Jan 29, 2011

Buju's retrial set for February 14


Florida, CMC – Jamaican reggae artiste Mark Myrie otherwise known as Buju Banton will face a federal court on February 14 to be retried on drug and gun-related charges. 

The date of the highly anticipated trial was set on Wednesday by Judge James Moody. 

Myrie was last tried in September on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offence. 

However, the 12-member panel of jurors was unable to reach a verdict following three days of deliberations. That trial lasted a little over a week. 

The second trial was scheduled to get underway last December but was postponed so that Myrie, who is on US$250,000 bail and is subjected to house arrest, could spend time with his family. 

It was not immediately clear if Myrie would be tried on the previous charges or the additional charges tacked on by the prosecution in a new indictment, which are being challenged by the entertainer's legal team. Both the prosecution and defence are awaiting a ruling on the matter. 

Should the new indictment stand, Myrie will be tried for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence, and facilitating a drug-trafficking offence. 

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years' imprisonment. The United States Government would also seek to seize his assets. 

Myrie was arrested in December of 2009 following the arrests of two other men, Ian Thomas and James Mack, who subsequently pleaded guilty to similar charges.

Jan 23, 2011

Buju steadfast as 2nd drug trial draws closer


DAVID Oscar Markus, the attorney representing beleaguered Jamaican Reggae icon Buju Banton, has hailed his client's resolve and sense of purpose during his times of trouble.
Banton, registered at birth as Mark Anthony Myrie, was arrested and jailed by Florida police in December 2009 on drug-related charges. He spent 11 months in the Pinellas County Jail and is set to face another trial next month for conspiracy to possess, with intent to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine, and facilitating the use of a firearm in committing a crime.

But Markus said the experience has brought out the best in the four-time Grammy-nominated Reggae artiste, as lesser mortals would have crumbled under the pressure which Banton has endured.
"The reason Buju hasn't crumbled is because he is innocent and is a man of faith. He has told me many times that he'd rather serve 15 years than admitting to something he didn't do. Of course, we plan on winning, so he won't have to serve another day," Markus told the Sunday Observer.
Last week, Markus served a motion to dismiss a superseding indictment filed by prosecutor James Preston, which added two charges of attempted possession of cocaine, facilitating a cocaine conspiracy by aiding and abetting others using a telephone, and possessing and carrying a firearm.
Markus argued in his motion that the additional charges were filed out of sheer vindictiveness on the part of the United States Government.
"Due process prohibits prosecutors from acting vindictively when exercising their discretion either to bring charges in the first instance, or to supersede existing charges with more onerous ones," the motion states.
Both defence and prosecution are awaiting the court's ruling on the matter and to also find out which date in February the artiste's second trial will get underway.
If found guilty, Banton could be sentenced for up to 20 years in a federal prison. His assets could also be seized by the United States Government.
In September, Myrie's first trial ended in a mistrial after a 12-member panel of jurors failed to come to a unanimous decision as to his innocence or guilt.
He was granted bail soon after and the Federal Court granted him permission to perform at a concert to raise funds to pay his legal bills.
The first trial reportedly cost Myrie US$450,000.
The concert, dubbed "Before The Dawn — Buju Banton and Friends", was held at the Bayfront Park Amphitheatre at Biscayne Boulevard, downtown Miami last Sunday and attracted about 10,000 patrons, some of whom expressed hope that Banton would overcome his legal woes which have stalled his career for over a year.
Dorrett Williams, a resident of West Palm Beach, a Florida city which is about an hour's drive from downtown Miami, wished that the artiste could come through unscathed.
"I have known Buju since he was a child living on Barbican Road. We were neighbours and we used to call him 'Blacka'. I am silently hoping and praying that he will be found not guilty so he can take up where he left off and keep entertaining us as only he can," Williams said.
Fellow reggae artiste Everton Blender was also full of hope that the artiste would be found not guilty.
"Everyone makes mistakes, and it is times like these that we need moral support. Buju is a good man and that is why I have come to perform here without charging. He needs all the support he can get," Blender told reporters after his performance on Sunday.
During his performance, Banton was obviously relieved that he was no longer locked away. His already thin frame seemed to have lost a few pounds, but he never showed any wear and tear as he put on an energetic two-hour performance.
He has consistently maintained his innocence and took time out from his set to take a jab at his accusers.
"Why do they want to see Buju cry? Is it because of Boom Bye Bye? Is it because I say Selassie I? Is it because I am black and not shy?" he belted out, much to the approval of his adoring fans.
At another juncture, he sang, "Babylon lock me inna jail and don't want gimme no bail. Like a me name Josey Wale."
The artiste has been under constant pressure from the international gay community for a single he released in the infancy of his career entitled Boom Bye Bye. The song hits out at the gay lifestyle and caused homosexual activists to dub the song 'murder music'. The tune has sparked numerous demonstrations by members of that community at his concerts in North America and Europe,
He has not performed the song on stage for more than a decade and had attended a meeting with members of the United States gay community in 2009, in a bid to mend fences.
However, the move has failed to appease gay lobbyists, who have protested his Grammy nominations and sought to have him banned from performing at venues in Europe and North America, two continents where he rakes in a substantial portion of his earnings from live appearances.
A Haitian national who lives in Miami and gave his name only as Francois, was certain that Banton was set up by gays, who he feels will go to any length to see the Jamaican's career on the dump heap.
"I strongly believe that he was set up by gays. He certainly does not need drug money to survive and everybody knows they hate his guts," Francios said.
Surprisingly there was no gay protest at the concert on Sunday.

