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!

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