There is no place for hate in Trinidad and no place for hatred in music. So I was somewhat disturbed by the announcement that Buju Banton will perform here next year, after his release from prison.
Banton makes murder music. His lyrics literally encourage the murder of gay people. “Boom bye bye in a batty boy head,” go the lyrics to his most famous hate song. There’s no place for that here.
Trinidad as a society isn’t preoccupied with sexual orientation. Trinis happen to love gay icons. They have been awarded the highest national awards and hold the highest offices in the land. They have achieved international success and they run some of the most popular businesses in the country. Most of us have gay friends, relatives or colleagues who we love and respect.
We don’t need gay-hating musicians here, bellowing incomprehensible death chants. We prefer music that celebrates life, freedom and decadence.
The concert promoters see dollar signs and have no morals. The media, however, has a responsibility to its audiences in all their diversity. The publicity given to Buju is unacceptable. If Banton had ever retracted his hideous views on homosexuality and sought to amend the damage he has done to men and women across the Caribbean, he would be worthy of a platform. He hasn’t, and that’s why he is barred from performing in so many countries.
The Trinidadian government has a duty of care to its citizens and should uphold its immigration law, which prohibits entry to anybody convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment of a year or more. Banton got ten years for drug trafficking.
Other dancehall artists may sing hate music more frequently than Banton – who has refrained from it of late – but he started it. The violence and hatred in Boom Bye Bye has been copied by younger generations. Its influence has not gone away. I have watched the whole crowd at Pier 1 nightclub in Montego Bay put their trigger fingers in the air when it is played.
The consequences of this music are serious.
According to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, gay people in Jamaica live “in constant fear… taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, or worse: beaten, stoned, raped, or killed.”
Persecuted Jamaicans are being offered asylum in countries with gay rights. The rights hypocrisy that exists across the Caribbean is astonishing. For a region that gave the world racial freedom fighters like Marcus Garvey, Darcus Howe, Nanny of the Maroons, CLR James, Bob Marley and Fidel Castro to deny a sexual minority group their own freedoms, or even basic legal protection, is shameful.
There are many excuses given for homophobia. Some use a line written in the Old Testament 3,000 years ago. Some blame the legacy of slave masters raping male slaves. Some equate homosexuals with paedophiles, even though studies prove that most paedophiles are heterosexual. Some point to broken masculinity, frustration and toxic anger. All are weak excuses for practising hate.
Some resent outsiders imposing their liberal views over here – just as the Deep South resented the northern states telling them slavery was wrong. But one day gay people will live freely in the Caribbean, as they do elsewhere. How sad that more years of oppression must be fought until that emancipation.
When I posted a comment calling Buju a “vile, unrepentant homophobe” on social media, I was called a “dutty stinking sodomite,” by one of his fans.
For the record, I don’t indulge in sodomy. But I do see it as a natural sexual act. Why do some people think otherwise? That’s one for the sociologists.
Nobody is born hating gay people, just as nobody is born hating women or black people. We are taught it by our parents, grandparents, preachers, teachers, school friends, politicians and, of course, singers.
A 2014 study titled Predictors of Prejudice Against Lesbians and Gay Men in Jamaica, carried out by professors at the University of the West Indies in Mona, found empirical evidence that dancehall music is the strongest influencer of homophobia in Jamaican society, above a range of other factors including age, gender, religion, education and income.
In an already violent, hyper-masculine society like Jamaica, the social impact of that is frightening.
Imagine a popular white singer from Mississippi releasing a song about killing black people? Or a Pakistani pop star singing about killing women? That’s who Buju is. And he doesn’t just sing about attacking gays. In 2005, Buju was tried for allegedly attacking six gay men in a house near his Kingston recording studio, accompanied by an armed mob.
The trial was eventually dropped, but for those who say he was young when he wrote Boom Bye Bye, and he’s changed, I say he hasn’t.
Don’t let him in.