Buju Banton: “Set the captive free…”

On the eve of the verdict in the Buju Banton trial in Tampa, FL, Jamaicans wait with bated breath for their beloved singer to be released.

Tears from my eyes could not hold anymore
Cry like a child who has lost his way home
longing to go to that place where I’m from
I’m in bondage, so much bondage…

The above lines are from ‘Bondage’ from Before the Dawn, the album that won Buju the Reggae Grammy last week.

Jamaican reggae artiste Buju Banton, flanked by his lawyer David Oscar Markus (right), waves to journalists as he leaves the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa, Florida yesterday afternoon after the adjournment of day 2 of his retrial on drug and gun charges. Banton is pushing a stroller occupied by the baby of his manager, Traci McGregor (2nd right). See court report on Page 4. (Photo: Paul Henry) Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/I-m-fighting--says-Buju-after-tough-2nd-day_8378295#ixzz1EW2y2cUn

Once again the Jamaican nation is on Buju watch. Buju Banton, also sometimes referred to as the Voice of Jamaica has been on trial in the United States on purported charges of intent to distribute drugs there. After an abortive first trial Banton who was put in prison in Tampa, FL in  December 2009 was tried again last week. The jury is expected to come to a verdict on Tue, Feb 22nd. Jamaicans are taking this very personally, it is as if the nation itself is on trial. To get a sense of the import of this moment read Marcia Forbes’s post on this blog about the lengths Jamaicans went to to tune in to Buju’s concert some weeks ago, the first since his incarceration. Andrea Shaw who was actually at the event produced an excellent write up:

Buju, the beleaguered reggae star, was arrested in Florida on drug charges in the fall of 2009. After being denied bail he endured prolonged delays in his trial while languishing in a Florida jail for a year before finally being released on bail after a mistrial. His high-profile case has dominated the reggae world since his arrest and has elicited an extraordinary outpouring of support and sympathy from fans all over the world, particularly from the Jamaican Diaspora.

The extent of this support has been extraordinary. I’ve even surprised myself by the intensity of my heartfelt concern and fervent prayers for the star whose music I’ve always loved. But even among Buju non-believers, folks like my mother who have not been seduced by his throaty voice and who can’t name even one of his songs, the wish for his safe and speedy release has been widespread. And here’s the kicker: so many of us are not concerned with whether he is guilty or not. We just want him home.

Sunday’s concert struck me as a performance of Buju’s personal prayers for his release as well as the demonstration of a collective desire for his safety and protection while he prepares for the resumption of his trial and to face newly added gun charges. “Before the Dawn” was a performance of faith and hope, both on stage and amongst the audience, and in many ways it was also a ritualized anointing— a communal laying on of hands on Buju’s besieged shoulders by the screaming, 10,000-plus live audience as well as the thousands more who tuned in via live streams and Facebook updates.

This time round Jamaicans are optimistic that Buju will finally walk free. Television images of him–tall, strapping, healthy and handsome, inexplicably pushing a baby’s pram on his way to court with his lawyer have boosted the nation’s morale. As one tweet, which memorably captures the national mood said: RT @ProdigalJa: Push di pram Buju! Push di pram to victory!


Active Voice is happy to host Sarah Manley who has appeared on this blog before, writing on the subject of Buju Banton, as she shoots off an impassioned message to ‘America’ in which she cogently pleads his case:

Buju Banton is not one of the world’s dangerous drug lords. I say that without hesitation, I state it as a fact, that cannot be disputed. It is not true. It is a fallacy and a falsehood to present him as such. You know, I do not like lawyers. I find them dishonest. They seem to think that because a thing cannot be proven or disproven, it is not true. They have an elastic definition of truth. But! There are things that are true regardless of what loopholes you can conjure up to prove or disprove them. Like Buju is not a drug lord. This is just true.

Inventing new charges against him in some maniacal witch hunt isn’t gonna make him any more guilty.

