Few musicians have touched my life the way Buju Banton has. And even fewer musicians have appalled me, the way Buju Banton has. Growing up in the Caribbean in the Nineties, there was no artist that compared to Buju. I own almost all of his albums and can chart the course of my formative years through them. Mr. Mention, Voice of Jamaica, Til Shiloh, Inna Heights… our musical love affair was passionate and I loved most everything he did — with one glaring, cursed, awful exception. Boom Bye Bye.
There have been songs by Sizzla, Bounty Killa, Shabba, Elephant Man and Capleton that would curl any gay activist’s toes. But Buju Banton, Gargamel, with his larger than life personality, became the official poster boy for homophobia and the most protested artist in Jamaican music. For some misguided reason, Buju Banton has allowed a song he recorded when he was fifteen years old, to ruin the rest of his otherwise uplifting career.
It is more than a shame.
I know there are those that deny that Buju still performs the song, but I’ve seen him tease it, freestyle it, and rile up an audience with it more than once — most memorably in 2006, at Best of the Best in Miami. I turned and left that Buju concert because of that switch in his personality, from incredible entertainer to hatemonger at the drop of a beat. But that ability reveals and underscores exactly what Sarah Manley meant in her post on Buju Banton — “his combination of electric charm and cold indifference…. in many ways he summed up jamaica for me in one man: beautiful and scary… and that is no small feat…. to sum up my country, my painful, excellent, magical, dramatical, amazing heartbreaking country is something indeed.” Buju is capable of spreading peace and love with his lyrics, but still he chooses to celebrate murder music and perpetuate a war that he himself created. To me he’s a walking contradiction — a beautiful, strong, intelligent man whose prejudices undercut his own message and stand to ruin his musical legacy.
Because Buju is such a dominant artist, many who don’t know more about Jamaican music have then gone on to make vast assumptions about reggae and dancehall artists, assuming that they all feel that same hatred in their hearts. And they don’t. I interviewed Tanya Stephens some years ago, and she spoke out against the homophobia in her musical genre: “I find it to be — I know this will not be received with any warm embrace — but I find it to be a little bit double standard and hypocritical, especially when I hear Rastafarians professing or helping to spread unacceptance of any group of people. I am very disappointed. I remember as a young child, Bob Marley songs couldn’t be played in my house, because he was a dutty Rasta. Rastafarians used to be shunned for their beliefs. It is very upsetting to me to see that these same people have gained acceptance and are among the most popular, and they are now rejecting somebody else. It is just so amusing. I have a very sick sense of humor, and it carries me through stuff like this, and I laugh at all of it. It’s ridiculous the things we do to each other.”
And now, after all of Buju Banton’s pre-existing controversy, comes these cocaine charges. Having read the official affidavit, I don’t understand how fans can still rant that this was somehow a set up. It’s difficult and disappointing to even picture Buju — our Buju — slicing into a brick of cocaine with a knife and tasting such a product with a expert’s ability, and it being all caught on video. It sounds like the plot for an awful movie, or an episode of Miami Vice. Not Buju who sang about Sensimilia Persecution. But that’s what he is described as doing in the affidavit. And still people are tweeting, Facebook wall posting, and YouTube commenting –that this must somehow be a diabolical plot by those that hate Buju for his beliefs. In my opinion, that’s the kind of willful ignorance that makes an appropriate response difficult. But still I’ve seen many people I know and used to respect, repeat that kind of foolishness — “set up dem a set up Buju.”
No matter what we believe (or want to believe), Buju is now linked to big time American drug charges and he’s facing a lengthy prison sentence — unless his rising star lawyer is able to help him out of this bind. In the meantime, all fans of Buju Banton can do is speculate, rage against these accusations, wonder what’s really going on. And wish that things were different.
In so many of the posts I’ve read about Buju, people say he has penned multiple songs against homosexuality. As far as I know, there’s just that one — Boom Bye Bye. (psst, Associated Press, the song Batty Rider is about a woman wearing a tight pair of shorts, a woman with a “shape like a Coke bottle without the top”. Maybe it’d help to cross check with a Caribbean person before printing something so erroneous, which in turn becomes so widely reported).
Despite Buju’s other songs — most of which are uplifting, positive, inspiring, and beautiful — he remains adamantly unashamed of his most shameful song. And I wish things were different there, too. I wish Buju could put that song behind him once and for all, and pen a whole album dedicated to love, peace and equality for all people. I wish that angry, hateful song wasn’t the first thing so many people around the world think of, when they think of Buju Banton. I wish people thought of songs like these — Buju at his best, instead of Buju at his worst.
This is the Buju I love most. Til Shiloh is one of those rare albums that you can play all the way through, and this song is its shining centerpiece. Buju waxes philosophical about struggle and poverty in “a competitive world for low budget people, spending the dime while earning the nickel.” “Could go on and on, the full has never been told…” – few reggae songs are as universally appealing as this one.
This was my JAM. Oh how this song takes me back. Buju has written some sweet love songs and homages to women. This ranks among the very sweetest.
Is there a bigger dancehall hit than Murderer? This song has it all — an undeniable riddim, lyrics that penetrate the soul, and a chorus that gets a crowd singing along every time. If I had to choose a top 20 Caribbean songs of all time list, this would be on it.
Hills and Valleys
I’ve seen Buju perform this song, and create a spiritual experience for his audience. Hills and Valleys is contemporary reggae music at its most majestic, mystical, and meaningful.
Bonafide Love, Reggae Sunsplash 92
This was when Buju was just now making it big on the scene, and if there was a movie of my life, this would have to be on the soundtrack. So young, so magnetic. And his energy as a performer hasn’t abated, not even a little bit.
Right now all we have are these old songs, until Buju’s case is resolved. I sincerely hope that Buju isn’t secretly going the tragic way that the late Dennis Brown did, in a downward spiral because of cocaine. I hope he emerges from these trials to rise again musically, and I hope from all of this he learns that there is no future in spreading musical messages of hate. I hope someday these charges, and Boom Bye Bye, are dark chapters that don’t taint the legacy of an otherwise long and accomplished career. But I fear that I hope too much. Either way, I’ll be watching this case closely.
I understand that this is a controversial topic and I’ve stated my position clearly. I expect comments to be lively but I won’t allow hate speech, foul language, name calling, or personal attacks on my blog. But I AM very interested in intelligently stated opinions. What are your views of the current situation Buju Banton is in?