Buju Redux: What Boom Bye Bye Means

This cartoon is a play on Banton’s 2006 hit single ‘Driver A’, which ironically makes references to a hypothetical secret ganja (marijuana) smuggling operation in the U.S. Taken from Dancehall Mobi‘s website.

I just came across this rather nuanced and critical post on Buju on Afrobella’s blog and found myself responding at length. Thought i may as well cut and paste my response here. Afrobella was making several points (among them the absurdity of denying that Buju seems to have had more than a close encounter with a certain white powder) but I was responding to her point that contrary to what is claimed Buju does often still perform Boom Bye Bye. Here’s what she said:

“I know there are those that deny that Buju still performs the song, but I’ve seen him tease it, freestyle it, and rile up an audience with it more than once — most memorably in 2006, at Best of the Best in Miami. I turned and left that Buju concert because of that switch in his personality, from incredible entertainer to hatemonger at the drop of a beat…”

I found myself leaving the following response. My thoughts on all this are really developing in response to the opinions i come across on the subject in blogs and other online fora. i’ve added and edited my original response a bit here:
I too find the argument that Boom Bye Bye is such an old song, Buju doesn’t do it anymore etc, specious because at almost every concert he is required by the audience to at least gesture towards it in the way that you’ve mentioned, if not actually perform it. I’ve always believed that Jamaica’s anti-homosexual rhetoric especially as expressed in the music is much more than merely an exhortation of violence against homosexuals.

This one song Boom Bye Bye probably captures many of the varying targets for public disapproval in Ja in its seemingly straightforward lyrics originally written to protest the rape and kiling of a male child by, presumably, homosexuals. From targeting one particular homosexual rapist and murderer, the song went on to become an anthem targeting all such predators. The problem is that in Jamaica (as in many other places) male homosexuals are invariably seen as predatory and the proscription against predatory homosexuals then becomes one against all homosexuals.

Unfortunately matters have now got to the point where in addition to this conflation the figure of the homosexual has also become conflated with the evils of globalization in Jamaica. It is in effect as if the culture believes it is being raped by the outside world (as my Facebook friend Paul Anthony Vaughn would say: Violation!), and one of the manifestations of this is the demand by developed nations that homosexuality should be legalized or de-criminalized; another is the addition of programming on American/UK cable tv with central characters who are unabashedly homosexual; and of course there is the recent direct, concentrated pressure from international gay rights organizations on Jamaican musicians. I believe that when Buju’s audiences demand that he sing Boom Bye Bye and he playfully gives them the intro, wheels etc and appears to perform it or actually performs it it is an affirmation of Jamaica’s resistance to the onslaughts of globalization and not so much any longer a mere call to rid the nation of homosexuals. The audience’s response is one of jubilation at their mutual refusal to back down in the face of ‘unreasonable’ and arbitrary demands to change the culture from the outside.

anyway, that’s my take on all this. For me it’s actions, not so much lyrics, that count and Buju lost his stature in my eyes when he was accused of actually breaking into the house of and beating up some homosexuals so severely that they needed to be hospitalized. that’s when i stopped listening to his music as i used to before.

So in summing up, just as you and Sarah Manley have pointed out the good and bad sides of Buju, presenting a more nuanced portrait of this conflicted figure it’s necessary also to nuance what homosexuality represents in cultures such as Jamaica, that homosexuality too has its good and bad sides, to differentiate between predatory homosexuality and just being a homosexual…because its the latter that we want to defend not the former. And people do have a right to protest the former.

So in effect Boom Bye Bye has what in academic parlance is called ‘multivalence’. It is a multivalent allegory or text, meaning simply that it has multiple meanings. I now await the wrath of Long Bench and various anonymous friends. Please be gentle.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

20 thoughts on “Buju Redux: What Boom Bye Bye Means”

  1. Annie, I understand what you mean. As I commented on the Afrobella post, its like every DJ has a song like that, because the public wants to hear it, and if you don’t have some homophobic lyrics to draw for when another artiste buss some lyrics against homosexuality in the dance, you lose!

    Was Buju actually found guilty of beating those gays? Was it proven that it was him who did the deed?

    Also, you mentioned a male child who was raped and killed. That sounds like it was probably done by a paedophile to me, not just a homosexual. We need to understand that there is a distinction between the two things.

