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Interview: Midnite

Interview: Midnite

Interview: Midnite

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"It's always about word and sound. These things come together in music"

Sampler

Midnite

Message is key to Vaughn Benjamin

Midnite has been instrumental in shaping a new genre within reggae music – Virgin Islands reggae (VI-reggae). They have a strong following particularly within the U.S. and have since their 97’debut album Unpolished put out more than 40 albums. United Reggae got a chat with front man and lead singer Vaughn Benjamin about messages, his inspirations and Midnite’s latest album Kings Bell, their fifth in 2011.

Midnite hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands, a small group of islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, neighboring countries such as Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. The islands have a population of around 100,000 residents and consist of main islands St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

Reggae has been present in the VI since the 70’s, but it was not until the late 90’s that artists from the islands started to get recognition from other parts of the world. And in the front line of this musical revolution is Midnite, a group formed in 1989 with a core of brothers Vaughn and Ron Benjamin.

Their take on reggae is rooted in the 70’s with the bass and the drum very much taking the lead. Other ingredients in the VI-reggae formula are low tempo, restrained arrangements and minor chords. And conscious lyrics.

Message is important

“The message solidifies the music,” says Vaughn Benjamin over the phone from St.Croix, and explains why having a message in music is important:

“Message is continuity. Passing on culture from generation to generation. If the parents don’t pass on a skill to their children, a culture could go missing. It’s about telling your story, telling it to the world.”

Vaughn Benjamin speaks in a low raspy voice and gives a contemplative expression. I was actually a bit nervous for this interview since I know that he rarely gives interviews, and his lyrics are sincere and profound, often concerning religion, injustice and the African Diaspora.

“You see, most pop culture is consumerism. It’s subjective egos. Life is about occupation and determination. I don’t want to smoke screen to the people.”

Sources for inspiration

Vaughn was raised in a musical family and says that he learned a lot in his house growing up. His brother takes bass duties in Midnite and his father was a guitarist and vocalist. His external musical inspiration comes from the usual suspects.

“Bob Marley has had a big impact. And the drum and the bass from like Flabba Holt. Sometimes I listen to the bass man alone or the drummer alone,” he says, and also mentions The Abyssinians, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer as external sources for inspiration.

Travels inside

Apart from Midnite’s original sound, they are also known for their enormous output with a total of more than 40 albums in 14 years. To manage this you need to have creative edge and inspiration.

“I don’t fight for inspiration,” says Vaughn, and gives an example:

“The riddim brings inspiration. If the riddim is militant and heavy, you have to fight this battle called life.”

Midnite

Vaughn also explains that he usually travels inside for inspiration and that he is in a creative mood most of the time.

“I meditate and go inside. I don’t sing a melody in front of everyone. The music is already there,” he says, and adds:

“I make everything from scratch. It’s not just singing a song. The bottom line is sincerity. I do it for myself.”

Several unreleased albums

With an average of about five albums each year, Midnite might just be one of the most productive groups in music history. And Vaughn reveals that they have more music lying around.

“I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m boasting, but we have lots of albums sitting down, that have not been released.”

I ask Vaughn how Midnite find time to record all this music. I mean, they’re not just in the studio all the time. They’re also on tour a lot. I wonder if they ever record on the road.

“We sometimes record on tour. The technology allows it today. But I like to be relaxed. My voice needs to recuperate, and it depends on vibration.”

The recipe for the huge production tempo is to be found elsewhere I soon realize.

“It’s just love, you know.”

First album with a Jamaican producer

Midnite - Kings BellKings Bell is the title of Midnite’s latest album effort. It’s their fifth full-length in 2011 and the first with a Jamaican producer and with mainly Jamaican veteran musicians, such as acclaimed guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace.

Prior to the album Midnite dropped the EP single Mongst I&I, for which their first ever music video was shot.

“I never really wanted to shoot the music video, but now I allowed it to happen. We were shooting a legacy. It was an important thing.”

When I ask Vaughn to describe the album his answer is humble.

“It’s pretty good work. The combination is unique and it was worthwhile doing. As far as reggae music, it has originality.”

Foundation musicians key ingredient

One of the key aspects of the album for Vaughn is the Jamaican musicians for whom he seems to have tremendous respect.

“These foundation musicians are unique in the world and the music speaks for itself. It’s about straight up skill. It stands on its own,” he believes, and exemplifies:

“It’s the patterns in the music and the fact that it comes from the original players of instruments. They’re still here to meet the new generation.”

Speed and patterns

MidniteThe producer behind Kings Bell is Andrew “Bassie” Campbell, a Jamaican producer who has also worked with VI-reggae artist NiyoRah. Vaughn explains that he targeted speed and patterns, which was important.

When I suggest that Kings Bell is Midnite’s most accessible album yet, Vaughn doesn’t agree.

“I don’t think it is different from our other albums. Just in personality and individuality and in speed and patterns,” he says, and adds:

“As far as being accessible, it’s about word, sound and power. It’s always about word and sound. These things come together in music.”

He is also no stranger to record with Jamaican musicians again. However it doesn’t seem to have occupied his mind for too long though.

“Last night was the first time I thought about it, and it would be good for sure. No reason not to do it. Good spirit and vibration. I’d definitely be inclined again, sure,” he concludes.

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Read comments (9)


Posted by Dushan on 11.17.2011
Vaughn is unique person. He is a legend and his words are so powerful.

Posted by junior P on 11.18.2011
Big work !!!!!!

Posted by @USVIMusicians on 11.20.2011
Well Done.

Posted by wiylik on 11.20.2011
Vaughn Benjamin is the ultimate mastery and understanding of the English language. He is a genius and a powerful leader of us humans. As the Midnite Word Sound Power and other leaders spread their message further, he will be able to lead an even deeper pool of people. Spread links such as this interview and their new video Mongst I&I on your Facebook, Twitter, etc, so that we can all help increase the audience and positive living.

Love Thanks & Praises!!

Posted by Iriginalsoul on 12.24.2011
Midnite, and the soul behind Vaughn's voice, has been an inspiration to me and all those around me since I first discovered them in '02. And I live in North Idaho....there is no stopping the spreading of the truth. Big up Midnite. You messaged has reached those whom you never thought it would.

Posted by Mama Africa on 02.24.2012
I "LOVE" MIDNITE REGGAE BAND ONLY PURE ROOTS AND CULTURE.I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING THEM LIVE IN 2012,IN THE BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS OF ASHEVILLE ,N.C TALKING ABOUT A LITTLE OF HEAVEN ON PLANET EARTH.

Posted by quantumlivity on 06.10.2012
Vaughn Benjamin is a prophet of old. Ancient wisdom and knowledge come down through this man and the group of people around him, that is why he say these things must be passed on or a generation could be lost. Vaughn is helping push the vibration frequency higher as mankind traverse through this transitional time. Ises to the King, HIM

Posted by ARKAprod on 06.18.2012
Greetings and Salutations
For the first time in Paris the experience Midnite, the roots in flesh.
On the wednesday 11th of July at the Cabaret Sauvage in Paris, 8pm.
All tribe welcome for this time of meditation and wise comunication!

Posted by Matthew Oliver on 06.16.2014
I know the difference bewteen Midnite's music and todays recent music. It's simple, just like food. Today's music is just like eating McDonalds or Arby's everyday like most people do today. It's empty food and leaves you with nothing except fat. Midnite's music is all of the nutrient dense foods packed with vitamins and minerals that you need to survive. Keep listening my friends

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