by Jessica Carreras
After his originally slated Sept. 30 show at Detroit’s Majestic Theater was canceled, Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton’s performance was rescheduled for the same night at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.
The Majestic show was called off after slews of gay protestors contacted the center urging them to cancel the performance by Banton, who is most well known in the LGBT community for his 1992 anti-gay anthem “Boom Bye Bye,” which advocates for the killing of gays and lesbians.
Similar pressure was put on the Blind Pig on Tuesday, and booking agent Jason Berry said the phone was “ringing off the hook” – but as of press time on Sept. 29, just one day before the show, he assured that it would go on as planned.
“We heard from people in the Caribbean community who were bummed out that Buju had been canceled and no explanation had been given,” Berry said. “So yes, they wanted to know if we could do it and a promoter wanted to present it, and we said, ‘Yeah, sure.'”
Berry explained that though the Blind Pig values its gay audience, they also value the rest of their diverse audience – including the Caribbean community, which was eager to see Banton play a rare show in the area. “For us, it’s about the fact that (the Caribbean) community never gets to see who they want to see,” he said. “(Reggae dancehall) shows – there’s never any of that kind of (anti-gay) music and the crowd isn’t sitting there being whipped into an anti-gay frenzy by the people on stage. It’s nothing like that.”
Moreover, Berry elaborated, he found that at reggae shows at the Blind Pig in the past, artists were careful not to preach those messages of homophobia and hate. “We’ve noticed that whenever they play in the past, they were very careful not to do any songs like that,” he said. “Most of their songs are about religion and love and peace and all that. They’re really careful not to do any song that’s anti-gay.”
Still, the Triangle Foundation, Affirmations and other LGBT organizations and individuals spoke out against the show, and many people vowed to show up to protest. “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 non-profit said in a statement.
Representatives from Triangle, Affirmations and other groups said they would be spending the night of Banton’s performance at the Majestic complex’s Magic Stick venue, where an LGBT awareness show was held. The concert boasted a line-up of comedians and performers from the LGBT and allied community, including The Big Pink Black, Jocelyn B, Steffie and the Dirty Virgins and Affirmations CEO and stand-up comic Leslie Thompson.
Majestic owner Dave Zainea commented on their reasons for the cancellation, which stood in stark contrast to the Blind Pig’s view on the issue. “If we had known that there was any controversy surrounding this artist, we would have never even considered booking him,” he said. “We do not condone any form of hate speech.”
The Majestic took a substantial financial loss from their cancelation of the show as they were not able to get a refund on their booking contract. The matter cost the venue thousands of dollars, which they hoped to recoup at the LGBT awareness show.
However, they stood by their decision to cancel based on values, not on monetary gain or loss. “For decades, The Majestic has been a haven for unique events and people from all walks of life,” Zainea said. “At this point and time, Detroiters need to stand together more than ever. We could not allow one event to create a divide.”
The Blind Pig stated before the show that they hoped their decision wouldn’t drive away their LGBT patrons, either. The venue has been host to many gay and gay-friendly acts, including upcoming performances in October by Drag King Rebellion and LGBT favorites The Bang.
“It’s not that we’re not worried that we might get boycotted. That would be terrible,” Berry said. “But to then say that we better not have this artist, that just seems like a really slippery slope. It rubs up against the whole freedom of expression thing a little too close for comfort.”
Berry added, “In those works he’s done, there’s no denying that (he advocated for violence against gays). The only thing is, he did those works a long time ago … but at the same time, it’s art. And politically correct art – is that still art?”
Between The Lines wants to know if you protested at The Blind Pig or celebrated LGBT awareness at The Majestic. Send your photos and comments to us at [email protected]