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Interview : Tena Stelin

Interview : Tena Stelin

Interview : Tena Stelin

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"Without the rasta there would be no reggae music as I know it"


Nearly 20 years that Tena Stelin released his first album, Wicked Invention. This singer has always delivered conscious and inspired roots reggae, working with UK’s top producers as Keety Roots, Dougie Wardrop of Bush Chemists, Manasseh and Jah Warrior. Dj Stryda from Dubkasm met him in the late 90’s. Interview.

Tena Stelin

Firstly can you tell us of your early experiences of the music scene?

Well it was listening to my father's records, you know. Big peoples music, like "Long shot kick the bucket." There was a baby crying on the record and I used to think "why is that baby crying?" I never knew it was on the music. But I remember that.

And from then on, where did it branch off to?

Well sometimes they used to turn them over and sing to the version and I find say lyrics just come naturally. That was about the age of six I remember doing that. My mother would come in from work early and as soon as she come I did stop, cos I feel embarrassed. She was laughing! Eh eh! But Tony a sing now! And then believe it or not, through I grow up in this country, certain age now I listen pop music, Tom Jones, Marc Bolan, Gary Glitter, as a youth I used to listen the whole of them...... then I went to Jamaica and there was a tune by Rod Taylor called His Imperial Majesty, which was number one for weeks there. That helped to inspire me and lay a pattern in me. So then I came back to England and a few years passed and I used to deal with mic on certain sound systems, certain little chanting. Then one day someone told me about a band that was rehearsing and they wouldn't mind if a singer came in. So me say to meself me a go deh and see what a gwaan. They were called Coptic Roots and I knew it was right for me. So then I did a bit of travelling and came back and just get in ite man.

So from there you got into professional singing?

Well that was in the late 80's, I went to a studio called Vibes Studio where they used to cut dub. Manasseh was in there and they wanted a singer to do a vocal for their sound. So I said to myself, yeah well now it's time for certain things to be heard and just voice out. So me just do a little thing, and from there they say "we want you come voice an album." So they put out an album called Sound Iration In Dub on the Mr Modo label. And then they wanted a vocal of it, so we just went in a studio in Brixton, and a couple day pass and you know, album was there. That album was called Wicked Invention. Out of that album a 12" came out called Jah Equity. Shaka used to play it a lot and other sounds, it was known. I find that the name Tena Stelin get known.

And from then you moved on with Conscious Sounds?

Yeah. There was a track called Can't Touch Jah. It was done in Dalston on a 4 track machine. We just vibes, you know, Nick Manasseh was there and two twos we just deal with it. So it went out there and just nice up the place. And then a Conscious Sounds album called Sun & Moon.

And from then on you worked with Keety Roots?

Seen. Well a long time me a work with him, even before Conscious Sounds and Manasseh. Cos we used to do a lot of little two-track music, four track music, then we move on you know. A whole lot of tapes have been lost from those years, but everything is for a reason still. I mean it hasn't been lost cos the vibes still lives on, you know.

Did you always have a rasta approach to the music since you've been singing?

Fe real. I would a say that. Cos you see, from I did come back from Jamaica at a certain age, hadn't done no singing or nothing but the vibes was in me, and that's what it was about. Without the rasta there would be no reggae music as I know it. Because reggae music is about... I don't even want to say "about" cos we nah deal with out, just "in".... abin reggae, royal, regal Selassie I music! Look pon Bob Marley. Bob Marley a sing abin rastafari. That's what it's abin!

So you can't separate the two, reggae and rasta?

I can't keep it together enough.

And have you ever had a main message that you try to deliver to the public specifically?

Haile Selassie I is god. That's the main message you know.. So really and truly there are steps upwards towards that light and each message is part of the steps. Steps are long and wide so man can't just say (adopts cockney accent) "I'm singing about jah and nothing else, know what I mean..." It don't go like that, there's different things, cah Jah mek everyting. So if Jah mek everyting you can sing abin him pertaining it.

So by singing about creation you're singing about it's creator?

Fe real. But then you bring it each way, one point after the other, you don't just ram things down peoples throats. You show them weh it all link up - a jigsaw puzzle - you show them say this is the thing that was written in certain old spiritual writings, this is the thing that shall confound certain wise men of the world.....

You've often been given the title Spiritual Rootsman. How can you define this term?

