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Interview: Prince Malachi

Interview: Prince Malachi

Interview: Prince Malachi

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"The system will never give you what is yours rightfully – you always have to take it back"


Prince Malachi’s formidable power and emotional engagement on stage dwarf his somewhat sporadic recorded output. The son of a Jamaican jazz guitarist, he began his career in the 80s toasting on London sound systems, before unleashing his rich baritone and finding his calling as a cultural singer.

After a stint in Jamaica as a rare UK inductee into the camp of the late Fatis Burrell, he was unexpectedly side-lined by a prison sentence for assault. And while he has maintained a regular, impressive presence on the European gig circuit ever since, several studio projects have got lost in ‘development’ without coming to light.

But changing fortune beckons with the release of fifth album Third Rock. It finally gathers some of the songs he has been showcasing live in the last decade such as My Life and The Great Welcome. During this time Malachi has been building his own production company and South London studio so that - like past mentor Fatis - he can control his destiny.

Angus Taylor met Prince Malachi at One Love Festival 2015 in Gloucestershire and recorded this impromptu chat. It was an opportunity for the big voiced man to set the record straight about his life and the wider issues that inspired him to sing.

Prince Malachi

You have a new album out, Third Rock. What does it contain?

It’s produced by myself and it contains 14 tracks – 13 tracks and an interlude. All self-produced tracks recorded between Jamaica and my studio in London. Some tracks were recorded at Tuff Gong. Some tracks were recorded at Chris Meredith’s studio. Some elements were recorded at Mixing Lab.

Which musicians play on the album?

On the album you have Paul Crossdale of Firehouse Crew, Christopher Meredith, Squidly Cole and Dean Fraser. Also musicians from England – Kashta Tafari from the Rasites, of course Don Chandler the bass player, Adrian McKenzie – my unit here.

Nothing ever happens before the time

It’s taken a while for this album to come together – some tunes like Great Welcome and Open Book you’ve performed around the UK for literally years. Why has it taken so long?

A good few years. What really happened is initially when I was doing the album it was supposed to be released by a certain record company who basically gave me the run around for about 18 months. I had to go back to the drawing board and reassess what I was doing and find other ways and means.

Did you sign a contract with them?

No, initially I saw the CEO of the company and he came and he listened to some tracks and was very interested. He sent me to the London office and told me that I should liaise with them. We spoke for about 18 months and nothing could ever come of it. They couldn’t get any correspondence from him regarding what we were supposed to do further on the business side. It just went on for a bit too long until I just had to make a decision and say “I need to do something else”.

Who is distributing the album now?

Digitally I’m working with Zojak. I started entering into a relationship with Zojak now so I’m hoping I can get things going.

Some people threatened my life physically and in defending myself somebody got hurt

Are you a victim of your own success as a live performer in terms of how little you have put out recording-wise?

Give thanks. Maybe but I think it’s a combination of many different things. I also have a completed album that I have done for Stingray Records which they sat down on for about seven years. Some people had some material and they weren’t releasing it, and I’ve been in the process of building my own facility as well. So it’s like nothing ever happens before the time! (laughs)

Earlier in your career you had a run in with the law that put you out of commission for a year and a half.

Definitely. It’s been a long road. I got into some altercations with some people who basically threatened my life physically and in defending myself somebody got hurt. It’s something where I would probably do the same thing again because you have to defend yourself. It was the way the law works. When I did go in front of the judge he did say to me that he could see that it was total provocation and he dealt with me with the most leniency that he could.

Do you think that after all these trials and setbacks this album will finally bring you into your deserved place in the public consciousness?

Well what’s happened over the years is that even though I haven’t been releasing a lot of music I have been recording a lot of music. So at the moment I have about four albums complete, plus one from Stingray unreleased, plus one from my old collaboration with Bruno Wiener of Mount Ararat. Really I have about six albums ready so I am just in the process of setting up the company and starting to release them one by one.

Even though I haven't been releasing a lot of music I have been recording a lot of music

So it would be unfair, then, to describe you, as a non-prolific artist? You have been very prolific.

Yeah I’ve been very prolific (laughs) but the people haven’t heard it yet! Those around me know – the musicians and the people who are close know.

