do you bun what i bun? (riddim meth0d repost)

[Sticking to the seasonal, here’s another musical maneuver I pulled on some well-worn Christmas fare. Given the recent resurgence of talk about homophobia in reggae — not to mention what must be some serious shadenfreude over Buju Banton’s arrest — I have to admit that, sharing Rizzla’s frustration, I’m a little ambivalent about adding, um, flames to the fire. But a lot of my thoughts below still hold, and I still find it unsettling that I can’t hear “Little Drummer Boy” without thinking “Fire Mek We Bun Dem!” This was originally published on Dec 14, 2005.]

bun santa!

as a sort of musical reflection/intervention on the murder of steve harvey, i offer a mashup that i’ve been thinking about putting together for a while.

wayne&wax (TOK vs. Johnny Mathis), “do you bun what i bun?

as with “boom bye bye” – that ever-so-catchy ode to killing gays by buju banton (who has recently been on trial for allegedly beating, with some help from his friends, six gay men back in June) – TOK’s “chi chi man” always struck me as similarly pernicious in its pleasures. by giving such sensual form to such violent thoughts, making it easy for hateful sentiments to roll around in our minds and on our tongues, these artists abuse some special powers. and though i’m not one to call for censorship, i do believe in the value of self-censorship and of community censure. at times, TOK and buju clearly suffer from too little of both.

i’ve always heard the chorus melody of “chi chi man” as an unmistakable riff on the christmas classic, “do you hear what i hear?” (one of my favorite renditions of which is the johnny mathis version used here). i’ve heard others claim, however, that TOK borrow the melody from a jamaican folk song. (can anyone confirm that? and, if so, which song?) regardless, i, and probably many other listeners, always hear it referencing the christmas carol. and although one doesn’t hear “chi chi man” too frequently ’round these parts – my brother called me one day from hartford, completely shocked that they were playing it on the radio – at this time of year, one does hear “do you hear?” and guess what it makes yours truly think of?

yup – TOK have colonized my musical imagination in this case, so i find myself dubbing “blaze di fire, mek we bun dem!” over the refrain to the song. it’s a little absurd, really. annoying, sure, but so’s the original by itself. it’s the cognitive dissonance that i find most striking: as this very (new testament) christian song overlays with the very (old testament) christian sentiment of smiting abominations, i find myself thinking about all sorts of amazing contradictions.

this mashup calls attention to the ridiculousness of TOK’s assertions. although the group boyband would likely claim to speak from a communal voice, when we hear the lyrics put in the mouths of shepherd boys, mighty kings, and people everywhere – never mind night winds and little lambs – the utter smallness of espousing such hatred is more than evident. its very christianity, of course, also comes into question. (but whose doesn’t these days?)

at any rate, i present it here in the hope that it might provoke more thought about the issue of homophobia in general and about music’s role in reflecting/informing people’s values (and, crucially, actions) around it. i agree with robert carr that “If the dialogue is going to be effective, it has to be clear that it is an internal dialogue, not something imposed from outside influences with different agendas.” but i’m not exactly sure where we draw the lines of internal/external. these lines are blurry. i hear TOK’s as well as more “homegrown” anti-gay sentiments here in cambridge, MA, and jamaican citizens (a large number of whom live outside of JA, let’s remember) encounter various perspectives, in public and private, with regards to sexual orientation. there are no discrete communities or cultures in the world. they all intersect and overlap.

so we’re in this together, don’t?

or to put it some other ways:
no man is an island. no island an island either. i land is your land. etc.

[quick technical note for those who care: i’ve pitched down the mathis version a bit, and i pitch up the TOK as the mathis modulates (twice!).]

here it is again:

wayne&wax (TOK vs. Johnny Mathis), “do you bun what i bun?

17 thoughts on “do you bun what i bun? (riddim meth0d repost)

  1. me dont get. team buju? of course glaad should protest buju @ the grammys, etc. The bit rizzla linked had no ifff proclamations on JA ‘murder music’ and laid out a basic case against some pretty unabashed hate speech.

  2. @emme1 & @canyon — bwahahaha!

