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Interview: Alborosie (2013)

Interview: Alborosie (2013)

Interview: Alborosie (2013)

By on - Photos by Martei Korlei - Comment

"Jamaica needs to be cleaned from the bottom to the top"


When Sicilian singer, deejay, producer and multi-instrumentalist “roots renaissance man” Alborosie burst out with a slew of peerlessly consistent singles in 2006, it seemed like an unstoppable reggae force had come from nowhere. In reality his sound had been in genesis for over a decade: formulating in Italy as part of the group Reggae National Tickets and consolidating with a relocation to Jamaica to study the culture, the hustle and the craft he loved.

As you'd expect from a man unafraid to take the road less trod, Alborosie's subsequent albums have woven their own curious path. So far so to plan was the story of 2008’s Soul Pirate - a collection of said singles and other tracks that was more compilation than album.


By 2009 follow-up Escape from Babylon, both the compression levels and the lyrics had become heavier - as if the burden of being an international outsider had become wearying. “I don’t hate nobody or maybe I hate myself. So let me waste my time and let me waste myself” he chanted to critics during I Rusalem. 2011’s 2 Times Revolution suggested a different kind of restlessness - making musical forays into hip hop and Latin music.

His fourth vocal album Sound The System was announced before its July 2013 release as “300% roots”. Certainly it marks a return to the lyrical creativity of the Soul Pirate era. It has also seen a reinvigoration of his live shows. Now he has issued its companion Dub the System on vinyl LP only.

Angus Taylor caught up with the man behind the myth in July as he was quietly celebrating at home in Jamaica. When we first interviewed him back in 2008 he seemed shy and his non-Jamaican English was basic. Many interviews later he had no problems expressing himself on a wide variety of topics from his 20th anniversary in reggae to the roots resurgence in Jamaica to the politics of catching fish....

How are you?

So far so good. Relaxing now. Today is a day off – my birthday.

Happy birthday.

Thank you very much my brother.

How are you celebrating?

Well the best way is just to relax. So I’m just relaxing and chilling. Away from the crowd.

Would you say you have a heavy work schedule in general?

Oh yes, yes. I’m a hardworking person. When I don’t perform, I’m in the studio. To tell you the truth the past two years I have decided to slow down a little bit. I’ve been always dedicating my life to music and now it’s time to spend some quality time with my family in Jamaica.

The government can propose anything – but what about when the government is the problem?

You announced on your Facebook and Twitter that this album was “300% roots music” – did you feel a more roots album is something your fans want to hear?

I don’t really watch people like that. I do what I like and I know that what I like is where I want to be and where I want to go. But one thing I can tell is I’m always faithful to reggae music. Because reggae it is a journey to me from day one and it’s still a journey so I want to be faithful to my journey and my mission. But if one day I do something that people aren’t going to like, at the end of the day I’m still Alborosie – I’m still myself, so there is no problem.

Do you listen to what critics say?

No. Maybe you can help me out – what do critics say about me?

I’m too busy to read other critics! But your last vocal album 2 Times Revolution was your most diverse musically whereas this album does seem to be in a traditional classical roots reggae mode for the most part.

I believe it’s a little bit too early for reviews because the album came out July 1st. But the critics on Facebook have been great. Everybody loves the album. The album is powerful. Personally it is a good reggae album and I’m proud to say to you that I’m working to keep my roots reggae music alive. Because reggae music needs it right now – some good roots music.

Play Fool Fi Catch Wise previewed on your soundcloud and it very much in that Sly and Robbie style Waterhouse classic Alborosie style that people first fell in love with back in 2007 time.

People always say to me “This album is more roots than the last album”. I don’t believe it. If you follow Alborosie from day one up to now you always see that Alborosie is constantly on a journey into roots reggae and I never switch from it. Play Fool Fi Catch Wise is an Alborosie song that could be on Soul Pirate and once you listen to it you go through the album to Rock the Dancehall, Zion Train featuring Kymani Marley. This is not the first time Kymani Marley sings a song with me. Kymani is a good friend of mine and every time I have a project and I call him he is always there. This is the relationship I have with all my musician friends and that’s why I do combinations with people – because there is a relation, a friendship there. It’s not just because I’m marketing. Not because it’s going to work for me in whatever way – I do it because there’s a vibe there. Its heart is music.

All politicians should look to follow in Nelson Mandela's footsteps

You work with veterans the Abyssinians on the song Give Thanks – how did you get the link?