We are not stupid out here in the world. We know that cocaine is made in Columbia from the leaves of the cocoa tree, grown there, harvested there, processed there, and exported from there up through the poor and tired caribbean to be consumed on a massive and devastating scale in North America and around the world. We know that there are many many hands complicit in its travels throughout the world. We know that on any given day, in almost any city on earth, you can find a coke dealer who will sell you, for usually an exorbitant price, a tiny package of white powder, or some tiny rocks. I have been offered cocaine from total strangers in New York, in London, in Paris, in night clubs, in bars, on the streets. Buju had nothing to do with any of this. Shipping magnates, customs workers, random pilots and corrupt politicians, and drug lords, from the don on top, to the starving little runner, these are the people involved in the drug trade. It’s a multli billion dollar industry that the entire world is complicit in allowing to continue.

To single out Buju Banton, who is Reggae Royalty in his country, to decide to frame him, not even catch him red handed, but frame him with some two bit, low life informant, and then, to add insult to injury having not secured a conviction, to throw more charges at him, well… that’s just pathetic and only something stupid America would come up with. It’s not ok. I object! I protest!

You wanna bring down the coke trade America? Go focus your God forsaken missiles and war mongering army on Columbia. Go blow up the cocoa farms, the drug lord mansions. Putting Buju Banton in prison is not going to even put a tiny dent in the coke trade. It will not affect it one iota. All you will succeed in doing is enraging a people already so pissed off with poverty and injustice we are ready to explode.

And don’t you dare, don’t you dare bring up homosexuality as a justification for this victimization and persecution. I do not agree with Buju’s stance on homosexuality, but i defend his right to have that stance. And to voice it if he feels he must. So if IF this framing of Buju has its roots in some gay rights agenda, well that would be the most pathetic of all. So because a man has openly criticized  the gay lifestyle, you have him imprisoned on some trumped up charges of drug dealing. That’s just too crazy to be allowed.

America, why don’t you go fight some real enemies on earth? Starvation? Disease? Poverty? What level of idleness leads you to single out and attack, of all the people on earth, Jamaica’s Buju Banton? Our Poet? Our Artist? Are you jealous because we likkle but we talawah? Because we can out run, out dance, out sing, out vibe, out swagga you on any given stage on any given day in any given arena?

Well I bun dat! Babylon System IS the vampire. We refuse to be what you wanted us to be! We are what we are and that’s the way it’s going to be! Oonu vote One Love as the song of the last millenium, Oonu tink seh One Love is all Bob was talking about? You missed the point. Bob said Get up and stand up for your rights… Reggae music is protest music… Protest… not some pot smoking love in like your Woodstock. And Buju is one of a string of Jamaicans who have voiced that protest in song… protest against poverty, injustice, victimization, imperialism, racism… and this is the final irony of this trial of Buju Banton.

You hear mi sah… I could go on and on… the full has never been told!

Me & My Mobile TV

Watching Buju Banton in Kingston on Lime Mobile TV

Hi Everyone, this is a guest post by Marcia Forbes, formerly known as the Iron Lady of Jamaican Media and Author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica (2010) She’s also conducting a research project called Youths Online (in progress).

Content Drives Demand

I heard it first on radio via talk show host, Ragashati, Mr. King of Mixup!! Good for LIME I thought, who better than Raga to make this announcement. After all, King Raga has afternoon radio locked into sorting, swiping and similar sexual stimulations. LIME was therefore guaranteed a large audience for the announcement that its trade-in offer of your old cell phone, from whichever provider, for one of its new mobile TV phones was sold out by Friday afternoon, January 14th. This came after only a couple days of the offer being publicized and from all reports was a great surprise for LIME—hence the fact that they ran out of instruments so soon, leaving many would-be mobile TV watchers very disappointed.

Two events drove the rush to acquire LIME’s mobile TV. Both of them relate to the well-established and accepted concept that content is KING! Rebel Salute, in its 18th year and positively branded as a show which features conscious artistes but staged in far-away St. Elizabeth, was scheduled for Saturday, January 15th. The highly-anticipated ‘Before the Dawn’ live concert from Florida, featuring embattled Buju Banton and several of his supporters, was for Sunday, January 16th. I intended to see both. So did many other Jamaicans in Jamaica. None of us knew/know if this would have been our last opportunity to see and hear Buju perform.

