My first vivid memory of Buju takes me back to Reggae Sunsplash in 1992 and the event will forever be linked to my favourite Dancehall DJ. Reggae Sunsplash returned to Jamaica, after a near 10-year hiatus, in August 2006 and by this time Buju Banton had graduated from performing on Dancehall night at Reggae Sunsplash 1992 to being a marquee performer on International Night at the rebirth of this legendary cultural phenomenon. This is, of course, no mean feat in the highly competitive and vibrant Dancehall scene of Jamaica.
I’ve always wanted to meet Buju – Mark Anthony Myrie a.k.a Buju Banton – the Gargamel. However, I am a firm believer that all good things will happen in the fullness of time. I wanted to make sure that when Buju met me he would not forget his greatest fan in all the world.
Fourteen years later, in August 2006, and after many attempts to meet the Gargamel, that dream was finally answered! Jason Walker of WRFG Radio in Atlanta and Changez Sound told me that Tracii McGregor, Vice President of Gargamel Music, Inc. had invited him to stop by Buju’s video shoot at the Gargamel Studios in Kingston. He then gave me the good news – I was welcome to come along to meet the popular Reggae/Dancehall singer!
In spring of 1992 in New York City, while preparing to pursue a post-graduate degree that fall, the sounds of reggae were all around me. By early summer, Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus & Pliers was heard blaring from just about every moving vehicle in Brooklyn. Browning by this hot new DJ, Buju Banton, was making the rounds, too, at the various parties and events. Every Jamaican interested in reggae music was talking about Browning! You know how we go on! “You hear Browning?” “Wha, a new song?” “No, me ave to hear dat!” “A who sing it?” “Whey you say, Buju?” “A new DJ?” “Wha, mi ave fi go listen – but some a dem is a one hit wonder” “Yu no tink so?”
Upon hearing Browning by Buju, that voice – that low, gravelly toned voice – resonated deep within me. I recognized that voice back then as one of the most talented DJ’s to have appeared on the dancehall scene. Even now years later, I still cannot define what it is about his distinctive voice that I love so much. I felt that Buju was going to take the reggae world by storm! I had to hear him perform in person. Buju was on the line up for Dancehall night at Reggae Sunsplash that year. A newly arrived international student to the U.S. and ready to live the life of the “poor student”, I somehow felt it was important for me to head straight back home to hear this young DJ perform at the biggest stage show in reggae music. Performing at Reggae Sunsplash was the “BIG UP” signal any reggae artiste could get in Jamaica.
Boom Bye Bye
On arrival in Kingston the summer of 1992, I went to a street dance in New Kingston and heard for the first time – Boom Bye Bye. After hearing Buju’s take on the Flex Riddim, it was all over for me – I no longer felt it – I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Buju was most decidedly Jamaica’s latest dancehall talent but not only that – he was here to stay. I was so excited and I eagerly anticipated my Sunsplash experience with Buju Banton.
I, accompanied by a fellow reggae enthusiast, headed out to Montego Bay on the western end of Jamaica, situated in the parish of St. James – which incidentally is Buju’s “country” – for Dancehall Night at Reggae Sunsplash at the Bob Marley Center. We did not have our own transportation to get to Montego Bay and Jamaica’s second city is about a three-and-half-hour mini-van ride away from Kingston. Yikes! I was determined not to get stuck in Kingston! I had flown over four hours to see Buju. No way – and I mean – NO WAY – was lack of ground transportation going to stop me from seeing Jamaica’s latest dancehall sensation! We resorted to the public transportation system in Jamaica that eventually consisted of a long, drawn out, bumpy and packed mini-van and Lada taxi ride. We took the first minivan that was headed out to Spanish Town, an hour’s ride west of Kingston. Hours later, we finally got a Lada taxi that barely had enough space for two and left Spanish Town for the north coast to Ocho Rios. After another long wait in Ocho Rios we settled into the final leg of the journey on another mini-van to the western end of Jamaica to Mo Bay. I think we arrived in the wee hours of the morning, just in time for Buju’s performance!
In the dense jostling dancehall night crowd of ‘Splash I was robbed. Pushing through the crowd in single file, my friend ahead of me, I remember two women circling me. One was breathing down hard on the right side of my neck. The other blocked the path in front of me. I do remember some time later missing many items from my fanny pack. My address book was missing! That for me was the biggest loss and another memory associated with my determination to see Buju perform but I forged ahead, still anticipating the performance of my Reggae/Dancehall idol!
Hitting the stage like a meteorite from the reggae heavens, Buju Banton, was a new reggae star birthing in the reggae universe. Ebony smooth complexion, skinny, tall, good looking, wearing the then ever-popular linen suit and reminiscent in what is now one of his signature entrances. To date his off-stage entrance, never fails to erupt a crowd especially when he now starts off with “Mr. Nine, say to Mr. 45….M16 and magnum na live too right….” Buju shone brightly like a newly discovered black diamond – rare and precious. His energy was infectious. The crowd already pumped up from other dancehall performances was waiting to crown the new dancehall star. Buju did not disappoint the huge, excited, tightly packed, hands in the air, rewind-and-come-again-dancing-in-the-hall-crowd – except we were in the open air enjoying Jamaica’s latest star in reggae’s Dancehall. Buju could do no wrong.
