July 26, 2007
MURDER MUSIC: TWO-FACED REGGAE STARS SIGN, THEN RENEG ON, PLEDGE TO STOP HATE SONGS
The following is a revised and expanded version of an article written for Gay City News, which published it today:
Two Jamaican reggae stars want to have it both ways: they've signed a pledge to put an end to their songs calling for the murder of gays and lesbians -- and thus halt a successful boycott of their hate music -- but back home in Jamaica (one of the world's most culturally homophobic countries) they're trying to pretend they didn't sign the pledge.
This week, gruff-voiced reggae mega-star Buju Banton (left), notorious for his song lyrics calling for the murder of homosexuals, signed a pledge to cease his homophobic music-making after a successful three-year global boycott initiated by the U.K.-based Stop Murder Music campaign.
The Stop Murder Music campaign, a joint project of the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), and the British Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group (BGMAG), caused the cancellation of hundreds of concerts and sponsorship deals, costing homophobic reggae artists more than $5 million.
Banton — the stage name of 35-year-old Jamaican dancehall music star Mark Anthony Myrie — signed the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA), by which he agreed to not make homophobic statements in public, release new homophobic songs, or authorize the re-release of previously-recorded hate-gays numbers, the British daily The Guardian reported on Monday, July 23.
Among Banton’s particularly poisonous anti-gay songs, his "Boom Bye Bye" features sounds of gunfire "in a batty-boy’s head" — "batty-boy" being Jamaican patois for "faggot" — and says of any "batty-boy," "burn him up bad like an old tire wheel."
The Reggae Compassionate Act states, "There’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism, or homophobia."
The pledge was drawn up by the Stop Murder Music campaign, and was also signed at the beginning of June by reggae stars Beenie Man (famous for singing, "I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays"), Capleton (one of whose hit songs says "Blood out di chi chi, bun out di chi chi," Jamaican patois meaning "kill and burn gays"), and Sizzla, also noted for kill-gays lyrics [ADD: like "shoot queers, my big gun goes boom."]
Dennis Carney, vice-chair of the U.K. Black Gay Men's Advisory Group, who is of Jamaican descent, said: "These performers are sending a clear message that lesbians and gay men have a right to live free from fear and persecution, both here in the
U.K. and in Jamaica. (Left, Carney accepts the London Black LGBT Community 2007 Advocacy Award on behalf of the Stop Murder Music campaign.)
And Gareth Williams, co-chair of the Jamaican gay rights group J-FLAG, added in a statement, "This statement against homophobia and violence is a move in the right direction. We hope it is not commercially motivated by the singers' desire to maintain their concert revenues."
But, back home in Jamaica, Radio Jamaica's website claims Banton's manager has denied that the singer signed the RCA pledge: "Speaking with RJR news, Buju's manager Donovan Germaine dismissed the report out of hand," the Web site said. While providing no direct quote, it continued, "He added that the [Banton] management team would not comment further on the issue as it was being used by the gay rights group to gain mileage for their cause." Pandering to the hometown homophobic fans, wouldn't you say?
Meanwhile, the newspaper Jamaica Observer reported on Sunday that Grammy-winner Beenie Man (left), in remarks also apparently designed only for home-turf consumption, has denied having signed the RCA agreement, which he blamed on profit-hungry European
promoters, and said he would not pledge to honor it.
"‘It's a ting from the promoters of Europe. They are getting so much fight from the Christian and ‘g’ organisation and everything,’ said the self-proclaimed 'King of the Dancehall,' who apparently could not bring himself to say the word gay," the Jamaican Observer reported, adding that Beenie Man "said he did not personally sign any agreement and could not promise that he would be abiding by it. ‘I do music,’ he argued. ‘Dancehall mi do, I can't promise nuh man dat. And mi neva sign it, yuh hear sah.’"
But contacted by this reporter, Peter Tatchell of OutRage! (left), which has coordinated the Stop Murder Music campaign, provided me with photocopies of the RCA statement signed by Banton and the other three reggae stars, all of whom used their real names. The photocopies of the signed statements are also now posted on Tatchell’s Web site.
"The signatures were obtained on our behalf by the U.K. reggae promoter
Eddie Brown of Pride Music," Tatchell told Gay City News, adding, "I have total confidence that he obtained their real signatures."
