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by Brad Kutner
The word Hate-speech is not easily thrown around, or usually associated with Reggae music, though Buju Banton, a reggae singer from Kingston, Jamaica is under fire from GLBT group’s nation wide for hate speech violations, and his US tour is on the line.
It all stems from a song early in Banton's career, “Boom bye bye.” A song recorded when he was 15 years old.
Calling for the brutal murder of gay men, known as batty boys. Banton claims it’s a song he wrote when he was still a teen, and that it was about a child molester he had read about in the paper, though this dialogue from Banton at a live show doesn’t show a man without an opinion.
He says, "there is no end to the war between me and faggots."
Banton’s song was so inflammatory it spurred international gay rights groups to protest him and similar artists who shared his anti-homosexual sentiment. This lead to the creation of the “Reggae Compassionate Act.” This act was a proposed exchange. Gay rights activists would end protests and artists would stop singing songs with strong anti-gay sentiment.
Buju agreed to the act, but later renounced it in an interview with Bill Board Magazine claiming "F*** them, I have never bashed any gays before, and if I bashed gays, I bashed them 16 years ago." In addition, he has performed his infamous track live as recently as 2007.
So he starts a tour in the US, and Banton hits a road block: the LA LGBT Community Center. Thomas Soule communications manager for the center says this wasn’t the first time the two had met.
"And at that time we contacted the promoters and got no response," says Soule. "So we sent out a news release and started a campaign to get those shows cancelled. And it took quite awhile to accomplish that."
This is when reggae artists first ran into serious protests. Protests so serious they cost an estimated 2.5 million pounds in loss sponsorship and canceled concerts world wide according to the Voice Online.
So that was his last tour, what about this one?
The LA LGBT Center tried to contact the promoters and they got,
"No response," says Soule. "And that's sort of the tactic that had been used a couple of years ago. They kept saying we'll look into it, we'll look into it but actually didn't do anything. So eventually we sent out a news release, started a petition online, created a Facebook page where people could join the cause and sign up. I think what really started to help move it as well was when they started to get press inquiries from the LA Times, from Variety, from Entertainment Weekly and I think they realized they had a big story on their hands that they didn't want to deal with."
This lead to the cancellation of all of Buju Banton's Live Nation tour dates.
The singer still has many dates scheduled in privately owned venues nation wide, one of them is here in Richmond Virginia, at The National. Richmond’s GLBT community has already sprung into action.
Jay Squires, President of the Gay Community Center of Richmond says, "Less than two days ago, less than 48 hours ago the Facebook page was created. Nearly 600 people have joined this Facebook group, which is unprecedented in Richmond in the context of a call to activism, to request these theaters and this promoter to do the right thing and to cancel this show by a violent homophobic singer. In the same way the promoters in Los Angeles and San Francisco cancelled the production after a community outcry."
The number of face book group members has doubled since speaking with Squires, and the National’s Facebook page is filled with people asking for the show’s cancelation.
Attempts to reach Rising Tide Productions, the booking agency for The National and The Norva, were not returned.
Many people have sighted this as a freedom of speech issue, and perhaps they have a point, but Squires sees it differently:
"This is the most vile and hateful speech possible and if that doesn't cross a line than nothing does. This show is unacceptable for Richmond."