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Interview: Afrikan Simba Part 2 - His Music

Interview: Afrikan Simba Part 2 - His Music

Interview: Afrikan Simba Part 2 - His Music

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"I’ve never really thought about success. When you’re walking somewhere, you aren’t just thinking of your destination – you’re looking at the trees and the shops and then you get there!"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview

Part 2 of our interview with the Anglo-Nigerian roots chanter, broadcaster and thinker Afrikan Simba. Born in East London in the seventies, he fell under the influence of sound systems and Rastafari in his teens, first recording for the producer/singer (and now Twinkle Brothers bassist) Dub Judah. He endured the casual racism of the 1980s, and even a spell in prison in the early 2000s, and today is one of the most respected figures on the UK scene. It is impossible to separate a Rasta artist's life and his music, but everything Simba said was so interesting that we thought two shorter interviews, broadly divided into these topics would make more sense. Here is the second, dealing with Simba's musical influences, work in African radio, and increasingly diverse collaborations with producers around the world...

Afrikan Simba

What were your first experiences of music?

Music in general? My dad was a great collector of music and I used to like involving myself in school plays and things like that. But it wasn't really until I was about twelve that I was introduced to sound system but some brothers who were about my age or a little bit older who used to live in my area - some of them on the same street as me. We had a sound called Exodus and I was the mic man from age twelve. In school when we had music classes. I learned to play the recorder, the violin and the drums - kit drums. But I didn't really concentrate on that once I became a vocalist! (laughs) Sometimes I regret it. I wish that I could play an instrument but it's all gone now!

Why did you choose to become a deejay? Did you ever consider being a singer?

When I was young the first profession I wanted to take up was a bank manager because I wanted my parents to be rich. I thought the bank manager just collected all the money. I didn’t realize the bank manager doesn’t keep it! (laughs) Then when I realized I said I wanted to be an engineer. Music pulled me away from everything I wanted to do. I didn’t choose music. I didn’t wake up one day and say I wanted to be a musician. And when I started to deejay I didn’t say to myself that I wanted to be famous and make a name and have records out. I was a Rasta youth, I had a message and I enjoyed going on the mic and chanting. I didn’t know it was going to lead to big things.

When I was young I wanted to be a bank manager because I wanted my parents to be rich

Who were your favourite deejays when you started?

Jah Thomas, Ranking Dread, Trinity, U Roy, I Roy. Ranking Dread was my number one. For my generation the U Roys and the I Roys were very distant from me because they were in Jamaica. Ranking Dread had travelled from Jamaica to England and he was busting up the place! I liked his style so I adopted it.

How did you feel about what happened to him later?

When I first loved Ranking Dread I didn’t know he was involved with certain negative elements. It was sad to know that about a man who could chat such positive messages – because if you listen to his word sound it doesn’t fit the negative stories that you hear about him. I don’t know how he got mixed up in it. I just know that this world is a wicked world and people can be used, abused and dragged into things that even they don’t want to be involved in. I think everybody has bitten the bait and been tempted to do one thing or another that they shouldn’t do. But some people don’t learn from it and some people strengthen their will power and discipline. It’s all about choices.

How did you meet Dub Judah?

My sound Zulu Priest [mentioned in part one] was originally about five and in the end it whittled down to three – myself, a brother called Daniel Anthony Brooks, who we later called Zulu because he was the controller of the sound, the operator, and a brother called Shadrach Levi. Shad was the scout who used to scout for music for us because every sound had to have their exclusive music. He found Dub Judah, introduced him to us, and along the line Judah heard me and told me that my type of voice wasn’t just for sound systems. It was the type of voice that was commercially appealing and could be used even outside reggae music. But I’ve never really thought about success. It’s like when you’re walking somewhere, you aren’t just thinking of your destination – you’re looking at the trees and the shops and then you get there!

How important was your first trip to Jamaica as a reggae artist?

Immensely important again. The main vehicle for the message has been reggae music and today the music is coming from all corners of the world. But until the mid 80s all the messages of the Rasta man had come from Jamaica. So the journey felt special because I was going to the source where all the reggae greats come from. Also I’d only experienced Africans from the Diaspora in Europe. This [Jamaica] was not their native home either. When I went to Jamaica I realized the average Jamaican there is very different to the average Jamaican in Britain in their concepts, their ideology, their behaviour. Africans who come fro Jamaica to Britain, just as their behaviour changed over the years when they left Africa, also changed when they went from Jamaica to Britain. When I went to Jamaica I found them to be more African.

Afrikan Simba

Tell me about your work for Voice Of Africa Radio, where you present a weekly show?

Voice Of Africa started about ten years ago - this year we celebrated our tenth anniversary – but we’ve only been on the FM dial as a legal station for about three years. We operated as pirates for about four or five years, and then we applied to become a legal station and Ofcom said “We don’t talk to pirates. Come off air then apply”. We had a six year campaign – it wasn’t something that happened over night. Before Voice Of Africa I was on Genesis Radio where I was one of the first [African] people on the FM dial. You must remember that before Pirate we didn’t have any media as African people. We had David Rodigan playing an hour or two of reggae and Tony Williams, but I can’t remember anybody apart from maybe John Peel playing something by Fela Kuti.

