Buju Banton - The Upside Down 2020 Interview
06/25/2020 by Munchy
His return to the stage inside Kingston’s National Stadium in March 2019 was one of the largest Reggae events in recent years. Now finally all fans around the globe, even those who missed out on his stunning live appearances of last year, can get new music from Buju Banton. The legendary Jamaican singer and deejay is about to drop his 13th studio album this summer, a record that raises high expectations not just because of its artist but also the features revealed thus far, such as John Legend; the producers on board including Donovan Germain, Dave Kelly, and the late great Bobby Digital; and of course, the protagonist’s seven year absence from the music scene. For the first time since his release and return to Jamaica, Buju Banton took the time to speak to Munchy from Reggaeville on the phone, to discuss his sound and lyrics, the current situation in the world due to Corona, his love for Jamaica, and certainly not the formula for his abundant hits.
Ten years after the release of your last album Before The Dawn you are about to drop your new album Upside Down in June. How do you feel about this next milestone in your career coming up?
First and foremost I want to say give thanks to all the good people who helped me and worked with me over the years to accomplish all that I have accomplished musically. And first I want to thank the Most High God who has been on the forefront of all my journeys. This journey is not different from all the other journeys. The only major difference is, you have been missing my voice so much. But you know the truth shall not cease and as a bearer of the truth I shall always bring it whether I’m coming from the dungeon, whether I was buried alive or not. Did I say how I feel about this project? It’s the truth serum!
Why did you name this album Upside Down?
Why wouldn’t I name it Upside Down? That should be the question. In a world where good is called bad and lies are accepted as truth and the guilty can be made innocent and the innocent can be made guilty, why wouldn’t I call the album Upside Down? (laughs)
The album starts with Lamb Of God, the same divine hymn you also started your first Long Walk To Freedom concert with in March 2019. Why did you choose this song, and these words in particular, to open both the show and the album?
We are in a very awakening dispensation. It is not one of stature, nor one of social prestige. It is more one of spiritual awakening in this age. Mercy and comfort and truth are pillars of a foundation that are everlasting principles that cannot be removed. I don’t care if you are rich, poor, black, or white. These are fundamental principles to stand by. Given to us by the True and Almighty God. Therefore, to call upon mercy and have mercy upon I and I as the children of men. Maybe some of us are so arrogant they refuse to do it for themselves. Well, I am not. Let me do it for me and let me do it for you. Because Our Father is merciful and there is an abundance of mercy. The world needs to know this. Which man lights a candle and puts it under his bed? Is he trying to burn down his own house? So, what if he puts this candle on a window? Wouldn’t the world see that this house is lit? Then someone can light their candle from this candle. Have mercy on us, oh Jah, oh Lamb Of God. The world right now needs healing, even in our part. That’s all we doing!
How do you recall the first time you performed Lamb Of God in the National Stadium in Kingston on March 16, 2019? Was the concert and the return to the stage how you expected it to be? Are you a person who puts a lot of pressure on himself or did it feel like effortlessly coming home?
First, I don’t believe in putting pressure on myself, none at all. I don’t believe in fighting music, neither the production nor the creation because music is supposed to flow. If all frequencies are in synchronicity the music flows. Such was the same principle as it concerns the concert Long Walk To Freedom. It must flow. The right people must fall in place. Everything must be seamless to give a flawless presentation. That was a long-anticipated time. I can’t speak of this in terms the English language would allow. It is something you have to feel. You have to be present in the moment. You understand, sister?
Yes, totally! So, it was more like coming home?
I have always been home. It was more like seeing friends and seeing ones who I haven’t seen in a long time, and having a re-unification and a re-dedication of ourselves unto the true purpose why we are here which is to continue learn and continue to find out about the mysteries of who we are as a people. It was a brief pause in transmission for ten years and then we reconnect again. So that to me is greater than anything that one might perceive in them own perception but everyone is entitled to that. But I see it as a re-connection and a re-establishment of a spiritual groundation.
Was that similar to the feeling you had when you reached the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and returned to Jamaica in 2018?
When I sat in the jet plane entering the island I was overwhelmed with a feeling of nostalgia because long time I didn’t see my home town, long time I haven’t seen my people. But all of that is just a moment in space, a moment in time. A man did have to return, a man did have to enter through the court of entry. So, I don’t place too much thought and emphasis on my return because in reality I should have never left. You sight?
