My recent posts on reggae have neglected to mention the current controversy over Jamaican stars and anti-gay lyrics. In an attempt to curb the flow of homophobic and often violent lyrics in reggae music, the UK-based OutRage! group organized the “Reggae Compassionate Act,” a pledge for artists to sign in which they agree to “respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender.” Today the group announced that Buju Banton (right) had signed the agreement. Banton was considered a focus for OutRage! due to his notorious 1992 hit “Boom Boom Bye,” which called for “batty boys” (Jamaican slang for gay men) to be murdered in a variety of gruesome ways. The UK Guardian quoted a Jamaican gay rights leader as saying he hoped the singer’s actions were “genuine.”
His skepticism is understandable. In June it was reported that dancehall artists Beenie Man, Capleton and Sizzla had all signed the agreement, but on Sunday the Jamaica Observer published an interview with Beenie Man in which he denied signing the pledge. He did, however, offer the caveat of renouncing murderous violence against gays, quoted thusly: “We don’t need to kill dem. We just need fi tell the people dem the right ting because I not supporting a gay lifestyle because it’s not wholesome to me.” The Observer reported it was unable to contact Capleton and Sizzla for confirmation of their signing the agreement.
Jamaica has been the scene of multiple incidents of violence against men perceived to be gay recently, including a mob attack on three men in Montego Bay in April, and a near-riot in Kingston in February in which three men were chased into a pharmacy by a crowd of nearly 2,000. The World Policy Institute issued a report (pdf) in 2003 stating that “Jamaica is by far the most dangerous place for sexual minorities, with frequent and often fatal attacks against gay men fostered by a popular culture that idolises reggae and dancehall singers whose lyrics call for burning and killing gay men.”