Canada: Silencing Jamaican musicians fuels censorship debate

8 May 2008


A Canadian coalition calls for a boycott of Jamaica and its music if the country’s government doesn’t take action on homophobic violence. The controversy over certain dancehall song lyrics has ignited a heated debate in Canada and Jamaica about censorship and freedom of expression.

Songs by Jamaican dancehall artists such as Buju Banton, Elephant Man and TOK contain lyrics that advocate the killing of gays and lesbians. Elephant Man’s track ‘Log On’, for instance, contains the lyrics “Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man” (Join our dance and let’s burn out the queer man).

Stop Murder Music Canada (SMMC) – a coalition that includes Egale Canada and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto – is calling for a boycott of Jamaica if the country’s government doesn’t take action on homophobic violence by Monday 12 May 2008.

Meanwhile, the online music store iTunes in Canada has decided to remove entire albums that contain offending songs, not just the songs themselves. The album which carries Elephant Man’s track ‘Log On’ can’t be downloaded on iTunes, but all of Elephant Man’s other albums are available.

The Canadian coalition’s ongoing attempts to stop and ban homophobic dancehall music have sparked a “war of words” in both countries, reports the Canadian magazine Xtra, which is published by an organisation committed to “the struggle of lesbians and gay men for sexual liberation and human fulfillment”. The following is an excerpt from an article by Xtra’s Krishna Rau, published on 25 April 2008 with the headline ‘Jamaica boycott call sparks war of words’:

Violating hate speech laws
Akim Larcher, the founder of Stop Murder Music Canada, says the boycott is a reaction to the Jamaican government’s refusal to take steps to curb on-going attacks on gays and lesbians.

“When we look at the history of what’s been happening in Jamaica there has been a history of non-responsiveness from the government for some years,” he says. “Part of our responsibility as Canadians is to call into question where we spend our dollars.”

Larcher says Stop Murder Music Canada has also been accused of censorship for trying to stop sales and performances by dancehall musicians whose songs contain violently homophobic lyrics.

“We’ve gotten a lot of backlash from people thinking we’ve gone above and beyond, into censorship,” he says. “But in fact we’re looking at hate lyrics and violent homophobia that violate Canada’s hate speech laws.”

Dialogue instead of restrictions
Those in Canada’s reggae community are split on the issue. Cezar Brumeanu, who runs the Montreal International Reggae Festival and that city’s House of Reggae nightclub, writes in an email that boycotts are the wrong approach.

“I think it’s stupid to boycott an entire country over an internal issue that should be dealt with internally by the Jamaican people and their government,” he states. “Only Americans do things like that in other countries and look at the extremely bad reputation that they have because of it. Canada should open dialogue on both sides to discuss the issue, if anything, instead of imposing bans and restrictions based on limited knowledge of this particular issue.”

“As for the festival and the House of Reggae we are here to promote reggae music to all patrons that enjoy it, period. We are not in support of any kind of religious, social, ethnic or political movements, only the reggae music movement.”

Gay reggae fan supports boycott
But Christian Lacoste, the openly gay Montreal reggae fan who runs the website Murder Inna Dancehall, supports both the boycott and the attacks on the artists.

“A tourist boycott, if it’s well orchestrated, could greatly affect the Jamaican economy and the government would have no choice but to revise these laws that attack the freedom of a significant percentage of the Jamaican population,” he states in an email. “I personally will join the boycott. It will be difficult for me as my house is filled with reggae. I will simply concentrate on reggae that comes from other countries, and there is tons of it. And frankly speaking, these days, the best reggae is not coming from Jamaica.”

Lacoste also supports the call for a ban on homophobic dancehall artists.

“I hope that the Canadian government will not allow a visa to any singers that advocate killing of gays and lesbians in their songs or onstage, unless these artists have clearly stated that they will not perform these songs anymore (including in the Caribbean) and will not use their stage performance to promote discrimination,” he writes.

Concerts cancelled
In 2007, Stop Murder Music Canada was able to force the cancellation of shows in Ontario by dancehall artists Sizzla, Elephant Man, Capleton, Baby Cham and Beenie Man.



207 examples

207 ‘hatred songs’ released in dancehall music are exposed on the website Murder Inna Dancehall. See the list:
Transcription and translation

‘Incitement to Murder: Lyrics of Dancehall DJs’
  “When they sing about male homosexuality, they use street terms such as MAUMA MAN (Maama Man), FASSY HOLE (or simply FASSY), FAGGOT, FISHMAN, FUNNY MAN, FREAKY MAN, POOP MAN, BUGGER MAN and the most commonly used, BATTY MAN (but man) and CHI CHI MAN (chi chi, in Jamaica, is the slang for vermin).
For women they use: SODOMITE, CHI CHI GAL or simply LESBIAN.”

Murder Inna Dancehall

Click to go to Stop Murder Music Bern

Video clip on YouTube

Sizzla: ‘We don’t like faggots’

This is a clip from Sizzla’s 9 February 2006 performance at Syracuse University’s ‘Redemption Concert’.

List of related video clips


Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Jamaica’ + ‘Boycott’ – 25 April 2008:

‘Jamaica boycott call sparks war of words’ – 11 April 2008:

‘Jamaica’s queer group says boycott is a bad idea’ – 7 April 2008:

‘iTunes Canada pulls anti-gay dancehall songs’ – 11 October 2007:

‘Koolhaus cancels concerts amid queer outrage’

Direland – 26 July 2007:

‘Murder music: Two-faced reggae stars sign, then reneg on, pledge to stop hate songs’


More about
‘hate music’

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