Yes, sir. The opening track Lamb Of God is followed by another piece your fans are already familiar with: Yes Mi Friend, the cover of Duppy Conqueror that you already performed on the Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise with Stephen Marley. He is also featured on the album track. How did the idea of re-creating and performing this song with Stephen come about?
Stephen is a good brother of mine and we go forward in time, and forward in time and time. So therefore this was inevitable, the perfect song for the perfect moment. With the musical spirit that we both have and possess through the gift of God we were able to come together musically and set everything in order and present it to the world. Now the amazing thing with that song was no one has ever seen or heard me perform that song before but the reaction from the cruise was an eye-opener that the spirit of God still lives through man. We don’t have to pre-program them through radio or any other broadcasting situation. You have them learn a song before you actually give them a song. Because from the beginning of time this was the way it worked. So, I’m saying all this to say that this song was a perfect introduction for the album to the people on the Jamrock cruise. Everything was just magical. Jah live, spiritual Iyah!
You have worked with Stephen on several collaborations in the past. The two of you are good friends. How long have you known each other? Tell me a bit about this friendship.
You are asking me to measure time which I cannot. You’re asking me how long have I known him. You want me to say ten years? What is ten years? I have known him for ages. Our spirit just reconnects in this dispensation which is unfamiliar to the eyes of men but our souls know who we are. How is that? (laughs) You overstood?
I think I overstood. Stephen mentioned in an interview that you were always very keen to hear about the WTJR Cruise. How did you enjoy your first time on board and especially this performance with Stephen Marley?
The cruise was spectacular. I have never been on such a huge ship in my entire existence. It was my first time and it was amazing to see how these things really operate and all that kind of stuff. But more than anything, that I got to perform for the people while we were separated from the land and separated from air. The gates were upheld by the gravity of the sea, and that showed how majestic and powerful the true and living God is. And He is great!
Indeed! Stephen is not the only featured guest artist on the album though. John Legend, Pharrell Williams and Stefflon Don are also onboard Upside Down. Why did you invite them on this project?
Me and John Legend did a song back in the years called Can’t Be My Lover. So, the act of reciprocity dictates that he is supposed to do a song for me. So that is how that one came into place, musically, you understand? Now what Pharrell Williams is concerned, he heard our works and had a desire to partner with us, so we said “Let’s go!”. Anything to spread the culture of Reggae music in a positive way, to shed light on it on a positive note. We are all for that. Likewise, Stefflon Don contributed to Reggae music from Britain. And it’s only good and righteous that we reach out and bring her in, musically. It’s all about music for me, nothing else. Let that be known!
Yes, sir, I will. Apart from the guest artists also the list of featured musicians is very impressive. The Shiloh band contributed its talent, but there are more big names to be found. Can you tell us which musicians and producers are onboard this project or played a major role?
The names are already listed, but the thing is, it’s not about their names, it’s what they bring: their talent, their musical offering. When I make a record, I don’t try to make a record all by myself. I use great minds that I know musically, so therefore the presentation will be accomplished.
How are the vibes when you’re in the studio with Donovan Germain and Dave Kelly, producers you have been working with from way back in the day, more than 25 years ago?
The vibe is exceptionally great because we make music from our heart and our soul. We make music that can resonate with the masses, and deal with social and political issues, geopolitical issues as well, that people can resonate with no matter where in the world they live. Because that was the founding purpose of the music: to teach, uplift, educate, and eradicate negativity from the minds of the people globally. Jah live!
In what period of time were the songs for Upside Down created? Do we hear all new material?
This album sounds like a real Buju Banton classic. It is very diverse…
We want to have something on it for everyone. You know, I love music and if you love music like I and I you wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else. I want something else.
I appreciate especially the variety of different genres you always put on your records…
Thank you very much.
This one goes from hardcore Dancehall to Gospel, Pop and Afrobeat…
I don’t say Gospel, I say Negro Spiritual. I remove myself from the Gospel aspect and all them situation there because that has been leading my people down the wrong avenue for a long time. So, hear what we do now? We deal with a thing named Negro Spiritual. That’s the way we work. We need to communicate with God directly, we don’t need to have no middle-man, sight?
Does this variety of music also reflect your own personal taste in music or what inspires your music?
Absolutely, absolutely! I am a man who doesn’t see himself locked into one genre or listening to what’s being praised. So around my music and if you want to grow musically you have to dive into other genres. It will have influence on you and it will help you. It works! Each one, teach one to do well.
