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Shatta music, a new space for French West Indian feminism

La musique Shatta, un nouvel espace pour le féminisme Antillais
Coraline Kandassamy


This article examines the emergence of Martinican Shatta music as a space for feminism in the French Caribbean. Born in 2015 and derived from the appropriation of Jamaican dancehall riddims, Shatta music has become a field of expression for Black French Caribbean youth.Characterized by a male-dominated space in its beginning, Shatta lyrics were prominently sexual and often objectifying women. Today, young women have appropriated the movement to voice their female experience. They sing about empowerment, confidence “‘m’en fous de c’ que tu penses je suis blindée de talent”’/ in English: “I don’t care what you think I’m full of talent” (Kryssy, Shannon, Queens, 2021);, ambition “‘La vie nou G , la vie nou belle , la vie nous rose, Biensur nou ka travail red , pou nou pé sa rouler en boss”’ /in English, our life is pretty, of course we work hard to be able to drive nice cars’.” (Kryssy, Shannon, 2021); or positioning the woman as a subject and not an object (“La chou veut pas de toi, range ton slip” / in English: “(the girl does not want you, hide your underwear”). In analyzing the lyrics, videos, and performances of these female artists, this research aims to analyze how they deconstruct the codes of the patriarchal system. It is true that French West Indian (F.W.I.) women are particularly impacted as they are at the heart of an intersectional position. First, they are located on islands that experience instances of subordination because of the ambivalent relation with France. Besides, they are battling stereotypes in which they are seen as too sexually deviant or too matriarchal. Because of all these elements, Shatta music has become a field of feminist expression in the French Caribbean.

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“Mwen an ka flex
An pa ka tann pawol ou deye an bass
Ou ka pale mais nonm ou deye an fes
Fo ti ni okupasyon pandan ou las
Nonm ou se taw me fodre ou bay an les” (Maureen, Flex, 2019)

“Me I flex
I can’t hear your words behind the bass
You’re talking but your man is looking for ass
There gotta be entertainment while you’re tired
Your man is yours but you need to give him a leash”
“I am a bad girl in a shatta world’’ (Shaydee’s, Kimpembe 2021)

“Bad chick
Baby on fleek
Bad boy wanna dis
Mini dick oh shit” (Jahlys, Bad chick, 2018)

“Gère ta vie pendant que je gère la mo
Gère la mo, je gere la mo, no ich liebe dich, no te amo” (Maureen, Tic, 2020)

Take care of your life while I make the money
I make money, no ich liebe dich [I love you in German], no te amo [I love you in Spanish]”

1Shatta music arrived on French West Indian (Martinique and Guadeloupe) airwaves in 2013, providing a creative platform for young Martinicans. Later on, televisions, radios and streaming platforms witnessed the birth of a new music genre allowing Black female expression in the FWI. Explicit language, clothes, videos and performances all defined the essence of Shatta. Elements from discourse, and attitude rapidly garnered attention from the public. Generally, assertive feminist attitudes came from American female artists like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Beyoncé or Rihanna who were discussing different layers of female power, whether it was sexuality “Ride the dick like a BMX” ("Motorsport" by Migos, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj in 2017), independence (“I work my ass 9 to 5, you betta cut my check,” by Beyonce in the song "Who run the world," 2011), or the refusal to conform (“Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage/fuck your white horse and a carriage," Rihanna, "Needed me," 2016). However, it was unusual to hear such a feminist discourse in French West Indian female music.

2In Martinique and Guadeloupe, female artists mostly performed zouk, a popular music genre that arose in the 1980s, inspired by two other musical genres, konpa and biguine, from Haiti and Martinique respectively. The zouk female artists mostly sang about love, emotion and “limbé” (a Creole word expressing heartbreak). Female artists such as Kassav lead female singer Jocelyne Béroard have attempted to address female power and agency. In her zouk hit “Ké sa lévé” (“I will learn how to stand up”), the Martinican singer addresses the ability of a woman to rise up from heartbreak. Other genres such as rap, dancehall, reggae, biguine, or gwo ka are not developed enough to allow a negotiation of female identity. However, Shatta music, which gained a lot of popularity among young Martinicans and Guadeloupeans, was able to provide a vocal platform of expression for these female artists. Through Shatta, they were able to develop a discourse to the masses in their own terms as they attempted to negotiate femininity through the terms imposed by Shatta music and French West Indian society. Indeed, Shatta music imposed itself as a tool, as a reflection on young people’s social attitudes inside and outside of the dancefloor. The word Shatta was initially a Jamaican slang for “gangster.” The word was later used to describe a female of low morals and today, it can be utilized to define a woman of fierce, or bold attitude or to address a situation that is fun, interesting, or exciting. As it became a music genre, the word was re-appropriated to encompass the essence of a young, fun type of music allowing young French West Indians to express themselves in a liberated way.

