Buju Banton | Prophet. Believe it or not!

Too Bad! For those who don’t know (I don’t know how you couldn’t know), I am a Buju Banton fan. Unequivocally so. Albeit the recent Banton trials, now a feature on the Jamaica Gleaner’s online site.

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

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.

For the (real) DJ…
‘Long time mi nuh have nuh nice time’
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.
©Sonjah Stanley Niaah 2008
Advertisements

Buju Banton | Prophet. Believe it or not!

Too Bad! For those who don’t know (I don’t know how you couldn’t know), I am a Buju Banton fan. Unequivocally so. Albeit the recent Banton trials, now a feature on the Jamaica Gleaner’s online site.

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

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.

For the (real) DJ…
‘Long time mi nuh have nuh nice time’
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.
©Sonjah Stanley Niaah 2008

Embodied Dancehall Geographies – ‘Dance wi a dance an’ a bu’n out a….’?

 “Who is looking at the ecology of dancehall?” That was the question my first friend from the African Continent Bibi Bakare Weate asked which set me squarely on the dancehall track. It catapulted me into a series of personal memories, dancehall ruminations and interpretations. That question led me to consider performance language, the stage and acts as essential ingredients for living. Afterall, the world’s a stage, and the dancehall world no less so. The stages are various: streets, shacks, shrubs, lawns, halls, abandoned or unoccupied lots, school rooms, and clubs.

The typical dancehall platform

On such platforms consenting adults seek entertainment, economic, and social fulfilment. Most of all, on these platforms, many enact their beings, live other sides of themselves and gain status.  The dancehall world, its stage, habitus,  citizenry and ecology are all at the heart of the research I published in DanceHall: From Slave ship to Ghetto.

Last week I  decided to begin my class (Identity and Conduct in Jamaican Dancehall, UWI) with my ruminations on the ‘ecological question’ and how it led me to look at embodied geographies which tell us a lot about the socio-cultural context that makes Jamaica Jamaica!  Do you really know what dance moves and names reveal about dancehall and Jamaican social life? Have you ever considered the cross-cultural implications of dance? Check out this video from dancers among the African community in South America. Does it look like anything from the Jamaican dance repertoire?

The dance is a distinguishing feature of the dancehall space. In dancehall dancers and other patrons take on the toil of ridding their mind of daily troubles, becoming enslaved devotees, not (solely) in a capitalist sense that renders them as pawns, but in a somatic and kinaesthetic sense.  As if they were ‘slaves to the rhythm’ that beat around them and inside them amidst the social ills of everyday Jamaica, the exerting body on the contemporary dance floors of Jamaica literally and symbolically replaces those on the plantations that preceded them. In this sense slavery and freedom are inextricably linked into mechanisms of law, identity and liberties.  Here is the body that, through contestation, exploitation, discrimination and oppression, has preserved itself through performance to tell the tales of history, while dance venues become de-localised for just a moment when they transcend time and produce the power to transform lives.  

The dancehall platform has seen many dance moves. Such dance moves tell stories about gender, history, and identity. Let’s look at one of the most popular female dance steps. The butterfly was the most popular dance in 1992.  It depicted the form of a butterfly with the movement of the dancer’s outspread legs and arms.  The ‘butterfly’ is danced with bent knees, a characteristic feature of African and diasporic movement patterns, with the feet flat to support the dynamic displacement of the hips, shoulder girdle, and legs. The knees, which open and close fluidly on a horizontal axis, mimic the flapping of the butterfly’s wings in flight. While the butterfly has clear connections with the Charleston, its North Atlantic cousin which has roots in an Ashanti ancestor dance, with its quick spreading and crossing of hands on the knees, there are differences.  For example, the forward and backward thrust of the hip which supports the opening and closing of the legs allows for increased degrees of variation on the movement style. 

Well, as with the musical rhythms — punawny, taxi, sleng ting, rampage, old dawg, diwali, fiesta, wicked, nine night, tai chi, military, red bull and guinness, and anger management — dance moves have names which tell stories.  These include stories of cross-fertilization, identification with characters, vibes, phenomena, globalization, contemporary and historical Jamaican and African traditional forms, body parts, as well as the valorization of local culture.  For example, the jerry springer and erkle moves present interesting names for an analysis of dancehall within the text of two television characters originating within the social milieu or melee displayed in America’s visualscape.  Jerry Springer is a talk show named after its host.  The show is known for high levels of controversy and public display of interpersonal feuding.  The identification with Jerry Springer – one of the most explosive talk shows in which guests openly displayed private controversies, contests and physical fights – within the bodily movement repertoire of the Jamaican space, says something about the identities within both spaces and the kinds of practices that they produce. The erkle, on the other hand, is named after a nerd from the series Family Matters.

Some of the messages to be read from the dance moves include tangible socio-cultural and anatomical scripts.  For example, some dances comment on social ills. These include the curfew and drive by. 

The movement in ‘curfew’ presents policemen carrying guns while searching for criminal elements in innercity communities that come under attack from gang warfare and/or warring political factions.   With the characteristic bent knees, sometimes to very low grand plié levels, the dancer walks in a forward motion with hands mimicking the shape of a rifle while looking forward and backwards.  The get flat dance popularized by the Bloodfire Posse band through a song of the same name is a forerunner of the curfew.

The ‘drive by’ represents two things.  First it comes into common Jamaican usage because of the ‘importation’ of drive-by shootings from North America, as a sign of more complex criminal activity in Jamaica.  Added to this, however, is the representation of the actions involved in driving a car.  The dance moves through a sequence of actions such as steering, gearing down, turning left, indicating, braking, and parking.  The influx of reconditioned cars in the late 1990s, gave the middle and working classes in Jamaica increased access to motor vehicles and one could argue that the ‘drive by’ represents the ‘coming of age’ of car culture in Jamaica.

Information technology introduced concepts such as the internet and ‘logging on’ which are reflected in the internet and log on dance names.  Alongside such imports as cars, and technological advancements as it were, there are others such the log on dance whose movement and description in song are not stictly related to the technology.  The lyrics by Elephant Man instruct the dancer to “log on an’ step pon chi chi man, dance we a dance an’ a burn out a freakie man”, with a lift of the leg followed by a twist to the side before stepping down.  In the 1970’s, the Jamaican poet Louise Bennett popularised the term chi chi bus which refered to the popular mode of transportation in the island. In the 1990s the term was used to refer to the homosexual male whose sexual orientation was and still is strongly denounced within dancehall.



(This piece was abstracted from the book Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto, by Sonjah Stanley Niaah, University of Ottawa Press 2010, now available at Amazon.com).