Threat of Gay Protest Forces Buju Banton Cancellation

Buju Banton.jpg
Protest Target: Buju Banton
For the second time in three years, a scheduled San Francisco concert by reggae star Buju Banton has been canceled, under threat of protest by gay and lesbian activist groups. As reported by the Chronicle on Sept. 4 (Editor's note: and the SF Appeal in August), not only is the SF show originally scheduled for the Regency Ballroom a no-go, but concerts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas and Houston (all at venues operated by AEG/GoldenVoice) have also been nixed.

However, according to a Sept. 3 press release by Tracii McGregor, president of Banton's Gargamel label, more than 30 previously-booked Banton U.S. dates will still happen. And Banton's MySpace page optimistically lists a Oct, 10 SF date, with venue "TBD."

Just as was the case in 2006, when a scheduled Mezzanine show was eventually moved to Berkeley's Shattuck DownLow after LGBT activists threatened to protest the venue, Banton's controversial song "Boom Bye Bye" remains at the center of the storm.

Banton recorded "Boom Bye Bye" seventeen years ago in 1991, at the age of fifteen, reportedly in response to a newspaper headline in a Jamaican paper alleging a case of man/boy rape. Ever since, the song, whose lyrics appear to advocate for the killing of homosexuals, has been a frequent target of gay protests. Anti-Buju activists like the UK's OutRage say "Boom Bye Bye" has contributed to Jamaica's rampant homophobia and fostered a climate of violence against gays and lesbians, which they fear could turn Banton concert-goers into rabid gay-bashing mobs.

McGregor's press release claims that Banton no longer performs the song in concert, adding that the 4-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter has an otherwise excellent human rights record. She notes that Banton has made songs condemning gun violence, brought attention to genocide in Sudan, created his own organization to combat AIDS, and has been involved with US-based nonprofits working on behalf of underprivileged youth in Jamaica. Furthermore, she contends that violence of any kind has never broken out at a Banton show.

"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," McGregor says, adding, "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."

While Amnesty International reports have continually documented unsafe conditions for Jamaican gays and lesbians, it's also been reported that "their tormentors are sometimes the police themselves," according to a recent article posted on RepeatingIslands.com.

Further complicating the issue are allegations of racism, cultural insensitivity, and economic exploitation against Jamaican artists. A recent Jamaica Daily Gleaner article accused activist groups like OutRage of xenophobia by targeting reggae artists with their ongoing "Stop Murder Music" campaign, whose cause has been taken up by local activists such at the Community United Against Violence (CUAV), who have successfully prevented Jamaican artists like Capleton and Banton from playing in SF in the past.

Our two cents: this sounds like a record we've heard before. Homophobia is unfortunate, as is anti-LGBT violence, and should not be tolerated. Yet it's hard to see how targeting reggae artists has had or will have any influence in changing Jamaica's controversial, colonial-era "anti-buggery" law, which makes homosexual acts a crime in that country. The bottom line? Despite almost two decades of organized protests against allegedly-homophobic reggae songs, the law remains on the books.


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