Murder music is the name given to songs produced by Jamaican dancehall and ragga artists with gay-hate (virulently homophobic) lyrics that call for the torture, rape and death of LGBTQ people. The term may also be applied to homophobic lyrics in Neo-Nazi rock/punk music and gangsta rap.
Gay activist folk speech includes words and phrases specifically designed to call attention to issues important to the LGBTQ community. Having labels for types of homophobic violence, such as “murder music,” “gay-hate,” and “corrective rape” (raping and killing Lesbians to cure them of homosexuality), allows activists to focus public awareness of the ways in which homophobia is manifested. Initially, such labels begin as activist folk speech, but may be adopted by mainstream media and, occasionally, into legislative and legal discourse.
The lyrics found in murder music reflect deeply ingrained, purportedly Christian-based sentiments in Jamaican society. Batty man (“batty” is Jamaican folk speech for “butt”), batty bwoy, funnyman, freaky man, faggot, fassy (effeminate man), and chi-chi (vermin) man are folk terms for homosexual/effeminate men. sodomite, chi-chi woman, and lesbian refer to masculine/ homosexual women. Sentiment against homosexuality in Jamaica is strong and is manifested in public acts of violence. One legend has it that a Pride parade in Kingston was cancelled when stores sold out of machetes within a half hour of the announcement that the parade would take place.
Other stories are part of the historical record. In February 2004, a man invited his sixteen-year-old son’s classmates to beat his son after he found a picture of a naked man in the boy’s backpack. School officials called the police, who were also attacked as they escorted the victim to safety. Nobody was charged with a crime. In 2007, a funeral for a man known to be homosexual was disrupted by a mob that demanded the service be stopped because some of the male mourners had shown up in tight clothing.
Police are often accused of violence against Gays. In 2003, a Gay-friendly bar in Kingston was attacked by a group of men who jumped out of a van, fired bullets into the crowd, and chased after those who fled. Survivors later identified the assailants as members of the police force.
Mobs as large as 2000 people have been reported attacking men perceived to be homosexual or effeminate. It is not unusual for those mobs to sing homophobic lyrics from popular songs while assaulting their victims. In 2004, Brian Williamson, founder of Jamaican Friends of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag) was chopped to death with a machete in his Kingston, Jamaica apartment. Afterwards, neighbors standing outside of his home celebrated his murder and sang Buju Banton’s dancehall hit, “Boom Bye Bye,” a song about shooting homosexual men in the head and burning them.
Law and Politics
Resistance to equal rights for LGBTQ people in Jamaica is embedded in the laws of the land. The criminal code, inherited from the days when Jamaica was under British rule, has four articles (76 through 79) pertaining to sex acts between men. Article 76 criminalizes male same-sex acts, equating sex between men with having sex with animals. Article 77 criminalizes those attempting to engage in male same-sex acts, equating sex between men with male rape. Article 78 states that “the actual emission of seed” is not necessary to prove carnal knowledge (a legal term for sexual intercourse). Article 79 criminalizes any man who “commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure” sex with another man.
Owning or running a Gay bar would violate Article 79, as would providing Gay men with condoms to prevent male-to-male transmission of HIV. There are no laws, however, against sex acts between women. The British criminal code against homosexuality is enforced in other former British colonies in the Caribbean, but not all of them. Two English-speaking countries in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, do not criminalize consensual homosexual acts between adults, while others such as Barbados, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago criminalize homosexuality.
In Jamaican politics, homophobia has been used as a political weapon. During the 2001 elections, a whisper campaign against then-Prime Minister P.J. Patterson (calling him “P.J. Battyson”) insinuated he was homosexual, an accusation he vehemently denied in the press. The Jamaica Labour Party used the song “Chi Chi Man” at its rallies to further spread the rumor that Patterson, leader of the opposing People’s National Party, was homosexual:
[chorus] From dem a par inna chi chi man car
Blaze di fire mek we bun dem
From dem a drink inna chi chi man bar
Blaze di fire mek we dun dem
Translation from Jamaican Patois:
Those who are in a faggot’s car
Blaze the fire, we burn them
Those who drink in a faggot’s bar [Gay bar]
Blaze the fire, we kill them (“Chi Chi Man” by TOK or “Touch Of Klass,” sung to the tune of the Christmas carol, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”)
In 2006, Orette Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party stated that “homosexuals would find no solace” in any cabinet formed by him. In 2007, he became prime minister. Matters changed, however, when Portia Simpson-Miller became prime minister (the first woman to attain the office) in 2012. Simpson-Miller openly endorsed LGBTQ rights during her campaign for the office.
