Promoters cancel Buju Banton concerts after LGBT outcry

by Zamna Avila

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 2, 2009

As outrage grew among LGBT activists about a well-known Jamaican singer's series of planned concerts around the country, promoters pulled the plug.

Live Nation, which operates the House of Blues, and international promoter Goldenvoice - AEG Worldwide canceled all their Buju Banton concerts after receiving several letters, e-mails and calls from Los Angeles-based activists who had expressed their outrage because of the violent and homophobic content of some of his lyrics.

"AEG Live and Goldenvoice have cancelled three Buju Banton shows at venues in Philadelphia (Sept. 12), San Francisco (Oct. 10) and Los Angeles (Oct. 14.)" spokesperson Marcee Rondan said in an e-mailed statement. "Ticket refunds are available at point of purchase."

Lorri L. Jean, chief executive officer for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center wrote AEG and Goldenvoice chief executive officer Randy Phillips and president Paul Tollett in an Aug. 25 letter she was both surprised and upset they would promote a singer whose lyrics endorse the murder of gays and lesbians, especially after promoters cancelled a planned concert at the House of Blues in 2006 for similar reasons.

"When we learned he was scheduled for concerts again there was outrage," Center spokesperson Thomas Soule said.

Boom Bye Bye, the song at issue, begins with the following lyrics.

"World is in trouble
Anytime Buju Banton come
Batty bwoy get up an run
At gunshot me head back
Hear I tell him now crew
(Its like) Boom bye bye
Inna batty bwoy head
Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man
Dem haffi dead
Boom bye bye"

Soule said he feels this language is not unclear.

"Given the Rastafarian culture, which is very homophobic, I don't see how you can see this as a misinterpretation," he said.

Media consultant Herndon Davis agreed. He said Jamaican culture has a very long history of homophobia its cultural values heighten.

"You cannot look at them from an American perspective, they are more Africanesque in culture," Davis said. "There are certainly more African cultures that are less homophobic than others. The cultures eminent from Jamaican and Rastafarian are more homophobic than others."

Amnesty International provided EDGE a series of publications and reports that date back to 1996 that document hate-crimes and unfair laws based on sexual identity and gender in Jamaica. An AI report published earlier this year cited continued mob violence against people, mostly men who their attackers perceive to be involved in same-sex relationships. The report further states the true extent of attacks on gay men remains unknown because of the taboo subject matter and underreporting.

But as recent as last month, however, a petroleum bomb was thrown into a house in Clarendon in which two men perceived as gay lived. A jeering crowd met emergency service crews. Sixty percent of one of the men's body was burned, and he was hospitalized for about three weeks.

Women are not excluded from the violence. According to an AI report from 2006 many lesbians flee the Caribbean due to their concern of people who may "teaching them a lesson," -including through rape.

Elephant Man's song Sodomite appears to perpetuate that reasoning in the following lyrics.

"We can't bully people consistently and never give them the opportunity to show they have changed."

"When yuh hear a Sodomite get raped
But a fi wi fault
It's wrong
Two women gonna hock up inna bed
That's two Sodomites dat fi dead."

Davis said he feels better communication between the straight and gay Jamaicans must take place to improve relations between the groups, but the dialogue must stem from LGBT Jamaicans.

"It is very difficult to have dialogue if you are non-Jamaican, non-Rastafarian and Americanized," Davis said. "Something has to happen for that dialogue to occur. How it happens is still a matter of when, not if, but it has to happen."

Amnesty's 2006 report also sites an incident that year, where Banton was charged with assaulting those whom he alleged were homosexuals.

Efforts to contact the reggae artist were made but Traci McGregor, president of Banton's independent label Gargamel Music. She did not respond to e-mails she requested and she later abruptly ended a call requesting comment.

In a 2007 article published in, however, McGregor stated Banton was 15-years-old when he wrote the song. And he was reacting to a man on boy rape in Jamaica and that he has since grown mentally. She went on to say that he had not performed the song since the early 90s.

"'I was a child when I wrote those lyrics," Buju admitted. "But let me make it clear that I do not encourage or condone violence towards any human being, and that includes our gay brothers and sisters.'"

Nevertheless, political consultant and journalist Jasmyne Cannick said she feels LGBT activists give people a chance to show they have changed.

"We can't bully people consistently and never give them the opportunity to show they have changed," she said. "Three, four, or even five years ago, I would have been down with protesting a Buju Banton concert but today I try to be more strategic in the issues that I take on."

These days, she said she would have to consider the circumstances of the performance before campaigned against an artist.

"I'm not saying its okay to perform those songs," Banton said. "If Buju Banton wasn't going to be performing any of the songs that are considered homophobic, chances are I would have stayed focused on the more relevant issues today--including healthcare, the economy, and so forth."

Moreover, in a climate of uncertain contention between white gays and those people of color who cite their faith to oppose marriage for same-sex couples and other issues, Cannick maintains LGBT groups should consider whether it is in their best interest to go after reggae artists.

"And if it is, does that activism also extend to rappers who call women bitches and hoes and men 'niggas,' because lesbians are women and black gays are men, and those words are just as demeaning and hurtful as 'batty boy and batty girl,'" Cannick said.

Soule added he feels there remains a difference between free speech and what he described as hate speech.

"The Center does support the freedom of speech for all people but what we don't support is hate speech," he said. "Freedom of speech doesn't' mean everything you say is protected. It's not right to sing songs that promote actively killing people."

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