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Isis Semaj-Hall

Isis Semaj-Hall is a decolonial feminist, cultural analyst, and bad gyal Ph.D. Her curiosity is piqued at the intersection of art and politics. Shaped by her Jamaican childhood and New York adolescence, she has been known to write on sound studies and remix theory, Rihanna, Protoje, Edwidge Danticat, Marlon James, dub, and dancehall. Semaj-Hall is co-founder and editor of the Pree: Caribbean Writing magazine, author of the “write pon di riddim” blog, and she lectures in Caribbean writing, reggae poetry, and popular culture at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

"Isis Semaj-Hall 'From Chanting Down to Louding Out: Gendered Versioning in ‘Equal Rights’'"
For forty years the pairing of “equal rights” and “Jamaica” was synonymous with Peter Tosh and human rights until female dancehall deejay Ishawna released her version of “Equal Rights” in April of 2017. Yes, Peter Tosh introduced an instant
classic in 1977 when he voiced: “Everyone is crying out for peace, yes/ None is crying out for justice.” And his song became a rallying cry for all sufferers in his home country of Jamaica and across the globe. Titled “Equal Rights,” Tosh’s song captured the masculine sound of reggae with his pained baritone voice moaning steadily over a familiar groove. But then in Spring 2017, voicing over a familiar rhythm, Ishawna rallied the dancehall against her as she sang-out for a woman’s right to receive oral sex and, curiously, she also spoke up for men’s should-be freedom to offer oral sex to a woman.
Ishawna’s song became instantly infamous as it was regarded by Jamaica’s male listenership and Jamaica’s male dancehall artistes as a song championing sexual behavior that is regarded as socially “taboo” and “disgusting” in Jamaica. Given the timing of Ishawna’s release on the heels of the Tambourine Army’s “louding out” of rapists, this paper looks at how the lyrics of Ishawna’s “Equal Rights” penetrates the dancehall space in a particularly gendered way. And listening to the rhythm behind her “Equal Rights,” this paper considers how Ishawna effectively, though problematically, re-locates Ed Sheeran’s electronically created “tropical house”/ Afro-beat/ TLC-sampled rhythm into a Jamaican dancehall space. Because of the ways in which Ishawna’s “Equal Rights” record has exposed the gender injustice and selective humanitarianism at work in Peter Tosh’s classic and in Jamaica overall, I argue that female dancehall artiste Ishawna presently has identified the possibility of a new, gendered threat to Jamaica’s colonial legacy that may be more dangerous than reggae’s male Rastafarian singers.