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Reggae concert canceled after gay protests

Beenie Man and the group T.O.K. have released songs deriding gays
/ Source: The Associated Press

Citing concerns about potential violence, an organizer on Wednesday canceled a reggae concert meant to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS after protesters complained two of the scheduled performers were anti-gay.

The organizer, LIFEbeat, came under fire by black gay activists and bloggers after it was announced that Jamaican dancehall artists Beenie Man and the group T.O.K. were scheduled to perform during a July 18 concert at Webster Hall. Protesters asked that the artists be dropped or forced to denounce controversial lyrics.

LIFEbeat executive director John Canelli said the group had been flooded with calls, some of them threatening, in recent days and was concerned safety would be an issue at the concert.

“The possibility of violence at the concert from the firestorm incited by a select group of activists makes canceling the event the only responsible action,” said a statement from the group, which uses the music industry to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Board member Tim Rosta said the motive behind the concert was to raise awareness about AIDS and its impact, especially in Caribbean communities, but the uproar made it clear how deeply people were hurt and offended by the lyrics of the artists’ songs.

“I think that we misjudged the depth of the hurt around some of the issues that are raised by some of the lyrics,” he said.

Beenie Man and T.O.K. have released songs that deride gays through slang terms. One Beenie Man song calls for a lesbian hanging, and a T.O.K tune suggests gay men be burned.

“The idea that they would invite artists who encourage murdering gays and lesbians is so outrageous, insulting and unbelievable,” activist Keith Boykin said before the announcement of the cancellation.

Earlier this week, the concert organizer rejected the anti-gay lyrics but said including the artists would help reach a larger audience thanks to the popularity of their beat-driven dancehall music.

“By both artists agreeing to perform at an HIV/AIDS prevention concert in 2006 shows they have recognized the devastation this disease has had on their communities and that they want to effect some positive change,” Canelli said.

He added that the artists, who are not being paid, agreed before the protests not to use any “potentially offensive lyrics” at the show.

In statements earlier this week, T.O.K. said it had “matured over the years,” and Beenie Man said, “AIDS is an epidemic that doesn’t discriminate. It’s not a gay or a straight thing, it is a fight for life.”