Custom Search 1

Buju Banton: A moment in Jamaican musical history

COMEBACK: Buju Banton

IT WAS billed as “a moment in Jamaican musical history”, “a night that could not to be missed” and even “a once in a generation event.”

It ended up being all these things – and so, so much more.

Last Saturday, Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton performed at his first show since coming out of prison, the first time he had graced the stage in Jamaica in over a decade. Billed as Long Walk To Freedom, it was held at the National Stadium in Kingston, the same location that played host to the previous biggest show the island had seen – Bob Marley’s iconic Smile Jamaica show in the seventies.

This was undoubtedly one of the hottest concert tickets in the world, with fans flying in from across the world to bear witness to what was about to unfold. With over 20,000 visitors on the island, hotels, Air B&B’s and hire cars were scarcely available commodities.

My flight from London to Kingston was absolutely jam packed and I heard stories of one airline landing in Jamaica and the pilot went onto the intercom to ask for any available tickets for the show! This was Buju-mania at fever pitch.

In over 20 years of documenting reggae professionally as a broadcaster and journalist, I have never witnessed anything like this. The mood was one of anticipation and promise mixed with a slice of celebration and joy.

All week I witnessed stars from the Jamaican music scene and the man and woman on the street sharing a feeling that seemed to have never been generated in other shows in living memory. This was coupled with an excellent management and carefully selected pre-promotions campaign which saw Buju say very little in the run up – all which built the anticipation even further. It truly was about to be a history moment.

Alongside the expectation there was the obvious shards of doubt – would this be run properly? Could Jamaica handle an event of this magnitude and influx of foreigners alongside the ever pitch demand of islanders without horrendous queues, issues in gaining entry and managing the backstage area? Would Buju be able to meet and excel in such an environment after so long away? More on all of these things shortly.

A few photos and videos of Buju at soundcheck filtered through social media on Friday, all which added to the atmosphere being generated. I don’t think I heard another artist being played in taxis, cars, minivans or on the radio on Friday! We were nearly at that critical time.

When show-day rolled around it was clear that Jamaica meant business. The day was bright but cool – not too overbearing with a breeze that made conditions bearable for what lay ahead. I had decided to try and get in position as early as possible, which saw me saunter my way (pre-traffic) to backstage by 3pm. It was effortless, controlled and absolutely no hassle whatsoever.


IN HIS ELEMENT: Buju Banton

Doors were due to open in an hour, and crowds were building up outside the main entry points. One of the first things that struck me was the incredible size and scale of the stadium itself. When you thought about where you are in the world, and look down from the vantage point of the entrances, it was really mind blowing.

Vendors were setting up their stands, the sizable sponsors were ensuring their brands were about to maximise their prominence across the site and then there was the staging and production. Jamaica (along with Trinidad) are fast becoming synonymous with outstanding production values, and this was no different. An impressive stage worthy of any festival in the world, coupled with additional production features, a fantastic light set up and a booming sound system. We were set.

As the world’s press and media started to filter into the venue to get set up I had to take a moment to drink the whole thing in. I can’t lie, it was hugely emotional on so many levels, and we hadn’t even started yet!

As four o’clock rolled around, New York’s finest, Massive B Sound featuring Bobby Konders and Jabba started what was an excellent set which saw them working in between segments but taking the crowd on an intelligent and brilliantly delivered performance which started at Ska and working through the musical ages to the modern day.

As the crowds rolled in the vibe was one a joyous one – people had got to their section with the minimum of fuss, trouble or stress – that made them even more in the mood for what was about to come!

Wayne Marshall kicked off proceedings with his gospel anthem, Lord I Pray. A perfect way to bless what was about to follow, and it seemed fitting as Wayne was a product of the 90’s, very much like Buju. So to see the pair of them on the same stage in 2019 was a great endorsement.

The watchword for the event seemed to be “quality”. Everyone brought their A-game and the artists respectfully stuck to their allotted time slots. Shout out to the master, Dean Fraser, whose band effortlessly backed the artists as they seamlessly rolled on and off without the fuss or rigmarole that can easily be attributed to previous Jamaican stage shows.

