Buju’s Mark … and a nation’s long walk to freedom

Buju Banton
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From the minute of birth, you enter this Earth

Obstacles deh inna your way to overcome first

Throughout everyday they seem to get worse;

Oh my God, cast away this curse!

— Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie)


The long-awaited return of reggae icon Buju Banton from eight years, six months, 27 days, 13 hours, five minutes, and 26 seconds of incarceration from conviction of drug charges culminated in the concert dubbed Long Walk to Freedom last Saturday night. From the reports of the concert itself, I hear that, with the exception of some audio glitches, the organisation was good, the presentation was good, ambience good, vibes good, start and end time with professionalism good. Therefore, give the Buju concert a big pass mark.

This concert was more than just about Buju Banton; it was and continues to be about Jamaica, its people, their thoughts, behaviour and responses. A nation’s past, present and future were all wrapped up in an event. What was it saying?

‘Yuh eva see suh much people?’ The massive attendance, I am told, was possibly 35,000 to 40,000 patrons. Few events fill our National Stadium. Even the well-revered Reggae Boyz of the 1990s sometimes found it difficult to fill the stadium — and they were history-makers, not law breakers. Yet, Buju easily did it, and at prices starting from a Bleachers low of $4,000 to a VIP high of $22,500.

How could it be? Some may ask. Was the turnout indicating that the Jamaican people were willing to forget or ignore his past wrong? Is it because it doesn’t matter? Is there a great deal of societal ambivalence? Is it ‘don’t care’ because of allegiance to the artiste and his iconic status? Is it the feeling that the man had paid his debt, so lef’ him? Or is it saying that, at heart, we are a forgiving people?

I choose to believe that the massive attendance indicated that we are an easily forgiving people. This is supported by our history of repeatedly accepting back and voting back into office politicians and parties which have grievously wronged, raped and failed us.

Should Buju publicly acknowledge his wrong and ask the nation’s forgiveness? Or should he move on ‘like a nuh nutten’? Despite Buju’s powerful opening song, with the resounding refrain “Have mercy on me, O lamb of God”, I do believe that in the circumstances he should make a public statement and not leave it to be assumed that the concert was intended to suggest remorse and ask for acceptance.

I also choose to believe that Buju’s Long Walk to Freedom is a confirming message to our political party leaders that they can take a short walk to heal the wounds of our past. Perhaps the time has come to engage the process of a truth and reconciliation commission or season. We have long called our leadership to consider this process for the purpose of healing the wounds that have been festering in our body politic for a long time. Perhaps now is the time.

The event also shows the power of reggae music to influence lives. We must, as a nation, maximise the use of reggae for positive transformation of our people and to influence the world for good. Reggae is our tool to help proceed with the mandate of our founding fathers to advance the welfare of the whole human race. The music industry must define what is authentic reggae. It is not simply about Rasta. It is positive culture music, message music about peace, love, justice, and unity. It is social commentary to uplift and challenge for change. The music industry must guard it and ensure it is used wisely and rightly.

Burning Spear’s drummer, Nelson Tim Miller, powerfully stated long ago, when asked why reggae drummers’ style was so different than that of drummers in other genres of music:

“…the rock [‘n’ roll] drummer tends to do a lot of playing, like busy drumming. Most reggae drummers, especially the older ones, like to keep things simple.

“Reggae is different from rock because rock drummers that I hear tend to make a lot of noise. I’m not putting down rock ‘n’ roll, but reggae is message music.

“As musicians we try to put across a musical and a lyrical message. It’s not just entertainment.”

Buju, from his opening song, showed that he was not just there for entertainment. He revealed his heart and the potential within him to be vulnerable and to influence others. I am told there were people weeping as they watched a convicted criminal rise from the ashes of incarceration to regain his throne and crown as king in this time.

His was the cry of a man grateful, humble, and recognising his source. He is one of the artistes who have put out some powerful message songs with content that makes sense and is positive. This is what our nation needs. The total sum of his life experience has prepared him for this time in Jamaica. He can and should now totally reject all negativity and cling to the positive and good.


The best is yet to come

Buju’s greatest opportunity is ahead of him to use his awesome influence from his untold story through the power of reggae music to help the mindset change to produce behavioural change among the youth, inner cities, rural communities, and general population. He has the ability to influence the crime and violence mindset to one of peace, love, unity, hard work, and discipline. He is one of the best in current reggae music.

Two lines from his Untold Story say: “Another toll to the poll may God help we soul; What is to stop the youths from get out of control? …”

Perhaps the easy answer to that question, Buju, is you and our powerful reggae music.

As a nation, we should give him the necessary encouragement and support. He has a message for the youth who are losing hope by focusing on the negative situations around them. He, while in jail, could have looked at his circumstances, held down his head, felt sorry for himself, blamed others, got depressed, and wasted the time away. But rather, he made the choice to turn his negative into a positive; an opportunity for advancement. He was determined to rule his destiny, make the right choice, and produce the desired outcome.

“Destiny, Mama look from when you calling; I wanna rule my destiny, yeah, yeah, oh, help I please, Jah Jah, mek mi rule my destiny.”

Each man’s destiny is in his own hands, determined by the choices he makes. Recognise that life is not an easy road, but if you don’t give up and choose the path for change, in time the long walk to freedom will end and the curse (whatever that represents in your life) will be cast away.

It has been a long road to freedom for Jamaica. We will not be free until we break the curse of tribalism that divides us, corruption that cripples us, injustice that enslaves us, crime and violence that is destroying us, poverty that is stifling us, and weak family life that ensnares us.

We must build the new Jamaica now!

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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