It was a prayerful Buju Banton who graced the stage at the National Stadium in Kingson on Saturday night asking, “have mercy on me”.
Dressed in all white, the ‘Gargamel’ hit the stage about 11:20 p.m., and it was pandemonium as he went on bended knees.
From his opening to Not an easy road onwards, 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 artiste is truly back, and in full form.
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.
Classics such as Hills And Valleys and Destiny, were impecably delivered backed by his Til Shiloh bandmates.
Not forgetting his dancehall roots, Buju let go some waist-moving hits like Championand Too Bad.
But he didn’t do it all alone. He was joined for a moment by Stefflondon; Marcia Griffits, whom he said was like a mother to him; his longtime collab partner Beres Hammond – the two were as in sync as always; and his pal Wayne Wonder. He ended the show in the same vein in which it started, collabrating with Gramps Morgan forPsalm 23.
“We love you!” were his finals words as his two-hour long performance came to an end and fireworks lit up the night sky over Kingston’s National Stadium.
Diaspora Floods National Stadium
Thousands of Jamaicans from home and abroad flooded into the National Stadium in Kingston for Buju Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom concert, some arriving as early as 2 p.m.
Kevin McGregor and his wife, Curreina, from Tampa, booked the flight for their family as soon as the concert date was announced.
Just as they made it through the stadium gates to Statue Road, they paused for a photo to document the moment they have been waiting for.
“When his release was imminent, I knew I had to come here,” Kevin told The Gleaner. “We got our tickets the day after they went on sale,” added Curreina, who had her 10-year-old son by her side.
“From the moment Buju came on the scene, as a youngster, I’ve been a fan from then. I’m a dancehall fanatic,” Kevin continued. “I was right there in Tampa, Florida when the trial was happening – I was vested in the whole thing from before.”
He organised the trip with his cousins who were all fully dressed in Reggae merchandise, from Bob Marley to Buju Banton to Peter Tosh.
“We have to support Buju – the Gargamel. It’s just a wonderful occasion to come in. They’re comparing it to the One Love Peace concert with Bob Marley, and I think that just hits the spot.”
Amanda, from Indianapolis, was all smiles as she waited for the bleachers’ gate to open.
“I’ve been in Jamaica from Wednesday. I come to Jamaica maybe one to four times per year since 1990, and this is the most excited I’ve ever been to come,” she told The Gleaner. This concert’s gonna be great. I know it has to be.”
Though Klaleh, from Las Vegas, had some difficulty getting in, she was very upbeat.
“This is Buju Banton. There should never be anything negative to say about this moment right here, right now. I don’t mind the long lines or the wait, not for him. Anyone who’s mad about the wait or anything, it is because they have never been to an event of this magnitude in a third world country. When you go to an event of this magnitude, this is nothing,” she said.
‘Buju’s Biggest Fan’
Keneisha ‘Nancy’ Williamson, says she is Buju Baton’s biggest fan. Her love for the Gargamel runs so deep that she took a day off from work in January when tickets for the first show in Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom tour went on sale. Knowing how difficult online purchases can be, Williamson said she sat in front of her computer all day until she was able to purchase her tickets.
Williamson, who was born in Jamaica, migrated to the United States as a child, and now lives in Bronx, New York. She arrived in the island Friday night.
“I know it is going to be epic. I grew up on Buju Banton’s music. He is a legend and I love him,” she said. “I live for a good concert and having seen Buju perform before, I know it is going to be eclectic. I saw him at Madison Square Garden some years ago, and I just know he’s evolved so much since then and I want to witness this.”
Williamson told The Gleaner that she sacrificed being in the VIP section of the stadium so that she could share the moment with her entire family. She brought her sister, her cousin, her husband, her brother and her teenage son.
“This moment means so much to me that I didn’t want to experience it alone. I didn’t get my VIP tickets, just so that I could buy tickets for my family. I know that this moment is going to be something special, and I especially wanted my son to be here. This will be his first time seeing Buju perform, but he knows his music because he’s cultured. He knows his roots and it was important to me that he has this experience.”