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Interview: Diana Rutherford and Sherkhan

Interview: Diana Rutherford and Sherkhan

Interview: Diana Rutherford and Sherkhan

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"No one records like this anymore in Jamaica"

After her first album GHETTO PRINCESS in 2011 and more than 20 singles and collaborations, Diana Rutherford gets ready to release her new LP called BETTER DAYS in a few months.

A Soul-Reggae album recorded the way they used to do it in the early 60's. 13 musicians together in the very same room recording in "one shot", using only one take! A lot more than a simple LP, Diana Rutherford and Tiger Records will offer us the opportunity to dive deep in this adventure with a documentary/film that will be released along with the album, that without a doubt will be memorable.

United Reggae is giving you a crossed interview of the singer/songwriter Diana Rutherford and the multi-talented Sherkhan, musician, producer and director of music videos and documentaries (Tiger Records // Raatid and Magic film).

From August Town, West Kingston, the couple put some light on the project they're working for more than 3 years now.

Diana Rutherford

Diana, your first album is called "Ghetto Princess". Born, raised and still living in August Town, can you tell us what this community represents for you. What growing up in the ghetto means for you?

Diana: Yes, I spent all my life in August Town and we are still here today, the only time we are not, is when we are in France. Living here is living with a big family, the community is like a big family you know, it's a little village. The only thing, is that you cannot find love here because you're almost sure to meet someone that you are related to! (laugh) In the same way you will find that if you are arguing with someone that's can be the girlfriend of one of the son's of one of your uncles. (laugh) So this means to try and live good with everyone, like a family. August Town was also my first audience, a people who always motivates me. If at any point in my life I feel lost, I come back here to find myself. It's vital for me.

And you are growing your daughter there now?

DianaYes, it is important for me to grow my daughter Zoe here. Everything just fell into place because we are working on a project now that required us to be here in Jamaica, and there are a lot more kids her age here to play with than where we’re living in France.

In the Rutherford family, singing has a special place, your father has a long career, your cousin is also a known artiste, your sisters sing too… Can you tell us where this comes from, can you tell us about this "Rutherford dynasty"?

DianaI think my father's father could sing too, it's genetic (laugh) even our baby girl is singing now! We heard people singing since we were kids, almost everyone sings here and a child will learn to sing even if his/her own parents does not sing. We hear it so often. It's part of our culture, we are singing when we are happy or sad, a way to lament, to bring peace. My family looks for this talent in a child so they nurture it, while other families look for an accountant or a lawyer etc. and nurture that.

We heard people singing since we were kids, almost everyone sings here

In an interview with Angus Taylor for United Reggae last January, your cousin Duane Stephenson said that very young he used to follow your father around to all his rehearsals. Is it the same for you or the fact that you are a girl was it more difficult to go around with your father?

DianaAs I said before, my family (mother and father) nurtures musicians. I went around with my father as well and they made sure that I got voice training and they made sure I was exposed to the industry as much as possible from a tender age, balancing with school and the normalcy of my childhood. No, it was not difficult to take me around because all people cared about was the talent and I was with my parents.

And you went on stage very young and recorded your first songs very early.

DianaYes I started singing at about 9 years old on stage but not professionally. All children start singing very early at church, birthday parties, weddings, funerals etc. here in Jamaica.

Even if it's a common thing to sing from very young in Jamaica, not everyone records at 9 years old..

DianaOf course not, but my father sang himself and he saw instantly that I was different from the others. He saw that my passion was real, so he helped me. He didn't stop me from pursuing another career either. I am happy when I sing. I feel good when I am on stage.

What were your first recordings?

DianaFirst I won the Tastee Talent competition which is Jamaica's first talent competition, people like Beenie man, Yellowman and Nadine Sutherland are some of the people who passed through this competition. I was under management with Tommy Cowan for a short period when I got the opportunity to travel to Miami and work on the same stage with people like Ken Boothe and Carlene Davis.