Tatchell explained to this reporter how the stop-gay-hate agreement was reached with the Jamaican singer-songwriters.
"Negotiations over the RCA began in March this year," he said, recounting how, "Eddie Brown of Pride Music U.K. — not a gay company despite the name, but a straight reggae promotion and PR firm — approached me expressing concern that the ‘murder music’ tag was harming the Jamaican music industry. He admitted the SMM boycott campaign had hit the artists hard financially and also damaged promoters like him. He offered to try to broker a deal to end the singer’s incitements to murder LGBTs . Our aim is to stop murder music, so we agreed to cooperate. Eddie acted as the go-between."
Then, Tatchell told me, "Within the framework agreed with J-Flag, OutRage!, and BGMAG, Dennis Carney of BGMAG and I drafted the statement, and I sent it to Eddie Brown. Our draft consciously pitched it to reject all hatred and violence, and to appeal to reggae’s tradition of one love, peace, and justice."
After that, Tatchell said, "Eddie forwarded our version to the singers and to his fellow reggae promoters. The artists rejected our first draft and we rejected the revised version they sent back to us. The title Reggae Compassionate Act was the idea of Eddie and his fellow promoters. Eventually, Eddie and his colleagues accepted our second draft, which was a slightly softer-worded version than the first. Nevertheless, it included all the essential points we wanted. He then put our new version to the singers on our behalf. One by one the four artists agreed to sign it."
According to Tatchell, "Eddie arranged the actual signatures with the artists while some of them were in Jamaica and while others were on tour. He negotiated face-to-face with some of their managements. The four signed agreements were delivered to him. He then sent us PDFs of these signed documents, which I have put on my Web site." (To see the signed documents, go to Tatchell's Web site and click on the rubric "Pop Music.")
Tatchell added, "Eddie is totally confident that all four artists have signed — and we have their signatures, including Banton’s, to prove it. Eddie also believes that more dancehall stars will eventually sign up to the RCA."
In a note to editors accompanying its press release on Banton's signing of the RCA, the Stop Murder Music campaign asked, "To test the singers' sincerity, we urge you to assign your journalists to interview them to make sure they personally confirm their commitment to renounce and oppose homophobia." In view of the reported denials in Jamaica, it looks like that was a wise precaution.
A key figure in the SMM campaign, Brett Lock (left) of OutRage!, said: ""We have never accepted any agreement whereby an artist agrees to not perform homophobic lyrics at concerts in Europe and the US, but continues performing them in the Caribbean. The idea that these singers can incite the murder of gay people in Jamaica and then come to Europe and be accepted as legitimate artists is morally sick and indefensible. The only agreement we will accept is an agreement that they will not incite homophobic hatred and violence - in lyrics or in public statements - anywhere in the world, including Jamaica. This is what the Reggae Compassionate Act says, and this is the pledge made by the four singers who have signed it,"
Banton has a record of homophobia that is a lot more than musical. In 2004, Banton was charged with being part of an armed group of homophobes who invaded the home of several gay men in Jamaica and badly beat them, sending two to the hospital.
"Mr. Banton was allegedly one of a group of about a dozen armed men who forced their way into a house in Kingston on the morning of June 24 and beat up the occupants while shouting homophobic insults, according to the victims," the Guardian reported on July 17 of that year.
Banton was later acquitted by a jury, at a time when a public opinion poll showed that 92 percent of Jamaicans believe homosexuality should remain criminalized. Gay sexual behavior currently carries a penalty of 10-15 years in prison.
Several gay and lesbian leaders in Jamaica have been murdered in recent years, and gay men walking in the streets are frequently targeted by lynch mobs (for details, see this reporter’s articles, "Jamaica, Island of Hate," October 5-11, 2006, and "Jamaican Mob Threatens to Murder Gay Men," February 22-28, 2007.)
British reggae DJ Mark Richards from the reggae label Xtremix records, asked by the Guardian about this week’s signing by Banton of the RCA agreement, said, "I can see why he’s done it. He doesn’t want to jeopardize his whole career over just a few songs. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to change any of his opinions."
The Stop Murder Music Campaign is continuing to target other reggae artists whose lyrics incite murder of lesbians and gays — among them Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Vybz, and TOK.
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