3Born in Martinique in 2013, Shatta music derived from the reappropriation of Jamaican dancehall riddims. Indeed, in the beginning, artists would take instrumental versions of Dancehall hits to create the basis for new songs. Consequently, 2013 to 2016 constituted what can be called the golden age of remixes, with such hits as the “Monopoly,” “WAS,” “Politics,” and “Nefertiti” riddims and many more. However, the Martinican artists were quickly short of hits to remix and this forced them to create their own instrumentals. According to music producers, what they called “two notes” represented the starting point of Shatta music, which was characterized by electronic dancehall beats, made out of one heavy bass, one piano, one guitar bass playing two-note beats. The main goal was to have a simple instrumentation in order for the artist to be able to deliver anything on the beat. Artists like Shannon, Kryssy, Niko started to grow in popularity at the same time as the genre was gaining fame. As it developed, Shatta lyrics described the lives of the young French West Indians, and became predominantly sexual. Among them, “Girl ou kay pran tout, pa kouri meme siy pa kout”, in English (Girl you’re going to take it all, don’t run even if it’s not short” (Kalash, Lambis, 2019) or “Wine and go down sur la basse, ton gros bonda”, in English (Wine and go down on the bass, with your fat ass (Chinwax, Shatta, 2020). Because of the male ubiquity in the beginning of Shatta music, women were the main subject addressed in Shatta songs. However, the women Shatta addressed were powerful, in command, and vocal about what they want. This speaks volumes because Shatta music is mostly played in young gathering spaces such as clubs, parties and shows and its presence in these spaces allows Shatta to become the soundtrack of a generation of young French West Indian males and females who attend these gatherings, and consequently identify themselves to Shatta. Consequently, when female artists entered Shatta, they allowed the presence of a new perspective that was different from the men’s. While the lyrics remained hypersexualized, the Shatta female artists were able to subvert the male discourse by adding a feminist agenda in order to answer back and voice the situations of oppression Black French West Indian women face everyday. Crenshaw has talked about intersectional ways in which Black women have been oppressed because of their sex, race, class and else, (Creenshaw, 1991: 126) and it is true that F.W.I. (French West Indian) women are at the heart of an intersectional position, in which they are in multiple situations of subordination. First, because they live on an island which was previously a French colony and is, since 1946, a French overseas department. This ambiguous political situation tends to create conflictual relations, in which many times, inhabitants of Martinique and Guadeloupe are marginalized because of their race and their culture. This is especially problematic in a context of decolonization which have created campaigns of assimilation from the islands to the French metropole. As they sing in a mix of Creole (local language), English, Spanish and French, they affirm their identity away from the metropole. Besides, they battle typical stereotypes attached to Black women such as too sexually deviant or too matriarchal and therefore creating the dysfunctions of the French West Indian family which is impacted by a high number of monoparental families (60% according to the INSEE (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, in english The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies collects, analyses and disseminates information on the French economy and society)). Dancehall expert Carolyn Cooper have discussed the relations between Dancehall culture, hypersexuality and feminist ideas in this perspective : the “affirmation of the pleasures of the body, which is often misunderstood as a devaluation of female sexuality, also can be theorized as an act of self-conscious female assertion of control over the representation of her person.” (Cooper, 2004: 125) As this research recognizes a link between Jamaican dancehall and Maritnican Shatta, it focuses on different intersections of agency, positionality, performativity and ethnography to make sense of the politics of being as a Black woman in the French West Indian as interpreted by Shatta female artists. Rampant intersectional issues have allowed Shatta music to become a platform able to discuss many of these female issues, and create in the same way a new female agency that revolves around self-independence, power and sexuality. As they sing about empowerment, “m’en fous de c'que tu penses’ je suis blindée de talent (Kryssy, Shannon, Queens, 2021), / I don’t care what you think I’m full of talent (my translation), ambition “La vi nou G , la vie nou belle , la vi nou rose, Biensur nou ka travail red , pou nou pé sa rouler en boss” /”Our life is pretty, of course we work hard to be able to drive nice cars,’ (Kryssy, Shannon, 2021)

4Shatta music employs a metaphorical approach that objectifies women, which can be attributed to its popularity as a genre of music played at parties. As Shatta music is characterized by its electronic beats and its association with entertainment and leisure, it often features lighthearted and sexually charged lyrics that focus on the sexualized aspects of women's bodies, sexual acts, and provocative dancing. While men may sometimes acknowledge the power of women's sexuality and raw dancing, the lyrics primarily serve to hypersexualize and objectify women. Female Shatta artists use their lyrics to empower and provide choices for women, rejecting the notion of women as objects. In lyrics such as "La chou veut pas de toi, range ton slip" (translated as "the girl does not want you, hide your underwear"), (‘Tic’, Maureen, 2020) artists such as Maureen disrupt social norms and create a new discourse. By utilizing the codes of Shatta music, the provocative and assertive lyrics root for feminist ideas and address topics such as female independence, empowerment, freedom, and ambition.

5Firstly, the Shatta Queens develop a feminist agenda by deconstructing the settings of colonization through orality, as they deliver their discourse through a specific language that merges around Creole, English, French and Spanish.

6Secondly, they deconstruct sexual norms through a hypersexual discourse, that allow to reconsider the imagery of the Black sexuality, the Black body and Black erotics.

7Finally, Shatta deconstructs gender roles as it allows female artists to shift the narratives assigned to each gender and develop a ferocious “bad gyal attitude” that resembles in many aspects the one of the male figure. These systems of disruption are developed in order to build a French West Indian Black feminist discourse that revolves around ideas of independence, control and power. Therefore, I intend to direct my main arguments around the metaphor of the “Féroce”, (one of the main Martinican dishes composed of codfish, avocado, cassava flour and hot pepper) in order to describe the construction of a Black feminist identity through Shatta. In analyzing the lyrics, videos and performances of these female artists, this research aims to elaborate different ways in which they challenge social norms as dictated by the westernized patriarchal system.

8For this research, five Martinican female artists, Kryssy, Shannon, Maureen, Jahlys and Shaydee’s were chosen because of their relevance and heterogeneity. According to streaming numbers, they have been the most popular female Shatta artists. Besides, their agency, discourse, methods vary from one another, allowing for a heterogeneity of the representation of feminist ideas and discourses. The main methodology looks at modes of expression as sites of analysis of social and cultural issues. Therefore, this study analyzed lyrics, videos, performances, and interviews as resources to exemplify different arguments.

1. Deconstructing Settings Of Colonialism: Desalting The Codfish

9Le Féroce (in English the Ferocious) is a delicious Martinican dish which is made of codfish, avocado, cassava flour and hot pepper. The codfish is the most essential element of le Féroce. It has been a part of French West Indian cuisine dating back to the days of European colonial rule and was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century. Vessels from North America (mainly Canada) would come bringing lumber and pickled and salted cod. They would then return to their homeland with Caribbean molasses, rum, sugar, and salt. Codfish was usually dried in salt in order to keep it fresh. Salting allowed preservation, aromatisation and access to everyone. However, in order to cook codfish, it is essential to desalt the codfish as it can not be eaten fully salted and it is the first step of le Féroce. This study uses desalting as a metaphor for the distortion of orality and language in Shatta music, enabling the deconstruction of colonial settings, and the creation of the basis of a French West Indian female identity.

