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Interview: Things you didn't know about Derajah

Interview: Things you didn't know about Derajah

Interview: Things you didn't know about Derajah

By on - Photos by Camille Monchicourt - 15 comments

"We have monsters that live amongst us and we should all look out"


Congratulations to Derajah for winning our production competition with his song The Time Is Now. In celebration we’ve published this unreleased interview with this distinctive roots singer and deejay.

It’s been quiet on the album front for Derajah since 2011 when he emerged from Earl Chinna Smith’s Inna De Yard collective and released Paris is Burning with French band The Donkey Jaw Bone. But through the last 4 years he has kept busy, working on the songs he hopes will come together as his next full length project.


Angus Taylor compiled this article from various encounters at Derajah’s house in Jamaica in 2013 and 2015, and at Reggae Jam Festival 2014. It turns out there is a lot about Derajah that we did not know…

He is a good cook

Back in the day cooking on a coal stove was the thing. Gas gives you some outside vibes.”

Derajah“On the road I cook 99.9% of the time. When I was first touring with Inna De Yard Cedric Myton cooked 95% of time. Then one day he said “Jah Youth I hear you can handle yourself in the kitchen”. I cooked after that.”

“I've never had bad experiences with food on the road. You can go to the African store and buy yam, green banana, dumpling and cook like a Jamaican”.

His father taught Sizzla in high school

My dad taught Sizzla in the same high school I went to. Me and Sizzla went to high school together. Sizzla is amazing for me.”

My dad, he’s a scholar. He used to wear locks before having children. He cut his hair because in a high school it was prohibited. No matter how brilliant you were, as Rasta that was a no-no. To be in the institution as a teacher he had to cut his hair.”

He told me back then it was real terrible on Rastas. Cedric Myton told me the police beat him before cutting his hair. Rasta has seen many atrocities. But Rasta now in Jamaica is doctor, lawyer, teachers, and is of the highest ranks with locks, without having to cut it. We have come a far way.”

Rasta has seen many atrocities

He has an African inspired name

My dad was searching for names to give us as children. My brother is Ayodele and that’s not a western name. My sister that passed away that I sung about, her name is Tamu. I am Derajah, and Tameika is the eldest sister. My dad chose unique names to give us as kids, from the African diaspora.”

Derajah – “Rajah” means “king” in India. “Ra” means “sun god” in Egypt. “De” from Inna de Yard. Enough people look upon me and say I’m related to Indians because of how my precepts and beard look. I did some research with persons from African continent and Derajah means “gift to the king”. So I am going to go with gift to king and not the king - because we are all kings and queens.”

He has a very wide vocal range

My voice shocked me when I recorded myself on a tape in the bathroom first time. When I played back myself I was wowed. It's like the difference between making a movie and watching it back”.

On my track I Remember I sing “I remember when I was growing up” and that’s like deep baritone and then I go all the way up to “Ah, ah ah ah ah, oh”. The falsetto is natural. It’s not something that I have to try to reach. I’m fortunate that it’s there.”

I could have been a notorious killer. But I've stopped that frame of mind in pursuing my musical mission

But he won’t sing certain lyrics

I don’t partake in derogatory stuff. Anything I listen, it’s supposed to be conducive for my child to listen or for anyone’s children to partake. I try not to be sucked in by the vacuum that is turned on right now. The hype is surrounded by gangster, bling-bling, slackness, badman, thug. I don’t know if I’m that type of person.”

He is still affected by the murder of his sister

I cry a lot about what took place. It has been a while since the tragic incident occurred but it still feels like yesterday. I still think about it. At times when I sing My Sister live, I still have emotional feelings. I still cry because she’s always going to be my sister. It’s just that she’s not here with me anymore. I have been robbed. It’s not like she was sick, she wasn’t ill. She has been stolen, like now I see her, now I don’t.”

It’s hard but I think Jah’s been there for me. Give thanks for the fans who listen to my music, because sometimes when I sing about my sister people cry in the the venues. When I get the privilege to meet and greet people and they say “Derajah, I’ve had the same experience, thanks for the song. I’ve lost my mother, my father, my sister, my uncle.” They share the same way that I share.”

I still cry about my sister

I think I’m strong because I could have been a notorious killer. But I’ve stopped that frame of mind in pursuing my musical mission and that is praises to Jah, always.”

It’s not only me that faces these types of tribulation. I think that people all over the world go through this. I recently got some information about the Tainos who originally lived in Jamaica and some people way back, they just killed them. What about people that have been gassed when war is being fought? People don’t even care about grandma and granddad, they just take out a whole village to take out the enemy. We have monsters that live amongst us and we should all look out.”

He was very close to Sugar Minott

Sugar Minott was very close to me. I started to record an album with Sugar Minott. I’d reached nine songs and then when we went on the road, with Inna De Yard, I heard the tragic news that Sugar Minott passed.”

Sugar Minott is the only man that would call my phone at five o’clock in the morning, and say “Jah Youth, I’m in the studio. Are you coming to check me?” and I’d get up out of my bed, brush my teeth, take some tea and rush to the studio”.