Love Black Woman
Year after year I would hear all the different “rumours” about Buju that circulates and pervades our Jamaican community about our reggae celebrities. Although this was the pre cell phone era – in New York we always got the latest news from yard. “People vex bout Browning“ Buju responded with “Love Black Woman”. You hear bout Buju?” “Im a change im voice?” “You mean im lost im vice!” “Big man can lose dem voice!” “You hear bout Buju?” “Buju tun Rasta….yes mi dear….im a locks”. “Lef de man alone – im find God – den dat no good.” Till Shiloh we call Rastafari’s name…” “You hear bout Buju” “Dem ban im from England” “Fi wha?” “Fi Boom Bye Bye” “Dem still a chat bout dat?” “Dem ave time when whole heap a poor black pickney a dead inna Jamaica and all ova de world” “Whey DEM NO talk bout when im sing Murderer! Blood dey pan u shoulders?” or “All I see people a rip an’ a rob an a bribe
Tief nevah like fi see tief wid long bag
No love for de people who a suffer real bad
Another toll to the pole may God help we soul
What is to stop de yout from get outa control?
“Hey Lorna, if u ever leave me…”
August 2006, en route to Ocho Rios for the first night of the resurrection of Reggae Sunsplash, Jason Walker and I along with my aunt stopped at Gargamel Studios for the video shoot of Buju and friends on the 100-Watt Riddim.and for me to meet the DJ – as he’s affectionately called by those close to him.
On entering the yard – it reminds me of the one at 56 Hope Road where the King of Reggae reigned – there was loud music and people all around mixed in with video equipment. A gentleman was wearing a Buju T-shirt, I had never seen, and I asked him if they were on sale. He laughingly told me that mine was the first T-shirt they had sold. He then handed the money to a young woman and told her to make sure she recorded the sale properly. I laughed and remarked to both that how great it is that Buju’s first T-shirt for the Too Bad album should be sold to his #1 fan in the whole wide world! She laughed and I asked her name. She said, “Lorna”. I stopped in my tracks. Literally haul, pull-up, rewind and come again. In disbelief and almost in a whisper, I asked, “THE Lorna?” She laughed again and said, “Yes”. I couldn’t believe that I was standing in front of the woman immortalized forever in Buju’s songs. I gave her a personal joke about how much I love Buju but that I have nuff respect for her – my Lorna not leaving! I looked around and saw a number of children. I asked if they were hers and Buju’s. She answered yes and introduced me to them. She said the youngest one was not around as he liked to be near the “excitement” – which later I saw was right beside his father!
Lorna accommodated me by allowing us to take photos of her and one of her daughters who she described as the dancer in the family. Jason reminded me that we had to head over to Buju quickly before the place got too crowded and escorted me to where Buju was sitting. While walking over, I saw Jefferey “Assassin” Campbell. He has a number of extremely popular dancehall hits under his belt and is a solid Reggae/Dancehall performer. We hailed him up and confirmed that he would be performing that Thursday night, Dancehall night, at Sunsplash and agreed to see him later. Assassin has been touring with Buju in recent times.
“Nuff man a look u, but me no inna de race…”
With my aunt in tow, I walked behind Jason towards Buju who sat in a corner – our eyes met. As I weaved my way through a group of men – every time I looked up Buju was looking at me. I wasn’t quite sure what that look meant but I do know that we were intensely aware of each other. This was not going to be some ordinary meeting of an adoring groupie and her musical icon. Jason introduced us. Buju opened his arms and hugged me. I hugged him back. I smiled at my delicious and favourite breadfruit with my widest Ms. Jamaica Smile!
I didn’t know what to expect being this close with the DJ, with Buju. After all, I had dreamt so many nights of him as I slept below a framed early 1990’s poster of him – long before he locked. It was in a place of prominence in my living room. My aunt told Buju that I left a huge framed poster of Bob Marley with her in New York – but I was sure to take my Buju picture when I relocated to Florida! I always thought the reason why I left Bob was because his framed poster was so huge. Furthermore he, too, is in a place of honour in my aunt’s living room in Brooklyn.
“How could you rise up every living day….telling youselfs that everything is OK?”
During our “reasoning”, I saw a few of the faces of Mark Anthony Myrie. I saw the father as he tenderly spoke to his boys to relax, cool it and drink some water. It was a hot summer day in Kingston town. He extended that same graciousness and hospitality to his guests for the day as he asked one of his compatriots to offer water and juice to the guests in the yard. Despite all of that, he had time to make comments to some of the men close to him while talking to me. He would politely excuse himself and take care of the issue on hand. He would then turn right back to me, nod his head and continue reasoning. I told him that I was his #1 fan in the world – he opened his eyes wide at that and smiled. I took in his locks which were wrapped tightly around his head like a crown. I thought how cute he looked although his eyes were pretty red. He sat quite comfortably and seemed contended to look up at me. Usually, I’m looking up at other people. We spoke for quite a while and finally I told him that I wanted to start his official fan club. He told me to coordinate it with Tracii McGregor. He, however, warned that then would not be a good time as she was extremely busy. He laughed knowing what Tracii is like when she’s busy. I knew he was busy, too, and that it was so kind of him to take time to meet a fan. I told him also that that morning I had seen the video of him when he appeared at ‘Splash in 1992 for the first time in fourteen years. Again, he opened his eyes wide and smiled. I bade him goodbye and told him that I would see him on Saturday night at reggae’s premier show on earth – Reggae Sunsplash.
Voice of Jamaica
Buju took the stage on International Night at Reggae Sunsplash after scintillating performances by Junior “Gong” Marley and Luciano. I was ready for Bujumania. I had draped the T-shirt around my shoulders like a cape. I told all around me to clear the area as I was preparing to jump and prance. Mark Anthony Myrie has never disappointed me in all the years I’ve seen him perform and this was no exception. In fact, this was an exception mainly since I’m used to seeing him perform overseas. During his performance he weaved social commentaries in between songs ranging from diverse issues from the fact that nothing was free in Jamaica anymore like the days when he attended school and could get free lunch to Ariel Sharon’s illness. Buju danced, jumped and shook his tall slim frame, moving from one part of the stage to the other, locks flaying, pants dropping off, he pulling them up, and sat down and sang. I, along with a few friends would sing-along word for word –“ and it would go on and on – the full has never been told!” The Voice of Jamaica spoke in the early morning of the social inequities of the world and I, amongst the thousands took it all in.
Following his performance I ran to the press tent to await his arrival only to see that he was already there. I ran to him and both of us were out of breath. Yes, I perform too when Buju performs! I told him that he hadn’t done half of his songs. He said words to the effect that the time was short and Beenie had to work too. He was the penultimate act and by then Beenie Man had taken the stage to close off International Night at the return of Reggae Sunsplash.
I was the third interviewer and I asked him about the AIDS hospice he had started years ago. He stated that since the past two years he was restructuring his approach. I asked him if he needed help and he resoundingly said “YES!” I boldly told him that the official fan club would help in this endeavour. By then he was tired and wanted to finish the interviews. He was told one more. He knows Jason quite well and the DJ, looked at Jason and yelled out, “Jason!” Somewhere in between that yell Buju let out a laughter I’d never heard except by myself. People have always told me about my laugh and I heard this guttural sound from Buju and I loved it….. “strangest feeling I’m feeling….”
Many would argue that Buju is the most controversial reggae artiste to hail from Jamaica. To date, so many things have been said about this talented young man of Maroon descent – Jamaica’s most precious breadfruit – because that’s what Buju means. He went from a youth talking about his love for women, “..why Buju love oono, cyan do widout oono…”,“let Buju take u for a stroll across de ocean” “I’d like to be the only man in your life…real quality, time and affection…”, sex “what a piece of body gal…ram pa pa pam pam girl let me in, I have the thing you need”, “…u man a killa”, “…hear me man, Lord have his mercy…Ah just over the dickie the girls a gwaan bad…” and admiration of sexy women “good body whey de gal dem possess, it a mad de man dem…” to speaking about the plight of poor people “…not an easy road…”, peace, love “…wanna be loved…”, “..hush baby hush…”, freedom for black people “Sudan, Sudan, Sudan…” and unity due to his conversion to Rastafarianism, in the vein of that religion’s spirituality.
Over the years and after many performances including the sold-out concert at The Paramount, Madison Square Gardens, New York City in 1995, Buju has lived up to the expectations and then some of that first Sunplash crowd. In time, he would become the inimitable Voice of Jamaica. He even broke Bob Marley’s record for the greatest number of number one singles in a single year!
Friend For Life
I left New York in 1992 to see Buju Banton perform at Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica. Fourteen years later I met him on the day Sunplash was revived and, naturally, Jason Walker is a Friend For Life! Buju has collaborated with many of his friends giving them both mega hits such as Wayne Wonder in Bonafide “You may not be a movie star, …a love you like a big snapper fish…” and of course, Beres Hammond, Who Say Big Man Nuh Cry, “ how could I ever doubt that you were my friend…Who say that big man don’t cry, Yuh never miss di water till yuh well run dry….” I may write and analyze about Jamaican music and culture but first and foremost I am just a plain and simple fan of reggae music. Buju and “oh Massa God”, have been my company during many, many moments of my life. One of his solemn reggae hits is with another friend, Gramps of Morgan Heritage the “23 Psalm.” Global Rhythm reports that Buju Banton is still standing strong, and his legacy cannot be denied.