Also known as Gargamel, Mark Anthony Myrie was born on 15 July, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica and is descended from the freedom-fighting Maroons, who successfully thwarted the morally devoid British colonisers of the nation in their efforts to enslave them.
Buju Banton has 13 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.
He started his career with major hits during the ‘slackness’ era (when the evangelical elders bemoaned the trend for singing about sexual endeavours and material possessions) before converting to Rastafarianism and creating some of the most culturally and spiritually influential music of the time.
His debut album Stamina Daddy (1992) was swiftly followed by Mr Mention (1992) but it was 1993’s Voice of Jamaica that brought him international acclaim, yielding stand-out including Deportees, Good Body and Operation Ardent. Later that year he would travel for the first time to the mother continent, Africa.
“In 1993, I had my first trip to Africa. I spent two weeks in Ghana and along the West Coast. I spent most of my time educating people about what dancehall is and what it is I do, and just genuinely enjoying Africa. Coming in 2020, seeing that bridge and seeing that musical connection so strong, it makes my heart feel so high. We are a people divided and separated by a vast amount of body of water, and all we have been fed is propaganda. We are realizing who we are as a people: we respect who we are, we are more honest with who we are, kinder with who we are, more love for each other. We were a great civilization even before the advent of current civilizations.”
1995 saw the release of Buju’s first album since he had turned Rasta, Til Shiloh and what an album it is. He is on a spiritual path that is clearly reflected in the music and marks a sharp departure from his previous dancehall tracks like Boom Bye Bye, Batty Rider and Love How De Gyal Dem Flex. Mature, considered and socially conscious, the album featured long-time collaborator Wayne Wonder as well as Garnett Silk. It was certified gold in the USA and brought him to the attention of the mainstream music world.
In 1997 he released Inna Heights, with guest appearances from Reggae royalty Beres Hammond and Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals, the album received a Grammy nomination. The album Unchained Spirit came next in 2000, again featuring Beres Hammond on Pull It Up as well as Luciano, Morgan Heritage and Stephen Marley. Each subsequent album from 1992’s Stamina Daddy shows growth as a musician, a singer and a person but also led to accusations from purists of selling out and ‘trying to cross-over’.
However as Buju explains, “I am a man who doesn’t see himself locked into one genre or listening to what’s being praised. So around my music and if you want to grow musically you have to dive into other genres. It will have influence on you and it will help you. It works! Each one, teach one to do well.“
“My music is indeed personal, because I see myself as a social mirror, dealing with different realities than the mainstream media and the newspaper. The world is changing. Things that are highlighted out there don’t coincide with the global issues that are being reflected on the ground. News only say these things to the masses. It must be all about “I love you, baby, I love you and I want to do this and I want to bring you the moon and the stars…” and I am not into that Bomboclaat, you know, mother?! I want to speak the truth to the masses. You sight?”
Compilation albums were the next three releases, with Ultimate Collection, followed in 2001, by The Best of Early Years: 1990-1995 following the same year and the The Best of Buju Banton released in 1992. The next studio album was not released until 2003. Friends for Life featured Beres Hammond, Wayne Wonder, Bounty Killer, Nadine Sutherland and Fat Joe, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album. Buju’s eighth new music studio album, Too Bad (featuring Pinchers) arrived in 2006 heralding a return to dancehall and another Grammy nomination. Three years later saw a move away from dancehall again with the release of Rasta Got Soul (2009), which was also nominated for a Grammy Award.
Later in 2009, Buju was arrested by Drug Enforcement Agency in Miami, Florida, USA and charged with possession/distribution of cocaine (he would later be acquitted).This would be the start of years of legal proceedings including two trials founded on the same dubious allegations. In 2010, he won a Grammy Award for best reggae album for 2010’s Before The Dawn. Buju was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and sentenced to 10 years and 1 month prison in February 2011. He was released in December 2018.
When asked about what it felt like to be returning home after the years of incarceration in the USA, Buju said,
“I have always been home. It was more like seeing friends and seeing ones who I haven’t seen in a long time, and having a re-unification and a re-dedication of ourselves unto the true purpose why we are here which is to continue learn and continue to find out about the mysteries of who we are as a people. It was a brief pause in transmission for ten years and then we reconnect again. So that to me is greater than anything that one might perceive in them own perception but everyone is entitled to that. But I see it as a re-connection and a re-establishment of a spiritual groundation.”