It was obvious that the artists who worked at this show were fully aware that tonight wasn’t about them, and they were all too pleased to play their part in the evening’s entertainment. Vocal quartet LUST proved that hits come and go, but quality vocals and harmonising never leaves you - something I knew from my recent Jamaican session with them – catch that online.

One of the best performances of the night came from Ghost. Dressed in his “Banana Yellow” suit (the words of fellow artist Mr Lex, not me!), he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand as he reeled off his hits such as Bodyguard and Do You Believe. A real masterclass in artistry.

The evening had fully set in by this point, and the dark but clear Kingston skies were offset by a mixture of stars and an ever growing number of phone lights being used to capture these precious moments.

Christopher Martin headed a segue of artists that handed the musical baton over to each other like a finely tuned Jamaican relay team. Chris led the race, before passing it to Romain Virgo who forwarded the responsibility to Agent Sasco. All three are natural headliners individually, and their efforts collectively were phenomenal.

As the veteran Cocoa Tea came on stage with a specially craft song exalting the joy in Buju’s return, the man himself entered the building. Dressed from head to toe in all white, and with Mr We The Best DJ Khaled accompanying him, the atmosphere backstage were up three notches! He was here and looked ready – calm, relaxed and savouring the big atmosphere that had been denied to him for the last decade.

The penultimate artist on stage was Chronixx. It’s easy to forget that when Buju left the scene Chronixx was not yet a star, but the influence of Buju and his work is evident in so many of the new school generation. The attitude of raw Buju, coupled with the subtleties of roots Buju helped to shape the ongoing careers of Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid et al.

As Chronixx finished his sterling set it was clear that showtime was fast approaching. Backstage emptied quicker than I had ever witness before, with everyone wanting to be slap bang in front of the stage when the great man made his entry.

At this point I looked around 360 degrees and was completely dumbfounded at where I was and what was about to happen. I kept telling myself that it was important to live the moment, because this first- hand experience cannot be match in any way, shape or form.

After the briefest of band changes, MC Elise Kelly brought Buju to the fore. Through a film of stage smoke, he calmly and coolly entered the fray, looking serene and thoughtful in equal measure. The crowd provided the incredible backdrop of noise with whistles, horns and screaming matching up to the near 40,000 phones set firmly to record the moment.

Absolutely incredible.

After a prayer and a blessing, the unmistakable drum roll of It’s Not An Easy Road kicked in, and the celebration was well and truly started.

Buju eased his way back, starting off by saying he didn’t want to talk too much, he just wanted to build a vibe and play some songs. It wasn’t long before the old Buju came back to show! During a medley of his 90’s dancehall hits including Love Me Browning, Woman No Fret, Batty Rider and Gold Spoon he even brought out Stefflon Don – a nod to his appreciation of the leaders of the global scenes and those who have utilised dancehall in their work.

The emotion, blood, sweat and tears were evident and he grew in confidence as the performance unfolded. Bringing out some of his closest friends and performers who have shared hits with him in the past including Marcia Griffiths (“My mother away from my mother, as Buju called her), Wayne Wonder (also looking dapper in all white) and Gramps Morgan from Morgan Heritage.


CLOSE CONNECTION: Beres Hammond and Buju Banton

The biggest moment of the evening was reserved for when another legend joined him on stage. Beres Hammond shared a very private and real moment on stage with his young protégé and the love and mutual respect was there for all to see. It was without doubt THE highlight of the night. So genuine and sincere, and everybody gave a full salute to what they had witnessed.

The night ended with a spectacular firework display, overlooking the stadium, and was a fitting end to what was a momentous occasion.

Special shout out to the event organiser Sharon Burke and her incredible team who, against a backdrop of cynicism and doubters, pulled off what was one of Jamaica’s finest artistic productions.

A huge thank you to Ronnie Tomlinson of Destine Media who had the unenviable task of accommodating the world’s media and managed to do it with ease, and a smile on her face at all times. Great work by great people who are the backbone of this industry.

The Long Walk To Freedom tour now moves to the Bahamas on Saturday 30th March – that is going to be special, but I doubt anything will be able to eclipse what we saw on that legendary night at the Stadium.

Buju is back – you had better believe it.

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments