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Interview: Bunna from Africa Unite

Interview: Bunna from Africa Unite

Interview: Bunna from Africa Unite

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"When we realised that music can be our life, our way of surviving – this was the highest moment in our history"

Casual consideration can conjure up no connection between the words ‘reggae’ and ‘Italy’. Indeed the relationship in the last century between Italian dictator Mussolini and the Rasta God Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia was far from friendly and dominated by invasion! However, a more in-depth investigation reveals that in 1980 Bob Marley and the Wailers performed before their largest ever audience of 120,000 in Milan’s San Siro stadium, before turning up the tempo in Turin’s Stadio Comunale the following night. Alborosie was then only a 2 year old toddler, whilst the famous ROTOTOM festival was still 13 years away. On its final Italian outing, ROTOTOM was graced with the presence of the last remaining Wailer - and Bunny’s generousity in donating a fee portion to Italy’s earthquake victims went down well. Today however, reggae is rooted at the centre of Italy’s musical menu - with a host of dedicated radio stations, sound systems, bands, artists and night clubs in evidence. Some of the credit for this status can be accorded to Bunna of Africa Unite. Marley wasn’t long gone from Italy (or earth) when Bunna kick-started his life long relationship with roots reggae.

Africa Unite

With enough dreadlocks to rig a ship, Bunna’s Africa Unite recently arrived in Dublin (again) to perform to a full house of Italian emigrants and Irish enthusiasts. Sporting a reincarnation of their 1993 line-up, the 7 member outfit offered everything from a Nyahbinghi-styled opening to dancehall delights, via a soulful straining sax to bongos, congas, flutes and guitars – with Bunna leading the vocal charge, ably assisted by all - including his long time musical partner Madaski. After a 22 song set spanning almost 2 hours, Bunna - with impish features that would  enable him to easily pass for an Irish leprechaun – took time to talk with United Reggae.

To start, is there anything you want to get off your chest?

Yes, I would like to say that I am happy tonight that ‘Africa Unite’ are back again in Ireland. It’s nice to be here and the audience enjoyed the music and we enjoyed the audience as well! That’s important when you perform. You try to give something to the people and you hope that people give something back to you. That’s exactly what happened tonight. It was very nice. And it was great to see so many Italians in the audience. Every time we play outside Italy, the Italian massive find and follow us – great.

When did you know ‘music’ was going to play a big part in your life?

Well after starting in 1981, it was around 1992 with our fourth release, that an independent record label contacted us to say they liked our music and project and wanted to work with us and to help financially with recording, distribution and communications\promotion. That was the real beginning of the ‘dream come true’. We had started out for the fun and a fascination with Marley’s reggae music – but it wasn’t easy to get that sound or the feeling at first. After doing Marley covers we started to make our own songs, influenced by Marley’s attitude. We think it’s important use music to give a message to the people. If you’re on stage you have a power over your audience and it’s important to use that righteously, to give them something to think about.

From listening to Marley's music .. we started just for fun .. We didn't think it would get so big, but it's nice it did

How did ‘Africa Unite’ start in 1981?

From listening to Marley’s music. We loved the rhythm, melody and the attitude! We loved the revolutionary feeling that Marley inspired in his music. We started just for fun – never thinking it could develop to be our work. We didn’t think it would get so big, but it’s nice it did. To be around 30 years later, to talk about this venture – which we’re still working on – seems like we made some good choices. In fact, I’m sure we did!

Are you working on any projects at present?

Yes, right now the project is with the band’s line-up from the early 1990s. This was an important time in the band’s history. It was at this time that we first started to sing in Italian and to see the prospect of surviving by our music. So something that was only a dream was now turning to reality. That is why we are now celebrating that moment and that record (C.D. – ‘Babilonia e Poesia’). It was a very revolutionary time in Italy, as there was an Italian movement called ‘Posse’ and this enabled the message in the music to have a greater significance. We liked that and saw the importance of singing in the language that your audience can understand. That’s why we started to sing in Italian, and that’s not so easy. But it was good to do it. Oh – and of course we’re working now on a new album – so check our website for downloads.

To date, what has given you the greatest satisfaction in music?

There were so many highs in 30 years. But when we realised that music can be our life, our way of surviving – this was the highest moment in our history – absolutely, yes.

To date, what has been your greatest disappointment in music?

