BBC plays 'burn gays' reggae hit

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The BBC has defended Radio 1's decision to play a reggae dancehall hit from Jamaica which appears to advocate chasing down gays and burning them alive. The song is too popular on the island to ignore, the corporation said.

The song, "Chi Chi Man" by Jamaica's top-selling band, TOK, was recently named as the number one reggae dancehall song in Britain by Radio 1's specialist reggae DJ. It is coming under attack from the gay and lesbian movement, however, for allegedly promoting violence against homosexuals.

Ironically, it is a BBC radio documentary, The Roots of Homophobia, for Radio 4 that is drawing attention in Britain to the dark side of TOK's lyrics. "Chi chi" originally referred to vermin in Jamaica but grew to encompass corrupt people. It is widely acknowledged, however, that "chi chi man" is slang on the island for a gay.

Ian Parkinson, head of specialist music for Radio 1, told the programme: "It has almost become an unofficial national anthem for some people in Jamaica, and for a specialist reggae show not to play it I think would be a distortion."

Presented by Rikki Beadle-Blair, whose mother came from Jamaica, the programme examines how homophobia is an accepted tenet of the island's culture. Homosexual acts are punishable by 10 years' hard labour, and in the last decade at least 38 gays have been killed because of their sexuality.

The controversy over the hit from TOK, also known as Touch of Klass, centres on its four-line chorus: "From dem a par inna chi chi man car/ Blaze de fire mek we bun them!! (Bun dem!!)/ From de a drink inna chi chi man bar/ Blaze de fire mek we dun dem!! (Dun dem!!)"

Members of TOK tell Mr Beadle-Blair in an interview that "chi chi" in their songs refers to all corrupt people. But they go on to admit that they see homosexuality as a form of corruption. While Jamaica may make progress in overcoming homophobia, Mr Beadle-Blair concludes, it is too late to change the song. "It is set in aspic. It is a solid statement of hatred."