Before Pirate radio we didn’t have any media as African people. We had David Rodigan playing an hour or two of reggae and Tony Williams, but I can’t remember anybody apart from maybe John Peel playing something by Fela Kuti

So when I first started with Genesis I wasn’t playing reggae – I had a show called Tour Of The Motherland playing Highlife, Chimurenga, Makossa, and these different African beats. So when Voice Of Africa Radio came along it was focussing mainly on Africans from the continent whereas – let’s face it – Genesis and all these pirates have never claimed to be African stations. They’ve always claimed to be black, and in their blackness they never looked at Africa – which is the blackest part of the world! They played reggae, they played soca, but they never played Highlife, Juju, Chimurenga. So Voice Of Africa gave Africans from Africa a change to have a voice and play some music. So I joined them because it was something different that I wanted to help develop. I stopped when they were campaigning and I went so Uni but as soon as they got their licence and I got my degree the same year – I tried to get into the BBC and all the big media houses -  Voice Of Africa took me back gladly. I started as a presenter and then worked my way to managing the station for about two years. But then I decided I loved my life in music more.

You’ve recorded for UK producers and labels like Dub Judah, Channel One and Sirius Records, but you’ve also recorded for more unusual labels like Jah Warrior, Urban Sedated and you’ve played a wide range of music on your show. Do you think reggae – and music in general – should experiment and diversify?

Yes. It’s good to use different elements. The first experimental reggae – and it doesn’t sound experimental now – was Sly & Robbie. When Black Uhuru first started their reggae had a different sound! And Michael Rose was dressing up in leather suits with this rock kind of image - leather pants and all that! (laughs) But it was fun and new and exciting because reggae had this new sound. Sly & Robbie had discovered the Syn-Drum which had these space-age sounds. And with my music, I work more producers outside of the UK these days. I’m working a lot with Professor Skank in Greece. I’m working with Cultural Warriors in Switzerland, Lone Ark in Spain. All these people are playing reggae but when you come into something, apart from all the external factors that are there, you’re going to be bringing something from yourself. So the Swiss man may want to play authentic reggae but there’s also going to be something from him. So that makes my music more diverse and, somehow, more organic.

I work more producers outside of the UK these days. So that makes my music more diverse and, somehow, more organic

You played at Glastonbury 2010. How was that?

It was nice. It was very tiring – not because of the performance but because of the amount of space you have to cover on your two feet! Just the walk from the car park to the venue was about an hour – and I had cases of records and cds. But as soon as we came off stage I sold nine copies of my album and a few singles immediately after my show without having to walk about. Which means nine people who saw my show immediately wanted to take Afrikan Simba home with them, and I felt good about that.

What album are you currently working on?

I’m working on an album with Sirius Records called Born Ethiopian and one for different production houses called What Is Rasta? That tune with Skank seems to be doing big things.

Tell me about the concept behind What Is Rasta?

The concept of What Is Rasta? I mentioned earlier [in part one] a man called Jah Bones. He passed away a good ten years ago or more but he left a very strong mark on my psyche. All the Rasta Elders I had met before Jah Bones were very against Babylon System and so was he. But most of them were like, “Bun book”, “Bun school”, “Bun education - Whiteman education”, “Bun Babylon book”. If it was down to them we wouldn’t even look at a computer because “We bun computer”! (laughs) Jah Bones was the first Rastaman I knew that had been to university. He had a Bsc Honours in Sociology and had written a book called Rastafari: History, Doctrine and Livity. What Bones tried to show us was that Africa gave the world numeracy, the alphabet, words, letters, language, architecture, music. All these things were born in Africa so whatever they’re teaching in school anywhere else in the world started in Africa. All their teaching is your thing – it’s not Babylon thing.

Africa gave the world numeracy, the alphabet, words, letters, language, architecture, music. All these things were born in Africa so whatever they’re teaching in school anywhere else in the world started in Africa. All their teaching is your thing – it’s not Babylon thing.

My favourite thing when I’m on stage in Greece is, when I’ve done a couple of songs, to have a pause and say, “Welcome Greece – How you feeling?” and everyone cheers. Then I’ll say to them, “I’m very happy to continue that great relationship between Greece and Africa. Are you aware of the relationship between Greece and Africa?” and they say, “No?” (laughs) Then I’ll say, “Sadly in other parts of Europe the relationship has been marred by slavery but we look at Greek history we see that the Greeks went to Ethiopia and learned.” Because the Greek Gods came from Egyptian Gods right? But a lot of people are looking at me strangely by this point and thinking, “What’s he talking about? What did we learn from Africans?” so I say, “Have you heard of Pythagoras?” and some smartarse in the crowd corrects my English pronunciation! So I say, “I have heard that Pythagoras is the father of mathematics. Is this true?” and they say “Yes! Yes! Greek man is father of mathematics!” (laughs) But then I say, “Answer me this then? Which is older? Pythagoras or the Pyramids? Because the Pyramids are built on the theory of the 3,4,5 triangle. The square of the Hypotenuse equals the sum of the two squares of the other two sides. This is what they call Pythagoras theory. So, now we can see that Pythagoras learned mathematics from Africa – and this is the great relationship I am here to continue!” (laughs)

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