Each generation has a voice that convincingly conveys past tribulations, contemporary triumphs and future aspirations; throughout the 1990's the voice of Jamaica has been Mark Anthony Myrie, better known to Reggae fans as Buju Banton. Buju has dominated Jamaican music with a rough gravel yet keenly melodic deejay (the Jamaican equivalent of a rapper) delivery, transcending the parameters of Dancehall Reggae and servicing as a globally embraced artistic paradigm for the 21st century. The wide ranging musical styles and sophisticated lyrical concerns Buju embraces throughout UNCHAINED SPIRIT (his debut release for Epitaph subsidiary Anti Inc.) will certainly resonate with fans regardless of racial, cultural and socio economic backgrounds.
"My effots here are not to crossover but to go through boundaries and borders freely and to be heard by all people who are citizens of the free loving earth," reasons Mr. Banton. "Like the title, I'm an unchained spirit, a free spirit and my intention is to make sure this one goes out across the world to satisfy the musical and spiritual hunger of the nation, to bring us closer today than yesterday to our freedom and our need to come together to solidify the human race."
Buju Banton (born July 15th, 1973) is the youngest of 15 children born to a 'higgler' street vendor mother in Kingson, Jamaica. A descendant of the Maroons, (the fierce freedom fighters who fended off attacks form the British colonial regiments) he was nicknamed Buju (the Maroon name for breadfruit, a starchy round vegetable) as a child; Banton is designation bestowed upon a commander of lyrical distinction as well as the name of the deejay who had the greatest impact on Buju's course vocal style, Burro Banton. Buju, entered Jamaica's musical fraternity at age 12 as the 'Lambada Man', captivated by deejay's lyrical skills as they chat over records played by sound system selectors in the dancehall. "Being in Dancehall at such a young age, seeing people with microphones, hearing the music was the most mystical feeling I ever encountered," he recalls. "The first time I got the chance to make a song my head swell so big, I knew right there - there was no turning back!" In 1991 Banton met (producer) Dave Kelly then an engineer at Donovan Germain's Penthouse Studios at the famous 56 SLIPE ROAD in Kingston; soon the teenage Deejay's career accelerated into high gear on the strength of several Penthouse singles, particularly 'Love Me Browning' an ode to light skinned women which caused great controversy in color conscious Jamaica. Buju'' debut album 'Mr. Mention' (Penthouse) followed in 1992, breaking all sale records on the island and earning the young artist more number one singles than any other Reggae artist, including Bob Marley.
At just 21 years old, Buju's 1993 release 'Voice Of Jamaica' (Mercury) featuring tracks such as 'Operation Ardent', 'Deportee' and the safe sex anthem 'Willy Don't Be Silly', was lauded for the unprecedented social commentary it brought to the dancehall. Buju Banton, now a superstar in Jamaica, also established himself as a musical force in urban America as the first Dancehall Deejay to sellout New York City's 5600 seat Paramount Theater. Banton continued to innovate, implementing the spiritual principals derived from his recently cited Rastasfarian way of life into his formidable lyrical flow on the 1995 high acclaimed 'Til Shiloh' (Loose Cannon) album. A groundbreaking work drawing from Reggae's roots rock traditions and the combustible energy of dancehall highlighted by Buju's admonitions on the anti violence anthem 'Murder' and plaintive singing coloring the start acoustic guitar ballad 'Untold Stories'. 'Til Shiloh' has garnered innumerable awards and in 1999 was slected by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of the decade.
The complexity of Buju's musical story unfolds with even greater maturity throughout the 1997 release 'Inna Heights' (a joint venture between VP Records/Penthouse Music and Island Jamaica, produced by Donovan Germain), Buju's versatility deftly handling chilling acapella dramas, African choral chants on 'Afrikan Pride' and raw riddim ridding on 'Love Them Bad' featuring rising deejay (at that time) RED RAT.
Buju's most important work to date, however, arrives with 'Unchained Spirit', and exploration of varied musical terrain utilizing a talented array of Jamaican producers including Germain, Tony Kelly, dynamic duo producer/musicians Steely & Clevie and Banton himself. The introduction to 'Unchained Spirit' is a hallowed chant sung in Hebrew which segues into a tender reading of the '23rd Psalm', a collaboration between Buju, Peter 'Grandpa' Morgan of Reggae's premier family group Morgan Heritage and the talents of saxophonist Dean Frazier. Morgan Heritage's younger siblings LMS lend support on the 'The Voice Of Jah', Buju's inflamed-preacher-at-the-pulpit intonations heralding Jah's revelations and prophesy. Unconquerable rhymes urging self determination and spiritual strength prophesy 'Life is A Journey', while the global stuggles of African people are poignantly recounted in 'Sudan', which features the talents of Wailer's keyboardist Tyrone Downie.
The up-tempo shuffling rhythms of Reggae's forerunner, SKA are showcased throughout the hopeful 'Better Must Come' and the commanding 'Mighty Dreed', which Buju says "shows the world how mighty Rastafari vibes can be". 'Life it up, jack it up, pull it up, come again now, can you play some more?' rings the infectious refrain from 'Pull It Up' a number one hit in Jamaica in 1999, celebrating the Dancehall itself featuring the scorching soul inflected vocals of Reggae's Otis Redding - Beres Hammond.
'Poor Old Man', a collaboration between Steven Marley and Buju on vocals and production, details the heart rending search for one faithful friend supported by an equally compelling conversation between rhythm, lead and bass guitars. Enlisting the vocal talents of Luciano on 'We Be All Right', Buju's hard edged rhymes dovetail with the singers' rich baritone over the sublime reggae rhytms provided by Luciano's backing band, The Firehouse Crew.
'Law and Order' offers insight into the perils of the RudeBoy lifestyle while 'Guns And Bombs' cautions the same rude boys - it's time to take a break from all the looting and shooting. "These songs are commenting on all violence which unfortunately accompanies daily life in Kingston as well as urban America, so put your guns and bombs on intermission, we chilling out."
Reminiscent of his earliest hits, Buju's raw deejay delivery compliments the female form with such observations as "a well ripe woman every man want to squeeze, flawless just like the breeze", on the energized 'Woman Dem Phat'. Buju's expansive vocal capabilities are fully complimented by the clanging guitars driving 'No More Misty Days' courtesy of Tim Armstrong of the California based punk rock group Rancid. Banton had previously collaborated with Rancid on the title song from their 1999 album 'Life Won't Wait' and together they wrote 'Misty Days' after the group sojourn in Jamaica.
Since the early 1990's to the threshold of a new millennium, Buju Banton has metamorphosed from a brash teenage phenomenon into a self assured deejay and singer, visionary, producer and successfully entrepreneur who runs his own Aksum Recording Studio and Gargamel Productions. The wide-ranging social and stylistic approach offered on 'Unchained Spirit' reflects the changes, challenges, circumstances and criticisms that Buju has surmounted artistically and personally. "We always want challenges to prove ourselves worthy of the life we living and the air we breathing," he explains. "Unchained Spirit is me expressing myself with the art form I've been blessed to work in because making music - that is my joy. We try to bring forth all kinds of renditions in the blend to make the music sound exciting so each particular track can take your ear."
Check the interview here.