He’d put on the tape and string it through and press Play and Record and give me the cue and “Bang, boof”, set the levels and yeah, this man is a genius. So a lot of the songs I recorded at his place were these early morning sessions when he was the engineer. A good man.”

He looks up to his elders

I’m so motivated by Earl Chinna Smith, Kiddus I, Cedric Congo Myton, the Viceroy, Linval Thompson, all these elders. I’m just a young warrior in music and when these elders took me under their wings and said “Derajah, come”.

Inna De Yard with Earl Chinna Smith, we took it to the streets, we took it out on the road, we took it to an international platform and that was also widely accepted and loved.”

The legends are musical historians, making music over and over and when the new generation comes they get the opportunity to play with them until these guys become elders and the cycle starts again. So I come in that cycle where get to play with them and I’m growing. I’m a father, I’m a husband, and a few years from now I’ll be an elder. So I’m very grateful, I’m very honoured for the moment, it’s an overwhelming feeling and I’m truly blessed.”

His next album will not be with the Donkey Jaw Bone

Working with Donkey Jaw Bone on Paris Is Burning, it was just a project. Many persons asked me “Derajah, why leave Jamaica where there are so many talented musicians, to come to France to work with French musicians?” It’s just me exploring as an artist, the sounds that I’m hearing, sounds appealing to what I’m doing.”

But some of the guys who played on the Paris Burnin’ album infringed on the rights and went ahead and registered some stuff into the Sacem in France saying they created some of those instrumentals and even some of my lyrics that I wrote. It’s been heart rending. I just know the Almighty is going to be sorting everything out in due time.”

He is working on a new EP and a second album

Derajah & Jeff Boto“I am working on a new EP with Jeff Boto from Dubatak from Brazil. He turned me on to great artists like Soom T from Scotland. He took Soom T to Brazil.”

“I’m pushing back my second album. Many things are happening. But it’s 90% finished. It just needs mastering mixing and extra harmonies. It will be executive produced by me, Derajah. My song Str8 Packingz will not be on the album. My self-produced love song In Your Eyes will be there. So will Harvest Time my track with Viceroys, and a collab with Mark Wonder.”

He wants to be a producer

I know I am going to be in production. I have a great insight into production. And I need to have a direction. Like “Where do I go from here?” I like to have a say and when you produce you have more of a say”.

He looks forward to visiting England again

When we travelled from Europe to London to play at the Barbican we didn't leave the tour bus. The tour bus went on to a train and it went under the water to the UK. That was like a dream”.

Travelling abroad is like a vacation for me. I get to hang out with Youssou N’dour and see Baba Maal live but then back in Jamaica I'm just a guy “Hi Derajah!” What I like about Jamaica is artists don't have security. You see Sizzla, Capleton is around the corner, Fantan Mojah is over there”.

I want to go back to the UK. I like Rodigan. I never spoke to him. But I like his look. I like his input. Jah Shaka is a pioneer. He has done so much. He is so humble. But when I see him interviewed even though I am a humble person I am humbled by his humbleness.”

He loves the European sound system scene but lyrics are as important as dub

Sound system is a work of art. When you see a man make a name from sound system it is a special thing. Anyone can have a collection of records. But a real selector can give you chills with tunes you heard many tunes before.

Sound system is a work of art

Many of us started on Sound system. I first started deejaying on a sound system before I had a band. In Europe sound system doesn't just play in a band change. Big audience come for the sound system and ignore the band”.

Rhythm is important but we do it in combination. Most artists will tell you a rhythm speaks and you have a conversation. Something in the bassline sparks information. A good beat inspires a good song.”

It's like food. You can have good food that is raw but it tastes better cooked. So you should have a good instrumental intertwined with song and lyrics.”

Give thanks to Beethoven who can make an instrumental that reach far. I like his instrumentals but I could have done something with them lyrically!”

He is positive about the new generation of roots artists

I like Iba Mahr and Jah Bouks, Jesse Royal, Raging Fyah and Uprising Roots - their drummer Kush McAnuff was the drummer for Inna de Yard”.

“Everything is unfolding so beautifully. I am so sad Matthew McAnuff is not here to see it”.

Everything is unfolding so beautifully. I am sad Matthew McAnuff is not here to see it

Marcus Garvey is his national hero

Marcus Garvey made a strong impact on me as an ambassador, someone that speaks a lot about education, self-reliance, working as a team. This man is phenomenal. And when I sum up everything, Marcus Mosiah Garvey is undisputed, undefeated, he is indeed a champion.”

I won’t take anything from the other heroes - my heroine is Nanny of the Maroons. But give thanks for all that Marcus Garvey has done and all the others that have partaken their own way.”

He is grateful for his fans

Thanks to all my well-wishers, to everyone that has been supporting me, to the Jamaican people that brought me up with this type of mental balance because without my upbringing as a person it wouldn’t guide me as an artist.”

Give thanks to all the producers that give the time out to work with me. Give thanks to Earl Chinna Smith, to Paketo, to Franklyn Irving, to Anaïs, to my beautiful wife that gave me a wonderful, loving daughter, to my father, my mother, all my family members, to you who took the time out to come in my home, I’m very happy to have you here today. And I must say, last but not least, give thanks for life, which is most important.”

Give thanks for life, which is most important

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