Mi can't stop cry fi Buju
Carolyn Cooper, Contributor
I was one of those black women who immediately got upset with Buju Banton over his browning: "Mi love mi car, mi love mi bike, mi love mi money an ting/But most of all mi love mi browning." Quick to dismiss the youthful DJ as just the typical Jamaican man hung up on light skin, we let him have it.
After the first wave of vexation passed, we took consolation in the fact that we actually didn't want to be just one of a string of objects, however beloved. The unfortunate rhyming of the all-inclusive 'ting' and 'browning' reinforced the sense of the woman as mere commodity.
It took me quite a long time to emancipate myself from mental slavery and admit that the song wasn't simply a generic celebration of brownness as distinct from, and superior to, blackness. Buju was really singing the praises of a particular browning, his Lorna. Even more to the point, what Buju explicitly valued about Lorna was not her colour at all. It was her faith in his unquestionable love despite all the planning and scheming and conning of "di old viper dem - Pamela and Dawn, Suzette and Karen" - who were packing up her head with doubts about his integrity. Lorna stubbornly refused to listen.
Sensitive to the negativity the song provoked, Buju tried to do damage control: "Mi can't stop cry fi all black woman/nuff tings a gwaan fi unu complexion." Buju tried his best to kiss and make up. But we didn't want any condescending tears of sympathy: "Nothing no wrong wid wi, so wi no waan nobody sorry fi wi." Poor Buju: damned if he did and damned if he didn't. He was caught in a vice.
'Rastaman at di control'
These days, Buju Banton is literally imprisoned in the United States penal colony, charged with possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. I don't want to believe a word of it. I've deliberately not read the damning affidavit because I'm like Lorna on this one: :All di rumour di informer dem a spread me just not listening."
I'm the first to admit that I am totally prejudiced in favour of Buju Banton's innocence. Completely. Irrationally. I've made a pre-judgement and I don't want any 'facts' to confuse the issue. Even if I were to see the video of the knife-licking, I would refuse to believe the evidence of my own eyes. In this instance, faith is not the substance of things hoped for or the evidence of things not seen. It is hope that there is no evidence that Buju was dealing in the substance.
The Mark Myrie I think I know is an honourable man. I've visited his Gargamel studio on more than one occasion and sat in on the reasonings that flow freely in the yard. The day I went to confirm arrangements for the launch of his Rasta Got Soul album at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in April last year, I got caught up for more than three hours in philosophical conversation on the meaning of life. 'Yu done know how Rastaman love fi reason - especially when dem got soul.'
And on that score, I must big up Dr Leahcim Semaj for lifting the level of talk radio in Jamaica over the last few months with his 'reasoning' programme. It is so inspiring to listen to an 'upful' public intellectual who is in touch with the masses of the people and yet doesn't think he needs to talk down to us to be popular. I also have to give 'nuff respects' to Mutabaruka for his brilliant new TV show. 'Two Rastaman at di control.' How things and times have changed in Jamaica!
'Hills and Valleys'
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at UWI, Mona, of the Report on the Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica, written by Rex Nettleford, Roy Augier and M.G. Smith. On the recommendation of yet another rastaman at the control, Dr Jalani Niaah of the UWI will host an international conference to acknowledge the anniversary: 'Negotiating the African Presence: Rastafari Livity and Scholarship'. The date of this historic conference, August 17-20, was chosen to celebrate the birthday of Marcus Garvey whose vision of African redemption is so central to the Rastafari movement.
A foundational theme in Rastafari philosophy is repatriation to Africa, whether physically or ideologically. Buju Banton's Hills and Valleys is a powerful evocation of this desire to return to ancestral homelands. In his present state of imprisonment 'a farin', the insistently repetitive lyrics are heartbreaking:
It hard, it hard, it hard
Let them know we waan go
home a we yard
It hard, it hard, it hard
Oh God, we waan go home!
Marcus Garvey offers Buju stern advice in the introduction to his poem 'The Tragedy of White Injustice': "The object I have in view is to get the Negro to accomplish much for himself out of his own thoughtfulness. To arouse that thoughtfulness, he must be shocked or otherwise he must be driven to see the unusual that is operating against him, and so this little pamphlet was written during a time of leisure in jail in 1927."
Buju's shocking imprisonment gives him the 'leisure' to reflect on his folly in mixing up himself with the wrong crowd; or worse, being guilty as charged - a possibility I do concede in moments of rationality. All the same, mi naa stop cry fi di Gargamel 'til im step outa Babylon prison an come back a yard.
Carolyn Cooper is professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Send feedback to: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.