The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Grammy Award Given to Jamaican Singer of Anti-Gay ‘Murder Music’

By Leah Nelson on February 17, 2011 - 2:43 pm, Posted in Anti-LGBT

Jamaican dancehall star Buju Banton’s poisonously anti-gay lyrics have made him a target for worldwide boycotts and protests by LGBT rights activists who say his songs encourage anti-gay violence, especially among fans on the heavily homophobic Caribbean island. Despite this history of hate, the singer of what has been termed “murder music” on Sunday was awarded the 2010 Grammy for Best Reggae Album for “Before the Dawn.”

This was Banton’s fifth Grammy nomination and first win. In 2009, when he was nominated for the same award, gay-rights groups led by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) mounted furious protests and called on the Recording Academy to use the telecast of the awards ceremony to “denounce such music.” The Academy responded that it had in the past featured “a variety of political or cultural perspectives” and would continue to do so.

Ironically, the Grammy awards ceremony came one day after a new report that 28 gay Jamaicans had been granted political asylum in the United States in 2010 because they were persecuted in their native land. The Jamaica Observer said the would-be immigrants had been represented by Immigration Equality, a group of lawyers who help immigrants persecuted in their home countries because of their sexual orientation. The U.S. has recognized such persecution as a basis for seeking asylum since the 1990s, it said.

Gay rights activists say Jamaica is plagued by “murder music,” as this genre of aggressively anti-gay dancehall rhythms is called, and point out that it openly advocates anti-gay violence. “GLAAD stands by its assertion that the Recording Academy should speak out against hateful lyrics like Banton’s, and it hopes that in the future they will make better choices about who to recognize with nominations and trophies,” GLAAD spokesman Rich Ferraro told Hatewatch.

It’s no exaggeration that Banton’s lyrics are hateful. Even in the original Jamaican patois, the meaning of his most notorious anti-gay song, “Boom Bye Bye,” is clear enough: “Boom bye bye/Inna batty bwoy head/Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man/Dem haffi dead.” Translation: “Boom [the sound of a gun] bye-bye/In a faggot’s head/The tough young guys don’t accept fags/They have to die.”

This year’s awards competition might have been Banton’s last chance to win; this week, his trial on drug trafficking charges opened in a Miami federal courtroom. The singer is charged with conspiring to buy a shipment of cocaine from an undercover officer. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for life. He has been under house arrest for months, but was released briefly on Jan. 16 so he could perform in a concert to raise money for legal expenses.

Some of his fans believe the U.S. government or gay activists framed him. According to the AP, Banton took the opportunity to stoke his fans’ conspiracy theories and accuse his opponents of racism. “Why they want to see Buju Banton cry?” he called from the stage. “It is because I said ‘Boom Bye Bye?’ Is it because I say I Selassie I? Is it because I’m black and not shy?”

British human rights activist Peter Tatchell is the international coordinator of Stop Murder Music, a campaign with supporters worldwide who urge sponsors to pull funding from offending artists, pressure venues not to invite them, and organize boycotts and protests when they perform. Fans of Banton and other Jamaican artists “say we’re attacking these artists because they’re homophobic,” Tatchell told the Southern Poverty Law Center last summer. “That’s not true. We’re attacking them because they’re inciting the criminal offenses of violence and murder.”

In a 2004 editorial, Tatchell, who is white, rebutted charges that his campaign against Murder Music is motivated by racism. His purpose, he wrote, is “defending the rights of black gays and lesbians to live in peace, without threats to murder them. It is therefore laughable the way some sections of the black press suggest we are waging war against black music or the black community. Our targets are a tiny number of artists. Our reasons: they incite the killing of lesbians and gay men.”

Banton is not the only internationally known Jamaican performer who sings about torturing and killing gays. Beenie Man, Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton, Elephant Man and the group TOK have equally violent anti-gay songs in their repertoires. But Banton — who according to The Associated Press has had more No. 1 hits than late reggae icon Bob Marley and has collaborated with renowned Haitian singer Wyclef Jean and the punk band Rancid — sets himself apart not only with his success but with his open taunting of LGBT people and their supporters. In 2009, less than a week after sitting down with a group of San Francisco gay rights activists hoping to start a dialogue, Banton declared, “This is a fight, and as I said in one of my songs, there is no end to the war between me and faggot[s].”

  • mariquita

    It is appalling that anyone associated with “murder music” would even be considered for an award ~ of any kind. And yes, this artist is not the only one, in this or other genres.