Then in about 1996, I recorded "Children in the Ghetto" a song that my father wrote for me for X-terminator production about a year after leaving management with Tommy Cowan. I also released "Grow in Peace" on the Rebellion riddim alongside with Sizzla, Determine, Frisco Kid and Capleton.

Luciano, Sizzla, Mikey General, myself and my mother among many other artistes went through a thick crowd that Fattis parted with his massive arms to get backstage

You recorded for Fattis Burrell from X-terminator records in the mid 90's. Was it truly the Golden years of the label. Can you give us a few words?

DianaIt was my third or forth time in studio, I was still in school. While I Recorded for the label I did interviews and many stage appearances. A lot of songs were recorded but only a few of them were released. I could not go on tour because I was still in school so it did not make sense to release them.

It was exciting to be in studio with all these artists, even now it is still a feeling that you never get use to. The energy was electrifying. I learnt a lot because I was exposed to so much talent. Fattis was not there very often, he would just show up to listen to the day's work after the band had made the riddims and after each artist recorded their song. Sometimes it was a cover version riddim and other times it was Fire House Crew created new riddims. Dean Fraser was a voice coach for me while I recorded the songs, he was always right there in the voicing room with me correcting me on pitch and timing.

I remember going to Pier one in Montego Bay for a show. It was crazy on the bus. The smoke of marijuana filled the air and they were chanting all the way from Kingston. Luciano, Sizzla, Mikey General, myself and my mother among many other artistes went through a thick crowd that Fattis parted with his massive arms to get backstage. That night Sizzla tore up the stage with Smoke the herb and get a humble thought. I went on early as one of the upcoming artistes.

Sherkhan and Diana RutherfordAfter that, I continued High School at about age 14. It is important to be educated, you are a more rounded individual. You function better in the industry. Even if its just CXCs (your entries in terms of grades to go to University here in Jamaica), that way you can further your education in the future if you wish to do so. After High School I did one year in Six Form /12 Grade, where I studied Caribbean History, Management of Business and Communication Studies at cape level. After which, I went to Edna Manley School of Music where I only did the preliminary year. I wanted to be on stage so I stopped. In between that, I studied french at Alliance Française because I met Romain (Sherkhan) and fell in love with everything about him. I also studied voice and speech with Paul Ann Porter at CPTC. And recently I did three more CXCs after having my daughter. I believe in life long learning, it does not matter how long you take to get educated, do it at your own pace.

Sherkhan: She never stops!

Some years after you spent some time working at Gee Jam Studio, did you do any recordings?

DianaAfter entering yet another competition 18 years old, I came in at the third place and got national recognition for my talent. Even though I was not the winner, I got to work in the studio with Alborosie, he was producer. This is where I also met Sherkhan, and John Baker (GeeJam A & R/General Manager) introduced us and we never stopped working since then. I recorded one song for an album that the Rising Stars competition producers compiled. I also did vocal background on the other songs on the album and on some of Alborosie's songs, commercial for the Jamaica tourist board and some other work that I can't remember at the moment. I enjoyed being in Portland.

Having a recording career, leaving to go on tour, doing promotion and now being mother at the same time, this must be complicated at times?

DianaI am a female in the music industry, true normally it is not a good idea to have kids at any point during your career, but I have a lot of support that I am grateful for. I turned 28 when I had my child and for a Jamaican woman that is late (laugh). I am from a big family and I always dreamt of having one of my own.

I am a female in the music industry, true normally it is not a good idea to have kids at any point during your career

I am the oldest of 5 sisters and a brother and I won't begin to count my extended family. I think it is having good timing though. I knew that I was at a mature enough stage in my career and life in general to get pregnant, so I planned my pregnancy knowing that I would be working in Jamaica where I would have a lot of help. I think that I am managing well and she is only getting older not younger. This year is my 10 year wedding anniversary; Zoe is a blessing to us. I only want to work harder to ensure a bright future for her.

Yes, you are young and you already have a big experience behind you.

