It wasn't my intention to watch the inaugural performance of the Buju Banton "Long Walk to Freedom Tour" from the cold familiarity of Toronto, Canada. Since Buju was released from incarceration, in December of last year, I knew that every moment up until this particular performance was going to be one of great musical anticipation...and I wanted to be there for the climax. "Due to circumstances beyond my control..." I was unable to fly to Kingston to see Mark Myrie touch the stage after nine long years. Instead, I made sure to lock in every device and digital connection I had to the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on the evening of Saturday, March 16, 2019.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCE
There, I found another truly important story--one I couldn't have anticipated, but one that meant a great deal to me and thousands of others, nonetheless--the connection of a social media audience. We were all committed to experiencing the Long Walk to Freedom concert in real time. We didn't want to miss a beat.
Tickets went on sale, websites crashed, tour schedules began to emerge, and plans fell into place as all roads led in the direction of Buju Banton's voice. We all wanted to hear that "Straaaaaange, this feeling I'm feeling..." intro ring out across the Stadium. We wanted to raise our hands to the melody of "I and I...I wanna rule my destiny..." and we wanted to jump up to the sounds of "Walk like a champion, talk like a champion."
THE BLACK CARPET
Boom Energy black carpet affair, viewers watched as Jamaican media personality Fluffy Miss Kitty and Jamerican celeb and hip hop artist Safaree hosted the live stream via Boom Energy's Facebook page. As dignitaries, foreign visitors, Jamaican public figures, and recording artists entered the VVIP area of the venue, Kitty and Safaree greeted them and asked everyone about their pilgrimage to the National Stadium, and what the moment meant for them in particular.
Kitty even took a brief hiatus to the Long Walk to Freedom stage, joining the Boom dancers and entertaining the already full house of concertgoers who were ready for the show of a lifetime to begin. Kitty danced, kept her energy on 100, and rushed back to conclude the black carpet coverage with Safaree, who was joined at the conclusion by his new fiance Erica Mena, as well as his sister Neequa.
It was the beginning of what would be a seven hour digital experience for many of us. Already connected to our favourite bloggers, artists, influencers, and social media comrades online, the rest of the evening seemed to fall into place. The Boom Energy live stream was a blessing, clear and free of transmission problems, moving seamlessly from the black carpet, out to the main stage, and providing majestic drone shots of the filling National Stadium. When it came to an end at 8:00 p.m., it became abundantly clear that the next step of the plan wasn't as guaranteed.
INSTAGRAM AND FACEBOOK LIVE
@DancehallWorldNews with the opening dancers, and music from @BillboardSelector, I was also happy to take in early stadium footage from popular Instagram account @ProudJamaicans, as well as crisp front-stage video from the people's newspaper, @TheJamaicaStar. Online media outlet @BritishLinkz began to post backstage footage of Buju at his hotel, and then soon entering the venue. Everyone was on deck, and I felt a sigh of relief that I wasn't going to miss a beat!
Logged into YardHype.com, I found a live stream of the concert that made me relax and prepare to enjoy the experience to the best of my limited ability from my hometown of Toronto.
Wayne Marshall's performance of "Glory to God" was the perfect opening, and blessing for the night's festivities. Although news of his song being snubbed from the Sterling Gospel Music Awards (due to perceptions of his Christianity) had tainted the day's news for Marshall, it was evident that the tone, the theme, and the spirituality of the song was the only way to address the Jamaican audience: to genuinely give praise, and to set the tone for a safe and inspirational evening.
So sang, so done. Accompanied by a full gospel choir, Wayne Marshall's set was the right vibe to settle into. The rest of the night continued to move at a structured pace, with excellent timing, a good use of limited artist repertoire, and no detectable delays.
Jahazeil. As Buju news was in high demand this week, it didn't take long for the harsh words from one of his other sons, producer Markus Myrie, to circulate cyberspace. Using language that I can't bear to repeat in my current state of musical bliss, Buju's son basically condemned his father publicly and allegedly even filed a police report against Buju for an earlier physical altercation.
Social media messaging from both Jahazeil and Buju himself politely asked that everyone ignore the distractions and focus on the music, so when Jahazeil had his moment it was great to see him in good spirits for what was surely the biggest opportunity of his career, and a touching moment to see the legacy of his father open up an amazing door for his own journey in the industry.
