Untold Stories: 10 Times Buju Banton’s Lyrics Spoke The People’s Truth

Reggae has long been heralded as the people’s music, depicting the day-to-day experiences of the populace. In particular, reggae music has provided a place of communal solace –  a place for collective commiseration and expression of the struggles and strivings of a people. Buju Banton is one of the most loved Jamaican sons of reggae. His music, especially his work on his ‘Til Shiloh album and onwards, has often been likened to Bob Marley’s, and is said to have a similar depth and resonance with the masses locally and internationally. Here are 10 times his lyrics hit home and gave expression to the reality of Jamaican – and human – experiences.



1. ‘Untold Stories’

This is still one of Buju’s most popular songs, released in 1995 on the album ‘Til Shiloh. This is the song that had people saying that he was a modern-day prophet and as talented as Bob Marley. Untold Stories poetically lists Buju’s keen observation of the plight of the ordinary Jamaican – the corruption, poverty, scarcity of opportunities, lack of income and an ever-increasing cost of living. In several lines, he juxtaposes the struggles of the working classes to the luxury experienced by unconcerned and unaffected ‘leaders’: With all the hike in the price/Arm and leg we have to pay/While our leaders play. And in one line, he expresses the completeness of the frustration of many Jamaicans: My cup is full to the brim. The song’s hook is a hauntingly morose reminder that all the things Buju has listed don’t even begin to give a true depiction of the extent of suffering and agony the people are experiencing: I could go on and on, the full has never been told. This song is worthy of intellectual study. See the full lyrics below.

Chorus:
I am living while I am living to the father I will pray

Only him knows how we get through everyday
With all the hike in the price
Arm and leg we have to pay
While our leaders play

Verse 1:
All I see people a rip and a rob and a rival
Tief never love fi see tief wid long bag
No love for the people who a sufferin bad
Another toll to the poll may God help we soul
What is to stop the youths from get out of control
Full up of education yet nuh on no payroll
The clothes on my back have countless eyehole.
I could go on and on, the full has never been told

Verse 2:
Who can afford to run will run
But what about those who can’t… they will have to stay
Opportunity a scarce, scarce commodity
In these times I say…
When mama spend her last and send you go class

Never you ever play
It’s a competitive world for low budget people,
Spending a dime while earning a nickel
With no regards to who it may tickle
My cup is full to the brim
I could go on and on, the full has never been told
I could go on and on, the full has never been told

2. ‘Not An Easy Road’

Songs about the struggle tend to go straight to the hearts of the working classes, but this song was so artfully crafted, it became the poor man’s anthem after its release in 1995 on  Buju’s ‘Til Shiloh album. The lines that resonate with most people are probably the first and fourth: It’s not an easy road and Who feels it knows, speaking to how personal and individual the arduous journey of life is, even though it is shared with so many others. This song engenders the determination of the common man in the face of numerous obstacles. It is, like many of Buju’s songs on the ‘Til Shiloh album, a petition to the Almighty to help the poor man carry his burdens: Lord help me sustain these blows and Oh my God, cast away this curse. It also lists the perils encountered in life, even in relationships with loved ones whom one would expect to offer support and assistance: By you rise to see the sun/Who you love a pull you down/Trying to discredit the works you have done. With deceptively simple lyrics, Buju digs into the very heart of profound and painful human experiences. See the full song below.

Chorus:
It’s not an easy road

Many see the glamour and the glitter
And think it’s a bed of rose
Who feels it knows
Lord help me sustain these blows

Verse 1:
From the minute of birth you enter this earth

Obstacles in your way to overcome first
Throughout every day they seem to get worse
Oh my God, cast away this curse
Everybody is trying to make ends meet
Through every way they endeavor
Lord God, you see it
No matter what the world may say on the street
Must have to survive, won’t accept defeat
Now I’m wary, tired and dreary
Got no time to waste
You know now

Verse 2:
By you rise to see the sun

Who you love a pull you down
Trying to discredit the works you have done
Some can’t satisfy with the past of ally
From the Scribes and Pharisees
You’ve got to stay wide
Hold up your head glancing at both side
Waiting anticipating praying for you to slide
Righteouness prevails with Jah by my side
Deliver Jonah from the whale
Never leave him to die
Help us all Abbaba Joni
Hold up my head and cry

Verse 3:
I’ve been travelling all morning

With such a heavy load
Now it’s noon and I cannot afford
To put down this burden alongside the road
I’ve got to hold it, got to humble myself
Like a child
Upon my face I’ve the got to put on a smile
Make up my mind just to walk more miles
Because I know that

3. ‘Wanna Be Loved’

