Friday, February 22, 2019

The BUJU BANTON FOUNDATION // Reggae Music Inspires Philanthropy in Jamaica

We have all seen the footage of Bob Marley and The Wailers at the National Stadium in Kingston, on April 22 of 1978 joining the hands of then political rivals the PNP's Prime Minister Michael Manley and the JLP's Edward Seaga. The photograph made international headlines, the video is a classic glimpse at the state of reggae music and Jamaican politics in the 70s, and the overall sentiment is that it was an historical moment that will forever be cemented in the archives of monumental musical episodes on the island. "Love, prosperity, be with us all..." Bob said to the crowd of 32,000 spectators gathered.

For those who were too young to be present in Kingston that spring day, and for those who were living abroad in Canada, the U.S., or the U.K., an intense moment like this has yet to take place in the reggae community. There has been excitement and controversy, musical hits and glorified performers: the industry has seen its fair share of peaks and crashes over the decades, but rarely was there a moment that unified the majority of interests at once, and turned all eyes in the direction of one sole figure with a message of prosperity much like the One Love Peace Concert.

And then Buju Banton's Long Walk to Freedom Tour was announced, tickets went on sale, websites crashed, and the internet went abuzz. The beloved Gargamel posted his first personal photo, video, and captions on Instagram and fans and supporters everywhere were swept into the same wave of anticipation: the first performance from the artist, after years of incarceration was finally near. March 16 became a close possibility, and a source of focus, interest, and inspiration.

It's the kind of anticipation that is more than just wanting to listen to a song on repeat, or attend a stage show. It's more than just following a talented musician on social media, and watching music videos on YouTube. The anticipation that Buju is currently inspiring, with his inaugural return performance just a few short weeks away, is one that is bigger than anything we have witnessed in recent history. For the fans that came of age with Buju---and those that were too young to witness a living Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, or Jacob Miller--this experience will be generation-defining.

The concert will definitely be a statement, as Buju performs old favourites and will speak and interact with the supporters, countrymen, and reggae lovers who have prayed for him, rallied for him, posted hashtags of #FreeBuju in his support, and kept his legacy alive and rising during his decade-long absence from the public scene.

This particular statement can be interpreted musically, but also, due to the surrounding energy and interest in the voice and reasonings of Mark Myrie, the statement being made right now in reggae music as a result of Buju's influence is also headed in a philanthropic lane.

Along with the early December release of Buju and the January launch of his tour, came the introduction of the Buju Banton Foundation mid-January, the charitable arm of his powerful movement, and a tangible location for fans and supporters to invest their hope for the future of Jamaica. The Foundation is a fitting manifestation of all that Buju and his music have represented over the years, with an opportunity for fans and friends to take part in his development not only as an artiste, but also as a leader in the reggae and island's culture.

Buju is one of few Grammy award winning reggae artists, with a familiar face and smile that resonates across genres. He has broken records with his singles, he is a household name across the Caribbean and supporting nations; coupled with his talent, his personality and lyrics have charmed a nation into loving endorsements. In addition to making new music, creating positive messaging, and touring for his fans, Buju's public next steps also include taking care of the communities and the generation of young Jamaicans that will be responsible for ensuring that his legacy, his country, and their surroundings continue to develop and excel.

The necessities of living: food, clothing, healthcare, and education are the key offerings of the Buju Banton Foundation, which was established this year in support of young Jamaicans up to the age of 20, who can benefit from skill-based training, talent development, and educational empowerment.

In keeping with the energy of Buju's return to Jamaica, partial proceeds from the March concert in Jamaica will support the Buju Banton Foundation, and charitable donations will continue to be made as the tour continues into the summer. Proceeds will "align with nonprofits in each island, with part proceeds going to those organizations," according to Joseph Louis (aka Joey Budafuco) of XO Management and Rockers Island Entertainment.

Buju referenced his own experiences as a child, growing up in the inner city of Salt Lane in Kingston, Jamaica, when he was forming the mandate and direction of his charitable organization. Remembering the poverty and hardships that he endured, he also acknowledges the music and messages that helped to bring him out of his challenging circumstances, and nurture him into the megastar he is today. He has been able to utilize his talents, and his voice to communicate on behalf of his community and Jamaican brethren over the years: now he is also able to spark structural changes.

"I know what it is for a child to go without basic necessities," Buju stated. "I also know what it is to be a youth with big dreams and lots of determination. Unfortunately, daunted and unable to achieve your destiny, due to a lack of a helping hand, it is not an easy road, my children. However, Jah has blessed me. I have made it my mission through the Buju Banton Foundation to help by giving light to youth living in the darkness of poverty." His goal: to present equal opportunities for success, and also to provide hope and inspiration.

From his first recordings in 1991, to his last album the Grammy Award winning "Before the Dawn," Buju has been blessed with the gift of storytelling and charisma, talent and influence, and these are the skills that will assist him with giving light to youth living in the darkness of poverty. The same music that sustained him during his eight years without freedom is the same source of messaging that he will transfer to the youth within his reach.

The day of his release, reggae fans young and old shared the good news and rejoiced upon his return. Photos and video clips quickly circulated from the time he boarded the plane in the U.S., until he set foot back on Jamaican soil. Fans watched as he strolled through the airport, and took photos with supporters. We stayed attentively aware of his every move as he settled in, met with family members, and prepared for the next stage of his career. Every move, every photo, every visitor, and every announcement has been warmly received by Buju Banton fans and supporters around the world, and for that reason, the concert on March 16 will be nothing short of monumental.

The Buju Banton Foundation is more than a charity, it is the manifestation of Buju's legacy, his energy, and his vision for the future of Jamaica. By investing in the children, and bringing the gift of possibility and hope to those who might not otherwise access their potential, Buju is planting knowledge and fundamental tools and using his voice and influence to foster their growth.

Other reggae artists have also used their platforms to inspire change over the years, through charitable initiatives. The Shaggy Foundation hosts a Shaggy and Friends concert in support of the Bustamante Children's Hospital. Iba Mahr brings attention to the needs of the Linstead Public Hospital with his Sound Di Alarm Musical Festival each year on New Year's Eve. The Beenie Man Foundation was launched to support youth and individuals affected by sickle cell disease, and Bounty Killer's Foundation recently donated beds to the Kingston Public Hospital. This is a time when strong and dedicated leadership is key, and having industry leaders in reggae music use their public profile to help others is a great trend to feed into.

Whether it's directed at an at-risk youth from an impoverished neighbourhood in the islands, or a young adult growing up with similar discouragement in the U.S., Canada, or other locales, Buju's influence will be felt not only through his musical performances, but also through these important gestures and organizations.

The 90-minute set that will take place at Buju's upcoming Long Walk to Freedom concert on March 16 in Jamaica will be the first time Buju officially touches a performance stage since his last show in Miami in 2011, "Buju and Friends: Before the Dawn Concert." Special guests that have been announced for March include Buju's son Jahzeil, and a solid lineup of reggae's finest: Chronixx, Cocoa Tea, Etana, Ghost, Romain Virgo, L.U.S.T., Agent Sasco, and Delly Ranx. Also returning to the stage with Buju, the Shiloh band and surely a few unannounced special guest performers and personalities.

At the root of this historic moment: the music. Despite the hardships and injustice, the poverty and even the riches, the people of Jamaica have had reggae music as a tool for change, for evolution, and for communication for decades. It is a beautiful thing to be able to witness the power of reggae music still in 2019, and it brings renewed hope that the genre is still a conduit for change and influence, and that it still has the potential to inspire culture-shifting development and progress.




Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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