Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Happy ‘Earthstrong’, Buju Banton - No fanfare for Buju’s big day

Published:Monday | July 15, 2019 | 12:19 AMKimberley Small/Staff Reporter
Buju Banton
Buju Banton

Many Rastafarians do not celebrate personal birthdays. Global reggae music star Buju Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, may fall into that group’s majority – according to the artiste’s long-time collaborator, music producer Donovan Germaine.

Germaine told The Gleaner that he has never known Myrie to host a party or celebratory dinner or even mix a special glass of lemonade to commemorate one more cycle around the sun. “It just comes and goes like any other day,” he said, and he expects that today, Myrie’s first birthday as a man ‘on the outside’ since his incarceration will be no different.

There are three other points to consider. With the reggae performer’s global brand, it is easy to surmise that Myrie’s birthday could pass without much fanfare because it falls smack in the middle of the summer music festival season. Also, in the midst of the continued ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, as he reintroduces himself to fans across the world, there just may not be any room to organise such festivities.

Finally, Myrie could be wrapped up in rehearsals for his return to Reggae Sumfest this Saturday. With the event billed ‘Sumfest to BBC’ – Buju, Beres and Chronixx – the anticipation among Buju’s legion of fans is high for Saturday night, and organiser Joe Bogdanovich has great expectations.

“This is going to be epic,” Bogdanovich told The Gleaner.

Long Walk To Freedom

Since his record-breaking curtain-raiser for the Long Walk To Freedom tour at the National Stadium in March, the Grammy Award-winning reggae star has sated fans in the Caribbean with performances in Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Barbados, Suriname, Grenada, Guyana, the British Virgin Islands and St Kitts and Nevis.

For the summer period, he has already hit Germany and Amsterdam. After Reggae Sumfest, he will trod back to Europe to appear at festivals in Switzerland, Portugal, France, Belgium, and then onto Antigua and Barbuda.

Buju Banton’s biography states that he came into the game like a champion, just like the title of one of his biggest hit songs. His voice, “a lionesque roar that instantly electrified listeners”, was remarkably at odds with someone with such a lanky frame.

Maroon Heritage

The youngest of 15 children, he was not surrounded by wealth in his youth, but the Myrie family were proud descendants of the Maroons, African warriors who escaped slavery and fought for their freedom, establishing their own ‘promised land’ in the mountainous areas of Jamaica. His father, an aspiring singer, provided for his family through manual labour, while his mother sold fresh produce in nearby Coronation Market. It was she who gave him the affectionate nickname ‘Buju’, which means ‘breadfruit’, a staple food in many Caribbean households.

His biography notes that even after Buju managed to elevate himself to become an internationally renowned recording artiste, the entertainer never forgot the poverty of his childhood years. He has used his music as a voice for the voiceless, and he established the Lend a Hand Foundation to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children in Jamaica and all around the world. He has also set up the Buju Banton Foundation.

“Born in abject poverty, I know what it is for a child to go without basic necessities. I also know what it is to be a youth with big dreams and lots of determination unfortunately daunted and unable to achieve your destiny due to lack of a helping hand. It is not an easy road, my children. However, Jah has blessed me. I have made it my mission, through the Buju Banton Foundation, to help by giving light to youth living in the darkness of poverty through provision of food, clothing, healthcare and education, thus ensuring they, too, have equal opportunities to succeed. I love to see brothers and sisters looking out for one another. That’s the way it should be, not contrary. Stop tearing down each other,” Buju states on the home page of the website for the Buju Banton Foundation.

Buju’s breakthrough 1992 album, Mr. Mention, was primarily dancehall-style – hard-edged digital rhythms programmed by production mastermind Dave Kelly for Germaine’s Penthouse Records. As one of those rare artistes whose work defined the cutting edge of his chosen genre, Buju set trends with each new release. His music was already internationally known when he signed a recording contract with Mercury Records in New York City and released his major label debut, Voice of Jamaica , in 1993.

In 2011, Buju’s album Before the Dawn won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, the artiste’s first win after four previous nominations.