I see Abyssinians in Kingston. Mr Collins is always at Sonic Sound so when I go to Sonic Sound he is always there. Abyssinians is legendary roots reggae band from Jamaica. It is the excellence of roots. Like roots to the finest. It can’t be rootsier than Abyssinians. Satta Amassagana I believe is the roots anthem of all time. So I said to myself “Let’s do a song with the Abyssinians”, I proposed it to Mr Collins and he said “No problem”, so we just shot it.

You have also mentored and worked with young female singers like I Eye and now Sandy Smith – is it important to give something back to Jamaican talent?

Definitely, because we always have to share. We can’t keep everything for ourselves. That’s not my nature. So I have been working with I Eye and then Sandy Smith and on Sound the System I work with Nature who is a new upcoming artist who sounds very good and is a friend so I say “Yow, just come and let’s do a song”. I like to always research and go back to the foundation but at the same I have to keep one of my legs over the next side of the river with new artists and new things.

Tell me about the cover photo to Sound the System and how and where it was shot?

That is Port Antonio in Portland, Jamaica. That is my little town, because I always say I come from Portland even though I’m Italian. When I moved to Jamaica I went straight to Portland and that is where I started. All the people in the picture are people that I know. All my people at the market. That is just a vision of me speaking loud righteousness and justice, spreading it to Jamaica and then to the world. That is the vision for sounding the system.

You’ve been working on two dub albums. One is the dub companion to this album and one is with Jammys – tell me how you linked Jammys for this project?

My manager Specialist and Jammys have been working together a long time. And because I love Waterhouse, I spend a lot of time in Waterhouse. Jamaica is small, Kingston is small and Jammys is a King so it was just natural we linked up and went in the studio. He is a teacher when it comes to reggae music so I learned a lot from him and I hope that I’m doing a good work, trying to bring back what I learned from there. The Jammys one I am going to put out in the winter in November, December. I love the real dub. The authentic spring reverb and all that stuff.

Is it nice to work without lyrics sometimes?

Yes, because the challenge of being an artist voicing a song is that you have to write some good lyrics, then you have to voice it properly so people understand what you’re saying. So when you just deal with music you just play the bass, the drum and the keyboards and you don’t need to. But when I do dub music the rhythm is already there because I do dubs of existing music already. I don’t create dub from scratch. That is the real tradition of dub music is the B side of a vinyl 7 inch. Where you just remove the vocals and work on the rhythm. That’s how I do dub music.

Do you ever feel like your messages are misunderstood?

By who?

By anyone.

Well it’s always been misunderstood by let’s say, pagans, let’s say politicians and policemen and all these. But then it’s always been well received by open-minded people, by people like me, by revolutionary people, by people who want to hear the truth. It is a give and take. Some people like it and some people like it not. Of course if I sing a song like Mr President and I sing about Mr Berlusconi he would not be pleased by my lyrics.

What do you think of the recent judgment on Berlusconi and him banned from politics and possibly going to jail?

(laughs for a long time) I don’t know what to tell you. That is a comedy. That’s crazy. It is the highest level of corruption. Actually I’m ashamed of the situation as an Italian but I guess there are people out there who voted for the man so I would say to you “The world is in trouble”.

Why do you think some people voted for him?

AlborosieBecause people don’t really know what is going on. Some people just vote because of their family. Everybody votes this way in this house. It’s like in Jamaica. People vote because in their community that’s the way to go. You vote this way for that man and you don’t even know why.

Do you vote?

No, I don’t vote. I don’t vote for politicians. I fight politicians. Through my music. They are bigger and stronger than me because many times when they fight back they hurt me using their political power. They steal some time from trying to my thing and my contribution to the cause of making people understand that politics is not the way to go – it’s spiritualism.

What do you think of the Jamaican ministry of tourism and entertainment’s plans announced in May to rate music events in Jamaica?

The Jamaican government right now I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in Jamaican politicians right now. I don’t believe in Italian politicians right now. I just don’t believe in politicians in this time right now. So I believe the answer is the people. To fight criminality the people have to fight criminality. To solve any problems in the world you have to start from the people. The government can propose anything – but what about when the government is the problem? The government and politicians – especially in Jamaica. These people are the problem right now – to me personally.

Nelson Mandela is someone you mention in your lyrics as having studied. He has been unwell recently. He is a politician. What do you think of his legacy?

Nelson Mandela is a freedom fighter. I give all my respect to Mr Mandela. He is a true warrior. He is a hero. He is a person that I admire. He inspires me. That is somebody that I would follow. Somebody that would really fight for freedom and justice and equal rights. We should have a next Mandela right now. I say next because Nelson Mandela is getting old and old age comes with a lot of problems. All politicians should look to follow in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps.

