Buju Banton - The 'Born For Greatness' Interview
09/08/2023 by Munchy
There is no doubt that Mark Myrie, better known as Buju Banton, was born for greatness. He is one of the giants of this industry, has constantly and diligently developed, nurtured, strengthened his skills and versatility to master his craft. His fourteenth studio album entitled Born For Greatness is a testament to his lyrical talent, an opus with 17 pieces. Songs about love, about relationships, loyalty but also observations of society, experiences, emotions. With this record coming up in September, Buju Banton gives us a deep and a personal insight. Even though he shares so many words on this album already, Reggaeville still pulled a few more out of him for this interview to find out about the feelings, memories and stories behind his tracks and also what the singer was moved by since the release of his last album Upside Down 2020 three years ago.
Born For Greatness, your brand new album is coming up in September. This is your 14th studio album, you’re in the business now for almost 40 years. Do you still feel excited when you present a new release to the fans?
I am excited whenever time I enter the studio and go around the microphone. The very thought of making music has always been a thrill and when that spirit leaves me then I know it’s time for me to step away from it.
Born For Greatness is also the third track of the album, on which you sing “Superstar, supercar, supermodels, I am beyond that level” and “I don’t follow your rules, I guess am lawless, still making big moves regardless”. Have you always been that confident or is that a mindset you’ve developed over the years?
In this life that we live, if you’re not confident in you, no one else will be. The first confidence to have is in you because all things are created twice: the mental creation and the physical creation. So, yes, I‘ve always had that confidence to know that I’m up against a mammoth, a giant. But regardless of what I am up against, I’m going to do me. I’m going to get the message across to the people. I’m going to swim across the ocean. It’s going to happen.
What advice do you have for people who doubt themselves and have little self-confidence?
You can never doubt yourself. And you must be confident in yourself because your ability depends on it. Your success depends on it. And if you fail to plan, then you’re planned to fail.
So, is it really just to have that state of mind?
It’s a state of mind that cannot be relinquished. It must always be cultivated, always be nurtured, kept sharp. Because there are always people trying to beat you down, to demoralise you and let you feel like your value of yourself is less because their value is material things. Their values are things that you can see with the eye. But an innate value exists that you cannot see, it’s inside of you. So let no one beat you down! Rise up and above!
The album starts with a track I love very much, the deep, touching, thoughtful Ageless Time in which you wish to remember “the way things was when all was all wrapped up in love”. You sing about “financial depression, legal oppression, government overreach, all cloaked in black with a sinister plot”. Is this how you view the world in recent times? How can we escape this situation you’re talking about?
How I view the world in recent times is not really important. What has the world been, is what’s important. Me alive in the situations that pervades and fill our society and breed up an era of nothing but selfishness, greed and wickedness must be highlighted because it is the foundation of Reggae music. Now what can we do? Love each other.
So, you think we can go back to that state when all was wrapped up in love?
It’s the only right course of action. To cultivate the very aspect of what it means to be human, to be humane again, to love each other, to have empathy, to be kind to our brothers and sisters regardless of where they’re from or how they look but the content of their character. It’s a far stretch but it can be achieved. I’m an optimistic soul.
In what period of time did you write the songs for this album?
The songs were written over various periods of time because music is something that flows. And when it flows it flows and you can’t fight music because if you fight music then it’s going to be fighting the masses. If the music flows to you, it’s going to flow to the masses. So, as the music flows, the music grows. It was a period of twelve months to get the whole album, if that’s your question. To get the whole album completed and delivered it took us a period of twelve months.
Do you still walk with a book where you have all your lyrics in?
Yes, I do still write. I believe in the pen and I believe in the paper. I’m old school, sorry.
I love that. I still have pen and paper same way, too.
When the ink is dried, it is there. The ink is dry, it cannot be removed.
In Life Choices you sing “allow me to think for myself, too important to leave that to anyone else”. Do you think that is also part of a problem that many don’t think for themselves or are not allowed to think for themselves?
Whatever I think at this point will only infuriate a lot of people. The song speaks for itself, but the evidence is everywhere.
How do you stay away from outside influence?
I try to think for myself. We use reason and we use logic and common sense, above all things common sense.
In Yard And Outta Road you revisit the past. You sing about people you didn’t “see the days when everything was a mess”, that you lost friends which wasn’t “really a loss”. What are “all those days” that you are singing about in the chorus, what did you have in mind when you wrote that song that sounds pensive and wistful?
For eight and a half years I was locked up in a United States federal prison and those were dark days. However, through those dark days I was able to project myself in a uncanny way. Not only internally but externally. To be light not only to myself but for those who are also in the darkness or are covered by this great darkness. That was a musical composition to share with the world that path and that walk and that journey.
