Buju Banton aims for the feet as well as spirit
September 20, 2006
Reggae music begat the dancehall style, but that doesn’t mean the relatives are especially close. Reggae, as Bob Marley, Burning Spear and the like conceived it, was music for the mind, concerned primarily with the messages of tolerance, resisting oppression, and devotion to God. Dancehall was aimed at the feet, its emphasis on raising the temperature of a roomful of people.The two styles have been at such opposite ends of the spectrum, in fact, that musicians have chosen to specialize in one or the other. At least when Buju Banton, the Jamaican singer who was born Mark Myrie, began exploring the disparate forms – first dancehall, then roots reggae – he didn’t have a model for crossing over.”I come blazing a trail of my own,” Banton said by phone from a tour stop in Boulder. “I think I’m a pioneer in doing that.”
Banton, 33, began his career with the dancehall style, in his 1993 CD “Mr. Mention.” Two years later, however, he showed another side of himself, with the memorable roots CD, “Til Shiloh.” His albums since then have shown an uncommon stylistic daring: He has woven ska and African percussion into his sound; on 1999’s “Unchained Spirit,” Banton joined punk-ska band Rancid on a track. To Banton, anything less than covering the musical map would be letting down the ultimate source of the music.”I see myself as one who has a gift from almighty God, and is brave enough to take my music and keep it as uncut as I received it, without diluting it,” Banton said.Earlier this month, Banton released “Too Bad,” his first dancehall CD in a decade. But the singer says that he had never taken a leave from dancehall; “I’ve always kept the bubbling alive,” is the way he puts it. But the American and International reggae communities had always been more interested in him as a roots artist. Banton solved that problem by creating his own label, Gargamel Music.
“Too Bad” is Gargamel’s first release, and Banton already has a second CD ready to drop on his label. “Rasta Got Soul,” a reggae-style album he has already recorded, is set for release next year.Despite his proficiency at both styles, Banton doesn’t see much opportunity for fusing the two. “It can be done,” he said. “But it’s separate music, and they deserve their separate identities.” Reggae, he continues, will always be about the spirit, while dancehall is meant to generate heat and sweat.
“You cannot put a spiritual expression on 120 beats per minute,” he said. “You just can’t do that.”Tickets to tonight’s performance are $30. For a full Belly Up schedule, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/music.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org