For The South End
Local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist groups successfully prevented reggae recording artist Buju Banton from performing in Detroit, but they could not stop him from performing in Michigan.
The Blind Pig, a live music venue in Ann Arbor, played host to Banton’s performance last Wednesday night after The Majestic Theater in Detroit opted to call off the original date.
The controversy surrounding Banton stems from his song “Boom Bye Bye,” which contains the lyric “Anytime Buju Banton come, faggots get up and run…they have to die.” Other lyrics in the song, which was recorded in 1992 at the age of 15, promote the murder and torture of gay men by pouring acid on them.
LGBT groups across the nation have protested his shows, leading concert promoters LiveNation and AEG Live to cancel all of their dates on Banton’s current U.S. tour.
That did not stop the Blind Pig from allowing Banton to play. In a statement taped to the front of their building, they defended their decision,“We have come to the conclusion that this artist does not support the point of view that he put forward in his controversial song.
And that, to the contrary, his current performances are celebrated by many because of the powerfully positive messages he puts forward at his concert.”
After scheduling the concert in Detroit, the Majestic Theater staff received emails from LGBT groups such as Affirmations (Ferndale, MI) and The Triangle Foundation. The show was then canceled and cost the Majestic Theater thousands of dollars.
“It is next to impossible to simply cancel a show without major financial consequences. Yet, that is what we have done. We feel that our decision to cancel the show is less about making a statement on free speech and more about continuing to provide a welcoming atmosphere for all people,” David Zainea, co-owner of the Majestic Theater center, said in a statement.
One Wayne State University student, Jonathan DeFrancesco, supported The Majestic’s decision to work with their community, but expressed reservations about possible censorship.
“This seems that the Majestic is acting out of a debt to the community it depends on, which is cool to see, and hopefully helps with the fight against hate,” DeFrancesco said, “but can just as easily be a slippery slope towards rejecting any controversial art from being performed.”
To help offset the Majestic’s losses, Affirmations and Transgender Detroit, among others, organized a benefit concert on three days’ notice to take the place of the Banton concert. The concert featured local groups including The Big Pink Black and Coup Detroit.
“The show went great. We had a super lineup of entertainers. It was great that the community came together on such short notice,” Michelle Fox-Phillips, co-founder and executive director of Transgender Detroit, said.
Banton’s show may have found another venue, but Kathleen LaTosch, chief administrative officer for Affirmations, feels the efforts of the LGBT groups are still a success.
“In these times, Detroit could use some positive energy,” she said. “There was a lot of goodwill generated in the broader community, so it was a win-win-win.”