BUJU BANTON TIMELINE: 2009 Not An Easy Road
Gargamel Music circulates “A Little Bit Of Sorry,” an upbeat ska ditty from Jamaican music icon, Buju Banton’s long-awaited roots opus Rasta Got Soul. The single officially drops in February.
FEBRUARY 16 & 21
Buju Banton heads to the West Coast to headline back-to-back Ragga Muffins Festivals, in honor of the late, great Bob Marley and other Legends, at the San Diego Sports Arena and Long Beach Area, respectively.
Buju Banton hosts exclusive early listening session of Rasta Got Soul at Son Of Funky Reggae in Hollywood, California with legendary club promoter and celebrity DJ, Matt Robinson. Guests include: Jeremy Piven, Kina Cosper, Cree Summer, Rocky Dawuni and several other LA area trendsetters.
Buju makes his first ever appearance at the 16th Annual Bob Marley Caribbean Festival at Miami’s Bayfront Park. By all accounts, including ReggaeReport.com, the Banton steals the show!
Buju’s beloved mother, Murdine “Miss Dotty” Clarke, passes away.
Miss Dotty is laid to rest. Her youngest son, whom she nicknamed “Buju,” reads a heartfelt eulogy at the funeral services.
Buju’s seventh studio album, Rasta Got Soul, officially drops in North America on the 43rd anniversary of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s historic visit to Jamaica in 1966. Dr. Carolyn Cooper, a professor at University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, hosts an intimate Rasta Got Soul album launch on campus. After playing a few tunes, Buju regales the students and faculty both with exciting tales of his remarkable life in music.
The rave reviews roll in: All Music Guide says Rasta Got Soul is “an instant classic,” Buffalo News calls the album “immaculate.” Billboard calls RGS “spirited” and “inspiring,” while Exclaim! magazine in Canada professes that “Rasta Got Soul is the work of a modern master… Celebratory, inspirational, positive, optimistic and uplifting.”
Buju Banton co-headlines the 5th Annual Reggae On The Hill Festival at Farley Hill National Park in Barbados. It is his first performance since his mother’s death and the bittersweet release of his new album.
Rasta Got Soul is the highest-ranking debut on Billboard magazine’s Top Reggae Albums Chart entering at #2. The album also makes a strong first week debut at #8 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart and #8 on iTunes’ Top 10 Reggae Albums Chart.
Buju Banton graces the Spring/Summer cover of Jamrock magazine.
JUNE & JULY
Buju Banton’s Rasta Got Soul European Tour kicks off in France. The rigorous, 40-city jaunt includes stops in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Amsterdam, Austria, Belgium. Banton and his Shiloh Band, along with opening acts: Nikki Burt, Angel Shalome, New Kidz and Delly Ranx, also perform for massive crowds at Summer Jam in Germany (40,000 fans), Rototom Sunsplash in Italy (20,000 fans) and chart three new territories: Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal.
Buju Banton nabs the cover of Natty Dread magazine in France.
Buju Banton headlines veteran New York radio personality Dahved Levy’s annual Buju Banton & Friends Reggae Extravaganza Concert at the WaMu Theater At Madison Square Garden. Guest performers include: Burning Spear, Shabba Ranks, Gramps & Peter Morgan, Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel.
Buju Banton joins R&B star John Legend at his star-studded sold out concert on the main stage at Madison Square Garden for a live performance of their smash Reggae-Soul collabo. The NY Post reports:
“The entire house bounced when Legend hooked up with dancehall star Buju Banton for ‘Can’t Be My Lover.’ There was a yin/yang to that pairing as Banton’s fast, gritty, Jamaican patois gave the Reggae number edge while Legend’s mellifluous, Marley-like tones eased that roughness.”
Several misguided gay organizations, led by bandwagonist Lorri L. Jean of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, launch a media smear campaign against Buju Banton in an unwitting effort to shut down his upcoming Rasta Got Soul US Tour. Overlooking the fact that his catalog is overwhelmingly positive, these extremists insist he makes “hate music” and promotes the “murder of gays and lesbians” via “Boom Bye Bye,” a twenty-year-old anti-buggery missive written by a 15-year-old Buju in response to a man-boy rape case that took place at a prestigious high school back in Jamaica.
Executives at Live Nation and AEG Live, along with several independent venue owners, bookers, show promoters, government officials and anyone in-between, endure a steady bombardment of threatening phone calls, nasty emails and faxes filled with sensational misinformation about Buju and the RGS US Tour. Some corporate live music power brokers succumb to the unrelenting pressure but many true-blue indie venue owners and die-hard promoters hold firm, ultimately changing the tide of what could have been a major setback for live music in the “land of the free.”
Fans launch We Support Buju Banton Facebook Group in support of the music icon. International membership quickly swells to thousands.
Buju Banton makes 10-day pilgrimage to Africa.
Buju Banton, backed by the Shiloh Band, kicks off his Fader magazine-sponsored Rasta Got Soul US Tour to a sold-out crowd at the Trocadero Theater in Philly! Opening acts include Gramps Morgan, Nikki Burt and Angel Shalome.
Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer, A.D. Omorosi writes: “From the ‘Wipeout’-based rhythm-backed rap of ‘Me & Oonu’ through to the soulful ‘I Rise’ to cribbing Michael Jackson’s universal plea ‘Heal the World,’ Banton proved he could make things right within his music.”
San Diego club owners/promoters, Eric Milhouse and Chris Goldsmith of the Belly Up in Solana Beach, California release a powerful statement backing Buju Banton:
“Most people, when looking at the facts about the artist and his music over the course of his career, agree with the conclusion that Buju Banton does not advocate violence or hatred of any kind and that canceling this show based on assertions to the contrary would not be the right thing to do.”
OCTOBER 2 & 3
Refusing to be bullied, Columbus, Ohio club owner Rick Cautela and local Reggae promoter Carl Newman fight back by adding Buju Banton for a second night at Alrosa Villa, a mid-size venue the artist has consistently sold out for many years.
“I received 300 calls and another 400 emails in about 3 days, all of them negative some of them threatening,” Cautela tells local weekly The Other Paper. “That was my family cell phone, the one my wife also uses.”
Prior to his landmark show at the Rock It Room in San Francisco, Buju Banton attends a historic meeting brokered by veteran gay activist and 2011 mayoral candidate, SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Two days earlier, Dufty, who is in DC for the National Equality March, calls Buju’s manager and says, among other things, that he uniquely “understands the underlying racist implications of the ongoing protests and would like to see them end.”
Together with (straight) SF Supervisor Eric Mar, Dufty wants to provide a non-hostile environment for Buju to address the age-old issue of “Boom Bye Bye” once and for once and for all in the “gay capital of America” and only asks that he also hear first hand from some of the community’s most prominent members, including: Andrea Shorter, Rebecca Rolfe and incendiary gay blogger Michael Petrelis, who inexplicably writes a scathing, self-promoting, extremely bias account of the meeting that only fans the flames of controversy.
Luckily, Team Gargamel has the foresight to invite local Bay Area writer, Eric K. Arnold (who has been writing about Buju Banton and the issue for nearly a decade) to sit in on the meeting to ensure balanced, fair and impartial coverage on the San Francisco Weekly Blog . Sadly, the common ground reached at the SF meeting is ridiculously short-lived. Later that night at the Rock It Room, Buju’s show is pepper sprayed, allegedly by a lone, gay extremist still intent on battling the Banton.
Days later, in a Jamaican radio interview with Mutabaruka on his Irie FM talk show The Cutting Edge, a still heated Buju states: “This is a fight… There is no end to the war with me and faggots, and it’s clear! The same night after I met with them they pepper sprayed my concert. So what are you trying to tell me?”
The gay media have a field day with this quote. Predictably, they extrapolate the words “there is no end to the war with me and faggots” from their original context and plaster them all over the web without ever explaining the fullness of the scenario (i.e. the meeting, the pepper spray, the protests and the all out war they have been waging against him off-and-on for 17 years).
Buju Banton plays the Belly Up in Solana Beach, as scheduled. The show is a near sell out. Nestled in the crowd are some local gay activists, including Syd Stevens, who erected the malicious Cancel Buju Banton web site targeting the RGS US Tour.
After the show, the club’s owners unbeknownst to Buju, usher Syd and his boyfriend backstage to meet and talk with Buju in person. Conspicuously, Syd never bothers to mention his attendance at the Solana Beach show or the impromptu meeting afterwards on his slanderous site, which has been updated several times since the tour ended.
Fortunately, the Belly Up crew releases a detailed account of the backstage “showdown” between Buju Banton and San Diego gay activists.
“First and foremost, we heard with our own ears Buju unequivocally denounce violence and hatred towards gays and lesbians. Secondly, that night we heard a concert that was entirely free of hate and that specifically did not contain the song ‘Boom Bye Bye.’ During our conversation he acknowledged that he has also made hurtful comments, and even expressed regret for his choice of words during last week’s radio interview…”
The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases statement publicly chiding members of the gay community for their dogmatic attempts to silence Buju Banton for a song he does not promote, perform or profit from today.
