By Julie Bolcer
Complaints from Toronto LGBT rights advocates prompted concert promoters to oust a high-profile Jamaican dancehall artist known for antigay lyrics, reports the Toronto Star
Elephant Man (pictured), also known as O’Neil Bryan, was scheduled to perform at the Caribana Celebrity Ball this Sunday at Circa nightclub. A spokeswoman for the club told the Star that after gay activists complained to the venue, Circa asked the outside promoter to remove the artist from the lineup.
In a hit 2001 track called “Log On,” Elephant Man sings “Log on, and step pon chi-chi man / Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man.” According to numerous sources, including the 2008 book Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence, the Jamaican patois lyrics celebrate stamping on a gay man and setting him on fire. Critics have charged a number of dancehall artists with inciting mob attacks against gay people in Jamaica.
Protests also greeted Elephant Man when he was issued a visa to perform in Canada in 2007, resulting in police monitoring his concerts for antigay lyrics
Homophobic dancehall musician Elephant Man was booked to perform at Circa nightclub on Aug 2 as part of Caribana weekend. But after some in Toronto’s gay communities expressed outrage, Circa staffers say they cancelled his appearance. Even so, independent event promoters say Elephant Man is still planning to appear.Circa staff released a schedule of events for Caribana on Jul 28 that included a poster for the Celebrity Ball, a Sunday night event featuring a photo of Elephant Man as the headlining performer. Minutes after the material was sent, the Twitterfacefriendspacebook-o-net twitched to life with outrage among some of Toronto’s gay people. Circa staff quickly backpedalled, telling the Twitterfacefriendspacebook-o-net that his booking was cancelled. On the promo poster, the musician’s image was replaced by a question mark. “Elephant Man will not be performing,” Circa staffer Tika Simone told Xtra on Jul 27.
Staff at Circa say they were unaware of Elephant Man’s homophobic lyrics prior to the backlash and pulled him from the lineup as soon as they realized what a fuss it would create.However, when Xtra called some of the event’s independent promoters they sang a different tune. “As far as I know, he’ll be there,” said Prawjectz, one of the Celebrity Ball’s promoters and MCs, on Jul 29. “If there was a change we would have known about it by now.” Xtra contacted Jag a promoter for Soulshock, the promotion company behind the event, to ask if Elephant Man would be performing at Circa’s Celebrity Ball, but he refused to comment and hung up. Three other promoters linked with Soulshock who spoke with Xtra said they were unaware that Circa had dropped Elephant Man from the bill, and that the event was going ahead as planned, Elephant Man included. Xtra contacted Elephant Man’s booking firm, Solid Agency, but after some back and forth calls, no one returned our inquires.
In all of Xtra’s inquires there is so far no indication that Elephant Man will simply be performing in another venue.The controversial musician last made headlines in 2007 when he was scheduled to perform at Koolhaus in Toronto after the concert club cancelled his appearance because outrage erupted from some in the gay community. Elephant Man has been the target of international activist organization Stop Murder Music. The Canadian branch of the coalition helped convince Apple i-Tunes to stop selling songs that incited violence against gay and lesbian people. Matt Thomas, an associate editor of Toronto’s fab magazine, which is operated by Pink Triangle Press, which also publishes Xtra, says he posted a note on his Facebook account about Elephant Man performing at Circa soon after he received the promotional material from Circa. He was surprised by how fast word spread online and by how fast Circa acted. “As an activist I’m used to not getting what I want,” says Thomas. However this time, “I didn’t have to leave my desk and it took three hours.”
Thomas says banning homophobic artists, like Elephant Man, from entering Canada isn’t a good way to oppose homophobia. He says in this case the protest is about putting “socio-economic pressure” on businesses that make a living partly from the support of gay people. Thomas says he wants to encourage venues to think twice before booking homophobic musicians. “It’s about targeting people who profit from hate,” says Thomas. Akim Adé Larcher of Stop Murder Music Canada says that some Jamaican dancehall artists with homophobic lyrics will pull their homophobic songs from their show when performing in some countries. However, “They sing those songs when they return to their home countries,” he says. “The songs still incite violence and hate.” Some of Elephant Man’s lyrics include lines such as, “Battyman fi dead! Tek dem by surprise” (queers must be killed! Take them by surprise) and “When yuh hear a Sodomite get raped/but a fi wi fault/it’s wrong/two women gonna hock up inna bed/that’s two Sodomites dat fi dead” (“When you hear a lesbian getting raped/ It’s not our fault … Two women in bed/ That’s two Sodomites who should be dead.”)