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Interview : Winston McAnuff

Interview : Winston McAnuff

Interview : Winston McAnuff

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"I maintain my roots in the music... so what you get is a pure fusion"

Winston McAnuff

Winston McAnuff first came to fame in the 1970s recording for Derrick Harriott. A gifted songwriter and charismatic performer, he has been based in France in the last few years, pushing the boundaries of what is considered reggae by collaborating with the Bazbaz Orchestra and Java. Angus Taylor spoke to him in Paris about his new album and his unusual and uplifting career.

Tell us about growing up in Manchester Parish.

Well basically I grow up in the church. My parents were preachers my mother and my father. My father died in ‘72. So it was very hard for my mother. So I went to Kingston to live with my sister. And that was where I first went to the recording studio.

And where you became friends with Hugh Mundell, Earl 16 and Wayne Wade?

Yes. Exactly. I went to live right beside Hugh Mundell and Wayne Wade. Then Earl 16 arrived and we went to same school. I was writing, I was getting a lot of vibes at the time, writing a lot of songs. 16 was a much better singer then me at the time so I was always bringing him to sing the song. And one day I went to Federal Studio to record a song for 16 and the musicians said I should sing the song instead. That song was 'Ugly Days'. That was my first professional song.

How did you link up with Derrick Harriott?

I just went to his shop. I played him some songs. And he said “come back another day”. And I went with my guitar and played some songs. And I kept checking him and one day he said “let’s start record some songs” and that’s how it started. Because Derrick is a man who have a good ear for upcoming talent.

What other instruments do you play?

Apart from the guitar well I play a little drums, like congos and the bass. I started to play trombone and decided to change to sax. I got messed up in that area! It was late in the course that I decided to change!

You also had a friendship with Jacob Miller.

Very good friends. Originally in Kingston as singers we were friends. But then he started singing with Inner Circle. Inner Circle just came one day ‘pon the corner and said they gonna record some albums. I didn’t know these guys were there to help other singers. They felt they had a duty to come back and produce some artists to help the music. That album is my biggest album in France (What The Man A Deal Wid)… it was never released in Jamaica, but the people here in France, the music critics say if you were to choose fifty albums in reggae that one would be one of them.

When did you come to France?

I was in France since the ‘80s, I was in Bordeaux for many years. I was doing underground work, I came with my band. My DVD A Drop, one of my friends from that time Christopher - he works on ESPN doing football commentary - he made the video. So it’s something that’s coming from twenty years ago. But what really happened was I came in 2000… I came to do a show for Patate (records) here in Paris and I found out the album was being pirated by Culture Press for five years so I got some lawyer and I got the guy to give the album to be re released here on Makasound. He supposed to pay some money to me and Max Romeo but it’s still in the court. We won the court case against the company and they supposed to pay something like 10 million Jamaican dollars. They pirated Max too. But the problem is they paid the money to Bunny Lee and they only had 2000 euros for him. Bunny Lee collected 48,000!!!! (Laughs)
These French people, we are under a convention known as the Rome convention. And we are able to collect money that even Michael Jackson cannot collect. So they are doing a good job. It’s been a big awakening for me. Many things were being suppressed with this same company. It’s a big story y’know! I can only tell you a little piece, with the government as well. We found out what was happening but some times it is best to be cool even when you know the truth. He was paying some underground money not to pay for the publishing for many years, but now all that has changed.

When did you first decide to start putting your songs to non reggae styles?

Well it is not really putting it in a non reggae style. Because even when I work with guys like Bazbaz I maintain my roots in the music and in terms in what I sing of so what you get is a pure fusion. You must remember I been writing this way for many years, I wrote many songs for Derrick Harriott, I wrote a love song The Roamer, (sings) “I’VE GOT TO FIND SOME WAY WHERE I CAN ROAM!”, so what I say is the most important thing is the message is good. Because I remember even the Bobo dread used to lick out against reggae – say it is a devil music – and now you have Capleton, Sizzla, Anthony B, one time it would be unheard of to have a Bobo man working on a reggae rhythm. But they were so roots, you understand what I am saying to you? Everything is being globalised so we have to find a way. Even my friend Bazbaz before we worked together no one had heard of him outside. After we worked many reggae people know of Bazbaz, and the same with me because he’s in the inner circle and when I work with Bazbaz I get to know through him Pierre Salvadori, Audrey Tautou… the inner circle of the thing. And if I don’t do this I wouldn’t be able to bring new people into reggae. Many place I go people tell me “y’know Winston before I didn’t like reggae but now I like reggae”. Because I’m not playing exactly 100 percent reggae, but the beat is equivalent to a touch like when you touch someone to say “hey -someone’s calling you”.. To get that touch in the music is the magic because then the whole world will respond because it is something that has been built in every living person from when you were a child your mother was putting you to sleep, it’s not a hit, it’s just a touch. Once you hit the magic is gone, if you beat the woman she run away if you caress her she stay. Same type of formula!!!