  2. Hey Madbull, thanks for this. Yes, another important point is that the DJs are producing these lyrics in response to audience demand.

    on whether Buju was found guilty or not of beating up the gays, according to my sources yes. you can’t pose our justice system and not being convicted by it as any kind of proof cuz you know our justice system is as rotten as blue cheese. its the source of most of our problems here, the fact that it doesn’t function.

    and on paedophilia, yes we need to differentiate, that’s one of the points i’m making. Homosexuals can also do bad things (like anyone else), one of the things that gets glossed over in this simplistic sort of debate between Good and Evil…

  3. Hail Annie Paul, I appreciate your analysis of the meaning of Boom-Bye-Bye. It certainly is a lot more sophisticated than the BS I have been seeing elsewhere.

    The problem is that your argument will not change the minds of the die-hards on either side of the issue because it is academic and requires a reasoned dispassionate discourse in order to be appreciated.

    That is why I have to ask you this question: why we gone back to the batty-bwoy argument? Enough things not happening in and around Jamaica for us to discuss? No man…this batty business consuming too much print and blog space.

    What about the underway-bomber? Look how him like most young men blow him load too quick…or in a premature uneventful fashion?

    What about the 3 failed budgets of the JLP administration?

    What about an update on Robert ‘Kentucky Kid’ Hill…or the Police’s new move to inform the public about progress of investigations on controversial police killings.

    Is it because these issues don’t come with a side of ‘Fish’ that they are not being served here.

    That said…I really nah tell yuh how fi run yuh blog. I just waan si a broda set of issues discussed cause mi like variety. Somedays fish, other days pork.

    I should however say thanks…for you have once again sent me to my dictionary.”Multivalent…: having many values, meanings, or appeals. “

    I’m going to use this one all day. lol.

    Peace and love, Stero

  4. Hi Annie, Great post! I’ve been to several dancehall concerts here in Trinidad and during breaks, when the DJ is playing and not the featured artists, they’d play a few bars, chorus or wheel one of these homophobic songs. The crowd gets all fired up, everybody jumps and sings at the top of their voices, then it’s all over in a few seconds, and everybody looks at one another and starts to laugh. The feeling always is, “Yes we did it. We were bad. And it was fun.” Reminds me of carnival, jouvay especially, when people stick it to authority.
    Al the best, Skye

  5. Hey, thanks for all the comments. Stero, will try and offer a more balanced diet, don’t want u to suffer from constipation, unless of course you’re going on a long trip by air in which case with the new rules it may help….

    Skye, lovely to hear from u. yes, i think u’re right, it’s a kind of brief thumbing of the nose, an exercise of political incorrectness…the comparison to Jouvert is interesting.

    Sandy, i generally don’t comment on things i don’t know enough about. this is definitely one of them. surely more than enough comment available from American bloggers?

  6. Annie = such a low opinion of me. tsk tsk. This might be the clearest & least ambiguous stance you have taken yet. I agree with most of the points you made.

    I do want to say something about a comment you made here & which MB also did respond to, which begins:

    “…originally written to protest the rape and kiling [sic] of a male child by, presumably, homosexuals.”

    and continues:

    “homosexuality too has its good and bad sides, to differentiate between predatory homosexuality and just being a homosexual…because its the latter that we want to defend not the former. And people do have a right to protest the former.”

    Do we know that this is indeed the impetus for the song? Did BB say so then, as opposed to recently when he would have had a chance to develop this “gay panic” argument? Beenie also made the same argument a few years ago, to which I wrote a detailed response. So I guess BBB could be read as a revenge narrative? I can see that.

    I noticed that you made a couple of huge leaps, from noting the [alleged] rape and killing of a child, to claiming that the person(s) was homosexual, to explicitly linking that person’s sexual orientation with the violence they committed (i.e. homosexual rapist); ergo the notion of “predatory homosexuality” to make complete sense. If BBB is indeed a revenge narrative, then BB probably made the leap in logic that you did. Except it doesn’t make sense.

    We know that, from Jamaica to India & beyond, what people *do* is not the same as, & often bears little relationship to how they identify themselves. This is not a controversial idea at all.
    If we were to be labelled by what we did sexually, the categories of homo- and hetero- simply could not contain all that we do in our private lives.

    In more cases than not, the label “homosexual” (no matter the language it is expressed in) is used to classify a variant of sexuality that is considered problematic. When a girl child is raped by a grown-ass man, we don’t call him a “heterosexual rapist”, which suggests, among other things, that some acts of rape are acceptable & intelligible to us, while other forms are not. Rape of a boy becomes “homosexual rape”, not simply rape.

    I can say definitively that the rape of a child does not signal that one is homosexual or heterosexual. It signals that a person sexually desires a child & is willing to feed that desire at the child’s expense.

