The Provocative Buju Banton
My introduction to reggae music was this gruff, half-chanting, half-singing, “sing-jay” known as Buju Banton. Two of his masterpieces, “Destiny” and “Wanna Be Loved”, energized me and made me a reggae fan for life. Thank you Buju Banton!
Buju Banton, a.k.a. Gargamel, was born Mark Anthony Myrie on July 25, 1973, near Kingston, Jamaica, in a poor area called Salt Lane. The youngest of 15 children, his mother nicknamed him “Buju”, which means breadfruit and is bestowed on chubby kids. “Banton” is a Jamaican word for a respected storyteller.
Bursting onto the Jamaican charts in 1992, both “Bogle” and “Love Me Browning” were massive hits. Not one to shy away from controversial topics, the latter song expressed Buju Banton’s preference for light-skinned women. What followed was a re-recorded “Boom Bye Bye” which caused fury in the U.S. and Europe for its anti-gay message, nearly ruining his career (he later made a public apology). That year Buju broke Bob Marley’s record for the most #1 singles in a year.
Seamlessly blending roots and dancehall reggae, Buju Banton’s lyrics often dealt with violence, especially gun violence, which caused the death of two of his close friends in the music business. In the mid-1990s, Buju embraced Rastafarianism and grew dreads. The revolutionary album “Til Shiloh” in 1995 was really his debut as a cultural, roots reggae artist, and paved the way for more spirituality in dancehall, denouncing violence. Buju Banton’s music grabs you and relentlessly prods you onto the dance floor!
One of reggae’s most socially aware artists, Buju Banton has collaborated often with artists like Beres Hammond, Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals, Morgan Heritage and Stephen Marley. While his lyrics early in his career were full of sex and homophobia, his messages in recent years are of love, peace, justice and positivity. In 2007, Buju Banton was one of several reggae artists to sign the Reggae Compassionate Act, promising to refrain from performing homophobic songs.
Voted Comeback Artiste of the Year in 2005 by the Jamaica Observer newspaper based on the quality of his live performances and his run of hardcore dancehall hits, Buju’s release of “Too Bad” in 2006 proved that his skillful storytelling and unparalleled vocal talents are still going strong. Buju was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2007 for “Too Bad”, his 4th Grammy nod.
"Rasta Got Soul" was Buju Banton's ninth studio album, released on April 21, 2009. The album featured the hit single "Magic City", and received a Grammy nomination in the Best Reggae Album category. The 10th studio album, "Before the Dawn" was released on September 28, 2010. This album was recorded at Banton's own Gargamel Music studio in Kingston, Jamaica. The album was Buju's last release before he was found guilty of federal drug charges.
On 22 February 2011, Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense and using communication wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense. He was found not guilty on the charge of attempted possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine. Four months later, he was sentenced to ten years and one month in a federal prison for the cocaine trafficking conviction. His sentencing on the firearms conviction was scheduled for 30 October 2012, but was postponed on his lawyer's request for an investigation of possible juror misconduct. The expectation is that an additional five years will be added to his current sentence. He is currently scheduled to be released in January 2019.
In Jamaica it seems there is always a Buju Banton single on the charts. However, since Buju has been battling legal troubles in the U.S., we may have to be patient for more good things to come from him.