Gay vs. Reggae: The Reggae Music Industry Makes Changes in Response to Gay Activists' Protesting Violently Homophobic Lyrics. the Artists Have No Comment

By Flick, Larry | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), April 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

Gay vs. Reggae: The Reggae Music Industry Makes Changes in Response to Gay Activists' Protesting Violently Homophobic Lyrics. the Artists Have No Comment


Flick, Larry, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


The long and heated battle between homophobic reggae artists and gay activists appears to have come to an end, at least temporarily. There is no clear victor, but a tentative ceasefire is in place.

Once perceived as a musical embodiment of peace, love, and sunshine--thanks largely to the serene efforts of the late Bob Marley--reggae has become a medium for hate and prejudice in recent times. At the center of the storm have been artists like Elephant Man, Vybz Kartel, Bounty Killer, and Sizzla Kalonji, who have grabbed headlines with songs steeped in violent antigay rhetoric.

It's this kind of dangerous content that has mobilized queers, particularly in Europe, where reggae enjoys considerably more commercial acceptance than in the United States. Following a series of protests helmed by the Stop Murder Music coalition, which combines the efforts of watchdog groups like OutRage! and J-Flag, reggae music industry representatives have verbally agreed to stop releasing songs that promote hatred and violence against gay people.

"Quite honestly, they had no choice but to back down and move in a more harmonious direction," says Chuck Taylor, managing editor of Billboard Radio Monitor, a music industry trade publication. "The bad publicity was taking a toll. The tenacity of the gay community paid off in a huge way. Their power had become impossible to ignore."

No specific artists were involved in the negotiations, and no reggae performers have yet commented on the accommodation between activists and the music industry. Rather, the deal was brokered by representatives of recording companies and promoters that house the majority of reggae's top acts. Among the participating companies are VP and Greensleeves Records as well as distributor Jet Star. Concert promoters, including Jammins and Apollo Entertainment, are also on board. Under the terms of the agreement, labels will release no new songs--or reissue old ones--that advocate violence against gays and lesbians, while promoters are to make the singers agree not to perform such songs onstage.

In a show of good faith, the Stop Murder Music coalition has agreed to call off future protests. "We shall not be picketing concerts or calling for prosecutions to give the industry the space to regulate and reform itself," OutRage! activist Brett Lock said in a statement.

"We were having trouble doing business," says a reggae-label source, on condition of anonymity. "It was necessary to play ball and get our artists back on the road without hassle."

Even if the only motive is financial, the reggae industry has decided to coexist more happily in the Western music world. Some believe that change of heart had its origins in queer activists' reaction to Beenie Man, long a figure of controversy among gays and lesbians. His 2004 release Back to Basics sparked widespread protest from several U.K. gay organizations, including OutRage! which successfully pressured MTV into batting the artist from a Miami concert held in conjunction with the Video Music Awards last summer. After being prohibited from touring the United Kingdom in the fall, Beenie Man eventually issued a public apology--through his label, Virgin--insisting that "while my lyrics are very personal, I do not write them with the intent of purposefully hurting or maligning others. …

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