DianaYes I know myself very well. I know what I have to offer too as a musician and what my music now requires after the experience that I had touring. I grew a lot, perfecting my craft, it's still not perfect yet but I’m feeling good (laugh). I think it is important to do other things like study and family outside of music it enriches what you give on stage and in your recordings. When the stage lights are off and it is not the season for festivals what do you do, when all your fans are home with their family? I go home to mine also (laugh). I cannot always live in my suitcase going from airports to hotels.

It's nice to have a home to come home to in all aspects (friends, kids, kid's classmates, pets that nice stuff).

My daily life inspires my art

What I understood from what you said is that your life is not only one thing, your daily life feeds your art in all.

DianaYes my daily life inspires my art. You are getting real emotions wether I am affected by the issues in my songs directly or indirectly.

Today, "Better Days" album is getting ready to release after several working years, this title will speak to everybody, but can you tell us what it means for you?

Sherkhan: Some great days are coming man, success! (laugh)

DianaYes success at a new level, I tried to find myself for years, now I know the direction I want to go in!

It's Better Days, family, success, stage everything.

Sherkhan and Diana did you both composed, wrote and produced this album alone? You are a couple "in real life as well as on stage", can you tell us how do you work together, how do you prepare your songs, especially for this project?

Sherkhan: Most of the time I compose the riddims, then Diana listen to them and writes the lyrics of the songs after. I'm not there when she's writing. After we voice a cue track to make a demo that I balance (mix) and we listen to it, that how we start...

DianaSometimes I have an idea for a song, so I ask for a certain type of riddim in order to keep the mood of the idea that I had before writing. For this album Sherkhan gave me most of the riddims but for Zoe's song, for example, I had an idea of the type of riddim I wanted.

Sherkhan: For this project, I composed a lot of Soul-Reggae riddims to make a coherent album. For me, Diana's voice is very soulful so I thought it will be a good idea to try that.

Isn't Soul music is more your father's music Diana? Your generation is more into modern R&B, am I correct?

DianaIn Jamaica we love a wide range of music in terms of genre, it's in our veins, you cannot escape! We love every style, genre and era, we are a musical nation, we endorse it as long as it's good quality.

We love every style, genre and era, we are a musical nation, we endorse it as long as it's good quality

When it's good it's good!

DianaYeah! When it's good it's good! And I love the blend Soul Reggae, I am at ease on stage. We did many concerts, and I found out the genre I am most comfortable in. I learnt on stage what was best for me.

In Jamaica, there are few musical families, can you tell us in which one you belong?

Sherkhan: I really think that this time we created a new one for "our-selves" with this album (laugh), nobody is doing this segment anymore in Jamaica, especially the fact that we recorded all the instruments live. A lot of people highlight this point in the film. Many of the musicians also say that this is one of the biggest project of their career. This was a first time for most the musicians to record in one take an album. This is the era of Coxsone and the Skatalites, no one records like this any more in Jamaica. Now, Soul is an American music which is part of the Jamaican culture too, it is quite also important in the Jamaican musical heritage as the reggae or the gospel, and of course you can find elements of Soul music in Reggae and Gospel too. People talk about "Reggae Revival", well, so we can call this one "Soul-Reggae Revival", of course we are not the inventors of this genre, horn section, harmonies, hammond organ was always there in Jamaican music but it is quite original to bring it back in this era.

DianaFor me the reason that pushed us to do this album in this way "live" is also based on how I become alive from being in the midst of all the other musicians. It is a different feeling from being in a box alone recording. The vibe is different when you stop the recording to fix a part of the song and then go again than to know you only have one shot and that there is no room for mistakes. Only one take! With this pressure you give it your best.

Sherkhan: You are not the only one who think so, the musicians share this thought as well.

DianaYes that's true, I realised that working this way made it easier for every one during the recording.

It’s a special kind of feeling.

DianaYes, a special feeling that you cannot get by recording individually.

Sherkhan: In the film Stingwray (trombonist) talked about the live recording saying that Sly Dunbar always said that he regrets that musicians don't record in the very same room any more. Today the guitarist and keyboardist are in the control room with the engineer when the drummer is alone in the live room behind the glass, with not even eye contact. This important connection is not there anymore. Today the producers prefer a clean (perfect) sound, 20 takes, overdubs etc. To get the perfect take and the cleanest sound. Me, I don't care anymore to have a clean sound!