1.1. Orality as resistance

10Caribbean history has always been heavily linked to the system of colonization to the extent that it has codified the social norms in the area. At the same time, because its population has been displaced from various areas of the African continent, Caribbean identity was built around the contradiction of these two extremely opposing cultures, and consequently elements of ambiguity in political and social spheres. In this search for identity, the land, the geography and its people are constantly balanced between the blood mother (Africa) and the adoptive mother (France as a metropolis). On the one hand, colonization is responsible for the plurality of cultures that shaped French West Indian identity. At the same time, the process has challenged the agency of Caribbean people by putting these former colonies in positions of marginalization. They are imposed social and cultural settings, which do not necessarily belong to them, and are forced to put aside the traditions that characterize their identity. This is the process of assimilation that happened between France and its former colonies. In the face of this confrontation of cultures, patriarchal values became ubiquitous whether it was in systems or religious, economic or social structures. West-Indian populations’ reaction was to fight harder to either assimilate and put their culture aside; or to lean on more to their own culture. Helen Tiffin talked about “post-colonial cultures are inevitably hybridized, involving a dialectical relationship between European ontology and epistemology and the impulse to create or recreate independent local identity.”(Tiffen, 1987) Therefore, in these imposed realities, Shatta becomes a tool for resistance as it allows claims to oral production through the vocal delivery of rhythmic poetry to address contemporary issues concerning race, class, gender, and politics.

11Indeed, language takes a different sense in Caribbean civilizations, and when it is used as a tool for art, it reveals the quintessence of resistance. Because written literacy has always been seen as legitimate instead of orality, the importance of the oral tradition in this music genre emphasizes higher the importance of language, through which power is distorted and taken back. In Éloge de la créolité, Jean Bernabé (1942-2017), Patrick Chamoiseau (1953-), and Raphaël Confiant (1951-) explained that “L’oralité créole, même contrariée dans son expression esthétique, recèle un système de contre-valeurs, une contre-culture.” (Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, 1993) “Creole orality, even thwarted in its aesthetic expression, conceals a system of counter-values, a counter-culture” (my translation). Indeed, orality as delivered in Shatta allows power of speech and power of flow. The blending of oral and vocal interpretations therefore encompass symbols of power, domination and embody the resistance to these relationships of power.

1.2. Creole as language of resistance

12Firstly, the use of Creole in Shatta music is the first element of resistance. It is the first ingredient of the Féroce and the first fighting weapon. Primarily spoken in the Lesser Antilles, Creole was born during colonization (around 1635-1700) in order for plantation owners and slaves of different origins to understand one another. It combined elements of Carib, English, Spanish, Portuguese and African languages. Today, after being standardized, it is spoken by approximately 1 million speakers and is an efficient tool of communication for travelers between neighboring English- and French-speaking territories. However, each Creole has its specificity and is therefore a witness of cultural, and social settings proper to the area and an excellent tool to stand up against patriarchal ideals. Creole has often been marginalized, put aside, especially after the effect of assimilation pushed the French West Indian to adopt French culture, and blend in the french metropolitan landscape. The people of Guadeloupe and Martinique saw in the departementalisation of 1946 new chances and did everything possible to be accepted and allowed these new opportunities to improve their living ways. Today’s generation of young adults have been aware of the failures of assimilation and the loss of culture that resulted from it. In this perspective, they were quick to use Creole as a reference guide to go back to what they consider their real culture. Through Creole, Martinicans are aware of their power, their relevance and their legitimacy away from the French metropole. They affirm their individuality and cultivate this space in the margins for their own benefit. Jerry Philogene questions the possibility of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s “doubly signifying Creole vocabulary” as a key concept that marks contemporary art practises, conceptualizing the Caribbean self as an embodiment of critically interrogating cultural and linguistic borders. This article follows Philogene’s perspective in studying Creole as a way for knowledge. Indeed, because of this question of academic hegemony, the use of oral and Creole holds tight this question of culture, memory and history. In this perspective, Black bodies and Black voices through which Creole is emitted, and transmitted gain agency. First, through their marginality, their lower-class and their race but also because they keep the language alive by creating their own community codes. Hence why Creole is the main language used in Shatta music. However, it is not the only one. Shatta uses deconstructed sentences with fragments of English, Spanish and French. The scarcity of French in Shatta in parallel with the ubiquity of English and Creole speaks volumes. Indeed, this pluralism is synonymous with elements of globality addressed in Glissant’s articulations of the Tout-Monde. A music genre such as Shatta created between 2013 and 2015 interrogates the levels of outside influences in Caribbean culture, and on interaction between global and local cultural productions. Not only the island of Martinique is surrounded by Spanish speaking islands such as the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico and English-speaking islands such as Saint-Lucia, or Jamaica, but the Caribbean basin is closely connected to the United States of America whose predominant culture is adored by inhabitants of the Caribbean. And for young French West Indians, the United States is seen as an alternative culture to the imposed French culture. Indeed, because of its distant (6=a bit less than 4000 miles between the colonies and the metropole) and antagonistic culture, French culture does not systematically match the lives of the French West Indians. In this sense, using English is part of this project of participation in the Jamaican and United States popular culture, especially Black African-American culture. By adopting their language (especially the slang), their dress-code, their attitude, young Martinicans are able to identify with cultures that they recognize in themselves are able to feel close to. Césaire talks in Discours sur la Négritude about the link between Black populations who have been affected by the transatlantic slave trade and recognize in one another this proximity. In this way, because of the logics of colonialization, a majority of Black populations have been affected by discrimination, inequality, marginality and oppression. Today, Shatta and its rhythmic proximity to Dancehall and its lyrical proximity to the United States and Jamaica, recognize this close link between Black cultures as a powerful weapon to fight against neo-colonial oppression. This allows new room for strategies of identification. Because of the rise of the internet erasing distance and breaking down borders, cultures become homogenous as they draw from one another. In this perspective, elements of popular culture are easily accessible and build the bridges from one culture to the other. Therefore, because Creole has always been put in opposition to French, the blending of local and European languages participate in the deconstruction of colonial codes. Today, the scarcity of French in Shatta and the turn to other languages as part of this new mode of expression that allow the creation of a hybrid culture. Besides, the extra-linguistic specificities of these female artists are a key element. The mimics, sounds, flows used all represent marks of language that characterize each female singer, and makes the speech more personal, and seeks for a certain identity. While they attract the attention of the listener, they also help convey a feeling through what is commonly called “flow.” The flow is usually unique and takes part in the individuality and personality of the artist and her art. The flow is therefore a way to “express what is otherwise inexpressible within established customs of language.” (Thomas, 13, 2009) Most of the time, they are also representative of the culture, the expressions, and are overall an effective mark of communication. Elements like the cadence, the pitch, the accent, repetition, assonance and alliteration are elements through which the oral allows for artistic and poetic expression. These vocal specificities attest for an affirmation of the self. Often, Shatta has been looked down upon because of these very linguistic specificities and been refused legitimacy as an art form. However, Shatta, unlike previous music genres, has the power to stand up for French West Indian culture as it refuses to constrain to established orders and recognizes its insularity as an advantage that enables Martinicans to explore their field of possibilities as much as possible. Shatta takes into account the Caribbean as a space for divergence. Using Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s metaphor of the repeating island, Shatta recognizes in the Caribbean a crossroads of different cultures yet of similar processes. Even if the recipe is different, the ingredients are the same. Shatta’s mix of languages presents itself to the world as accessible and is able to break down barriers of geography, languages and culture. As oral possibilities are exploited in Shatta, they become the boiling water of the ‘féroce’ dish, through which artists are able to re-appropriate existing elements. If oral and linguistic settings were to be the salt covering the codfish, desalting would be removing colonial mindsets in order to create possibilities for young French West Indians that will be the basis of resistance within their quest of identity.

