Buju Banton was three years old when the late Bob Marley lived in Nassau and spent hours on end, enthralled with chasing a soccer ball around Fort Charlotte in blissful solitude. He was recuperating from being shot at his home in Jamaica.
Marley was a high priest of non-violence and a disciple of Rastafarianism, a religion homegrown in Jamaica that preaches social justice, human dignity and a non-negotiable belief in God, whom they call “Jah”.
Banton was six when Marley gave a concert here in Nassau in 1979 to celebrate the International Year of the Child. He was invited by none other than the late Beryl Hanna, wife of former Governor General Arthur Hanna, and retired Justice Ruby Nottage, former Chancellor of the Anglican Church, and others.
Marley would have celebrated his 74th birthday on Wednesday, February 6. Many have tried to follow in his footsteps. Most have fallen short.
Buju Banton is no Bob Marley. Marley was a reggae phenomenon. Banton peddles a reggae clone called dancehall. Where reggae is calming and soothing and points out societal injustice, dancehall puts the darker elements of society right in your face and recommends on-the-spot revenge solutions to eradicate ills, perceived slights or phobias.
One thing Banton hopes to have in common with Marley is that he, too, wants to play at the sports center here and is booked to do that next month.
This is a free country and we should all be appalled at censorship of art and artists. Some art is deliberately offensive, and so what? But we do have a public safety obligation to ensure that artists do not use our public fora to incite others to cause harm, to incite violence, harassment or to threaten others.
Banton says he was just 14 years old when he penned a ballad that was reflective of life as he saw it growing up in a rough patch of Jamaica. So incensed was he by the sexual violation of a minor by a pedophile he alleged to be gay that the only thing his mind could conjure up was to get a gun and rain down bullets on gay people for no other reason than because they were gay.
But the lyrics of his song are a virtual recitation of why he hates homosexuality and thinks that all gays, or “batty bwoys” in his parlance, must die.
Banton is a businessman and so his bank account suffered when promoters in the U.S. and Europe started cancelling concerts in which he was featured. His lyrics were offensive and too third-world for the first world.
The compromise was that Banton would stop singing songs with homophobic lyrics, but only while performing at select venues. He never disavowed his own abhorrence toward gays.
Banton is now an ex-convict having spent time in federal prison in the U.S. on drugs charges. He is set to embark on his own redemption tour which — not surprisingly — so far, doesn’t include travel to countries, entry to which might require him to first obtain a visa. These are countries that the Jamaican vernacular refers to as “big foreign”.
His initial tour schedule is limited to the Caribbean – Jamaica, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. This will produce a boon for tourism, as the metaphorical foreign mountain will undoubtedly travel to hear the Jamaican Mohammed. Banton remains wildly popular, and there is a public relations buzz and a marketing curiosity over whether the time he spent in the pokey stoked his creative juices.
The government ought to defer only to the commissioner of police as to whether a permit should be issued for the concert here; but if the commissioner gives the green light, then right-minded Bahamians should be motivated to boycott this homophobe, even if he pledges not to sing about killing gays.
It was most interesting that human rights campaigner Erin Greene has endorsed the Banton concert, even while using a very weak and naïve argument to support doing so.
Her qualification to the endorsement was that he not sing one particular song about killing gay people. Other than that, she reasons, he is a fine, upstanding Caribbean cultural icon who could presumably moonlight as a Sunday school teacher.
This is patently absurd. Banton’s opinion on sexuality hasn’t evolved, and nor has he tried to use his music to change hardened homophobic positions in his legions of fans. In a statement issued years ago he attempted to make nice, but made things worse. Said Banton: “There is no end to the war between me and faggots.” Perhaps he got sensitivity training in prison.
Greene is clearly prepared to give Banton the benefit of the doubt. The rest of the Bahamas should not. Only a direct hit to his pocketbook will bring about any softening of the hardened position by this man who uses the facade of a religion of peace to glorify intolerance.
Banton needs a redemption tour, to be sure, but it should start with acknowledging his role in fostering hate through lyrics.
Banton pleads to be accepted for who he is in his song “Wanna Be Loved”, but then denies that same consideration to gays who probably only wanna be left alone.
— The Graduate