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Interview: Solo Banton (2013)

Interview: Solo Banton (2013)

Interview: Solo Banton (2013)

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"There's a real higher state of consciousness going throughout the world at the moment"


Since United Reggae last spoke to Reading-based reality chanter Solo Banton he has been busy travelling the world, spreading his message and assembling his second album 'Higher Levels' (chosen by our writers as one of Our Favourite Albums of 2012). He has continued to build on a recording career which, like that of his good friend YT, only became his main focus comparatively late in life – bringing a wealth of wisdom and experience to his highly opinionated lyrics. Angus Taylor quizzed him about a variety of topics from his new record, to his involvement in the Occupy movement, to the power of positive thinking, speaking and action.

Solo Banton

You’ve followed up your debut album Walk Like Rasta (2009) for Reality Shock with the Music Addict EP (2011) for Jahtari and now your second album Higher Levels (2012). How was doing your second album different from your first?

It was very different. We needed to take a different approach. On Higher Levels there’s a lot more variety of producers and the reason we did that was because, for me, it just explained how I have evolved as an artist since the first album. There are a lot of different styles which I’m more comfortable doing now. So to have a fair reflection of Solo Banton now, I had to do it with these various producers and great songs. Different producers get different things out of you.

I have evolved as an artist since the first album

That’s interesting because if you look at a lot of Jamaican artists for their early albums they work with every producer going and only the biggest get to do a project with one or a select team of producers working together. Whereas you’ve done it the other way round – by choice.

Well to be fair when the first album came out I hadn’t worked with that many producers! The only producers I had worked with apart from Reality Shock were Jahtari mainly. We had a dilemma about the Walk Like Rasta album with whether to put the Jahtari tracks on there and spoke to Jahtari about it and we said “No”. It’s not a different genre but it’s a different style - the digital compared to what Kris makes – and I think it would have belittled either one to its fans. If you had a digital fan it would have belittled the Reality Shock productions and if you had an analogue fan it would have belittled the power of the Jahtari productions. So I thought the two things shouldn’t mix on that album. Whereas with this album, we still set out to make an album and not a compilation so there was still a lot of thought processes in there and a lot of tunes we recorded that didn’t make it on there. But because different producers get different things out of you I thought it was a better reflection of where Solo Banton is today than just doing another album with just Kris Kemist. That would have been a bit too “one directionial.”

So was it less face time with producers and more sending files around?

You would expect that but not really. All the tracks that are on the album – I spent time with the people that recorded them. That’s possibly one of the reasons why those tracks made it on to the album. Maybe I had a better connection with the track and a better energy to the tune because I actually was in their studio and sat down and had a vibe with them. Even if I didn’t record the song with them I had travelled and done shows with them. Even if, when I got back home I took the rhythm and wrote to it there was still a very personal connection. That helped us make it sound like an album and not a compilation as well.

Tell me about linking up with retro reggae genius Roberto Sanchez in Northern Spain for the track Deya Now.

That was amazing! To be honest with you, I had no idea who he was at all! I went out there to do a show and then I was taken to the studio to see this Roberto Sanchez. I said “I don’t know who that is” and they were like “You don’t know? He is great!” I got to the studio and met him and he was a really nice guy. We were in the reception area of the studio and he was showing me some of his productions like the Earl Zero album and I was like “OK, I know THIS” and then I was like “Oh you produced THAT and THIS and THIS?” And then we went into the studio and I saw some of the greatest analogue machines that I haven’t seen for a very long time and I was like “I remember that! I remember those! I remember this!” Then I listened to some of his productions and they were just amazing and the more I got to know him I was like “OK you really are big in the game then!” because he was telling me how he does backing vocals for so many people – as well as being a singer himself. I mean, the production that’s on the album is quite digital but some of his roots stuff is amazing.

We went into Roberto Sanchez's studio and I saw some of the greatest analogue machines that I haven't seen for a very long time

He did used to be quite a live roots purist but when I interviewed him he said he had an epiphany working with people Russ D and Dougie Wardrop in England and they opened his ears to digital.

Yeah because when I was first in the studio all the rhythms he was playing me were really rootsy. The first thing I voiced for him that he mixed was a label called Bless Burning Sounds which was a remake of Great Tribulation by Hugh Mundell – and everything he played to me was on that sort of level. Then he contacted me and said he’d made this new rhythm that would really suit me – and when he went it was this digital thing. I mean he’d always said he’d send me the roots stuff and I’d be great on it but like you said, I think he had an epiphany, caught the vibe and made a digital thing, then thought “Solo’d sound good on this”. As soon as I got it I loved it.

There’s another departure in that you included a ska track on the album, the single Make You Groove.

I got a random email from these guys called Torreggae in Napoli, Italy saying they really liked my stuff and wanted to know if I was interested in recording. When I saw the email I was like “Oh, here we go” because at that time I was getting a lot of people sending me stuff where they were just trying to sound like Jahtari. Lots of digital stuff, where a lot of it wasn’t very good. So when they sent me the track and I pressed play I heard this ska thing and thought “This was the last thing I was expecting!” The vibe of that just blew me away straight away! I couldn’t believe someone gave me that. I’ve always been very versatile in my music tastes and when someone gives me something that challenges me I rise to it straight away. So within an hour of it hitting my inbox I had the chorus! The next day I wrote the song. Torreggae also work under another name Suonivisoini doing rap over indie beats for a group called the Funky Pushertz, who are a very popular group in Italy. 