This is a very personal aspect of your life. Would you say in general the lyrics on this record are maybe more personal than previous works of yours? Because I think it seems very personal. You have many love songs, songs about relationships…
You don’t mind sharing your personal stories and feelings with the world through your music?
That is what music is. If you have no personal stories, it’s going to be fictitious and bubble gum music. I don’t make bubble gum music. All of my music is personal. Not An Easy Road, personal. Buried Alive, personal. I Rise, personal. Innocent, personal. All these songs are songs that come from a deep place where the common man who is wrapped up into his mind set would not understand. But the man who is able to feel music beyond just dancing and joyration but on a spiritual sense, on a soul sense can connect. And that is what we seek to re-enact in the global community where music is concerned. Because right now a lot of music don’t inspire I. I want my music to inspire people.
Would you say all your music and all your previous albums are that personal or is this one more personal?
I wouldn’t say this album is personal. This album is made up of songs that are very, very near and very, very far but they have all something in common: people can relate to them. And I like to make relatable music. That’s what Buju Banton does. I don’t just sit and create a fiction in my mind, so that you sing along.
What I love about this record is that it shows your extraordinary lyrical talent, because the lyrics are so strong on this one. That’s why I picked a lot of lines for this interview because they really touched me.
I am at a stage in my life musically where it’s a turning point for me. I been doing this music since I was 16 years old. I recorded the first song on August 18, 1986 for Robert French at Penthouse Records on 56 Slipe Pen Road. It’s a turning point again musically for me because I’m here and I’m seeing the direction the music is going. I’m seeing what’s happening in the global community geopolitically as well and how the music from various other enclaves has somehow put ours to a side. Now, it’s not any fault of those music why ours is not on the forefront like it should be. But it’s more so a fault of ours because our production somehow stepped back from what it ought to be. And the essence and the forces we supposed to bring along with the message and the entertainment has been diminished. So, this record you have and you listen to, that’s what I was trying to convey. This is what this record is trying to convey to bring back those Reggae music lovers and to attract new adherence to the culture because it’s necessary.
For Born For Greatness you created this blend of Dancehall, Reggae fused with R&B and Pop, and you’re not following any hype trends, you’re presenting your own personal musical mixture. Is that always your desire to make music independently and individually, beyond expectations?
I have never been a follower and sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. But then that goes back to your confidence level. You have always be breaking and setting new norms. Reinventing myself musically is always something good. I have no problem with that challenge because I don’t want to present myself in a cyclical fashion. It creates monotony. And I don’t want to be monotonous. So, you can never play twelve Buju Banton albums and all twelve sound the same.
Right! Let us talk about the female feature on the album: Victoria Monét. She is on the sixth track, the sensual Body To Body and you have also been a guest on her single Party Girls. How did this whole link come about and how was the song writing and production process with her like?
Victoria Monét reached out to me via Instagram and I responded to her. I didn’t know who she was or anything like that but I said to her “Send me your track”. I took a listen to the track and she was elated. I listened to the track, we did a little fixing up here and there, and we sent it back to her and she was happy with what we did. And I said to her “Ok, well, send me something from you for myself, for my record” and she sent that and we did the same thing and changed it the way we wanted to do it and sent back to her for approval and there we go. It was total chemistry. I didn’t know who Victoria Monét was but I been around for so long, she must have known who Buju Banton was.
Of course, of course!
And our music turned out to be something the universe wanted and when I’m moved to do something I act. As simple as that.
Are you always that reachable for fellow artists even if you don’t know them?
I’m never that reachable but this is something that the universe put together and I never question it.
A next feature guest is your very good brethren Stephen Marley, who is featured on Feel A Way but is also involved in the production of the first track Ageless Time. We spoke about your guys’ relationship already in a previous interview but tell me, how are the vibes actually like when the two of you are in the studio together?
Let me simplify that question for you and give you a next metaphor. If Bob Marley did such a great job of promulgating Reggae music across the world and planted a seed, isn’t it wise for us who love Reggae music to sit under the shade of that tree?
Of course, naturally!
So, such a man couldn’t walk on the face of this earth and I wouldn’t know him. We have been brethrens now since we were like in our teens. Many years of friendship, many years of brotherly love, many years of togetherness and many years of grief and sorrow because he grieved for me when I was locked away and I grieved for him at the passing of his son. And this is what brotherly love is about and good friendship is about. But the music speaks for itself because our music – if you should listen to all the works we ever done, I don’t know if you ever had a chance to do that – you see that our friendship and our music is uncanny. It’s different.