    Much of the ‘hip hop’ played on the radio stations popular with teens today contains lyrics that are overtly racist and misogynist. A few courageous djs refuse to play this type of hip-hop, i.e., Davey-D. The consequences ~ they’ve been removed from the air on commercial stations…

    Parents ~ please pay attention to what your teens are listening to. Although the culture at large mocks this, it is ok to exercise parental discretion Also, inform the stations that you will not patronize their advertisers.

  • swaneagle

    Sad is that homophobia is directly tied to misogyny. Jamaica has a vey high rate of rape. So does the US and the US has a high rate of homophobia as well. Until patriarchal sexism is really addressed & the roots of fundamentalist Christianity and other forms of dominating hatred are dismantled, we will be dealing with these kinds of behaviors. Takes courage to stand against what is truly wrong. I know from firsthand experience.

  • R Lavigueur

    Kim,

    Your comment about sexual business being expected to be private would apply as much in the US and Canada as it would in Jamaica, the issue is that what’s considered sexual is subject to a massive double standard when sexual orientation is concerned. Holding hands in public, kissing your partner in public, and publically admitting that you are in love. Should heterosexuals as well as homosexuals avoid doing these things in public?

    The Jamaican government and the Jamaican people do not share your belief that people should be allowed to love the people they love… even in private. In Jamaica, publically admitting that you’ve engaged in consensual sex with another male IS a crime sufficient to send someone to the prisons you mentioned as a deterrent for homophobic murder, and actually admitting to or being caught in said sexual activity is very rarely required for an arrest.

    These prisons as a deterrent for violence? Not so much. Not only does the country have an extremely high rate of homicide to begin with, LGBT Jamaicans, real or suspected, are regularly beaten, verbally abused, blackmailed, and stolen from BY the police. It’s somewhat difficult to complain about being assaulted, driven from your home (where one normally engages in private sexual business), raped or threatened when the police will, at best, ignore the complaint. At worse, the victims end up facing criminal charges themselves.

    Is it cultural imperialism to try to stop this murder? That’s one interpretation, though I have little respect for governments or societies which attempt to shield themselves for criticism of any sort of violence or human rights abuse by claiming that they have cultural reasons to rape, murder, assault, imprison, or vilify people for being born the wrong way. On the other hand, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is an American organization, so maybe by your logic it’s still justified in imposing its own cultural standards when it comes to recognizing musicians anyway.

  • Aviva Buschbaum

    its a sad day. I listen to reggae and other caribbean music via my local public radio station. I guess I need to make sure they are not contributing to this hate speech.
    I love gays and I believe that equal rights for all is important. My church would not be the cool place it is if we were not totally gay friendly!!!

  • Kim

    Also Jamaican prisons are not like US prisons, people don’t want to go, and murder is still murder and ill result in jail time regardless of whether the victim is straight or gay.

  • Kim

    While I beleive people should be free to love who they love. I also believe that the West needs to stop its attempts at cultral imperialism. To be considered as respectable in JA, your sexual business is expected to be private.

    Also, refugee status is a new and easier way for Jamaicans who don’t fear losing face to leave an island that is ripe with unemployment. Not many claims have been sucessful, usually due to lack of evidence that they were ever considered to be gay in Jamaica and due to lack of evidence of any threat, greater than lyrics of dancehall music.

  • Kim

    This post and the term used to refer to Buju Banto is outrageous! He has not sang “murder music” for years . He transitioned into what is refered to by some as popular roots i.e. songs about the culture and positive change that has a popular dance beat. The music is not as political asRoots and Culture i.e. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh etc.His music has changed and he has matured however his opinion that homosexuality is wrong has not changed and his an opinion held by many. He is entitled to his opinion, and as he no longer sings songs like boom bye bye.
    It is very offensive that people who don’t know the realities of life in JA feel free to comment on things which they know nothing of. Despite the lyrics of dancehall music, it is very difficult for someone to be labeled gay, b/c it is one of the worse insults that can be used on the Island. A man who would he considered as flaming in the US is described as funny or just so, with no assumption that he is gay. In JA being gay is defined by your actions not your attractions. The majority of the population will not know what goes on in your bedroom. You can’t be openly gay, true, but you would also receive insults for varying degrees of PDA. Despite dancehall videos JA is sexualy conservative and sex is viewed as belonging inside.

  • R Lavigueur

    Kendell,

    Nobody is claiming he doesn’t have the right to say these things, they’re condemning an organization for rewarding his music despite the horrific contents of some of his ‘art’. The right to criticise people like this is also protected under free speech, not that this seems to matter to those on the right (and often too those on the left) when they’re being criticised for things that they’ve said, although I find the left is less likely to cry ‘but I have freedom of speech’ when they get criticised.