Tell me about the time you spent in Fatis Burrell’s camp in Jamaica in the late 90s. What did you learn there from Fatis and the artists around him?

Fatis was a man who really took what I had to another level. I was introduced to Fatis many, many years ago. The story is, after I had done my first album Jah Light I wanted to go to Jamaica. I knew someone who knew and used to go to school with Beres Hammond so I met Beres and he told me that I should come. Then a few weeks later I heard Fatis Burrell was coming to town so I found his hotel with my CD, went in like the movies, played the CD and that’s how the relationship began. So once the relationship with Fatis began it progressed to a thing where me and Robert Murphy were running the Xterminator label on a day to day level as far as recording artists and laying rhythms. Fatis really showed me so many things and introduced me to so many other people and really paved the way so that we can sharpen what I have already.

I found Fatis hotel, went in like the movies, played him my CD and that's how the relationship began

Did you spend much time around artists like Sizzla and Luciano?

Yeah I used to live with Fatis for many years in his house. We did a lot of US and Caribbean tours with Sizzla. We did a lot of things with Luciano. There is also a combination with me and Luciano on the new album.

Over the years people have compared your baritone and Luciano’s. Back when Luciano started they compared his voice to Dennis Brown’s. Gradually as people’s inner ear adjusted it became clear that Luciano and Dennis’ timbres, while superficially similar, are distinct.

There is a similarity because, strangely enough, when Dennis Brown died in Jamaica there was an article in the Gleaner where they mentioned maybe about twelve artists who they could definitely hear were influenced by Dennis. Of course, my name was in there, Luciano’s name was in there. Frankie Paul’s name was in there, Mikey Spice was in there. There are many! (laughs) And to tell you the truth Dennis Brown wasn’t an artist who I really listened to growing up but somehow the influence is there. Especially when I’ve been told I sing in the lower register it sounds this way and when I sing in a higher register it sounds different.

Dennis Brown wasn't an artist I really listened to growing up but somehow the influence is there

The intensity of your live performances cannot be compared to anyone else. Where many performers will run around the stage doing visible, physical things to engage the audience, you are able to create that emotional engagement by doing very little. Where does that intensity come from?

Years ago we were taught that we have to be exciting and we have to jump around. But I do believe that it just to touch the people really, the word sound and power is the essence. The people come to see you get into that mode so it’s not so much that you are performing for them – it’s more like you must let the people witness you getting into that zone. You just do it naturally and let the words and the music come over more than theatrics. (laughs)

Your single The Great Welcome talks about the racism people from the diaspora experienced when arriving in Britain. Was that based on personal experience?

Prince MalachiThe whole song is based in and around my life, really. My father Winston Wynter is a musician who came from Jamaica. He was a prolific musician who played with Rico Rodriguez – rest in peace – and Ernie Ranglin at Club Copacabana in Jamaica. He came here a long time ago with great ideas like a lot of other people – people’s parents who I know. Along the time we can see many things have happened. We fought against a lot of racism and persecution. So the whole story is really my story and the story of my parents and many other people’s parents. It’s the story of even the English people who did welcome us and try to help to balance things out. It’s just the story of the whole evolution and the migration and the movement.

Many people who came over to England from the Caribbean believed, as part of what is now called the Commonwealth, that they would be welcomed as fellow citizens.

Definitely. It was basically the mother country. It’s hard for some people to understand that black people in the Caribbean actually and really looked to England and believed that was the mother country. They never looked to Africa. Africa was a faraway place that had nothing to do with them.

So it was all the more disappointing to come to England and find that Oswald Mosely and the fascists were provoking the white working class into fighting against them. When you performed the song at the Aysha Loren album launch that very day on the news in America a racist terrorist had attacked a church.

It’s the same kind of thing we see with UKIP now. It’s just pandering to the fears of people. It still continues. And like you say it’s worse in other places like America even though we have a so called black president in the White House but he cannot do anything about this. It’s real and it still continues.

Did you go on the Reparations March that took place in London in August?

I didn’t because I had a commitment in Norway so I didn’t get to go. I support the idea. I don’t know if it will ever happen but I support the idea.

Do you think the potential threat of litigation is what is stopping former colonial governments from taking responsibility?

