Sunday, December 20, 2009

Buju Banton On Trial: What A Plot?

"What a plot dem a plot 'gainst I and I..." sang Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers in 1983.

Some in the reggae community might feel that the above lyric describes the predicament that Grammy-nominated artist Buju Banton finds himself in. The veteran dancehall and reggae star stands accused of "conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute" 5  kilos of cocaine.

It's important to emphasize the wording of his charges, because it illuminates the level of detail US federal drug officials are going to in this case -- to allege conspiracy seems to imply guilt by association, whether or not Buju was responsible or knowledgeable of a crime.

There are rumors of a video showing Buju cutting open a kilo of cocaine and tasting it to verify the substance. He's refuted the charges through his lawyers and publicist, but will still face trial in Tampa, Florida.

And that's where this case gets sticky. After all, Buju has spent literally months in the headlines of major US publications as his Rasta Got Soul tour was protested and picketed by gay rights organizations.The same organizations have also launched a campaign against his Grammy nomination.

When the news of his arrest broke, the overwhelming sentiment, as expressed in comments on news sites in LA, Miami and elsewhere spoke of disbelief and conspiracy. Here are some examples:

•  "is this an arrest on a drug charge or is he being charged for being anti gay because all the info i read is about him being anti gay"
• "This does not make any sense..Buju does not need to buy or sell coke..THIS WAS A SET UP..."

• Im pretty sure Buju is being framed here. If the gays had done their homework, they would know A. Buju has not performed an anti-gay song in a decade and B. Rastafarians don't traffic cocaine, they traffic marijuana. Sadly gays control the instruments of power in our society and they're taking over the globe. They cannot be stopped. See you in 20 years Buju.

Many posters' sentiments imply that Buju's arrest is part of a gay-led conspiracy to silence his music's hateful rhetoric. Queerty blog recently addressed and refuted these tacitly homophobic implications. 

There's not space here to rehash the "Buju versus gay activists" saga; needless to say both sides have stridently stuck to their opinions, even when their information is inaccurate (like activists basing their protests around a 15-year old song that Buju no longer performs) or ignorant (Buju's homophobic views based on literal Biblical interpretation).

However for more context from a Jamaican intellectual perspective, read Jamaican historian Professor Carolyn Cooper's succinct commentary.

At the least, Buju's character has been permanently damaged in the US, and American fans shouldn't expect him to perform any time soon if ever. Should the charges be true, he faces 15-20 years minimum in US federal prison. Whether it was a set up by US drug agents, bad-minded associates of the singer, or laughably poor judgment on the part of the entertainer we won't know until the facts come out. And when they do, there will sure to be those who still think "dem a plot" against Rasta...

UPDATE: Buju's label representative responds.