    @rachel, that post is probably not the best to sum up rizzla’s complex take on all this. i don’t want to speak for him, but to hazard an attempt at speaking for what we seem to share: it’s a sense that this outernational pursuit of sanctions against reggae artists is doing little good for gays (or for the debate) in jamaica. we can see this clearly when we read a screed like this (though the conversation there is pretty interesting). i agree with you that gay rights groups are well within their, erm, rights to protest at the grammys as well as to put pressure on local (which is to say, non-Jamaican) venues who book singers that are unabashed in their hateful speech. but for a lot of us who’ve been watching this for several years now, it seems clear that the tactics have been pretty ineffective in terms of shifting public opinion inna JA (e.g.). tightpants-wearing all-male dancehall crews on the other hand…


  3. “Hate Speech” is so nineties

    Fist, i am not represented by glaad, and as a “non-traditional” queer person, believe I have not only the right but the obligation to critically dis-identify with political organizations that attempt to homogenize the goals and desires of a whole “culture” of people. Assimilated affiliation is bad for everyone.

    I also hate colonialism, in all its forms. I liken the interventions of these groups to the methods of the cultural right and evangelical christians (whose meddling in Uganda is particularly troubling) – of course glaad can do whatever it wants, but that doesn’t mean that all queer people have to agree with it.

    Every bit of dialog i’ve had with people of Jamaica, including GLBT individuals, informs my stance that this is simply not the way to affect cultural change in a extremely young nation renown for it’s resistance, and as wayne indicated, will make life for queer Jamaicans worse.

    A lot of the chatter online, twitter Facebook etc, shows a vehement anti-gay backlash that is developing around the “inquisition” of buju (as annie paul calls it). It’s just out of touch that Buju of all people are being attacked with such fervor. “Gay” is not a fixed identity, and by bringing the American brand of homosexuality to Jamaica isn’t something I feel is a necessary, or particularly noble goal.

    See comments on Boom Bye Bye here:

    I also stand against national boycotts ( of entire peoples, the racist edge much American criticism of Buju is taking on, and the labeling of an entire genre “murder music.” It is safe to say more babies have been made by dancehall than people dead.

    Shifts in cultural attitudes, and particular criticisms of internal policy are best left to the intellectuals, cultural critics, and artists of that nation. These are the real agents of cultural change, not international, corporate funded think tanks.

    Annie Paul has been championing Shebada for a minute now, a figure that I feel represents a growing shift in internal attitudes that can’t be measured quantitatively, like the output of other artists.

    See the work of Lawrence Graham Brown, and his groundbreaking work “Ras Pan Afro Homo Sapien: (more of his work here:

    or the deeply homoerotic, painfully beautiful and haunting work of O’Neil Lawrence, who works in education at the National Gallery in JA:

    All this is a moot point anyways – Buju’s probly going to jail, and I’m making a Chi Chi Man Vogue track as we speak

  4. @rizzla

    chi chi man vogue sounds hot.

    How do you compare gay rights groups to evangelicals? They’re centuries apart! :)

    I would think if I were a gay Jamaican kid my life would be much better knowing there were people out there fighting for my rights regardless of how poor a job they were doing?

    Just needed to step up for the activists for a second.

    I do hear you on their campaigns being out of touch. centering around boombyebye doesn’t encourage support. But I guess I don’t share the anger, Buju is a bigot I don’t care much about. I’m more angry with the fixed “Jamaican” identity that is so appealing.

  5. i dunno rizzla, like my comment implies Im also pretty dubious on ‘murdermusic’ and agree that a lot of this stuff is wholly infused with a big dose of racism. gaydom is a big bag but still i dunno how nuanced you can be with some things. glaad doesnt speak 4 the gays but i wouldnt give buju much credit 4 reppin JA either. like, YES we need a better convo coordination with outer movements but i really dont get ‘team buju’ or the point of setting up a round table or engaging somebody like buju as having an opinion worth debating. we can discuss gender/sexuality in hiphop & rock, etc but i think we can all agree that the convo stops @ killgayz/beatbitches/hangblacks/crazyh8etc

    I’m also easier on glaad than you are, they’ve done a lot in my lifetime to keep gay kids from growing up watching the same vile portrayals / the worst garbage the older gays dealt with. I also think there is a benefit to some of the larger umbrella orgs / movements, and gays should use all the corporate power they got so long as yeah we be real about any ‘authenticity’? they carry..