Getting the Signal

Having been favoured with a mobile TV phone at the launch, there was no scramble for me. Phase 3, the company I co-own, covered Rebel Salute so I already had that locked. What caused me some concern was the Buju concert. Although having previously ensured that the mobile TV phone did work at our Half Way Tree office, I could get no signal from home. The LIME customer service via twitter (@LIME_Help) tried everything to get me going. Their map for mobile coverage suggested that I was within the coverage radius but no luck. I was not accepting that this occasion, historic on so many counts, was going to miss me. So, off to the office a small group of us headed to watch Buju live via this 3 x 2 phone screen.

Three grown adults watched while the 4th listened to six hours of concert live from Miami, Florida via a tiny mobile TV phone. It was quite an experience and one I’m happy I did not miss. With amplification of the speaker phone we all heard quite clearly. The picture was also amazingly clear. Battery drain was addressed by plug in for on-going charge. Buju performed for a solid two hours from 10pm to 12 midnight with the signal cut as he exited stage in the company of his lawyer, David Marcus, who he had invited on.

I posted a total of over 70 tweets, encouraged along by several of my over 1,000 followers who only knew what was happening via my tweets. One tweep, a radio talk show host in Atlanta, enquired if I was in Miami at the concert. I explained that I was in Jamaica and tweeting based on what I saw via LIME’s mobile TV. My years as General Manager at TVJ with Simon Crosskill doing live commentary over sports feeds from overseas had taught me that, properly done, no one had to know you were not there live on location. The thank you tweet from David Marcus, in appreciation of my positive comments about Buju’s performance, was totally unexpected but yet again proved the power of twitter.

Empowerment v/s Entertainment

As I immerse myself in data-collection regarding how Jamaicans in the 14 to 30 age range are using their mobile phones and the internet, my eyes are riveted on this phenomenon of mobile TV via the cell. At first I conceived a faceoff between Digicel’s 4G versus LIME’s mobile TV. Empowerment versus Entertainment I thought. Quickly I realized the folly of this dichotomy. Entertainment is empowering for many Jamaicans. Truth be told, much of our economy thrives off entertainment-related projects and programmes. Flow’s recent announcement of its partnership with HBO to cover Jamaica Jazz & Blues highlighted the tourism spin-offs of this entertainment-based project.

LIME’s mobile TV via the cell phone offers tremendous opportunities for local content creators, production companies, rental houses and related small businesses such as talent scouts, make-up, etc. What is clear though is that the content must be worth the inconvenience of the small screen. Speaking of Rebel Salute via this tiny screen one tweep emphasized how much he wanted to see the concert and how happy he was to have it despite screen size. Motivation for viewing is important and content with strong appeal will pull people. Coming back to Ragashanti, the man and his tambourine posse are hilarious. Using entertainment to empower, he’s the King of Afternoon Radio who really belongs in Prime Time, 9pm and onward when he could be allowed full reign.

Buju: Voice of Jamaica?

The lighter side of the Buju Banton saga

Clovis, Jamaica Observer

*Please note that God as portrayed by Clovis in the cartoon above does not appear to be black. #justsaying

Well, Tropical Storm Nicole tittupped across the length and breadth of Jamaica like a woman scorned, ripping the country’s attention away from it’s favourite Rasta to matters of life and death. But not before a couple of hilarious Buju-inspired exchanges on Twitter that ranged from the sublimely funny to the ridiculous. The latter first. I got into a lengthy exchange with Queen Sheba1302 who was sending out anguished tweets from Germany asking why there was a worldwide ‘media blackout’ on Buju. Perhaps the rest of the world had more urgent matters to attend to i suggested? To which i got this response:

  1. FREE BUJU Banton queensheba1302
    No, only jamaican newspaper report about Buju, there is a worldwide mediablackout, and i dont know why….
  2. FREE BUJU Banton queensheba1302
    yes, there is a media blackout worldwide, why?? Do u know why only local newspaper report about Buju Banton?
    12:30 PM Sep 27th via web in reply to JamaicaGleaner.

Well, it’s a pressing matter here in Jamaica where Buju comes from i said, so naturally he would receive coverage here, the rest of the world however… No, no, insisted Queen Sheba, he’s an international celebrity, why they even devoted so much time to the likes of Dudus, and Buju is much bigger, much bigger.

