A coalition of queer, black and human rights groups is trying to persuade music retailers to stop selling music by certain Jamaican artists.
The Stop Murder Music Canada (SMM) coalition has sent letters to HMV Canada, Quebec retailer Archambault Musique and Apple, which owns iTunes. In the letter SMM asks the retailers to stop selling music by Jamaican dancehall artists whose songs contain violently homophobic lyrics.
“We hope that you will agree that HMV Canada should not be a platform for antigay artists to promote hatred with the sale of their music in Canada,” reads the letter to HMV. “You may be unaware that a number of dancehall artists have openly advocated, encouraged and glorified the violence and murder of gays and lesbians in their music.”
Last year SMM was able to force the cancellation of shows in Ontario by dancehall artists Sizzla, Elephant Man, Capleton, Baby Cham and Beenie Man.
“I’m hoping that these corporations understand that these lyrics are dangerous to gays and lesbians, promote homophobia and contravene our hate laws,” says Akim Larcher, the founder of SMM Canada.
The letters include examples of lyrics such as Elephant Man’s “Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man” (Join our dance and let’s burn out the queer man) and “Boom boom! Batty boy them fi dead,” (Boom boom! Queers must be killed) by Sizzla.
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 43 mob attacks on queers in 2007 and that at least 10 queers were murdered between 2005 and 2006.
On Jan 29 of this year, according to a report from Human Rights Watch, a mob broke into the home of four gay men and used machetes to sever the limbs of one man who is in critical condition in hospital. One victim is still missing and is believed to have died after jumping off a cliff to escape his attackers.
“We would like to prevent any profiting from those songs,” says Larcher. “We have to create spaces where this music is not sold, profited from or shared easily.”
Members of SMM say they’re not advocating censorship, and SMM is holding a panel discussion on free speech on Fri, Feb 29. Academic and author Rinaldo Walcott — who teaches and writes about black popular culture — told Xtra in November the issue is hate.
“This music represents hate to such an extreme that it calls for the extermination of gays and lesbians,” he said. “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.”
Larcher says Apple is the only retailer to respond so far. He says he received a call from an Apple executive saying the company has formed a team to look at the issue. He says SMM will be approaching other retailers.
“We’re looking at sending a message by targeting those retailers that are the largest,” he says.
None of the retailers returned phone calls or emails from Xtra.