There is something liberating to finding your voice and being able to use it. Dancehall artist Lateena Plummer, originally from Jamaica, did exactly this when a few years ago she relocated from Montego Bay via Kingston to, of all places, Switzerland. In the following interview with author Anna Froelicher, Plummer recapitulates her upbringing in the Jamaican dancehall scene, which, beside its rich musical history, also has a complicated tradition of being hostile towards queer identities. In the conversation Lateena Plummer brims with confidence, discussing her path to becoming a dancehall queen, her initial musical experiences in Switzerland together with collaborators like Modulaw, and her plans for the future. It becomes apparent that all the hardship she had to endure in her life only strengthened her conviction to continue on her path to getting everything she didn’t have when she was younger. This doesn’t only mean a better and freer life for herself, but also working towards a dancehall scene which welcomes marginalized identities and voices.
We are publishing the interview with Plummer, which was originally published in the 27th edition of Swiss print magazine zweikommasieben, as a part of our ongoing focus theme “Immediacy.”
ANNA FROELICHER What makes you the self-proclaimed “Dancehall Queen of Switzerland”?
LATEENA PLUMMER I come from Jamaica, so dancehall was always inside me. When I was a teenager, I used to go to the dancehall. There I’ve seen all of the veterans, the old dancehall singers. I watched them perform and dance; that’s how I learned. I was born and raised in this culture. While growing up I never had the resources to do music myself. Jamaica has a very homophobic culture which positions itself against the LGBTQIA+ community. They don’t give us the opportunity to shine as much as we can. Here in Switzerland I finally earned myself the title of a queen. It wasn’t just handed to me; I worked very hard to get it. Being a dancehall queen in Switzerland means getting a lot of attention because the scene is very small. I’m more or less the only trans person from Jamaica who does dancehall in Switzerland, if not the only one. There are people here from Jamaica who do reggae but not dancehall. Maybe in the future there will be another dancehall queen like me. We both could rule the whole of Switzerland. The country’s big enough for two, and it’s not a competition anyways.
AF How did your becoming a dancehall queen start?
LP It was 2022: a friend of mine approached me and said that her boyfriend was a producer who would love to work with me. I’d been in Switzerland for three years back then. I said yes, she set the date, I went to the studio, started recording, and then one thing followed another. The Zurich-based producer Merlin Züllig aka Modulaw, with whom I’ve been working since then, brought me out in Switzerland for my first show. Since then I’ve been getting a lot of requests to perform and collaborate with others. We are a team of four people now: Modulaw, my producer and DJ; a videographer who films the shows and records snippets for social media; and my dancer Romincio Cayol. The dancers in dancehall are the main course; without a dancer the singer doesn’t own the show. When I see the dancer dancing it gives me a kick to do better.
AF Let’s talk about Luxurious Legacy, your first album. The first song on the release is called “Attention,” in which you say: “I’m here to steal the show.” That’s a very brave thing to say in a country like Switzerland where people are used to performing modesty…
LP A fan of mine approached me after a show once and said that they were so glad I had decided to hit Switzerland like a storm. They told me that they hadn’t felt so alive for a long time. When I perform, I can literally feel that I give an energy to the audience, which is unique here. They have to move. On the same album is a song called “Switzerland.” I sing about my experience arriving in Switzerland, my experiences with men here and how many of them want to spend their money on women. I sing with a commanding voice, which is typical for dancehall. The voice makes you pay attention. You have to have a strong voice to be recognized in dancehall. It makes me sound very dominant. I like this. I am here to dominate Switzerland, and I want to win everyone’s heart. I won half of Switzerland already, now I want to win the other half. That makes eight and a half million people, a big start for me. That’s what I mean by dominating Switzerland. I can bring something new to the table. There are a lot of artists who know how to do music but don’t know how to interact with an audience.
AF Does the will to become famous also include the wish to make big money?
LP Yes! I want to get everything I didn’t have when I was much younger. I want to become as big as Nicki Minaj, or even bigger. I’ll have my private jet. I’ll have my mansion on the seaside. I’ll have fat bank accounts. And when I say fat, I really mean fully loaded. I’ll drive my pink Ferrari. I’ll have my cleaning team and my fashion designers to get me all dolled up. I’ll have everything for my comfort. I’ll even have men for different dates and press occasions.
AF Is this your dream?
LP I want to live the life that I’m supposed to live, yes. I have this hot song, “Like A Barbie.” I always say in my head that someday I will live like a Barbie, that I will be pretty like a Barbie. The lyrics of the song came to me very naturally. I’m super happy about this one. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to sound.
