Murder Music in Sharpstown

"You should know that Capleton burns gays / The same fire applies to lesbians / Say, I burn everything as long as I know that they're gay / All gays and sodomites should be killed."

So run a few translated lines of Jamaican dancehall superstar Capleton's song "Give Har." (In the Jamaican patois in which they were recorded and are performed they go like this: "Shoulda know seh Capleton bun batty man / Dem same fire apply to di lesbian / Seh mi bun everything from mi know seh dem gay / All boogaman and sodomites fi get killed.")

In "Bun Out Di Chi Chi," another of his songs, Capleton, who will appear at Houston's Milan Pavilion on October 10, opines that right-thinking people should "bun out" and "blood out" all "chi chi men," which translates to setting fire to and knifing gays. A third Capleton song -- "Hang Dem Up" -- runs like this: "Yow, string dem up and hang dem up alive / Bare batty man come round yah / All gays who come around here / Dis mamma earth sey none cyann survive."

Most Americans familiar only with Bob Marley and other vintage reggae superstars assume that Jamaican music is about righteous indignation against colonial masters, positive vibrations and copious quantities of ganja. That's not always the case today. Though positive themes remain, even predominate, in reggae and dancehall, "batty boy" tunes are as much a staple of the music as are songs about Henny and weed in hip-hop, or ditties about the joys of the Hill Country in Texas music.

And as Capleton's words illustrate, they go far beyond mere expressions of distaste. Often they advocate murder, plain and simple. Grammy-winner Beenie Man is on record saying he wants to "hang chi chi gal [lesbians] wid a long piece of rope," and his dreamed-for "new Jamaica" will be complete only after he has "execute[d] all the gays." Buju Banton has said that gays should be burned like old tires. Sizzla offers up "Pump Up," which enjoins listeners to "Step up inna front line / fire fi di man dem weh go ride man behind," or "Step to the front of the line and set fire to the man who has sex with men from behind."

You'd expect performers with lyrics like this to be marginalized -- maybe not so much as white pride groups such as Skrewdriver, but at least as much as N.W.A or Ice-T were back in the day for their cop-killing sentiments. Not so. Beenie Man won a Grammy in 2001 and performed at the behest of Puma at this year's Athens Olympics. (In the United States, RJ Reynolds had planned to sponsor Beenie Man's summer tour; the tobacco giant pulled out at the last minute.) With the lone exception of Buju Banton, who endured a firestorm of controversy in 1992 for his homophobic song "Boom Bye Bye," most of these artists had gotten a pass in the UK and America until quite recently. (Perhaps few here knew what a "batty man" was and thought they were talking about burning down Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurants.)

In recent years, though, as dancehall has gained in popularity worldwide, gay rights groups such as J-Flag in Jamaica and OutRage! in the UK have succeeded in getting the word out about the homophobic lyrics. Dancehall artists Vybez Kartel and Elephant Man were dropped from the summer's British Music of Black Origins awards show when they refused to apologize for their lyrics, and another British event, touted as the biggest reggae concert there in 20 years, was forced to cancel as well. Capleton's current tour has been dogged by protests in Chicago, Newark, Boston, Los Angeles and New Haven, Connecticut, and his San Francisco show was canceled under fire from gay rights groups.

As of this writing, reaction in Houston has been muted. Neither a spokesperson for the Houston gay paper The Voice nor Julie Harris of the Houston GLBT Community Center knew of any protests planned in the area. Also, a spokesman for Inner City Music Group, the promotion company for Houston's Capleton show, said somewhat cryptically that "Everything has been cleared up. There was a misunderstanding, but now everything's clear."

Meanwhile, OutRage!'s work hasn't gone unnoticed by unsavory elements in Jamaica. Last week, OutRage! director Peter Tatchell, who has called homophobic dancehall "murder music," was placed under around-the-clock police protection after receiving about 20 death threats; word on the street was that the Yardies (Jamaican Mafia) had a contract out on his life.

Many in virulently homophobic Jamaica would likely cheer Tatchell's murder. Homophobia is so ingrained there that dancehall performers pretty much have to release "batty boy" songs lest they be deemed gay, and male Jamaicans have to like them lest they suffer the same fate.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax