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Interview: Richie Spice (2012)

Interview: Richie Spice (2012)

Interview: Richie Spice (2012)

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"I play all instruments myself but I play them in my head!"

Sampler

Unless you're a complete sound system addict with no interest in longplaying releases it won't have escaped your attention that an unusually high number of Jamaican reggae artists have turned to acoustic projects in 2012. It's no coincidence that these revisits to the limitations of the first recorded Jamaican music have seen the light of day as Jamaica celebrates 5 decades of independence. Nor would it be fanciful to see this as part of a wider trend towards older reggae forms in the last few years (against a backdrop of industry establishment fears that dancehall may not fully represent the island's heritage).

The latest exponent of the acoustic record is one of the past decade's most consistent cultural vocalists, Richie Spice. Like Clinton Fearon, Tarrus Riley and Toots Hibbert before him, the broken toned singer has used his effort, 'Soothing Sounds', released on Tad's Records, to rework his back catalogue in a fashion that suits the heartfelt simplicity of his lyrics and voice.

As United Reggae has found in the past, Richie Spice is not the easiest person to interview. This is not because he is in any way difficult or uncooperative but because he is a man of deeds - who sets no great stock in talking about a job already done. Where many reggae artists request validation and assent from foreign interviewers asking "You understand?" with each point made, Mr Spice tends to take any nod or sound of agreement to mean his interrogator is satisfied with his answer and no further words are required!

Nonetheless, Richie was generous in granting Angus Taylor some choice sentences on his new direction, his diverse musical interests from country & western to the music of Africa and his memories of his mother, Violet Bonner, who sadly passed away this year...

Richie Spice

How did you have the idea to do an acoustic album?

The idea has always been in my mind for this to play more of a role in my music. I really thought about it over a period of time before I brought it to manifestation. At times people come to me and say "What did you say in this song?" or "What did you say at that part?" so I tried to break down the music on a lower beat and a clearer vibe that means people can really overstand - or understand - what I'm saying more clearly.

Many of the songs are reworkings of electric Richie spice songs under new names - how did you decide which songs would work acoustically?

It was just a free flow because these are songs that I love and know have a really great potential and I know the people would like to hear more and have a different version so I just went ahead.

I tried to break down the music on a lower beat and a clearer vibe that means people can really overstand what I'm saying

How did you build the rhythms? Did you and co-producer Mitchum Chin start with guitar and add the other instruments later? And the other contributors like Lenky, Bongo Herman and Robbie Shakespeare, did they come in later, where they in the studio with you at the same time?

The rhythms were built by me going into the studio with my brethren Mitchum who is a great guitarist. I would sing the songs and he would play the rhythms. He would play the lead guitar on it and then add other instruments to it. Sometimes everyone was in the studio together and sometimes I would lay down the lead track with the guitar and then other people would come in and play.

Do you play any instruments yourself?

I play all instruments myself but I play them in my head! When I use the collie bud they play!

You clearly listen to a wide range of music outside reggae - on your last album with Penthouse Book Of Job, you reinterpreted Randy Crawford's Street Life as My Life. On your new album for the song Crying you take inspiration from the lyrics to Dolly Parton's Nine To Five. Are you a fan of Dolly Parton and country music in general?

(laughs) Yes for sure I am! I watched country and western movies also growing up as youths. So I learned from that and listened to all of those musics and kept in track with the whole history of it coming up in time.

The song All Night takes us right back into the earliest history of recorded Jamaican music by using a banjo. As well being used in mento music and US country music, the banjo is believed by scholars to have come from Africa.

Well as you say, the banjo is a form of instrument which originates from I and I as Jamaicans - because as Jamaicans we are Africans also. We are the same people. I chose that because I really love the sound of that instrument so I requested it to be a part of my project. The person who plays on the banjo on this album is a good friend of mine from the country who is a great banjo player.

As Jamaicans we are Africans also. We are the same people

Your music is very popular in Africa and your music - particularly your vocals - have a lot in common with West African popular music. Which African artists inspire Richie Spice?

I listen to a lot of African artists. Artists like Lucky Dube and Baaba Maal. I have loved their vibes from a long time since I was growing up. I don't really specify any place in Africa where it comes from - but once it sounds good, it is well arranged and all these things, I will listen to it.

Your song Youths So Cold was used on the English film Attack The Block. Although it's a comedy it does have the same message of "Caring for the youths" as Richie Spice's music. Have you seen the film?

Richie SpiceYeah I have seen it. Most definitely. And I think it is a great song. I'm confident in this song and I think there is a lot more that can be done with the song. That's why right now it's also on this album where I play it over acoustic. It features in the movie Attack The Block and it's also in this kids game called Grand Theft Auto. I'm feeling good because right now we are saying things which mean we are trying to uplift youths through music. So it is so good and great to see that the people accept the music and try to sell it out there and let the words go out there in what they are trying to portray and what they are trying to say.

You and your brothers Spanna Banna and Snatcha Lion join forces on the track More Love. How important has family unity been in your career? Were your parents involved in music?

It's a great joy and it's also a part of my music because it helps give me and motivate me helping I so I can move on day to day. I don't know what I would do without them. My father was a drummer and I used to play when he was five years old at this church. But they never played music publically like I and I. My mother was a person with a strong voice because when she was washing I remember hearing her sing and you could hear the powers in her voice. She had great vocals but she didn't utilise it like I and I.

The final track on your album Agony is not acoustic at all - it has a kind of 80s pop sound.

Yes! That was the song that Robbie Shakespeare played on. He said that he'd give me enough strength on this album and he'd play this one differently for me. When we were in Anchor studio with Robbie it just happened abruptly. I saw him in the studio and said "I have a project going on in here and I would like you to play a part". He said "How you mean, Richie? Any time" so he just came in and played!

My mother was a person with a strong voice because when she was washing I remember hearing her sing

Do you prefer acoustic to digital?

Acoustic music brings a great vibe. Because I am a musician which means I listen to a wide variety of music - I listen to instrumentals, I listen to all different genres of music. I really love acoustic music but it's not like I prefer it to any other form of music. It gives me a soothing vibration which means you can hold a nice vibration from it.

Is this an album that can be played on sound system or is it more for playing at home?

This album is a universal album. It can play on the sound system, in the church, it can play at home, at a party, it can play at your thanksgiving or it can play anywhere ever.

This album has been in your mind for a long time but other artists - like Tarrus Riley and Toots - have also released acoustic albums this year. Why do you think reggae is going in this direction?

To be frank with you I don't know how to explain that. Because that was a thought from within me within myself. That was a project that I was working on two years ago so to suddenly see that while I am releasing this album that Toots and Tarrus released one the same time in the same format was a surprise. But it's not like we planned it or anything! I heard one of the songs from Tarrus Riley but nothing more.

These albums have all been released around the time of 50 years of independence. Did you celebrate independence? Also did you follow Jamaica's success in the Olympics and sports in general?

Yes, 50 years of independence here in Jamaica is a great vibe because people have been through a lot of things which people grow over and learn more and accept themselves and understand themselves more. There's a lot more to be done and a lot more to be learned but it's still going good. Right now what Jamaica did in the Olympics is a great feeling and a great vibe. It's a joy to I and I, to the people, to the youth's future to their careers and their everything.

What are the important issues facing reggae music in the next 50 years?

The most important issue right now is that we need help towards our music. We need more management. Good managers that can manage the careers of talented artists. We need music lawyers, we need administrators and we need good booking agents. We need all these things to get the work out there to the people. Hopefully the people will learn and understand themselves more and love themselves and accept themselves more and all these things.

Tad Dawkins, who is releasing Soothing Sounds said that the album should get a Grammy. Do you care if it does or not?

(thinks) Well it's a great vibe if you're working and you achieve an award then when you check and look back on it in time it's a great feeling. But whether it happens or not it still doesn't stop me from moving and keeping on being focussed on doing whatever I am doing. It doesn't mean my heart would bleed blood for it but if it comes we will accept it. But I will never ever switch and say "Yes, I'm going to sing another genre of music because I want that award".

The one drop is the root of music - it is the root of all music

Aside from your album you did a track on the Big One Drop rhythm for Computer Paul which was created to help protect one drop reggae. Does one drop reggae need protecting?

We have to protect one drop music because that's the heartbeat of the people. Because that type of music means defending the people we have to situate it so that it is protected. The one drop is the root of music - it is the root of all music - so it's very strong. But we who serve it have to keep it up there and stay focussed so it can keep as strong as it is. It is the root of all music and without the root there is no branch.

What will the next Richie Spice album project be?

The next album will be the roots rock reggae with the real rubadub rhythm that's blowing up your speakers and shaking everything in the house!

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