By the age of 19, Buju Banton (born Mark Anthony Myrie, aka. Gargamel in 1973) was already the most popular artist in Jamaica, breaking Bob Marley's record for the most number one singles in a year, most of which are on his outstanding 1993 debut, Mr. Mention. He generated some controversy when he celebrated light-skinned women on "Love Me Browning," but he quickly quelled it with the followup hit, "Love Black Woman." Banton also helped ignite a major dance craze with "Bogle."
Many of Banton's first hits are from the "slackness" school, full of raw, sexual imagery. That all changed when an old track, "Boom Bye Bye," was reissued over the irresistible "Flex" rhythm. It was by far his biggest and most controversial hit. As it was getting heavy airplay in some of America's largest markets, the New York Post put a translation of the virulently anti-homosexual lyrics on its front page. But what could have been a career killer became the impetus for Banton's conversion into one of dancehall's top conscious artists: "Willy (Don't Be Silly)" was a pro-condom-use single from which all proceeds were donated to Operation Willy, supporting children affected by the HIV virus or AIDS.
Incorporating more singing into his performances, Banton brought the worlds of hardcore dancehall and conscious reggae together on 1995's 'Til Shiloh. With edgy, bass-pumping tracks like "Champion" and the anti-gun-violence "Murderer" standing next to rootsy, acoustic cuts like "Untold Stories" and "'Til I'm Laid To Rest," it is one of the greatest reggae albums ever. And any doubts of his singing ability were laid to rest when he held his own with Morgan Heritage's Gramps on "23rd Psalm," the most solemn reggae hit since Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."
In fact, duets have been Banton's trademark since the beginningmany singles contrast his roaring chants with sweet singers like Beres Hammond and Wayne Wonder. The two-CD set Buju & Friends collects most of these. There are also hardcore DJ duets with Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Red Rat, plus a remake of "54-46 That's My Number" with Toots Hibbert and a "digital duet" with the late Tenor Saw on "Ring The Alarm."
Despite some problems with major labels and misguided attempts at crossover hits, Buju Banton is still standing strong, and his legacy cannot be denied. Judson Kilpatrick, Courtesy Global Rhythm Magazine: www.globalrhythm.net