Buju Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom
Article and photos by Beverly ‘Sista Irie’ Shaw
“And to the man whose iniquity is forgiven, all manner of blessings are promised” Psalms 32:1
March 16, 2019 will long be remembered as the night when the most highly anticipated reggae concert in the history of Jamaica came to fruition. Excitement built for many months in advance of Buju’s release from a US prison. The entire country held their breath as Buju walked off a plane on December 7 onto the tarmac at Norman Manley International Airport, where loyal fans waited with love in their hearts to receive their musical hero.
Buju’s return was met with some controversy. The majority of fans were there to support Buju’s right to a new life, one of musical excellence and positive vibrations. The naysayers held on to judgmental views as if one mistake is a life sentence. Let them stew. Buju performed his first show, held in Jamaica, March 16, at the National Stadium in Kingston to nearly 30,000 fans. Many had flown from other countries to see one of Jamaica’s most beloved performers take the stage after nine long years of confinement. His support is massive, from both roots and dancehall fans with an overwhelming wish for Buju to begin his future life free of judgement. Love is the key to redemption and for Buju there is love abound.
The concert’s production was amazingly close to perfection thanks to Robert Stewart and the professional crew. DJ Bobby Konders and Jabba opened with a welcomed arrangement of classic reggae songs that radiated across the wide expanse of the stadium. By 8 p.m. the house was full and Wayne Marshall took the stage. Tightly managed cameo performances from five to twenty minutes followed, including Buju’s son, Jahaziel, Delly Ranks, Ghost, LUST, Cocoa Tea and Koffee, Etana with Feluke on the Congas, Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Agent Sasco, Dean Fraser and Chronixx. Each artist more than pleased the crowd, singing legacy songs, delivered with passion and eloquence. Chronixx sparked additional excitement with “Clean Like a Whistle” asking the stadium to light their phones and lighters. The air was filled with multitudes of waving red, gold and green flags, vuvuzela horns, and thousands of tiny bright lights flickering across the night like an invasion of fireflies. The mood was electric.
After a short intermission, Elise Kelly, arrived onstage to graciously introduce the arrival of Buju Banton. As Buju took the stage, screams of wild emotion erupted from the crowd while Buju fell to his knees in a song of praise, “Lamb of God, have mercy on me.” Backed by the ten piece Shiloh Band, Buju transitioned into “Not An Easy Road” clearly a musical statement regarding his life. The fans were mesmerized as Buju moved in familiar ways, singing his most famously known songs, and then brought on well loved musical friends who gave special meaning to his career and life. Touching moments between Buju and Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Wayne Wonder and Gramps Morgan were tender and heartfelt. Poignantly, towards the end of the show, Gramps and Buju delivered a chilling rendition of the 23rd Psalm. The overwhelming love of old friends, combined with the joy of Buju’s freedom filled the stadium with a strong sense of a positive future, of great things to come, of hope rekindled. Buju is clearly ready to rule his destiny. Those of us who love Buju pray for his spiritual renewal and hope he shines a guiding light to the troubled youth who make hard choices in life. Buju may not yet understand the power within his hands, to search deeply into his soul and manifest a spiritual path for those in conflict and to guide the confused down the path of righteousness. If he succeeds, he can become a major force in the healing of the nation.
In an interview with Onstage host, Winford Williams, Yasus Afari discusses the critical importance of the Long Road to Freedom Concert. He sees the event as a turning point for Jamaican music, a pivot for a new paradigm. Much like the Reggae Revival, Buju has the potential to usher in an expanded revival. Yasus eloquently states ‘Buju can mobilize and inspire people through the use of moral capital. This is why the people embrace him, so even when him wrong, him right. It’s a serious thing, yuh know. The man nuh perfect but his affect on the people, the under trodden, the have nots, the disenfranchised, as one man who come from one livity to another and through the use of poetic chemistry can empower the people.’ https://www.facebook.com/majestymediaglobal/posts/2534131093282602?sfnsw=cl
Elise Kelly, of Irie FM, summarizes by saying “The Long Walk to Freedom surpassed expectations of even those of us who prayed night and day for a wonderful, successful show. The naysayers must be in shock!!! It is now written in history as the best Reggae Production EVER staged in Jamaica. Buju we missed you. Reggae music is happy for your return. We love BUJU BANTON.”
Fireworks closed the night. The crowd peacefully dispersed with exhilaration and the knowledge they had just witnessed something that will go down in the history of Jamaican music as nothing short of epic.
“I’ve got to rise up and alleviate the stress
No longer will I expose my weakness
He who seeks knowledge begins with humbleness”
Buju Banton, ‘Till I’m Laid to Rest’