    To get back to the question of what exactly is predatory homosexuality: how is that to be distinguished from “cruising”, or one-night stands or whatever other sexual practices that reasonable, healthy people engage in?

    Is there something akin to predatory heterosexuality that has been labelled as such & for which there is equal revulsion?

    In a cultural context where male homosexuality is already labelled as a crime against nature & god, & where male homosexuality is perceived as & regularly equated with “predatory homosexuality”, then the protest against the latter is also a protest against the former.

    This reminds me that too many of us in Jamaica are so blasted invested in persecuting queer sex that we are willing to look past the regular almost prosaic violation of girls/women, & to practically celebrate such for its “normalcy”! A girl raped by a man is wrong but done in the right way; a boy raped by a man? no such equivocation. When we can call a spade a spade – to see all forms of sexual coercion & violation as equally problematic, whether its men feasting on schoolgirls or street boys – then we can get beyond this insistent labelling & suggestion of same-sex desire as some form of perversion.

  7. Yes lb we live in a patriarchal society where women are devalued so the rape of a male child attracts more outrage. I’ve given up railing against such hypocrisies. I’m trying to analyze why and how the figure of the homosexual comes to represent all that is ‘evil’ in a xtian fundamentalist society.
    In the instant case of rape since it was a boy who was raped and not a young girl one presumes that the rapist is someone w a homo rather than a hetero bent. Certainly that would be the perception.
    And as to predatory homosexuals there have been figures such as the late Peter king who had that reputAtion. And figures like that would be what I’m referring to.
    Life isn’t fair. When a female teacher has sex w one of her male students she is always pegged as a predator of the most reprehensible kind unlike the many male teachers who do the same…while we acknowledge this asymmEtrical response it doesn’t negate the fact that she may have abused her power.
    There is the case of prof don belton of Indiana u which raises many of these same questions in the american context.

  8. Amen to the end of hypocrisies. In some ways Buju was also the subject of bad timing. In Dancehall, you have to have your girls tune, your conscious tune, your gun tune, your rasta tune (not to be confused with your conscious tune) and your batty boy tune. It’s a set of bases that simply must be covered or you’re not a DeeJay. Assassin once looked like he was about to sidestep that but then caved in, even post Buju vs Glaad. Of course you could also play the Vegas move and lick out against oral sex instead, or just talk bout how woman so fine that you could never be gay.

  9. Hey Marlon,

    i’m suddenly reminded of the central character in John Crowe’s Devil…that Jamaican to the core brand of ‘evil’ swathed in Church banter…what was his name again…dammit can’t find my copy, who has it?

    yeah you nailed it, its de rigeur for any would be DJ to cover all the bases you mentioned. Perhaps a similar logic is what forces a Bruce Golding to make the kind of statement he did on the BBC–No Gays in My Cabinet! (not if he wants to be elected again).

    which keeps bringing us back to the stark truth; that its practically the entire population that believes these things, that holds these prejudices and anyone, DJ or PM, has to succumb to their wishes…

    So the premise that GLAAD and co are operating with–ie that the DJs have power may need re-examination–its actually the people whose bidding is being enacted.

  10. Annie,
    I so agree with you and have noted a similarly interesting and curious conflation of homosexuality and dominance in the political global arena. This is evident in Beenie Man’s “Wickedest Slam.” In fact, Beenie also implicates the Jamaican middle and upper classes:
    Me not going run to get
    No uptown girl
    True, she brown and
    She pretty like pearl
    True, me know
    A mamma man round de world
    You could-a find out
    Your girl-a name Earl
    While I am not of the school that anti-homosexual lyrics are purely allegorical, I do think we are sometimes able to more thoughtfully explore these lyrics beyond recognizing the obvious.
    Happy New Year!

  11. I started to write a response to this post yesterday, but never got around to finishing it. Long Bench beat me to most of the issues I noted. So nof a we(h) mi av fi se yu (h)ier aredi— so yu naafi ansa.

    Boom Bye Bye is not a literal call to execute all gay men- as impossible as that feat would be, since there is no prototype of a gay man, bu it has certainly been used as such by overzealous guardians of popular culture.

    Some Jamaicans espouse a profound aversion to homosexuality, narrowly defined as anal-sex between two men. So Boom Bye Bye pays homage to a Jamaican tradition of heteronormativity, and is a harsh critique of an alleged rape of a young boy by an adult male, who we assume to be gay. The conflation of pedophilia/ rape (which has homosexual and heterosexual manifestations) with the relations between consensual men resulted in the production and dissemination of a song which apparently vilifies all gay people. This is the same connection that you reinforced, and that LB noted.

