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Interview: Mark Wonder in Kingston

Interview: Mark Wonder in Kingston

Interview: Mark Wonder in Kingston

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"Music never dies. Reggae never died"


This month, fervent roots rock singer Mark Wonder rolled out his latest album Scrolls of the Levite - produced by California's Now Time Sound. He has just completed a European mini tour to promote the release.

When we last interviewed Mark in 2011 he was outspoken about the lack of respect for cultural music in Jamaica. Four years later, there is an international perception that reggae has become more popular across the island, thanks to the wave of young Rasta artists. So it made sense that we link him again, on location in Kingston, to discuss his new record and whether the climate has really changed.

At Mark's yard, Angus Taylor met with Wonder and friends, the producer Anthony Senior of AlTaFaAn Records, Senior’s sister Nakeisha, and Franklyn Irving, the former Channel One staffer who helmed Jah9's Steamers A Bubble. A mix of deep dug, vintage vinyl, picked up from Mark's travels abroad, was playing loud upon his home system.

The chalice blazed, as did the eyes of Mark Wonder when we broached a topic that enflames him with passion: why the sound and message he has championed for decades is now seen as being on the rise.

Hearing musicians of previous generations quibble over the idea of a “reggae revival” saying “reggae never died” has become a fairly standard interview subject (and one Protoje responded to eloquently here). But Mark's response was so heartfelt that his words on a screen alone cannot convey the intensity of what he said.

Mark Wonder

You have a new album – Scrolls of the Levite - released by California’s Now Time Sound.

First let me say greetings in the name of the Most High King Selassie I The First – earth’s rightful ruler. Most of the tracks for Scrolls of the Levite were recorded in California in my brethren Secunda’s home studio in a place named Palo Alto just outside the Bay of San Francisco. It consists of 14 tracks, three of them were recorded in Jamaica, two of them at the famous Bobby Digital recording studio and one at the Shaolin Temple that’s up by Gabre’s place where the Dub Club is. It’s mostly a spiritual realms mixed with social commentary. We think it’s a good project. You just have to listen to the songs and the word sound will tell you. The album will be distributed by a company in Europe Holland-based.

Who is the producer of the album?

The album is produced by Now Time. Now Time is actually a group of young youths who I met in California who have their sound system. They are one of the prominent sounds in the Bay Area. I met Sikander the first time when he came to Jamaica. I was sparring with AlTaFaAn and Sikander came to Sylvester Gordon who is the CEO of CellBlock Records. He was staying with Syl, and me and AlTaFaAn have been trodding for a long time and because AlTaFaAn had known about him that’s how I got to meet him.

Rasta culture is still alive and kicking

When we went to America for the first time to do Sierra Nevada in 2007 he came to meet me and we forged a nice vibration. He was very enthused with Jamaican music and Jamaican folklore and the culture. He had started to do production so while I was there I did one song for him. On my next journey to America we hooked up just randomly there and I was spending some time reasoning in his home in Palo Alto so we decided to do some recording. After the first song we recorded that afternoon we decided “Let’s do a project”. That’s how it started to build.

How did you come up with the concept for Scrolls of the Levite?

While writing and composing the songs – every night we would do like two or three songs depending on the vibe – we came up with a concept for the album project. Being that the songs were all of spiritual realms and that I am from a Biblical perspective from the House Of Levi so for me it was like “This is a scroll”. This is something like when you read the Psalms and the Proverbs. So we said “Scrolls of the Levite” and once you hear that name it’s heavenly vibes in a roots and culture style.

Young budding European producers tend to like my sound

You’ve travelled the world recording albums in Europe and the USA to find the people who want to release the kind of music you want to make – but you have a consistent link with Anthony Senior of AlTaFaAn in Jamaica. What is it about AlTaFaAn that puts him in the same category as these foreign roots producers for you?

Mark WonderIt’s just an energy. It’s hard to say verbally. But we have met up with this brethren for a long time and we have forged a good brotherly situation between the I and I. Because it’s not even like friend – it’s a more brotherly situation. I and I have the same vision where the music is concerned. We are all fans of roots music and we say Rastafari so I and I base in our culture and shared a vision both where the music is concerned and in other aspects of life. So we are always there full-couraging each other and strengthening vibes and we just grow and we live the music.

He is a producer and I am an artist so whenever he comes with a project I am always there, one of the first ones on that project. It’s a brotherly situation where we share a musical love. We share the same passion and the same vision where roots and culture music is concerned and over our whole livity of I and I as a people. We have done some beautiful works just like magic. A lot of the things just come from nowhere – inspiration, writing songs – there are no words to describe certain situations working together. There is a connection. There is a chemistry. AlTaFaAn has been one of the only Jamaican producers that I have been recording with consistently through the years.

Why have you not recorded with more Jamaican producers?