“It is disheartening that some of our colleagues in the gay and lesbian equality movement have embraced censorship as a tactic,” begins the official statement recently printed in the Op Ed section of the Miami Herald. “This is terribly short-sighted: Giving the government the power to censor messages it thinks are dangerous never advances the cause of equality and freedom.”
Two hours before Buju Banton’s RGS show at Palm Beach in Dallas, Texas, promoter Winston “Gold” Roberts gets a call that federal agents are trying to shut down the club for a code violation. The owners settle what turns out to be a minor infraction and Buju rocks on.
Buju’s Rasta Got Soul US Tour stops at Center Stage in Atlanta. Walk-up sales for the midtown area show are phenomenal, further demonstrating the mainstream appeal, power and demand of Buju Banton and Reggae music in the Dirty South.
Team Gargamel bumps into esteemed, Atlanta-based hip-hop photographer/videographer, Zach Wolfe at the show. They decide to partner up and lens the accompanying music video for the single “Optimistic Soul” plus shoot the final week of Buju’s Rasta Got Soul US Tour for an impromptu documentary short entitled This Is Buju Banton. The doc will feature exclusive behind-the-scenes and live footage, interviews with Buju, Shiloh Band and staff, promoters, club owners, fans, detractors, and more.
On the way to Buju Banton’s show at Plush in Jacksonville, Florida, veteran local promoter Peter “CC” Samms gets word that federal agents are refusing to allow the venue to open its doors due to another strange code technicality. The line grows outside as does police presence. A perplexed CC urges owner, Tom Fisher, to race down to the club and resolve whatever the “issue” is. Within 20 minutes of Tom’s arrival, the doors are open, the line is moving and the show jumps off without a hitch.
Buju Banton’s Rasta Got Soul US Tour arrives in Tampa for a date at Cuban Club. At the exact moment Buju takes the stage, federal agents pop up and demand the production staff to immediately lower the music or get shut down for violating sound ordinance laws. The sound guys are puzzled by this outlandish request since the spot is located in an industrial area of Ybor City that is virtually isolated after hours. Nevertheless, they comply and the show continues.
Buju Banton’s Rasta Got Soul US Tour successfully wraps at club Destiny in Orlando, Florida. Closing night guests include Wayne Wonder for “Movie Star,” Gramps Morgan for “Psalm 23” and Bunny Rugs of Third World who joins Buju onstage for a rare performance of their collaboration “Sense Of Purpose,” also featured on the Rasta Got Soul album.
Despite early stumbling blocks, the tour proves unstoppable with close to 30,000 fans taking in 32 shows across the country. Buju Banton’s Rasta Got Soul Tour is the biggest selling Reggae package of 2009.
Buju Banton is nominated for a Grammy Award for Rasta Got Soul . Despite it being Buju’s fourth time being recognized by the Recording Academy over the years, gay activists launch a petition to get the Academy to rescind his well-deserved nod. A representative for the Academy releases a strong public statement in defense of Buju Banton.
“The Recording Academy and the Grammy Awards have a long history of supporting freedom of speech and creative expression, and of supporting artists and the music they create… It takes tolerance to teach tolerance, and it is through dialogue and debate that social discovery may occur. The Grammy Awards is a celebration and recognition of outstanding musical achievement by music makers, regardless of politics, and that will continue to be our mission.”
At approximately 2:00pm on Thursday, five DEA agents descend on the South Florida townhouse of Jamaican music icon Buju Banton and present an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He is whisked away in an unmarked black vehicle and taken to Federal Detention Center (FDC) in downtown Miami where he is booked.
With hands and feet shackled, Buju, wearing a green, prison two-piece, makes his Initial Appearance in front of Magistrate Judge Robert L. Dube’ at the US District Court (Southern District of Florida) in Miami. As is customary, the icon is remanded for temporary Pre-Trial Detention and prepares to spend his first weekend in jail. Mag Judge Dube’ sets the Detention/Bond Hearing for the following Wednesday in Miami.
Rumors of Buju’s arrest causes pandemonium in Jamaica and sends shockwaves around the globe. By the wee hours of Saturday morning, the devastating news hits the press. With little to no information about the case and no apparent interest in doing actual research on Buju Banton’s background and stature as a music icon, most mainstream coverage is reduced to one-sided and inaccurate rhetoric about his enduring struggles with the gay community.
AP continues to erroneously report via their worldwide wire service that Buju’s early ‘90s hit song ‘Batty Rider’ “glorifies the shooting of gay men” when in reality the tune only “glorifies” the skintight short-shorts worn by hot gals in the dancehall back in the day. The Miami Herald, a paper that has covered Buju for years should know and do better, right? Wrong. Here’s the first three lines of a recent cover story: “Internationally known Reggae star. Gay basher. Grammy nominee.” Rewind! Gay basher? What ever happened to fact checking?
