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Free speech, costly words, and empty gestures

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Buzz Publications
November 2, 2006


The current dust up regarding Jamaican dancehall artist Buju Banton, and his recent appearance at the in downtown San Diego, was brought to my attention for observational fodder. At issue are lyrics written by Mr. Banton in the early 90's. "Boom bye bye" is best described as a call to violence against homosexuals. Making Buju past ugliness an issue is the Stonewall Citizens Patrol, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the San Diego Democratic Club, The Center, the Imperial Court de San Diego, San Diego GLBT Vote 2006 and the San Diego chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights.

Caught in the crossfire is the House of Blues who sponsored the event, and 4th and B, the performance venue where the concert was held. A staged demonstration was held on October 4th, in protest of local promoters who brought the controversial Banton to San Diego 60 days after men were beaten with baseball bats after leaving a gay pride event in Balboa Park.

Lyrics of Banton's "Boom bye bye" include:

  • (Its like) Boom bye bye
  • Inna batty bwoy head
  • Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man
  • Dem haffi dead
  • Boom bye bye
  • Inna batty bwoy head
  • Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man
  • Dem haffi dead..."

Preceding the gig at 4th and B, Banton's concerts were canceled in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles due to the Jamaican native's refusal to denounce the lyrics of Boom Bye Bye, and the hate they reflect. No longer is basing his act on faith based homophobia , Banton who has converted to Rastafarianism and now sings about freedom, love, peace and harmony, is still unrepentant, casting himself as the victim of those denouncing his hate speech, while keeping Boom Bye Bye in his playlist.

Hence the protest in San Diego and the general hand wringing.

As a journalist/writer/poet I completely support the first amendment rights of artists to say what they have to say. No matter how ugly or ignorant, I also support the rights of others to loudly denounce hate speech, and that includes calling for a boycott of those that traffic in it.

The big loser in this conflict of cultures is the House of Blues who has once again proven its inability to understand the San Diego market. Why exactly did House of Blues use the 4th and B venue instead of the House of Blues on Fifth Street? Were they afraid of protesters tainting the House of Blues with an unfavorable photo op? Who can blame them? It's ugly business.

Personally I find it hard to generate outrage over the words of an uneducated dancehall thug, from the slums of Kingston. If people want to consume to his particular flavor of musical diarrhea so be it. Instead of getting angry and wasting a perfectly good evening trying to shout down hate, I prefer to go to the competitors of the offending business to spend lavishly, and tell everyone why I chose not to support their competition.

A quiet, word of mouth, campaign against the House of Blues will do more damage than an evening of angry protests. Gays and Lesbian have to power of the purse to weld against businesses that work to undermine the civil rights and public safety of gays and lesbians. The House of Blues in San Diego is such a business, and deserves to be targeted with economic retaliation.

Will I ever attend another show at the House of Blues or 4th and B? Absolutely not! Will I encourage others, gay and straight, black and white, Jamaican or otherwise, to spend their money elsewhere? Absolutely. I figure if you can afford to perpetuate violence against the gay community you don't need my business to stay in business.

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