What we love in music is this "dirty sound" so why go looking for this clean sound, it makes no sense! So I said let's do it the old way, let's put aside the ProTools way of working. Let's make human mistakes and make a genuine recording full of vibes!

What we love in music is this "dirty sound" so why go looking for this clean sound it makes no sense!

By the way can you tell us who are the members of the "Dream Team" that you put together for the album?

DianaYes of course! When you watch the film you will fall in love with these musicians, every single one of them has their own story. It will be fantastic to tour together.

Sherkhan: They can't wait to start touring. They love it and we all think that it's a wonderful project. For me it's a little like Buena Vista Social Club, which is a big influence in my music too. The thing is when you go to the concert, you want to see the pianist, the guitarist, singers I mean every individuals that you get familiar with through the film and album. But in fact it was only one or two musicians from the original project on stage. That is why we would love to represent this album with the original musicians to keep the vibe alive.

Can you introduce the musicians to us?

Sherkhan: OK, so there is Desi Jones on drums who played with the biggest artistes from the 70's until today, with Jimmy Cliff, Chalice, Dennis Brown to name a few...

Desi is the person who got this "Dream Team" as you say, together. We asked him to be the band leader of the musicians that he picked himself. He's a wonderful person but he doesn't joke with the music. He is one of the big names in Jamaican music.

Vivian Scott trumpet, Stingwray trombone, it is also hard to name an artiste they never played with from the 70's until now. Adrian 'Jerks' Henry on bass guitar and Shortman on guitar who are currently playing with Beenie man. The organist Ottie, Chris Mc Donald on piano, Chris Downer percussions who's playing with No Maddz or Jah Cure. And there the 3 great female singers who worked on the harmonies with Diana even before the band was put together: Sherida Sharpe who worked with Tarrus Riley, Richie Spice, Cham, Luciano, Sanchez, Beenie Man and many more. Stephany Wallace, who also worked with the Groundation, Sly & Robbie and others and Tori-Ann a young dancer and singer from August town, a very talented young girl that everybody seeks to work with.

So I said let's do it the old way, let's put aside the ProTools way of working. Let's make human mistakes and make a genuine recording full of vibes!

So it's a band made of old school and new school musicians

Sherkhan: Exactly, and this is what we needed for this project

3 special guests are also onboard?

Sherkhan: Yes, of course there is Diana's father, Michael Rutherford who is the former lead vocalist for the Ryddim Kings Band and owner of the Genuine Soundsystem, also the legendary Ken Boothe with whom we are very close to. I don't think I need to present the man! (laugh) and Chevaughn, a Diana's longtime friend, great great singer do not underestimate this man! He is the singer of C-Sharp band and he is also pursuing his solo career, he does a lot of work with Unga (Notis Records) and he tours the world with such big artists as Jimmy Cliff, Sly and Robbie, Rita Marley, Tarrus Riley, Queen Ifrica, Tony Rebel, a raw talent!

This duet with Chevaughn is impressive, it gave me cold bumps. Really!

DianaThank you, I'll tell him. I know him for a long time now, he's really talented. He also won the Tastee Talent competition the year after me!

The mixing is very important of course but the 'live' require a special treatment, how did you approached it?

Sherkhan: Since I started with my label Tiger Records, I did it all by myself, composed, played all the instruments, produced, recorded the artistes, mixed the songs etc. So there is a point when it's hard to wear all the caps, it's hard to be 200% at every trade. I learnt that through the years. From scratch I worked the "Jamaican way", with no money neither, put a lot of stuff out, record, release, record, release… So this time I gave the mix to someone else so I could concentrate somewhere else. For this album I approached the spanish band Rampalion for whom I did a music video last year, because when I heard their music I instantly love their sound. Then I found out that they mixed their own stuff. They work with analogue board and hardware gears, you know what I mean. The old way, they have a sound, they are talented. At the School of Audio Engineering (S.A.E) of Barcelona, they showcase Rampalion work to demonstrate what you can do when you are creative and talented. So we did the mixing together on this album.