Delly Ranx followed Jahazeil, followed by Ghost, collaborative group L.U.S.T., and a special personalized performance from the legendary Cocoa Tea who adjusted his lyrics to speak directly to the artist of the night. Singing: "Sweet, sweet Jamaica, Jah Jah send Buju home to we," Cocoa Tea received a huge forward of tribute from the audience. It was during his performance that the magnitude of the moment was expressed.
He wasn't there for himself, said Cocoa Tea. He was there to honour Buju Banton, and that he did. Singing other hits like "She Loves Me Now" and "Too Young To Be My Lover," it was a nice trip into classic reggae, and received warm reception from the fans.
In a full circle moment, and as a treat to the reggae audience that is currently enjoying the hit song "Toast," Cocoa Tea brought eighteen-year-old artist Koffee out to accompany him on stage. It was just a sign of more to come, with more surprise performers, and other treats for the Buju fans.
Right on schedule, the lovely Etana performed, followed by singers Christopher Martin, and Romain Virgo. The live stream from YardHype.com continued, and I was able to connect to the original source, CVM Jamaica's Facebook live. While the stream was constant in audio, the video was intermittent, most likely due to broadcast restrictions from Buju's media team.
By the time Etana began to sing "Jah Jah Blessing," the live stream from CVM had hit about 2.1 K viewers. The evening was running smoothly. Between the Facebook live feed, Instagram posts from artists and patrons, and the occasional Instagram story, the footage didn't hitch and all aspects of the show were accessible.
As with any heavily saturated event, the wifi/data/signal struggle is always real. Big up Digicel and the other foreign internet providers who were sure to see a spike in their data usage as many didn't bother to stop providing updates. These additional fees were surely deemed to be worth it.
For performers and patrons alike, the historical moment was not lost. It was significant. To everyone. While performing, Agent Sasco expressed his joy for being able to celebrate the icon Buju Banton, while he was still here with us, and to be able to do it in a public forum.
Playing heart-warming songs of Jamaican nostalgia like "Many Rivers to Cross," he spoke about Jimmy Cliff, and the movie "The Harder they Come" and let the notes ring out through the Stadium as patrons sang along, cheered, and blew their horns.
As he went through his long list of hit songs, around 10:30 p.m. now, the cell phone lighters began to glow around the stadium, the band sounded crisp playing piano accompaniment to "They Don't Know" and "Skanking Sweet." Chronixx expressed Rastafari greetings, and praised all the "kings and Queens" for stepping forward that evening. He said: "Long time I want to hold all of you in one place," and that "In this moment, we are all connected." He continued to song "I'm Blessed" and "Smile Jamaica" and reminded everyone that "this is a powerful moment, on earth."
A POWERFUL MOMENT
Approaching 11 p.m., the live stream from CVM was now around the 2.1K mark. Jabba continued to acknowledge the significance of the moment, and played Bob Marley favourites like "Three Little Birds" and "Crazy Baldheads." After Bob, he played some Dennis, as event sponsors flashed on projected screens behind him. It was a production. A great production, and all elements of Jamaican culture were fitting nicely together.
In one of the biggest forwards for the evening, Bounty Killer's "Smoke Your Herb" was projected, and the horns overwhelmed even the sounds of singing. Another favourite of the era, any fan of Buju would clearly be a fan of Bounty as well. The two artists dominated their time in history and both continue to beloved favourites.
The CVM live feed comment section was full of jokes, and jovial conversation at this point. Like others, I wondered what Buju was feeling in that moment, minutes before he hit the stage. Was he praying? Was he nervous? Did he have the energy, or the right about of preparation time? Would the time elapsed be evident, or would it seem like no time had passed at all?
The anticipation was almost palpable.
What was the first song going to be? Many were probably expecting "Our Father, who art in Zion...hallowed be they name..." to ring out. The gospel organs played, and with a bowed head, locks falling, and a humble yet stoic expression on his face, Buju sang out "Have mercy on me, oh God." On bended knees, he pleaded for Jamaica, and for the Father to guide him. The crowd was almost in silence as his first lyrics and his beloved echoed throughout the stadium.
He was apologetic. He was humble. He was visibly grateful. He wanted the Jamaican people to feel his remorse, and accept his apology. He knew he owed it to everyone, and he looked determined to make it up to them. He looked ready.
