The journey with Buju as an artist began (before I knew the word ‘groupie’) in a moment of deep respect and appreciation when I felt compelled to introduce myself to the artist backstage at Superjam 1994 after his spellbinding performance. Where did dis yout’ come from, with such raw passion and an embarrassment of talent? I am still to answer that question in a profound metaphysical sense, but were I to give the quick ‘off the cuff’ response, I would say he’s Made in Jamaica. His meteoric rise to dancehall prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s holding such records as most number one hits on the Jamaican charts, or touted as the next Bob Marley with his Til Shiloh release are just some of the fruits of his labour of love. This is an artist with profound contradictions in his experience: so much positive has been said of him, so many people love him, yet so many negatives abound and so many have come to question their appreciation of his talent. A so life go….mi nah sell out mi frien’ dem or mi artist!
Well, it was an October day in 1995 that the telephone in my room rang, on the other line a voice I immediately recognised. The husky cooner travelled into my world in a real way: I can say now it was ‘Destiny‘. I livicate this blog posting to Buju, my favourite DJ and fellow traveller on the reggae dancehall life path. As I matured, I became witness to the maturation of Jamaica’s popular indigenous music with DJs such as Tappa Zukie, Yellow Man, Shabba Ranks, Little Lenny and Buju Banton as some of my contemporaries.
In an unqualified facebook post over the past weekend, I stirred a discussion on Buju, asserting his status as a prophet. Afterall, for those who know his music and have moved beyond the Boom Bye Bye saga, statements about Buju Banton being a prophet might not stir any outrage. This was my Facebook post: “Buju Banton is one of the biggest prophets to have walked the earth. ‘Supporting him in his struggles….”. And, these were some of the responses: ”Define big, just curious”; “Predicting in lyrical content many of the events in his life is big, major, huge…. Or another way to look at it is that his prophesying has been big…has had big impact for all the world to see”; “I only know one Buju song, ‘Boom Bye Bye,’ and I hope that one is not a prediction”; “We will soon find out”; ”Truth – a prophet indeed”; “I thought he did some atrocious things to a woman AND was arrested for drug possession. AND, the one song I remember most starkly is Boom Bye Bye. Prophet?”; “After all is said and done, what did he do that is so different from those who went before? Maybe he is keenly aware that he hasn’t walked a different path at all, just did so in a different moment”; “Really? A prophet?”; “Everyone has lessons in life to learn, some more publicly than others. The reach of his life is what makes him and his actions or lyrical contributions recognizable. His lyrics have shown the major plots in his life. Listen and you will hear. Its not enough to make a comment based on a lack of knowledge on the subject or based on propoganda. I have listened and have documented my listening. He has prophesied about his own demise and the rise that will come based on his transformation(s). We are lucky to be witnesses”; “I guess that we are conditioned to associate the word “prophet” with a religious figure, especially one that espouses the tenets of morality as construed through Judeo-Christian lenses. I suppose that we can view the term ‘prophet’ within a different context and apply it to Buju (or perhaps even the same context). To be honest, I don’t know enough about him personally to have an opinion either way. All I know are the songs I have heard him perform. He has never been a figure that has ever had any significant influence over my thought process, nor have I ever aspired to be like him in any way but I will definitely acknowledge his reach and influence not only in Jamaica but worldwide. My question is: If he is truly a prophet, is HE aware of this? Also, would you consider other musical figures such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, or even Bounty Killer prophets as well?”; ”WOW! What a rash statement without putting thought to it…..Prophet???????…I think not….”; “I am as liberal as they come, but I wish the energy that was put towards Buju being freed was put towards pressuring the government(S) of Jamaica to do the right thing. Coke? DESTRUCTION.”
I ended the facebook discussion by imploring those who were joining the discussion in the middle to read my comments carefully before passing judgement since it was easy to miss the quotidian sense in which I was using the word prophet; sort of removing it from its esoterical place in the sky living among saints beatified or pardoned by the Pope to apply it to local contexts among our immediate ancestors and even our peers. You can tell me what you think after really listening to his lyrics. For now, the fact is Buju Banton’s life has been an open book through which any walk through the colourful lyrics will reveal profoundly impacting life lessons. Buju’s lyrical walk through issues of love, deportation, safe sex, drugs, curfews, life changing experiences, supreme creator, Rastafari, touring and many many more, have made indelible marks on many a man and woman. Personally, Banton has taught me a lot, and my book DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto could easily have been dedicated to him. In lieu of my book I here today offer this poem as I pay homage to my DJ. Stay tuned for an excerpt from my book about the Gargamel on Tour.
is the tune playing in my heart
for my love sponge from eternity.
Hey, I wanna dance with somebody,
that DJ that saved my life
who makes me sing
‘I’m fascinated by your love boy’.
Can you play my song tonight,
fill me up, … give me love
make me feel like a virgin?
I wanna see your true colours
shining in my eyes,
create magic and mystery,
for I am your lady
until you say goodbye,
and if a loving you want
a loving you gwine get
right here in the middle of the day
when birds are awake to join in my song.
Mr DJ, wake me from sleeping,
this must be a dream…
a daydream of love -
an’ if loving was a crime
dem would haffi incarcerate mi,
and then, you’ll have to play me a lullaby
like ‘don’t worry be happy’
when I hunger for your touch
and need your love.
You see, the thought of you
does things to me
can take away all my sadness,
there’ll always be sunshine when I look at you
Yes! Sun is shining, and suddenly I’m melting into you.
Take my hand mi say, my whole life too
‘cause from the first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
carrying your spirit of calm intensity
round the universe all the way to me.
Well right yah now,
you put mi inna trance and
mek me want to sing,
but even though I don’t know much
I know seh you inna mi heart Mr DJ,
play your tunes in my world.