EDITORIAL: It’s all about the lyrics, people!

Even as Jamaican entertainer Buju Banton gave what has been reported as a much welcomed “Thrilling and exciting” performance in Jamaica last Saturday, it was evident this welcome wasn’t a consensus. While on Saturday night and Sunday social media trended with videos, images and positive comments related to the entertainer’s performance, there were also posts questioning why an ex-convict was being so celebrated.

Critical Facebook post

One Facebook post provoking strong backlash read “I don’t get it. Can someone explain to me. You commit a drug crime, spend time in prison and return as a superstar to a hero’s welcome to make millions of dollars What message are we sending to our children…..Lord help us!”

The individual who shared this post was by no means unique. Since Buju’s release from a US prison last December, the warm welcome from a large segment of Jamaican society, and the enthusiastic response to his current concert tour, “The long Walk to Freedom,” there has been similar, even worse, criticisms.


Cleary, those who cannot understand the enthusiasm surrounding Buju also don’t understand the impact Jamaican culture has on the country’s social environment.

This cultural impact, however, is not related to only Jamaica, but throughout the Caribbean, and even in American communities where the lyrics song by entertainers convey strong social messages that motivate people more than politicians or even religious leaders can.

The Mighty Sparrow’s social commentaries

Back in the 1950s during the British colonial era, Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow sang a song called “Dan is the Man” reflecting the mis-education Caribbean children was receiving from the British. Sparrow’s lyrics criticized the nursery rhymes these children were subject to which made them believe “The cow jumps over the moon,” and “Dan is the man in the van.”

Sparrow became one of the world’s most famous calypsonian. Although there were critics who frowned upon “slackness” in some of his lyrics, most of the lyrics were powerful social commentary of the social failures and politics of the day.

Meanwhile, over in Jamaica, the youth faced with steep social challenges, were subject to the lyrics of white American singers like Patti Page, singing of that “Doggie in the window” and Doris Day’s encouraging people to walk on “Moonlight Bay.”

The impact of the ‘toasters’ in the 60’s

But then a change came in the 1960’s and 70s when entertainers like U-Roy and Shorty began toasting, talking over the rhythm of popular songs. These artists, and several that followed had songs with well-received lyrics that commented on the socio-economic climate of the time, especially the hardships being incurred by the lower classes

In 1972, the message in the lyrics of Delroy Wilson’s “Better Must Come” resonated with the masses, and helped in Michael Manley’s historical election victory

Bob Marley’s meaningful lyrics

When Bob Marley immerged in 1964, the lyrics in his song “Simmer Down” cautioned Jamaica’s rebellious youth to  “control your temper.” His songs were not just musically thrilling, but most carried messages the people could relate to. The lyrics in “Trench Town Rock” portrayed the challenges faced in Kingston ghettos where some slept on cold ground with rock stone as their pillow.  “No woman Nuh Cry” offered consolation to many mothers whose sons were victims of criminal violence. In a time of social and economic hardships, Marley exhorted Jamaicans, “Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing will be all right.”

It’s ironic that the Jamaican upper class that now hails the music of the late Bob Marley didn’t appreciate or even understand his lyrics during the 70s. Some even criticized him for being a “dutty Rasta Bway.” But it wasn’t about the flashing locks, or him prancing on stage. It was all about the lyrics. Lyrics that helped Blacks overcome apartheid in Angola and South Africa, and kept Winnie Mandela strong as she sought Nelson Mandela’s freedom

So it is with Buju’s lyrics

And, so it is with Buju Banton. It’s not about the energy he displays on stage or the rhythm in his songs. Like Marley before him, Buju sing songs, that unlike some politicians and religious leaders ease the pain of those often  marginalized by society. Buju offers hope to the poor, encouraging then to “Rule their Destiny.” He warns murderers who plague the society “You can hide from man, but not your conscience.”

Like The words of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr and Nelson Mandela, the words of Bob Marley and Buju Banton will be relevant far into posterity.

Those who are more concerned with a presumed tainted reputation of Buju Banton, but never had the opportunity to hear his music and understand the message in his lyrics are advised to visit the Internet and read the lyrics of over one-hundred of Buju Banton songs.  Hopefully, they’ll then understand the entertainer’s phenomenal popularity, why his experience in America’s legal system seems irrelevant, and the reason for the enthusiastic “Reunion” between Buju and his thousands of fans.

The answer lies in the lyrics.


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