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Buju Banton: Dancehall King

Buju Banton (born 15 July 1973) is a Jamaican dancehall, ragga, and reggae musician. Banton has recorded pop and dance songs, as well as songs dealing with sociopolitical topics. He is one of the greatest reggae musicians of the 20th century.

Buju Banton came to prominence in 1992 with two albums, including Mr. Mention, which became the best-selling album in Jamaican history upon its release. Banton signed with major label Mercury Records and released Voice of Jamaica the following year. By the mid-1990s, Banton had converted to the Rastafari faith, and his music undertook a more spiritual tone. His 2010 album Before the Dawn won Best Reggae Album at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards.

Buju Banton

Buju Banton was born Mark Anthony Myrie in a rough neighbourhood in Kingston, Jamaica. The youngest of 15 children, he was born into a family which was directly descended from the Maroons, a group of escaped Africans warriors who battled with British colonialists during the Maafa (slavery). His mother was a higgler, or street vendor while his father worked as a labourer at a tile factory. His mother called him ‘Buju,’ which means Breadfruit as he was plump and chubby as a child. “Banton” is a Jamaican word referring to someone with a superior attitude and a gift with speech, but it was also the name of a local artist Burro Banton that Buju admired as a child. It was Burro’s rough gravelly vocals that Buju emulated and ultimately made his own.

As a youngster, Banton would often watch his favourite artists perform at outdoor shows and local dancehalls. At the tender age of 13 he picked up the microphone for himself and began toasting under the monicker of “Gargamel”. His first single, The Ruler was released not long afterwards in 1987 under the production of Penthouse Studios.

In 1992, Banton burst onto the charts with Bogle and Love Me Browning, both major hits in Jamaica. Controversy erupted over Love Me Browning which spoke of Banton’s preference for light-skinned women: “Mi love mi car mi love mi house mi love mi money and ting, but most of all mi love mi browning.” Some accused Banton of promoting a colonialist attitude and denigrating the beauty of black women. In response, he released Black Woman which spoke of his love for dark-skinned beauties: “Buju nuh stop cry, fi all black woman, respect all the gyals with dark complexion.” 1992 was an explosive year for Buju as he broke the great Bob Marley’s record for the greatest number of number one singles in a year. Beginning with Man fi dead, Buju’s gruff voice dominated the Jamaican airwaves for the duration of the year. Banton’s debut album, Mr. Mention, includes his greatest hits from that year.

1992 was also the year in which the controversy over Buju’s homophobic Boom Bye Bye exploded. The media in Great Britain picked up on Banton’s less than admirable promotion of violence against homosexuals. Banton, who had recently signed with Mercury records, refused to back down from his stance against homosexuals, claiming his religious beliefs prevented him from accepting homosexuality. Banton downplayed the violent content of his song, claiming that it was metaphorical. Gay Rights groups campaigned against Banton as well as Shabba Ranks who, when asked about the controversy on the British show The Word, stated, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Shabba later apologized, but Banton refused to back down which drew the ire of various homosexual advocacy groups who continue to campaign against him.

Banton released the hard-hitting Voice of Jamaica in 1993. The album included a number of conscious tracks. These tracks included Deportees a song which criticized those Jamaicans who went abroad but never sent money home, a remix of Little Roy’s Tribal War, a sharp condemnation of political violence, and “Willy, Don’t Be Silly” which promoted condom use. The conscious spin of this disc did little to stop the attacks of gay rights groups who felt that his continued performance of Boom Bye Bye was a slap in their faces. Some dancehall fans felt that Banton could have exploded onto the American scene if his homophobic song hadn’t held him back. Nevertheless, Banton was adopted by many new fans who appreciated his gravelly vocals and cared little about his homophobia.

Banton rose to stardom with his albums Til Shiloh and Inna Heights which increased his international audience. Majority of his songs criticise the violence prevalent among the youth of Jamaica. Some of the songs also deal with issues like AIDS and try to promote the use of contraceptives. For the philanthropic themes of his songs he was invited to meet the Prime Minister of Jamaica and was bestowed with several awards and honours. However, drug abuse and trafficking has brought his career to standstill as he was convicted of possessing cocaine and has been imprisoned for the same.


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