“Boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head”
Translation: “Shoot and kill a gay man in the head”
Back when I was living in Toronto in the late 90’s, I went to a Black club for a comedy night event. A local and very popular Black comedian was in the middle of his set when he made a rather offensive gay joke. At the end of the crowds laughter, a group of 3 people… a man and two women if I remember correctly… started chanting rather loudly, a pro-gay slogan while approaching the stage. The intent of their protest was to disrupt the set so that the comedian couldn’t continue. He (and everyone else) looked shocked and tried to make a couple of jokes at their expense, but they only got louder and more intense and he finally had to leave the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this in a Black club. The place was silent. The three protesters walked back to their seats, but you could cut the tension with a knife. After what seemed like an eternity, the DJ played “Boom Bye Bye”, an anti-gay reggae dancehall song by Buju Banton, that advocates deadly violence against homosexuals:
The mood changed for the worst as the song played and the crowd started chanting along with the above chorus. The three protesters, sensing that it would be in the best interest for their own safety… “life” … decided to leave.
Buju who is set to begin a North American tour at the end of September, recently has had shows that were scheduled in some major American cities, canceled due to protests, including a Facebook campaign, from gay rights advocacy groups. Apparently shows in Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston and elsewhere have been canceled, as well as a growing daily list of venues. He is being referred to as a “murder music” reggae artist by the gay rights activists in their protest against him.
Recorded first in 1988, then re-released in 1992, the song catapulted Buju onto the reggae dancehall scene. I remember when it became a dancehall “hit”… it was an anthem that we (and I) all sang along with. Back then there was some controversy around the song, especially after the “hot” dancehall reggae artist at that moment, Shabba Ranks, made some anti-homosexual comments in support of the song and Buju. Similar to what is happening now, Shabba had some North American concert dates canceled due to protest from gay rights activists. He was dropped from appearing on the Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall and David Letterman Shows and eventually had to issue a statement of apology. His career, in North America at least, never recovered and he was subsequently dropped by his record label.
Although Buju has gone on to make a lot more positive, “conscious” and uplifting music, it is said that he still performs the infamous song, even after it was reported that he and other reggae artists had signed the Reggae Compassionate Act in 2007, renouncing homophobia and violence against gays and lesbians (Buju, who’s real name is Mark Myrie, is the last signatory on the document). He later denied signing the document. In 2004, he was charged but acquitted of participating in an attack on 6 gay men in Jamaica.
There is no doubt that dancehall reggae has a very homophobic, misogynous and violent element within it. These lyrics not only promotes violence against homosexuals, but also the “massacre-ing” of rivals and overly aggressive sexual intercourse called “daggering”.
Growing up in Jamaica, I was aware of the strong anti-gay sentiments held by the society at large. Being labeled a “sodomite”, “batty bwoy”, “mawma-man” or “chi-chi man” in school, would get you bullied unmercifully, while it would most likely lead to death (no joke) if you were an adult. It is still pretty much the same today and the U.S. based Human Rights Watch has referred to Jamaica as “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth”. It certainly doesn’t help that the current Prime Minister has stated that he himself, nor his government, nor Jamaicans on a whole, would accept homosexuality within their society, nor bow to international pressure to recognize gay rights anytime soon.
In addition to the efforts of gay rights activists in targeting anti-homosexual reggae artists, there is also a growing call within the international human rights community to boycott buying products or spending tourist dollars in places that are refered to as “homophobic countries”. I believe these types of boycott are harsh and the wrong approach, as it’s the poor who will be primarily affected and punished by these actions. It would be unfair to claim that every Jamaican supports violence against homosexuals, so they should all be punished for the opinions, songs and actions of a few (a large minority nonetheless).
I must say that I love all forms of reggae music, including dancehall. I am however very discriminating to what I listen to. There are many positive and “conscious” artists, even in dancehall, so I don’t listen to, buy, go to concerts nor support in any way artists nor music that advocates or encourages any form of violence against anyone. Now I do respect everyone’s right to free speech, just as I accept that there are consequences to speaking freely. One of the consequences is censorship. Although I do listen to Buju’s more positive songs, I would support the boycott and/or cancellation of his shows, if he is using the stage to promote and/or incite violence against homosexuals.