Mr. Mention: Buju Banton Reflects On Some Of His Biggest Career Moments

By Bianca Gracie | August 7, 2023

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Buju Banton has hit many milestones in his storied career since his debut in 1987. But the legendary Jamaican musician (who is soon releasing his 14th album, Born For Greatness) still has more in his arsenal. But don't refer to him as an icon, he's just a humble man. Below, Banton takes a heartwarming trip down music memory lane with EDITION.

Photo2_by_Jamie_Crawford_Walker.jpgBuju Banton photo by Jamie Crawford Walker

Take me back to when you were a kid growing up in Kingston, when you were just Mark Myrie. Do you remember the first moment when you discovered your passion for music?

I’ve never been only Mark Myrie. I was born and christened Mark Myrie. But my mom and my dad called me Buju. So I grew up being called Buju. Yeah, yeah, never Mark. My earliest exposure to music was when was living on the banks of the gully. Across the road there used to be Dancehall. Our house was made of board and zinc. And I can recall when the sound system was strung up across the street and the reverberation from the bass, which shook the zinc on top of the house, the tables, the chairs.

There was a particular song called “The Promised Land” by a brother called Dennis Brown. That stays with me throughout all my journeys because that song was the genesis of me, not even knowing what I will become. But it appealed to me in a deep sense. So that was my life before I became intricately involved [in music].

When I went to live with my dad at 11 years old, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to go to work. And we were poor people. We didn’t have the luxury of driving to school or anything like that. And I used to walk to school and my dad. I’d leave at 4 a.m. in the morning and walk for an hour. This was our likkle time together because he worked so hard.

When he took me to school in the mornings, I used to attend at this point, a school called New Day All Age School, which was situated at 1 East Dulwich Drive. Sometimes I’d get there around 5:10 and there were always people on the plaza. My school was right beside a plaza and there were always guys on the plaza. Guys who I knew when I was a baby but didn’t recognize them anymore. Then I start seeing this entertainer by the name of Burro Banton who used to be out there every morning. I was fascinated

In those days, the major thing for us to do in class as boys, especially at break time was to discuss the latest riddims in the dancehall, the latest dancehall deejay, and the latest song. Music played such a pivotal role in our life coming up because in Jamaica, we have a 40% illiteracy rate, so the music industry was responsible for educating us about socio-economic changes and geopolitical issues.

So we’d be discussing this and then we started imitating [the riddims] by beating a desk in the classroom and mimicking the deejays of the time. It went on until I start hearing songs that I myself know I could make better compositions than what I was hearing. And this happened at Whitehall Avenue where my father actually resided. We had a situation in the strata [community] and I composed a song about it and the administrators. And everyone said, “Whoa, your penmanship!” So I just started to take it seriously.

Performance_Photo_2_by_Tizzy_Tokyo.jpegBuju Banton performs at "Intimate" concert alongside Beres Hammond in St. Ann, Jamaica, on New Year's Day 2023. Photo by Tizzy Toyko

Do you remember how old you were?

14-15. I started keeping parties. All the big folks came to our parties [with my friends] and chased us out by 11 o’clock to take over the party. This happened every time and we knew we had something.

I mean, I was a rough kid growing up, but some of the bigger folks always liked my mannerism and the way I dealt with things. Anything where the kids are concerned our we young boys, they would always come to me and say, “Buju, tell wi wah gwan? Buju, what’s up?”

Music in my life took a different role where entertainers in my community were just coming up and getting popular. Guys like Red Dragon, Flourgon, Sanchez. I grew up among these guys. And I saw their talents unfolding. Flourgon went on to build a sound system and called it “Sweet Love.” And I used to be around it ‘till I started going out with it every weekend. Essentially Flourgon became my boss. I used to be on a Rambo international sound system because I truly wanted to integrate myself into the dancehall arena. The sound system was the order of the day. The studios were limited. We had like six or seven studios in Jamaica and if you didn’t make the cut you could never enter through the gate. You had to prove yourself. We called it the Old Grey Whistle Test. You couldn’t voice on the song and no one knows you. You got to come into the dancehall and come with new lyrics every night. You can’t sing the same thing.