They will never. I think the Queen actually said it was very bad and it should never have happened but it was law at the time or words to that effect.

To touch the people really, the word sound and power is the essence

Various singers, activists and thinkers have pointed out the dangers of reparations taking the form of a lump sum – as some people will invest their money more wisely than others. Do you think that something like letting people affected by slavery off their income tax might be a solution?

That could be something but I don’t think the government is even in a place where they are ever going to think about anything like this. The way it is now you can see that the super powers just want more. No one is into giving back anything. Any stolen treasure – we know it’s stolen, they know it’s stolen and they can tell you where they got it from but they still aren’t giving it back. So if we look too deep into these things this is where there will be conflict because the system will never give you what is yours rightfully – you always have to take it back. And that means you have to use force so there is war.

So you can’t hold out in hope that justice will be done?

I don’t. A lot of people do but I don’t because I kind of see the way of the world. Because if you want what’s yours you have to take it.

Like when Fatis came to town you didn’t wait for him to call – you went to his hotel.

Yeah – you have to move to it. Because we see religious people of other beliefs doing things which are really bad in the name of whatever and they’ve got their reasons but it’s tricky because at the same time it’s not right. No war is right but what do you do if you’re being persecuted forever and ever and everything you have is being taken away and no matter how you plead and beg no one ever listens? Frustration leads to war and conflict.

Let’s talk about My Life (Open Book) which you have been performing on stage for even longer than the Great Welcome. What inspired that song?

Open Book is a song that really came to me again about just my life and things that have happened. I lost my bigger sister a few years ago and I had never really been through anything like that before. Even my incarceration also. So it’s just a reflection of life and things that have happened. There are many little things I am touching on. Because I also realised my life is public so there is nothing to really hide – it’s only to look into what’s happened and try to do better tomorrow. Try to reflect on what’s happening and where we are going.

My life is public so there is nothing to really hide

Give us an overview of the album tracks that haven’t been released…

We have Third Rock which is the album’s title track. Fallacies featuring me and Luciano. We have Ups and Downs, another song called Gideon Rough and I have a cover of a Gregory Isaacs song – If I Don’t Have You. A good few songs.

What’s the story behind Third Rock? Obviously the title references the Earth.

It’s the Earth, yes. Third Rock is really a song that came to me when realising how insignificant we really are in the universe – not even on the Earth, in the universe. We are just another existence passing through the universe. Many have come before, many to come after so it’s just a reflection.

How did you reunite with Luciano for the song Fallacies?

Funnily enough it began as a song that he came to my studio to voice for me and then eventually became a combination. He came to the studio one day for the first time with Mikey General. They were saying “Malachi – where you say you have a studio? We a come we a come” and when they finally came they said “Oh so it’s really a studio!” and began to voice this song and the song became a combination.

We are just another existence passing through the universe

Let’s talk more about your productions. In addition to your own music you built the title track to singer Aysha Lorén’s album My Wishing Well – which is a very different side to your music.

(laughs) Yes definitely! I know Aysha really through Reggae In Da City really and through Don Chandler and Adrian McKenzie. Adrian is somebody who I have known for over 20 years and so I know Aysha. She’s a very good singer, one of the up and coming good singers right now. And the rhythm itself was a rhythm that I had built for myself with the unit. I say that unit is kind of like my unit – we call the unit I Resolution which consists of Fagan, Don Chandler, Adrian and Kashta. So it was a rhythm that we built and she heard the rhythm on a video which someone showed her of us building the rhythm. She liked it so much that she put a demo on the video and then we decided to do it. It’s one family really.

You are also working with Little Roy right now.

Yes I have a combination with Little Roy and we have some other things in the pipeline. I have a few songs to release with some other artists like Fred Locks and Determine and Turbulence and some other stuff.

Little Roy, Aysha Loren, Earl Sixteen and another up and coming singer Cassandra London are all appearing at your album launch on 2nd October in Brixton.

Yes and Empress Ayeola and the Rasites. Christopher Ellis and Stylo G are special guests.

So just like the old days of the Fatis camp you have your family of artists around you.

Yes, they’ve always been there but it’s only just formulating. I have another extension of family in Jamaica as well. The family is there but it’s just for you to organise yourself and start doing what you are doing – I’m kind of at that place now. 

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