AF What is a Barbie to you?
LP My perception of a Barbie is a beautiful woman, a spoiled woman, a woman who has a lavish life, a perfect woman, and I want to be this perfect. That also means to have plastic surgery here and there, but I won’t overdo it. I’m like a caterpillar that hasn’t undergone metamorphosis. But soon you’ll see a beautiful butterfly, spreading its wings. When I am finished, I am the Black human Barbie doll. That’s why I work so hard.
AF What are you doing to get there?
LP I put a lot of effort into making contacts, presenting my work on social media, creating outfits, recording, and performing. I also use critical thinking because sometimes there are things in my way. I had a show in Germany recently and I started to get pissed: all the white performers didn’t have a problem with handing over the stage to the next person, but when it was my turn to perform, they basically played in my time so that my slot was getting cut. I felt bad and wanted to quit and go home, but then I realized, I could not give up like this just because something didn’t go my way. So, I had some arguments, they finally stopped playing and I gave it all and performed a great show in spite of all the guys who were trying to sabotage me. I also spend a lot of money on costumes and natural hair wigs. I always try to search for unique pieces even if they cost me an arm and a leg. I had this Barbie outfit for a show in Zurich, it cost about 800 Swiss francs and I only wore it once and not even the full outfit.
AF And where are you at right now?
LP I just give my best. I really like to entertain people; I think I have a calling for it. People like my unique style, my creativity, my image, my commanding voice. Switzerland is like a platform to me right now. I can start something from here, but music is not so popular in this country. It’s really hard to get on top. That’s why I’m also making contacts with people from other countries and cities. I’m going to have a show in Berlin, I’m in contact with a label from Brussels, and I’m going to go to London soon. People show a lot of interest in my work. I have a very extroverted personality that contributes to them approaching me. But I have not always been like this; I used to be much less social and outgoing.
AF Do you want to tell us your story?
LP I was born and raised in a little community called Yorktown, a really volatile ghetto on the south side of May Pen, Jamaica. I’ve lived there basically most of my life. After I graduated from high school, I studied geriatric nursing and worked in a retirement home for three years. I migrated to Montego Bay to get further education and become a specialist, went to school at weekends, and worked at Burger King the other days. I graduated with distinction and moved to Kingston. There I got mugged. My documents, my passport, and all of my things that made me survive in the world got stolen. I ended up doing sex work on the streets. It was a horrible experience for me. One night I sent out a prayer. Back then I was staying with my colleagues in a tent on the street behind a place where they sold clothes. It was raining and the rain was pouring through the fabric of the tent and wetting me all over. I held my head up to the sky and I asked God to save me from this situation. I shed two tears and sat there; I didn’t know how I could live like this anymore. Shortly after a woman got me into a house where I could work in a better and safer environment. When I finally got my stolen passport back, I was so happy, I almost couldn’t believe it. With my passport I could finally leave Jamaica, the place I have so many bad memories of. I flew from Jamaica to Cuba and from Cuba to Switzerland. It was 08:45 in the morning when I landed in Switzerland, I remember that exactly. I kissed the floor and said out loud, “foreign soil!” Then I went to the immigration center and asked for asylum.
AF Do you feel safer in Switzerland as a LGBTQIA+ person?
LP As I said, in Jamaica there is lots of violence against LGBTQIA+ people. I got abused and almost lost my life. Europe was the only option for me because here we get accepted more and are safer, yes. Even if people have bad thoughts, they can’t attack us. At least there are laws forbidding it. In Jamaica we don’t have any rights. Even the police attack us for being LGBTQIA+. They provoke us and then they kill us.
AF Is this also something you address in your music?
LP No, I don’t sing about these kinds of things. I mostly sing about the good things, not the bad things, not the past. I take my motivation from the hardships I’ve been through in life, yes, but I don’t stick with it. I want to move on, skip to a clean page, live a new life. There is no time for failure and no room for not doing what I can do best. In my songs I talk about the fresh start that I had here in Switzerland and some good sexual experiences. That’s therapy for me. And that’s what dancehall is about. It is a very sexual culture. We have all these sexy dance moves like twerking and wining. You can literally see that it’s erotic in every way. It could never be dancehall if it’s not sexual; that’s the most interesting part about it. You have to present yourself in a certain way, generations before me had done that, and now I’m just pushing the culture forward even more. I want to open up dancehall, to let the whole wide world see that we are here, that LGBTQIA+ is here, and that we are doing dancehall which is LGBTQIA+ friendly. It’s for my community. You’ll have to accept that.