Music Buju Heads South
posted by September 28 at 20:35 PMon
Buju Banton is on his way to LA, and he’s taking the controversy with him. From today’s LA Times:
Reggae stars still stir up activists
No upcoming concert in Los Angeles is stirring up passions more than the Century Club appearance Tuesday by Buju Banton and Beenie Man, two Jamaican stars who are viewed by fans as icons of the island’s musical uplift but also reviled by the gay activist community as anthem singers for bigotry.
The Century show is a fall-back booking for headliner Banton—he had been scheduled to play at the Highlands but the management there changed plans in response to a campaign led by local black gays and lesbians.
“I didn’t know the history,” Adam Manacker, the general manager for the Highlands, said the day he scrapped the show. “We felt it was the right thing to do after doing some research on the matter.”
The 1992 track [ “Boom Bye Bye”] became an instant and lasting anthem for the entrenched anti-gay attitudes found in much of his native island. The song describes shooting gays in the head and pouring acid on them. Some of the lyrics: Dis is not a deal/Guy come near we/Then his skin must peel/ Burn him up bad like an old tire wheel. (Beenie Man has his own notoriety for a song that has imagery about hanging lesbians with a long piece of rope.)
Jamie Koz, of Jamaican Gold, the show’s promoter, said in a statement that Banton’s firebrand past is just that—the past. “Buju has already apologized for his actions back in 1992 when the incident was first addressed…. Buju’s music no longer reflects any sort of anti-gay lyrics. His music is spiritual and positive. And that is the vibe that we present at Jamaican Gold.”
But the activists who succeeded in pulling down the Highlands show (and also helped to do the same with a Banton show planned for Saturday in Oakland) dismiss the musician’s discussion of spiritual renaissance and have won sympathy from venue managers by sending them video of Banton singing a portion of “Boom Bye Bye” in Miami four months ago.
Jasmyne Cannick, a founder of the National Black Justice Coalition and one of the point-people in the campaign to protest Banton’s bookings in Los Angeles, said Banton simultaneously presents himself as enlightened and distanced from his past while performing his notorious old anthem.
“I fully understand the right of artists to express themselves, but I cannot sit in silence when blatantly homophobic recording artists come to Los Angeles to perform,” said Cannick, who added that the situation is especially volatile considering strained relations between parts of the local black and gay communities. “I’m black and I’m lesbian and it’s been a difficult situation with this show.”
Adding to the swirl of accusation and acrimony is the fact that Banton was tried and acquitted in his native country on charges that he participated in the beating of six gay men by a Kingston gang in the summer of 2004. The singer has described it as a wild fiction and witch-hunt taken to the extreme; his protesters call it further evidence of his true heart.