If I believe what I read yesterday, I would think that some Jamaican musical artiste is “appalled and disappointed”. Reports indicated that her appearance at the Rastafesta event in Canada has been cancelled. Queen Ifrica has been engulfed in a public firestorm since she used her moment on stage during Jamaica’s Independence gala to denounce homosexuals. Significantly, the Ministry of Culture, which put on the event, was not amused: it issued a statement where it regretted that an artiste had used the platform “to express her personal opinions and views on matters that may be considered controversial, rather than to perform in the agreed scripted and rehearsed manner”. She is, of course, entitled to her personal opinion, but should she have used her own time and space to do that, rather than at a government-organized public event?
Russia found itself recently in a similar swell of international disapproval because of its policies regarding propaganda supporting homosexuality. Russia is entitled to make whatever policy it wishes, but how did its views sit with athletes who have to visit the country to compete in the World Championships last week and what happens if they engage in the banned propaganda? The matter
takes on a different tone when Russia hosts the next winter Olympics, and its policies are set against the Olympic ideals of friendship, fair play, and solidarity.
Both artiste and country might have fallen on the same thorn, homosexuality, but similar controversy has faced others over other touchy issues. In the USA, those for or against gun control or abortion, for example, have had their views assessed and been forced to reconsider. China has found itself facing international condemnation of its human rights records. Years ago, South Africa’s apartheid policy was a hot potato.
In the Caribbean, I remember Barbados’ prime minister banning Jamaican dance hall artistes, Movado and Vybz Kartel, from visiting the country in 2010, citing concerns about consequences from their violent lyrics. Also Vybz Kartel was banned in other Caribbean due to his profane lyrics. Time was when Rastafarianism was vilified as both a religious and cultural movement in Jamaica. But, isn’t time a wonderful healer.
One simple modern truth is that you cannot hide in this world. Modern technology now puts any seemingly obscure event into the eyesight or earshot of the whole planet. A policeman beating a suspect. A politician saying something offensive. A burglar creeping through a window. All are now easily captured as images and sound, then shared. That wasn’t Queen Ifrica’s problem, but she seemed to forget that her provocative comments would be seen and heard, not just in little Jamaica, but also in a bigger country she was about to visit, and worldwide. Canada has a more-liberal attitude toward homosexuality and someone should have suggested to Queen Ifrica to hold her comment till after the rasta gig. Maybe someone did but she couldn’t resist the rush of excitement on stage in front of 25,000 spectators. I wonder if she had planned to give the same anti-homosexual message in Canada; we may never know.
Whether Jamaica realizes it or not, it has a multidimensional image in the rest of the world. Sure, it’s great to be known for producing fast runners like rain. We love to be loved for our music. But, the world knows us, also, for a range of less-flattering traits. All the recent talk about ‘brand Jamaica’ and whether that would be tarnished by revelations of failed drug tests by star athletes did not tackle the prospect that Jamaica has many brand marks. One brand is its violence: that is why some countries give their citizens severe warnings about personal safety when visiting the island, and why all-inclusive resorts are popular. “Jamaicans are violent. Beware!” The message is clear. Tourists are warned about driving on our roads: “Jamaican drivers are dangerous and reckless.” The message is clear.
Another brand is that the island is a drug paradise. Tourists may believe that smoking cannabis is legal and that they can get away with toting a spliff. Sorry! Jamaica tries to correct that image, but, I suspect the message is lost.
Jamaica is branded an economic failure. Some will try to contest that view; others will say only the blind cannot see it. The fact that we are trying anew with an IMF arrangement is clear enough to me.
One more brand is the country’s anti-homosexual stance, often seen as uncompromising and very violent. This is not something to deny, but it’s also something that the rest of the world seems to lie less about the island. We are not alone, but we are renowned.
Queen Ifrica could have wanted to promote that last brand. Was she naive to do so just before a gig in a country with a more-accepting philosophy? Canadian reactions shouldn’t have been unexpected. Perhaps, the adverse Jamaican reaction was novel. Did she, who seems so wise in her social and political observations, just lose the plot? I wonder if she’s getting ready to assail us on other dislikes she harbours. Watch out politicians. ‘Don’t cry, Mr. Bunting’ may soon seem like a nursery rhyme. Look out media moguls. Watch out other fans. Will the Queen call out at her next Jamaican concert those who bleach their skin? The mouth is ready to bite more hands that feed it? Why don’t I think so?
Jamaican ambassadors, formal and informal have their hands full trying to present their country at its best. I don’t know whether Usain Bolt has had to field questions on all or some of these brand images. Maybe the PM, on her recent jaunt to China, has had her ear bent. Did Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica have a word with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in private or formally about how our Queen may be seen as an unwelcome guest?
Just as a brand may sell well, so too may it be taken quickly off the shelves. Sponsors running away from brands is often a bad sign. Tell that to the athletes. Who’s running to buy brand Jamaica? Who’s getting ready to clear us off the shelves?