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Jamaican Anti-Gay 'Murder Music' Heard by Millions in the US

If your familiarity with Jamaican music begins and ends with Bob Marley, “murder music” and its worldwide popularity will come as a serious shock.

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The Stop Murder Music campaign has had an effect on artists, especially in the United States and Europe, said McFarlane and Tatchell. Major sponsors have withdrawn, and boycotts and rallies have increased fans’ awareness of the issue. Dozens of performances and tours have been canceled, hitting artists where it hurts most: in their wallets. Also, as of April 2010, five artists known for murder music had had their U.S. visas revoked — though the Department of Justice refuses to say exactly why.

But when compassion closes a door, hate sometimes opens a window. McFarlane said the boycott’s international success has made life more difficult for the already-persecuted LGBT community in Jamaica. “What we have seen is an increase in threats against our GLBT community when international organizations and individuals call for boycotts,” he said. “In 2008 and 2009, we had a few clients report being threatened and even attacked because they were the people that want people to boycott Jamaica. In fact, our sentiment is that carrying out a boycott is not helpful because our community will also be threatened with the same risk of job loss coupled with the backlash locally.”

Moreover, murder music is welcomed in some African countries regardless of Western opprobrium.

“The King of Dancehall stuck a sword of words into gay people,” enthused Uganda’s Daily Monitor after Beenie Man’s December 2009 performance in Kampala. Uganda is perhaps the most virulently anti-gay country on the planet: In 2009, a member of parliament proposed to stiffen already harsh penalties for sodomy by adding the death penalty for homosexual “repeat offenders,” those who engage in same-sex acts with minors, and people with HIV/AIDS.

In February 2010, Sizzla Kalonji headlined the national celebration of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe’s 86th birthday. Mugabe rewarded him with the deed to a Zimbabwean farm.

The impact of Jamaican murder music in the United States — including any violence it may have provoked — is impossible to measure. But its popularity is evident from the huge number of video downloads, and the music and its words can easily be found elsewhere on the Internet, as well.

In Jamaica itself, murder-music concerts and radio play are almost impossible to repress. Anti-gay performances are practically a compulsory part of dancehall musicians’ repertoire, McFarlane said. Increasingly aware that overt references to violent acts towards gays could damage their marketability abroad, artists walk the line by inventing new slang and making their lyrics more obscure.

McFarlane, who is gay, was doing volunteer work for J-FLAG when its previous leader was forced to leave. He said he “jumped at” the opportunity to become a full-time employee. Of the personal risks he takes by representing J-FLAG, he said, “It’s all relative, and most times I try not to think about it. Because the truth is, the work has to be done."

 
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