LET me be clear: I know the headline will produce a visceral reaction which suggests the writer is committing heresy. I know there are those who are of the view that the legends or quasi-legends of reggae music are beyond reproach and critical examination. This position proceeds from the basis of these icons being urban figures with god-like stature. He who dares to question incurs unprecedented wrath. I will continue to be a fan of Buju Banton but I cannot ignore his blatant lack of contrition upon the end of his incarceration. If an apology is imminent, disregard this article.
When Mark Anthony Myrie aka Buju Banton released his first reggae album and appeared in full dreadlocks for the first time, it was the transition of the ‘Gargamel’ from dancehall officiator to a quasi-urban prophet. His albums, ‘Stamina Daddy’ (1987) and ‘Mr. Mention’ (1992) broke the record of #1 singles in Jamaica previously held by Bob Marley. The dancehall experiences with hits such as ‘Batty Rider’, ‘Champion’, ‘Who say’, ‘Bogle dance’ and ‘Big it up’ were unprecedented and distinguished. The Caribbean had not seen such talent for decades. These songs catapulted this artiste to a rare level of living rooms acceptance. He became even more intriguing when there was this mystical metamorphosis to Bob Marley-like embodiment of a positive movement. An entire generation got the message and accepted Buju as a supreme exemplar of doing the right thing in life. This was no facetious example. This was real and powerful. He told all and sundry that the life of doing wrong was not the chosen path via his music. He had an obligation beyond his grasp. It is for this reason he was caught up in a lifetime commitment that had to be honoured at all cost.
Let me expound. During the hard dogged days of University life when resources were scarce and some days you felt like giving up, it was the baritone smooth melody of Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton that got us through the day. In the dark times of the Jagdeo regime, when the lives of young black males were being thrown away like the garbage, we sought succour in the lyrics of ‘Murder’: ‘Kill I today, you cannot kill I tomorrow’. The positive energy of ‘Til Shiloh’ (1995), Buju’s first reggae album, deified this artiste among the generation of the 90s. It is for this reason, many from my generation felt the excruciating pain and supreme disappointment on June 23rd, 2011, when Banton was sentenced to 10 years in jail in the US for his role in setting up a cocaine deal in 2009. This development seemed surreal and in complete contradiction to the character who warned: ‘destruction of the soul is vanity’. How could the teacher fall victim to that which he passionately warned against?
In consideration of the aforementioned, it would have been nice if ‘Mr. Mention’, at his very first ‘I am Legend’ concert since his release had said: “I made a mistake, I apologize to all my fans, this is not the life to choose”.