2. Deconstructing Sexual Norms: The Avocado

13The second step of the recipe consists in adding the desalted codfish to the cut and crushed avocado. I compare this second step of the recipe to female Shatta artists’ deployment of hypersexuality. The avocado is the main component of the recipe, and brings the taste. In the same way, hypersexuality is the main component of Shatta music.

14Indeed, as Shatta music evolved in clubs and young parties, hypersexuality (sexualization of public subjects and spaces) is ubiquitous in lyrics, performances, and videos. For this reason, when female artists perform on Shatta beats, they use hypersexuality as part of their discourse. This analysis considers the avocado step as synonymous to the hypersexual discourse, performance and attitude in order to allow sexual liberation and consequently, female liberation. Shatta therefore constitutes a re-appropriation of a hypersexualization that often reduced, silenced and othered Black bodies, and even more Black female bodies against their will. It is true that Black women have always appeared highly sexualized in popular culture through stereotypical images.

2.1. Black women, and a legacy of hypersexualization

15Patricia Hill Collins presented different images of Black womanhood that justify women’s oppression and legitimate their subordination in societies of male domination. Among the most relevant images presented by Collins, the jezebel, whore or “hoochie” has been present from the colonization area and has attempted to represent what Collins calls a “deviant Black female sexuality” (Collins, 2000: 80). Indeed, during colonization, Black women were seen as sexually aggressive women, legitimizing the sexual assaults of Black slave women by white planters. Today, taken from from rap band 2 Live Crew’s song “Hoochie Mama”, the “hoochie” is a woman that is overly sexual, has a high sexual appetite and used by the man for sexual purposes. Collins affirms that “within intersecting oppressions, Black women’s allegedly deviant sexuality becomes constructed around jezebel’s sexual desires.” (Collins, 2000: 80) The issue of the “jezebel” and the “coochie” stereotype examined by Collins is that it does not allow any possibility of sexual desire for the Black woman. She is either seen as a sexual object for temporary male sexual pleasure (at best) or as a shameful nasty freak because she desires sex as much as men do (at worst). These various stereotypical images of the Black women are all attempts of objectification of the woman as a consequence of the patriarchal codes of society that sees relations of domination and power between the self and the other. In this sense, the woman exists in opposition to the man. Collins and hooks addressed this dichotomy in their own terms: “domination always involves attempts to objectify the subordinate group. [...]Denying Black women status as full human subjects by treating us as the objectifying Other within multiple binaries demonstrates the power that binary thinking, oppositional difference and objectification wield within intersecting oppressions (Collins, 2000: 71). In parallel, Morgan and Hammonds have highlighted that the Black women’s acts are perceived “in binary opposition to white women” (Morgan, 2015: 37). Indeed, during slavery, the White woman was considered as pure and respectable while the Black woman, which body was used to work in the fields, or used for the sexual pleasure of the and (through rape) was nor respected, nor acknowledged. Consequently, neither her body nor voice belonged to her. Collins asserts: “because the authority to define societal values is a major instrument of power, elite groups, in exercising power, manipulate ideas about Black womanhood.” (Collins, 2000) The problem of these images is that they remain in collective consciousness and are later on used based norms defining different ethnicities, races, genders and cultures. Collins adds that “these controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life.” (Collins, 2000). For these women, distancing themselves from stereotypical images has always been tenuous.

2.2. Hypersexuality as power inShatta

16Today, as Shatta female artists enter male dominated spaces like Shatta music where the woman is only present to be objectified, their presence certifies a shift of the dialogue.

