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Interview: The Philosophy of Anthony B

Interview: The Philosophy of Anthony B

Interview: The Philosophy of Anthony B

By on - Photos by Christian Bordey - Comment

"There are many ways to fight for freedom"


Anthony B was born Keith Blair in Clarkstown, Trelawny parish. He was raised in a Christian home and suffered rejection for his adoption of Rastafari. Naturally, he came up chanting on sound systems and bust island-wide as a recording artist with his incendiary 1996 Star Trail hit Fire ‘Pon Rome (infamously banned on Jamaican radio). Tall and lanky with a fierce, strident delivery he drew comparisons to his hero Peter Tosh and was a cornerstone of the 90s Bobo Ashanti fired roots reggae revival.

This century has seen Anthony B move from scourge of the Jamaican establishment to become a favourite on the European continent. His recent albums have been produced by frequent collaborator Frenchie, as well as Austria’s IrieVibrations and House of Riddim. When United Reggae tracked him down for this interview he was in Poland having some rest time during a frenetic European tour – an important new policy since his shocking, widely-publicised post performance collapse and hospitalisation in 2012.

Anthony B

We did not ask Anthony too much about his past – instead concentrating on what he believes today. It’s clear from his answers that he is driven by philosophical ideas. He’s a keen reader of history and is less interested by facts, statistics, dates and names than in the principles, arguments and the wider canvas of human existence. It was not always possible to react to or debate with his statements due to one of the worst Skype connections in the already competitive annals of reggae interviews. But his responses give an unusual insight into his thought processes – and several of his opinions may surprise…

Your 2012 album with Austria’s IrieVibrations was called Freedom Fighter – which Freedom Fighters have inspired you in your career?

I would say my first inspiration is Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. But I’m also looking at Gandhi, Shaka Zulu, even Washington in America. There are many different aspects that make up the characteristics of a freedom fighter. There are many ways to fight for freedom. You might learn intelligence from one warrior, a great military strategy from another warrior, how to develop a nation from another warrior – how to not just liberate yourself but create a good decent society that can help people get a better understanding of this fight.

How were Bob and Peter different as freedom fighters?

One is intelligence and one is physical. One is a military strategist and one is literary. Bob Marley is more literature – what you would use to teach in the school. Peter Tosh is what you would teach in the streets. To be the militant soldier. How to live the militant way of how you would like to see your kids grow. But the educated way is the Bob Marley way. You need these two individuals to make up the perfect characteristics of a good human being.

What is freedom? What does it mean?

Freedom to me is a platform given to every individual who walks this planet so they can be given a just opportunity. Without your colour, your religious belief, your concept, your way of life. Because the creator who creates life didn’t make fences, he didn’t make borders, he didn’t make what we as this society call limitations to the access of earthly development and earthly attributes.

We as a people, before we became a society, were tribes. Society formed in the unification of survival for resources. My tribe might have the resources of water, your tribe had the resources of food. In order for us to survive as humanity we’d create what we call a community where all these tribes come together to share and trade amongst each other.

We lost that freedom to what is called a systematical system of control where people are denied these simple attributes of life because of their country, their religious beliefs, because of the colour of their skin, because of their opinions. To me that’s not freedom. Freedom is like the birds flying to another part of the earth so they don’t have to be caught in the coldness of winter with no one telling them “No, you can’t go this distance because you are not from this side of the planet”. That’s the loss of freedom.

Is Jamaica a free country?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I don’t see a country in the world that I can say is a free country. It’s colonialism. That’s why I say Fire ‘Pon Rome. Fire ‘Pon Rome wasn’t directed at any individual or physical person – it was at this myth of control, these titles of control. Titles that are created. This is what is called colonialisation – when you create titles that rule and ruin the lives and the culture of people so the people are so confused that they don’t even know where their true lineage is, who their true parents are and what their true purpose is. The Romans created these titles. These titles have become the modern way. Nothing has changed. It is the same way from that time.

What are these titles?

