Why Should We Forgive Buju Banton?
Jamaican musician Buju Banton is notorious, especially in the Gay community. And his notoriety is costing him venues.
Banton came out with a song called "Boom Bye Bye," where he calls for Jamaicans to shoot and burn gay people. After protests were lodged by a coalition of gay activists from Jamaica, Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and various nations in the Caribbean, a compromise was reached with some of the top names in dancehall, reggae and ragga music to sign the Reggae Compassion Act (RCA) of 2007.
The Act calls for musicians to respect "the rights of all individuals to live without violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender." Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Sizzla, and Capleton were among the artists who signed the Act.
But Banton, Beenie Man and Sizzla's actions since then have continuously cast doubt as to whether the artists actually intend to mend their ways. Other performers behave as if the 2007 act only applies outside of Jamaica. Some artists would not sing aloud the most homophobic gay-hate lyrics in some songs, but then encouraged the audience to do it for them instead.
These shenanigans have continued well into this year. Because of the controversy, Banton's 2009 U.S. tour lost venue after venue. In response, Banton met with LGBT activists in San Francisco, including longtime AIDS advocate Michael Petrellis.
His spokespeople released the following statement from him: "Throughout my travels as an artist, I have witnessed first hand the senseless atrocities being suffered by innocent people around the world and my heart goes out to them. I do not condone violence against anyone, including gays, and I have spent my career rallying against violence and injustice through music.
"At this point," the statement continues, "I can only hope that my body of work speaks for itself and that anyone still offended by the lyrics of my youth will take the time to explore my catalog or come to one of my shows before reducing my character and entire musical repertoire to a single song."
Banton claims he wrote the song, "Boom Bye Bye" when he was 15, and is therefore not responsible for it any longer. But his history speaks otherwise: the song was released in 1992 when he was 19.
Although Banton has performed "Boom Bye Bye" and other homophobic songs for decades, and was charged with gay-bashing in 2004 (he was released after victims refused to testify for fear of their lives), he says that hysterical gay activists hound him mercilessly for no reason.
Nevertheless, there are reports of Banton singing breaking his word even after signing the Reggae Compassion Act. He has been reported singing gay-hate songs, and has continuously issued statements such as "There is no end to the war between me and faggots" well into 2009.
Why We Should Care
"Murder music" is the name given to songs produced by Jamaican dancehall and ragga artists with gay-hate lyrics that call for the torture, rape and death of LGBTQ people. The term may also be applied to homophobic lyrics in Neo-Nazi rock/punk music and no-homo gangsta rap.
The openness and extent to which homophobic lyrics are sung and accepted in Jamaica, however, sets the island apart from neo-Nazis and no-homo gangsta rappers found in the States.
Lyrics in murder music reflect deeply ingrained sentiments in Jamaican society. Batty man (batty is Jamaican folk speech for "butt"), batty bwoy, funnyman, freaky man, faggot, fassy (effeminate man), and chi-chi (vermin) man are terms for homosexual/effeminate men. Sodomite, chi-chi woman refer to Lesbians.
Jamaica has a profoundly troubling history of public acts of homophobic violence.In February 2004, a man invited his teenage son's classmates to beat his son after finding a picture of a naked man in the boy's backpack.
School authorities called the police, who were also attacked as they escorted the victim to safety. Nobody was charged with a crime. In 2007, a funeral for a man known to be homosexual was disrupted by a mob that demanded the service be stopped because some of the male mourners had shown up in tight clothing. Once again, nobody was charged.
Police are often accused of overt anti-gay violence. In 2003, a gay-friendly bar in Kingston was attacked by men who jumped out of a van, fired bullets into the crowd, and chased after those who fled. Survivors later identified the assailants as members of the police force.
Mobs as large as 2,000 people have been reported attacking men perceived to be homosexual or effeminate. It is not unusual for people in those mobs to sing homophobic lyrics from popular songs while assaulting their victims.
In 2004, Brian Williamson, founder of Jamaican Friends of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag) was chopped to death with a machete in his Kingston, Jamaica apartment. Afterwards, neighbors standing outside of his home celebrated his murder and sang Buju Banton's dancehall hit, "Boom Bye Bye."
In Jamaican politics, homophobia is a political weapon. During the 2001 elections, a whisper campaign against then-Prime Minister P.J. Patterson (calling him "P.J. Battyson") insinuated he was homosexual, an accusation he vehemently denied in the press. The Jamaica Labour Party used the song "Chi Chi Man" at its rallies to further spread the rumor that Patterson, leader of the opposing People's National Party, was homosexual:
[chorus] From dem a par inna chi chi man car
Blaze di fire mek we bun dem
From dem a drink inna chi chi man bar
Blaze di fire mek we dun dem
Translation from Jamaican Patois:
Those who are in a faggot's car
Blaze the fire, we burn them
Those who drink in a faggot's bar [Gay bar]
Blaze the fire, we kill them ("Chi Chi Man" by TOK or "Touch Of Klass," sung to the tune of the Christmas carol, "Do You Hear What I Hear?")
