Archive article from The Socialist Issue 372
Reggae and gay rights
REGGAE IS close to my heart. I run a small sound system with my housemate in Manchester and make weekly trips down to Moss Side to buy 7" 45s of our favourite artists. The style we prefer is 'conscious' reggae, which sounds a lot like older roots of the 1970s and 1980s, but produced in a more modern digital style.
Max Toynbee, Manchester University Socialist Students
A lot of controversy has arisen lately over the lyrical content of artists such as Buju Banton, who was due to play in Manchester in September. Such artists are criticised for inciting homophobia and violence against gays. Buju's early 1990s hit, Boom Bye Bye, is one such example, which incites shooting and attacking gay people.
The Buju Banton gig was cancelled due to his homophobic lyrics. But there are factors that make this ban problematic. Firstly, Buju's lyrics have changed a lot since the release of Boom Bye Bye over a decade ago. He reinvented himself, along with other 'slack' deejays, such as Capleton, releasing songs in the 'conscious' style, most notably Murderer, which is about his friend getting shot dead. The song criticises gunmen and gun crime in general.
However, even after his move to a more conscious style, he never seriously refuted the message of Boom Bye Bye and continues to support and collaborate with blatantly violent homophobic artists, such as Elephant Man, as well as collecting royalties from his older homophobic releases.
And there are far worse artists, like Vybz Kartel, who specifically target Jamaican gay liberation groups, such as J-Flag, in their lyrics.
Behind closed doors
The Buju gig was cancelled with virtually no publicity. It seemed to be decided in the bureaucracy of the council, behind closed doors. Apparently, the police had stepped in amid fears of violence, as a gay-rights protest was due to be held outside the venue.
Surely it would have been better to engage in a debate that involved the wider community about the homophobic nature of the lyrics and why it is wrong, rather than simply banning the gig for ambiguous 'legal reasons', which have little meaning or relevance amongst ordinary people?
Peter Tatchell and gay rights organisation OutRage! say: "Our aim is to make Britain a no-go area for entertainers who incite violence against gay people." (www.petertatchell.net )
Is this the right way forward? It could mean effectively calling for the banning of a massive proportion of reggae artists who are very popular with younger audiences - people who face discrimination and marginalisation themselves on a daily basis.
Furthermore, reggae concerts are only one small part of the scene, and most people listen to reggae (including that which incites homophobia) through the unregulated, underground systems of circulation such as pirate radio, sound systems and clubs.
Banning concerts tends to raise a high media profile, but only being concerned with concerts means that broadcasting of the majority of homophobic reggae to mass audiences is ignored.
SOME PEOPLE hark back to the 'good old days' of Bob Marley and peace, love and unity. However, the roots of homophobia in reggae go way back, including in plenty of roots songs from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Also, there is a danger that the focus today is only on homophobia, ignoring any positive messages or the overall culture.
There is a danger of alienating those who would attend these gigs, without addressing homophobia in everyday life.
It could be seen as an attack on reggae and Caribbean culture in general. It could even drive homophobia deeper into the consciousness of reggae audiences.
These are not simple issues with easy answers. What about the more overtly violent homophobic artists, such as Capleton and Sizzla? Would we support closing down their gigs? Is it the same as stopping the incitement to racist violence by fascist bands like Screwdriver?
It is important to point out the seriousness of the situation in Jamaica itself, where gay people suffer extreme persecution (see: www.jflag.org . Being gay in Jamaica is still against the law, and the police have been known to join in violent attacks on gays.
Gay people are frequently physically abused, being literally burned, as incited by some artists. This situation is terrible, and we should raise awareness of this, as well as any similar situations around the world.
Homophobia in reggae is a big problem, and should not be defended for any reason. Inciting violence against gay people is wrong in the same way as, for example, the inciting of violence against black people is wrong.
I can see why certain reggae artists should be banned. My main issue is that this should be done in a democratic way in which it is clear why the gig has been cancelled and who has banned it.
More importantly, banning gigs is just one part of the fight against homophobia; it must be backed up by more far reaching face-to-face work. Tatchell and groups like OutRage! continue to do a lot to campaign for gay rights. The issue here is largely to do with the tactics of the gay rights movement.
The best way we can tackle homophobia is to unite working-class people across lines of sexuality, race and gender to fight against the oppression that affects us all and to fight for better services and conditions.
This is another reason why the call for a new mass workers' party is important, as this will be a significant step towards breaking down barriers of prejudice. Furthermore, we will have to continue to fight against prejudice until we replace capitalism with socialism.