11.12.09 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
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SteveBlanchardHeadshotI’m so over Buju Banton.

Three months ago, I couldn’t have told you anything about the Jamaican reggae artist. I’ve been known to be a little lax on my pop culture trivia. But when I saw in mainstream newspapers and online that the performer’s shows were getting canceled across Florida—and throughout the country—because of his anti-gay lyrics, I took notice. Living in this age of technology, it’s not that difficult to research any subject, much less a supposedly well-known performer. Within a few clicks I learned that Banton’s song “Boom Bye Bye” was about much more than denying LGBTs equal rights. The song advocates murdering gay men with AK-47s, acid, fire and by lynching. Not one to believe everything I read, I reviewed his lyrics for myself and it’s pretty obvious he supports the torture and killing of gay men.

After a few more clicks, I discovered that in 2004 police charged Banton in connection with a brutal beating attack of six men believed to be gay near his Kingston, Jamaica recording studio. One of the victims lost an eye in that attack.
Now it made sense to me why venues like Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg, Hard Rock Live in Orlando and The Ritz Ybor in Tampa all canceled his shows. I know I have an advantage to this kind of insight considering my career, but even non-journalistic acquaintances of mine seemed aware of this guy’s hateful speech and his multiple cancellations.

So that’s why I was so surprised that The Cuban Club in Ybor City booked Banton to perform Oct. 30—and then refused to cancel his show when they “learned” his lyrics condemned murdering gay people. Officially, the club said that it could not afford to cancel Banton because the contract was signed and it could not afford a lawsuit.

But it may be that their not cancelling him could cause even worse financial trouble.

Nearby business owners are upset that The Cuban Club—which is a member of the GaYbor District Coalition advocating LGBT equality and business growth in the area—would book such an offensive act.

Tampa’s LGBT community is up in arms. Members of LGBT boards e-mailed the club, called the box office and posted online pleas for it to cancel the performance. GaYbor founders Mark Bias and Carrie West say they told Cuban Club President Jose Berenguer about the violence Banton advocates in his lyrics.

The club had an obvious PR nightmare on its hands so it decided that to appease upset neighbors it would prevent the singer from performing “Boom Bye Bye” or from using anti-gay slurs in the performance.
Is that good enough? No.

This argument is used to death, but what if the lyrics advocated the murdering of African-Americans or Asians? Promoters and venues wouldn’t touch the act or its money at all unless those venue’s patrons donned white robes with pointy white hoods.

But the message sent out by venues that book Banton—including The Cuban Club—says lyrics advocating hate crimes are okay, as long as the performers pay up front.


In a community that has an LGBT-embracing mayor in Pam Iorio and an openly gay Chief of Police and county commissioner, it’s disrespectful that a business would profit off an act such as Banton’s.

According to the GaYbor Coalition, the Cuban Club is still a member of the organization. However, groups have already pulled support from the club and have promised not to book any future engagements there. The community of Tampa Bay as a whole should follow suit.

After two years of bettering Ybor City and Tampa, GaYbor Coalition businesses and organizations should look at membership as an honor rather than a volunteer commitment—and that’s obviously an honor the Cuban Club doesn’t see as important.

At this point, protests at the club won’t do anything and Banton has moved on to spread his hate to other parts of the world. But the stigma the Cuban Club created for itself is still there, and anyone who does not support the murder of innocent people should think long and hard before doing business with this one-time respectable organization.

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