Dancehall star becomes star of equality

One of the most notoriously homophobic figures in reggae and dancehall music has agreed to stop singing violently anti-gay lyrics. Buju Banton — whose 1990s hit Boom Bye Bye advocates the shooting of gay men — has signed the “reggae compassionate act” set up by the gay rights campaign group Stop Murder Music, after a three-year campaign to bring him into line, the group will announce this week.

Banton is the latest in a series of high-profile artists, including Beenie Man and Sizzla, to sign the RCA after worldwide protests from gay rights groups resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of concerts and sponsorship deals, costing the artists in excess of £2,5-million.

In signing up, Banton has agreed to not make homophobic statements in public, release new homophobic songs or authorise the re-release of previous homophobic songs. The act states: “There’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism or homophobia.”

It adds that reggae artists have always fought against injustices, inequalities, poverty and violence.

Peter Tatchell, of the United Kingdom gay rights group Outrage!, which coordinated the campaign, said the move was a big breakthrough in a battle that has raged between gay rights activists and a number of dancehall artists for 15 years. “Our No 1 priority is to stop murder music,” he said.

Banton has been a focus for gay activists since the release of Boom Bye Bye, in which he sings about shooting gay men in the head, pouring acid on them and burning them alive. He has previously said he wrote Boom Bye Bye as a teenager and is not homophobic, but he was filmed performing Boom Bye Bye at a concert in Miami last year.

This week Dennis Carney, vice-chair of the Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group, said: “These performers are sending a clear message that lesbians and gay men have a right to live free from fear and persecution.”

Vincent Nap, a British-based reggae artist, said there was a problem of homophobia in dancehall music, but attacking artists’ commercial interests would not solve the issue. “If they keep attacking us, we will fight back,” he said. “If they try to stop our music we are going to have to defend ourselves.”

Others were more pragmatic about Banton’s actions. Mark Richards, known as DJ Kemist from reggae label Xtremix records, said: “I can see why he’s done it. He doesn’t want to jeopardise his whole career over just a few songs.

But it doesn’t mean it’s going to change any of his opinions.”

As well as monitoring the actions of artists who have signed up to the act, activists have vowed to continue their campaign against four artists who have not: Elephant Man, TOK, Bounty Killa and Vybz Kartel.

The news that Banton had signed was welcomed by gay rights group in Jamaica, where attacks on gay people are common and gay sex is illegal.

Carl Edmonson, from Jamaican gay rights group J-Flag, said: “I really hope that his actions are genuine and it is not just because international pressure is hurting his pocket. We hope it is a sincere commitment that will end homophobic violence”. — Â

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