Music To Reach The Masses: Buju Banton Interviewed

Music To Reach The Masses: Buju Banton Interviewed

An audience with a true Jamaican icon...

Buju Banton has had an illustrious career spanning approximately 30 years and he’s showing no sign of letting up.

Since releasing his very first album in 1992, ‘Stamina Daddy’, Banton has consistently given his fans quality music. Throughout his career, he has dealt with controversy and a prison sentence, but nothing can stop this reggae superstar. Even after serving time, he quickly went back to making music which has resulted in his latest album, ‘Upside Down 2020’.

Buju Banton has managed to keep his musical career evolving by working with current artists and sounds while being a true legend of reggae. His new album features the likes of John Legend and Pharrell Williams.

Clash caught up with Buju Banton to discuss his new record, racial injustice and making music again.

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Firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on your new album ‘Upside Down 2020’.

Thank you very much.

It's a mighty body of work after 10 years. How long has it been in the making?

One year. Since I came out [of prison], I finished the album. I trusted all my energies working on this record. I was working on it in June, and by December we were done. Yeah, that was six months.

That's quite a short space of time to make such a big body of work. In your last 30 years or so of making music, you've released studio albums pretty consistently. How liberating was it for you to finally get this music out after everything you’ve been through? 

It’s important for me to share my music with the world. Through my music, I am able to say to everyone who has come into contact with Buju Banton how much I miss them, how much I love them, how much they mean to me, how much I’ve suffered and endured. And how my has strength has kept me going with my faith. My music is very very important.

How was the process of making this album compared to your earlier work?

Different in many ways, because it’s my first album in a long while. My people who have worked with me in the past, some have migrated, some are still here.

With some songs that I had from the past, I wanted to take it and do something else with it and take it forward and we managed to achieve that because I worked day and night to make a quality record, to not only bring Buju Banton back to the people, but reggae music, the culture what it stands for and what it represents in the conversation.

The album has a lot of different genres on it. You've always been quite open to experimenting. Do you think that keeps you and your work relevant and alive?

Well, I've always been very creative in my offering of music to the masses. None of my records sound the same, I try and make a different record every time whether that’s the melody, musical composition or lyrics.

This record, it’s no different because I hate monotony. There must be diversity and different musical compositions, genre and influences to complement a new body of work. We managed to achieve that and I’m grateful because I hate monotony.

On the album, you work with one of our own Stefflon Don on ‘Call Me’, what was it like working with her?

She was amazing, she’s got a beautiful music approach.

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A lot of your music is really uplifting, and it addresses a lot of current issues. They're really anthems for the troubles that are going on in our world. With everything that's going on, do you think we can turn the tide of racial inequality against black people?

The concerted effort to keep one particular race down while other ones flourish upon their hard work, their creativity, their natural resources must come to an end. I'm not talking about the movement. I'm talking about the plight of my people which goes beyond any movement because our lives have been mattering from the beginning of time. You don’t just wake up and realise our lives mattered.

The Rastafarians of Jamaica have always been for peace and love because only these can change the world. If there’s no peace, there has to be war, if there’s no love then there’s hate. So, with peace and love all can be achieved and there can be change in every facet and aspect of human existence. We don’t want to be living on the British dole or the American welfare system. That’s you keeping us pacified, passive and controlled.

We want the ability to do things for ourselves, just like when immigrant can come to England from Pakistan and they receive medical, when the Black man arrive, he must be allowed an opportunity as well.

Countries like Jamaica and these countries the British once owned, they’ve now turned their back on us. So after they owned all these colonies, we’re basically abandoned. When we visit England, they tell us we’re criminals. We’re a small island of only two million people who have made a mark on the world.

The music we’re now talking about is reggae music and it was a gift to Britain from us. So obviously you need to change. Upside down, sister!

You've done so much in your career. Is there still anything that you want to do or anyone that you want to work with?

I still would like to reach the masses with this music, it’s for the soul. Keep the message out there, y'know. And there’s my charity. In the 30 years, I’ve been annexed, I've been blacklisted. All the people in Brixton, Clapham, and Harlesden and all these place have kept Buju Banton’s music alive knowing that I wasn’t what the mainstream represented... I represented the culture. And I was trying to fight for my people. The rest is history.

What's coming up for you in the rest of 2020?

For 2020, it depends... one minute the coronavirus is up and the next minute it’s down. We’re waiting for the coronavirus to be out. Our lives are in the hands of people who tell us when we can go outside and resume our lives, because right now we’re existing. We're buried alive but we’re still breathing.

So until then, we await the world. Right sister? We’re all in the same boat.

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'Upside Down 2020' is out now.

Words: Nikita Rathod

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