Buju Banton concert at Philadelphia theatre sparks controversy

by Matthew Ray

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 16, 2009

LGBT protestors were unable to deter a popular Philadelphia theater to cancel controversial Jamaican reggae and dance hall performer Buju Banton's concert last weekend.

About a dozen protesters braved inclimate weather to protest the Trocadero Theater's decision to go forward with the concert on Saturday night. Banton's anti-gay lyrics have sparked outrage and similar protests around the country. And national concert promoter AEG Live canceled the three Banton shows it had sponsored in San Francisco, Los Angeles and the one scheduled to take place at the Trocadero on Sept 12. But Jamaican Dave Productions took over its production.

AEG Live spokesperson Michael Roth said the promoter canceled Banton's national concert tour due to overwhelming pressure LGBT organizations around the country put on it.
Live Nation also canceled four planned concerts with which was involved at House of Blues venues in Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas and Houston. The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community, the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network and Change.org led a recent phone and e-mail protest that targeted both companies.

Jamaican Dave Productions, a Philadelphia-based promoter, came to a separate agreement with the Trocadero venue to go ahead with Banton's concert.

Joanna Pang, spokesperson for the Trocadero, said the venue does not always play a role in the booking of talent, but it does rent space to companies that independently organized events. Pang said the Trocadero has a contract with Jamaican Dave for the space, and was unable to break the contract to eliminate the Banton show.

At the heart of the protest was Banton's song "Boom, Bye Bye." When translated from Jamaican patois into Standard English, the song's lyrics are as follows:

Get an automatic or an Uzi instead
Shoot them now
When Buju Banton arrives
Faggots have to run
Or get a bullet in the head
Bang-bang in a faggot's head
Homeboys don't condone nasty men
They must die.

The song also advocates LGBT people should have acid poured on them and should be burned alive.

Banton has claimed he wrote this song in his youth and that he is not homophobic. He has, however, declined to take the song out of his performance schedule. Banton was also arrested in 2005 for allegedly being part of a group that attacked six gay men in Jamaica. He was later acquitted.

"I think there is a question of censorship, and of freedom of speech," Marc Hoppengrath, who identifies as queer and frequents Jamaican Dave shows, said. "I'm not always pleased with the song lyrics of any performer. I am not going to see Banton, 'cause he isn't really my favorite. But, I don't know if it means the Trocadero is guilty of promoting hate speech."

"I'm not always pleased with the song lyrics of any performer. I am not going to see Banton, 'cause he isn't really my favorite. But, I don't know if it means the Trocadero is guilty of promoting hate speech."

Since the concert went on as schedule, protesters have decided to seek a different route for change.

"We are now in the post-protest stage were we will meet to discuss further actions against the Trocadero, including a boycott from our community," protestor organizer James Duggan said. "We believe that it is important to send a clear message to every venue and promoter in the city that we will neither tolerate or accepted any form of hate speech that calls for or glorifies the killing of queers."

While under fire for this issue, the Trocadero, and Pang, have long supported LGBT causes in the city. Equality Forum, the Sapphire Fund, Blue Ball, and QFest (Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival) have all hosted events at the theatre over the last decade. And many LGBT Philadelphians appear supportive and ready to forgive the Trocadero.

"The Trocadero and Joanna Pang have always been supportive of all kinds of lifestyles," local promoter Andre Phillips said. "I honestly think they had no idea what was happening until it was too late. They are good people, and probably as shocked as the community was... Sometimes, we aren't aware of what is happening till it's on the stage and way too late."

Local politicians urged their constituents to continue to oppose any future Banton performances in Philadelphia.

"I am disappointed that a musician with a history of promoting homophobia and a culture of violence would be performing in Philadelphia," state Senator Larry Farnese, (D-District 1) said. "As Philadelphians, we should let our voices be heard that advocating physical harm against fellow citizens because of their sexual orientation is conduct that we will not tolerate."

State Rep. Babette Josephs [D-Philadelphia] agreed. And Stephen A. Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvanian Human Relations Commission echoed her sentiments.

"Hate speech is deplorable whenever it occurs, regardless of the intended victim or the irresponsible source of the attacks," he said. "Those who encourage violence against minorities and women are complicit in creating a climate of fear and intimidation in which hate crimes often follow the sentiments promoted by insensitive song lyrics or prejudicial words."

Duggan further stressed he wants to use this situation as a springboard for further action.

"We want a clear agreement with the owners of the Trocadero that they will never again allow any performer to use their property if that artist has used their craft/talent to advocate hate against our community," he said. "Our attorneys have suggested a clause be inserted in every contract that gives the venue the right to cancel a concert that might promote hate and violence grounds of public policy."

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