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Songs Of Freedom: The Lasting Effects Of Buju Banton's "Long Walk" Concert

Buju Banton’s epic homecoming at Jamaica’s National Stadium ushers in a new era for reggae and dancehall music.

“My destination is homeward bound,” sang Buju Banton on stage at Jamaica’s National Stadium in the heart of Kingston. “Though forces try hold I down. Breaking chains has become the norm. I know I must get through no matter what a gwaan.” As the Grammy-winning reggae icon performed his song “Destiny,” a hit single from the 1997 album Inna Heights, the words took on added resonance due to the enormity of the occasion—a homecoming celebration for a living legend who’d been gone too long.

A crowd of more than 30,000 turned out to watch Buju launch his Long Walk To Freedom tour, named after Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. After much anticipation and speculation, Buju’s first performance since being released from federal prison in the U.S. could not have been held in a more fitting location. Jamaica’s National Stadium was the same place where Mandela addressed the people of Jamaica during his first visit to the island in July of 1991. Prior to Buju Banton, no other Jamaican artist headlined this prestigious venue since Bob Marley performed here at the One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978—when the Tuff Gong brought rival political leaders together onstage, demonstrating the power of reggae music.

“It was epic to see the amount of people that came to the stadium,” said dancehall superstar Sean Paul after the Buju show. “With Usain Bolt or with our football team, when the stadium is full we don’t see the field full as well. So to see that for one person—that was really amazing.”

 

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This historic performance was not the first time Buju ever appeared at the National Stadium. In December 1991 the rising dancehall star Wayne Wonder called out the tall, skinny, short-haired 18-year-old as a surprise guest during his own set on Sting, the annual Boxing Day stage show. “Nobody knew Buju,” recalls Donovan Germaine of Penthouse Records, who produced Buju’s early hits “Love Me Browning” and “Love Black Woman,” both of which were featured on his classic 1992 album Mr. Mention. “They heard the song but they had never seen him, so Wayne Wonder brought him onstage at Sting and then the world saw Buju Banton.”

That quick set back in 1991 was a mere glimpse of the greatness to come, and nearly three decades later the artist had come full circle. Witnessing Buju run through highlights of his extensive catalog backed by the 10-piece Shiloh Band left no question that one of reggae’s greatest artists was back in top form. Dressed in full white, Buju commanded the audience’s attention like no other act before him. Having given no official public appearances, interviews, and only a handful of statements on social media since his return home last December, Buju had the audience hanging on his every word. For many Buju fans, missing this once-in-a-lifetime event would be inexcusable.

Celebrities and music lovers alike snapped up all available plane tickets and flew in from all corners of the globe, creating a “Buju Boost” to the local economy. Jamaica’s ministry of tourism reported a 143 percent increase in arrivals to Kingston compared with the same day last year. All those fortunate enough to make it to the big show did so with great expectations—and they were not disappointed.

The opening acts at the Long Walk to Freedom concert were a mixture of veteran artists from Buju’s era like Ghost, Delly Ranx, and Cocoa Tea, more recent reggae stars like Etana, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, and Agent Sasco, and promising new talents like Buju’s son Jahaziel Myrie making his first major live appearance, rising star Koffee, who joined Cocoa Tea as a surprise guest, and Chronixx, who turned in a rousing performance with his Zinc Fence Redemption band just before Buju took the stage. Every one of the supporting acts rose to the occasion, performing as if they knew the whole world was watching. Many other top artists, from Tarrus Riley and Tony Rebel to Konshens, Govana, and Aidonia chilled backstage, soaking up the vibes.

Around 11 p.m. it was time for the main event. Emerging from his backstage tent wearing dark shades, Buju was mobbed by crowds of people straining for a glimpse as he made his way to the elevated stage. Escorted by a human chain of bodyguards, Buju strode with ease followed by longtime friend DJ Khaled and his wife Nicole Tuck. Khaled was one of Buju’s first overseas visitors and the two spent time in the recording studio in December, fueling speculation that Buju’s first new release may be included on Khaled’s forthcoming Father of Asahd album. The 100-yard walk to the stage seemed to take forever. Soon after Buju climbed the staircase a scuffle broke out at the foot of the stage. Khaled and his wife did finally make it through after some persistent efforts.

After a dramatic intro adapted from “Hate Me Now” by Nas, Buju entered the stage with words of prayer, going down on bended knee. From that moment forward, he sprinkled his performance with candid remarks that revealed his thoughts about all that he has been through, his hopes and plans for the future. “Now where we?” he remarked before launching into the first verse of his opening song, “Not an Easy Road.” Running through track after track—from “Close One Yesterday” to “Give I Strength,” and “Over Hills And Valleys”—Buju’s music spoke to the artist’s triumph over trials and tribulations.

