The unmagnificent seven

The unmagnificent seven
Richard Burnett
If I told you that dancehall reggae superstars Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Capleton, Sizzla, Bounty Killer, Vybz Kartel and Elephant Man are nothing but a bunch of "niggers," you’d all roundly and rightly kick my ass.

But when hatemongering reggae dancehall performers publicly support or advocate violence against "battyboys" – Jamaican patois for "faggots" – few people raise even an eyebrow.

But in Jamaica, ground zero in the war over dancehall, there have been a reported 98 gay-bashings so far this year, including four lesbians who were raped and four gay men who’ve been killed. And anti-gay dancehall has become the music of the people.

That is why the three-year-old international campaign against these dancehall performers is called Stop Murder Music.

And the just-formed Canadian chapter is protesting Elephant Man’s 12-date Canadian tour that began Sept. 20 in Winnipeg and brings the dancehall don to Montreal’s Rialto on Oct. 5.

When Hour’s August 2004 cover story interview with Sizzla made national newscasts and international headlines, the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) unsuccessfully tried to shut down Sizzla’s Montreal concert.

"After our denunciation of Sizzla’s concert in Montreal in 2004, Foreign Affairs Canada’s office in Kingston, Jamaica, requires all artists to sign a formal declaration to respect Canadian laws and values on equality and non-discrimination," CRARR executive director Fo Niemi told me this week. "Obviously, this is not enough

because some of these artists continue to promote anti-gay violence in their songs."

In fact, Sizzla performed twice in Montreal in 2006, at the Medley and E.B. Club Lounge. Beenie Man also headlined E.B. Club Lounge last Nov. 10 and Buju Banton performed at CÉGEP André-Laurendeau on July 28. Now Elephant Man returns to the Rialto on Oct. 5.

So this month Stop Murder Music (Canada) – whose coalition includes CRARR, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canadian Caribbean Human Rights Group, African Canadian Social Development Council, AIDS Committee of Toronto, Amnesty International LGBT (Canada) and Montreal’s Gayline – fired off a letter to federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley demanding Canada bar Elephant Man from entering the country.

"Even though Elephant Man was not denied a visa, our campaign is still a victory because our purpose is to bring awareness and education on this issue," says Akim Adé Larcher of Stop Murder Music (Canada) in Toronto, where the local police hate crimes unit will monitor Elephant Man’s Sept. 28 concert. "These artists use dancehall as an instrument against gays and lesbians in Jamaica and to silence the LGBT community in the Caribbean."

The coalition also wrote the Canadian Recording Industry Association, Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque (ADISQ), Canadian Independent Record Production Association and Canadian Broadcasters Association to ask their members not to support, sell, sponsor or broadcast performers like Elephant Man. Meanwhile, in a June 2007 deal brokered by U.K. gay rights groups OutRage!, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton reportedly signed the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA) disavowing homophobia. Banton and Beenie Man have since publicly claimed they never signed the RCA.

Says Larcher, "Next time they sign it must be before an independent witness in a public forum in Jamaica. We’re through playing games."

About the equally despicable concert promoters, Larcher adds, "They’re reneging on their social responsibility to uphold Canadian law and human rights. For them it all comes down to money."

Ironically, the same weekend Elephant Man (signed to Bad Boy Records by P. Diddy) performs at the Rialto, the BBCM Foundation hosts its positive vibes Black & Blue circuit party at Olympic Stadium.

"Everybody gay and straight is welcome," says BBCM head honcho Robert Vezina. "We wouldn’t bring in an artist that’s anti-anybody. We’re cosmopolitan, inclusive and open-minded. You’re free to live as you want in this country. But to bring a reportedly anti-gay reggae artist to Montreal during Black & Blue is really in bad taste."

CRARR’s Niemi says, "Sponsors of the concert, the Rialto and other clubs should cancel the rental contract now because they may be held morally and legally responsible for hosting, displaying and promoting symbols of discrimination which these singers have become."

But Elephant Man’s Montreal promoter Luc Jeanty of the YB Entertainment Group told me, "I would not promote a show that promotes anti-gay violence. I’ve told Elephant Man that out of respect for me he has to be politically correct. None of his [anti-gay] songs are in his setlist. In Jamaica it’s their own little world. These guys can only talk about what they see. But Elephant Man says he [also] signed all the papers."

I could not find any public record of Elephant Man signing the RCA.

Adds Niemi, "CRARR is examining legal actions under the Quebec Human Rights Charter against Elephant Man, the concert promoters and other sponsors for promoting anti-gay discrimination. It will announce these actions in October."

In other words, the mice may yet chase the Elephant Man out of town.


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