How do you go about especially creating songs like Unity with its Latin/Afrobeat, or the…
Are you asking me my formula? My method of creating a song like that?
Do you have a secret recipe?
The day when Kentucky Fried Chicken announces what is the secret recipe, I’ll tell you, man! How about that?! When these drug companies are telling people how they make the poison, then I will make the cure. (laughs)
Would you approach a producer directly with a specific idea in mind or would such a song evolve naturally?
Music is something that flows. From a pure heart, pure music flows. Just keep it like that, keep it simple.
On April 20 you released the single Ganja Man, which is not on the album though. The same instrumental including the theme from Wailing Soul’s Waterhouse Rock is still used on Upside Down for a track named Appreciated...
Yes, I did two songs on the same track but the first song was Ganja Man. Then when I did Appreciated I pulled Ganja Man from the album and put Appreciated, but 4/20 is still relevant and we can’t hold back the works. We can’t hide the word from the people, the words must go out. There is always a need for the message.
Are you a particular fan of this classic horn theme from Waterhouse Rock or is there a reason you used it twice?
Let me tell you something. I am a fan, I am an avid lover of everything Jamaican and what concerns our musical culture which is so rich, vast, and diverse. The world has not even begun to hear the tip of the iceberg of what Jamaica has to offer in terms of musical composition and musical rendition. Being a fan of my culture, it’s the greatest thing. I can say “You large!” Studio 1, studio 2, studio 3, you name it… I am not even a fan, I am an air condition!
On full power! Upside Down is very diverse, not just musically but also lyrically. It starts spiritually, but also includes love songs, tracks about friendship like Helping Hand, others that boost confidence, while 400 Years covers history, and social commentary is found for example on The World Is Changing. How personal are your lyrics, and what do you consider the most personal song on Upside Down?
I see you are desperately trying to tap into my mindset. My music is indeed personal, because I see myself as a social mirror, dealing with different realities than the mainstream media and the newspaper. The world is changing. Things that are highlighted out there don’t coincide with the global issues that are being reflected on the ground. News only say these things to the masses. It must be all about “I love you, baby, I love you and I want to do this and I want to bring you the moon and the stars…” and I am not into that Bomboclaat, you know, mother?! I want to speak the truth to the masses. You sight?
Yes sir, I am hearing you.
You understand me? Really? We have to speak about those things. I don’t come to be packaged. You dig? You can’t turn a rebel into a pussycat. That will never work. The truth must be heard!
You also recently made the link with Roc Nation. The album will be released through them. How much influence did they have on the record?
People don’t really have influence on my music. I control that. I don’t play with my artistic creativity. No guy can’t tell me about that. You can have your opinion but it’s people who choose to buy or not to buy it. I don’t take that away from no-one but the final say will always rest with me. Because we know what we do.
As far as I am concerned you graduated and received a Master’s Degree in Music Business Management four years ago. Is the knowledge you gained through your study helping you now, especially in terms of being independent and the release Upside Down?
Let me tell you something. They have been spouting that ever since I was in workhouse. I never admitted to it and I never denied it because I wanted to know where the source of this came from. Because these are the same people who kick I out and said I wasn’t eligible for the Pell Grant. So therefore… what the fuck is this now? No one shall know what I studied and no one shall know what I received because no one deserves to know what I studied and no one deserves to know what I received. But I can tell you one thing, I did not receive the packaged education that everyone else did. How is that? (laughs)
So, in June the fans will finally be able to hear the works we spoke about so much now...
Listen to me! The world is changing and unfortunately things are not going to be the same. And we do not want it to be the same! Because it was not right the way it was. The suffering of people every day, living from hand to mouth, from paycheck to raaaaas-tafari paycheck, while a certain set of people alone masters all this wealth. That has to change! Right now we need a global reset. Just chill, chill, and find your centre. Let Jah do His thing. It is mysterious, you know? He uses all kind of people to do His works, and He knows the warriors and watches the traitors.
Do you think that the current situation people are in right now, being home, knowing that they will not have any live music events any time soon, do you think the fans will appreciate receiving a new record and new music from you even more?
