As the music world commemorates the birth anniversary of Bob Marley next week, an artist whose influence has been favourably compared to the reggae legend will be performing at a long awaited concert in Nairobi.
Grammy Award winning Jamaican artist Buju Banton will perform in Nairobi on February 8, just two days after what would have been Marley’s 75th birthday, which is fortuitous given the parallels between the two musicians.
While Bob Marley provided the platform on which reggae music has grown into a global phenomenon, the generations of performers after him have built on that legacy by developing a dynamic and much loved sound and taking the music to fans around the world that connect to the uplifting and positive message.
Buju Banton is among the artists that have successfully managed to remain true to the themes of social and political consciousness embodied in the foundation of reggae while pushing the barriers of the sound to new frontiers that have enhanced the appeal of the music.
The artist whose real name is Mark Myrie, is one of the leading lights of what is known as “modern roots” reggae that draws its inspiration from classic reggae dub, combined with hard-edged dance hall rhythms often with lyrics based on love, justice and spirituality
His distinct gruff vocal style and ability to sing and toast (rap) endeared him to many fans who were yearning for a new star who had the ability to move the music forward after a period in the 1980s and early 90s when roots reggae had declined and been replaced by sexually explicit dance hall music, known in Jamaican slang as “slackness.”
While in his younger days, Buju was criticised for such lyrics that apparently glorified violence, and homophobia, all that changed when he converted to Rastafarianism and adopted a conscious vibe to his music. He also bowed to protests from gay rights activists at his concerts around the world and accepted to drop offensive songs from his repertoire.
From his breakthrough in the early 1990s and for almost two decades, Buju was one of reggae’s most consistent and successful artists with classics like “Destiny” “Wanna Be Loved” “Hills and Valleys” ”Close One Yesterday” “Not An Easy Road” and “Untold Stories” (reminiscent of Marley’s Redemption Song”).
In 1992, he broke the record that was set by Bob Marley for the highest number of No.1 singles in Jamaica.
A flourishing career faced the risk of coming to a premature end when Buju was arrested by the US authorities in December 2009 on drug -related charges.
After a long trial, he was sentenced by a US court in 2011 to a eight-year prison term for conspiring to set up a cocaine deal two years earlier.
Just a week before his conviction, Buju won Best Reggae Album for “Before the Dawn” at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011, his first win after four previous nominations .
During his trial, one of Marley’s sons, Stephen Marley put up his own home as collateral for Buju to be released from custody. His release from jail in December 2018 was a highly-anticipated event among his community of fans around the world and he has used that experience to rebuild his career from where he left off before his incarceration.
His first concert after release from jail was described by journalists in Jamaica as the biggest on the island since Bob Marley’s Smile Jamaica concert in 1976, two days after an attempt on his life. The first night of the ‘Long Walk To Freedom Tour’ on March 2019 (named after Nelson Mandela’s autobiography) saw Jamaica’s National Stadium in Kingston filled to its 35,000 capacity.
It is that atmosphere that the 46 year old performer will be hoping to replicate on his first ever performance in Kenya on February 8 at the KICC Grounds.
His first single since release from prison “Country For Sale” was released in May 2019 and topped the iTunes Reggae Chart within minutes of its release.
His song “Murda She Wrote” is featured on the soundtrack of the new film “Bad Boys For Life” starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
In November last year, Buju announced a partnership with Roc Nation owned by US rapper and entrepreneur Jay Z.
Despite the long incarceration, Buju Banton, has remained true to the lyrics of his song “Close One Yesterday”: “Don’t you go down, keep your head above the water. Be strong, one day things must get better. ”