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Could You Love Me For Me?

Posted Mar 13 2006

An interview with reggae superstar Buju Banton (November 1997)

Despite critical acclaim and popularity that brings comparison to the legendary Bob Marley, Buju Banton’s fifth LP, Inna Heights, was released last year with little fanfare in the United States. As a former International Reggae Awards recording artist of the year and entertainer of the year, Buju has already built a resume that many others would sell their souls for. Additionally, even true reggae fans may be surprised to learn that in 1993 he broke Marley’s record for the most number one singles in one year on the Jamaican charts.

Since recording his first album in 1985 at the tender age of twelve, Buju has consistently produced hit records; first gaining international acclaim for his 1992 release, Mr. Mention. This release broke all previous Jamaican sales records and cleared the way for his American release, Voice of Jamaica. Unlike many of his peers, Buju has made a name for himself from his socially conscious lyrics and spiritual themes. While also addressing themes of love and partying, he has stayed away from the gun talk and slackness (sexually explicit lyrics) that have ruled the dancehall charts over the past few years. “Reggae music has always been a positive force and we must never deviate from that…’nuf slackness is going on, but there are those who are about truth and righteousness…the people shall be the ultimate judge.”

A direct descendant of the Maroons, Buju was born into a world dedicated to political struggle as the Maroons were a group of Africans who resisted slavery and were never defeated by the English overseers. His embracing of Rastafarianism a few years ago only strengthened his resolve to raise the consciousness of the masses. Asked what else serves as inspiration for his soul stirring lyrics, he maintains, “Well basically, it’s just what’s happening around us…because that’s the life we live. We sing about the realities of the world and things always seem to look painful and sorrowful to the heart. We must uplift the mind and try to elevate.” He admits that artist such as Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer paved the way and made the music great, but he is reluctant to say that any one person has had an influence on him. “I’m under my own influence…we no understand that when you are influenced, that means you’re hypnotized…you have to think for yourself…no one man can influence my music…it’s coming from me doing my own thing and I hope the world can accept it. In fact, I say love me for me.” Yet he still finds resistance to his music, especially in the United States. “I’m still rejected…I don’t fit their (American) format and so rejection is my biggest obstacle in this business…Caribbean music in the U.S. right now is getting hot. (But) the time it is given is very limited…So my thing is I have to keep fighting for that music to get played, to keep it alive.”

Not merely content to speak about change, outside of making music, Buju also runs his own record label (Gargamel) and a nonprofit organization known as Operation Willy. Run in collaboration with the Jamaican Aid Support (JAS), Operation Willy takes care of children who are infected with the HIV virus. Providing food, housing, and medication, Buju strongly feels that celebrities, of any stature, should give back to the community, whether it be “financial, physical, or mental.”

Although Buju has earned respect for this strong beliefs, his convictions have also found him in the center of controversy. His 1992 hit, Boom Bye Bye, with its strong anti-gay lyrics, drew protest from many groups around the world, including The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). When asked how he would handle things differently now, Buju stood his ground. “The truth is the truth…there can be no compromising between wrong and truth…Not for sell records, not for get a house, not for get a car. Not for nothing. The devil and the most high can never be friends unless him put away his evil ways. There can be no compromise between paganism and Jah, so therefore, I mean what I said. I was not the first man to say it because it was written in the Book of Life…(and) I not damn my soul. I was just trying to teach a lesson…I have learned so many lessons. And if them don’t want to learn them lessons, I feel sorry for them.

While his views on gays and lesbians may offend many, it’s hard to deny that he makes damn good music. A true example of an artist blending his craft with social change, for many, Buju is a spiritual leader, who happens to sing as a profession. While others paint superficial facades for the public, Buju lays out his soul for everyone to see. “I don’t come here for act, ‘cause this is not acting. This is reality.”

Comments

1. deejay bella said at October 10, 2006 1:31 am:

i'm interested in finding out more about this "nonprofit organization known as Operation Willy. Run in collaboration with the Jamaican Aid Support (JAS), Operation Willy takes care of children who are infected with the HIV virus. Providing food, housing, and medication". On Gargamel's website there is a donation button but no address, phone number, reports of the organization's work, etc. A quick Google and Yahoo search also does not reveal anything about this organization. Does anyone have contact info, if someone wanted to volunteer for them?

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