Prime Ministers, Presidents, Queens, Holy Men. So you think you need a mediator to God. Once you learn that you need a mediator then you subdue your will and your power so there is no chance for you to be a better person. You can only be a better person when your mediators say you are good. If you learn that your connection to God is individual then you will learn to be a better person because you will learn that God’s eyes are on you. You don’t have to pay ransom for your sins to a mediator. That’s what religion becomes – the mediating controlling body of the world. The political body uses the same connection. So politics and religion control what they create as communities. These communities become countries. These countries become culture.

Should artists be free to sing any lyrics they want? Should any kind of lyrics should be banned?

The oldest of artists and authors and anybody from the art-forms of literature, music and poetry have been fighting for that right. Without the platform of freedom of expression we wouldn’t have the opportunity to be talking like this today.

Martin Luther was branded a heretic by the pope because he wanted people to be literate and learn to read the Bible for themselves. The fight for literacy and freedom of speech has been going for thousands of years. So we the literate people don’t realise that the opportunities we have got today to even speak and understand each other came from a time when people were branded with a worse name or title than us and even killed to get this opportunity to read. The school teachers of the mid era were branded as witches in Europe.

The fight for literacy and freedom of speech has been going for thousands of years

An independent thinker defied the monarchy and created the word press which created the media today. 90% of the things we earn from today were things that were censored in history. The free press, the microphone, the gramophone – all these things were censored because they were going to create free thinkers. Coffee houses were banned because these places create free thinkers. We benefit today from these freethinking societies so why should we support banning free thinking in modern times so we become just like the oppressors who once oppressed the people who gave us what we benefit from today?

This is nothing new. Just Rome suppressing the people in a different form. The fighting body is the same army that has been fighting God from that time till this time. It’s just modern times, modern names, modern faces, same clothes but the title remains. The Pontius which is the father of Rome, the emperor of Rome is the pope today. It’s the same thing, same title, same meaning, it’s just a modern word.

In 2013 you created the covers album Tribute To Legends – why did you decide to make a covers album?

Because when I talked to my kids and a lot of young kids might hear an artist in reggae music sing over a song. Then you might try to explain to a kid of 12 or 13 that this song was sung by Dennis Brown and they might say “I don’t know that artist”. So you realize there is a big gap happening between the generations in our time. We used to learn from things being handed down by our father and grandfather. So I thought I should take the responsibility to do an album paying tribute to some legends to try to show this generation that there were people who were here before singing songs like this. I think that big gap is because that teaching is missing.

What kind of teaching is missing?

That bridge to show them that we were once victorious and we were once triumphant. We fail and we succeed. This is the role of humanity. They don’t know that where we are today, we failed a lot of times and we succeeded a lot of times to get here. There is no perfect human being. It’s a growth of human development. I think that’s where the world is lacking faith because they are looking for something tremendously different to happen.

They don’t realise that we are coming from the cave where one person realised what could work and they tried and tried until we got a concrete house and until we got steel – we didn’t just arrive here. It’s trial and error. Everyone out there is saying “Oh, we don’t want to fail” but if we don’t fail at something how can we succeed at it? God has been trying to teach us that. History has been trying to reach us that. The Bible and every book that is written – that is the story of life. That is what it is trying to teach us. Of trials, victories, errors, mistakes; that’s what life is made up of. Life is no diamond road where everything is perfect.

Trials, victories, errors, mistakes; that’s what life is made up of

That’s why the system created what they call the mind control system of religion and politics to give you this dream of how one day you’ll reach this place where there are only diamonds, only gold and there is no death. No – that is not life. That’s where the illusion and the disappointment is coming in.

That’s the same thing Caesar used and it’s the same thing Obama uses and it’s the same thing our Prime Minister is using in Jamaica. “There will be a great change. You will have a tremendous life”. The promise of a heaven, the promise of a greater life, the promise of a diamond road.

One of the songs you cover is John Lennon’s Imagine where you rework the lyrics asking us to imagine there is no Facebook or email. When you performed a free concert at Lambeth Country Show in London’s Brockwell Park in 2012 you asked everyone to write a letter. Is this a rejection of social media or something more complex?