    We need to be more forthright in making the distinction between gay people and pedophiles. Using the term ‘predatory’ homosexuality to describe the rape of a male child by a male adult as a contrast to ‘regular’ homosexuality is very problematic. You say homosexuality has good and bad sides, but I think you mean that homosexuality manifests itself in good (not bad) and bad ways(Semantics, I know, but we have to be careful when dealing with these matters for we don’t want to subliminally reinforce misinformed ideas).

    Could I beg for a moratorium on the use of the term “homosexual”? It has been pathologized for so long that it is hard to use it without conjuring up thoughts of Victorian morality and psychological disorders. “Gay” is far more politically correct these days.

    You know, I’m not sure the debate between the literal or metaphoric meanings of the song make a difference to how gay Jamaicans are affected by it. Violently homophobic rhetoric is damaging to the psyche of young men who are questioning their sexualities. The potency of the lyrics lie not in the words alone, but in the ease and conviction with which it rolls from the tongues of those who celebrate whatever it means to them- a fight against the globalization of culture, an incitement to violence against gay men, or a robust critique of the rape of a child by an adult man.

    Eniwie, az mi se LB se muos a we(h) mi wehn waahn fi se. Bles op Annie.

  12. Hey fi yu pikni,

    glad to see yu leave a comment for me. Just wanted to say that my use of homosexual rather than gay is quite deliberate. It would save a lot of time if I simply used gay but actually I think it’s A word with all kinds of connotations that have little local resonance. ‘gay’ identity Is something many local friends who are gay/bisexual find problematic for themselves I suppose in the way some women resist the term ‘feminist’. So it may be politically correct up north but not necessarily here.

    I stand corrected by you on my use of the terms good and bad however– Or rather on the use of the term predatory. The point I was trying to make is that ppl have a right to express outrage agnst crimes perpetrated by gays just as they have the right to protest crimes by any group. U sometimes get the impression that nothing negative must be said about gays anytime anywhere…notice my use of the term gay as a concession to u

  13. Thanks FYP – ’cause I was starting to think that I was imagining the undertones in Annie’s message.

    @ Annie – To your question of “I’m trying to analyze why and how the figure of the homosexual comes to represent all that is ‘evil’ in a xtian fundamentalist society”, I believe that you have already answered it: “Yes lb we live in a patriarchal society where women are devalued so the rape of a male child attracts more outrage.” Patriarchy – or rather patriarchies – is multivalent too.

    I think you just don’t like Peter King or gay men who get off on using their social capital to manipulate the conditions under which they have sex. That’s what I think. Well, guess what?
    Peter King and others before and after him did what he did because [fill in the name of any so-called prominent man] also trades only in ghetto girls, and who know that that their job is to show up when called, keep her mouth shut, dash whe’h di belly or lose her life. And that’s not a bit of fictionalized illustration. What we see depends on where we choose to look. In other words, no analysis of what gay men do or don’t do in Jamaica can be complete, or even make sense, without taking account of what is asked of/enacted by straight (acting) men. So, we not just talking about hypocrisy in the superficial sense. We are talking about a serious blindspot that many (including you, I think) have and invest in when it comes to finding ways to other/demonize queer sex. People have a right to express outrage about violence and wrongs committed against *any other person.* However, since the personhood of queer folks is often revoked once their sexuality is made problematic, I think we know that when people are pissed off at anything gay men do, it’s not because of what they did as much as who they are assumed to be when they did wrong. If people really cared as much about the poor young men who were being preyed on by their social superiors, I think the discourse would be a whole lot different. But we know they didn’t, and don’t. The context for the kind of “transactional sex” you are highlighting is shaped and occupied by persons of similar status who just as invested in degrading the young men who are supposedly being “victimized” as PK might have been. We use our silence to protect PK et al. and speak out only to question why “those” young men would allow such things to happen to them in the first place, and to say “poor things, they never know better”. At the end of the day, there is *never* any question of the right of elite men to do what they wish with whom they wish. We ask only that they be discrete and don’t bring the dregs into our tidy living rooms.

    The silence that you are alluding to has much to do with the inability of both gay and straight folks in Ja. to parse out what the problem is, and the acute awareness that in practically every instance, it’s one’s non-heterosexuality that is going to be put on trial, and everything else read through that lens of perversion.

    So, I am still not convinced of your argument about good/bad/predatory gays. When you start to lik out ‘gainst dem straight man in the same way, then I will start to believe that you really are serious about getting to the root of the problem.

    May 2010 bring even more opportunities for reasoning!