Well in one sense it would be nice to receive that, but in another sense me have fe kinda decline from that... see when you have certain kinda spotlight on you, you're tempted to say yeah, me me me... so I say bwoy, me nah want no slogan or nothin..... I'm just passing through this life so what have I got to big up myself about, that's an illusion, a vanity, so it better I just humble up myself. I'm just a man, just flesh, I'm gonna go one day.

Trodding life as a rastaman, you must experience differences in doctrine and the livity of other rasta brethren and sistren. How do you deal with these differences?

In everything you have differences, because Jah is so infinite you know. Within Christians you have different dis, Muslim you have different dis, in everything you have different dis. Certain times a man could be right, could be showing you something and be completely different from you, even outside of rasta... and the most high might be talking thru him, the source, cos it's a energy speaking to you, so where does that energy come from? So you just cool and listen. If you're gonna react in any negative way now then are you really representing the energy you see?

Tena Stelin

There's a message being put across in reggae currently that you don't have to be dread to be a rasta. As a Nazarite man, can you tell us your view on this issue?

Well, every man originally is rasta. So if some man don't have dread, if they don't have locks on their head, it don't mean they're not dread. The dreadfulness is from being in the original image of the father..... the almighty is terrible and dreadful... he make lightning and thunder, and these things are - there's nothing compared to him, there's nothing compared to this source, yah, jah, allah, whatever you want seh. We're a spark of that energy, so we dread. You can have nuff man with locks, but only certain man is dreadlocks. You know, their mind stay a certain way, they're trying to achieve a certain godhead within themselves in order to fully complete their karma and go thru to the next cycle.....

Do you view the message of the bible as the message for mankind to live by?

Well the message in the bible is fe love jah, seen. So really if that is the message I say yeah. The bible is a great book fe real.

On the LP Lion Symbol produced by Jah Warrior, some of the themes of the songs are dealing with issues that are not regularly heard within roots music. Can you tell us where the inspiration comes from to write songs such as UFO and Cashless Society?

Well it's just checking certain things, you know. Nuff tings a gwaan you know. Nuff UFO sightings have claimed to have been seen. You just make up your mind and say, bwoy, yay or nay. As far as UFO goes, it's said in America they'd seen things from ancient times, and these things, funny looking, whatever you want to call them, creatures or beings. So was it a man under some funny kind of mushroom, did he take it and see these things, or did he see it literally? So you read about Ezekiel, wheels within wheels, and you read about Enoch being taken up, and Elijah... and whether you come to a conclusion about it or not, you say..... it's a question.... so you have fe wonder. Cos I personally haven't seen one. If I had then I'd probably sing about it. Abin it!

What about Cashless Society?

Yeah, certain things a gwaan in a Europe. The Euro's coming in, and after that the Mondex. So all I'm saying is, I'm not against the Euro, but this is how it could go, so watch out. Or rather, watch in!

And also in the tune Live Natural you sing of not going to the fortune teller but instead to rely on the guidance of the almighty one. Can you just tell the people who you perceive the almighty one to be?

Well I man know the almighty is Haile I... three in one, Selassie I. It's got to be… It was prophesised that god would walk on earth, literally…

A person who's new to reggae music and buys a copy of Lion Symbol, what advice can you give to these people to further their overstanding of the messages?

You have dub music, but certain message might vary. It's like eating food, if the food tastes nice you might say you like this. If not, then... but then what is nice to you might be somewhat different to another. The main thing is universal love which starts from the self, because we're all contributors and we all are going to the same destiny.

One of the songs on the LP says Keep Jah Vibes, how can we as followers of Jah keep Jah vibes?

Alright. You see now, from you put your mind towards jah, you love him. Look at the birds, the trees, the sky, there's life in me. Someone might not have legs or hands and they're trying, and if I was to meet someone like that let me encourage them. You start feeling that's jah vibes. Positiveness. It's a simple thing, it's just being good to yourself and towards others. So when you're being good you're being god.

I'd like to say give thanks for putting some word sound out to the people, hope the LP is successful, Jah guidance in all you do. Before you leave have you any final thought to leave the people with to reflect on?

Yeah man. Don't fret. Problems will always arise. It's all a part of the tradition, you know. Just deal with them the best you can and just go through. Jah bless you. And many many more things, it goes on and on and on. Selah.

Special Thanks to DJ Stryda for sharing this interview. From that time, Tena Stelin released the album Cosmic Intervention in 2004, and various singles, on his own label Dub Corner and also others, produced by Vibronics, Keety Roots, Dub Terror or Bush Chemists to name a few.


See Tena Stelin’s full discography for more informations about his albums.

Photos credits : Steve Mosco

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