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Interview: Busy Signal

Interview: Busy Signal

Interview: Busy Signal

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"A lot of young kids right now don't know about Alton Ellis or U Roy - some of them don't even know about Shabba!"

Sampler

By the time dancehall eminence Reno Gordon AKA Busy Signal finally issued his fourth album 'Reggae Music Again' on 10th April it had already snowballed into a major event. Featuring production from his manager Shane Jukeboxx Brown plus Donovan Germain, with a final mix by Brown and his veteran engineer father Errol, as well as tailor made roots rhythms from Kirk Bennett and members of the C-Sharp Band, 'Reggae Music Again' was being hailed as a game changer long before it hit the streets. Within days of release reviewers were comparing it to Buju Banton's 'Til Shiloh' both favourably and critically - as part of a backlash against the hype (ironically it could be argued that this reaction is as hype driven as getting swept up in the critical groupthink). So United Reggae sent Angus Taylor direct to the source pulling the eclectically minded deejay out of the studio to ask about his album and how it fits into his unique career...

Busy Signal

Your new album Reggae Music Again is here. Where did the idea to do this album come from?

Just me being in the studio, listening to a wide variety of music, sitting down with my engineers and just joking around and saying "I'm going to do a whole album of strictly reggae music". It just came up out of the blue. But then I started to take it very seriously when I saw the feedback to my songs One More Night and Night Shift. Those two songs inspired and triggered the whole thing.

You work in all kinds of styles now. How, for example, did you come to choose your cover of Kenny Rodgers The Gambler for the Reggae's Gone Country album last year?

I was just on the road with Christy Barber [VP Vice President of Marketing and Reggae's Gone Country producer] when she told me she was going to do an album of reggae artists singing country songs on a reggae type beat. I asked if I could do one of those tracks and she was like "You're serious?" and I said "Yeah, I grew up listening to all those country songs!" So she said she was going to think about which song she would ask me to cover and she called me back about 4 days later and asked me if I knew The Gambler. I told her I knew the song but I didn't know all the words so I would so some research. It was Christy and Dean Fraser who really helped me there.

I got the right type of guidance from Beres Hammond, Freddie McGregor, Michael Rose, Donovan Germain, Shane and Errol Brown, and Dean Fraser

Tell me about the process of making your new album. You had Dean, your manager, Shane and his father Errol, who not only was the engineer at Tuff Gong but was also the engineer at Treasure Isle for a while when it was taken over by Mrs Pottinger. You also had Kirk Bennett who is one of the great modern reggae drummers. It sounds like it was all made from the ground up.

All of the instruments are live and from the ground up. It was the whole Tuff Gong energy and vibe of being at Bob Marley's studio laying down live tracks and then going back into Penthouse which has been around for so many years. Even the percussionist, a man called Sticky, who had been there since Bob Marley time. We'd be going into the studio, humming some melodies to catch a vibes, and little sounds not even making sense with words at the time when we were making the beats. Kirk, Aeion who played the bass, Monty with the guitar, Dean Fraser with the horns, we were all humming and making a vibes, making the changes before doing the whole thing live again. Just real love for the music which meant we could talk to each other if we had agreements and disagreements, "I don't like this change here" "I don't want the bridge to be so". We could listen and try things, we could undo things, we could listen over. It was a whole vibe.

What was the vibe?

The whole vibe of just focussing on real reggae music, being true to my own roots and culture, my own backbone of Jamaica. Not just hustling or making a track to speed to collect some money and then come back tomorrow to do the same. It was also me getting the right type of guidance from the people around me like Beres Hammond, Freddie McGregor, Michael Rose, Donovan Germain, Shane and Errol Brown, Dean Fraser, who encouraged me to put my all into it.

David Rodigan, who has been quite critical of Jamaican music in the last few years, has supported this album very enthusiastically even before it came out.

I don't even know the words to explain how I feel about that. Hearing David Rodigan recommending and commenting has been overwhelming. David Rodigan, he could have been my father. He does so much for reggae music as a whole and has been around for so long way before me so that I can do something and he is pleased is like a blessing.

David Rodigan, he could have been my father. He does so much for reggae music as a whole

Even before you made this album your music has attracted praise from the foundation. I interviewed the Wailing Souls a couple of years back and even though they were critical of modern dancehall music they named you as a good example of an artist working today.

OK! That's like my first time hearing that! That's an additional blessing! It just feels so good to be connecting with the roots and with the real culture. I do dancehall and will still do it but reggae music is the music that gave birth to dancehall and to hip hop and to reggaeton. So it's just me keeping it real and being true to it and showing the respect to reggae music which is my genre and my own culture. It wasn't my first choice but I still make it the choice that is first in terms of quality music.

Busy SignalYou've always sung reality and sufferation lyrics even on your dancehall music like Something A Guh Gwaan with Bounty Killer and in People So Evil.

Definitely. I always try to keep it that way so people can relate to the message throughout then songs. The melody is important so that it can do something out there and the people can move to it but the message is much more important so people can move to something with substance. In music a lot of things nowadays have no substance. The vibe is there but no substance. So it doesn't really last. The longevity is not there. People have to grow and go through different phases but at the end of the day I have to take it upon myself and the team to present this package of reggae music but still keeping it real from my perspective. It's nothing about Rasta, nothing about me having dreads or not - it's just music. Original reggae music live and from the ground up.

One song in particular on the album is Kingston Town, which bears a resemblance to the track of the same name by Alborosie. Was this an attempt to look at the same topic but from someone who was born and grew in Jamaica?