    More generally, arguments on “the best way” to effect shift seem kinda irrelevent where worlds and meanings collide all the time. it seems a given that shifts might currently coming hardest from JAs abroad and come out of that kinda culture clash we see now (as many of the dudes you linked are). I also am wary of shaping goals in relation to “backlash movements” which seem a pretty natural response to bigger publicity/visibility whether its tight pants or gay marriage.. backlash can sometimes just means a bigger profile. Maybe its true its all ineffective, but its hard to gauge / i really dont know the evidence.

    When it comes to national boycotts I have a lot of mixed feelings. As somebody who has paid tourism taxes & visas to enter countries where homosexuality is punishable by death, who is able to move/live freely in countries where fam wouldnt, I can at least understand the sentiment as more than bigotry. Probably my travels and my engagement and $$ spent were a positive thing, but im not 100% at peace with those decisions..

    I could also rant more on what i feel about lefty hate/fear of evangalism in the carib/africa – troublesome meddling? but lets just say that i think youre in danger of drawing up some unnecessary dichotomies. poor countries arent zombies and if we dont think listening to american pop is meddling we also shouldn’t think faith is so easily characterized either. I’m not sure what youre referring to but ‘evangalism’ is no more responsible for the LRA than Tupac is for RUF in Sierra Leone.

  6. I’ll keep this simple – read carefully this time

    This is contemporary evangelical action in Africa

    This is an example of the complexity of international gay action, and the dangers of censorship within the left. Not all queer people have to hold the party line.

    Besides Lawrence Graham Brown, who exhibits at the National Gallery in JA, all of the artists and academics I mentioned live and work in JA. Also, artists whose work deals with issues and identity in their country of birth shouldn’t be dismissed just cause they live abroad.

    RE: “Team Buju” – I’ve had a lot of great times with his music, think his boycott is counterproductive, and get a kick out of confusing people.

  7. Racism feels like a serious allegation thrown out lightly. The only argument I found is that murdermusic targets jamaicans and not islamic fundamentalists? I think their biggest mistake was trying to force these artists into somehow loving or acknowledging homosexuality’s right to exist. That feels like moral manipulation in an illegal way. These artists believe in 666! You can’t force that type of conversion by a threat to their wallet.

    I checked out the censorship but found this which debunks it:

    Rick warren totally ruined my Obama buzz, I would have much rather seen Buju which I’m sure Warren wouldn’t have objected to.

  8. i like buju, and i like gays…and im always way too late 2 the party. But i will second emme1’s comment – “moral manipulation in an illegal way” – that wording works 4 me, and strikes at what makes this whole thing icky 2 me. The fact that it kinda comes down to a bullshit economic “threat” seems to just fuck the whole argument, and sully anybody who wades into this very real and very interesting engagement/bubble-bursting action with the craptastic spectre of cash money. Burn yr money, piss on party lines, and dance 2 buju at yr dad’s boyfriend’s wedding on a leaky oil-rig in the gulf of mexico.

  9. first of all, as a Jamaican i’m tired of all this so-called hate speech stuff.
    the whole “fire” argument is rubbish. most of the foreigners in this world
    do not an will never understand the terminology of “bunning”. It has nothing
    to do with literally burning anything and pictures like the one above of a burning
    Santa only promote such erroneous ideas. Bunning carries the thought of
    expressing once vehement dislike of any particular thing. It is exceeding hard
    to translate into English fully, but closely resembles burning something in
    effigy. It does not carry the thought of actual harm in an of it self. If once
    told my grandmother “fire bun” in a fit of rage. Does that mean I want to burn
    my grandmother literally, no. People should have the right to express dislike
    as long as they don’t literally promote physical harm. That’s life. We all have
    judgements on morality, and we should be allowed to make them freely without
    some “white dudes” in america and europe getting in a destructive, biased

  10. Not sure, tonyspeed, whether you’ve read the comments above, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us agree that First World “hissy-fits” aren’t gonna do much to help the plight of gays in Jamaica. Let’s not be too disingenuous, though: while I’m fully aware of the metaphorical resonances of bun/burn (the Santa photo is a joke, as is the mashup), it remains a troubling fact that gays have been severely attacked and killed in Jamaica and that there is such acceptance of this violence at a national level (including among politicians). So you can say all you want about what “bun” really means (and I hasten to add that critics of Buju, et al., should similarly avoid disingenuousness in their assertions that bun=real fire), but there is plenty of “actual harm” a-gwaan. Also, last time I checked, the burning of effigies included the use of actual flames. Just sayin.

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