So, did the two of you ever think about doing an entire album together?
We talked about it and we thought about it and we have a lot of songs together but because of our busy schedule… but we’re going to get it on. It’s something that we have to do. It’s a necessity.
Right! I definitely think so, too. I’m going to look out for it. The third feature guest is Snoop Lion or Snoop Dogg, who is featured on the recently released High Life. The song is not just a ganja anthem, you also added lyrics such as “herb is now an household name them say it commercialise, still my homie up top doing twenty for life, still marginalise though them sell legalise”, so would you say...
(Laughs) Did you listen these lyrics or you read them?
I read them and I listened to them… but let me tell you one thing. The one song I didn’t get the lyrics of is Trial By Fire and this song is my favourite and I know the lyrics already even though I never got them. So, I promise, even if I didn’t have the lyrics, I’d still know them.
Thank you very much. I apprecilove your honesty because now you let me appreciate my work even more because you managed to pick apart the essence of what I was trying to convey and I told you in our earlier conversation that the lyrical content has elevated to show another level of growth in my disposition and also as a musical creator. Also the music behind the lyrics is at another level again.
But tell me, what do you think of the state of ganja globally now with many countries or regions having it legalised or decriminalised, and also in Jamaica in particular because it sounds like you think there is still a lot of hypocrisy?
There is a lot of hypocrisy because the people who suffered the most for marijuana, especially those original farmers right in America, right in Mexico, right in Jamaica, right all over the world, nowhere is immune, they are not the beneficiaries
of these new laws that has been enacted. The same oppressors now assume their role, having the licence, keeping it on cronies and take over, and the small
man’s farm is still being destroyed to make sure that the man who have the dispensary herb is being sold. It come to a point even in my country that they were talking about importing marijuana from Canada and all these things. These levels of hypocrisy that we as citizens of the global community who see marijuana being commercialised in this time which we know that is a sacred herb. We just see it as wrong. It is wrong.
I absolutely agree.
It is something that is sacred to I and I as a Rastaman. I remember the days when herb was just herb, now herb have a million different names, you don’t even know what you smoking. I don’t like that, I want herbs. High Life, you nah mean?
Definitely. Especially what you mentioned that Jamaica imports weed when there are so many farmers dealing with that for so many years. That is crazy.
Crops being destroyed… I can’t deal with that because in a churchical way we nuh want sell no ganja. In a churchical we just want smoke some herb and give Jah thanks. Rastaman right, him suffer fi it.
Yeah man, for so many years, in terrible ways…
We mentioned Stephen Marley being the producer for Ageless Time, Michael Brun is the producer for the track with Victoria Monét. But for the majority of tracks on the album Jermaine J’August Reid is mentioned as producer. Tell me a bit about him.
Jermaine Reid is an engineer that came on to my studio when he was a little youth and I grow Jermaine as one of my sons. He learned the tenets of this music when it was analogue, before it moved into a digital fashion. So you’re going to see his name now that he has earned a name to master the craft of being a good engineer and a good record producer according to Reggae standard and the world standard that I and I try to achieve. You’re going to see his name more often.
So, you know him since he was a youth and he is in and out of your studio for so many years, right?!
He is not in and out. He is consistent. From Jermaine comes here since he was like 16 years old, he never leave I.
So, the whole creation of this album sounds pretty intimate and personal since it was this same person involved in almost all of the tracks…
No, not almost all of the tracks, but he did a lot of work. A lot of the work was done by I myself, too, because I man make music, you know. I don’t just sing like a bird, I man really and truly make music in a creation. So, we work together to make the music right.
Which musicians contributed to Born For Greatness? Who played for the significant saxophone on several tracks, who laid down the e-guitar for example?
A whole lot of musicians contributed to Born For Greatness but most of the musicians that I use are youths who are young, innovative and talented. You won’t see the usual great fancy names that a lot of people are used to because I believe that there is room for all to grow.
You support young talent!
How else will the music grow? How else will my culture advance? If there’s not a new trumpet player, a new bass player, a new keyboard player, a new guitar player. I’m sure you do your homework and you see the names are not familiar names. Hence this question, right? So, hence this answer.
So, people can look out for these talents in the future more often.
Can look out for these talents across the globe more often because musicians must be highlighted. The singers and players of instruments the Father said, you know…
We Find A Way is a very strong track, as the title suggests giving hope, encouraging, positive music produced by DJ Khaled. “Let us start with love that bond that heals the nation”. Can you recall when you wrote the lyrics of that song?