FDC in Miami is crawling with lawyers jockeying to meet with Buju and convince him to hire them. Over the next few days, more than 40 attorneys slink up into the prison with their situation analyses and enthusiastic sales pitches. In classic Banton form, he “hires” them all and leaves the firing to management.
Back in lock up, Buju spends most of his free time reading, writing, exercising and reasoning with the young inmates. He meets a couple of Jamaican nationals, one who has no legal representation, so Buju coordinates efforts to secure and pay for his lawyer.
The Feds leak a copy of the affidavit in an orchestrated effort clearly aimed at causing doubt amongst Buju’s loyal fans, tainting the potential jury pool in Tampa and further assassinating his character in the public eye before going to trial. The media gobbles it up but Buju fans do not believe the hype. Representatives from the Jamaica Consulate in Miami pay an official visit to Buju at the prison.
Meanwhile, Buju’s manager and business partner, Tracii McGregor, begins meetings with potential attorneys to represent the legendary artist. At the top of her highly recommended list is Leonard Sands, Nathan Diamond, Jason Grey, Mark Panunzio, Roma Theus and fabled criminal defense lawyer, Frank Rubino, who analyzes: “This case is tryable, defendable and winnable.” Later that night, she receives several calls about a bright, young, powerhouse named David Oscar Markus.
A Grand Jury in Tampa indicts Buju Banton and two co-defendants (Ian Thomas and James Mack) for 1) allegedly conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846 and 2) aiding and abetting each other and knowingly and intentionally possessing a firearm in furtherance of, and carrying a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c). These types of federal crimes carry a controversial mandatory minimum penalty of 10-20 years to life.
The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system reports:
“At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.”
Buju makes his second court appearance, this time in front of Magistrate Judge William C. Turnoff. He exudes royalty, even in a dulling, beige state-issued jumpsuit. The place is a mad house of mostly attorneys, including Herbert Walker III, the bumbling, former state prosecutor who surreptitiously lists his name on the court docket as “Buju’s permanent attorney”; heavyweight Frank Rubino, who stops by after meeting with Buju earlier that morning; Christopher Lyons, the attorney who is actually hired to handle the second hearing, but summarily edged out by Walker who makes a scene and refuses to hand over the case, citing the official docket.
The proceeding moves quickly since Buju waives his right to a Detention/Bond Hearing in Miami, opting to go straight to Tampa. After court, McGregor walks a few blocks down the street for a two-hour meeting of the minds with David Markus. His parting words resonate deeply: “We will win this.”
Frank Rubino pulls some strings and gets Buju’s manager approved to go inside the prison for a One Time Visit. She immediately expresses concern that the boss, who abides by a strict vegetarian diet, is not eating as he’s visibly dropped some weight off his already slight frame.
Buju admits he hasn’t been too inclined to touch the prison slop, dining instead on bread and water. He tries to assure Tracii that he is doing fine under the circumstances. He runs down a list of things that need to be taken care of on the outside, and imparts love to his devoted fans, family and friends.
Gargamel Music label breaks silence. Buju’s manager grants first and only interview since his arrest to CaribWorldNews.com. She proclaims: “It’s on and poppin’!”
Phone calls and emails continue to pour in from all parts of the globe. Aware of the acutely exorbitant legal fees that will be associated with bringing a case of this magnitude to trial, several patrons start to pledge monetary support for Buju Banton’s defense. Fans can buy official Free Buju T-Shirts and proceeds will also go towards Buju Banton’s defense.
Buju is pleasantly surprised to learn that Dancehall legend, Shabba Ranks, has put $100 USD down on his commissary.
David Markus somehow manages to swing a second One Time Visit for Buju’s manager. This time Buju is much more energetic and optimistic. His commissary has kicked in and he is now able to buy and cook up his own food. Tracii brings the boss up to speed on a few business-related matters and then they pore over their options for attorneys. So, this is Christmas?
Buju Banton spends Christmas day behind bars at Miami Federal Detention Center. He is reflective and sentimental but in good spirits. In the evening, Buju speaks with a few of his children, family and close friends who remind the Gargamel just how much he is loved and missed.
Buju uses up his allotted 300 minutes in phone time for the month. He must now wait until the New Year to make outside calls.
In the two week period since the arrest, sales of Buju Banton’s Grammy-nominated album Rasta Got Soul double and the critically acclaimed project swiftly re-enters Billboard magazine’s Top Reggae Albums Chart at #15.
Buju Banton spends the last day of 2009 in federal custody. He currently awaits transfer to Tampa.
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