Buju Banton faces up to Troubled Past

BUJU BANTON with BLESSED and MAJESTIC WARRIORS at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Saturday (July 28)..

at the Opera House (735
Queen East), Saturday (July 28). $35.

Rating: NNNNN

The past is not something Buju Banton usually brings up unprovoked.

These days, the 28-year-old deejay is widely recognized as one of the titans of Jamaican dancehall, with a gruff voice and a ruthless machine-gun delivery. His 1995 disc, Til Shiloh, is still considered a new-school reggae classic, mixing raw beats with acoustic guitar tracks and an intelligent sense of style not often found in the dancehall.

This, of course, is not the Buju Banton who first appeared more than a decade ago. Once the king of potty-mouthed dancehall slackness, Banton became a Rasta, turned conscious and insisted that his wild ways were a thing of the past, often even refusing to admit that the two Buju Bantons were the same guy.

Now, the release of two greatest-hits records, including the VP disc Buju Banton: The Early Years 1990-95 and a forthcoming Universal Records retrospective, has forced the rude-boy-turned-Rasta-prophet to look back on some of his older work as well as the firestorms that followed.

He won’t say whether the incendiary cut Boom Boom Bye Bye — a call for violence against Jamaican gays — will be on the best-of collections, but he does admit that the old material does makes for a harsh listen now.

“The stuff that made Buju Banton popular is what it is,” Banton offers cryptically from a tour bus outside Philadelphia. “At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t mean anything. I made some records that could have been rethought, but age brings wisdom, and the youth will always be foolish.

“I know that I have progressed, as a man and a musician. The hardest thing is to acknowledge that what you did was wrong. I can do that. I am a new man now, seen? A man of the people. My duty is to the people, and to accept that, you must be mature.”

One group of people to whom Banton is no longer duty bound is the folks at Epitaph Records. The deejay signed a surprise deal with the punk label in 1999, largely because label superstars Rancid were major fans.

Banton’s anemic Unchained Spirit disc was a major disappointment, and the relationship apparently ended when that record came out.

“I have nothing good to say about them, but because I’m a positive man, I have nothing bad to say either,” Banton cautiously remarks to uproarious laughter in the background. “A lot of people thought I was a fool signing with this little rock record label.

“I had faith, but for some reason, some rock and roll reason, we were not able to see eye to eye, yuh know. You can’t know if the water’s deep unless you jump in, but Buju believes they were well over their heads.”

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