It was definitely about the perspective of someone who has lived here all my life. But actually the name was The Dark Side Of Kingston Town but they shortened it! You could talk all different things about Kingston, it's not all dark and it's not all what people may expect or hear. It's not a tourist resort but at the end of the day we have kinds of things we can say about Kingston as someone who has been living here so long. It may come off harsh but at the end of the day it's just real stuff, being true as a Jamaican seeing these things.

People have been comparing the album to Buju Banton's Til Shiloh. How important an album is this or is that for the people to decide?

It's definitely a very important album to me! In terms of how important it is to me I can't really make a comparison. But the people would be the best ones to decide in terms of what they are hearing and what they think. Me, I hate self praise. I respect myself and I respect my music. I don't underestimate what I can do with my flows and styles and things but I would prefer people be the ones to listen and relate to the tracks in their own way. They will be the ones to decide. 

This is our culture and we should have classes in schools about the people who paved the way

Is dancehall music at a crossroads right now?

I think most of the artists are at a crossroads right now. Most of the artists are the ones who are confusing everything and the disc jockeys that play that into the system. A lot of young kids right now don't know anything about the people who paved the way. They don't know anything about Alton Ellis or U Roy - some of them don't even know anything about Shabba! These nowadays youth have been misled by disc jockeys and some of the artists that really focus on disposable songs and disposable lyrics. As I said before, most of them have a vibe but no substance or message is there so basically they just die and then young kids are listening for the next thing. They're not going back, researching to see who are The Chi Lites, who are the Abyssinians, who is Joseph Hill from Culture, who is Burning Spear. They just listen to what's out today and when that song dies next week they listen for what picks up after that. I would say some of the artists are lusting after the hip hop that they see on the BET and VH1. But at the end of the day, reggae and dancehall, these things live.

What is needed to push it forward?

We just need the real promotion, and the support of the real disc jockeys and media houses to push it out there. As a matter of fact we need these things in schools locally. This is our culture and we should have classes about the people who paved the way for me and for people who are going to be there after me. It needs to be installed in the youth because they know nothing about it. Like I sing One More Night and Nightshift and a lot of people think I am the original singer of them! I myself, I just research and sit down looking at different stuff from way before me. A lot of people do that. Kanye West does that. He mostly samples vocals, different drum patterns and beats from way before him. He's one of those wide listeners. Puff Daddy also listens to things from way before his time. We have to. We can't really leave out the roots because this is what brings us up and is going to be the firm foundation for whatever we do in music.

I'm glad you mentioned those artists because I wanted to ask you about Snoop Dog's reggae album with Major Lazer. As you've been working with Major Lazer could there be a Busy combination on the new Snoop album?

(laughs) I'm not sure if we're going to have the Busy and the Snoop but I am sure that Major Lazer has produced this track with me and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. No Doubt's album is supposed to be coming out in August and that's definitely a good thing. Major Lazer, these people are musical producers and these people listen and travel all over the world so they know all the different types of things people want to hear from far outside the box, not just local or stereotype stuff. I'm really looking forward to hearing that track we did for Gwen Stefani. I wrote that track - both her part and my part. It's definitely a good look, looking out to fuse different styles. Gwen Stefani she loves reggae music but she's also a big artist across the world pop-wise and in the alternative with No Doubt so it's definitely a plus for me.

I can't estimate how many rhythms I voiced in a year but in March it was like 47!

How many rhythms to you estimate you voice a year - both released and unreleased?

(laughs) Oh my God! I don't even keep count! Sometimes I do so many things I don't even remember my own songs. I was in London the other day voicing a couple of tracks for my friend Gappy Ranks of Hot Coffee Music and for Kaos and then I came back to Jamaica and Gappy mixed the track and sent it to me. I was like "Who is this? When did I do this?" and then he had to call me and remind me! So we do so many things I can't really keep track, but that's a good thing because working so much means there is a vast amount of experience I can put into everything. So it would be really hard to estimate how many times we went and voiced tracks on a rhythm in a period of time but if I had to put a number to it I know that in March it was like 47!

I think that gives us a good idea of how many you do in a year, give or take!

(laughs) I just listen to a beat, put the earphones on and just say whatever comes out of my mind at the time. I don't literally take up a paper and pen and write. I just go, think about it and spit it right there when they press record. Everything is from mentally straight through the microphone to the record so I kind of bypass writing. I'm not saying writing is not good but my style works for me!

I want to be the kind of artist that is still relevant 50 decades from now

On your second album Loaded you collaborated with two artists - Michael Rose and Marcia Griffiths who have both been going for decades yet still make hits and stay relevant through the ages. Is that the kind of artist you want to be and will be in three decades time?

I definitely will be that kind of artist and I definitely want to be and NEED to be the kind of artist that is still relevant 50 decades from now, old and grey, still doing music, people still remembering and respecting the real work that I did and am still doing with substance. Even advanced in age I still want to be doing the real stuff. For music alone shall live as the Bible says. We just want to endorse the good stuff so music can be a whole lifeform for people. Because there's music for every situation. There is music for you to listen to whenever you are hungry, whenever you are feeling bored, down, happy, celebrating an anniversary, birthday or wedding, there is music to help you celebrate each aspect and each part of life. I want to be one of those people who represent all that music that people can relate to, from now on, endlessly, limitlessly, forever.

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Read comments (2)


Posted by michael oti on 04.19.2012
Nice

Posted by isaac wanyonyi on 04.19.2012
I luv Busy, u gat talent.

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