This song expresses one of the strongest and most basic human needs: the need to be loved and appreciated in an authentic, full and unconditional way. It is a hauntingly beautiful ballad of a lonely man searching for a woman who will love him for who he is: Not for who you think I am/Nor what you want me to be/Could you love me for me? If he could find such a woman, Buju pledges: I wanna give you my heart/Don’t want to take it back. He goes on to make it clear that he is not looking for a perfect woman, just a genuine one: I’m only human, not looking for impossibility/Just a genuine woman with sincerity. This song became the people’s song because it verbalises emotions that most people struggle to express. It goes straight from the writer’s heart, and the listener understands and relates. The lyrics say it all:

Chorus:
Wanna be loved

Not for who you think I am
Nor what you want me to be
Could you love me for me?
Real love, with no strings attached
I wanna give you me heart
Don’t want to take it back
This is my chat … cho

Verse 1:
Been searching for a long long time

For that oh-so-true love
To comfort this heart of mine
No pretense stop wasting my time
A virtuous woman is really hard to find
I’m telling you lady
I’m only human, not looking for impossibility
Just a genuine woman with sincerity
Someone who is always near to hold me
Show me you care, up front and boldly
Don’t shun my feelings, all the positive meanings
Love me morning, noon all seasons

Verse 2:
Well every hoe have it’s stick in a bush
What happen to me … she must be somewhere out there
Now where could she be?
Caught up passionately in a love rhapsody
I’m like waiting on some honey
But there ain’t no queen bee
Everybody’s laughing
Some say I’m silly
No infatuation, no love fantasy
Woman you lead my life on a string
I can’t take the on and off thing
I’m oh so lonely inside so I sing

Verse 3:
I would spend my nights at home

But if it means contention
I’d rather be alone
Tell the service man cut the phones
Lock all communication
If there’s no light within my day
I’d rather stay in isolation
For that special someone a lifetime I’ll wait
I know that I’ll be okay
Cross my heart, every day I live I pray
And I know she’ll come my way
Night and day for this woman I pray

4. ‘Murderer’

This song is said to be written in honour of Pan Head (birth name Anthony Johnson), one of Buju’s friends and an upcoming deejay who was shot dead after leaving a dance in October 1993. Especially for persons living in volatile communities, it tells the story of a type of death that is all too common and all too real. Buju berates the murderer for leading a wayward and wicked lifestyle, dooming him to curses and torment: Yes, you can hide from man but not your conscienceYou could wash your hands until you can’t wash them any more/It is like an epidemic and you won’t find a cure and Drinking sulphur bitters won’t be bitter like your end. He implores the murderer to seek salvation and redemption, presumably from God: Job with the leprosy, and he still reached heaven/He will do for you everything He has done for them. This song is the people’s song because it speaks to the destructive elements in society that continually make people’s lives miserable and bring tragedy into the midst with their deeds. It expresses a common sentiment, beseeching them to find alternative, less violent lifestyles, or to seek divine forgiveness and be reformed.

Chorus:
Murderer! Blood is on your shoulders
Kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow
Murder! Your insides must be hollow
How does it feel to take the life of another

Verse 1:
Yes, you can hide from man but not your conscience

Unnu nyam the bread of sorrow
Drink the wine of violence
Allow yourself to be conquered by the serpent
Why did you disobey the first commandment
Walk through the valley I fear no pestilence
God is my witness and Him a mi evidence
Lift up mine eyes from whence cometh help
You coulda never escape dis yah judgement

Verse 2:
I tell you, all men are created equal
But behind the trigger it’s a different sequel
Some are murdering people just to collect medals
Stop committing dirty acts for the high officials
You could wash your hands until you can’t wash them any more
It is like an epidemic and you won’t find a cure
Upper class you could be rich, middle class whether you are poor
Only the righteous won’t feel insecure
Have you ever thought about your skill getting bored

Verse 3:
Drinking sulphur bitters won’t be bitter like your end
Only God can help you, no family or friend
Don’t let the curse be upon your children’s children
Abednigo, Shadreck, Meshek, Daniel in the den
Jonah in the whale’s belly, but was never condemned
Job with the leprosy, and he still reached heaven
He will do for you everything He has done for them

5. ‘Circumstances’

Buju waxes philosophical in Circumstances, asking the age old question of whether the man makes the circumstances, or the circumstances make the man. He sheds light on the mindset of those who resort to illegality to make ends meet, explaining that some criminals choose that way of life because they see no hope in conventional channels. The essence of his message? Criminals are not born that way. They are created by the circumstances in which they are placed in society:

Chorus:
Circumstances made me what I am

Was I born a violent man
Circumstances made me what I am
Everyone should understand

Circumstances made me what I am
Was I born a violent man
Circumstances made me what I am
Everyone should know

Verse 1:
May sound strange, might sound foolish
But things ain’t getting better
Everyday another fall victim to the Beretta 
Why is there so much violence
Killing we one another
Let us learn to live and let that light shine brighter
Bad influence through influence the youth dem get slaughter
As bad as badman use to be
Dem respect di father
is like no eyes no realize seh
Times get harder
Mi talk all night with all mi might
But still is laughter  

Verse 2:
Him say, when I try to cope
Tell miself there is hope
It seems like the biggest joke
Eh eh,
And as I put down the gun
Still dollars must run
All now employment can’t come
Have mi a jam and a cool
Want go back in a school
The system lick mi
There’s no hope for those
Who have not from the slum
Take di little much we have
Still hunting we down
I beg unu show some love
Unu wi get back, he replied

Verse 3:
Well a no little cry
Mama cry, papa cry too
She warn the bwoy with all heart
And that couldn’t do
Now dem find him dead with a Smith and Wesson
Six weeks and change
Now mi hear him missing
Why so much violence, too much violence
It hurts my soul and I won’t keep silent

Circumstances made me what I am
That was his reply I cry
Circumstances made me what I am
Everyone should know

6. ‘Til I’m Laid To Rest’

This is a song of frustration, a call for a return to black people’s ancestral, spiritual and physical roots. It expresses the need for escape from the hardships of the quotidian, with hopes set on a better life in a faraway ‘promised land, in this case ‘the East’ or Africa: Work 7 to 7 but I’m still penniless/All the food upon my table Massa God bless/Holler for the needy and shelterless/Ethiopia awaits all prince and princess. There are hints of Garveyism in this song as well – it reiterates the concept of the African diaspora (among whom Jamaicans are numbered) coming together to return to the Motherland: Organize and centralize come as one/Our seeds shall be so many more than sand. It is the song of the people, especially those who support Negritude, Pan-Africanism, Rastafarianism and Garveyism. In essence, until Buju is ‘laid to rest‘ in the Motherland, and if the current oppression continues, he will ‘always be depressed‘.

Chorus:
‘Til I’m laid to rest

Always be depressed
There’s no life in the West
I know the East is the best
All the propaganda they spread
Tongues will have to confess

Verse:
I’m in bondage, living is a mess

I’ve got to rise up alleviate the stress
No longer will I expose my weakness
He who seeks knowledge begins with humbleness
Work 7 to 7 but I’m still penniless
All the food upon my table Massa God bless
Holler for the needy and shelterless
Ethiopia awaits all prince and princess

Verse:
What could be so bad about the East

Everybody wants a piece
Africa for Africans
Marcus Mosiah speak
Unification outnumbers defeat
What a day when we walk down Redemption Street
Banner on heads, bible inna we hands
One and all lets trod the promised land
Buju go down a Congo
Stopped in Shashamane Land
The city of Harare where Selassie com from
In Addis Ababa then Botswana
Left Kenya end up in Ghana
Oh what a beauty my eyesight behold
Only Ethiopia protect me from the cold

Verse:
Organize and centralize come as one

Our seeds shall be so many more than sand
Some new and replenish pure and clean heart
For too long we’ve been under this band
Some a save a bag a riches
Yet they die empty hand
Go on saying I’m stupid and laugh all you can
Easier for a camel to go through a needle eye
Than a rich man to enter a Zion
Take it from I man

7. ‘Hills and Valleys’

The concept of an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is very common, especially among the disenfranchised masses. Buju plays on this in Hills and Valleys, warning the people: Don’t let them fool you / Don’t believe for a minute that they are with you. He encourages the people, instead, to be their own brother’s keeper: I love to see brothers and sisters / Looking out for one another. He essentially tries to get them to realise that the real enemy is not their ‘brothers and sisters’, but rather, ‘them’ – the oppressors, which could be the government, the system, or even the white system.

Only Rasta can liberate the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don’t let them fool you
Don’t believe for a minute that they are with you
Jah free the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don’t let them fool you
Don’t believe for a minute, they don’t like you

Verse 1:
Why try to make I unhappy
Really I don’t know
If it was up to them my friend
We would never see the sun nor the snow
Through that mystical communication within
We keep on coming together
I love to see brothers and sisters
Looking out for one another
That’s the way it should be
Not contrary, stop tearing down each other

Only Rasta free the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don’t let them fool you
Don’t believe one minute that they are with you
Jah free the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don’t let them fool you
Don’t believe for a minute that they are with you

Verse 2:
Hard drugs won’t do
You’re just behaving like they want you to (yeah)
Arrogance is much different from ignorance
And I know you feel the same way too
Many live this life without having a clue
No reason why they are so sad and blue
Places to go so much things to do
Not a moment to reflect on the cycle of life (yeah)

Bridge:
It hard, it hard, it hard (yeah)