“When I sat in the jet plane entering the island I was overwhelmed with a feeling of nostalgia because long time I didn’t see my home town, long time I haven’t seen my people. But all of that is just a moment in space, a moment in time. A man did have to return, a man did have to enter through the court of entry. So, I don’t place too much thought and emphasis on my return because in reality I should have never left. You sight?”
His return to the stage inside Kingston’s National Stadium in March 2019 was one of the largest Reggae events in recent years. Buju became the first solo artist to sell out Jamaica’s National Stadium since Bob Marley performed there in 1978. Buju became the first solo artist to sell out Jamaica’s National Stadium since Bob Marley performed there in 1978.
On June 26, 2020, he dropped his hotly anticipated first album since his release. Featuring guest appearances from Pharrell Williams, Stefflon Don, John Legend and Stephen Marley and legendary producers Donovan Germain, Dave Kelly and Bobby Digital.
Buju talks about the album, Upside Down 2020, and why he has given it that title:
“I am an African. I am a direct link, with ownership and right to the land. A connection is an alien approach with the intent of making yourself a part of it. That’s not we—I am an African, Ethiopia, of sunburnt skin… through years of my devotion, my land of birth, origin, through various ancestors and years of separation. That (devotion) never died, it keeps blazing. I know who I am and when you know who you, that is the greatest achievement. We have been divided by territorial boundaries and describe us as various neocolonial nationalities but you have lost your way along the way. Because if you acquired wealth and a good house, and talk the Western way… how beautiful is it? Do you know any of the cultures of your forefathers? How can we speak love to trump the hate? How can we speak unity and try to divide them? How can I say “I love you” and your heart speaks bitterness and contempt? Upside Down. Upside Down.“
On Stephen Marley:
“Stephen is a good brother of mine and we go forward in time, and forward in time and time. So therefore this was inevitable, the perfect song for the perfect moment. With the musical spirit that we both have and possess through the gift of God we were able to come together musically and set everything in order and present it to the world. Now the amazing thing with that song was no one has ever seen or heard me perform that song before but the reaction from the cruise was an eye-opener that the spirit of God still lives through man. We don’t have to pre-program them through radio or any other broadcasting situation. You have them learn a song before you actually give them a song. Because from the beginning of time this was the way it worked. So, I’m saying all this to say that this song was a perfect introduction for the album to the people on the Jamrock cruise. Everything was just magical. Jah live, spiritual Iyah!”
On John Legend, Pharrell Williams and Stefflon Don guesting on his album:
“Me and John Legend did a song back in the years called Can’t Be My Lover. So, the act of reciprocity dictates that he is supposed to do a song for me. So that is how that one came into place, musically, you understand? Now what Pharrell Williams is concerned, he heard our works and had a desire to partner with us, so we said “Let’s go!”. Anything to spread the culture of Reggae music in a positive way, to shed light on it on a positive note. We are all for that. Likewise, Stefflon Don contributed to Reggae music from Britain. And it’s only good and righteous that we reach out and bring her in, musically. It’s all about music for me, nothing else. Let that be known!
And that was the original intent. With Cherry Pie, I mean, Pharrell totally delivered on that track. And that’s what we want the music to do—resonate with the people. Our musical frequency has a spirit, and we need to change it. Go back to what it was… more harmonious with nature, harmonious with vibe, harmonious with the Universe. But many minds don’t understand that because their minds are dark. They are trapped. We need to uplift, educate and stimulate with a higher consciousness.”
Blessed is about paying homage to the true and mighty Universal Creator that brought me through the depths from the days of my youth to now, before my enemies and friends alike. To let the people know that the blessing of God is everlasting. That’s what it’s about—not bravado or machismo. Blessings of God with the adversities in my life that I’ve been through – it didn’t break me. I’m blessed.
On being asked about the musical distinctions between Trinidad (traditionally known for Soca) and Jamaica (traditionally known for Reggae):
“You make this distinction between Trinidad and Jamaica, and I see us as one people, with one common thread that binds us together apart from our complexions. Listen to me: the common thread that binds us together is our love for the Almighty. We might speak different languages, different accents, different dialects, different hues and different shades – but we are one people. And there is a reason why we as a people, we suffer. We suffer primarily because for one, we don’t know who our enemies are, we kill our own for the enemies’ sake and think we’re doing something good. And who are they? They are always in the background formulating our thoughts, dividing us with territorial lies that create issues that real Trinidadians and real Jamaicans do not have. So when we remove the blockades that inhibit us as a coalition of people, there is a harmonious reality to finding our own self. And that’s what my music is here to do: (for) listening, (and) educating my people.”