Yeah, to make sure you leave an impression.

So that was my Genesis. That was when I realized that this is where I want to be and this is what I want to do.

You are the soundtrack to my childhood. My mom is one of your biggest fans so I grew up listening to your music. I would love to get some stories behind some of my favorite songs. Let’s start with “Bogle”.

I’m gonna get back to the dancing, but let me give you some background. The dancehall culture was not one that was soft. It was quite abrasive. But yet we have a level of love and understanding once we enter that space that we’re here to listen to music. And no matter what the beef is, it’s just going to be about music. And we have to respect the proprietor’s place that was hosting the event. So we used to go to House of Leo on Cargill Ave. We used to go to Woodford Park to listen to Metromedia [sound system], Waterhouse for King Jammy’s to King’s Tubbys, Drewsland to listen to Black Scorpio, Gemini club to listen to Gemini disco. We went all ‘bout to listen to Stone Love.

So whenever you go to these places you have to have a level of firmness because there’s no doubt that you’re gonna run into someone who’s opposed to your idea or your way of living or your views so to speak. So in a sense, dancehall emanates from rude bwoys holding dem corner, defending them word, defending them virtue, defending themselves. So there was a local brederin from a place called Concrete Jungle named General Starkey. We had a soldier named Willie Haggart who was a real rude bwoy. He had soldiers named Bogle and Colo Colo. Now, as a rude bwoy wi nuh only defend certain hardcore behavior, we dress nice, we dress classy and we know how fi treat di woman dem. Certain things ah our ethos, you know?

So in comes Willie Haggart and Bogle inna di dancehall. Willie permed his hair and Bogle wore dog tags pon him neck and had some fresh moves. Jamaica has never seen the contortion of the body in such a manner before. And he didn’t only come with moves. He had slang. “Style ah style and style can’t spoil,” that was Bogle’s talk.

He had a swagger to him.

So I had a show at Hammersmith Palais in London. I buck up inna Willie Haggart and Bogle. When I saw the moves I came back to Jamaica and I told [producer] Dave Kelly, “This move ago kill di place.” So we get our heads together and we said, [reciting “Bogle” lyrics]: “New year, new style, new dance a lick. Fling your hands inna di air, then you rock, then you dip.” So the next night we went to House of Leo and I said, “Mr. Wacky”—that’s what we called him in those days—”tonight, just dance!” And while him ah dance mi ah formulate the song inna mi mental. I drove back to the studio and just fixed it. That’s how “Bogle” came to be.

I think "Destiny" is one of your most powerful songs. I always interpreted it as resisting just the wickedness and the evilness that this world can bring and just continuing your journey of searching for a higher purpose.

“Destiny” was a song that was made when I was at a very pivotal point in my journey of life. My innocence as it concerns the wickedness of men and the brutality of the global community, I almost walked away from what I love the most, which is the music. Because I saw that the world was moving into a level of corruption where righteousness will never ever be embraced by the masses.

It’s going to be debauchery and everything to do with what we’re [dealing with] now. So “Destiny” was made from a place of pain. It was a moment of decision-making where I was concerned. Whatever destiny had in store I had to face it because I know I'm a servant, not of man but of my father who would make sure—whether they like me or not—[people] get the message. Because no inspiration that comes to me shall be from the people. Now if I am aware of this, wouldn’t my enemies be aware as well? With more knowledge and esoteric ways of finding out things than I? “Destiny, look from where you call me.” I cannot hide from it. I cannot run from it. I must play it out and watch it unfold humbly and with humility.

Yeah, I definitely think come humbleness is one of the biggest themes of that song and just you being so vulnerable to share, the pain that you were going through and searching for answers. That’s why I think it’s so powerful. It’s timeless.

