Born in the year of ‘Til Shiloh, Buju Banton’s first album released after his conversion to the Rastafari faith, Buju is the reggae legend whose success story my generation has had the honour of witnessing. Us younger folks didn’t grow up under the likes of Bob Marley and Dennis Brown. We grew up instead knowing that life’s Not an Easy Road and learning how to walk like a Champion. Another ghetto youth who showed us that hard work and dedication to one’s craft can elevate one from poverty, Jamaicans everywhere felt disappointed when we heard the news of Buju’s USA DEA charges for conspiracy to distribute and possess cocaine in 2009, especially given that we crooned the lyrics to Driver three years prior. Seven years, nine months and sixteen days later Jamaica was ready to forgive its Prodigal Son, even if his opening act hadn’t been on bended knee. Yes, Buju recited his time in prison on-stage down to the seconds, while I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, but I guess I’ve never had to count down a long walk to freedom. This is my humble review of the first stop on the Long Walk to Freedom tour, also Buju’s first concert and performance since his release from the McRae Correctional Institution on December 7, 2018, aptly performed on home soil at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.
Getting to the Stadium
Surprisingly well-organized for a crowd of this magnitude, parking was available at the National Heroes Circle a few minutes’ drive away with shuttling to the Stadium via JUTC buses (the public transport buses of the corporate area) according to ticket types. Tickets ranged from Bleachers, Grandstand, General Admission, VIP to VVIP. My POV is as a patron in the VIP stands, thanks to a pair of tickets my boyfriend diligently won in an online competition. Entering the Stadium was smoothly organized with entrances varying according to ticket type as well. Blankets and folding chairs were allowed for the latter three ticket types since no seats were available in the stadium centre, but there was no use bringing either. You’d never see a thing with how jam-packed the venue was. Thousands of people came from all over the island, overseas and across Hills and Valleys to witness history in the making.
Lead Up to Gargamel
Arriving around 8:15pm (yes, the concert began at 8), hungry belly got the better of us and we followed our noses to the smoke of a pan chicken vendor just across the road from the VIP gate entrance. This means we missed the opening performance from Wayne Marshall blessing the night with Glory to God, and a few other early acts like Koffee with her hit single Toast. Etana graced the stage with soulful reggae tunes then the night began heating up with Chris Martin reminding gentlemen not to impregnate their mistresses if they must cheat. Romain Virgo joined Chris on stage then held his own afterwards, commanding our attention for about ten minutes.
Agent Sasco was up next, one of the few other Jamaican deejays who can utter the raspy vocals which made Buju famous. He reminded us that we are Winning Right Now along with a few other crowd favourites, then made way for the second most anticipated artiste of the night.
He gets his own section not only because I can recite the whole of his debut album, Chronology, after listening to it on repeat for a whole year (to my friends’ chagrin) but also because:
- He was the last act before the Gargamel came on, and
- Besides Buju, he had the longest onstage time of all the artistes so there’s a lot I can say about my idol.
Starting with Alpha and Omega and greeting us in the name of His Imperial Majesty, crowd satisfaction was evident. Next up, Chronixx’s Skanking Sweet touched on a spiritual level. You could see Chronixx was in his element. My gosh, he made you feel happy just seeing him so happy. The whole stadium was singing and Jamaica smiled. Even those with minimal hardship belted their hearts out to They Don’t Know. When he asked us to put our lighters in the air, the stadium lit up, both the clean-whistle-hearted and otherwise.
Leaving us on a high, there was no one else who could top his performance except the Gargamel himself. After some stage changes and rearrangements, a few lights here and a new platform there, it became clear he was ready for us.
11:25:32pm. Like a spectre the legend emerged and we were ready for him. Buju knew he Wanna Be Loved, singing and getting On Bended Knee in a chilling rendition; it almost felt One to One. There was no need– Buju is likely no saint but he’s no Murderer either, so if it’s forgiveness he sought, forgiveness was a done deal. The Prodigal Son was home, performing on home soil for the first time in ten years and Jamaica was Falling In Love All Over Again. It wasn’t long before he changed notes and took charge of his audience with the tunes for which Jamaica and the world fell in love with him. No song was left unturned and when the legend got bored he turned to freestyle, driving home the point that, “hello. I’ve still got it!” He used freestyle to tell us there was “no sexual abuse, no tears in his rectum.” That was the only whiff of his staunch anti-LGBT views, having learnt from Boom Bye Bye.
It seems Buju made good use of the prison gymnasium too because he has more stamina than eight years ago, jumping up and down on stage evidently more lithe than he left us. He showed us how he has been passing the past three months as well– Loving How The Gyal Dem Flex. Just look! A man never forgets how to use his pelvis, not even after eight years.
He decided to steer clear of the Love Me Browning and Love Black Woman controversies too. Smart. 👍 He seems to have come back to us more mature but I guess most legends have had their fair share of controversy. I was looking forward to singing them both– I honestly am not offended by either song. A man is entitled to an opinion and taste in women.
It wasn’t a perfect ninety minutes. Buju’s Complaint, and ours too, was the dang microphone! Literally three and a half hours of smooth performances and transitions then the general comes on stage and his mic fails? He was much calmer than we were, and it was only a matter of time before the crowd began chanting “Buju, Buju.” Even after his mic was switched, there was still the hitch of the band’s mic being louder than his for a bit. Smaddy likely lost their work that night!
When our legend grew tired he brought out familiar faces such as Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths and Wayne Wonder. After all, even Stamina Daddy gets tired but he still did a phenomenal job of keeping us entertained till a few minutes past 1am. No one could’ve really expected Buju to spend A Little More Time. And gosh, you could see Buju was having a blast. He truly outdid himself–quite a legendary performance.
It was an excellent concert, truly a 5 hour spectacle to remember ‘Til I’m Laid to Rest. I’m aware the experience wasn’t the same for all patrons because you couldn’t see the stage from the stands and the screens weren’t always focused on the performances. I glanced up to see KFC ads, the VIP/VVIP crowds and drone footage quite often so I would be displeased too. However, it wouldn’t have been a waste of money for me though, just knowing I attended the most anticipated concert of the year so far and got to see and feel the palpable energy of the crowd. Nothing beats a live experience. I hope the minimal glitches are fixed for the rest of the Caribbean, African and European tours and Long Walk to Freedom will be an even better experience.
I completed the night with my own Long Walk to Freedom, that is, boarding a JUTC bus to return to Heroes Circle but I guess chaos is to be expected at 1am when bleary-eyed patrons are in a scramble to get home. No more segregation by ticket prices. It was getting into any available bus by tooth and nail.
Let me say it myself– a warm welcome home to The Gargamel. And thanks to Digicel, I can finally say I’ve (basically) experienced the feeling of winning a competition.
P.S. Banton’s moniker ‘The Gargamel’ is said to be based on the fact that his face carries a resemblance to that of the character Gargamel in kids’ cartoon series, The Smurfs. Well then.
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‘Til next time, friends. ✌🏽