Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Zakiya Mckenzie with The Quietus interviews Buju Banton on his favourite music

As Buju Banton releases his first album in a decade, he guides Zakiya Mckenzie through the songs that shaped him, from discovering dancehall on the school minibus to collaborating with Pharrell Williams

There are fewer bigger names in Jamaican arts and culture than Buju Banton. A child of the early dancehall reggae scene and of the roots music tradition that has existed on the island for centuries, Buju Banton’s versatility across genres ensures that his catalogue will play out across class and culture for years to come. His voice is smooth in places where praise songs reach out to the wailing soul, gritty in original rudeboy style, he is sharp-cutting in rebelliousness where a defender of the people is needed. In this way, Buju Banton has managed to carve out an unforgettable place in reggae, even after a long prison sentence and a decade’s retreat from a business which has always struggled to offer financial and career longevity to its players.

Behind his own music and public persona, what has Buju Banton been listening to over the years? His song selections offer us a parallel look into his life as Buju the music consumer. It is the sounds of the 1980s that take centre-stage, particularly productions from Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes on the Volcano Label. Everyone has that producer and those riddims that defined the time in which they grew up - for Banton here it is Lawes. Volcano Sound System dominated Jamaica’s music scene for the first half of the 80s, some would even say that Lawes gave the island its ragamuffin dancehall sound. Coincidentally, Volcano had its headquarters at Myrie Avenue in West Kingston at a time when the young Mark ‘Buju Banton’ Myrie dreamed of meeting him and making such music. Lawes moved Volcano to New York in 1985 and soon after did a five-year stint in an American prison for drug-related charges. Like Lawes on release, Banton is hoping to regain momentum and ride the rhythm back to the top of reggae music with new album, Upside Down 2020. He seems poised to do that, and has already won the Jamaica Festival 2020 Song Competition.

In the midst of a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests worldwide and the anticipation of reggae fans everywhere, the message from Buju Banton is clear - some people make music for themselves, but Buju Banton sees himself as a learner and teacher, a comforter in the face of trouble and a conduit of the sacred message of Rastafari. His Baker’s Dozen gives us an idea of his initiation.


Bob Marley & The Wailers - Kaya
The song ‘Kaya’ is one of my favourites because it is an ode to a Rasta man that just wants some good herb, nothing else. It’s not really a ganja song; it’s a song for the person who desires a good pull of weed. If you use ganja like Rasta use it, for religious or sacramental reasons, then you can identify with such a feeling. So, this is a song that always brings a nice vibe whenever I play, it’s comes with good meditations for I and I, especially when I have good kaya.


Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Forever Loving Jah’
‘Forever Loving Jah’ is a song that transformed me, I listen to it intensely. “Because just like a tree planted by the rivers of water… everything in life has its purpose, find its reason, in every season”, these are prolific lines that keep me grounded even now. They remind me not to live in the past and not rush ahead of myself. There’s whole lot of love in it, and when I listen to it I feel that love resonating right through. It’s the love Jah Rastafari and nothing can set us apart from that love.

The first time I heard this song was over 30 years ago. I was visiting one of my brethren and we had just finished cooking some oats porridge in a basement in Brooklyn, New York. The song played and he started to bawl! The music really touched him and he bawl! It’s a powerful song, don’t mess with it! I play it regularly and I hope that others can find joy listening to it too.

Your 2001 song ‘I Dare Not Be Ungrateful’ uses the same musical arrangement as Forever Loving Jah. Was that deliberate?

Yeah, when Donovan Germaine produced that song, and Leroy Sibbles and I sang “I dare not be ungrateful to Jah” on the same riddim track, it was a continuation of The Wailers singing “we’ll be forever loving Jah.” That was me reinforcing the hold this song had on me from then. ‘I Dare Not Be Ungrateful’ came about from the same kind of spiritual vibe as ‘Forever Loving Jah’. Whether you call Him Yahweh, Jah, Adonai, whatever you call it, these songs are reminders that there is a person out there singing for you. The man who sings, or play the guitar, even the one who plays the lyre – he is there to give comfort and good energy. And we want to share this, so I and I will be forever and ever loving Jah, and I and I will not be ungrateful for all that he has given me, seen?

Continued on thequietus...

Tuesday, July 28, 2020