Murder music is found primarily in two Jamaican dance music genres: dancehall and ragga. Dancehall music is digitally produced melody and instrumentation, with individual creative emphasis on lyrical content attributed to the artist who chants, sings, or raps. Ragga ( from “ragamuffin”) is an even more digitally-oriented and rap-based offshoot of dancehall.
Although songs may have strong religious content (particularly Rastafarian) and may protest economic inequality, the lyrics to dancehall and raga songs are often materialistic, loaded with slackness (obscene language) and may have explicitly sexual, drug-related, and violent referents. Dancehall and ragga artists have released songs that tell the listener to chop, stab, hang, burn, rape (including rhetoric resembling corrective rape for Lesbians), and shoot LGBTQ people, sometimes while championing the rights of the poor and praising God in the same song.
Dance as Gay-Hate Festive Performance
Although lovers of dancehall, reggae, and ragga had been dancing to gay-hate songs for years, “Log On” by Elephant Man took murder music one step further into what may be called “murder dance” by explicitly framing a popular dance as symbolic performance of violence against Gay men:
Log on [log on is a dance mimicking a stepping motion used to kill an insect] and step pon chi chi man
Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man…
A dance wi a dance and a crush out dem.
Do di walk, mek mi see the light and di torch dem fass
Translation: Log on and step upon a faggot
Dance with us a dance and burn out the queer
Dance with us and crush them
Do the walk, make me see the light and torch them fast
Lyrics and Performances
More examples of gay-hate lyrics and performances of dancehall and ragga from some of its biggest stars are as follows:
I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica
Come to execute all the gays (“Damn” by Beenie Man)
Hang chi chi gal [dyke] wid a long piece of rope (“Hang Up Deh” by Beenie Man)
I bought dis A.K. [automatic rifle] to spray on all gays…
Gunshots for all you faggots, I really hate you maggots (“J.A. Don’t Like Gays” by Doctor Evil)
Bun a fire pon a kuh pon mister fagoty…
Poop man fi drown a dat a yawd man philosophy
Translation: Burn a fire and kill Mr. Faggot…
Shit-man should be drowned, and that is a Jamaican man’s philosophy (“Another Level” by Bounty Killer and Baby Cham)
Two women gonna hock up inna bed
That’s two sodomites [lesbians] dat fi dead…
When yuh hear a sodomite get raped
A nuh fi wi fault [it is not our fault] (“A Nuh Fi Wi Fault” by Elephant Man)
Gimme [give me] deh gun
Lemme [let me] shot him boom boom (“We Nuh Like Gay” by Elephant Man)
Burnin you, blazin you, burnin you…
Bun [burn] out di chi chi
Blood out [Chop/stab/shoot up] di sissy (“Bun Out di Chi-Chi” by Capleton)
Batty boy dem fi dead [butt-boys must die] (“Boom Boom” by Sizzla Kalonji)
Step up inna front line
Fire fi di man dem weh go ride man behind
Shot batty boy, my big gun boom
Translation: Step up to the front of the line
Fire for the man who rides a man from behind
Shoot butt-boys, my big gun goes boom (“Pump Up” by Sizzla Kalonji)
One of the most notorious examples of murder music is the aforementioned “Boom Bye Bye” by Buju Banton:
Boom bye bye
Inna batty bwoy head
Rude boy no promote nasty man
Dem haffi dead [they must die]
Banton internationalizes his message in lyrics from that same song, calling for people in New York, Brooklyn, and Canada to reject LGBTQ people as they dance, lest they be perceived as Gay themselves:
All a di New York crew
Dem no promote batty man
Jump and dance
Unno push up unno hand [throw your hands up]
All di Brooklyn girl
Dem no promote batty man
Jump and bogle [type of dance]
Anna wine yuh bottom [gyrate your butt]
Canadian gals dem no like batty man
If yuh are not one
Yuh haffi push up
The celebratory tone of murder music promotes the message that virulent homophobia is ethical and fun. On April 2002 during a reggae concert in Chicago, Rastafarian musician Sizzla declared his hatred for LGBTQ people: “Mi kill sodomite and batty man. Dem bring AIDS and disease pon people… Shot a kill dem, mi nuh go tek back mi chat” (I kill dykes and butt-men. They bring AIDS and disease upon people… Shoot and kill them. I will not take back what I said). In 2005, he released a song entitled “Rasta [Rastafarian] No Apologize to No Batty Boy.”
In January 2004, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica was the site for Rebel Salute, a large musical event. Artists such as Capleton and Sizzla performed, exhorting the crowd of some 30,000 attendees to kill Gays. Defenders of murder music claim that most of the violence against LGBTQ people in Jamaica is done by other Gay people, and that protests against homophobic lyrics in non-Jamaican countries are racist.