17Today, Shatta is a subversive symbol of sexual expression and departure from colonial respectability structures which challenges postcolonial society. Shatta embodies a resistance to the hegemonic morality, creating a space for self-defined identity formation around sexuality. As it does so, the music genre allows for a reconciliation of the Black woman and her sexuality, her body, her erotic agency and her difference. As Cooper and Morgan asserted: “There is no justice for Black women without pleasure.” (Morgan, 2015, 36). Therefore, Shatta’s hypersexual discourse prevents Black women from objectification as they impose their sexuality on their own terms and gain power and agency through sexuality. Shannon, former dancer and Shatta female artist, celebrates her sexual appetite and female sexual thirst. Her chorus becomes an anthem for Black female sexuality as she sings:

“Coco ki le week end ki la simain
Coco an ten di se femn la emme coco”
(Shannon, Coco, 2021)

“Dick on the week-end, or on a weekday
Dick I heard that women like dick”
(my translation)

18Shannon clearly expresses her sexual needs in a very direct and assertive way.

19These hypersexual elements constitute a powerful way to deconstruct patriarchal codes by subverting hegemonic images of the pure woman who is obedient, respectable, polite and conforms to society’s myth of the perfect subordinate. Collins talks about “the cult of true womanhood that accompanied the traditional family ideal” in which “ ‘true’ women possessed four cardinal virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity” (Collins, 2000: 72). Hope has addressed the dancehall Queens that is/place use their “sexuality ruthlessly” (Hope, 2002: 62) to shift the borders of masculinity and gain respect while liberating themselves. In the same perspective, Shatta takes advantage of these patriarchal notions to unveil power out of it through sexuality. By imposing themselves as highly sexual, sexually assertive and demanding, these women break down all the barriers and shift the paradigm expected of women in patriarchal societies. They use all these elements used to oppress their image and re-appropriate them in order to gain power. Yes, they are sexual beings, yes, they have sexual desire and they are proud of it. In this sense, the explicit description of the sexual acts allows a power to speak up, tell the truth and allows them autonomy. Martinican female artist Jahlys brags about her sexual prowesses:

“Le mwen back it up
Baby en ka ride em [...}
Adan an bed an ka montrew jen en ka ride it”
(DJ TKrys feat. Whyneed, Jahlys, Cho Deh, 2021)

“When I back it up,
Baby how I ride ‘em [...]
In a bed Imma show yo how I ride it
(my translation)

20Jahlys shows her confidence through sexuality by explaining that she has enough knowledge in sex to impress her partner. White insists that the bedroom is seen “as a place where femaleness is not suppressed, but expressed, not challenged but feared, not questioned but confirmed, not mauled and cauterized but treated with dignity. Thus sex becomes a medium for subverting masculine dominance and discourse and challenging existing identities that have been imposed on the female body.” (White, 2003: 78) In her song, Shatta artist Shaydee’s tells the man frankly about her sexual fantasies as she sings:

“Inki tchimbe rein mwen
Et pi fey glisse”
(Shaydee’s, Bad Gyal Anthem, 2019)

“Just hold my hips, And make it glide”
(my translation)

21According to White, this assertive sexuality allows a reestablishment of equality and justice and shared power starting in the bedroom. The erotic deliverance allows them a space of maneuver “where elements of the past and present are re-thought, re-imagined and re- membered to ultimately create psychological change” (White, 2003: 78). Audre Lorde has talked about the benefits of the erotic for Black women since there is a link between the power of words and the question of sexual reproduction and pleasure. Within sensuality, there is power. Within sexuality, there is agency. Therefore, it is important to note the difficulty to address sexuality not only as a woman, but specifically as a Black woman because of the way society has made it hard on women to divorce from these stereotypical images. If a Black woman chose not to be sexual, she would be cataloged as the mammy or asexual matriarch. If she chose to be sexual, she would be a hoochie or a jezebel. For this reason, the excessive hypersexuality in Shatta represents a particular racial identity that challenges, rejects and confronts the colonial heritage, and its inherent values of morality, and perfection. Cooper adds that far from being “a devaluation of female sexuality” as it is understood by many as “ an act of self-conscious female assertion of control over the representation of her person” (Cooper, 2004, 125). Kryssy, one of the first female artists to ever be a part of Shatta movement, is very clear about her sexual ideals:

“En emne lew ka ben mwen la fesse le an ka back it up”
(Kryssy, Wine and Go Down, 2020)

“I like it when you spank me while I back it up”
(my translation)

22First, she explains to the man what she likes, but also claims the right to be sexual without judgment. Frank insists that “given the cultural conditions which not only repress woman's sexuality but also prohibit her from being sexual, because being sexual is always defined in terms of the patriarchy, the female performer uses her sexuality as an active agent". (Frank, 2007: 174)

23Besides, White affirms that it is important to rethink “the often-conflated notion of hypersexuality and Blackness, which has often accompanied the trajectory of the Black female body throughout history, and to explore how the experience of this highly sexualised performance has real potential for spiritual healing (White, 2003: 78). Indeed, hypersexuality becomes a necessary step for healing the body and the soul, where both become hers again. Lorde has discussed society’s impulse to use sex against women and for the benefit of men. Part of the process of healing is to recognize sexuality as a spiritual power. (Lorde, 1978). Hypersexuality encompasses this idea of “I have a vagina therefore I am allowed to feel, and because I feel, I am allowed to think, and because I think, I am allowed to speak. Healing occurs through the expression of the body. Therefore, Shatta highly-sexualized performances are part of this project. In performances or music videos where the female artists’ mimic a sexual act (while dancing for exemple), they firstly acknowledge the power over their bodies in the public sphere, and reconcile themselves with their bodies.

3. Deconstructing Body Standards: The Cassava Flour

“Pussy pussy tight pussy on fleek”
(Shaydee’s, B. I. U., 2020)

24This step of the recipe consists in adding cassava flour to the avocado and codfish mixture in order to give it more consistency. In the same way, Shatta discourse allows the development of an inclusive discourse empowering the Black body, which has often been vilified in popular discourse.