In 2006, Orette Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party stated that "homosexuals would find no solace" in any cabinet formed by him. In 2007, he became Prime Minister.
"Log On" by Elephant Man takes murder music one step further into "murder dance" by co-opting a popular Jamaican dance as symbolic performance of violence against Gay men:
Log on [log on is a dance mimicking a stepping motion used to kill an insect] and step pon chi chi man
Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man...
A dance wi a dance and a crush out dem.
Do di walk, mek mi see the light and di torch dem fass
Translation: Log on and step upon a faggot
Dance with us a dance and burn out the queer
Dance with us and crush them
Do the walk, make me see the light and torch them fast
More Samples of the Hate
More examples of gay-hate lyrics and performances of dancehall and ragga from some of its biggest stars are as follows:
I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica
Come to execute all the gays ("Damn" by Beenie Man)
Hang chi chi gal [dyke] wid a long piece of rope ("Hang Up Deh" by Beenie Man)
I bought dis A.K. [automatic rifle] to spray on all gays...
Gunshots for all you faggots, I really hate you maggots ("J.A. Don't Like Gays" by Doctor Evil)
Bun a fire pon a kuh pon mister fagoty...
Poop man fi drown a dat a yawd man philosophy
Translation: Burn a fire and kill Mr. Faggot...
Shit-man should be drowned, and that is a Jamaican man's philosophy ("Another Level" by Bounty Killer and Baby Cham)
Two women gonna hock up inna bed
That's two sodomites [lesbians] dat fi dead...
When yuh hear a sodomite get raped
A nuh fi wi fault [it is not our fault] ("A Nuh Fi Wi Fault" by Elephant Man)
Gimme deh gun
Lemme shot him boom boom ("We Nuh Like Gay" by Elephant Man)
Burnin you, blazin you, burnin you...
Bun [burn] out di chi chi
Blood out [Chop/stab/shoot up] di sissy ("Bun Out di Chi-Chi" by Capleton)
Batty boy dem fi dead [butt-boys must die] ("Boom Boom" by Sizzla Kalonji)
Step up inna front line
Fire fi di man dem weh go ride man behind
Shot batty boy, my big gun boom
Translation: Step up to the front of the line
Fire for the man who rides a man from behind
Shoot butt-boys, my big gun goes boom ("Pump Up" by Sizzla Kalonji)
The celebratory tone of murder music promotes the message that virulent homophobia is ethical and fun. On April 2002 during a reggae concert in Chicago, Rastafarian musician Sizzla declared his flat hatred for LGBTQ people: "Mi kill sodomite and batty man. Dem bring AIDS and disease pon people... Shot a kill dem, mi nuh go tek back mi chat" (I kill dykes and butt-men. They bring AIDS and disease upon people... Shoot and kill them. I will not take back what I said). In 2005, he released the song, "Rasta No Apologize to no Batty Boy."
Back to Buju
Perhaps the most popular example of murder music is the aforementioned "Boom Bye Bye" by Buju Banton:
Boom bye bye
Inna batty bwoy head
Rude boy no promote nasty man
Dem haffi dead [they must die]
Shooting is not enough for Banton: "Burn him up bad like an old tire wheel," he advises.
And it's not enough that such hatred be limited to Jamaica. Banton internationalizes his message in "Boom Bye Bye" lyrics, calling for people in New York, Brooklyn, and Canada to reject LGBTQ people, lest they be perceived as Gay themselves:
All a di New York crew
Dem no promote Batty man
Jump and dance
Unno push up unno hand [throw your hands up]
All di Brooklyn girl
Dem no promote batty man
Jump and bogle [type of dance]
Anna wine yuh bottom [gyrate your butt]
Canadian gals dem no like batty man
If yuh are not one
Yuh haffi push up
Should we forgive? Not before our forgiveness is earned.
Stop Murder Music (SMM) is a campaign against homophobic lyrics that began in the early 1990s with a coalition of the British LGBTQ activist group OutRage!, the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag), and the British Black Gay Men's Advisory Group (BGMAG).
If murder music makes your chi chi gal or batty boy blood boil, contact J-Flag and let your voice be heard.
UPDATE: Jason McFarlane, program manager for J-Flag, has released a statement:
"J-FLAG stands in full support of spreading the reality that certain dancehall artists have created and continue to perform music that incites violence towards gays and lesbians. Any artist who continues to create and perform this kind of hate speech should be banned from performing anywhere in the world.
"We are happy that the message is getting out and that persons and groups across the world are coming out in support of the Stop Murder Music Campaign. Artists who perform this kind of music must be held accountable for the influence that they have on society. The argument has been made time and time again that the artists are not telling people what to do, but when our clients report that the words of certain songs are quoted as they met out their violence on the victims, we need no more evidence than that.
"It is unfortunate that it appears after Buju realised so many of his shows were being canceled that he decided to meet with the gay community in San Francisco in an apparent effort to create what appeared to be a truce. But in fact, nothing was agreed to as a next step...not even a follow up meeting or to continue the dialogue."