Another big track is Politician Knockout on Don Chandler’s relick of another Hugh Mundell/Junjo rhythm with YT. You YT and Kris Kemist performed at the Occupy protests at St Paul’s Cathedral in October 2011.

Solo BantonI thought it was huge. It was amazing when I saw the Wall Street one go up and all the others follow. It was nice to see people actually doing instead of just talking. So when somebody contacted YT about doing it I was very interested because I would like to do instead of just talk about it. So even if all I was going to do was come down there and entertain the troops so to speak then I was going to do that because they were making a great sacrifice in standing up and speaking for all of us.

Why are artists like yourselves being so overtly political in recent years?

Because there are a lot of things going on at the moment. The last three to five years have been very significant in terms of how life is going to be in the future. There are a lot of important decisions being made by these politicians in terms of how life is going to be. YT and I are both parents and I think you’ll find a lot of artists who sing about this stuff are parents. It weighs on my mind that I don’t know what sort of world is going to be around when my children grow up. And as an artist you write songs that are important and on your mind when you are in the mood to write.

Do you think the younger generation of UK youth feel the same way?

I think they do but they don’t know that they do. All of the shows I’ve done – especially over here because I’m finally getting shows over here now (laughs) – it’s always young people that are in the crowd. It’s always young people that are contacting me on Facebook saying “We love your message”. I think there’s a real higher state of consciousness going throughout the world at the moment. That’s why I think the Occupy movement rose so quickly in so many different places across the world. I think people have been forced into that state of consciousness. The young people get it but the reason I say they don’t all know that they’ve got it is that they are young and easily misled and blinded by bright lights and shiny toys! They’re being bombarded with bright lights and shiny toys right now and they’re distracted but as soon as you get their attention they’re like “Yeah that’s true. I DO believe that. I DO agree with that”. It’s only because they’re being distracted that you don’t hear them talk about it as often as you’d want them to. I think they’re very much on the ball.  When you go to festivals you see they are very active as well.

I don't know what sort of world is going to be around when my children grow up

Occupy is now nearly 18 months old and the criticisms of it in the media are well known. That it was too vague in what it stood for. That the camps attracted people who didn’t believe in the cause and just wanted somewhere to go. Do you think any of those criticisms carry weight?

I think that’s just the media distracting you and trying to weaken the cause. I think most things that you can do that are free for the public to attend you might get people turning up there that are not 100% behind that cause. But I didn’t really see that in Occupy London – everybody knew why they were there. And even if you didn’t know why you were there, once you were there, there were so many pieces of art and billboards and lectures going on – they had a programme running from 1 in the afternoon till 10 at night every day with speakers, conversations and debates. You wouldn’t stand there for very long before you knew what it was about!

So would you say the discussion was what was important rather than the need for a pre-agreed manifesto, as some Occupy proponents argued?

I would agree with that. The politicians are not going to tell you. No political party tells in their manifesto “This is what’s going to happen”. They always word it in political jargon in a way to make it sound like it’s a positive. They’ll say “We are going to increase spending on this and on that” but they never say “We are going to cut jobs here and you’re not going to get these benefits”. So you’re never going to find the true meaning of what’s going on until you have that discussion. I don’t think people really overstood exactly how those decisions were being made were going to affect us until we had those discussions. The only way we learn is through having a discussion anyway. You might believe you know something but I think you only really know it when you say it. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to say until I’m having that conversation and when the words leave my mouth then I think “Oh that is it. That is the point”. Does that make sense to you Angus?

I think so. In terms of your inner life and your internal thoughts it’s hard to know what’s thought and what’s feeling. You might think you’ve got something all figured out in your mind but until it comes out it could be something emotionally comforting that doesn’t actually make sense.

Exactly. It’s only when it becomes the word sound that it has the power.

If I have positive thoughts I will attract positive things

In the lyrics to Deya Now you talk about Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book The Secret. Which fellow Reading artist Aqua Livi also recommended.

It talks about a thing called the Law Of Attraction – which means that you attract what is going to happen to you with your mind-set. I don’t want to break it down too simply but if I have negative thoughts in my head constantly I will attract negative things to me and if I have positive thoughts I will attract positive things. The example they give in the book and the video is that if you’re worrying about money and you’ve got a bill to pay – it’s more or less guaranteed that every bill is going to come through the door at that time! People that believe they cannot succeed at something never succeed because they attract that failure to them. Because they’ve got that inner thinking “I’m going to give it a go but I usually fail” they attract the failure. Whereas people who are very confident and say “I can do that” nine times out of ten they complete that new task. Someone gave me the book and the video very early in my career when I’d started singing again. I think I’d only voiced one song. I read the book, watched the video and said “I’m going to give this a go. I really want to do music somehow”. I was tired of the sound system thing because it was going down a road I didn’t like so I started thinking “I’m going to do this” – and the rest is history, as they say!

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