Anthony BI’m saying imagine the world sharing. So ironic. You don’t find anyone on Facebook thinking “I’m a Muslim” or “I’m white” or “I’m black” or “I’m British” or “I’m American” or “I’m Jamaican”. No it’s just “I’ve got my Facebook page”. So I’m saying just imagine there was no Facebook and we were all living in a community like Facebook. Could you imagine that in the physical world? That’s what I’m trying to get across the people. Just imagine that in the physical world. The only thing we have like that in the physical world is the Olympics. It’s a game where everyone is representing and you don’t hear about the differences and religious concepts. To me life has a blueprint that this can happen. When you go on Facebook you see Muslims, Christians, Jews, white, black, Chinese, joining in this one community called Facebook and no one is thinking about anybody. Every race is on Facebook. So that’s the imagining.

You also sing a song by Elvis Presley. Elvis was once a symbol of hope for unity between black and white music listeners in the 1950s. Records show that black and white consumers bought his music. Then after disillusionment with the gains of the civil rights movement he became a more divisive figure. Public Enemy famously dismissed him in the 1980s. What is your view?

We’re trying to show people that the great thing about growing up in Jamaica was as Jamaicans we didn’t racialise music. We didn’t say “This is rich music” or “This is poor music”, they just played music in Jamaica. Your neighbour would be playing country and western and your other neighbour was playing reggae music and your neighbour over the way was playing disco music. That’s why if you listen to reggae music you will hear those reflections coming back out through the music.

When you travel the world people ask you a lot of questions like “Is Jamaica narrow minded or is Jamaica internationally minded and globally thinking?” I’m definitely a global thinker and Jamaica is a democratic country. Because we are from a rougher terrain with lesser access to quality life and quality education the reaction of a Jamaican is more aggressive than the reaction of a person from the first world. And sometimes it comes across as looking violent but deep behind it is not. It is just the terrain that you are from that makes you rougher, makes you a more masculine individual, like a person who grows on a rockstone plateau versus a person who grows on a grassy plateau. It’s two different feet.

So Jamaica gets this global platform where people don’t understand the words that we say. In Jamaica we don’t grow up to be violent. Our culture is not violent. It’s just that in many of the European countries they don’t have jokes. Like what you could call “fun words” you laugh with. A lot of the things are very literal in their culture. There are things we might say to each other that you might take serious and go to war and think it’s detrimental, to a Jamaican is something to laugh about.

In many European countries they don’t have jokes. A lot of the things are very literal in their culture

If you went to a soundclash and you hear two brothers playing their sets against each other and one brother says to the other “Me a murder you tonight!” You now as a British man will say “That man is going to kill that man”. So for you now as a British person you need to go call the cops! Somebody is going to kill somebody tonight! And if you’ve got a friend who says “I’m going to that Jamaican dance” you are going to say “Nooooooooooo!” (laughs)

Perhaps not me but maybe my parents!

Yeah because they don’t understand this culture. So they would see lines of Jamaicans going into this place and thinking “These people are crazy!”

You collapsed after a show in Dallas in 2012. How did you get so exhausted?

I went on a flight from the US to Japan and from Japan to Australia and then we had to fly to New Caledonia. When we got to New Caledonia we went to perform the same night we landed there. Coming off the stage at 4.30 we had a 7 o’clock flight from New Caledonia back to Japan. We left Japan to do a show in Dubai. We went out of the club and got back on a flight from Dubai to New York going to Washington DC to do a show with Gramps Morgan at the Waterfront Festival. I went there for that show and got a club gig in Dallas as part of the tour.

When I got to Dallas I went from the airport straight. I don’t eat on planes so I was travelling for 23 hours without eating and went to the backstage and got no chance to eat. So I went on stage I could feel the exhaustion. And when I went off stage my body started to sweat, sweat, sweat and that’s the last thing I remember. Then I woke up in hospital.

The doctor said I was exhausted and I needed to rest for a few days. They fitted me with a drip because I wasn’t going to be able to drink the amount of fluid I needed to recover that rapidly. I explained to him that I’m a vegetarian and he said he understood that. They had me there for about 12 hours and after the whole bottle of drip they put on me they said they can release me.

Have you made some changes to your schedule so you don’t overwork yourself?

I’ve made great changes but I can’t keep up. We did a show in Austria then we drove to Germany. After I came off the stage we went to Finland and went from Finland to do a show on a ship. The next morning we were in Stockholm. I came off the ship and went back on the flight and had to catch a show in Geneva. So we’re going eight days straight. We try to cook and we try to do things but it’s still messed up because of the time frame of doing stuff.