Mek them know we waan go home a we yard
It hard, it hard, it hard (let them know)
Let them know we waan go home a we yard
It hard, it hard, it hard (let them know)
Let them know we waan go home a we yard
It hard, it hard, it hard (oh god)
We waan go home

8. ‘Destiny’

Is there a more powerful expression of the need every person feels for autonomy and freedom to pursue one’s own dreams and beliefs? Buju struck gold with a song that, in five words, verbalises a universal truth: I wanna rule my destiny. The song plays upon the theme of struggle and freedom – juxtaposing images of the bondage and liberty: Though forces try to hold I down/Breaking chains has become the norm. The struggle to destiny, clearly, requires persistence and spiritual livity: They keep fighting me I’m not giving up. It is also possible that the note on which the word ‘destiny’ is sung – an expulsion of air in a strong, high syllable, helps listeners to feel the urgency of the need to rule their destinies.

Verse 1:
The rich man’s wealth is in the city. yeah
Destruction of the poor is his poverty. Lord
Destruction of your soul is vanity. yeah, ay, yeah
Do you hear.
I and I, I wanna rule my destiny. yeah
I and I, I wanna rule my destiny.

Chorus:
Destiny, mama look from when you call me
Destiny, mama look from when you calling
I wanna rule my destiny
yeah, yeah oh help I please
Jah Jah mek mi rule my destiny.

Verse 2:
I’ve been blessed I’ve been touch
I love Jah so much
They keep fighting me I’m not giving up
May the realms of Zion fill my spiritual cup
Wisdom overstanding must never be too much
Give I protection Day and night
From even the pestilence that war get a daylight

Verse 3:
Cast away their cords from us, Lord.
You have them in the region in the valley of decision
Restraining the heathen with a rod of iron
You know not the destiny of a next man
Why hold him set him free for too long
I, I wanna rule my destiny
Oh yeah, I & I really wanna rule my destiny
Hear me call call call

Verse 4:
My destination is homeward bound
Though forces try to hold I down
Breaking chains has become the norm
I know I must get through no matter what a gwaan

Verse 5:
The rich man’s wealth is in the city. oh
Destruction of the poor is our poverty. yeah
Destruction of your soul is vanity. wooooy
Do you hear, Do you hear

9. ‘Give I Strength’

Who hasn’t been at a point in their life where they felt completely depleted of all strength and ability to cope?  Buju’s plea for strength from the Lord, Jah and God resonates along this vein. He is asking for divine assistance to navigate the challenges of daily life – a plea we’ve all made at some point.

Chorus:
Lord give I strength

Never let I fail
To live out the greater part of my days
Give I strength
Jah give I strength
Never let I fail
To live out the greater part of my days
Give I strength

Indeed I see pestilence and plague
But I’m not afraid
They are looking for what they can take
Come in all size appear in all shape
Lord give us the vision to differentiate
Yeah they lay wait, we shall escape
God who protect is greater than great
In all that we do He holds our fate

Verse:
Teach the youths them right in the way they should grow

Joy is a stream constantly flow
And I don’t want to be unhappy
Let me live till I’m gray
I work hard to get pay
Keep out of tale bearers and back-biters way
Never let this bit of education decay no way

Verse:
Teach the youths them right in the way they should grow

Joy is a stream constantly flow
And I don’t want to be unhappy
Let me live till I’m gray
I work hard to get pay
Keep out of tale bearers and back-biters way
Never let this bit of education decay no way

10. ‘Close One Yesterday’

This song breathes hope into the tired man’s being. It gives the promise that ‘One day things must get better, and therefore every listener must ‘Keep your head above the water‘. This song also provides instructions on how to live toward the attainment of this ‘better’ life: ‘Be not grieved, riches are not forever’ and ‘Envy not the oppressor, choose none of his ways’. It laments the frustrations the tired man goes through, but encourages him to be strong, live right, and eventually, good will come to him.

Verse:
One more day in the struggle

Have to get up and juggle
You done know, want a little sugar inna de pan
Me nah see fi trouble, no man
Oh oh oh

Chorus:
Said I had a close one yesterday

Jah put an angel over me, be strong
Hold a firm meditation
One day things must get better, don’t you go down
Keep your head above the water
Say, one day things must get better, be strong

Verse:
The rich is wise in his conceit

But the fool with over standing search him out
Poor man mourn, the rich riches increase
Be not grieved, riches are not forever

Verse:
Envy not the oppressor choses none of his ways

Be not wise in his own eyes, only Jah you must praise
Strive not with a man without cause
If he have done no harm, let by gone be by gone

Verse:
This nine to five is a joke

Compare to the pressure the minister say
The economy is getting better
Misleading the people

The mass still suffer on Jah
Scarce benefit and spoils
Jah know that we feel it day

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