SNWMF 2001
Photo by Lee Abel

Buju Banton is one of reggae's most riveting figures. A dancehall artist who attracts the conscious crowd, a roots believer who explodes onstage with uncompromising attitude. Far from the infamous 19-year-old who incited gay rage with the lyrics of "Boom Bye Bye," Buju, now much older, is a spokesman for peace and social justice, a performer brimming with energy and style. Mark Anthony Myrie, born in Kingston, JA, was nicknamed "Buju" (or breadfruit) by his mother when he was a baby. He was the youngest of 15 children. At the age of 12 he began to work for local sound systems, and soon was deejaying. He recorded his first single "The Ruler" in 1986 at the age of 13. Between 1986 and 1989 Buju worked with many producers, including Bunny Lee and Winston Riley, recording and remixing original tracks like "Love Mi Browning" (which initiated him into controversy), "Love Black Woman" and "Big It Up," all written by Dave 'Rude Boy' Kelly of Penthouse Studios.

These and other singles were released on the Penthouse, Soljie, Bobby Digital and Exterminator labels, and Buju was a trendsetter of dancehall style. When the album Mr. Mention came out on Penthouse in 1991, it broke all previous records for Jamaican sales, even surpassing reggae king Bob Marley's sales on the island. During this time he dominated the charts and many young dancehall artists imitated his growling vocal style. He also signed with a major label, Mercury. Within a couple of years Buju was addressing social and cultural issues with songs like "Tribal War" and "Murder." In 1991, in conjunction with the record Operation Willy, he launched Operation Willy which donated proceeds to children with HIV and AIDS, and the same year set up his own studios and label Cellblock. The album Til Shiloh received widespread critical acclaim, and was named one of Spin Magazine's Top 20 albums of 1995. Here Buju's sound deepened and matured, using a full band and moving away from an all-synth sound. He continued to fire away with the singles, scoring major hits with songs like "Lovesponge," "Run di Place" and "Honeycomb." His most recent full length release Unchained Spirit broadened his reach into the mainstream with complex pop-inspired arrangements, but never forgetting the fat reggae grooves.

- Mara Weis

Buju Banton Links:


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