'Murder music' silenced by a tough operator

Media strategist acts as bridge between gay rights group and reggae industry

Glen Yearwood emerged from the studios of BBC Radio 4's
Today programme last November feeling a bit battered and bruised. The London-based marketer had taken part in what he calls a "tête-à-tête" with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, a formidable media performer and a man unafraid to confront such characters as boxer Mike Tyson and Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. By Yearwood's admission he had come off second best.

Glen Yearwood emerged from the studios of BBC Radio 4's Today programme last November feeling a bit battered and bruised. The London-based marketer had taken part in what he calls a "tête-à-tête" with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, a formidable media performer and a man unafraid to confront such characters as boxer Mike Tyson and Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. By Yearwood's admission he had come off second best.

One of the few media strategists of an Afro-Caribbean background, he found himself on Today after writing a letter to the London Evening Standard protesting at the way reggae music was being blamed for violence against gay men and in particular the homophobic murder of a London barman.

Yearwood had written to the newspaper as nothing more than a music fan and was unhappy at the adversarial nature of the Today debate in which he had been cast as the bad guy. But instead of storming back to the office, he decided to stay and talk to Tatchell, whose Outrage! group, through its successful campaign against "murder music", was bringing much of Britain's small black music industry to its knees. "I said 'Let's go behind closed doors and hammer out a solution because I don't think we are doing this right'," he says. Tatchell concurred.

Over the next three months, Yearwood achieved the seemingly impossible by coaxing together two groups who had previously appeared to be diametrically opposed.

Outrage!'s "Stop Murder Music" campaign (jointly run with the Black Gay Men's Advisory Group and Jamaican gay rights organisation J-Flag) had skilfully targeted eight leading Jamaican music performers who were exposed for recording homophobic lyrics. Artists such as the dancehall reggae star Beenie Man whose repertoire includes the song "Batty Man Fi Dead" were banned. But in persuading police, local authorities and former Home Secretary David Blunkett that the presence of Beenie Man and other anti-gay performers represented a threat to public order, the Outrage! campaign had damaged the careers of other artists and promoters with interests in festivals and concerts that were cancelled.

Yearwood, 41, could see the damage being done to one of the leading sources of income within Afro-Caribbean culture. "What was at stake was the equity of the reggae music brand. There was more than 40 years of equity under threat," he says. "I tried to illustrate to Peter [Tatchell] that reggae music was like the Last Supper, with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh at the head of the table and these young artists right at the other end."

The marketer, who grew up in Luton, sought to explain to gay rights activists that the homophobic lyrics, reprehensible as they sounded, were the product of a Jamaican culture which still clings to British colonial laws that punish gay sex with 10 years' hard labour.

At the same time, with his clipped English accent and a family background that harks back to the small Caribbean nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, he had to win over the reggae industry, which still has its roots in Jamaica's poorest urban neighbourhoods. Yearwood says: "What we had to negotiate was what is fair and honest criticism of a lifestyle and what can be perceived as inciting violence. For me, the act of mediation was to take both parties along this bridge."

Last month an agreement was reached by which the leading reggae labels and promoters agreed not to promote homophobic songs. Tatchell says previous attempts to reach agreements with the Jamaican music industry had been "ignored or rebuffed". He says: "Glen fulfilled the very positive and useful role of go-between and in the course of negotiations the key record labels and promoters came to realise that inciting the killing of other human beings was not something they wanted to be associated with. It's a very welcome development and may not have happened without Glen's facilitation and perseverance."

Yearwood is aware, nevertheless, that the new deal is vulnerable to a fresh outburst of bigotry. "It's very fragile," he admits. "It only takes one individual to get up on stage or record sentiments that would put us back at square one."

When Beenie Man returns to the London stage for three shows later this month, Yearwood will be among those listening with bated breath.

Suggested Topics
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little