NOT ANY EASY ROAD
"Greeting, in the name of the Most High," he addressed his adoring fans, to cheers, and gratitude, and a response of love.
Around this time...CVM somehow started to freeze.
Not wanting to hitch, I found an Instagram Live from Skkane Me Entertainment, and was happy to continue the Buju journey there. I didn't want to miss a beat. I couldn't.
OUR GENERATION'S ARTIST
It dawned on me, that we as a reggae community haven't had a moment like this to define this generation's reggae experience. I was born around the same time Bob Marley died, and although I can enjoy his legacy in story, video, and audio, I will never have that authentic experience of growing WITH Bob.
With Buju, we are able to claim this artist, and claim this moment as our own. We grew up with Buju. "Mr. Mention" was the first reggae audio cassette I ever purchased, in 1992. This is my personal reggae history, as much as it is Buju's reggae story. He is MY artist. OUR artist.
We were there when Buju had a bald fade and wore mustard pants suits. We were there through his physical and creative transitions. We were there through his troubles, and we know the stories of his past. We went through these times with him, still listening to his music along the way, good or bad. Buju is that artist. Our Bob. He's the one we have a clear memory of, and we can tell the next generation about what it was like to grow up during his reign of excellence. We were there in his musical beginning, and for his musical resurrection. This moment became more important with each passing minute.
I realized that although many of us weren't present in the National Stadium, that another community viewing experience had emerged naturally online. We were still experiencing this together.
THANK YOU, STACIOUS
Buju continued to sing: "Destiny," and started to ease more into his flow. At this point, Skkan Me and CVM were both experiencing some delays, and someone in the chat recommended we link reggae artist @Stacious on her functional IG live feed.
We were in it together.
I logged into Stacious' account around 11:40 p.m. and the live stream had reached 3600 viewers after CVM officially went down. CVM didn't look like it was coming back, and the online viewers were not pleased. We were, in fact, as important a part of this experience as those in stadium. We were invested in this journey, and had spent hours that evening building up to that moment. To lose the feed now would be tragic.
"When battery dun...hush." Stacious posted on her top feed, so those logging in knew that she was doing her best. As Buju continued to sing, now "Hill and Valleys," her feed was approaching 4000 viewers.
Buju quickly addressed rumours and shut down his son Marcus' online claim about him being a cokehead. "Cokehead? What are they talking about?" Buju asked. The crowd cheered, because he called it right out. Buju was warming up. He was in his zone, and finally had the chance to talk to his people.
Stacious, who seemed to be the lone consistent live stream at the time, was now around 5000 views.
"Other links pop down, Stacious you a lead!" one comment read.
"It's a Long Walk from CVM," said another disgruntled viewer, frustrated that the CVM live stream had yet to return.
By 11:48 p.m., an apologetic Stacious declared that she only had 8% left of battery on her phone, and we could hear her asking others around if she could rent their phones to continue her live stream. She was determined to help us, and felt the magnitude of the moment. There were barely any other options, and in that moment, she was our saviour.
It was unfortunate to not have the viewing abilities, but somehow seeing Majah Hype's video made me feel like I wasn't alone. Even in that moment, away from the crowd, I still felt a part of the greater viewing community. There were thousands in the National Stadium, but even more were in a similar position: relying on their device to keep them near. Even in our technological disadvantage, there was unity. We couldn't see our peers, but we could feel them. Even Majah Hype, a leader in the cultural industry, was right where we were, feeling the same frustration. It was about shared community, and the social media played a huge role.
Skkan Me feed was up again, and now we could see Buju in full energy, dancing, and jumping, wining, and coming alive! You could literally feel him come alive! The spirit of music, and routine, familiarity, and passion came flooding onto that stage and you could literally feel his relief. His joy. His pride. His place. The stage was so evidently his place, and he didn't belong anywhere but there. Whatever journey he had to take to get there all made sense in this moment: he has emerged, and evolved, and his spirit felt even sweeter than it used to. Stronger. Wiser. The latest iteration of Buju was like a legend now, stepping righteously into his position as a true leader and cultural icon.
At the height of his vibe, came the worst of the coverage, however. The music has turned from introspective and vulnerable, to nineties dancehall riddims that were causing Buju to gyrate and jump and dance, laugh out loud, and thrust from left to right! I was literally screaming at this point. Clapping. Raising a "gunfinger" indoors, and feeling nothing but great joy watching this performer in his element.
