(619) 505-7777

Controversial Rastafarian Musician Buju Banton to Perform at the Belly Up Tavern

Syd Stevens, a long time San Diegan, webmaster and national activist, was incensed one bright, fall day this past September. That is the day he learned a new video version of Buju Banton’s extremely controversial anti-gay reggae/dancehall rant Boom Bye Bye had been rereleased under the guise of a compilation DVD called Camp Fire 2007.

“I took it quite personally,” he said. In his ensuing research, Stevens found the DVD had been released for sale in early December 2007. He also learned that Banton was in the midst of a tour in the U.S. and that, concert promoters AEG and Live Nation had just cancelled all upcoming dates with the musician due to the swirl of controversy and societal pressure surrounding him.

All of this became a personal call to action for Syd. Taking the lead from Peter Tatchell’s internationally known STOP MURDER MUSIC campaign, Stevens took his webmaster expertise, pulled out all his contacts obtained through years of national activism, and launched his own website for the cause.

The website, cancelbujubanton.wetpaint.com was established to not only help get the word out about Buju Banton’s hate-mongering speech, but more importantly to coordinate protests, instigate closures and to chronicle Banton’s beleaguered Rasta Got Soul tour throughout its remaining days in the U.S..

He has not been disappointed at the results. So far, 16 dates have been cancelled, three have been rescheduled, and dozens more have been protested, with future dates being affected every day. There is a media firestorm following this musician to every city he stops in and it all centers on his hateful lyrics and speech, but he won’t make a statement.

The 36-year-old singer’s management says he is a changed man from the streetwise 15-year-old Jamaican boy who wrote Boom Bye Bye.

In the song Banton blatantly calls for the burning and even killing of gay men, and the song’s title is often used even today as a hate mantra in his homeland, where homosexuality is still a crime. In 2007, two prominent Jamaican gay rights activists were murdered, and the unruly crowd that gathered outside the crime scene chanted “Boom Bye Bye”. Banton was also convicted of participating in another hate crime beating himself, but the charges were later dropped.

In recent years, Banton (real name Mark Myrie) has joined the Rastafari movement, which is known to offer a non-violent and very spiritual tone to traditional reggae music. His lyrics have seemed to take a more socially aware turn since then, but despite all the controversy, proof exists that he has continued to sing parts of Boom Bye Bye on tour and use the word “faggot” to incite the crowd at his shows. In addition, there is considerable controversy regarding whether he did or did not sign the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA) of 2007, or if he ever will.

Stevens is not convinced.

“I don’t believe he’s changed, that he’s reformed,” referencing a video on the web. The video was taken of Banton a couple years at a concert and shows the performer clearly stating “there is no end to the war between me and faggots.”

Although Stevens acknowledges that Banton claims these comments were directed at the national activists who have haunted him for years (impacting sales and concert dates), Stevens continues, “his typical response to the press is to not respond, or to say he is a victim of a strong gay rights group. We are just an all-volunteer, grass roots movement here.

“He claims he is not profiting (from Camp Fire 2007) but his picture is on the cover of the DVD box. It’s not okay to sell antigay tirades and hate material in the U.S. We will fight it every step of the way.

“We need to get him on video, on the public record, so there are no doubts, and so we can hold him accountable. We’ve stated our case; it’s all up to Buju at this point to clarify himself.”

This Saturday, Buju Banton is scheduled to play at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

A longtime supporter of the local gay community and a staunch promoter of gay artists on its stages, the Belly Up management took the uproar over Banton’s billing very seriously, but have no plans to cancel the event.

Last Wednesday, Syd Stevens was part of a delegation invited to lunch with the Belly Up management and staff to address the issues. The three hour discussion went well according to Stevens, even though they didn’t see eye-to-eye and the delegation’s long term objectives of canceling the concert were not met.

“The show will go on” Stevens opined, “and they are aware that there will be protesters. All we (the delegation) ask is that the protesters focus on Banton and not the Belly Up Tavern, who remain our friends. Their perspective is that Buju has played there before without incident, and their position is that he has changed.

“They are trying to do the right thing and are working to act as a bridge between our community and Buju’s management to get an interview with the Union Tribune, which we were unable to accomplish. So, if something greater can come out of this, I will withhold my judgment.”

One of the more positive results of the luncheon was that Belly Up management has asked for advance notice of other anti-gay acts so they can be more aware of the impact their bookings have on the community in the future.

Noting that other business owners along Cedros Ave are very concerned about the upcoming events, Stevens attempts to assure them. “We will declare Solana Beach a Hate Free Zone on Saturday.”

On Tuesday night a group of LGBT leaders in San Francisco met with Banton at his hotel. This meeting was coordinated based on demands made by management of The Rockit Room, the venue where he was scheduled to play later in the evening. If there were no meeting, there would be no show. Baton and his handlers finally obliged and met with the delegation for about 40 minutes.

This was the first time Banton has ever met with any gay activists in the United States, but Stevens feels the meeting fell short. “I don’t think the San Francisco delegation asked the right questions, “he said. “We still need a direct statement or promise on video that he will never use the word faggot on stage again.”

The Belly Up has promised to take action if Banton does anything unethical during his show on Saturday night. Stevens and his husband, Will, plan to be there in the audience to make sure they keep their promise. They’ll be there to mingle with the protesters, but once the show starts, they will be in attendance on the inside, in order to “witness, watch and observe.”

Wendy Sue Biggleson, a longtime local activist, is helping to coordinate the protest. “This is to be a peaceful, positive protest. Buju stands for hate speech and it needs to stop. Please have your signs reflect this message and the fact that we want Solana Beach to be a No Hate Zone.”

Biggleson is requesting that local San Diegans who wish to carpool to the event meet-up at The Center parking lot at 6:30 P.M. since parking in the area of the Belly Up is always at a premium.

The protest will take place starting at 7 P.M. across the street from the venue in a small parking lot so as not to disturb and out of respect for, the other businesses.

“They didn’t book Buju Banton,” she said. Questions can be directed to her at WSUEB@aol.com.