Jan 18, 2011

Concert Review: Buju Banton and Friends Concert at Bayfront Park Amphitheather, January 16


Buju Banton and Friends
Featuring Buju Banton, Stephen Marley, DJ Khaled, Gramps Morgan, and More
Sunday, January 16, 2011, Bayfront Park Amphitheater, Miami

Better than: Any reggae concert you've ever attended.

Last night was a movie of epic blockbuster proportions. Imagine if Avatar came out with a sequel staring Will Smith and Angelina Jolie in 4D, mix that with somePirates of the Caribbean action and you got yourself last night. So let's repeat: Last night was a movie!

For those of you who've been living under a rock, reggae icon Buju Banton is free on bail and took over Bayfront Park with a few of his closest friends. It was a long-awaited return for this controversial artist who has been a solid, iconic figure in the reggae community for over two decades. Now, after 11 months behind bars, Buju is back and his stage show could not have been better. It was clear that Buju missed performing. And if there's any place on earth that he wishes to permanently be, it was the stage. 

But before Buju's triumphant return on stage, we cannot forget the slew of musician friends who came out to support. And besides the artists, let's not forget the fans. Supporters from New York, Toronto, Kingston, London, and even as far away as Australia came to see Buju in the flesh.

And those who weren't able to cough up a few hundred bucks for plane tickets were able to see the concert virtually for only $25 bucks! LIME Mobile, a new cellular phone company in the Caribbean and proud sponsor of the show, was streaming live to all mobile devices in Jamaica and beyond. Promoters are saying that hundreds of thousands of reggae fans were tuning in live from across the globe to see this concert online. An exact number is still being determined. But we're certain that many reggae artists who wished to be present at the concert but could not receive their Visas to travel were indeed tuning in from home.   

Back to the show ... The park was jammed packed by 6 p.m. as up-and-comer Richie Loop took the stage, singing his latest radio hit, "My Cup", followed by roots reggae crooner Everton Blender who brought in his classic soul with "Ghetto People Song" and "Lift Up Your Head." After the legendary Mr. Blender, there was former teen sensation and longtime Buju collaborator Nadine Sutherland, who dropped the kind of original island gyal swagger that Rihanna can only dream about.

