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Buju Banton: Before the Dawn

Track List

>Rasta Can't Go
>In the Air
>Do Good
>Battered & Bruised
>Struggle Together
>No Smoking at All
>Try Life

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"Many are familiar with CCR's version of the American folk song "Midnight Special." The subject matter requires a little more research and insight. The song was chanted by men imprisoned in the American South in the early 20's and 30's who would often wait until midnight to see their only light of day, a rumbling late-night train passing close enough to the prison grounds. The light from the locomotive shining through a tiny cell window would give prisoners some sliver of hope, some who had been incarcerated wrongly or set up by political machinations.

So the now-venerable reggae/dancehall vocalist Buju Banton, who has been locked up since December 2009, is finally getting his day in court in a trial that kicked off September 20, 2010. The news reports say Buju and two associates met with a connection in Tampa Bay in late '09 (a connection who turned out to be a government informant) and negotiated a deal to purchase (with intent to distribute, according to the indictment) 5 kilos of cocaine. There is no denying Buju had made some sort of terrible decision getting involved with this sort of thing but it also seems clear he had been targeted and entrapped. It is a sad commentary on the plight of many a reggae artist: despite the genre's universal appeal, seldom do its creators reap the financial rewards of their less-talented pop counterparts.

The artist has been plagued by controversy ever since he recorded "Boom Bye Bye" early in his career. Despite a turn towards consciousness in the mid-90's, his inescapable bad boy image has found him in the middle of peril throughout his tenure as one of the best and brightest talents ever to emerge from the cauldron of Jamaica. Much of the singer's content betrays this pigeon-holing and this latest set is no exception. From the outset, there is an urgency and sincerity in the songwriting and compositions lacking in his experimental Rasta Got Soul album from a year ago (while garnering critical accolades and decent record sales, the album was largely dismissed by much of the reggae massive). Here we find Buju in a more straight-ahead reggae mood, with many a backing track that could be turned into a worthwhile dubplate. "Do Good" is as soulful as it is thought-provoking and "Battered & Bruised," while clearly paraphrasing the classic Bob Marley cut "Jump Nyabinghi," just plain works.

It is this reviewer's opinion that the more compact an album is, the less chance for misstep. That rings true here and even if these cuts were plumbed from the vaults of earlier sessions, everything flows superbly with the only hint at dissnonance being "No Smoking At All." The Gramps Morgan (of Morgan Heritage)-aided "Try Life" evens things out and the pointed "Innocent" ties this 10-cutter all together.

Buju has as many detractors as he does fans but say what you want about his lifestyle and choices, the strength of the music in this session speaks to the existential conflict that all of us feel. It is often hard just to be human, plain and simple. So before you judge, lock the prison cell and throw away the key, consider your own faults and mistakes and thank the ever-loving light you still have your freedom.

Free all political prisoners worldwide (and Mark Myrie just might be one of them, contrary to seemingly damning early trial reports from the Washington Post) but I suppose we should consider the self-prophetic "Driver A" as well. The powder is Babylon business anyhow star, it would be a shame to settle for prison recordings from Buju Banton in the near future." -Urb

Buju Banton (born Mark Anthony Myrie July 15, 1973) is a Jamaican dancehall, ragga, and reggae musician. He has also recorded Popand Dance songs, as well as songs dealing with political topics. Banton is politically outspoken and influenced by Marcus Garvey and the Rastafari movement. He is currently on a $250,000 bail (November 10, 2010) from the Pinellas County Jail while he awaits a retrial (scheduled for February 2011) on federal drugs charges relating to cocaine.

Album Notes

Recording information: Gargamel Music Studio, Kingstno, Jamaica.


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