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Anti-Gay Singer’s Salt Lake Performance Cancelled

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A reggae singer who has received criticism from gay and transgender groups for a song advocating the torture and murder of gay men was scheduled to perform at Salt Lake City’s Urban Lounge on Oct. 8 as recently as Sept. 14.

But just as this issue of QSaltLake was preparing to go to press, Will Sartain, who is in charge of the club’s bookings, released a statement saying that the show would be cancelled.

“When initially scheduling the Buju Banton event we were unaware of his hateful anti-gay message,” said Sartain in a statement sent to the newspaper.

In August, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center drew attention to the 2009 fall tour of roots/reggae artist Buju Banton, whose controversial song “Boom Bye Bye” was a dance hall hit in Jamaica during the early 1990s. The song’s lyrics (partly reprinted here in Jamaican patois and standard English translation) glorify the assaulting gay men with uzis and burning their skin with acid.

Anytime Buju Banton come
Anytime Buju Banton comes

Batty bwoy get up an run
Faggots get up and run.

Chorus:
Boom bye bye
Boom (gun shot) bye bye (Goodbye, as in you’re dead)

Inna batty bwoy head
In a faggot’s head

Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man
Rude boy don’t promote any nasty (queer) man

Dem haffi dead
They have to die…

Verse
Send fi di matic an
Send for the automatic (gun) and

Di Uzi instead
The Uzi (gun) instead

Shoot dem no come if we shot dem-
Shoot them, don’t come (to help them) if we shoot them.

Guy come near we
If a guy comes near me

Then his skin must peel
Then his skin must peel (Note: In Jamaica, pouring acid on an individual is a common revenge tactic)

Burn him up bad like an old tire wheel
Burn him up bad like an old tire

In other parts of the song which have not received much press attention, Banton expresses dismay and disgust at men who “don’t want Jackie” and “want Paul instead,” and asserts his heterosexuality, saying that he loves women “from head down to foot bottom.”

According to the New York Times, the L.A. Center’s outcry against Banton’s tour, and a campaign on its Facebook page, generated hundreds of calls to tour promoters Live Nation and AEG and lead to the cancellation of several Banton concerts, including those in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Las Vegas. Shortly after news of the cancellations became public, Banton’s label Gargamel Music released a statement condemning the cancellations and the “grossly inaccurate portrait of Buju being painted” by protesters.

 

Noting that Banton preaches against violence at his shows, the statement reads: “Buju Banton was all of 15-years-old when he wrote “Boom Bye Bye” in response to a widely publicized man/boy rape case in Jamaica. It was not a call to violence. The song was re-released on a popular dancehall rhythm in 1992 and caused a huge uproar after receiving commercial radio play in the States. Following much public debate back then, prominent gay rights leaders – and Buju decidedly moved on. For the record, it is the only song he ever made on the subject – and he does not perform it today.”

The statement also notes Banton’s founding of Operation Willy, an organization dedicated to raising money for children and infants infected with or orphaned by AIDS, and his speaking out against the genocide in Darfur.

“Yet none of these personal and professional accomplishments matter much to a gay lobby hell bent on destroying the livelihood of a man who has spent an entire career making amends —  his way,” the statement concludes. “Sadly, their 17 year fixation on waging war against one artist has prevented them from turning this initiative into a larger, more fruitful discussion that could perhaps effect real change.”

Protesters, however, disagree. A recently created Web site, Cancel Buju Banton “Rasta Got Hate” Tour 2009 (a play on “Rasta Got Soul,” the name of Banton’s tour) at cancelbujubanton.wetpaint.com, states that Banton continues to perform the song and includes several YouTube videos of such performances. While some are short and difficult to make out, others are clearer. In one video, a clip from Banton’s performance at the Guyana Music Festival on Oct. 27, 2007 courtesy of New York Linkz, the opening strains of “Boom Bye Bye” can be heard as Banton sings “World is in trouble every time Buju Banton come,” the opening words to the song. Immediately after that, his microphone goes off.

“Unfortunately his mic was cut off just as promoters thought he was going to perform “Boom Bye Bye,”” a reporter narrates.

In an undated video, titled “Fire Burn Batty” and uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 2, Banton can clearly be heard shouting “There is no end to the war between me and faggots!” and the slang term “batty” while the beat of “Boom Bye Bye” plays behind him. This video can be seen directly at tinyurl.com/onhw5z.

At first, Sartain said that he had watched a few of the videos and could not tell what Banton was saying.

“I couldn’t make out if that was the song or not,” he said.

In his initial email to QSaltLake, Sartain said he did not respond immediately to previous requests seeking comment because he was unwell at the time and thought the paper was merely requesting to do a story on the show. Until the first article about Banton appeared in the paper, he said he had heard nothing but “positive songs” from the singer.

“I did not realize that Buju was getting any criticism from the gay activist community,” he wrote. “I have never heard of “Boom Bye Bye” or the controversy surrounding it.”

After listening to the song, Sartain said he was stunned.

“The lyrics of “Boom Bye Bye” are horrible. Some of the most offensive lyrics to gays I have ever seen,” he said.

He immediately called Banton’s agent, saying that the song made him want to cancel the show. The agent, he said, told him that if Banton’s camp “could make the song go away, they would” and then sent him the press release. At first, Sartain said their statement “shed new light on things for me.”

“Jamaica is commonly considered to be a homophobic country in general,” he wrote. “I can imagine how a 15-year-old boy without the luxury of being around open minded people (regarding homosexuality) might write a song such as this, especially with his peers feeding into homophobia.  From this point of view, I feel there is much cultural misunderstanding.  He converted to Rastafarianism in the early 1990s and not since written any other hateful music.”

But after watching all of the videos on the Wet Paint site, Sartain said he changed his mind.

“Upon further review, Urban Lounge has decided to cancel the event,” he wrote. “We strive for peace and understanding in our community. We support the rights of all. We have made this decision on moral grounds.”

Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, said she didn’t think Gargamel Music’s press release was truthful.

“What amazes me about that is there’s none of his words in there. They made a statement for him,” she said. “I think it lacks any sincerity. The artist has to explain their behavior, not the marketing agency.”

Further complicating the situation is the fact that Banton signed the Reggae Compassion Act in 2007, a pledge by several reggae artists to stop writing and performing songs with anti-gay lyrics. However, reports from several news sources say that he later denied doing so. Additionally, Banton was one of several men charged with beating six Jamaican men in an anti-gay hate crime. He was acquitted of charges in 2006.

“However,” a post on the Wet Paint site reads, “because homosexuality is a crime in Jamaica, the police fail to protect LGBT people from hate crimes and fully prosecute those who commit them.”
Indeed, Amnesty International regularly documents human rights abuses against gay men and lesbians in Jamaica including imprisonment and murder.

Sartain said he had no comment on the charges against Banton other than, “I can neither assume this is true, or not true.”

Before news of the show’s cancellation broke, Larabee said that the Pride Center would oppose the performance.

“We did get a communication from our sister organization out in California [the LA Center], and we think they made some wise choices in actions they took and we’ll be doing some similar things in Salt Lake City,” she said.

“I think the press release from the LA Center really says it all, and our sentiments echo theirs,” she continued. “Particularly in a city like Salt Lake where we have so much going on with the LGBT community, this is something we can easily stand up against, and this will be one more thing to solidify the community.”

Upon learning about the cancellation, Larabee said that she was “very pleased to hear that the management of Urban Lounge has made this decision.”

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