Destiny: Buju T&T fans renewed after 10-year hiatus
Buju Banton in Trinidad and Tobago.
Looking around the crowd in the VVIP section of the I Am Legend concert, one thing stood out.
Much of the crowd in my immediate vicinity was littered with many people of my generation including those who attended the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus in the early 90s.
It was around that time that Buju Banton was in his ascent, his smooth voice transitioning into its signature gravelly tone as he stamped his presence on the dancehall scene with hit after hit.
Jamaicans were dominant among the student population at the time, having made Canada Hall or C Hall as it is known, their primary domain among the campus’ student accommodation.
Social media wasn’t a thought back then and urban radio was very much in its infancy so much of the new music we heard as students came through the Jamaican students when they returned to Trinidad after the long summer break. They gave us new music, new dances and shed a spotlight on the artistes of the day.
Buju, who was sometimes spotted on campus hanging out with his countrymen, was the artiste of that era.
Songs like ‘Batty Rider”, “Dickie”, “Big it Up”, “Love how the Gyal Dem Flex” and his now controversial “Boom Bye Bye” were among his big hits.
On Sunday night, Buju, who dropped a slew of conscious songs in the mid-90s, reminded us and educated those who didn’t know, of his early dancehall days.
True to his word, he did not sing the song that incurred the wrath of the LGBTQI community around the world, but he sang much of those early hits, gyrating and wining as he reminded us that he has a fun, nasty side.
The ladies lapped up every minute. One woman scaled the fence in the VVIP section and stretched her fingers to touch him. He obliged and touched her back. She turned around, gave her friends a thumbs up and spent about five minutes screaming enthusiastically about her feat.
At 45, Buju is older but prison didn’t dampen the passion and fire his fans have adored about him. His absence from the music scene for the last eight years, while he served a sentence for cocaine trafficking in the US, has seemed, however, to have made him into a more spiritual person and it showed in his performance.
The opening refrain of “Our Father in Zion”, an appropriate ode to the symbolism of Easter Sunday, introduced Buju to the stage, dressed in white and greeted with pyrotechnics on stage and off.
He wasted no time after that giving us hit after hit including ‘Destiny’, ‘Not an Easy Road’, ‘Things Must Get Better’ and ‘Hills and Valleys’. The songs, though classics, were sung like he wanted us to know they have new meaning in his life as he celebrates his freedom and tries to avoid further pitfalls.
"I had a close one yesterday," he sang passionately in "Close One Yesterday", no doubt reminding us about the search of his hotel room the night before.
“Tormented souls, go away, go away from me. Father take them away from me,” he cried in prayer, as he asked, "Who gave the order?"
In a press conference on Saturday, Buju’s publicist, Ronnie Tomlinson of Destine Media, said the singer is not doing any interviews post-incarceration but is using the stage as a platform to speak to the people.
At I Am Legend, the singer certainly did that.
He questioned the spiraling crime rate and urged the youth to think before they act.
“We know Trinidad from a time when you could walk and go anywhere in peace, what is going on now? Kidnapping, murder, I don’t mean regular murder, butcher shop murder. What is going on? The youths understand yourself or else you will find yourself being a manure that grow a tree that nobody eat a fruit from. Think about it,” he said, launching in anti-gun song Mr Nine.
During “How Massa God World a Run”, he urged us to reflect on our lives.
“What are our choices? Then we ask how ourselves, how is my living conditions today? And then I ask myself, can I really sustain my family in this household based on the income I am receiving? And then we ask ourselves, what if we take sick? How will I compensate for that unexpected event? And then we ask ourselves what is life?” he said.
It had been 10 years since Buju graced a stage in Trinidad and it was clear he felt at home once again before the thousands that gathered at the Queen’s Park Savannah. He smiled, he danced, he lay down on the stage and at times, seemed particularly moved by the chorus of voices behind the lights of their cellphones, belting out his hits with him.
During “Untold Stories”, the chorus from his fans swelled as he folded his arms and listened to the voices.
Buju's only guest act during his performance was an ageless Wayne Wonder for their duet “Bonafide Love' popularly known as "I don't know why' and 'Forever Young'.
As his performance wound down, Buju gave us one of his most popular songs “Driver” and after welcoming Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith on stage to mend the rift between Jamaica and Trinidad, ended his show with “Murderer”.
He abruptly departed the stage minutes before the midnight cut off.