Port St. Lucie, Florida — Last weekend, an exodus out of every county in Florida, recorded full flights departing from Miami International, Palm Beach International, Tampa International and Orlando International to Kingston, Jamaica where a “Long Road To Freedom” headliner invited fans to his first concert in almost a decade.
Contingents of diasporans from the Sunshine State said they travelled further south in order to greet their beloved Buju Banton, a dancehall deejay who had not performed since Jan. 16, 2011 when he was granted permission by a judge to headline his own fundraiser in Miami to help with his legal fees.
The Tampa magistrate okayed the concert 11 months into the incarceration period of Mark Myrie AKA Buju Banton who was found guilty of possession of drugs and a long list of related charges after surveillance cameras captured him tasting and offering cocaine to a government informant who he befriended.
A large number of Jamaicans denied the allegations saying Banton was setup by the federal government because of his lyrical recording interpreted to advocate the murder of homosexuals.
The song was actually an age-old recording titled “Boom Bye Bye” and chorused “inna batty bwoy head” to mean “shoot them in their head.” Although Banton explained that the reason he penned the diatribe against homosexuals was due to a specific rape incident in Kingston, which involved an underage, male who was sexually violated by an adult male.
Despite the fact the telling tune was first introduced when the deejay was a teenager, an international, advocacy group for the gay community waged a relentless protest campaign to stunt his rise throughout the American music industry.
Banton was banned from performing at many venues and radio stations dropped the song and others he recorded from their playlists.
Protest groups positioned themselves outside his concerts forcing promoters to refrain from billing the popular Jamaican entertainer.
Despite a preponderance of negative media coverage, Banton’s fans stood their ground, rallied in support of his stance and although faced with reduced and limited tour offers Banton was dubbed the Voice Of Jamaica, a moniker borrowed from his Loose Canon Records debut album.
And after his arrest, prior to a conviction while in captivity the judge approved a fundraising concert at Miami’s Bayfront Stadium with provision that Banton would wear an electronic monitor to track his movements. Thousands flocked to show solidarity with the showcase billed “Before The Dawn.”
The concert featured Gramps Morgan and Morgan Heritage, Stephen Marley and others convinced the nicknamed Gargamel was trapped for voicing aversions against homosexuals.
Less than a month after the concert the Gargamel won a Grammy Award in the best reggae album category for Since his release last December fans have anxiously awaited his return to the stage. When he announced a March 16 date at the National Stadium loyalists converged online to purchase concert tickets in order to attend the premiere concert event by the dancehall reggae artist.
They began filtering exit points throughout the USA from midweek and by Friday a steady stream of families, friends and curious individuals flooded Norman Manley Airport in Kingston.
United by adoration for the lyrical compositions he recorded before his incarceration and deportation from the USA, no one seemed concerned by the fact their idol is now a convicted felon and considered persona non grata here.
A predominant Caribbean exodus repeated from every borough in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.
“My cousin left from Indianapolis,” Donna Samad said, “she took off from work on Friday and returned Sunday.”
“I am Buju’s biggest fan,” Kisha Pennycooke, a pediatrician in West Palm Beach boasted. “Buju’s music helped me through medical school.”
The Harvard graduate was unable to attend the anticipated concert because “I have rounds” she explained.
Ephraim Martin traveled from Chicago, Illinois to see and hear the throaty Grammy-winning deejay.
Martin, a Midwest promoter who annually hosts the International Reggae and World Music Awards, probably joined the throngs with hopes of securing a booking for his May 11 award show, which this year is slated for Kingston.
There are dissenters to the concert and to Banton’s expensive showcase.
“I believe Buju should remain in recluse to ponder his future and also reflect on his 10 years in prison,” Canadian reggae fan Paul Smith said.
“He needs to atone.”
“And the concert should have been free for the people,” he added.
“He is our prodigal son,” Beverley Daley said, “he came home and we are here to welcome him and show him we still love him.
For his first concert in his homeland in many years, Banton colored the salt and pepper dreadlocks prominent on the day he returned from prison. The beloved Jamaican appeared onstage wearing white to deliver favorites — some of which might have been rehearsed while incarcerated and captured on social media posts four years ago.
Reportedly, the dancehall sensation did not miss a beat and seemed in full form. However, he omitted the controversial “Boom Bye Bye” song from his repertoire but delivered classic hits such as “Driver,” “Destiny,” “It’s Not An Easy Road,” and “Walk Like A Champion.”
He was joined by his son Jahzeil Myrie, CeCile, Etana, Wayne Wonder, Ghost, Romain Virgo, Delly Ranx, Christopher Martin, Chronixx, Beres Hammond, Cocoa Tea, Marcia Griffith and others.
The kickoff Kingston concert will be followed by dates in Eastern Caribbean countries through the summer.
Catch You On The Inside!