3.1. Shatta and the Black female body

25Indeed, Black female bodies have always been objectified and dissected in the public eye. From the times when South African Sarah Baartman (Hottentot Venus) was a spectacle for Europeans in 1810 because of her large genitals and buttocks, until Nicki Minaj was unveiling her curvy behind in a pink thong in Anaconda’s music video, the Black body has always been seen as a mocked, gazed, othered and classified as vulgar. Because of its impossibility to fit the standard of the thin white body, the Black body was another tool used against Black women in order to alienate and oppress them further. Since the colonization era, Gentles-Peart affirms that “the depiction of colonized black women (in colonial writings) represented them as having monstrous, “unwomanly” bodies that were not beautiful and admired as were the delicate bodies of their white counterparts. The voluptuous Black female body is still perceived as unattractive, ugly, and grotesque—the opposite of beautiful—when seen through the prism of white supremacy” (Gentles-Peart, 199, 2018). On the other part, the Black female body was assumed to be fit for arduous tasks. “This construction of the Black female body as voluptuous and unwomanly—and thus built for functionality and labor—was employed to affirm the use of Black women as slave labor in Europe”. (Morgan 1997). Later on, her curvy body was used to further objectify, sexualize but also control and police her. Because of this, the stereotypical image of the jezebel matched her voluptuous appearance. In order to counter-attack these patriarchal narratives, the “thick Black woman” has become a symbol of black identity and signifies resistance to whiteness, colonialism, and Eurocentric aesthetics in the Caribbean. For example, Jenny Sharpe (2002) underlined the case of Nanny of the Maroons, a female Jamaican national hero, who was said to be using her large buttocks to catch bullets from the British in order to save her community. Today, when Shatta female artists impose their bodies as part of their discourses and performances, it is yet another way for them to enhance representation in their community while winning agency and power. Through the sexual body, they encourage other Black women to celebrate and be proud of their body:

“‘La ni des poom-poom ka pale angle
Le genre de poom ka fe cocki tremble
Le genre de poom ka fay bay la bande [...]
Pom pom ka met nomn en limbe’
(Shaydee’s, Kimpembe, 2021)

“Here you have booties that speak English
The type of booty that makes the dick shake
The type of booty that turns it on
Booties that break men’s hearts”
(my translation)

26As Shaydee’s uses repetition in an entire verse to focus on the female buttock and its abilities, she highlights the infinity of possibilities for women to gain power through them. The sexualization of the body does not exist to degrade the woman but to gain power. As she explains that the booty causes a male erection, “le genre de poom ka fe bay la bande” (Shaydee’s, Kipembe, 2021) or put the man in “limbe” (specific Creole word for the sadness and despair of a man after a heartbreak) , she acknowledges the power of the body to generate reactions from male counterparts. Because of this, the Black body should be celebrated and not ashamed nor hidden:

“Bad gyal mate bondayw
O swa la Fo paw komplexe”
(Shaydee’s, M. T. B., 2020)

“Bad gyal look at your ass,
Tonight You can’t have any complex”
(my translation)

27This speaks volumes in terms of representation because these women allow inclusivity as they sing:

“I ni tout kalte femn Shabine negresses
I ni finn epi rond
Petite ou grosse fesses
Peu importe la demande”
(Shannon, Coco, 2021)

“ There’s all type of women, light-skin, black girls
Thin or thick,
Small or big ass,
No matter the demand”
(my translation)

28Within Shatta, all bodies, all skins, all shades are welcomed. Once othered, the Black bodies are now sheltered in the new safe space represented by Shatta movement. Because of this, there is a sense of empowerment, confidence and self-love for women insecure because of white hegemonic ideals. White highlights some psychologically traumatic consequences of slavery such as self-degradation, feelings of inferiority, and distorted standards of beauty’ He explains that these are rooted in the white bias that dictates “everything worthwhile” as being associated with whiteness (Hill, 1963, White, 2003: 79). In this sense, Shatta heals and restores Black women’s self-esteem. Because Shatta allows exhibitionism, it helps come to terms with imperfections. For Frank, Dancehall girls do seem shameless and indeed appear to take great satisfaction in exposing their bodies, calling special attention to their genitalia (Frank, 2007:184). In Shatta, this exposure stresses ideas of confidence and freedom. The representationalism of the body speaks louder than the mind, or the heart. Because of this, the body is the instrument through which the Black woman takes power as it becomes a political matter. Indeed, because society has historically othered Black women “bodies”, these women are aware that they do not represent white society’s beauty ideals, but refuse to be shamed for it. Instead, they impose themselves, they impose their bodies, they impose their sexuality and everything that society repudiates and suggests to keep hidden. Thanks to their body, they fill up and seize up a space they were never given.

29Besides, the use of the body for the dance is yet another example of the performance and showing of the body. Through her physical abilities, the Shatta woman is visible, and excels in a platform that was not primarily hers but managed to re-appropriate.

30As Maureen sings:

“Pou kraze en dancehall en surdoue kon Malcolm”. (Maureen, Tic, 2020)

“To master a dancehall beat, I’m gifted like Malcolm.” (my translation)

31Here, referencing Malcolm X, Maureen claims that she is the best when it comes to dancing. In another verse, she explains that the whining movement performed by a woman is powerful enough to push a man to cry:

“She wine and you call your mum” (Maureen, Tic, 2020)

32Kryssy also engages dance as a discipline:

“Baby wine and go down,
Work forever, work forever”
(Kryssy, Wine and Go down, 2020)

3.2. Shatta and video

33Shatta recognizes dancing as a discipline able to allow agency to Black women. When Shatta Queens dance in clubs, it is an athletic performance with gymnastics. Back in September 2020, Shannon was seen performing in a nightclub in Paris doing splits in crutches. Intricate moves involved in Shatta performance erases the idea that these women are fragile and that their body is. Besides, Shatta movement embodies a show in which Black women are able to express themselves fully in their clothes, and accessories. The colorful wigs and makeup in the videos and performances accompany this will to verbally express one’s femininity. Cooper highlights that “the dancehall is the social space in which the smell of female power is exuded in the extravagant display of flashy jewelry, expensive clothes, elaborate hairstyles and rigidly attendant men that altogether represent substantial wealth” (1995:15) And the same idea prevails in Shatta. Shatta videos and performances are full of neon colors, tight outfits, shiny leotards. The shorter the dresses and shorts, the longer the nails and heels. Everything is aggressively feminine and screams freedom of expression. Indeed, in her music video for “Tic,” Maureen is seen wearing a cosmic outfit and neon orange combi-shorts revealing her curves, along with shiny sunglasses. In “Wine and go down”, Kryssy is seen with some dancers wining explicitly in the pool, just like Shannon’s dancers in “Mi an shatta”. In Diss, Maureen is seen in standing up near a pool in a shiny monokini, just like Jahlys in “Cho Deh” and Shaydee’s in “Kimpembe” who both appear in a bikini top.