So when and how did it happen?

I came with Derrick to promote the first Makasound album Diary Of The Silent Years and Bazbaz was a friend of the promoter Matuma. So he invited Bazbaz. After the show his girlfriend say “my boyfriend Bazbaz is outside, he would like to talk to you". I said “bring him”. When he came to me he says “Winston to tell the truth I really like the energy that you have and it be nice you could come to listen to some thing I’m doing to see if we can play together”. So when I go to see him he wanted to play some reggae. I tell him “Bazbaz don’t! I can teach you to play reggae but it going to take some time. What we can start with is just play me something you have created, some of your compositions and if I find I connect with these rhythms we can work". And he start playing and the first one he played I said “play it again” and I got a microphone and I voiced the song immediately – Sentenced (sings) “AS I WALK OFF THE TRAIN” – the tube in France. That’s how I work. Iif I hear it feel it in my spirit I know it’s right y’know? Cos you must remember even Bob Marley before he died, he have guys like Joe Cocker covering the Bob Marley song (sings) “COULD YOU BE LOVED!” - it was more like a type of funky thing, so Bob was crossing, Bob knew the whole thing, it hurts to be alone in all those songs. And apart from that I have been subliminally abducted by all the American singers like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Al Green. They were the people you used to hear on the radio because the small producers’ songs weren’t being played. So when you see me I have all the people in my head, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, believe me, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, but when I open my mouth now maybe you hear something different but I’m representing all these ancestors, my lord.

What have you been up to recently?

I am still touring with Java, supporting the album (Paris Rockin'). But I have a new album, it is coming out around Christmas time, Nostradamus. It is produced by Clive Hunt. Chinna (Earl Chinna Smith) played on it and I am trying to get him to come on tour with me.

Will the new album go back to straight reggae?

It’s fully roots. The way I do something is I’m gonna shoot at the moon but aim at the sun!! (laughs) So that’s how the thing goes. So now I have this following I’m going back to the roots and these people who follow me know they gonna follow me where I go!

Paris Rockin’ has got a great response from people I’ve played it to in the UK. Would you like to establish more of a presence there?

Well that’s where I been for many years and nothing happening there y’know? I am the man who brought Earl 16 to England. When I come to England that’s where I stay. I have my brother and my nephew there. But I always stay with 16, because we been coming since that time with Mundell. That’s like my family. So I am happy to work man… happy to come to do… just on the right level, any time any minute any moment. If you can set something up I’m ready man, remember I’m an English guy originally. There’s nothing you guys can call me and I’ll be like “oh no I’m not coming”! I found out from my friend that the people who managed Peter Gabriel, Leyline Productions - they did the Beck album – they are interested.

Many reggae singers who came to fame in the seventies have stalled or faltered. But your career has blossomed late in life? Why is this?

The secret of the success is… one of the things that started it is Inner Circle in France is seen as Rolling Stones in rock. So because of my collaboration with Inner Circle from the ‘70s we were respected from long ago. But the new works we have done now, working here I have wanted to promote some of the music that has been suppressed, like the accordion, because my father played the accordion so I always want to do something with accordion because that’s like the bloodline of the French people. And then I call the album Paris Rockin’ because as long as Paris will be here, Paris Rockin’ will be relevant. That’s why I’m working now with Nostradamus for the next album title to establish a French prophet. So I will have the French cultural people and even the government behind me.

How is Nostradamus significant?

It is a mystic thing y’know? My brother wrote the song. He is based in England - the father of (footballer) Jobi Mcanuff. His name is John and John is the man who saw them coming. So I said “How comes he wrote the song Nostradamus?” Then in France the whole thing become plain, it was there waiting for me, so I’m just going along with the flow and I think it is the right time to talk about Nostradamus, what do you think? (laughs)

Are you singing about the end of the world?

You see? (laughs)

Thanks for talking to me.



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