My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

FACING Home: Love and Redemption: Bob Marley and creating One Love for all

by Drew Rowsome -

"We're working outwards towards Jamaica and inwards towards the world," says choreographer Christopher Walker of FACING Home: Love and Redemption. "People don't feel allowed to be free to be themselves, to be happy."

"It's a conversation about homophobic experiences in the diaspora," adds co-choreographer Kevin Ormsby.

FACING Home: Love and Redemption is the second piece in a creative process that began with FACING Home: Phobia. Dance in which Walker and Ormsby struggled with the homophobia that taints their pride in their Jamaican ancestry and roots. FACING Home: Love and Redemption questions how Jamaica became known both for Bob Marley's message of love and peace and for its homophobic violence. "FACING Home deals with the paradox of the preaching of liberation we find in Marley's music,  and with the simultaneous oppression of the LGBT community's ability to participate in family, community and culture," says Walker.

They compare the successful spread of Marley's music to the forced migration of Jamaica's gays. "It was an aesthetic with a global impact," says Walker. "He put to music some of the more important values of Jamaica. Bob Marley sang what my grandmother told me. In his public projection  he never spoke hate, only equality and love. He is the millennial man - in five or six generations when they want to see what we looked like, they will play 'One Love.'"

"Marley never really talked about gays," says Ormsby. "He was very much in contact with gay people, though we don't have that on record as fact. But we do have an incredible legacy of music right from the heart. Music preaching love and redemption, moving forward as people."

The music of FACING Home: Love and Redemption is Marley's, the content and movement are Walker and Ormsby's. "We're working with a vocabulary that we developed," says Walker. "It's Caribbean based, in the traditions of the area. As Marley married the rhythms of Africa with the melodies of Europe."

"It's a mixture of cultures but not a dilution," says Ormsby. "Even urban popular expression like hip hop can be source back to the Caribbean. It's all inter-related."
Fiercely proud of Jamaica and its artistic output, the pair don't downplay the homophobia. "I travel back and forth quite a bit," says Walker who is now based in the US. "There is still a certain level of fear despite my level of privilege because of the spaces I access." FACING Home: Love and Redemption is slated to be performed in Jamaica in March and, "there is a bit of fear to take international artists to a university where there was a riot because they thought a gay couple was making out in a washroom."

"It is privilege," says Ormsby. "You know you no longer live in those spaces. But you also have to honour the fact that there is a large sub-culture that does provide support. Not everyone is homophobic. And there is violence against everyone in Jamaica." Ormsby compares surviving in a Jamaican closet to living on the downlow or in the closet. "It's no different from the masks people wear to come downtown, to come to Church Street."

Walker and Ormsby could have used Marley's original tracks but they have chosen to use a variety of cover versions, ranging from a Hasidic Jew from New York to a South African dance band and everywhere in between. It is not only to emphasize the global impact of Marley's music but also to re-enforce what they see as the central question at the heart of FACING Home: Love and Redemption: "When did you first fall in love with Bob Marley?" asks Ormsby. "And how does that fit with a man falling in love with a man?"

"And besides," adds Walker. "The covers are just absolutely amazing."

FACING Home: Love and Redemption runs Thursday, November 26 to Sunday, November 29 at the Aki Studio Theatre in the Daniels Spectrum arts hub in the revitalized Regent Park area of Toronto.