Which do you prefer: working in the studio or performing on stage?

(pauses) I want to be honest with you. Tour life is very rough. It takes a lot from you. You don’t sleep. You don’t eat right. So after a while… Gentleman is my brethren and he said something to me “After 15 shows when you go on stage everything just turns into a joyful noise” and I believe he is right. Live shows are good. Touring is good. But only until the point where you can deliver. Because after that you really start to get tired and your stomach is hurting you and you don’t sleep at all then you start to think “I need to go home”. I love to perform but remember, when I go onstage it is just for one hour and to do that hour I travelled maybe 23 hours. It is very demanding. When I’m in the studio now, my Shengen studio in Kingston, Jamaica, you just wake up at morning time, drink coffee, then just sit down in my studio and enjoy myself. It doesn’t require a lot of energy or effort or travelling or flying. So it’s two different things.

When I go onstage it is just for one hour and to do that hour I travelled maybe 23 hours

You perform at Rototom Sunsplash every year. Is Rototom a special place for you?

Me and Rototom started together. This year is Alborosie’s 20th anniversary – not me as Alborosie because Alborosie is from 2007 – but me in reggae. From Reggae National Tickets in Italy up to now that is 20 years. Alborosie and Rototom Sunsplash are celebrating 20 years. I was there from the very first time.

Last year you finally got to perform in the UK at Boomtown Fair – did that feel good?

Ah, if I tell you the truth I have to come to London. London is where I want to perform. Boomtown was a nice place. A lot of people were wasted! (laughs) But my dream is to come to London and just keep a show there for the roots reggae lovers and rubadub people. That is what I really want to do. So PLEASE invite me to England! (laughs)

Weren’t you in London a few days ago? What were you doing?

We were doing some promotion and stuff. But I have to carry my band with me – fifteen people from Jamaica – just to spread it properly. But we are planning it. One time we were supposed to go there for a festival where we had some problems with the promoter.

PLEASE invite me to England!

The Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley and Romain Virgo show at Wembley? I remember. What happened?

Pfft! Misunderstanding. You put everything on the table and then you realize something is missing from the table. I travel with people so I have to make sure my people are alright. Not even myself, because I myself I don’t business about. I’m blessed. But my people travelling with me I have to make sure to see them right and see them respected.

It’s fitting that you took the name Shengen for your organisation when the Shengen visa agreement doesn’t include London.

Shengen is the visa that people in Jamaica need to go to Europe. And because I am from Europe and at that time I used to par with a lot of people from Waterhouse the youth used to call me the Shengen Don. Because I work with a Jamaican band and help my many youth from Jamaica to go to Europe. So that’s why now I have Shengen Entertainment, Shengen Plan Band and Shengen Studio – and I’m the Shengen Don. But yes, you’re right. Jamaican people need a different visa for London.

It’s hard for Jamaican people to come to London. We miss out on a lot of shows.

It is very hard for Jamaican people to go all over the world. I see it myself because all my people, my family, are from Jamaica. Even for my family when they travel this is a problem. Why is that so? I don’t know why.

People in Europe are consuming a lot of new roots music coming from Jamaica. One artist in particular Protoje seems to love the Sly and Robbie as much as you do. What is the view from Jamaica? Is there a roots revival going on in Jamaica or not? Or is it just being sent to foreign?

You asked me a very important question. I’m not sure if I should really pursue to the point or go around the point. (laughs) I see some people in Jamaica pushing a movement. I appreciate that and I respect them for what they do. Now the reality of Jamaica is that Jamaica is a dancehall country where people like a certain kind of sound. The party, the dance. Roots reggae music is not really compatible with the dance movement –party time and clubbing and all that stuff. So I guess it’s an in between thing. You see spirituality these days is not just Jamaica – it’s the entire world. When Bob Marley came at that time there was a spiritual revolution that people needed. After the Vietnam war people needed spirituality – that was the place and the time for Bob. So the question I ask you is “Do we need spirituality today?” Because if you need to return to reggae roots it’s got to be spiritual music. So I don’t want the youth to start to perform roots so they can get some shows in Europe – I would like to see a spiritual revolution as well. Roots reggae is spirituality created by Rasta people. But I have to respect the new movement and I keep my fingers crossed that it is going to work. Jamaica right now is still a dancehall country.

Jamaica right now is still a dancehall country

How has your view of reggae changed in the 20 years you have been in it?