Up next, another reggae icon, Freddie McGregor and his "Big Ship," took over. By now, the park was overflowing with reggae diehards and it was barely sundown. A huge roar ripped through the crowd as surprise guest Gyptian hit the stage and sang his crossover hit "Hold You." Then enter Wayne Wonder who got the ladies dancing to his hit "No Letting Go."

Soon after, Black Uhuru legend Mykal Rose brought that old-school roots rock before Morgan Heritage's own Gramps Morgan did his bit. And keeping with the laid-back, lover's rock vibe came Tarrus Riley, singing strictly for the ladies.

As you can tell by now, with the laundry list of reggae artists who hit the stage, this concert was like the Reggae Grammy's. And as if it couldn't get any better, Mr. Dutty Rock, Sean Paul, showed up, delivering a speedy, chart-topping set accompanied by none other than Spragga Benz. The follow-up: Shaggy, who surprisingly did a solid 30-minute set with a full band before introducing DJ Khaled and Busta Rhymes. Within minutes, the 10,000-plus audience was going crazy for the tag team's remix of "All I Do Is Win."

Phew! Are we tired yet or what? But finally at 10 p.m. sharp, the lights went dim and the crowd bursted into cheers and tears as Buju Banton walked on stage, donning a classic white dress shirt and black pants, his dreads pinned up neatly, his leather boots glistening. The entrance was serene as he sang an acapella version of "Close One Yesterday." His voice was better than ever, clearer, stronger, more refined.

After his introduction song, he thanked his fans and supporters, something that he has so eagerly wanted to do since his arrest. But this was a joyous occasion, a celebration, a cathartic musical explosion. And without wasting any time, he went straight into his classic song library with heavy tunes, such as "Not an Easy Road," "Untold Stories," and "Wanna Be Loved."

Midway into the set, Buju took to the mic and said: "This woman I met when I was 18 years old. She said to me, 'Be careful what you say in your music because it takes a life of its own.'" In walked reggae legend Marcia Griffith, and the pair sang their classic duet "Closer" as well as "Live On." After that unbelievable performance, Buju told the crowd that his mentor, Beres Hammond, was also supposed to put in a cameo but was unable to make the trek. But no worries, Buju quickly went into the sweet classic Hammond classic "Who Say" as the audience sang along, word for word.

By 11:35 p.m., strict park curfew was about to come down. And Buju needed to move the show along if he wanted to bring in more of his friends. Out walked longtime friend and advocate Stephen Marley, launching into his popular hit "The Traffic Jam." As expected, Stephen introduced baby brother Damian Marley to finish up the song. And another major moment as Buju and the Marley brothers played their collabo song "Jah Army" as the crowd threw their lighters and flags high in the air.

Reaching the peak, Buju brought back his protege Wayne Wonder for their biggest hit, "I Don't Know Why," followed by "Forever Young." Next, "Champion" and "Driver A" got the crowd more hyped than usual. And finally, Buju took us all to church! He welcomed Gramps Morgan again for a gut-wrenching version of "23 Psalms," a plea to the Lord for his mercy.

To end the night, Buju brought out his attorney David Markus as the crowd gave an overwhelming cheer. This was Buju's homecoming. And without faith, love, and the support of friends, family, and fans, this concert would never have happened.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Despite the many talents that graced the stage last night, no one could have come close to the main act himself. Buju Banton's performance was the best we've ever seen. This man gave 150 percent of his soul at this show. For two hours straight, Buju's voice did not once pitch. His energy was locked on level 10 and his stage presence made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He was indeed born to perform.

Random Detail: At exactly 11:59 p.m., the park's light went on, the sound was shut off, and raindrops started to come down. Either it was coincidence or some divine moment ... Jah rastafari! 

Overheard in the Crowd: Security was full force as not just local but federal police agents were placed on duty for this concert. "It's like Fort Knox backstage," said one member of an artist's entourage. Imagine all the groupies, girlfriends, and baby mamas trying desperately to get in! Sorry, ladies, next time.