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Interview: Ray Darwin

Interview: Ray Darwin

Interview: Ray Darwin

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"I love art as a form of therapy"

Sampler

Even by the standards of most reggae artists Ray Darwin has lived a full and varied life. He grew up in the Buff Bay area of Jamaica where he received musical inspiration and tuition from Horace Andy as well as Buster Pearson (who masterminded the UK's answer to the Jacksons - Five Star). He comes from a family of academics and as well as writing, producing and arranging and harmonising he likes to paint. He has lived in the United States and currently resides in Germany. For a time he had no home at all. He's been the hottest thing in Jamaica with his 2006 hit People's Choice but has only just released his debut album of the same name. Issued by Joe Fraser records, it's a whistle-stop compilation of his own rhythms and some reworked productions with some wildly differing producers and reggae styles. One gets the impression that he's put out one long player in a 3 decade career because he has been busy with his life - which is as much a work of art as his music. Angus Taylor did an on-the-spot interview at what those in the know call Germany's best festival - Reggae Jam - the night before Ray was to take his creations to the stage...

Ray Darwin

How does it feel to get your first album out after all this time?

Does waiting to exhale explain it? (laughs) I feel very good but even better is the reaction and the response, the magazines and the internet magazines and the German magazines and writers have been very generous and I fully appreciate it because I put a lot into it and I went through a lot. I felt like there was even more room for improvement but I had to stop at one point and say "OK, this is it!" because I'm a perfectionist and I will keep on improving till 2020! (laughs) But the point that I'm making is that the reviews were very kind, it's very reassuring and I appreciate it.

You did some of the rhythms yourself and others were compiled from other producers. Is this a deliberate strategy? How did it fall into place?

I was building a lot of my stuff and I felt that I wanted some fresh blood, some other creative input and the unifying glue would be my songs on other peoples music. It's always good to have variety, as the saying goes "Variety is the spice of life". So I also identified with these rhythms and when I heard them they inspired me. So that was one reason, the other reason was that I calculated to have a multi-production input.

As you say there's a huge variety from the vintage roots of Nothing Can Touch My '45 through to the modern lovers vibe of Good For You and so on. But one thing that stays the same throughout is the quality of the songs, the vocals and the harmonies. Did you do all the harmonies with yourself? Which classic reggae harmony groups and harmony singers do you admire?

Ray Darwin - The People ChoiceI used to love John Holt of Paragons, I love the Abyssinians, the Techniques. Those were the groups. I remember The Paragons used to kill me! And then the biggest ones, sorry to say it, but The Wailers (laughs). But I did all my harmonies, yes! I stacked all my harmonies and sometimes, depending on the weather - winter times if I'm a little bit stuffy or sore it was more difficult but when I'm healthy and I do my vocal exercises it was very easy and I love doing colours. I'm a painter so I like harmonic colours, sound colour and also physical colours. It's my hobby. It's the first thing that I've ever done that made me felt special other than singing. I was in the Bahamas to visit my aunt, years ago, and I took a photograph in Harbour Island and one time when I went back to New York I decided I'm going to paint it, to be exactly like. And I did it, I accomplished that goal. That was the first time I felt special, it was from deep inside to know that I had the ability to interpret this, after going through situations and childhood scars that made you not feel special it was the first reassuring thing. So I love art as a form of therapy and yeah, it's creative, so I like it.

When you say childhood scars, not wanting to pry into your life, but what kind of trials have you faced?

I hate to be saying this over and over, I say it a lot, but my father usually told me that I'm stupid like my mom because he has his doctorate in metaphysics that he studied. He's an academic. His whole family is, and my mother never went past high school. But she ran a business for 30 years, very successfully for her husband in Jamaica, so what she didn't make up in academics she had in common sense, to be able to control a business and run it successfully. But for him they had their own issues that they didn't work out and when I moved to New York to live with him he took out his own guiltiness on me by saying things like that. When you tell this to a child, no matter how strong a child is, there's a part of it that stays in him where he doubts himself.

My father usually told me I was stupid. When you tell this to a child, no matter how strong a child is, there's a part of it that stays in him where he doubts himself

Is the creative path that you've chosen the kind of thing that he'd approve of?

He does now but then he wasn't so big on it. It wasn't concrete enough.

Talking about some of the collaborations that you've done, tell me how did you get the link with Sara Lugo, to sing together?

I used to stay down in Augsburg and sing with a one drop reggae band down there and I got in touch with the Bavaria/Augsburg clan and eventually I got to meet Sara and I heard her voice, and I was like "Oh my God, wow! This girl is killer!". I don't like to collaborate with people to make me look good because I sing with a big name. I sing with and collaborate with a person because there's something naturally inspiring and the collaboration is natural, it's not put together because of some ego or such. Same thing with Fred Locks. Fred Locks came to me and asked me to write a song for him after he heard People's Choice, and I wrote In This Time for him and he said "Sing it with me!" and that's why I put it on the album because I haven't heard anything from Fred Locks for so long and it's a good song, you know.

