Buju Banton: The Voice of Rasta Righteousness
By M. Peggy Quattro
It was a perfect Miami night; clear skies, balmy breeze, and a Reggae festival in the park. The 16th Caribbean (formerly Marley) Festival was jammin’ alongside the bay and the downtown park was rammed.
Positioned between Capleton and Ky-mani’s set, the show-stealing Buju Banton fired up the crowd with a 60+-minute set that left fans shouting “forward!” If you have not seen Buju before, or if you haven’t in a while, his presentation and professionalism will have you also clamoring for more. (See Fest review)
I caught up with the 36-year-old Rasta lion following his mind-blowing performance and congratulated him on an outstanding show. “It is my first Bob Marley fest in Miami and I wanted to do something different from the regular,” said a smiling Buju, “I wanted to come out of the Dancehall a little bit and do something special.” On stage he was dressed in a casual grey with white trim, button-down, pocketed sweater with slick pants and criss’ shoes; his dreadlocks flying and skanking knees lifted right up to his chin, Buju’s flawless performance skillfully segued from Dancehall to Roots to Lovers Rock. Sometimes sounding like his icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, there were moments where he sounded (and looked) like Lucky Dube. “I wanted to really and truly show these people that…hey, I am Buju Banton!” When I mentioned that he gave the people everything, he quickly interjected, “I didn’t show them everything. I wanted to do more…a little Ska, and more that could have been added, but true, my time was short.”
Gearing up for 2009 release of Rasta Got Soul, his much-anticipated CD, the Gargamel is looking to “uplift, educate, and stimulate” his fans. Sure to accomplish this, Buju Banton will be touring Canada for two weeks in May, Europe in June and July, and return in the fall for shows in the USA. Fans in Trinidad & Tobago can look forward to Buju on April 11 and 12, and Barbados is scheduled for April 26. May 10 will find the Gargamel inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bouncy, upbeat new single, “A Little Bit Sorry” is available now. “It’s Ska,” Buju describes it, “a reality song that reaches the consciousness and the heart and mind of everyone. And they know…no one is above sorry.” (see player below) Buju’s love of Ska music is not something new; you will find Ska tunes on his Inna Heights (1997) and Friends in Life (2003.)
No stranger to controversy, when asked his view of the current slackness debate in Dancehall, Buju responds, “Music controversy? This is not even warranted. Slackness in the music is only a detail in the music.” He quickly adds, “I didn’t get my popularity with the masses through slackness. I worked hard by making good music. I made good music to play on the radio, and my music was air-worthy.” More than merely air-worthy, his 1995 ‘Til Shiloh and 2003 Friends in Life are both Grammy-nominated Reggae albums. “This too will pass,” Buju concludes, “it will have to pass because music is a circle.”
The reference to full circle has appeared often when describing Dancehall’s 25+ year history. When ‘Til Shiloh was released in’95, critics claimed it was a welcome return to roots and reality – that it basically “put Reggae music back on track.” With the sighting of Rastafari and the unnecessary deaths of DJs Panhead and Dirtsman, two of his bredren, Buju set out to condemn gun violence and police corruption. His hit “Murderer,” off ‘Til Shiloh, is still a massive crowd favorite today.
Growing up in the Barbican area of Kingston, Buju was the youngest of 15 children. A descendant of the Maroons, “Buju” is the Maroon name for breadfruit, a nickname often given to a chubby
child. “Banton” was added as a tribute to his hero Burro Banton, a gravely-voiced DJ with roots from the ‘80s. Buju was the youth from Salt Lane
who went from a life of guns, girls, and ganja to successfully crossing Dancehall over to spiritual and positive messages.Although Buju Banton became widely known in 1990, he had been toasting since the age 12 under the moniker Gargamel – it sticks today. He recorded his first single, “Mr. Ruler,” for Robert French at age 13. The days of “Mr. Mention” and “Stamina Daddy” behind him, Buju Banton went from controversial DJ youth to iconic leader and singer, inspiring and uplifting people with socially aware lyrics on rock-solid riddims.
By 1992, he broke Bob Marley’s record in Jamaica for the most #1 singles from a Reggae singer in a single year. As a result of his conscious transformation in 1994, he joined Yardcore Collective, joining fellow conscious DJs Tony Rebel, Papa San, and General Degree. From 1995 through 2003, Buju Banton won uncountable awards and received immeasurable accolades. He toured the world many times over, drawing tens of thousands of fans with his trademark gravely, gruff DJ style and skilled soulful, singjay ability. He has an uncanny capacity to relate to the fans, speaking to them in a voice they can understand. From urban kids who love Dancehall to the older Roots Reggae fan, Buju delivers the spirit of Reggae music – lyrics that return to Rasta love and righteousness against the backdrop of real, live instruments.
The 2006 release of Too Bad marked Buju’s return to a full-on 100 percent Dancehall recording. In addition, Too Bad is the first CD release on his own Gargamel Music label. The widely known Sly and Robbie produced the single “Driver A” on the Taxi riddim, with lyrics and video that shows the fun and more humorous side of Gargamel. In 2007, Buju was a featured performer, along with Sean Paul, Beres Hammond, Jimmy Cliff, and Lucky Dube, at the Cricket World Cup Opening Ceremony at the Trelawny Stadium on the north coast of Jamaica.
It’s 2009 and Buju Banton is ready to release Rasta Got Soul. The self-produced CD features 15 tracks that will take you from roots, culture, and romance through Ska, Rocksteady, and Dancehall. Recorded over a seven year period at Buju’s Gargamel Music studio, the long-awaited CD and digital release will initially be available in the US and Canada on April 21, 2009, a date which also marks the 43rd anniversary of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s historic 1966 visit to Jamaica. As Buju describes it, “I just want to recreate that vibe when Reggae music would speak to everyone.” Positively, full circle.