Buju's smile was fabulous. He looked well happy. The women online were commenting on his waistline, as he sang, "Want to be your only man..." and "Buju love fe see de gyal dem..." It was now after midnight, and the views on Skkan Me were up to 4000.
WALK LIKE A CHAMPION
"Walk like a champion, talk like a champion," the crowd sang along. The band was on point. The on stage selector was juggling seamlessly. From one song to the next, one hit to another, and without a hitch Buju performed song after song from the 90s and 2000s. He was performing the soundtrack to our lives. We had been there from 1992 and are still here. Still singing. We still know the words, and we still love the riddims.
"What is this...Kingston, or MoBay?" Buju asked, while jumping around and encouraging the audience to match his energy level. He laughed. Buju got jokes! He's better now, than ever.
SPARKIE BABY TO THE RESCUE
And then the stream fades again, and a mass exodus to @SparkieBabyOfficial's IG Live is recommended. While Skkane Me drops down to 3000 viewers and lower by the moment, Sparkie's rise up at Buju sings "Batty Rider" and "Bitg It Up." Buju then pauses to introduce himself, by first and last name. He mentions that he's been performing since the 90s and wants everyone to know that he's here to stay.
Sparkie reaches up to 900, Skkan Me drops down to 1200, and Buju continues along with "Red Red Rose" mixed in with "Haffi Get You Tonight." This received a huge, huge forward. Every inch of me feels these tracks that I was first introduced to dancehall with. The songs we heard at high school dances, and basement parties. The songs we heard in the clubs, and on the Cairbana parade route. These are the songs were grew up on. And here he was, singing them like it was 1993.
Just after 1 a.m., Buju brings out his first special guest of his segment, British Jamaican hip hop artist Stefflon Don. He continues to sing "Haffi Get You Tonight" with her, and jokes continues on screen. Someone kids that by the end of the night Buju is going to "breed" Stefflon with baby #18, to follow the 17 others already a part of his majestic legacy.
BUJU'S SPECIAL GUESTS
Still, Buju takes a moment to thank his friends sincerely, and to thank those who supported him during his time away. He goes into "Untold Stories" and each word has a significance that everyone can't held but feel. This is truly, truly a personal song. It was then, and continues to be. He thanks fans for rocking with him since the days of King 'Tubby's studio, and he thanks the youth of today for keeping his musical live.
The social media feed becomes a bit of a juggling game. Skkan Me is off-and-on, Stacious and Sparkie and other unintended-mass-media outlets have paused to find chargers and take in the show on their own. It's a great time to catch up on the IG feed, and other posts that no one dared look at while the live stream was bubbling.
My devices are still on rotation, charged in through a web of extension chords, with the laptop still hopefully paused on the most official feed of the evening: CVM.
Buju thanks his real friends who stuck with him through the trials. He expresses that these situations truly reveal true friends. He receives a huge forward for this, and soon after brings out Marcia Griffiths, who he expresses love for as a second mother. She has known him since the age of 17 and has always blessed him with love and positive vibes.
I now have the chance to notice how great the coverage is from a few other trusted outlets. Drink Boom Energy is posting some fabulous photos, as is Wata.
Beres Hammond joins Buju on stage next, and they have an entertaining exchange when Buju sings Beres' part of "Who Say," and Beres deejays Buju's part as well. There are more smiles, laughter, and joy in the Stadium. They sing "Double Trouble" and it is only now that the technological barrier begins to seem as though it won't withstand the evening.
As much as it was going strong through most of the night, it is now becoming shaky on all fronts. Batteries dying. Feeds disappearing. Major delays in the video posting from other media outlets. I mentally prepare for the end of the show, knowing that I may not get to enjoy it in its entirety like I was able to in the beginning.
Wayne Wonder soon comes out to perform my favourite Buju song "Bonafide Love" with him, although I don't see these live, but instead through various clips. It's about quarter to two at this point, when I discover the feed of @JermaineDixon.
BIG UP JERMAINE DIXON
And we're back!
I'm able to see saxophonist Dean Fraser on stage with Buju, and the show conclude with fireworks and festivities. I hear Buju and Gramps Morgan singing "The Lord is My Shepard" and I am able to enjoy the finale, and have a successful conclusion to the night's viewing.