I wanted to not only strengthen myself but strengthen anyone who would give me a listen. Because if I suffered how I suffered from the days of my youth, I have been talking to people musically since I was 16 years old. I recorded my first song when I was 16 years old in 1985 or ‘86 for Penthouse Recordings. If we can’t express ourselves, uplift the people and give them a better way than what they already perceived. Or tried to open their eyes to other possibilities. We have to continually try.

I also want to talk about “Wanna Be Loved”. Do you consider yourself a romantic?

I’m African. I have nothing to do with Rome. Well after growing up with 16 sisters, not all at once, but my mom had 10 Girls and my dad had six. I’m the only boy for both. That armors you with a certain amount of sensitivity as it concerns the opposite sex. I don’t want to offend anyone. I'm talking about the females. So you try to incorporate that love and tenderness because no matter how she act rough, she’s just an iron fist in a silk glove. [laughs]

“Bonafide Love” is also a loving song. And of course, one of the big collaborations with Wayne Wonder.

Von Wayne Charles, or Wayne Wonder, is a good friend of mine. He was the guy who came and took me out of the ghetto. He would pick me up day in and day out and in the late night and take me all over Jamaica to have my talent exposed because he knew I had something. He brought me to a major concert in Jamaica called Sting in 1991. He brought me on the stage and I sang “Love Me Browning” and introduced me to the Jamaican populace in a grand setting. So this famous singer before our time, called Mr. Alton Ellis who was the original singer of “Movie Star”. We called it “Bonafide “Love” but the original title is “Movie Star”. Several individuals sang on it. Donovan Germain was the producer at the time at Penthouse Record. We were under his tutelage as young men trying to learn the music business. He came [to us] one day and wanted us to make a rendition that was worthy of airplay. We try our very best to execute it and it turned out tremendously well. We poured our hearts into it and turned out to be a song that resonates with the people of the world. We’re happy.

As it relates to a relationship, [the song] is based on the fundamental tenets of what love should be, for better or for worse.

For sure, so one more song I wanted to talk about is “Blessed” from 2021. What I’ve just admired is you haven’t lost your sense of faith.

When your life has been stolen from you by people who are not worthy, who do not have a moral high ground to stand on to tell you that you are dirty. When you see men come against you, but the hand of God was over you. Not their God, but the true and living creator. The holy anointed one who gathers people and lets them know this is my servant with whom I’m well pleased with. Then we’ll sing a thousand songs exalting how blessed we are.

I love it. And of course, I do want to mention ‘Til Shiloh. That’s one of my favorite albums of all time, not just with reggae music, but just music in general. It was such a groundbreaking album because it bridged the gap between dancehall and reggae and also showcased your spiritual growth. It’s such a testament to faith and spirituality and going back to the motherland.

‘Til Shiloh was a turning point not only in my musical career but in my life as a young man. Always. I've always seen the culture promulgated in Jamaica. But then the culture came directly to me. And it was a time in my life when I had to make a decision: do I want to continue singing dancehall or do I want to broaden my musical horizon and [challenge] myself to inculcate different songs, different instrumentations, different musical compositions? The latter was more appealing to me.

Prior to the journey of making ‘Til Shiloh, Donovan Germain didn’t know my direction but he said, “If this is what you’re feeling, express it.” That was the best thing anyone could ever say to me as a young man. It wasn’t like, “Nah mon, you’re supposed to sing dancehall for the girls dem.” He allowed me to grow and he was right beside me. Lisa Cortes was there also, I cannot forget her she was instrumental and pivotal in my executing [the album]. A case in point was the song “It’s Not An Easy Road”. I recorded that song—the music, instruments and vocals—about nine different times until I find the right sound that I wanted. I recorded everywhere from Tuff Gong Studios to my recording studio, which was Cell Block 321 at the time. We were trying different things and it turned out tremendously well because I took a chance with myself because I do not like to be in a box. Don’t tell me I’m a dancehall artist or I’m already an artist. No, I’m a musician. Okay, I’m not an entertainer. I’m a musician. I’m not a clown. An entertainer is a clown, a stupid one too. Our Father called us. Our occupation if you wish to say so were delineated in the books. We have work to do!

