More Tour Dates Canceled for ’Homophobic’ Jamaican Singer

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 14, 2009

Reggae singer Buju Banton, whose anti-gay anthem "Boom Bye Bye," a popular song in Jamaica that describes shooting gays and burning their bodies, has seen still more concert dates evaporate as gays in the United States put pressure on concert promoters.

But the artist still reportedly has around 30 concert on his U.S. tour.

One venue that refused to cancel Banton's appearance was the Trocadero in Philadelphia. Banton was scheduled to appear there on Sept. 12, but so were protesters who vowed to show up and demonstrate against Banton and against Trocadero owner Joanna Pang and a local promoter.

A Sept. 13 press release from the Gay Liberation Network noted that Web site had announced that the performer had seen gigs fall through in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Minneapolis in the span of a few days.

Noted the release, "The cancellations come on the heels of shows nixed by AEG Live and Live Nation in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, LA, San Francisco and Philadelphia," although "the Philadelphia concert went ahead under different auspices," the release added.

The release observed the anthemic quality of the song for anti-gay Jamaicans, recollecting that, "When Jamaica's leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was murdered in an apparent hate crime murdered in 2004, a Human Rights Watch researcher who went to the murder scene reported that a mob had gathered and was celebrating the murder by chanting the chorus to 'Boom Bye Bye.'"

Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world; gay men are reportedly prime targets for violence.

Noting that the current effort to discourage what the release called "murder music" had been kick started by the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, along with other GLBT groups, the release reported that, "The international campaign against so-called 'murder music' was initiated in the early 1990s by British gay activist Peter Tatchell and Jamaica's leading LGBT group, Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG)."

An Aug. 28 News Release from the The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center had previously publicized the cancellations of Banton concert dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Houston.

The Center's chief executive, Lorri L. Jean, was quoted in the release as saying, "I hope this victory sends a deafeningly loud message to other promoters and concert venues, that singers who glorify violence against LGBT people, or any group of people, should never be welcomed."

Added Jean, "It shouldn't be necessary for us to pressure promoters to do the right thing; people like Banton should never have been booked in the first place."

The release asserts that, "Through his music, Banton promotes a culture of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, singing in his most notorious song 'Boom, Bye Bye that 'faggots get up and run' when he comes, that 'they have to die,' and that he will shoot them in the head or 'burn them up bad.'

Noted Jean, "In his home country of Jamaica, Banton and his fellow performers of 'murder music,' have helped to create and sustain a culture in which violence against LGBT people is not only tolerated, it's sometimes celebrated."

Indeed, a Sept. 2 EDGE article noted the pervasive homophobia in Jamaican society and musical culture, reporting on how gay men have been targeted for mob violence, including fire bombings, while lesbians live in fear of being subjected to similar mistreatment and even so-called "corrective rape" at the hands of men seeking to "cure" them through forced sexual contact.

But the article also warned that systematic boycotts and pressure against promoters to cancel anti-gay reggae artists might backfire, deepening what some consider to be a schism between gays and African Americans, who are seen as voting against GLBT equality--for example, in the revocation of the rights of gay and lesbian families last year in California, which took place at the ballot box.

Anti-gay advertising in California claimed that unless marriage equality were eradicated in the state, people of faith would see their freedoms or religion and free expression eroded.

But in the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center release, Jean drew a distinction between free speech and advocating violence and killing. "The Center is an ardent supporter of free speech and artistic expression," said Jean, "but we cannot--and will not--tolerate speech in any form that promotes violence against LGBT people."

The release went on to cite earlier examples of anti-gay music being countered by pressure from GLBT groups.

"In 2004 the House of Blues responded to pressure from the Center and the LGBT community, eventually canceling a concert at its West Hollywood venue by Capleton, a reggae singer who also promoted violence against gay people," the release noted.

"And just a year later, the company eventually agreed to cancel a West Hollywood concert by Sizzla, a performer who sang lyrics that included: 'I go and shoot queers.'"

However, Banton's publicist reportedly has pointed out that "Boom Bye Bye" is only of the singer's many compositions, and that that song, written when Banton was a teenager, is not against gays per se, but rather was a response to an alleged rape by a gay man against a boy.

A Sept. 9 blog at the L.A. Weekly cited the singer's publicist as claiming, "For the record, it is the only song he ever made on the subject--and he does not perform it today.

"Those who have followed Buju Banton's musical journey and have actually listened to his extensive catalog, know of his development into a world-class singer, songwriter and performer," the publicist's comments went on.

"He does not advocate violence. There has never been a shred of violence at any of his live shows. In fact, he commonly preaches against violence--against all people.

"Buju's consistently positive messages of peace, love and enlightenment have never been lost in the music," the comment continued, going on to cite Banton's socially conscious work with songs about AIDS, Darfur, crime, and other problems.

However, others contradict this, saying that after he signed a pact in 2007 with other reggae artists denouncing violence in song lyrics, Banton distanced himself from that act, claiming never to have signed on.

Critics also say that Banton has contined to perform the song.

Moreover, a Sept. 12 article in the Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2004 Banton, along with others, was arrested for allegedly entering a private home in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica, and attacking gay men who lived there.

The case was thrown out in 2006, reportedly because there was no supporting evidence.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook