Buju's colourful career
Published: Sunday | December 13, 2009
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
WITH THE catchy hit single Browning in 1992, Buju Banton commanded the attention of music lovers and, in so doing, etched a foothold on Jamaica's musical landscape.
The gifted youth silenced critics and proved he was no fluke when he stormed the entertainment arena with Black Woman in response to colour-conscious Jamaicans who frowned on Browning.
These two singles would hit a chord on the Jamaican psyche.
In so doing, Browning and Black Woman kick-started a colourful career, pockmarked by the young artiste's run-ins with the international gay-rights community, as well as the law.
Christened Mark Anthony Myrie, Buju Banton, the youngest of 15 children, was born in 1973 and grew up in Salt Lane in the Red Hills Road area.
In a community where reggae music and the sound system were dominant features, Myrie fell in love with dancehall.
A glance at his colourful career:
He adopted the pseudonym Buju Banton from another deejay, Burro Banton, whom he admired as a child.
In 1986, Buju was introduced to producer Robert French by fellow deejay Clement Irie, and his first single, The Ruler, was released not long afterwards in 1987.
In 1988, age 15, he first recorded his most controversial song, Boom Bye Bye, which took issue with homosexuality.
Largely because he was unknown, Boom Bye Bye failed to inspire until it was re-released in 1992 after he had made his mark with a range of singles, following on his two early successes. The following year was an explosive one for Buju as he broke Bob Marley's record for the highest number of number-one singles in a year.
Buju's debut album, Mr. Mention, includes his greatest hits from 1993. It was also the year when the second release of Boom Bye Bye threatened to destroy not the gays, but all he had toiled so hard to accomplish. The lyrics of Boom Bye Bye sparked outrage in the United States and Europe. This led to Buju being dropped from the line-up of the WOMAD festival that year. He survived and drastically changed his tune, largely focusing on conscious issue-oriented commentaries. Buju released the hard-hitting Voice of Jamaica in 1993 on the major Mercury label. These tracks included the commentary, Deportees, a remix of Tribal War, sharply condemning political violence and Willy, Don't Be Silly which promoted safe sex, profits from which were donated to a charity supporting children with AIDS. As his career progressed, many of Buju's lyrics sought to combat the scourge of violence. Murderer condemned gun violence and frontally challenged the prevailing lyrical content in dancehall. As he matured and his transformation continued, Buju Banton embraced the Rastafari movement and growing dreadlocks, his music assumed a spiritual tone. When Buju Banton toured Europe and Japan, in 1994, the shows were sold out, a testimony to his rising popularity, despite the deafening anti-gay sentiments, which continued to flourish in the United States.
His album Til Shiloh in 1995 successfully blended conscious lyrics with a hard-hitting dancehall vibe.
The album included earlier singles, such as Murderer, and Untold Stories.
Untold Stories revealed an entirely different Buju from the one that had stormed to dancehall stardom four years before. It is regarded by many as some of his best work, and is a staple in the Banton performance repertoire. In March 2003, Buju released Friends for Life, which featured more sharply political commentaries. These include Mr. Nine, an anti-gun song that further verified his status as one of reggae's most socially aware artistes. In April 2004, Buju was fined the equivalent of US$9,000 for drug possession and cultivation of cannabis after two mature marijuana plants were discovered growing at his studio in December 2003. Buju was also in trouble with the law in connection with a 2004 incident in which he, as part of a group of about a dozen people, was accused of beating six men believed to be homosexuals. Charges against Buju were dismissed by the judge in the case in January 2006 for lack of evidence. The year 2006 saw the release of the critically acclaimed Too Bad, his first dancehall-oriented album in over a decade. Buju showed in 2007 that he still had what it took to be at the top of the dancehall game with Driver A, a massive hit that year.
Despite the passage of time and Buju's obvious transformation, refelcted in his musical lyrics, he has never been forgiven by the gay community for Boom Bye Bye, which was released when he was a mere lad of 15 and re-released when he was 18.
The refusal of Buju Banton to bow to the demands of gay-rights activists earlier this year has not helped.