But 73 people died in the process of extraditing Dudus, that’s why he was awarded so much international coverage, I tried to suggest, but the Queen wouldn’t be persuaded. The Jamaican media doesn’t cover Bollywood i said, but i can assure you it’s not because of a ‘media blackout’, its just lack of interest, after which i gave up because it was clear that nothing would appease Queen Sheba. I urged her to organize a worldwide Twitter campaign on Buju’s behalf and left it at that.

Of course the other fallout from the Buju saga is a certain amount of nervous paranoia expressed in jokes about the situation (A key piece of evidence produced against the singer was a conversation he had had with the passenger seated next to him on a flight from Madrid to Miami in which he bragged about his coke deals). Peter Dean Rickards, headed to the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, vouchsafed on Twitter that he was keeping his lips zipped on his flight to Trinidad and Tobago; another tweep @Grindacologist found himself trapped on a bus next to a garrulous Israeli. The following flock of tweets he issued that morning had us convulsed with laughter:

  1. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Bredda a chat aff mi ears bout all di inventions that israelis did… Thu Sep 30 07:53:14 2010
  2. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    …wtf do I care…u see me bragging bout how blacks invented the hot comb & s curls kit… Thu Sep 30 07:54:31 2010
  3. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    …brown man invented mathematics enuh… Thu Sep 30 07:56:21 2010
  4. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Wonda if dah bredda yah a Feds? Why him ah ask mi bout Jolly Roger’s Cookbook… Thu Sep 30 08:17:03 2010
  5. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Dem a try get mi out like Buju… Thu Sep 30 08:17:30 2010
  6. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Nooo…him a talk bout El Al airlines now…gad help me… Thu Sep 30 08:18:28 2010
  7. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Mek mi jus gwaan smile and nad mi head… Thu Sep 30 08:24:05 2010
  8. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    RT @djflashTRINITY: @Grindacologist an him a jew it a setup grinda, dont tell him anything <— bredda a mossad enuh…him a try draw mi out Thu Sep 30 08:23:07 2010

Meanwhile the US courts seem determined to keep the Voice of Jamaica captive even though the jury was split down the middle (like Barbican Road) and couldn’t deliver a verdict. A new trial is slated for December. Sigh. It doesn’t look good for Jamaica’s beloved Rasta. He seems to have bad kismat. Hope he lives to rule his destiny once again.

On Buju Watch…

Jamaica waits with bated breath to hear verdict on Buju Banton at this trial in Tampa, Florida


Jamaica Observer, Clovis, via Dancehall mobi

Jamaicans waiting on those Buju updates like they’re tracking a hurricane. #eveninfarin

Grindacologist @Grindacologist

“Boojew has nothing to hide…” (a dig at American mispronunciation of the singer’s name)

I’ve never seen anything like this. As Buju Banton’s fate hangs in the balance the entire nation seems to be on tenterhooks. Will he be found guilty or innocent of conspiracy with intent to distribute five kilogrammes of cocaine? Radio stations are playing his songs and he is the trending topic everywhere you go. Last night i was at a surprise party for DJ Sanjay at the Mayfair Hotel and the subject inevitably came up. Everyone wanted him to be found innocent –whether he is or not–

On Twitter the person tweeting as Bruce Golding proclaimed:

@bruceJLP: #FreeBuju #TakeMe

Things have generally been downhill ever since Buju was forced to meet with gay rights groups in San Francisco last October. Last December I published a piece by Sarah Manley called ‘…the full has never been told’. It’s full of insights into why Jamaicans feel so passionately about this mercurial, contentious singer:

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 inna heights from beginning to end and often play his 23rd psalm as part of my morning worship.

For more read here:

Buju Redux: What Boom Bye Bye Means


This cartoon is a play on Banton’s 2006 hit single ‘Driver A’, which ironically makes references to a hypothetical secret ganja (marijuana) smuggling operation in the U.S. Taken from Dancehall Mobi‘s website.

