Eleven years ago, I took in Buju Banton’s performance at Bicentennial Park in Downtown Miami for what is arguably the biggest annual dancehall/reggae festival in North America – the Best of the Best Concert – where he delivered hit after hit, “Magic A” to “Destiny”, including the blazing track of the time “Driver A” to a fanatical Buju Banton audience. It was a high-energy, high-stepping, dreadlock-swinging Buju Banton with his signature gravelly, raspy, caramel-rich vocals that ripped that crowd into a frenzy, literally taking over not just his set, but the concert. It even rained during that show and people refused to leave.
Fast forward from 2008 to April 2019 – and the Grammy award-winning reggae/dancehall star, born Mark Anthony Myrie, is mere months out of an eight-year stint at the McRae Correctional Institution in Georgia, and has taken to the road on his Long Walk To Freedom Tour. New Providence was the second stop out the gate on his eight-country tour and nothing had changed.
Garbed in a gray pinstripe suit, complete with necktie, with his Shiloh Band backing him, Buju Banton took to the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium at minutes shy of the 2 a.m. Sunday hour and he brought the energy. He came out with his signature high-stepping, dreadlock-swinging moves, and it didn’t take long for him to loosen his tie as he got into his performance and worked the stage to the delight of his fans, who sang along with him word for word as he seamlessly melded snippets of songs from his body of work during his set that lasted approximately one hour. That meant a number of songs that people wanted to hear never materialized, which left them disappointed, but others felt the performance was the best thing since sliced bread. True Buju Banton fans felt he could do no wrong.
And then there were the Buju fans, like one dreadlocked gentleman who stood in my vicinity, who seemed to care less what “the Gargamel” sang. He was there to have a great time, and he certainly did. He high-stepped and strutted the entire time – to the point where I wondered what sounds he was hearing, because he was so offbeat with the music coming from the stage. But in the final analysis, that fan truly enjoyed himself.
While Buju Banton was the draw, also on the card were reggae artists Roy “Gramps” Morgan and Glen Washington, who were added to the lineup in the final days leading up to the concert which had already included Lil Duval, Kodak Black and Davido.
The return of Buju’s much-anticipated Long Walk To Freedom Tour kicked off, of course, in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, at the National Stadium on March 16. The New Providence concert was only his second performance since his release. Before these two recent performances, the last time he stepped foot onstage before a live audience before his incarceration, he encouraged them to be strong and told them one day things must get better. That was January 16, 2011 at a concert in Miami’s Bayfront Park called “Before the Dawn”.
The Long Walk To Freedom Tour continues with six more shows on the schedule through the end of June. The “I Am Legend” show will be held in Trinidad at Queen’s Park Savannah on April 21; a show at Kensington Oval, Barbados, on April 27; “A Night of Love” at Grenada National Stadium on Saturday, May 11; another “I Am Legend” show in Guyana at Providence Stadium on May 25; a show in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, on June 15; and an appearance at the St. Kitts Music Festival at the Kim Collins Stadium on June 29.
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