Yeah, the work is never done.

So ‘Til Shiloh was an embodiment of a change in my sense of direction and my worldview. my spiritual growth, and the unfolding of me breaking away from the matrix.

Buju Banton in the studio with DJ Khaled. Photo by Jamie Crawford Walker

When you returned with Upside Down, that album showcased even more versatility.

Upside Down was a monumental record for me after 10 years of hiatus from the microphone doing what I love the best. There’s a saying: “Today for me and tomorrow for you.” Soon as that starts unfolding, you shall say to yourself, “Bowy that Buju, he knows too much.” But it encapsulated that journey. A longing and desire to be back with my people, to be doing what I love. Because you can take a man from his environment, but you can never take the environment away from the man mentally. So, it was 20 tracks. Each one is diverse and dealing with different issues from love to life to politics. I would say it’s the genesis of my new chapter. Here we go again with a brand-new record. It’s gonna knock your socks off.

We’ve always been listening to your music, but when the album dropped it felt like a just celebration.

But the new record we just finished. It’s going to be amazing. Yeah, amazing.

Do you think you’re in a new chapter in your life? Because I know you’re turning 50 in July.

Well, yes. Because I’m at a point now where after having so much experience see the direction that they want to bring us in after knowing the direction we should be going in. So it must display maturity, growth musically and lyrically. Growth in every sense of the word. It also shows that the mind has also evolved.

I was reading an interview that you did a few years ago where you said you don’t see yourself as an icon. Do you still feel that way?

I’m not an icon.

Why do you say that?

I’m a man. I can’t be two things. And I choose to be what my father created: a man. An icon is a construct created by man’s imagination. All you have to do for me is just listen to my music. I don’t need to be your idol, your icon, or none of that bullsh-t. I’ve seen people who say they love me the most, curse me the loudest.

That’s so real. I mean, you are very humble. But you’ve done so much for music.

I am humbled. But don’t trod on me. Don’t get it twisted.

I hear you. I would love to know some lessons that you’ve learned over the years.

There are lessons I've learned and I’m sure you have seen that in your life everyday truth. Truth is dead sister.


Because people are now the enemy of truth. You tell them the truth and you’re now liable to be sued in a court. [laughs] We’ve become lovers of lies because it’s more grandiose. It’s more pleasing. It takes less rationality, and less reasoning to dissect. But what are we really doing? We’ve learned that love doesn’t live anymore. You are what you drive. You are where you live. You are who you’re dating. You are where you work, what you earn. [laughs]

I know people like to put titles on everything.

What’s your name again?


They wouldn’t say “Oh, Bianca. Oh, I admire her values. She’s one of truth and honesty and integrity.” No, they’ll say, “Her car is beautiful”.

We’re worried about the wrong things.

So those are the lessons everyone needs to know. Take a step back and look at all these institutions that we have arrogated our natural rights to. But this is not the platform nor the medium to expound further.

So one more question. What are your thoughts on the current state of reggae and dancehall?

I keep up with what’s going on because it’s quite instrumental in where my culture has come. We invested our time during the days of my youth earnestly into making sure that this music is here today and will be here for the next few generations.

But the current state of dancehall and reggae. I mean, if you say the truth, people are gonna be offended. But I’m not gonna say a lie. We’re in bad shape. If you don’t believe me, look at what Afrobeats is doing to the world charts and to the marketplace. I’ll leave it there.

That says a lot. You don’t have to go further. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?

Yes. I want to remind the people that I got a brand-new album coming out in July, and it promises to be something extremely different. The world needs music. And that’s what I’m all about. So stay tuned.

Photography by: Jamie Crawford Walker; Tizzy Tokyo