Despite outcry from both state and campus gay advocacy groups, the Blind Pig has refused to cancel a controversial concert set to hit its stage tonight.
Buju Banton, a reggae musician known for lyrics that promote violence against gay men, has had numerous shows canceled across the country, most recently in Detroit, where he was originally scheduled to play tonight at the Majestic Theatre.
The Michigan-based gay advocacy group Triangle Foundation, which played a role in the cancellation of the Detroit show, issued a statement yesterday about Banton’s performance in Ann Arbor.
“While the Triangle Foundation is an ardent supporter of artistic expression and free speech, we do not condone speech in any form that promotes violence against LGBT people,” the statement read.
Faith Wood, general manager of the Blind Pig, said those who are opposed to Banton’s shows have “information that is very old,” and that those people “haven’t looked beyond that.”
“We love and support the gay community,” Wood said. “But to dictate and not allow somebody to perform for something they’ve said 20 years ago” is wrong.
Wood said that though some of Banton’s earlier songs reference violence against gay people, she believes that he has since denounced those lyrics and is trying to “change that image.”
Wood referenced the Reggae Compassionate Act of 2007, which Banton signed along with a number of other reggae performers.
The act reads: “We pledge that our music will continue to contribute positively to the world dialogue on peace, respect and justice for all.
“To this end, we agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community.”
Banton’s most controversial song “Boom Bye-Bye,” which was recorded in 1992, references shooting “batty bwoys” — a derogatory phrase for gay men — with Uzis and, as many claim the lyrics suggest, burning their skin with acid.
“World is in trouble / anytime Buju Banton come / Batty bwoy get up an run / At gunshot me head back / Hear I tell him now crew.
“(Two man) Hitch up on an rub up on / an lay down inna bed / Hug up on another / anna feel up leg / Send fi di matic an / di Uzi instead / Shoot dem no come if we shot dem.”
Michigan Student Assembly LGBT Commission Chair Chris Armstrong said he was shocked the Blind Pig would host such a performer.
“I think that he has clearly very prejudiced lyrics and perspectives,” he said. “And I think he uses his performances to broadcast them.”
Armstrong said he was particularly upset because the Blind Pig has had such a good relationship with the LGBT community in the past, hosting a number of events for the group over the years.
“The Blind Pig has a really good record of supporting the queer community,” Spectrum Center Assistant Director Gabe Javier said. “People are definitely shocked, and they’re really disappointed.”
Javier said he first heard about the show at the Blind Pig after he received an e-mail from the Triangle Foundation informing him of its efforts to stop the show at the Majestic Theatre.
After hearing that the Blind Pig was hosting the controversial performer — who Javier said he had heard of a few times before but didn’t know much about — Javier helped spread the word about the event, asking LGBT community members and others to call the Blind Pig and ask it to cancel the show.
Wood said the Blind Pig had received a call about the event “every minute or two” since early in the afternoon yesterday. When asked to estimate the total number, Wood suggested it was somewhere around 200 to 300 calls.
“I’m thrilled that the community is that active,” she said. “I just really feel that the energies could be spent more productively.”
Wood said Banton has played in the Blind Pig before, as recently as 2005, and that the venue has “never had any problems.”
When told about Banton signing the Reggae Compassionate Act of 2007, Armstrong said he was doubtful of the performer’s intent.
“For any LGBT individual, it’s really hard for them to necessarily think that anything has really changed,” Armstrong said.
Javier said he doesn’t think Banton’s shows would have been canceled across the country if he stopped promoting violence.
Of the 36 shows originally scheduled for Banton’s 2009 tour, 15 have been canceled in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Columbus, Los Angeles and Dallas. Five concerts have recently been added, including the Ann Arbor show, to fill out the schedule after the other cancellations.
Members of the LGBT community said yesterday that if the concert weren’t canceled, there would likely be a protest at the Blind Pig tonight.
“I am concerned and it pains my heart to think that (the LGBT community) feels that I am doing something wrong or I am supporting something that is dangerous or anti-gay,” Wood said. “That very personally bothers all of the staff now, but at the same time we have convictions that we have to stand by.
“This is the Blind Pig, it’s important to us, and I think that he’s not advocating death and violence,” she said. “I don’t see any reason that I shouldn’t.”
When told of the likely protest, Wood said she hoped it would be a peaceful one.
“That’s the most I can hope,” she said. “I want people to feel heard. I just really wish that people knew — knew what they were talking about before they got their panties in a bundle.”
Above all, Armstrong and other members of the LGBT community are, quite simply, surprised.
“I’m more than anything stunned at a place like the Blind Pig, considering the role that they’ve played in the past (for the LGBT community),” he said. “I think that personally it’s just sort of a little bit sobering, knowing the fact that I’ve been going there since I was a freshman.”