  14. I don’t believe “BBB” is a “protest” song about rape. How can a protest song about sexual exploitation of underage boys encourage men to rub up on woman at a dance and vice versa. I’m not saying it cant be related or inspired by … but the lyrics speak for themselves. Men in bed “hugging up” goes against rape conflated into something else theory. I think the song is guilty as charged, an all-inclusive BBB, which has been justifiably protested since it came out. I can’t tell if you were defending BBB as a protest song which your intro and ending sound like

  15. It’s not a matter of defending the song Saudin, but the right of people to protest what they find important enough to sing about. my line is exactly the same on songs that people find offensive because they are too blatantly sexual (ramping shop) or too blatantly violent (NIne; Anytime etc). I want to know what people are singing about and responding to in such an enthusiastic manner, and i want to understand why. And i want to do that because i believe a very deep understanding of the terrain is necessary to wage a successful campaign against it.

    Adopting a universally condemnatory and self-righteous stance doesn’t allow much space for that kind of careful listening and dissecting. But ultimately if we really want lasting change to take place it is going to have to consist of attempts to understand and negotiate our way forward.

    Tactics of embargo, censorship, boycott may seem to achieve some success but in most instances the change is only skin-deep. i hope that’s not what we’re aiming at here.

  16. What I learned by dissecting BBB was, there is a line referring to lesbians, the song’s only shout out is to the foreign market – NY, BK, CAN (globalization?) – And Women is the greatest God made but some men turn around, i.e. they didnt get that idea from the bible. And a line about ‘dis is not a bargain’ ref paying for gay sex with buju as protagonist.
    I agree with your points on the need for deeper analysis, but think it’s false to frame BBB as a rape protest, doesnt allude to gay rape, predation, or even exploitation. We probably only know of the alleged intention because of B’s need for a political justification for the murder lyrics. Maybe if gay male pedophile protest didnt kill the vibe at the dancehall the whole thing would have been different? But I guess you’re saying is that the scapegoat for the most violent lyrics has changed over time – predators to globalization – but the victims in JA remain the same.

    Your article didnt make clear whether you defend BB use of this song as a protest song gone conflated? I mean, do you think he should have been protected on the grounds you mentioned? I agree on the need to understand the long history of negotiations between Buju and outrage, and why after 15 years the banning of shows increased. i.e. where the protestors had their own ethical right to protest and do what they did, and where they stepped over the line? Why did it reach the level it did?

  17. Dear Saudin,

    I actually have only just read your comment so forgive the long gap in replying. sometimes i find it hard to take the back and forth, so i avoid reading potentially agonistic comments. up to now i haven’t read LB’s last comment for instance.

    No, i’m not defending this one song per se. i defend the right of people to sing in protest of what they consider to be unjust, dangerous, life-threatening… Now how people interpret what is life-threatening to them is coloured by various prejudices and preconceptions and the extent of what people know or don’t know.

    The only way to plumb those irrational ways in which people sometimes think or feel or behave is to examine their statements on the subject. In most societies there is no ready such source. In Jamaica however dancehall music represents a rich source of the expression of the belief systems of the core constituents of dhall as Ragashanti would put it. To the extent that we are dealing with certain rarely stated or articulated taboos and proscriptions that are commonly found around the world Jamaican music presents a rare opportunity to study the phenomenon in more depth than is usually possible. I believe this is an essential step in dismantling prejudice.

    Mere disapproval and bullying tactics such as censorship and using economic power to extract compliance is one way of addressing the problem at hand. It doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to deal with this mess, that’s all.

  18. Obviously at this point the effectiveness of the ‘Reggae Compassion Act’ is highly controversial. But its initial attempt was a peaceful solution to stop “illegal hate speech”, if only doomed for its slightly condescending wording towards the prejudices of the artists — ‘one love’ doesn’t include gays Bob Marley says so! No man to man’. Or maybe all the people involved were just too crazy and ego-driven to work things out rationally.

    I still think BBB shouldn’t be classified as a protest song, and find it, like i said, near impossible to find the threads for an argument that ‘predatory’ was the primary evil confused with gay behind the penning of that song. I’d guess more likely it was geared towards Jamaicans living abroad and was a taste of the hard-stuff.

  19. annie

    thank you
    for your nuanced
    and balanced response

    sometime last year
    i posted an article (press release)
    in response to
    a buju concert
    being potentially cancelled
    in charlotte, north carolina
    due to the controversy over
    boom bye bye…
    i am going to cut and paste
    your words
    and use as
    an addendum
    to the piece i posted
    since you
    some necessary perspective
    that i was not privy to

    keep it real annie
    i still love the blog


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