As it did in October a coalition of queer, black and human rights groups has succeeded in preventing Jamaican musicians from performing in Canada.
Shows by dancehall musicians Capleton, Baby Cham and Beenie Man have all been cancelled. The artists were scheduled to perform in southern Ontario in November and December. The Stop Murder Music Canada coalition (SMM) opposed their entry into the country on the grounds of homophobic lyrics the coalition says violate Canada’s hate laws.
“All three are gone,” says Helen Kennedy, the executive director of queer lobby group Egale Canada, a member of SMM. “None of the artists who violate our criminal code will perform, which is good news. Our objective is to raise the awareness of the human rights violations when these artists come to this country.”
Kennedy says SMM sent a letter to Minister of Immigration Diane Finley asking her to deny entry to the artists on the grounds that their songs violate Canada’s hate laws. But Kennedy says they have received no reply. Nobody from Finley’s office returned calls from Xtra.
SMM met with the promoters of the Baby Cham and Beenie Man shows and demanded the artists publicly sign — in Jamaica — the Reggae Compassion Act, a contract in which the artist apologizes for writing and performing homophobic songs and pledges not to perform them any more.
Kennedy says she thinks the artists probably didn’t take well to the demand.
“One can guess that the conversation didn’t go very well,” she says.
The promoters did not return phone calls or emails from Xtra.
According to Akim Larcher, the founder of the Canadian chapter of SMM, artists have in the past signed such a declaration before shows in North America or Europe then repudiated it when home in Jamaica.
“The most important thing would be a public apology within the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, specifically saying violence against gays and lesbians is not acceptable and should not be tolerated,” says Larcher.
According to Amnesty International and gay human rights groups attacks on queers in Jamaica are widespread. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays reports that 98 queers were attacked this year between February and July in 43 mob attacks and that at least 10 queers were murdered between 2005 and 2006.
According to SMM Capleton, who was scheduled to perform on Nov 24 in Woodbridge, has songs like “Give Har” which includes the lyrics “Shoulda know seh Capleton bun battyman [You should know that Capleton burns queers]/ Dem same fire apply to all di lesbian [The same fire applies to lesbians]/ Seh mi bun everything from mi know seh dem gay [Say I burn everything as long as I know that they’re gay]/ All boogaman and sodemites fi get killed [All queers and sodomites should be killed].”
Beenie Man, who was to perform in Waterloo on Dec 7, performs “Han Up Deh” with the lyrics “Hang chi chi gal wid a long piece of rope [Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope]” and “Batty Man Fi Dead” which means “Queers must be killed” and contains the lyrics “From you fuck batty den a coppa and lead [If you fuck arse then you get copper and lead].”
Baby Cham, who was going to perform at Toronto’s Sound Academy on Dec 8 as part of the Jingle Jam event, is credited with “Bun Batty Bwoy [Burn gay men]” and “Another Level” with the lyrics “Poop man fi drawn and dat a yawd man philosophy [Shit men must be drowned and that’s a Jamaican philosophy].”
In an interview before the news of Baby Cham’s cancellation Carey Britt, the director of marketing at Sound Academy, says he wasn’t aware that Baby Cham was scheduled to perform. He says that because of the controversy, the promoters may have been trying to downplay the musician’s presence.
“They may be trying to pull a sneaky one,” he says. “We’ve got it listed in the calendar as Jingle Jam, not a concert.”
Britt says that when Croatian artist Thompson — who has been accused of glorifying Nazis — was prevented from performing at Kool Haus in November for his alleged fascist sympathies, the promoters merely told Sound Academy they needed a bigger venue. Sound Academy cancelled that show.
Kennedy says SMM met with several Jamaican and black community groups on Nov 13 to discuss music with hateful lyrics and other issues affecting both communities. She says the groups will meet again.
Larcher says that since SMM gained a great deal of publicity in October when artists Elephant Man and Sizzla had several shows cancelled the Jamaican community in Canada has been discussing the issue.
“It’s been positive and negative from the Jamaican-Canadian community,” he says. “There is still that underlying issue of homophobia.”
Larcher says that some in the black gay community have accused SMM of targeting Jamaica.
“In no way do we demean Jamaica,” he says. “But it’s the epicentre of where that music comes from and the epicentre of violence against gays and lesbians.”
Academic and author Rinaldo Walcott — who teaches and writes about black popular culture — says it is the dancehall artists who are demeaning Jamaica. He says he has no patience for arguments that the homophobic songs reflect Jamaican culture.
“Anyone who makes that argument is saying Jamaica is a deeply ingrained homophobic culture and that’s a bullshit argument,” says Walcott. “This music is not a useful reflection of the complexity of the culture of black people.
“This would be like 10 or 15 rock bands in Canada making hateful music about gays and people saying, ‘That’s just what Canada’s like.'”
But Walcott says that as queers in the Caribbean have begun to speak up, music has become a source of opposition.
“As gays and lesbians have organized the music has become one of the main vehicles to respond,” he says. “There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence that as dancehall spreads to other Caribbean countries, we’ve also seen a change in the tone of the homophobia. It used to be laughter and ridicule. Now it’s verging on and sometimes turning to violence.”
Walcott says that while he doesn’t think the music will lead to violence in Canada, it could affect queer blacks, especially youth.
“It could hurt someone who might be struggling to come out. It could make the lives of black gays and lesbians more difficult and less meaningful.”
Walcott says that he also doesn’t think the issue is one of censorship.
“This music represents hate to such an extreme that it calls for the extermination of gays and lesbians. Stop Murder Music is not about censorship. It’s saying that certain kinds of speech that are so hateful are not welcome in our society and under our legal system.”