Reggae’s Gargamel: 10 Interesting Facts About Buju Banton

Buju Banton is one of the most loved and celebrated Jamaican reggae artistes of the 1990s and beyond. His prolific lyrics have spoken to love and romance, politics, Rastafarianism, religion, sexuality and culture in Jamaica. His lyrics have a way of running deep, resonating with, and sometimes stirring controversy among, international audiences. In an interview with US Weekly, DJ Khaled revealed that his favourite album is Buju Banton’s ‘Til Shiloh (see article here). That album, especially the hit single Untold Stories, is widely acclaimed as one of Banton’s finest pieces of work to date, earning him favourable comparisons to reggae king Bob Marley.

One of Banton’s monikers is ‘The Gargamel’, said to be based on the fact that his face carries a resemblance to that of the character Gargamel in kids’ cartoon series, The Smurfs. The nickname has come to carry greater significance based on the darker side of Buju’s story. Apart from the controversy his music has inspired on the local and international scene, with one song in particular (listed in point 5 below) troubling his career more than the other, there is also the matter of his incarceration in 2011. Despite this, Banton will always be a significant part of Jamaica’s – and the world’s – reggae landscape. He has won international awards for his lyrical prowess and musical genius. His work continues to stand out and resonate among new generations of reggae lovers. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Buju Banton:

  1. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 15, 1973, and his birth name is Mark Anthony Myrie. He hails from Salt Lane in Kingston and was the youngest of 15 children.
  2. He always had an inclination for music, and as early as age 12 began deejaying and ‘toasting’ (speaking over music tracks). At 13, Banton started writing his owns songs and performing with local sound systems in Jamaica.
  3. He got the name Buju Banton from two places. His mother is said to have nicknamed him ‘Buju’ because he was a chubby baby and looked like a large, round breadfruit (which was called ‘buju’ in Jamaican parlance). He took the name ‘Banton’ from one of his favourite deejays at the time, Burro Banton, who mentored him at the start of his career.
  4. In 1986, he was introduced to music producer Robert French, which led to the recording and release of his first recorded single The Ruler in 1987.
  5. Two of his songs have stirred serious controversy in Jamaica and the rest of the world: Boom Bye Bye was criticised for homophobic lyrics inciting violence against homosexuals; and another hit single, Love Me Browning, was criticised for his expression of love for lighter skin women (in a country of predominantly dark-skinned women).
  6. He released his second album, Mr. Mention, in 1992. With the help of this album, he broke Bob Marley’s record for the most No. 1 singles in a single year.
  7. He has received Grammy nominations for Inna Heights (1999), Friends for Life (2004) and Too Bad (2007). He won Grammy Awards for best reggae album in 2009 and 2011, respectively, for the albums Rasta Got Soul and Before the Dawn.
  8. Over the course of his career between 1986 to 2016, he has released 10 albums: Stamina Daddy (1992), Mr Mention (1992), Voice of Jamaica (1993), ’Til Shiloh (1995), Inna Heights (1997), Unchained Spirit (2000), Friends for Life (2003), Too Bad (2006), Rasta Got Soul (2009), and Before the Dawn (2010).
  9. In his more than 20-year career, he has worked with some of reggae and dancehall’s most prominent producers, including Bunny Lee, Winston Riley, Patrick Roberts and Donovan Germain.
  10. In 2011, he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possession of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense. He was sentenced to 10 years in US prison.