About six months ago, one year ago, while working on the record.
Was there a particular situation, a particular mood that motivated that?
Absolutely! I was in a marvellous mood. I was in a lovely state of mind. And hence, I was blessed with a tremendous offering of musical renditions so I could share with the world and the global community.
The world that we are living in in recent times, we are surrounded so much by hate, by anger, war, crisis, is it hard sometimes…
That is why we have to inject love! We can’t focus on the negativity. We have to overwhelm it with a stronger force, a stronger force, a stronger force, a force of love. Yeah! So I don’t want to hear about what they are doing. We want to know what we are doing. And we’re going to love each other or we going to stand by and watch each other die.
As I already mentioned, my favourite track is Trial By Fire. This is another track where you give the people hope. Another so strong, hopeful, comforting tune… You sing “they’re all counting on me, so I must take the lead, who am I to question the plan designed, when it’s written in the stars”. Do you consider this your mission as an artist, as an individual or would you say this is everyone’s mission to unify?
In the knowledge about my culture and what my culture has done, that question will be totally relevant. But then, let me shed some light. This is Reggae music, this is the music that gave you the likes of Count Machuki, King Stitch, The Gladiators, Joseph Hill The Culture, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, countless others… What does all those forerunners have in mind? They’re uplifting the people, educating the people. Positive vibrations were flowing! What I think is irrelevant. What I know, is what I deal with. That this music ya come fi teach the world a lesson. And Jah rise us up! And don’t call all of we, he call a few. Why do you think they put the forces and the powers to be at I man with such venom if they didn’t know that this man is here to do a work. They don’t fuck with people who are careless and idle because there are countless out there doing nothing more than what they want them to do. But like I said: I don’t follow your rules, I guess I’m lawless, yeah?! So, I and I see I-self as a servant who come to do what the previous servants did. Yes, which is uplift, educate, and irradicate negativity from the minds of the people globally. Knowing the advantage of technology, where my forefathers never have Outstagram and phone book and all these other devices, we in this dispensation have it and we still have the word and we still have Reggae music and we still have to teach them a lesson. But now it shall be wide spread because remember, you know, it is written: “Touch not the Lord’s anointed and do people no harm.”
But with this as your mission… that also results in a responsibility. Do you think all artists out there understand the responsibility they have?
Listen. When you say artists, you have to be specific. Because these words “artistes”… I don’t particularly dig them kind of phrase, you know. I man is a singer. Me come fi sing down Babylon. You sight? If a guy come inna Reggae music and him come inna Reggae music because him see Buju Banton drive a car and him feel say him can get a nice one, I say that’s off to you. When my brethren come inna Reggae music fi help and support and strengthen Reggae music with good, encouraging, uplifting, positive music for the woman dem, the pickney dem… we go through things in life and all we want is a song to feel like somebody is listening to us or I can identify with what I am going through. That’s all we need to do. Continue serve the people. Yeah? So, if a guy don’t see his mission as a servant, I can’t make him see it. Him have to see his role. Because it is you the people who sacrifice buying a bread and buying a pair of shoes and coming to a concert. You make the choice, you’re coming to the concert. So, I and I work fi serve you, the people, the masses. And I don’t serve them from a fictitious point of view, where the things that we are saying are unfathomable or is just this great illusion and when you’re done listen to it and you come back to reality, it don’t add up. True?
Yeah man, yeah man! You are serving, you are presenting to us Born For Greatness, the new album coming up in September.
I like to serve the I dem some music as a humble servant of the universe. I want serve the I dem some music from a plate of love. And this offering I offer to the I dem is called Born For Greatness. Fulljoy! Fulljoy it from my heart! Fulljoy!
Definitely, they will. What do you plan for the promotion of this record? Will you also tour this album?
I want to do a whole lot but the system and the powers that be… you nah mean… so, whenever I can, I will but for the moment I do what I can with the grace of Jah, seen. And I don’t quarrel about that. I man music, Buju Banton’s voice will always be heard! Just put it that way.
Definitely, it will. Can’t wait for the people to hear what you put together for Born For Greatness. Is there anything about this release coming up that you want to add that I did not ask you?
Well, I want to say to the masses, you’re going to experience Buju Banton in this time, in this I-wah in a different fashion,
a different style, through different musical compositions, with different musical flows, different lyrical content. None of it is offensive, it’s all music aimed at stimulating your consciousness. I am here to serve you, humbly. Your loyal servant, Mark Myrie, Buju Banton. Peace and love.
THE INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN JUNE IN FESTIVILLE 2023! DOWNLOAD THE FREE PDF MAGAZINE HERE