Many times I made the same mistake saying “Reggae music changed” and then I realised that all music changes. Remember rock music? Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendrix – this type of sound. You can’t hear any more – not like before. The soul like Earth Wind and Fire, Motown and Stevie Wonder - you can’t hear it any more like before. Hip Hop music when it first started the New York sound and the LA sound – you can’t hear it any more. Everything is like an MTV type of format. So the same thing has happened to reggae music. Maybe we should say that music nowadays is missing something. Some of it is spirituality because spirituality is more than just God. Spirituality is when you get in touch with the inside of yourself. Music is missing something. Something is missing there. That’s why the music changed a lot. Nowadays it’s all about a product: sell it, make some money, move on to something else. That is how I see the world today.

How have you changed in 20 years?

Oh I’m still the same pirate. I’m still the same revolutionary. When I have a big label come and say “Alborosie, I want to sign you” I say “No”. “Alborosie, I have all this money for you” I say “No. You know why I say no? Because maybe the money would help me but I’m not going to sell my soul to you. And then you would tell me I have to do a disco song to promote my new album. Or do a song with Britney Spears”. (laughs) I keep myself independent. That’s how I keep Alborosie going. I just keep it roots reggae – that is the way to go until it works. That’s just the way I do it.

How has your view of Jamaica changed since you came to live there?

People need a change in Jamaica. But the change cannot be from the same people who mash it up in the first place. Do you understand the point?

Explain it a bit more to me.

Jamaica needs to be cleaned from the bottom to the top. It’s like the Italian situation. They say it cannot get better if the same man is always there doing what he feels like. If you want a different Italy you have to go clean up the thing. People have to retire. Go fishing, go play golf, go do something else and let the new people come in now. Let the new generation, the future, come and change the country. That is what Jamaica needs. That’s what Italy needs. That’s what we all need. A fresh new thing. To believe more in the people and less in money. Money is destroying the world. Everybody does things for money. The world needs attention right now so we need to give it to the world.

Who is the brethren who speaks in the intro and outro of your album?

His name is Jah Johnny - a friend of mine from St Thomas who lives up in the mountain. I have to travel and walk to reach up there for him to chat on the mic. He lives without light. He is a farmer. He is a good friend. He always has some stories to tell me. He’s always telling me about when Selassie came to Jamaica. He went to Kingston from St Thomas. I asked Johnny how many people came to Kingston to see Selassie and he said about 15 million! I told him in Jamaica at that time there were only 2.5 million people but he says no there were 15 million there! Johnny always has some nice stories so I said to him to give me some stories and I cut it and put it on the album.

Would you have liked to have been there when Selassie came to Jamaica?

Oh hell yes. I would have paid my few dollars just to be there. And I would have loved to be there when Bob Marley performed. Just to see one show. Those are moments when I would have loved to be there.

Selassie would have said to me to follow the spirituality and don't follow no man

What would you have said to Selassie if you had met him in 1966?

I would say to Selassie…actually Selassie would have said something to me. Selassie would have said to me to follow the spirituality and don’t follow no man. Follow spirituality and you will never be wrong. That’s what Selassie would have said to me.

What would you have said to Bob Marley if you had met him?

Bob Marley wouldn’t say anything to me then. He would say something to me now. If Bob were to come back now he would say “Yow, what is going on man?” and I would say to him “Bob, I’m not sure”.

Finally, you mention fish three or four times in your lyrics on the new album. Do you like fishing? Is that how you relax?

Oh yes! My father was a fisherman. My grandfather was a fisherman. So I’m a fisherman. So people tell me “Oh, you go and kill fish?” and I say, “No, I catch and release.” In Jamaica it’s difficult because people eat fish so if you catch a fish and you let him go they get really upset. They don’t understand you in any way. They always tell you “Jesus multiply the fish to give to the people them and then you dash it away?” (Laughs) But as an Italian the last time I caught a 12 pound fish I couldn’t kill him – I had to let him go. Everybody was upset with me – everybody.

In Jamaica if you catch a fish and you let him go they get really upset

What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?

25 pounds. In Jamaica they call it dolphin but it’s not a dolphin like Flipper. It’s a yellow fish. It’s like a Ma-wi? [Mahi-Mahi]

Did he give you a fight?

Oh yes! And when I caught him I brought him on the boat he started to slap me with his tail! I was badly damaged by the fish! And I said “You know what? You’re a troublemaker. You slapped me so hard that you deserve to go!” (Laughs)

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