Amid controversy, Buju Banton to play in Jacksonville on Oct 29th

By Heather Lovejoyjacksonville_logo

Despite nationwide protests by gay rights organizations and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton is “absolutely coming” to Jacksonville, says Plush nightclub owner Tom Fisher.

Banton, aka Gargamel, whose real name is Mark Myrie, is scheduled to perform Thursday at Plush in Arlington with reggae and R&B artist Wayne Wonder.

His U.S. tour, “Rasta Got Soul,” has been plagued by controversy because of lyrics in his 1988 song “Boom Boom Bye,” which describes shooting gay men with an Uzi.

His concerts in some cities have been canceled because of protests. In Dallas, Orlando and Los Angeles, his shows were dropped from their originally planned venues but picked up by others.

According to the “Cancel Buju Banton” Web site, a September show in Tampa was canceled, but Ticketmaster is now selling tickets for a show there on Friday at a different venue.

Nadine Smith, executive director of the Equality Florida, said her LGBT group’s demand is simple: “Stop singing the song. Renounce the lyrics. Stop profiting from it.”

Smith said it is not official, but there has “definitely” been local interest in having a demonstration outside Plush.

“It’s not simply that he says ugly things about gay people. That’s unfortunate, but so be it,” she said. “It is the fact that he advocates and incites violence against gay people.”

She said that in 2007, Banton signed a statement saying he would never sing “Boom Bye Bye” but was then recorded singing the song during a Miami concert.

“He has absolutely no remorse for the lyrics,” Smith said.

Tracii McGregor, a representative from Banton’s record company, Gargamel Music, said by e-mail that he no longer sings the controversial song.

“Clips circulating online are not actual performances of the entire song but freestyle fragments,” she said.

McGregor said Banton does not own the masters or control rights to the song, so doesn’t profit from it. She said Banton wrote the song in response to the rape of a young boy by a man. He preaches against violence, she said.

Fisher said Banton has played at Plush several times in the past decade, and did not sing the song. He said this is the first time anyone has protested, so he did look into the issue.

“He did have some lyrics we don’t agree with,” Fisher said, adding that the song was written more than 20 years ago when Banton was 15.

The message Banton has brought to Plush in the past is one of peace and love, Fisher said.

“He doesn’t promote [violence against gays]. If I really felt that he did, then we wouldn’t have booked the show,” Fisher said.

The “Cancel Buju Banton” group has posted a note online that they say is from Fisher. It reads: “We are strictly a venue. We do not share the views of any artist booked. … I wish we were in a financial situation in which we could afford to be more selective with the artists coming.”

Banton was arrested in connection with a 2004 beating of several gay men by a group in Jamaica, but charges were dropped.

Sex between gay men is illegal in Jamaica, though being gay or lesbian is not. J-FLAG, a Jamaican gay rights group, describes the environment on the island as hostile and dangerous for gays.