Why? (laughs) I don’t know if it’s an ABC or a Y or a Z. You see, we have come through the ranks because we have been around for a long time. Sometimes when you have a certain vision not everyone has that vision. And when I do music, music is not just “We go do music because man want a bust or man want a truck or man want a car”. Music is not like that for I and I. Music is I life. Music is life. Because it is I and I which is life who brings music to life. Because without I and I to play the instruments to make it bring out a sound, without I and I to chant to ring out that sound there you see? Music is like life.

So you find say now, over a period of time, a lot of young budding European producers tend to like my sound, like my vibes, love my delivery and love whatever we stand for – so they tend to want to record I and I more. It’s not that I don’t want to record for Jamaican producers but no one presents themselves. So we just work with who wants to work with I and I so it just happens that most of the stuff I do is out of Europe or from America or from England.

It’s not that I don’t want to record for Jamaican producers but no one presents themselves

There is a perception that roots and culture music is on the rise in Jamaica these last few years. But you and AlTaFaAn have been doing it longer than that.

The great Gong Marley said “This thing here, this vibe here, this life here is going to be so big it will captivate the world”. So when some ones come and make some sounds – these are the ones who are misleading the people. These are the ones who are hiding the truth. These were the ones who were supposed to be there to protect and keep and step forth with the truth and the knowledge through the roots and culture music. All of those ones there hid and pushed it under the table and under the carpet and started promoting a bag of crap. All these things are created in a design but it failed. It could never work because righteousness must prevail.

So whether they want to say “Revival” or “Rebirth” – this music never died. Jah lives and so does Jah music. It’s the King’s Music. The music from the Royal Court, as the brother man Micah Shemaiah sang in a song “Music from the King’s Lineage”. So when some guys and some ones come and talk about Revival and then you find separation and all kinds of things happen because you’re building a certain type of vibration. What I see is an uprising of young aspiring youths who have found themselves within Rastafari. These things are in your DNA. This is what you’re going to come forward with. So to many it seems as if they were surprised when they all saw this and everyone panicked. They all fucking panicked. So they came up with this fucking revival thing. Music never dies. Reggae never died, lion man.

Music is I life. Music is life

I went to all the youths festivals all over the world, while everyone in Jamaica was doing a load of bumboclaat fuckery and playing one bag of bumboclaat crap on the radio to mislead the children, when they didn’t ever preserve the history and the culture of a nation and a people and present it to the people because reggae music is the thing that documents all these things from ancient days. So they would try to say this was the thing to present to the youths and make them know where they come from? Because enough youths never get any books and all those things to read but through the inspiration of King Selassie I Jah Rastafari earth’s rightful ruler, the Rasta man did send up his antenna and naturally get all these things so he could come up with the knowledge. And the only way he could spread it to the youths and to the nation and the wide world was to put it in music. This is the truth. So all of those who dodge the truth and hide the truth they get a slap in their face. Because they see some young youths rise up. These are seeds. Seeds of the said generation from that time ‘til this time. And nothing is a surprise. Because the king Bob Marley did tell you that these days shall come.

You said there have been some new seeds. How popular is roots rock reggae with the youth in Jamaica now?

Right now children live what they learn, fireball. So every time the youths wake up if you dish up a certain type of meal on their plate every day then after a while that has gone into him. It’s embedded in him. It becomes a part of his DNA. And so it is with the music. When you don’t put out the right formula, the right supplements, the right nutrition so they can feed up and eat up then you know what’s going to happen. Youths without direction are a straight disaster. And that is what has happened in many countries all over the world because of lack of knowledge. Now the reggae is the music that presents all these things you need to embed yourself in the earth because it is the King’s music. It’s all about truths and righteousness. That is reggae. Truths and rights. Righteousness to the fullest. So this is what they’ve been hiding because they don’t want the youths to know the truth. When you don’t know the truth you are easily manipulated and so they feed them with a bag of garbage so the youths just come up and start doing all kinds of things that they are not supposed to do and lose themselves.

Youths without direction are a straight disaster

So it’s no surprise when I and I trod forward and see Rasta youths because this is a seed which is planted by the river that shall grow and grow and grow and it can’t stop growing. Even the ones that fight it – even their blood, their great grandson and granddaughter will say “Rastafari” within time. This is a spiritual vibration that no one can fathom it. Just like no one can fabricate the rainbow lion. No matter what they do. And so it is with this music. It’s like schooling. If you don’t present certain situations then the youths are going to follow what you teach them and that is what has been happening here. But Rasta culture is still alive and kicking from that time ‘til this time. It’s just some guys and some men and people who want to act like they’re some pussyhole and deceive the nation. Whoa be unto those who lead the children astray. I don’t know if the young youth buy this Revival thing. Because long before they came around when I used to travel to parts of Europe and went to the big festivals then reggae music I saw. I saw no punk rock. I saw no R&B. I saw no rapper. Reggae music I saw. So I don’t know how some guy can talk about revival and all of these things. I hope some young youth will rise in the uprising because this thing has to continue after them for their children’s children’s children. Their neighbour’s pickney’s pickney pickney. It’s a thing they can’t stop, lion man. Selah. Right across the whole world. Rastafari. That is the present and the future.

Mark Wonder

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