Every musical genre has a novelty act or two. Milo Gonsalves just wishes that dancehall’s didn’t have to be so popular. “Elephant Man is great for what he does, but he’s like the ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic of dancehall,” declares the 31-year-old Jamaican-born attorney, sitting in a coffee shop near his Silver Spring apartment. It’s a bold statement—and just the sort of thing Gonsalves has the rakstones to print in Reggaematic, his self-funded magazine about a musical genre notorious for its less-than-civil attitudes toward women and gays and its frequent glorification of violence.
“Dancehall gets such a bad rap compared to roots reggae, and maybe some of it’s justified,” he says. “But it is what young people are listening to in Jamaica, and it deserves serious attention. This music was born out of some of the roughest, toughest ghettos in Jamaica—places where, when I was a kid, I was not allowed to go.”
With artists such as Elephant Man and Sean Paul crossing over into the hiphop mainstream, it’s what young people are listening to in the United States, too—though, Gonsalves says, “What is getting pushed and what is getting attention as dancehall is not what the people on the streets are listening to.”
In Reggaematic, which operates on the contributions of just a handful of volunteers, he attempts to present a more realistic picture of the genre, addressing hot-button topics that the mainstream press tends to gloss over. “A lot of [dancehall artists] want to say the popular thing. They want to bun battyman, informers, and politicians, and that’s it,” Gonsalves says. “I think dancehall needs to get beyond that.”
Gonsalves started writing about dancehall in 1995, as a sophomore at Philadelphia’s Temple University. He was only three years removed from living in Kingston, and he longed for Caribbean culture, so he started going to local dancehall shows and posting reviews on his Web site. “It was deep in the ghettos where these shows were,” he recalls, “and everything was promoted by drug dealers. It was just a bad scene.” Soon, his writing was attracting dancehall fans who were, he says, “like voyeurs, who are afraid to go to some of these places but they want to be in touch with the movement and culture in some way.”
Gonsalves officially launched Reggaematic.com in 1997, working on it for three years before putting the site on hiatus. “I was exhausted,” he says. “I was doing the entire thing myself at that point. I was out of college—I had a job.” But after moving to the D.C. area and getting a law degree from George Washington University, Gonsalves turned his attention back to the site. So far, he has published three issues on the Web, but the next installment will mark Reggaematic’s debut as a glossy.
“One of the problems of the Caribbean community is that…the people who are interested in dancehall are the people who don’t have Internet access,” he says. “I wasn’t reaching everybody I wanted to reach.”
The first printed issue of Reggaematic, featuring dancehall up-and-comer Tanya Stephens and hardcore DJ Vybz Kartel, will be hitting West Indian record stores, grocery marts, and restaurants in D.C., New York, and Miami this week. It will also be available at the Howard University Bookstore and through Reggaematic.com. Gonsalves admits that this is a somewhat limited launch, but he says he’ll be content even if the mag doesn’t expand its current fanbase.
“I’m preaching to the converted in a way,” he says. “Even if everyone drops off and it’s just me carrying the torch Don Quixote–style, that’s fine. I don’t think dancehall needs a fanzine. And if it does, I’m not going to be the one who gives it to them.” —Christopher Porter