No one captures the contradictory figure of Buju Banton and what he means to Jamaica better than Sarah Manley in this lyrical, elegiacal piece she posted on Facebook. After reading this you will hopefully understand better why this country is reeling with shock in the aftermath of Buju’s imprisonment in the United States. Reposted here with her permission.
the full has never been told…
by Sarah Manley
i know this subject has been exhausted this week, and in weeks months and years past as well, but to stand in solidarity with buju im writing it this morning, and all who want to cuss can cuss, and all who want to bringle can bringle… but this is my buju banton story… and he remains a hero to me and to many jamaican people…
i have written before that i spent 4 years abroad, finishing up my university degree, this was 1991 – 1995. i came back to ja on a sweltering august afternoon, filled with excitement and trepidation to be returning to my colourful, dramatic, often terrifying and always wildly alive homeland. on the drive in from the airport, smelling the slightly rancid salty kingston harbour, breezing past the coconut man, looking across at the cement factory… i knew i was home… and then, in that way that jamaica has of making random magic… i heard a song on the radio… it was my first experience of “untold stories” and i recognised that gravelly voice in an instant, “is that buju?” i asked? it was. by the end of the song i had tears in my eyes… “when mamma spen her las and sen u go class…” buju had captured the essence of our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes, our fears… and just like that… i became a fan. i had heard boom bye bye from back in the day… it was a huge hit in its day and like most jamaicans, i loved it for its unique riddim, for its “tuffness” for its typical jamaican dark hard line… a wicked mixture of posing tough and giving voice to a deep and real sentiment, but not a literal reality. being jamaican i have no problem understanding this… we pose tough in jamaica… we have our street face… our public position… and yes…. we can be a vicious people… but i knew then, have always known that we are also a very tolerant people, that we have every kind of religion, politics, and even sexuality here, and as long as no one “shoves it it anyone elses face” we live and let live. boom bye bye had its day, became a classic, and we moved on… our music moved on… (gully and gaza are gonna move on folks, nature of the beast) as it always does… and a new hit, riddim, artist claimed the spotlight. but buju had sealed his fate with that song on a global stage in a way i think jamaicans did not fully appreciate at the time.
buju moved on… and had his rasta conversion and released til shiloh… which remains an indisputable classic in our long and prodigious musical output. he wrote songs that spoke about all aspects of our hot, tough, beautiful, terrible, spiritual, carnal, jamaican lives… and he hit the nail on the head again and again…. all the way to the now ironic iconic “drivaaaa…” did we know he coulda mix up inna dealings?…. sure… did that make us love him less…. no. as he said.. “it’s not a easy road… who feels it knows..” this is no easy country to live in, to be an icon in, to support entire communities in, to have so much expectation and responsibility in.
when i finally met buju in 2002 on a documentary about the history of reggae i was blown away by the sheer poetry of the man. his exquisite handsomeness, his combination of electric charm and cold indifference…. in many ways he summed up jamaica for me in one man: beautiful and scary… and that is no small feat…. to sum up my country, my painful, excellent, magical, dramatical, amazing heartbreaking country is something indeed…. i went out one day and bought every cd he had ever released and to this day can sing til shiloh and inn heights from beginning to end and often play his 23rd psalm as part of my morning worship. he spoke briefly in that interview about boom bye bye, the cuts did not make it into the final doc, but i remember his responses, that he was young when he released that song, that he did not then, and never will compromise his position on homosexuality, that he knows he has the support of jamaicans on the issue, that it was NOT a literal call to action to kill gays…. we jamaicans know that because if we were to kill gays here, there would not be a gay man standing… we are no strangers to killing….
and now dem a go lock him up… and maybe deh did set him up fi tru…. and maybe not….maybe he was just caught plain and simple… and he will have to pay the price for being caught…. but something deep in my heart is bruised… in third world’s 96 degrees they sing… “excellency, before you i come wid my representation, you know where im coming from…..” i know where we are coming from here in this land we love… “entertainment for you, martyrdom for me.”