Was there a specific incident that inspired that song?

Yeah, at the time I was living in Jamaica, after living in New York and then coming to Germany and then going back to Jamaica, it was like I was very aware of every little thing that unfolded on the streets, the interaction, the mentality. I was just taking it in and it was my concise account of a day today, life in Kingston. It was a simplified, concise look at, like the second verse said, the police and the badman. Somehow it just naturally came together with what Fred Locks was saying and it was another song for peace and love in this time, you know. And even though the time moves along, certain things stay the same, like the incidents and the situations don't change.

Let's talk about Nothing Can Touch My '45. How did the concept for that come about? Did you write those lyrics?

Yeah, I wrote all my lyrics. Sheppy and Frank from Love Tank approached me and said they want a song, and Sheppy said "I would like you to sing this about this for me. I want to hear about this, I want to hear about that" and he told me the pointers that he wanted. I then I take those pointers, I went home and write the song. I wrote the song.

Did they have the rhythm prepared already?

Yes, it was prepared by Uptones. A guy named Andreas produced it for them. I asked Sheppy at the time, I said "Did you make sure that you buy this rhythm from them and control it?" because I had worked with these people indirectly before and I know that there's a tendency to be problematic. However it was produced by Andreas and I liked it, but for my album I re-produced it.

I can't change the world but I can change myself, so I'm just going to try to be a better person

Yes, it's a different mix, isn't it.

I completely did it over, completely. Nothing from them because I didn't want any problems.

That's interesting. Do you know where I'm going to go next?

No?

How many '45s do you own?

Ah-haaa! I don't believe it! Jamaica and here, I don't really know, but I have quite a few (laughs).

Next obvious question, what's your favourite tune from the days of Studio One?

Ray DarwinOh man! You should ask me what's my favourite 100 Studio One songs. I love some Abyssinians stuff, some old Horace Andy, some Dennis Brown. But the one lately that's been really hitting me that I like is one by Bunny Wailer called Armagiddeon. I love that one but I can't have a favourite because there's so many. I've been singing Silhouette a lot, I've been singing "No more will I roam, yeah, yeah". So that's a difficult one.

Finally, what's the next album going to be like? Would you like to produce an album entirely from scratch?

I always make sure I produce my albums. I don't want anybody producing them. It sounds egotistical but I want to control what goes out for me, and this one I'm going to do it all myself. I already have the concept, I have a lot of the songs already, I started working on it already. I don't know what I will eventually call it but I know it's going to be even deeper down in the 70s and 60s to the 80s reggae. Like rocksteady, ska. So I like what Toots does, so it's going to be in that area, and roots. I'm going to up it and I'm going to make sure. Like with this one, you have a lot of producers but I have a special awareness. It's like you have a person who can buy a Mercedes and dress up in the best clothes and everything and they really have no taste. Then you can have a person who can ride a bicycle and is full of taste. I would consider myself one of those person. I didn't come from wealth but I ride a bicycle and I know I have taste. I use that as a basis to which I create my music, that's why when I say I want to produce this it's not from an egotistical standpoint but from a taste standpoint. A lyrical, musical, tasteful awareness. That's why I didn't want my album to be aggressive, I didn't want it to try and fit in with what's popular. I wanted to be honest and simple but still meaningful and somewhat intellectual but somewhat simple and be real and honest in terms of my lyrical content.

I didn't come from wealth but I know I have taste

Do you have a closing message to give to your fans?

I just want to say that I do this because I love it, I've been doing it for over 30 years and look how long it took me to do an album. It's not easy when you do it. I'm a loner, I don't walk around with a posse or anything, I'm alone and I just try my best to do music because I love it. I hope they feel the love in it. The things I sing about is from my heart and things I've experienced. I can't change the world but I can change myself, so I'm just going to try to be a better person and if you can - get something from my music it's good, and if you can't, I understand.

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Read comments (2)


Posted by NYANINGHI on 05.04.2012
RAY LOVE JAH AND SING DONT STOP I LOVE YOU

Posted by Dean Nagasako on 05.24.2013
Dean Nagasako
P.O. Box 1591
Honokaa, HI 96727
(808) 333-1979
nagasako789@hotmail.com

To Whom It May Concern:

A volcanic eruption displaced me from my home and I lived in my car for a year and a half. I lost Ray Darwin's phone number and email address.

Can you tell him to get in touch with me. God bless and thank you very much.

Aloha,



Dean Nagasako.

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