On the different styles of music showcased on the album:
“Sister, I could not save everyone ennuh (laughs). That is not my intent, my intent is to do my work as a servant. When I serve you, it’s your responsibility to eat or not. You understand? A new time is coming where you can’t hide behind pen and paper and cloak up the truth with some jargons and prettying it up to make it seem appealing. Those days are gone ennuh. Even as a journalist, you create for a bigger purpose that lies ahead. Those days of platitudes are long gone. Only the truth alone will make good, and the onus is on I to tell them the truth.”
“You know, with reggae music… we have to re-explore ourselves. I think the frequencies that we have been operating from have been exhausted. The musical harmony is not there. Some of the things that have happened, they cannot happen anymore and we know that this frequency needs to change. The music that I’ll be offering is coming from a place of peace, a place of love.”
On the global upheaval caused by Covid-19:
“Listen to me! The world is changing and unfortunately things are not going to be the same. And we do not want it to be the same! Because it was not right the way it was. The suffering of people every day, living from hand to mouth, from paycheck to raaaaas-tafari paycheck, while a certain set of people alone masters all this wealth. That has to change! Right now we need a global reset. Just chill, chill, and find your centre. Let Jah do His thing. It is mysterious, you know? He uses all kind of people to do His works, and He knows the warriors and watches the traitors.”
“It is called a new shift in consciousness. And if the people at home wish to tap into their higher self, they will feel it. But because they are so caught up in the mundane world and the things and lasciviousness that they were accustomed to and the chasing of the dollar bills they are unable to feel the seismic shift that’s going on. That is more important than selling records because I don’t want to sell my records to a bunch of dumb people. We want them to understand where we are coming from, when we are coming forward. That is important not only for you and me but for the entire community of global citizens. When you ask me this question, I can’t answer from an individual perspective. I have to give you the global answer, that resonates universally. That is the time, we are in now, sister. It’s not the norm. It is not going to go back to the way it used to be. You are going to see a higher level of consciousness. Higher level, believe me, and eyes are going to be opened. This time at home people should just relax. It is discomforting to a lot of people because they have never sat still. They never went inside themselves to find that quiet place and now they are forced to. But settle yourself! Relax! It’s going to be ok. No situation is ever permanent.”
“For me it’s all mental. I am just coming from prison, I was locked down for ten years. You guys have always been in a bigger prison, they just decided to tighten your cuffs. Do you see what’s happening in certain states? Where draconian measures have been imposed on the people that go way too far. People are scared and frightened. Now you shouldn’t be frightened, that’s what you voted for. That’s what you asked for because you have been sleeping. Now your being caught off guard. Those of us who trust in the true and living Almighty God have always warned you guys. Always tried to warn you. But “They smoke too much weed, they’re Jamaicans, they’re this, they’re that…” What can we say now? You cannot say that you have not been told. None of you people can ever say a warning never came on to you. I told you a higher consciousness can survive this. Those who are trapped in the mundane world, those are the people you see agitated and losing their mind. It’s only for a short matter of time, no situation is permanent. God lives!”
“I prefer the word liberty. It is more enduring to man. Man was not meant to live in a cage but circumstances sometimes like this particular one we are going through with the Covid virus… Can you imagine if all the people were on the road? The chaos that would have caused in every major city. I am not saying that there is no virus. There is something out there but I can tell you it’s not the common flu.”
Buju also responded to the rumours that he has a cocaine habit, sparked by his arrest, charge and subsequent imprisonment:
“There are two ways to destroy a man, you go and attack his character first then you move in for the ultimate kill. Now with the destroying character, if you put him as a paedophile you destroy his character, he’s done for, easy kill. You put him as a coke head then he is done for cause his word won’t be taken to be of any weight, he might be a dope head speaking to you. So these character assassinations, they come before the ultimate kill shot,” he said.
Source: okayafrica.com, reggaeville.com, loopjamaica.com, billboard.com