(CMR) Imprisoned reggae artist Buju Banton is said to be returning to Jamaica to a hero's welcome – after having spent some 7 years in a Georgia prison.
The controversial 45-year-old Grammy Award-winning artiste, whose given name is Mark Myrie,Â was arrested on cocaine charges in 2009 in Tampa, Florida and later sentenced to 10 years in the McRae Correctional Facility.Â He was originally slated to be released tomorrow, December 8. However, the United States Bureau of Prisons updated its website overnight and changed his status to “UNKNOWN”.
Jamaica media has said this is
“The most eagerly awaited arrival in Jamaica since Ethiopiaâ€™s Emperor Haile Selassie touched down in April 1966.”
Authorities will be escorting him to Florida so that he can depart the United States and return to Jamaica. Reports are that he has had a change of heart since his imprisonment and intends work closely with the troubled youth in the country. Jamaica's culture minister, Olivia “Babsy” Grange has stated that that Banton â€śis now really about, from what we understand, employment of young people. If he can help shape and resocialise young people, that is something we should embrace.â€ť
However, the government is not treating him like a returning hero even if his countrymen are. Minister of National Security, Horace Change noted that
â€śWe canâ€™t give him a heroâ€™s welcome. He committed a crime.â€ť
Raised in Salt Lane, a poor area of Kingston, the man nicknamed Buju by his mother honed his craft as a child, performing live with sound systems under the name Gargamel aged 12 and recording by the following year, 1987. Jamaica fell for Banton in the early 90s, when he established himself as arguably the most significant dancehall artist in the country.
In 1992, he overtook Bob Marleyâ€™s record for No 1 singles in Jamaica and signed with Mercury Records. However, he received a lot of criticism for recording Boom Bye Bye – a song openly inciting the killing of gay people. It received both local and international condemnation. A number of groups orchestrated various protests that led to the cancellation of 28 of his concerts between 2005 and 2007. In June 2007 he singed the Reggae Compassionate Act; agreeing to â€śto not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any communityâ€ť.
During his prison stay Banton has been completely silent musically. Considered an oddity in an era with dancehall artists convicted for other serious offenses like murder can still produce and release music from Jamaican's prisons. Itâ€™s rumoured that Banton has been writing songs and reaching out to potential collaborators. There is at least one album that is ready to go.
In a statement to the Guardian, he described the impact of imprisonment and his means of coping.
â€śPrison can be traumatising not just on myself, but on my family as well as emotionally draining,â€ť he explained,
â€śFor me, I drew strength from immersing myself in my situation. Do not live in yesterday but live in today. And education was the only thing that kept me up and alive. I immersed myself in reading so much â€“ theology, philosophy and other subjects.â€ť