Murder Music in Sharpstown

Houston yawns as Jamaican homophobe Capleton blazes through town

Some of the dancehall performers defend their lyrics on religious and cultural grounds. Jamaica is a very religious country, and it's very socially conservative, especially sexually. (Indeed, some of the dancehall stars seem to advocate killing men who perform cunnilingus and women who perform fellatio. Here's a line from Vybez Kartel, one of the hottest young stars of the genre: "Oral sexer, lesbian and gays must be assassinated.") And no matter if Jamaicans are Adventist, Pentecostal, Anglican or Rastafarian, many of them take seriously the verse in Leviticus that says, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Of course, Leviticus also prescribes death for sassy children, adulterers, people who have incest, magicians, fortune tellers and slutty preacher's daughters, and commands the Israelites to enslave their neighbors. And most of the Old Testament is nullified by Jesus' simple commandment to "love one another" and that bit about not casting the first stone unless you are without sin.

Rastafarianism goes the Bible one further. That faith posits that homosexuality didn't exist in Zion (Africa, Jamaica) before Babylon (the white man) introduced it, and so Orthodox Rastas see gays as colonialized traitors. Though mainstream Rastafarianism has toned down its antigay rhetoric in recent years, the reactionary Bobo Ashanti sect, of which both Capleton and Sizzla are practitioners, is as hard-line as ever. An Amnesty International report portrayed this year's Rastafarian-heavy festival Rebel Salute as little more than an antigay rally. "Throughout the night, Capleton, Sizzla and others sang almost exclusively about gay men," the report stated. "Using the derogatory terms for gay men -- 'chi chi men' or 'battybwoys,' they urged the audience to 'kill dem, battybwoys haffi dead, gun shots pon dem. Who want to see dem dead put up his hand.' "

That show was in January. More recently, Capleton has been more repentant. On the eve of the show in San Francisco last week that ended up being canceled, Capleton issued the following statement, which is all he has had to say on the matter so far: "I do not advocate violence or abuse against anyone, nor do I support prejudice, bigotry or discrimination. It bothers me deeply to hear that some of my past lyrics, which I no longer perform in concert, have been interpreted as offensive to gay and lesbian communities."

Yes, I can see how urging people to kill you might be interpreted as offensive. Gay groups in San Francisco were not mollified. Tina D'Elia of the gay rights group Community United Against Violence called the apology "weak" and added, "I absolutely believe people have the right to free speech, but people should be held accountable, not just artists, but promoters, record labels, to say we prefer to hear and put our money towards other people."

And rank-and-file Jamaicans seem to not buy in to the apologies either. Beenie Man has been dogged by the same controversy of late, and when he issued a similar gig-saving apology recently, one "Snikwad" -- a cynic if ever there was one -- had this to say on a Jamaican message board: "Naw man, food affi eat. 'Im can apologize all day but di whola a yawd know 'im nuh mean it…Sometime when yuh cater to a wider market an deh pon a big label yuh affi mek some compromises."

And here's Capleton's idea of a compromise. A New York-based blogger reported hearing Capleton's tune "Guerilla Warfare," which contains the lines "Buss it up for justice and human rights / Buss it 'pon battyman and sodomites" at a show there, immediately after Capleton said he quit performing antigay songs. On the flyer for his upcoming Houston show, first among Capleton's hits listed is the song "Slew Dem," which contains these lines: "Tell dem seh mi nah keep nuh funny man friend / Tell dem seh mi nah keep nuh sodomite friend."

See? He's gone from threatening to burn, knife and hang them to saying they are not his friends and encouraging people to bust them up for the sake of justice and human rights. Now that's progress.

Capleton, Cocoa Tea and Richie Spice appear Sunday, October 10, at Milan Pavilion, 6603 Harwin. For more information, call 713-256-6293.

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