Jabba then returns to stage, with the night's announcements. He thanks the organizers Rockers Island and Solid Agency. He thanks all the staff who put the show together, and also uses the opportunity to mention a few other upcoming reggae events (already penned in my calendar) like the Best of the Best festival in Miami, and the Love and Harmony cruise, both in the spring.
There is no encore to this show, Buju's finale was the finale, and the show ended according to schedule. I am impressed with the impeccable timing and flow of this show. It was executed well.
The show is over, but on Instagram live, @JermaineDixon continues to keep his feed on the stadium as people mill around, the stands clear out, and music continues to play. Meanwhile, the comments are killing me! Praise for Jermaine's clutch coverage comes in, and viewers express their gratitude with some humour:
"No sah! Me all a walk out with Jermaine!"
"CVM did a only show black logo..."
"We want to see everything!" many urged Dixon to keep the feed running, despite the show being over. It felt like we were there, as jokes continued about people's taxi fair, and someone even recommended setting up a GoFund me account to take care of Jermaine for his excellent coverage. They suggested we all "send him a ting" and top up his data.
"We go VIP, bleachers, VVIP thanks to a few lives, but Jermaine is the bestt!"
"Jermaine, come video me dance!" someone suggested.
"Front page of The Star!" another predicted praise, for Jermaine's online reliability.
Viewers now also started to request that Jermaine "bring them" to get some chicken, or take the live feed to the after party. "I hope he films Champs," said another. "We can't trust CVM."
At one point, even reggae superstar Sanchez logged into the live IG feed. At this point, it was suggested that Jermaine share his CashApp, PayPal, or information for Western Union. Everyone was determined to express their thanks!
Finally, around 1:30 p.m., Jermaine's live feed paused and at that point so did my online viewing experience.
A MAGNIFICENT CELEBRATION!
On so many levels, the Long Walk to Freedom experience was monumental. Although my preference would have been to be physically present in Kingston, standing in the National Stadium media pit and capturing the performances from start to finish. It would have been awesome to see Buju up close, but I am so grateful for the technology and the folks that took the time to ensure that people like me were still able to be a part of history.
We have never witnessed a reggae event of this magnitude before, and one some level, I have also never participated in a social media event like this either. I've definitely never seen anything like the travelling masses of online viewers, and how quickly folks could move from one live feed to another, without missing a beat of the show. It was amazing, and an important part of this overall story.
Sharing photos, videos, live feeds, and personal accounts, we were all able to be there together (we enjoyed the evening through one of our accounts, @JamaicanCanadianLove. I went to sleep feeling like I had just experienced something amazing. I woke up, still listening to Buju and still feeling rejoiced and refreshed that our reggae music legend is back, performing excellently, and ready to start another chapter in his career.
"From his opening to Not An Easy Road onward, he did not miss a beat. It was Buju in his element, from his familiar mannerisms to his stage presence, it was as if the years of him being away simply disappeared. His fans can rest assured, the reggae artist is truly back, and in full form," reported Kimberly Small of the Jamaica Gleaner in this morning's review. "With his locks hanging free, and a glimmer in his eyes, the Gargamel delivered an almost two-hour set, hopping across the stage with youthful agility."
"If there were questions about his state of mind, and his ability to perform in front of a sold out crowd, after almost a decade in isolation, Buju put those to rest, breezing through his extensive catalogue of musical masterpieces," said Shereita Grizzle in her review for The Jamaica Star.
Over the next few weeks we'll get to read reviews, view photos, see video clips, and get to know the performance that took place last night inside and out. I imagine it will go down in history as one of the most watched reggae performances, and probably something we'll refer back to and re-watch again and again over time.
The best part is, that this is just the beginning. Buju's tour continues with the next stop in Bahamas on March 30, and continues on to Barbados, Suriname, and St. Kitts as the weeks lead into summer. It's a joy that he's now here to stay, and that those who aren't able to catch one of the stops of the Long Walk to Freedom Tour, can still look forward to his performances, new music, and projects over the remainder of his career. It was also just announced that Buju will be performing on night two of the Reggae Sumfest in July, in Montego Bay.
We've waited a long time for this moment, and it definitely did not disappoint. Looking forward to many, many more enjoyable performances from Buju Banton. Our artists.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.