TAMPA, Fla. (CelebrityAccess) Grammy Award-winning Reggae superstar has been released from nine years of imprisonment in U.S. federal prison and his native country of Jamaica is celebrating.
Banton, Mark Myrie, was arrested in 2001 on federal drug smuggling charges (after years of touring the U.S. that were marred by protests because of apparently homophobic lyrics).
Banton, 45, was released Friday from Georgia’s private McRae Correctional Institute, a prison official told the Tampa Bay Times, and was returned to Jamaica.
The Guardian called Banton “perhaps the most famous Jamaican artists whose name isn’t Marly” and would be the “most eagerly awaited arrival in Jamaica since Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie touched down in April 1966.”
The Reggae/dancehall star reportedly overtook Bob Marley’s record for No. 1 singles on the Jamaican charts in 1992.
However, because of a song that “openly incited the killing of gay people,” according to the Guardian, 28 of his shows were canceled between 2005 and 2011 although he vowed to never again incite “hatred or violence.” In 2009, Banton was on a flight from Spain to the U.S. when he allegedly boasted to the person seated next to him that he had a role in a large cocaine smuggling ring and talked to the person about setting up a deal. That person he talked to happened to be a longtime informant for federal agents.
That, plus other evidence, led to a long, drawn-out court process ending in a 2011 conviction.
Now, Banton, fondly known as “the Gargamel,” is being sent home but may not be in Jamaica yet, and is possibly in a deportation facility and won’t be in the country until Thursday at the earliest. Several events were reportedly being planned, according to the Jamaica Star, and, in nearby Trinidad, promoter High-Frequency Entertainment organized a motorcade for Saturday called the Reunification Roadshow for Banton’s arrival.
“There will be no stopping at any particular venue or space. It’s an ongoing show, like a motorcade basically. So, there’s not going to be any issues relative to noise in any one particular space or anything to that effect,” a spokeswoman told the Star. “All permits have been granted. We also have police and supporting staff relative to mobile security that’s gonna be on the roads with the trucks. The people are really looking forward to the event, and it’s going to just be one huge celebration.”
The Trinidad promoters also have a concert in Banton’s honor planned for April.
Banton is known for hits like “Wanna Be Loved” and “Not An Easy Road” but was condemned internationally, especially by the LGBTQI community, for the lyrics in “Boom Bye Bye,” which was written when Banton was 15 years old, recorded four years later, and came back to haunt him when his career exploded. The song had been interpreted as supporting the murder of gay men although some argued that the song’s lyrics were metaphorical, following in a tradition of exaggerated rhetorical violence in Jamaican dancehall music.