People are going to get something more, they are going to get more. But I am offering just a tip of the iceberg. What is coming, is more. So much more not only for you and me, but for everyone. Not only for the people of America but for the people of the world, the people of Africa, the people of the Caribbean. It is called a new shift in consciousness. And if the people at home wish to tap into their higher self, they will feel it. But because they are so caught up in the mundane world and the things and lasciviousness that they were accustomed to and the chasing of the dollar bills they are unable to feel the seismic shift that’s going on. That is more important than selling records because I don’t want to sell my records to a bunch of dumb people. We want them to understand where we are coming from, when we are coming forward. That is important not only for you and me but for the entire community of global citizens. When you ask me this question, I can’t answer from an individual perspective. I have to give you the global answer, that resonates universally. That is the time, we are in now, sister. It’s not the norm. It is not going to go back to the way it used to be. You are going to see a higher level of consciousness. Higher level, believe me, and eyes are going to be opened. This time at home people should just relax. It is discomforting to a lot of people because they have never sat still. They never went inside themselves to find that quiet place and now they are forced to. But settle yourself! Relax! It’s going to be ok. No situation is ever permanent.
Do you find it frustrating in general that people are as you said “chasing the dollar bill” and focusing on financial wealth?
I don’t let their frustration project on me. I cannot find it frustrating. I find it to be a challenge where we have to reach out to the masses and tell them “My people..!”. People that reach a higher level of consciousness will survive this. It is those who are still stuck, they will not. It is simple as that. I hear of things going on. A whole bunch of things going on. Some of it you know about, some of it you are not aware of. Everyone just needs to relax. I know everyone is hurting, entertainment is hurting, factories are hurting… a reset is coming, man! For everything must be reset. Do you know how many families get together during this lockdown and thrash out these little issues they were fighting over? Do you know how much things get right during this period? From the negativity we must always try to seek the positive.
So, you see this situation that we are in right now as a positive chance for people to re-focus on what’s really important?
Yes, I absolutely do. Take your time and relax. Everyone will feel the energy, everyone will know. It’s okay, it’s okay.
That is a great approach to the situation. How do you personally manage the Corona crisis these days? Are you still in the studio working as usual?
For me it’s all mental. I am just coming from prison, I was locked down for ten years. You guys have always been in a bigger prison, they just decided to tighten your cuffs. Do you see what’s happening in certain states? Where draconian measures have been imposed on the people that go way too far. People are scared and frightened. Now you shouldn’t be frightened, that’s what you voted for. That’s what you asked for because you have been sleeping. Now your being caught off guard. Those of us who trust in the true and living Almighty God have always warned you guys. Always tried to warn you. But “They smoke too much weed, they’re Jamaicans, they’re this, they’re that…” What can we say now? You cannot say that you have not been told. None of you people can ever say a warning never came on to you. I told you a higher consciousness can survive this. Those who are trapped in the mundane world, those are the people you see agitated and losing their mind. It’s only for a short matter of time, no situation is permanent. God lives! If it was so dramatic would you be on the phone with me now? All is good sister, have faith!
Would you say you have a special appreciation for freedom?
I don’t even like that word because I see you guys are free but you are all dumb. Most of them, not you particularly. I don’t like that word. I prefer the word liberty. It is more enduring to man. Man was not meant to live in a cage but circumstances sometimes like this particular one we are going through with the Covid virus… Can you imagine if all the people were on the road? The chaos that would have caused in every major city. I am not saying that there is no virus. There is something out there but I can tell you it’s not the common flu.
Would you say this liberty is a state of mind rather than something physical?
I said there is a virus out there. Actually, there is a biological warfare. But the good thing is, the guys in America were smart enough to catch up on it early and that saved a lot of tragedy from happening. But there are other things going on that we don’t know but I don’t think that all of this is attributed to just Corona virus because up to now the numbers and the statistics are proven to be fudged. I am not trying to lead the people astray. That’s not my thing. I want the people to know the truth. Because the truth shall set you free and more importantly it shall make you free!
So, your record is coming at a good time for people to hear a good and righteous message.
You cannot measure space and time. We just know that the universe agrees.
Would you want to add anything to the news of the album coming, something you really want to share with the fans?
I want to share with the massive my love for you. The love I have for the masses is not just for one demographic, it’s global, it’s universal. My love I want to share with you. I am not a wealthy man to share every dollar with each and every individual that’s on planet earth, but with music I want to make it wholesome from a place of peace, from a quiet place of love, from a quiet place of unity, from a quiet place of togetherness. This is my global offering to the world.
DOWNLOAD THE INTERVIEW AS PART OF THE NEW FESTIVILLE 2020 MAGAZINE HERE!