I’m very sad about the new generation of musicians in Jamaica, for example singing about homophobia. We love this kind of music with its philosophy of ‘one love’, ‘respect’ and ‘tolerance’. We appreciate these values. With some artists today that feeling has disappeared. I’m very sad about that. I can’t call that music reggae. Some Jamaican (dancehall) artists look too much to the hip-hop artists in America and they want to be like them with money, girls, cars etc. That stuff is not important to me. The real value is lost, it’s a pity.

In music, who has had the greatest influence on you?

After Bob Marley – who was the master – we like Steel Pulse and Linton Kwesi Johnson. We prefer the English to the Jamaican reggae, because it’s a little bit closer to us.

We played the same night as Gregory Isaacs .. Isaacs came to the venue and said: 'you are Italian, you are our guests. So I will play before you tonight

You’ve performed in many countries (e.g. across Europe, Iraq, Palestine). Special memories?

I remember when we played in Jamaica in Negril in 1991. We played the same night as Gregory Isaacs. That afternoon Isaacs came to the venue and said: ‘you are Italian, you are our guests. So I will play before you tonight’. So we played after him, as the ‘headline’ act!  I remember at the beginning the audience was unsure about this strange white Italian reggae band. But after 5 or 6 minutes the crowd massed to the front of the stage and gave ‘respect’, ‘wicked’, ‘love’, ‘nice’ and similar verdicts. It was a good experience.

After 14 albums and much touring, any comment on the music business?

It has changed a lot. Once it was all about selling the record or CD. But now there’s a big crisis with that. So it’s important to find new ways to play and to make music. That’s where the internet has taken over. But if you make something it’s important that you get something for your creation. Of course now people have no money and with a world crisis it’s good to give the music to the people for free. And that’s what we’re doing. Songs from our new album are going on our website for people to download. When we’ve got 12-14 songs we’ll put them on an album for sale. Most of our money now comes from live shows, so the CD has become a way of promoting the music and the shows. We have to change with society and update with the music business.

Do you still have your own ‘label’?

Africa UniteYes, it’s ‘Metod’ for some of our stuff, including what comes from Madaski’s studio. And we also have an album deal with Universal who look after our distribution. But we can do what we want when we want – so we are free. That’s important.

Favourite politician?

I don’t believe in politicians. In Italy they’re too far from the people. They say a lot of good things, but when they get power they think only of themselves. I think it’s time to make a revolution from below. People have to do something. I don’t care about the politicians.

Not even Mandela?

Mandela deserves respect. He paid a big price for being black in South Africa, spending so many years in prison. He is one politician that I respect. I thought you were asking about modern politicians in Italy, like Silvio Berlusconi.

You love Berlusconi?

Yes, sure. (Followed by much laughter)

I think it's time to make a revolution from below. People have to do something

You’ve been involved in many liberal causes\campaigns. Comment?

In our band’s history we’ve tried to say things to the people. Sometimes people don’t take a stance, because they are not aware that there are problems. And so it’s important to inform them, to give them information. Because if you only look at television or follow mainstream media it’s missing reality. It’s important to be conscious of the reality where you live. You have to take a stance. You have to say ‘I choose this’ or ‘I choose that’. It’s important if you think something should be changed. For example, like ‘Africa Unite’s’ opposition to the death penalty. Because when you think of Jamaica you think of the sun and the ‘one love’ philosophy, but they have a death penalty. For us, it’s important to inform the people. It’s important to use music to give a message. Music is a good thing for fun and to dance, but it’s also important to say something – which is why you and me both love the ROTOTOM Sunsplash festival. 

Greatest achievement?

We are here talking about this ‘Africa Unite’ project and I’m a musician a long time and I can survive with music. This is a good achievement.

Biggest disappointment?

I don’t know. Every time I try to make the right choice. We have done a good job. I don’t have any disappointment.

Interests outside music?

Sometimes I do martial arts. I was a Bruce Lee fan! Sometimes I go on the bike, I ride and run. It’s important to keep the body well – just like it’s important to keep good things in the mind. And 8 months ago I got a child – so now I’m dedicated to raising him. He’s called Patrick.

Greatest life influence?

My wife! But I don’t see a name – not one name alone. I like to be impressed by good people, people with great heart and love and respect for others. I think it’s important to be influenced by those kind of people. I’m trying to spend my life doing something for others. I try to give, though I’m not able to succeed every time.

Remaining ambitions?

Maybe to make a solo record – one day.

I will live all my life in Italy

Will you live out your life in Italy?

I live in Italy, but am often abroad. But I like to get back to Italy, because I love the people and the place, including my family! Yes, I think I will live all my life in Italy. I travel a lot, but it’s good to get back to a place that feels like home!

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