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