So what I’m doing now on this tour is we try to not work on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s why we try to have a base now in Europe rather than just going back to Jamaica. At least if you have a base in Europe you can rejuvenate easier. So that’s why we come here to Poland so you can have two days here and rest good and eat good and then back on the road again.

What do you think of Poland and Polish culture?

Well it’s mysterious and there is a lot to learn. As an historian there is a lot I know about Poland that I realise has been lost, has been wiped out, it has been colonialized and dominated.

I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here. I learned that in World War II some Polish people were sent to Kingston by the Queen of England as refugees to escape persecution. 197 Polish citizens fled to the British kingdom for rescue and the Queen took them in secrecy to Kingston where they built a camp for them in Jamaica. Those people weren’t taken back to Poland after the war was over. Their sons and their grandsons remained so those people became Jamaican. They became integrated in Jamaican society.

You can be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But that doesn't make you a criminal

You lost your freedom for five days when you were arrested for possession in Texas in January 2013. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned that as the law always says you can be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But that doesn’t make you a criminal and we still have to give thanks that there is a law out there called justice. And in every system justice does prevail.

We follow a heavenly law and once the heavenly law knows that you are obeying the earthly law it governs it always stands up for you in the end. If you’re not respecting the earthly law the heavenly law won’t respect you. In your physical life if you can respect the person who is put there in front of you then what about the person who you don’t even know if he is there? So what I learned is it is just the arms of faith that never walk away from faith.

I was just on tour and my engineer had something in their bag when we got stopped and I didn’t want to say they had this in their bag and declare it. So because the law says well, you didn’t declare it, there is no ownership so they said “This is yours”. Ten of us are in this room and they are coming in and the only thing they want to know is who this belonged to and no one came forward.

That’s why I like history because whatever you go through in life it was already written. Two ladies argued over a baby and they went to Solomon and Solomon said “Give me a sword and cut the baby in two”. The lady who owned the baby said to Solomon “It’s not mine” and gave it to the next lady. It is the same thing. Going through the system the system will decipher the person who has more to gain and the person who has more to lose from this objective. Sometimes that’s how you balance out the scale. In this objective I’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose. Would a person who has done what I have done for all these years be so stupid? No. So that’s why I say justice prevailed.

What was your experience of prison?

Well it’s not a place I wish for any of my friends or my enemies. That’s how I can describe it! I know it is something where if me and my enemy get to this place then we are enemies no more. It’s not a place where I envision my children nor my friends’ children nor my neighbours’ children. But I learned in this life to that become fully educated and edified then sometimes in order for you to show the world what you are trying to do you have to go through it yourself. That’s what will echo in the face of the people and the heart of the people more than anything else – because they know you have been through this. So your story must have some form of substance.

Your story must have some form of substance

You’ve has been touring with Kabaka Pyramid. There is a new generation of young roots reggae artists. Do you think that in the same way that you looked to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh young artists look to you?

I am honoured and tremendously happy to see this manifestation. Because Burning Spear told us 10-15 years ago he is happy to see us – to see a Buju Banton, a Sizzla or Capleton. That means the work is carrying on that all these pioneers were doing. Because if our work doesn’t take root and grow in the next generation then what is the future of it? This makes us – to know that the inspiration has been transcended. That there is another 30 years of these works to be manifested. That’s how Kings go out happy with that legacy. Without that legacy Pharaohs trembled. To see that a generation has been inspired by your work. So you can see that your work wasn’t nothing.

That’s how I look at it and Kabaka is a humble soul and the key – as you and me know as older people – is without humility you don’t stay long in this life. We have to remain humble in this game. You are not above the fans. We’re out here with my friend Johnny Cool. I want the world to look out for him too. He is someone who’s been there for a minute and to me his work is great so this is somebody I want to see established too.

Reggae music is a missionary music

This reggae music is a missionary music and the thing that keeps us high is that people see us as somebody who wants better for their community. Because reggae is a community trying to establish globally. We’re trying to get a global platform so that people can see the model of this community. We want to be just like you say – United Reggae. A united force for reggae music.

Tags: Anthony B

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