My destination is homeward bound, though forces try hold I down. Breaking chains has become the norm. I know I must get through no matter what a gwan.”
-Buju Banton “Destiny”
These poignant lines from Buju Banton’s Grammy-nominated album ‘Inna Heights’, have taken on added significance as the artist born Mark Myrie seeks to rule his own destiny. Today he took a giant step forward in that journey.
After serving seven years behind bars following a problematic trial and controversial conviction, the Jamaican-born artist has at last completed his Long Walk To Freedom. On Friday, December 7th Mark Myrie was released from prison-one day early-and accepted voluntarily deportation back to his island homeland of Jamaica. Currently, en route home, Buju Banton is filled with anticipation over the simple things so many of us take for granted in our day-to-day lives. When asked the first thing he was looking forward to when you return home, the artist’s response was: “A clean glass of water to flow through my system.”
This Walk to Freedom has been a long and traumatic one. Not only traumatizing for Buju himself, but also for his family as well who was stripped of a father, provider, and friend. But with the love and support of family, friends, and fans, he pushed through day by day. He would rise at 7 am and start his day with a prayer, followed by an apple, orange or ripe banana. During his incarceration, Myrie stripped himself of the moniker “Buju Banton” and immersed himself into the reality he was confronted with by living in the now and not looking back at the past. He also occupied himself with reading, meditation, and led study groups amongst his fellow inmates.
As he makes his way back home, the world awaits him and continues to celebrate his life and contribution to music. Dates for his Long Walk to Freedom Tour is still being finalized, with the first show taking place in Jamaica next Spring.
Buju’s absence from reggae’s creative community has been long and painful as well. “There is a big void without Buju Banton in the music,” veteran reggae singer Cocoa Tea told Billboard for a recent feature about the anticipation surrounding Buju’s return. “Buju Banton’s music makes bad people wanna do good,” said Beres Hammond, who has recorded numerous collaborations with the artist. “I really wish that he was out here. We’re missing one of our messengers, ya know? This is me speaking from the heart. We need people like him out here.”
“He was always touring, always working. He started that work as a teenager, and he worked until he was decades into his career,” said Pat McKay, director of programming for reggae at Sirius XM. “In that time he built a world community fan base. They still miss him and they still want to hear from him. His work still has value, it’s still quotable and the aspirations of that work will always ring true.”
Although he has not released any new songs since ‘Before the Dawn,’ which won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, Buju’s music remains popular. During the past year alone, he racked up over 22 million streams on Spotify alone.
He returns to a genre that’s recently been honored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Just last week, UNSECO added “the reggae music of Jamaica ” to its esteemed list of humanity’s cultural treasures considered worthy of recognition and preservation. “Originating within the cultural space of marginalized groups, mainly in Western Kingston, the Reggae Music of Jamaica… functions as a vehicle of social commentary, as a cathartic experience, and means of praising God.” There could be no better description of Banton at his best.
For over 20 years Banton devoted his career to singing about injustice, resistance, love, and humanity. A voice for the voiceless, Buju has used his platform to spread hope, peace, and love. Today he returns to society as millions of fans await his return to the studio and the stage. But first, he will take some time to just relax and enjoy the comfort of his family.
As the artist’s management team prepare and make the necessary steps to help him acclimate, Buju sent this message to all of his fans and supporters: “I am looking forward to seeing and thanking all my fans and in due time that will happen. For now, I would like to take some time, unite with my loved ones and just give Jah thanks.”
Today Mark Anthony Myrie aka Buju Banton is a free man, ready to continue spreading the message of peace and love. As he once sang in “Destiny,” Buju has now spent his time in the region of the valley of decision and now is the time to move forward. “You know not the destiny of a next man / Why hold him? Set him free.”