Stop Murder Music Campaign
Stop Murder Music (SMM) is a campaign against homophobic lyrics that began in the early 1990s with a coalition of the British LGBTQ activist group OutRage!, the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag), and the British Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group (BGMAG). Much of the campaign was run by activists in Britain and Canada because Gays in Jamaica were afraid of harassment, torture, and death if they spoke out publicly. Many of the people involved in SMM were, in fact, LGBTQ folks who fled the Caribbean to escape persecution.
When “Boom Bye Bye” was re-released in 1992 (first release was 1988), some Jamaican musicians were regularly singing violently homophobic songs while on tour outside of Jamaica. A major dancehall star, Shabba Ranks, saw his career eclipsed after publicly declaring on the British television show The Word in 1992 that Gay people “deserve crucifixion.” Co-host Mark Lamarr called Ranks out on his remarks, saying, “That’s absolute crap and you know it.”
Australian-born British activist Peter Tatchell is credited with coining the term “murder music” and has been accused of racism for protesting against gay-hate lyrics. When he and four other Outrage! activists protested the nomination of murder music artists for Best Reggae Act outside of the 2002 MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Awards in London, they were beaten and spat on as their mostly teenage attackers yelled “Kill the batty boy/chi chi men,” “Batty man fi dead” and “Bun out da chi chi.”
The Campaign has had some success in banning gay-hate artists from the USA, Canada, and Britain. SMM activists such as Akim Larcher from St. Lucia, who moved to Toronto to escape gay-hate violence, convinced the Canadian government to apply laws against hate speech to murder music lyrics. Concerts featuring murder music artists were cancelled in the USA, Canada, and Europe, and musicians were turned away at customs at various countries.
A compromise was reached with some of the top names in dancehall and ragga to sign the Reggae Compassion Act (RCA) of 2007, including Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Sizzla, and Capleton. The Act calls for musicians to respect “the rights of all individuals to live without violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender.”
Banton’s manager and Beenie Man himself have cast doubt as to whether the artists had actually signed the Act or intended to honor it. Other performers behaved as if the Act did not apply while performing in Jamaica. Sizzla continued to perform murder music after signing the RCA. Although he would not sing aloud the most homophobic gay-hate lyrics in some songs, he purposely let the audience do it for him.
In October 2007, Sizzla’s concerts in Toronto and Montreal were cancelled, and he was refused a visa in May 2008 to perform in Germany. In 2007, Bounty Killer was banned from performing in Guyana, a move applauded by Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). In 2008, Capleton’s European tour was cancelled when reports of the musician singing anti-Gay songs during Jamaican concerts, as were American concerts in 2010. iTunes banned gay-hate songs by Banton, TOK, and Elephant Man in 2008.
In 2009, many venues in the USA that had agreed to feature Banton cancelled his performance. Banton spoke with Gay activists in San Francisco to smooth things over, but little was accomplished. Jason McFarlane, Programmes Manager for J-Flag (www.jflag.org), made the following statement to Mickey Weems for a 2009 article on murder music in Edge Publications:
J-FLAG stands in full support of spreading the reality that certain dancehall artists have created and continue to perform music that incites violence towards gays and lesbians. Any artist who continues to create and perform this kind of hate speech should be banned from performing anywhere in the world. We are happy that the message is getting out and that persons and groups across the world are coming out in support of the Stop Murder Music Campaign. Artists who perform this kind of music must be held accountable for the influence that they have on society. The argument has been made time and time again that the artists are not telling people what to do. But when our clients report that the words of certain songs are quoted as they met out their violence on the victims, we need no more evidence than that. It is unfortunate that it appears that, after Buju realised that so many of his shows were being cancelled, he decided to meet with the gay community in SF in an apparent effort to create what appeared to be a truce. But in fact nothing was agreed to as a next step…not even a follow up meeting or to continue the dialogue.
In 2010, more concerts featuring artists who sing murder music such as Capleton, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, and Mavado were cancelled across the USA (some artists had their visas revoked), reflecting both a reluctance from promoters to ban the artists from the start, and willingness of activists to call for action against any event that features those artists.
Change for the Good
In Jamaica, homophobia is no longer the only acceptable political stance. As mentioned earlier, Portia Simpson-Miller, who had stated in a debate she would appoint a qualified Gay person in her administration, was elected prime minister in 2011 and took office in 2012.
Music is changing as well. In 2012, Mistah Majah P released what was labeled the first reggae/dancehall album against homophobia.
Cameron, Samuel. The Economics of Hate. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2009.
Johnson, Bruce and Martin Cloonan. Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.
Weems, Mickey. “Why Should We Forgive Buju Banton?” Edge Publications. October 30, 2009. www.edgeboston.com (accessed July 2010).