Having had a long time to plan this concert, Buju’s care and preparation shone through in every detail. As he delved into harder-edged dancehall cuts like “Big It Up,” “Champion” and “Batty Rider,” he made a point of reaching out to a new generation of listeners. “Some of you might be pretty young—much too young to have been introduced to Buju Banton,” he said with a smile. “Hi, this is Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton. I’m sorry I didn’t met you earlier, due to unforeseen circumstances. However I’m here now. And I’m gonna take you back a little, to just educate you about the early ’90s, and how we dedicated ourselves to change the culture of our music, the direction of our music, and the quality of our music.”

After touching a few more dancehall classics, and giving props to some of those who helped him along the way, Buju applied a little pressure to Jamaica’s current wave of artists. “You guys are playing around today,” said the veteran hitmaker, sounding intent on restoring some order to the music. “We old folks ain’t gonna stand for it.”

One vintage cut that he did not perform was the infamous “Boom Bye Bye,” which Buju cut from his setlist well over a decade ago. Soon after his return from prison Buju voluntarily removed the song from all streaming platforms as well, a decisive move to make a fresh start and leave behind years of protests over the song. “After all the adversity we’ve been through,” Buju declared in a statement, “I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man.”

As the evening built to a crescendo, Buju invited out a few special guests, the first of whom used to sing with Bob Marley as he performed his songs of freedom all over the world. “This is mother apart from my mother,” Buju said as he welcomed Marcia Griffiths, noting that she had been sending him words of encouragement since he was 17 years old. They shared a warm embrace and two powerful duets, “Closer To You” and “Stepping Out of Babylon.” Then Marcia made way for another icon of Jamaican music, the beloved soul man Beres Hammond.

Beres had been looking forward to this moment for years. Having recorded many great collaborations at Penthouse, the smooth singer and the rough-and-rugged DJ have a tradition of trading parts when they perform together live. Even during the years when Buju wasn’t able to join him in person, Beres would do his best to recreate his young friend’s gravelly roar.

“It’s been too long,” Beres said as he greeted Buju with a joyful hug. Buju replied that he had tried to visit, driving himself to the singer’s home, but got turned away. “I was asleep,” Beres replied with a smile, and soon they got down to business, trading parts on “Who Say” just like they used to do, and making the crowd fall in love all over again. As Beres declared, “This is a welcome party!”

The next guest artist on stage was Wayne Wonder, the very same singer who helped launch Buju’s career here in the National Stadium almost three decades earlier. “Dancehall massive we don't forget you,” Buju roared as the band launched into the “Real Rock” riddim and Wayne began singing “Forever Young,” a collaboration made famous on a dubplate for the Stone Love sound system. When Buju started his verse, “Tell them fi test wi now, if them feel them bad like we,” he drove his hardcore fans into a frenzy.

Wayne’s presence seemed to take Buju back to the essence, tapping into the magic that made the early ’90s such a special era in Jamaican music. Standing next to his old friend, Buju shared one of his most candid remarks of the night. “Even though Buju Banton lock up mi still rough,” he stated with a serious expression. “Eight years, six months, 27 days, 13 hours, five minutes, and 26 seconds.” Buju then proceeded to address rumors that he’d been sexually abused during his incarceration—refuting the notion with a fiery freestyle.

The “Long Walk to Freedom” concert will go down as a milestone for a mighty musical genre that was recently honored by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, highlighting its "contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity.” While Buju’s place in history is assured, many are hopeful that his triumphant homecoming may signal a new way forward for the future of the music. He returns to a reggae scene that’s experienced profound changes during his absence. Although the dancehall sound is obviously a powerful influence on international artists like Drake, Major Lazer, and Rihanna, the rise of “tropical house,” “island pop,” and Afrobeats has left reggae music’s mission at a crossroads.

While Buju did not hesitate to offer a critique of modern dancehall music, he did extend an invitation to UK dancehall artist Stefflon Don, hailing her as “very instrumental in taking our culture international.” Later in his set, he offered words of encouragement to the new generation. “I wanna say nuff respect to all the younger generation of youths who kept the music,” Buju stated. “We don’t kill champions, we raise them. We want you to know that Buju Banton love what you’re doing. We just want you to find your way, and change it up a bit, and make it… wholesome.”

Returning home to the biggest stage on the island, Buju not only silenced his critics and reasserted his place as one of Jamaica’s foremost artists, he also underscored what UNESCO described as “the basic social functions of the music — as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God." As he closed his set with a medley that included anthems like “Murderer,” “Driver A,” and “Psalms 23” with Gramps Morgan, Buju demonstrated the full potential of reggae music, leading by example.

Staring out at a stadium filled with bright lights, his shirt dripping with sweat, Buju used his platform to issue a powerful warning. “We are a nation that’s built on some spiritual foundation,” Buju told the massive audience. “The day we lose that is the day we are over, and we are edging closer and closer to the edge.” As he continues his Long Walk to Freedom tour—with stops planned in the Bahamas, Trinidad, Barbados, Tortola, and St. Kitts—Buju seems perfectly positioned to lead the music forward to higher heights.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.

 

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