34Because Shatta englobes focus on women, hypersexuality and female body, the music genre is often deemed as vulgar. However, the perception of their act as provocative is solely an internalization of the patriarchal images that societies have given to the Black woman. Instead, it is important to look at the Shatta female body through performance as art in which they can be creative, impress, excel and take power. Looking back on the recipe of “le féroce,” I see the cassava flour, avocado and codfish mixture as adding consistency to the recipe. The same way hypersexuality is adding purpose to female performance in Shatta is the same way this mixture is added to bring fluidity and intensity.

4. Deconstructing Gender Norms: The Spices

35Even if hypersexuality is an important focus in Shatta, it is not the only subject heard in the music genre. Oftentimes, Shatta music delivers powerful messages in which females talk about their financial power, their confidence, their “hustling” and “gangsta” businesses. The language is explicit and crude, the tones are unapologetic and the mindset is clear: I am the boss. Because of this, it is possible to say that these women are borrowing the male discourse. The tone chosen, the approach they use are those traditionally conferred to the man. Therefore, this study analyzes the way in which artists’ performances challenge gender roles by delivering a discourse that highlights feminism and questions the male’s role at the same time. The challenge of gender roles works in parallel with the step of putting spices in “le féroce.” Indeed, the final step of the recipe is to add the spices, which compare the woman’s feminist discourse to the spices which are the essential elements that add flavor to the dish in the same way the feminist agenda encompasses the whole purpose of the maneuver for these female Shatta artists.

4.1. Talking bad like the man?

36The discourse of female Shatta artists is characterized by an assertive, determined and ambitious tone, often accompanied by attention-grabbing and provocative lyrics. It is noteworthy that these artists frequently incorporate vocabulary associated with violence, alcohol, drugs, guns, and gangs into their music, themes traditionally associated with masculinity. For instance, Maureen sings "Ba mwen en ve alcool" (Give me alcohol) in her song "Tic" (2020), while Kryssy's "None a dem" (2018) features the line "Tou les jou c weed adan bando" (Everyday, it's weed inna bando). Despite the use of this lexicon, the lyrics frequently express female empowerment and independence, creating a subversion of traditional gender roles.

“Imperial gal me a genuine
Cause me bad inna di dancehall
3 3 bullets en tet a yo
C fucking fo bad boy”
(Kryssy, B. I. U., 2020)

Imperial gal me a genuine
Cause me bad inna di dancehall
3 3 bullets in their heads
They’re fake bad boys
(my translation)

An ni flow an ni pression an ni frap
(Maureen, Flex, 2019)

“I got flow, I got pressure, I got hits” (my translation)

“Yo ve goute lambi a mai yo pa arme
Yo ni magnum mai c 9 milimet ki ka pale
Arrete fe moun komprenn so se des guerrie”
(Shaydee’s, M. T. B., 2020)

“ They want to try conch (Martinican Creole slang to refer to the female genitalia)
They got a magnum but its 9 millimeters that speak
Stop making people think you are warriors” (my translation)

37These extracts stress the allegory of war. The texts are laden of metaphors on weapons, whether the female singers talk about guns: “My name is gunshot inna your belly” ( Maureen, Maco, 2021) or knifes (I ni la gross tet/ Tchap koupe cou ay; (Shaydee’s, Bad Gyal anthem, 2019) “He’s big headed, shap, cut his neck” (my translation). The overall sentiment is one of chaos and anarchy. Their lyrics impose themselves in a tumultuous reality where survival belongs to the fittest. This could be compared to their situation as females in the FWI. Indeed, each time they evoke a dangerous setting of guns and danger, it is to present themselves as strong females who manage to dominate the weapons. It is a way for them to affirm their femininity by invading the universe of the male. If they are able to dominate the male space, they are undefeatable. For this very reason, the adjective ‘bad’ is repetitive in the lexical of these women. Nadias Ellis has talked about the identity of badness which has “long referred to male power and prowess (in Jamaica), particularly in its gun-toting variety” (Ellis, 2011: 10). Bad brings to the imagery of the dangerous male gangster who is to be feared in the streets. When applied to these female artists, it confers ideas of unapologetic boldness, fearlessness and freedom. Seeing themselves as bad is playing with perception. As they see themselves as bad, they will be perceived as bad, and then respected by their peers, and most importantly by men.