Diana, Sherkhan is a musician, a producer, a recording and mixing engineer, a filmmaker and… a father, is there something that he is got no talent in? (laugh)

DianaHe is also a good husband and a good friend… I won't tell you what he is not good at! (laugh)

Sherkhan: eehh what?!!! (laugh)

DianaOK, when he has an idea, he doesn't care of people advices, then sometimes he realise that what was suggested was not so bad after all… He can be a bit stubborn.

Sherkhan: And that's you saying that! (laugh) I can tell I'm not so good in business, I do not know how to "sell" myself, to be at the good place at the right time with the right persons, shake hands, be present… It's not my thing.

It is one of the hardest thing for an artist maybe.

Sherkhan: This is a craft that Jamaicans are very good at. (laugh) “Man mi have di wickedest ting man, listen dat! Ah me dat man!” (laugh)

I remember this street youth that I used to work with called Juvenile, he use to tell me: "bumbaat! you're very good in the things you do man, you are better than a lot of them! You have to tell the world!" (laugh)

You chose a cover of Jackie Wilson - (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher, what does this song represents for you?

Sherkhan: That song was my idea, this is the only cover on the album. Until the end Diana never really wanted to do it, so I gave it with all the other stuff to the musicians to rehearse and they loved it (laugh), it's a powerful song! Diana got a little annoyed but she sang it well, she sang it perfect, it works well!

Diana(laugh) I love it now. I loved this song but I never projected myself singing it, that's all.

There is an album and a film. And listening to you it's more than a simple album making-of. So can we call it a documentary?

Sherkhan: In the beginning the idea was to record this album live "one take" and since I am filming a lot in Jamaica, music videos, documentaries, I of course planned to memorialise this journey. Imagine 13 musicians recording live at the legendary studio Harry J, the studio alone looks good. So since the recording is live I can film it like a concert, walking through the musicians. As the music producer I was confident about them because after 3 days of rehearsal the songs were set. So during the recording at the studio I was secure, I put aside my producer's cap and put on the filmmaker's cap and went with the flow!

And it turns out to be more than filming the recording, did you shoot some other things as well?

Sherkhan: Watching what I shot through the rehearsals and through the recording, I realised that it could be so much more than just a documentation of the recording. So much great musical moments. During the rehearsal, for example the jams and jazzy variations of the songs, there are so much interesting stuff in there. So I started interviewing the musicians and each one of them is a "character". A lot of them are a part of Jamaica's musical history. The film became more and more fascinating. So on the day of recording, I asked them to wear some retro clothing, to get this vintage look. I got that from my father, where I know how to make a spectacle of things.

To connect with Diana's heritage, you also have an artistic family story.

Sherkhan: Yes it's true, I also come from an artistic family, we all have our own roads in life (laugh), I've been on mine for quite some time now. I tried to take a different road, at the beginning I wanted to make music after I came from the graphic arts. Then I finally hold a camera now! Like my father and my brother who are in the cinema industry.

The film is about that too, no?

Sherkhan: It's true, this film is not only about music, behind it, their is our story. We realised it when we showed it to a few first persons. For example in the last song you can see our daughter Zoe going to her mother during her song, and staying with her simply watching her. Magical moment. It's a musical documentary yes, but at the end of the day, there is something deeper here.

It's a musical documentary yes, but at the end of the day, there is something deeper here

DianaWe never planned it, it comes naturally, once the film was finished editing we realised it!

A last word?

Sherkhan: Well, I hope people will enjoy this project as much as we do!

DianaI really think it's time for me to take the road again, performing on stage, it's time, I know it, I feel it and I want it! I am happy on stage. I must go back to it, I am ready! I hope many will love the album Better Days, we worked hard on it and I am ready to defend it on stage now!

We are also impatient. Thanks a lot!

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