I just came across this rather nuanced and critical post on Buju on Afrobella’s blog and found myself responding at length. Thought i may as well cut and paste my response here. Afrobella was making several points (among them the absurdity of denying that Buju seems to have had more than a close encounter with a certain white powder) but I was responding to her point that contrary to what is claimed Buju does often still perform Boom Bye Bye. Here’s what she said:


“I know there are those that deny that Buju still performs the song, but I’ve seen him tease it, freestyle it, and rile up an audience with it more than once — most memorably in 2006, at Best of the Best in Miami. I turned and left that Buju concert because of that switch in his personality, from incredible entertainer to hatemonger at the drop of a beat…”


I found myself leaving the following response. My thoughts on all this are really developing in response to the opinions i come across on the subject in blogs and other online fora. i’ve added and edited my original response a bit here:
I too find the argument that Boom Bye Bye is such an old song, Buju doesn’t do it anymore etc, specious because at almost every concert he is required by the audience to at least gesture towards it in the way that you’ve mentioned, if not actually perform it. I’ve always believed that Jamaica’s anti-homosexual rhetoric especially as expressed in the music is much more than merely an exhortation of violence against homosexuals.

This one song Boom Bye Bye probably captures many of the varying targets for public disapproval in Ja in its seemingly straightforward lyrics originally written to protest the rape and kiling of a male child by, presumably, homosexuals. From targeting one particular homosexual rapist and murderer, the song went on to become an anthem targeting all such predators. The problem is that in Jamaica (as in many other places) male homosexuals are invariably seen as predatory and the proscription against predatory homosexuals then becomes one against all homosexuals.

Unfortunately matters have now got to the point where in addition to this conflation the figure of the homosexual has also become conflated with the evils of globalization in Jamaica. It is in effect as if the culture believes it is being raped by the outside world (as my Facebook friend Paul Anthony Vaughn would say: Violation!), and one of the manifestations of this is the demand by developed nations that homosexuality should be legalized or de-criminalized; another is the addition of programming on American/UK cable tv with central characters who are unabashedly homosexual; and of course there is the recent direct, concentrated pressure from international gay rights organizations on Jamaican musicians. I believe that when Buju’s audiences demand that he sing Boom Bye Bye and he playfully gives them the intro, wheels etc and appears to perform it or actually performs it it is an affirmation of Jamaica’s resistance to the onslaughts of globalization and not so much any longer a mere call to rid the nation of homosexuals. The audience’s response is one of jubilation at their mutual refusal to back down in the face of ‘unreasonable’ and arbitrary demands to change the culture from the outside.

anyway, that’s my take on all this. For me it’s actions, not so much lyrics, that count and Buju lost his stature in my eyes when he was accused of actually breaking into the house of and beating up some homosexuals so severely that they needed to be hospitalized. that’s when i stopped listening to his music as i used to before.

So in summing up, just as you and Sarah Manley have pointed out the good and bad sides of Buju, presenting a more nuanced portrait of this conflicted figure it’s necessary also to nuance what homosexuality represents in cultures such as Jamaica, that homosexuality too has its good and bad sides, to differentiate between predatory homosexuality and just being a homosexual…because its the latter that we want to defend not the former. And people do have a right to protest the former.

So in effect Boom Bye Bye has what in academic parlance is called ‘multivalence’. It is a multivalent allegory or text, meaning simply that it has multiple meanings. I now await the wrath of Long Bench and various anonymous friends. Please be gentle.

Buju IS Jamaica: "the full has never been told…"

Click to view image details


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.”

Rohan’s Nine Night and Buju locked up in Miami

Young Rohan Laird, a Sickle Cell patient, who was a member of music producer Mikie Bennett’s family, died in November 2009 aged 25. These are some video clips of the fantastic drumming from the Nine Night held for him at Grafton Studios.


what’s interesting is that people are always lamenting how young people have lost the old traditions etc. but these were a lot of young people save for the one guy in the white ganzie.

Meanwhile the nation is in shock over the news of Buju Banton’s incarceration in a federal lock-up in Miami on charges of possession of a large quantity of coke. From 3 pm yesterday Mr. Vegas was tweeting for info from Europe: “hellooooooooooooooooo r u there, any info on buju please?”

And then last night breaking news that Buju Banton is in a federal lock-up in Miami accused of possession of 5 kgs of Coke! More info as i get it. This is shocking news.