It was church, it was dancehall, it was roots rock reggae. It was fun, it was classy, it was exciting! Buju Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom tour’s opening concert at the National Stadium in the capital city was all of the foregoing and more.
The venue was packed to the rafters and Buju Banton did not disappoint. He proved that just over eight years of federal incarceration did not break his spirit and he took to the stage like he had not missed a beat over the time.
It appeared that he spent much of his ‘extended vacation’ preparing for the moment as he seamlessly glided into his performance treating his capacity audience to the classic Buju Banton they had travelled from all over the world to see.
Having entered the stage to a classic gladiator themed intro, Buju Banton was purposeful and measured in his delivery and just about two hours later fans streamed out of the National Stadium to the spectacle of fireworks feeling very satisfied that their money was well spent.
The Long Walk to Freedom was no ordinary concert. A few technical glitches aside, it could easily be described as one of the best productions seen in Jamaica in decades.
From the park and ride shuttle system to the stage management the show was like no other. There were no customary pesky band changes and the acts segued into each other smoothly. Another unique feature of the show was the absence of an MC between acts. The patrons seemed to have appreciated this as the show rolled out like a massive musical avalanche.
Act after act, the music just kept getting better.
A lot of thought went into choosing the line-up which was comprised mainly of singers and they all delivered.
Chronixx was a stand-out act. He showed why he is the leader of the cadre of young reggae revolutionaries who are staying true to the roots of the music. He delivered a polished set which would have made Buju Banton proud.
Agent Sasco, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, LUST, Cocoa Tea, Etana and Ghost all gave abbreviated but impactful performances, prepping the audience for the main event.
Buju Banton chose a few friends, some of his greatest collaborators over the years to share in his performance. He made it absolutely clear that prison had taught him many lessons including knowing who his true friends were and he rolled out the big acts Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond, Wayne Wonder and Gramps Morgan.
Their interactions on stage brought memories flooding back as they delivered some of the classics that made Buju Banton into a world star. For them, it was a special privilege to be able to say ‘welcome home ‘to the star whose December release from prison was one of the most highly anticipated moments of the last decade.
Buju Banton is a master at his craft. He is especially skilled at switching roles and his different personas were brought into play throughout his near two-hour set. He was philosophical at times, prayerful at times and downright raunchy at other times…all to the delight of fans.
He swung the pendulum easily between hardcore dancehall and righteous roots music. While he briefly touched some topical issues including the ongoing family spat it wasn’t a night of much talking for Buju Banton. He didn’t dwell much on his conviction and incarceration and he didn’t come seeking forgiveness or pity; he was there to entertain and revive his career and that he did.
Backstage was a sea of celebrities including American producer DK Khaled and other notable faces from music and film.
It was a special night for band leader Lenky Marsden who led Buju’s band up to the time of his arrest. He added a few new faces to the Shiloh outfit and the young musicians seem to have taken the charge well as the music was well arranged and showed creativity and versatility.
The Long Walk to Freedom tour now has stops in the Bahamas and Barbados with more dates being added across the Caribbean.
By Andrew Clunis