“En se en bad gyal
Donc en pa ka fe detay”
(Shaydee’s M. T. B., 2020)

“I am a bad gyal
I don’t do things by halves”
(my translation)

“An se bad bad gyal adan an Shatta world”
“I am a bad bad gyal in a Shatta world
(Shaydees, Kimpembe 2021)

“Mi a di kween
Everyday bad gal we no fear”
(Kryssy, Bad Cendrillon, 2018)

38This metaphor of the hostile is only the surface of the feminist project in which the female artists unveil their intentions. The ‘bad gyal attitude’ betrays ideas of power, independence and freedom. The first freedom is financial:

“Fo paye nou dans les temps”
An pa ka joke bad thing mauve temps”
(Maureen, Diss, 2020)

“You must pay us in time
I don’t joke bad thing bad times”
(my translation)

'Gère ta vie pendant que je gère la mo’
(Maureen, Tic, 2020)

( In English “Take care of your life while I make the money”)

“Men ni pull up for the bank
Bad wine sexy touch
Money pull up pou mwen pe flex si cash”
(Jahlys, Gang, 2019)

“Men bizoin money pou mwen flex
Money pou mwen fresh
Money all the time le restan c god bless
Ou ni ti lespri an se femn a bizness”
(Shannon, Back, 2021)

“I need money to flex
Money to look fresh
Money ell the time others it’s God bless
You are narrow-minded I’m a business woman”
(My translation)

39By showing themselves as self-providers, they encourage women to be breadwinners, and underline ideas of independence and autonomy. Financial dependence is an important tool for oppression against women. Because often men are considered to be the breadwinners, women have been seen as subordinates who have to rely on the men for financial support. As they provide for themselves, they show that they are self-sufficient and challenge traditional gender roles. But this financial freedom does not come without sacrifice. Indeed, the artists also emphasize they work hard for the money:

“La vi nou G la vi nou bel la i nou rose
Bien sur nou ka travay red
ou nou pe sa roule en boss”
(Shannon, Kryssy, 2021)

“Our life is G
ur life is pretty, our life is pink
Of course we work hard
To be able to be bosses”
(my translation)

40As they work hard, they make the choice of money even if it means putting love aside:

“Gère la mo, je gère la mo, no ich liebe dich, no te amo” (Maureen, Tic, 2020)

“ Make the money, I make the money, no ich liebe dich, no te amo” (my translation)

41This is interesting because often Black women have been put in this deadend where if they focus on motherhood, they are deemed as mammies or matriarchs (Collins, 2000). At the same time, if they focus on their career, they are seen as heartless and abnormal women who choose work over family. In Shatta, female artists are proud to see themselves as independent women who prioritize their money, their career over their sentimental life, and they don’t mind being seen as women .

“Work forever work forever
Neva neva neva cry boy”
(Kryssy, Wine and go down, 2020)

42This is part of a project of gender reversal in which these women shift the role attributed to each gender according to society in order to dismantle the patriarchal bounds. Kamene Okonjo and Amadiume have talked about a ‘dual-sex system’ in which women only earn respect by taking the role of the man. In this sense, “women can achieve distinction and recognition only by tackling the roles of men in public life and performing them well” (Okonjo, Kamene, 1976: 44).

4.2. Limits Of Feminism And Hypersexuality: Too Much Salt?

43Because of this role reversal, the way these women address the men is very different from what is usually heard. Often, they despise the man who is not able to meet her sexually or financially speaking.

“Yo ka fe le boss me yo ka doue an 10”
(Maureen, Diss, 2020)

“They act like bosses but they owe 10 dollars” (my translation)

“En bizoin on big dick
Pa vinn eve fuckin stick”
(Shaydee’s, M. T. B., 2020)

“ I need a big dick, Don’t come with a f*ckin stick” (my translation)

44Looking into these pejorative depictions of men ask us to pay attention not to put too much salt in the recipe. Indeed, these female singers need to pay attention not to develop the woman’s empowerment on the disempowerment and negation of men. Indeed, instances in which the man is shamed for his sexual inabilities or body shamed for the size of his sex are ways through which the patriarchal codes are being reproduced against the man. Indeed, if the man does not meet the social values of what makes a man (money, masculinity), he risks to be emasculated (“Ti makoume, ou bien frel kon kitkat”, in English, lil f*ggot, you’re thin like a Kitkat) (Shannon, Mal a dit, 2018). In the same way, these toxic patriarchal codes are also reproduced in Shatta when the same female artists shame or degrade other women in order to empower themselves. This is problematic because it gives the impression that women are competing against each other, and even worse competing against each other for the man.

Conclusion: Constructing A French West Indian Female Identity: Serve Cold

45At first glance, Shatta movement can be deemed as counter-feminist. The flashy clothes, the explicit lyrics, the provocative performances all question the merge of feminism and hypersexuality. In order to answer this, it is important to acknowledge the history of Black women’s presence in popular culture. First, Black women were seen, but not heard (through explicit hip hop videos), then Black women started using their voice to talk about their own experience and present themselves in their own way in their conditions. However, the doubt can persist. Because of the hypersexual discourse and performance, the public is allowed to wonder what the boundaries of hypersexual feminism and hypersexual marketing are. The question of empowering hypersexuality resides in the will of the woman to present, show and impose it. The will only functions through her agency, independently of the man. The conflict between empowering feminism and hypersexuality only happens when the male enters the performative space. Indeed, when the male enters the space, it is considered that the female performance is done for him. However, the agency of the woman is the only element that matters. It is as if the cooking of le “féroce” was done by women not to please their men but because they are hungry, they enjoy cooking, they appreciate the dish and enjoy putting their twist on the recipe. In this perspective, Shatta movement is the kitchen, Shatta music is the safe space in which women are not silenced and opposedly, are allowed to be creative, spiritual, inventive and inspirational. In the same way, Shatta is the space chosen by women to cook their feminist agenda. However, one can wonder if Shatta movement represents the real world? Because Shatta is a movement of the working-class, it is important to wonder if it is representative of society as a whole. Besides, Shatta succeeds to challenge patriarchal codes, sexual norms and gender roles, but how can it go further? It would be interesting to see Shatta movement challenging binary norms. How would a queer woman address feminism for exemple? Antonio Benítez-Rojo assured that ‘in the Caribbean we are all performers. For this reason, as consumers of Shatta, we, as men and women, all have the power to decide what we allow to see as change to improve society. As we take our forks and knives to consume “le féroce’, we gain forces in order to better fight against society’s oppressions. Bon appétit.

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Coraline Kandassamy, « Shatta music, a new space for French West Indian feminism »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 55 | 2023, mis en ligne le , consulté le 02 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Coraline Kandassamy

Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University

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