telephone, which he was suddenly very interested in now that there was no potential audience for the it which he had projected.

The costume was the same, but the persona totally different – deflated and different. Simply a person, different from me but certainly not intent on and failing to disrupt sensibilities.

The homosexuals and their supporters (I nearly said backers, but I am learning to behave myself) made at least two strategic errors in their push for acceptance which seemed to be working at the time but, in hindsight, set back their cause immeasurably. One was allowing the flagrant fops, including the youths at the gully in New Kingston, who were eventually largely exposed as just another bunch of criminals and rightly treated as such, to become the face of the gay population in Jamaica. The other was to hand over their cause to persons outside Jamaica, persons who I believe have got their mileage out of the Jamaican situation and moved on, after deepening and widening the chasm between Jamaica’s homosexuals and the part of the population which rejects them in public.

I am old enough to have seen the pattern before, with the communism and capitalism proxy wars fought out in Jamaica, while the USA and USSR went unscathed, despite their build-up of arms. And I understand that there needs to be a most homophobic country in the world for the activists to point to, much as Israel needs Palestinians to be terrorists and George Bush needed Saddam Hussein. Jamaica literally volunteered for the job, with some of its dancehall lyrical output.

But, you see, it was never dancehall that was at the root of anti-homosexuality in Jamaica. It was always God. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a deejay refer to Leviticus 20:13, I could probably match the highest Super Lotto jackpot. There has been so much focus on the chorus of Buju Benton’s Boom Bye Bye that the God side of the tune has been insufficiently analysed (there is a pun in that, too). It is in the part where he says:

“Woman a de greates’ ting God ever put pon de lan’

Buju love oonu from head top to foot bottom

… a tun e rung, whe dem get dat from?”

He is not talking only about the turning around of the order of man with woman or the other turning around. He is also talking about the reversal of God’s mandate.

Now, however, we are in the post-Boom Bye Bye era. Buju is in prison in the US, and the conspiracy theorists as well as some more rational folk are convinced there is a connection. The artistes who there were protests against are largely not touring places where their concerts can be picketed by gay activists. Randy Berry and Todd Larson visited Jamaica and the mandate of seeping gay reform is now clear – something which the deejays were saying was the real objective all along, not shopping hate music.

I have always felt that the youths in New Kingston were kept in place by persons within the gay community who despised them but wanted them there as an example to the rest of the world how much homosexuals are despised in Jamaica – which, in many cases I know of personally, is simply not true. Neither were the raft of murders which were supposed to have been happening in Jamaica. Les Green, one of the British policemen who came to work in Jamaica, said publicly when he was leaving that in all the gay-killing cases he knew of in Jamaica, it was gay-on-gay murder.

Nobody called him homophobic.

Jimmy and Tarrus Riley have a song in which they say, “dancehall is the people’s church”. It is. For a long time, dancehall expressed the disapproval of homosexuality which it got from the Bible in the ultra-violent language of the Old Testament. Then there was the incident with Professor Brendan Bain last year and some church people flexed their muscles in a very small way outside the University of the West Indies, Mona’s gates, and then in Half-Way Tree.

The dialogue changed completely from the lambasting of dancehall. And now there is going to be more dialogue, as the gay-rights agenda gathers pace in this post-Boom Bye Bye epoch.

The youth Christian organisation Love March Movement made its opinion on Berry and Larson known. It is a struggle I would advise dancehall to stay out of. Your voice would be a distraction. How strident is the Church (and here we are talking about not just the traditional houses of God, but the preachers who harass and harangue) against homosexuality? Let who want to wash feet do so.

I heard a recording of one screeching pastor in Coronation Market on a Saturday morning. He said something like, “You hear wey dem name? … You hear how it close to maggot?”

I cringed. No one else I saw did.

Those who are intent on not just banning a few easily identified deejays are going to find that Jamaica is a damn difficult place to change from the top down. Can you imagine from the bottom up?

OK, I am out of space for this week. At it again next Thursday. I will probably include the most extreme positive and negative responses.



Afifa Aza.
Afifa Aza. I wrote about her in my blog last July: “Afifa Aza: There’s More to Life Than Just Getting By.”

Dear Mr Cooke,

I was once called “It” because someone thought my hairstyle looked weird or they couldn’t distinguish whether I was a man or woman. When I cut my hair I was just expressing myself, I hadn’t thought for a minute that it might serve as a decisive gender test. Perhaps when you wrote your article last week you didn’t think about anybody else who has been called “It” and felt subhuman and undeserving of life. You may not have considered how your scorn for “It” is similar to the disdain that many other Jamaicans have for other things and people, like poor people or black people or people with disabilities. I remember that day I got my haircut, and how being called “It” stirred up feelings of fear, humiliation, helplessness and shame. I felt that in my attempt at self expression I did something wrong and needed to undo myself immediately. I felt had broken the code and was being punished..

In your article, Bye Bye, Boom Bye Bye you described your response to seeing “It”, this person whose appearance and gender expression you found disconcerting. I understand that you don’t like homosexuals, especially if they are “flagrant fops”, but your article made me wonder about the subtext. What else you may have been suggesting about how we should deal with people we don’t like. It made me curious how you gauged who gets respect and who doesn’t. As a writer you know everything about the power of the pen and I’m sure much of the respect people have for you has come from you sharing your ideas through writing. All the more reason why I couldn’t understand why you used your respectable craft to be so disrespectful.

Anyway, I’m still wondering why you felt it was okay to describe your discomfort and disgust in a national paper? I want to know, really, why you did it that way. Maybe the question is as much for you as it is for the Jamaica Gleaner. Was it to remind Jamaica’s “its” what they are? Or maybe just to have solidarity with the “whos”? Either way I don’t need to scold you or try to start a dissing match with you, although I and many others feel very disrespected by your words. Nevertheless, you have reminded me of something important about Jamaican life. Living in Jamaica gives all of us nuff cause for impatience, disgust, frustration and anger that often drives us to hurt each other and lash out with a certain Brand (Jamaica) of hate. Hate is what I would call it. Because people are not “It”. How does it feel to want a better Jamaica, and feel like you may not see it in your lifetime? Or maybe Jamaica ah work out ahrite fe you? How can we want better and feel this way about people? Where will it be better Mel? How can it ever get better, or when will Jamaica feel safer when some people know they are considered “It” by the “whos”.

This letter is about what you wrote, why you wrote it and what it means. I understand that Jamaica is changing, and change can be hard especially when we feel uncertain about the outcomes. But even as you say it’s a post-Boom Bye Bye period, your article is a pointed reminder that as much as things have changed many respectable people really just want it to stay the same. Mel the truth is the “it” wey ah really cause de problem is our unique brand of Jamaican hate, ah it me wish we coulda sey “Bye Bye” to. Bless and Love.

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