The release of Buju Banton on December 7th, 2018, attracted a lot of media attention, and many young people did not understand why this guy elicited so much reaction. Buju will turn 47 next month (July 2020), and he will mark 23 years since he released “Destiny,” a song that invited us to Buju’s mind, his genius and depth of a man who is arguably one of the living reggae artists whose position in the halls of fame is not questioned.
Buju Banton conquered the roots reggae game and went to dancehall and smashed, before building his career around ragamuffin, keeping the company of Cutty Ranks, Beenie Man, and the success of Super Cat.
Buju won the award for best reggae album in 2011, with his record “Before the Dawn,” an ambiguous title when you consider that it was actually “before the dusk” for him, as he would spend the better part of the 2010s in prison, in the United States.
In “Upside Down,” officially released on June 26th, 2020, Buju Banton comes back as Buju Banton, the boy who rocked the world with “Destiny,” where he lamented the poverty of the rich man being the destruction of the poor. He went on to question God on why He cannot stop the heathen with a rod of iron given that he has them in “the region in a valley of decision.”
He starts the album with “Lamb of God,” a song that reveals his spirituality, and if you want, religiosity; a subject that fascinates me, as I have observed that growing older makes you aware of your limitations as a human being, and that pulls you closer the concept of God as a deeply personal idea, whether you think of God as a metaphor of “beyond” or a rational being who walks with you daily. His voice is coarse, grating, bare, and vulnerable.
I joked to my friend in a WhatsApp chat that what people call “vulnerability” today is what our parents called “spirituality.” It takes strength to spread yourself to God, or to anything else.
For a long time, I argued that Mickey Spice was the only reggae singer who outdid Bob Marley in a song, as his “Yes Mi Friend,” a rendition of “Duppy Conqueror” spurt out a “feel good” vibe away from Bob Marley’s serious vibration and reflection. Buju Banton combines the “feel good” and the “conscious” vibe in his album, as he connects with the ethereal voice of Stephen Marley to announce that “he is dere pon” the streets again.
I don’t know how much meditation is your thing and how you dig into yourself through introspection and retrospection to inspect your life and the things that bring you joy and pain. But, in “Buried Alive,” Buju shows us the role of adversity quotient in surviving tough moments as he takes a positive and grateful perspective of life. Where someone would see a lost decade in prison, he sees luck in that he was “given one more chance.”
Something tells you that he wrote the bulk of the album while in prison. He shifts from thankful to honest and mad, as he laments the unreliability of human relations in “Trust” before showing us that his heart bleeds, like everyone’s, over spilled love in his collabo with John Legend, “Memories.” A memory of love is something everyone carries to old age and Buju connects with everyone who has experienced a deep personal connection with another person, saying that “but we both make mistakes, and we both lied, oh, and now we here we are.”
In simple lyrics, he says, “I am falling in love and, oh, this feels so fine” before adding that “walk right in, my love is pure” in the song “Lovely State of Mind.
That should not be a limitation, though, as we can always pick ourselves up and open our armories of love to get swept all over again. You can see that life is a contradiction, a constant journey where you have to reconcile the past, the present, and the uncertainty of the future. While positing this need to discover oneself anew, in love, Buju sings in simple lyrics and says, “I am falling in love and, oh, this feels so fine” before adding that “walk right in, my love is pure” in the song “Lovely State of Mind.” Poetry thrives in simplicity, and the song carries a rootsy reggae vibe, perfected by the saxophone that makes you think that Dean Fraser is involved. Sure, life’s to be lived.
There is a Buju who is wild, energetic, and heavy, and another Buju who is soft, slow, and intense. He combines these personalities with marvelous ease when he uses a heavy and fast reggae beat to “appreciate” his girl before breaking in a happy dance with “Cherry Pie,” where he combines with Pharrell Williams to shift the mood.
It is a conscientiously done album that utilizes the Nyabinghi drum in 400 Years, the saxophone in “Lovely State of Mind,” and the characteristic reggae beat in songs like “Helping Hand.” He talks about the challenges of living in a cluttered world, the challenges of surviving in the city, and the need for social capital.