Buju Banton’s return concert on March 16, 2019 was undoubtedly a historical event and a spiritual experience. It was held at Jamaica’s National Stadium in Kingston where over 30,000 people were in attendance. The title of his tour, “Long Walk to Freedom,” makes reference to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and legacy as Buju survived 8 years in U.S. prison before being released in 2018.
To welcome the Grammy award-winning artist back to the stage, his team organized a highly produced show. It featured numerous colored lights, smoke, and large digital displays. A host of opening artists performed in glittering, bold attire.
Kingstonians residing in the hills above the stadium could see the lights from their homes. When it was time for, Buju Banton, to make an appearance, the stage went dark.
The dramatic musical piece “O Fortuna” , played by a live band, set the tone for the artist’s arrival to the stage. The words of the song originate from a poem about the unyielding nature of fate.
As the music crescendoed and dipped into a funky guitar riff, Buju Banton made his entrance. The statuesque legend was clothed in an all white suit and minimal jewelry. He marched over to the mic stand and extended a hand to the band. As his hand fell, the music almost ceased. Notes from the saxophone played as Buju’s head swayed to the sound. Clouds swirled around him when he took hold of the microphone. He uttered the words “Have mercy on me” and the bright lights flashed on behind him. Three female back-up singers harmonized with his signature gravelly voice for a performance of his song “Lamb of God.” The artist dropped to his knees, covered his face, and lifted a hand in prayer.
He brought himself back up and when the song came to a close, he seemed to prepare for a mic drop. Drums rolled and color snapped from white to orange and red.
“Are you ready? People, are you ready?” Buju bellowed. He went straight into his song “Not an Easy Road.”
He removed his suit jacket so he could dance with abandon. Sweat beads adorned his face as he jumped about the stage with high knees.
Buju really had fun with the crowd and banished all doubts regarding his ability to perform at his age.
Artists joining Buju on-stage included Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Wayne Wonder, Gramps Morgan, and rising star Stefflon Don. He said Stephen Marley couldn’t make it, but he sends his love same way.
Buju gave a shout-out to his fellow African people and played the Lion King musical intro in Swahili. One of the songs he closed the night with said “Amen, amen, amen” and everyone was sent home with fireworks.
Words and images by Jeana Lindo.