    Please think of what you’re saying. You are making the argument that because you think gay sex is wrong, it is perfectly moral to kill people for doing it, and wrong to criticise people who advocate murder based on sexual orientation. The gay agenda, as you call it, is to be able to live our lives with the people we love, just as heterosexuals do, without being murdered, raped, beaten, shouted at, fired, jailed, and denied our rights. We do have an agenda, and our agenda is equality.

    Some people will never want to extend us that equality, for their own reasons, and it’s their right to harbour their hatred or disgust. Committing acts of violence against us, or anyone else, and advocating murder based on hatred is much less acceptable. I’d be extremely surprised if you’d make an appeal to cultural relativism where murder is concerned were it more than a couple other equally reviled groups in question.

  • jerilyn kay miller

    Those who listen to or by CDs or tickets to shows are just as guilty as this man and fellow creeps.. I find it very disturbing to know that these ‘creeps’ , even followers. Frightening , is it not? j

  • Kendall

    Yet when singers and politicians (since 2008) deliver hateful messages against African Americans, they’re defended by their right to freedom of speech. I guess he doesn’t have that right. Everyone does not have to and will not accept the gay agenda and that is their right, it can’t be rammed down they’re throats and them made to accept it. There are many cultures where it is unacceptable and that is their business.

  • Roger Mac

    The devil is always in the details, in this case that means the lyrics he writes. The Grammy’s award many disgusting artists who continue to bash women and promote nationalistic agendas. Taste in music itself in of course in the art of the listener. But the Grammy’s have never shown much concern for taste in lyrics, ever.

    Actually, I’m not that sure they really ever were all that concerned about the music either. When a song about being a streetwalker beats out Warren Zevon’s great goodbye for best song, you realize that taste had little to do with this process ever anyway.

  • David

    This is exactly why I have never travelled to Jamaica and I never will – at least not until they change their homophobic laws and attitudes on that island.

    I am appalled this man won any awards at all. What kind of message does this send? Especially to vulnerable LGBT youth looking for acceptance and to the World’s youth in general. The message I’d imagine they are hearing is “being gay is bad and gay people deserve injury and death, and it is okay to target, beat up and kill gays.”

    That isn’t a good message, is it? And it seems the Grammys have just put their stamp of approval on it. Shame on them!

  • Sam Kestu

    Sadly, Mark Myrie, aka “Buju Banton,” continued to perform “Boom Bye Bye” long after he became a Rastafarian. He continued to perform “Boom Bye Bye” until 2004.

    Several other Rastafarian artistes have written and performed “kill LGBT” songs, including Capleton and Sizzla. The Rastas still believe in the old testament of the bible and specifically believe in Leviticus 20:13, which calls for gays to be killed. (They tend to ignore Leviticus 20:10, which calls for adulterers and adulteresses to be killed.)

    Buju Banton claims that he has “moved on.” He signed a Reggae Compassionate Act agreement in 2007, promising not to promote hatred and violence. He soon denied signing the agreement (a copy of his signed agreement is online) and also soon violated the agreement.

    Buju Banton has never distanced himself from the “kill LGBT” message of “Boom Bye Bye.” He has not “moved on.”

  • Snorlax

    Dang, I used to love reggae. Saw Bob Marley and the Wailers twice before he passed away.

    Now the right wingnuts have ruined reggae too. Everything they touch turns to crap.

  • JMM

    I can support the outrage, but where is the outrage towards Wyclef Jean and Rancid for collaborating with him?

  • http://www.gayjamaicawatch.blogspot.com GLBTQ JA

    While I concur that he may not deserve the Grammy win the work he is rewarded for is not deemed murder music and some balance must be brought to the mix in as far as advocacy is concerned.

    My contention however is his refusal to disassociate and or withdraw the Boom Bye Bye song from the market as it still available. He says he is a changed person under Rastafari which is a faith that represents peace and love so in that faith he should renounce the song.

    What u think about that?

    H

  • Lex

    , Murder Music is one of the most disgusting form of music ive ever heard about, Sorry but a person who advocates killing homosexuals deserives no rewards

  • Ryan

    Anyone who thought Tatchell is a racist obviously hasn’t got the slightest clue about how much he does to stand up for a wide spectrum of minority groups.

  • Concerned Citizen

    This is what we get from irresponsible people who chooses not to take acountabliity for their actions.