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Interview: Capleton in Kingston

Interview: Capleton in Kingston

Interview: Capleton in Kingston

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"This voice is not normal!"


When fiery reggae and dancehall artist Capleton signed to US label Def Jam Recordings in the 90s, they sent him to a vocal coach. It's bizarre that anyone would think the owner of one of the strongest voices in popular music this side of the more extreme forms of metal, would need help with their vocals. Capleton remembers the Cuban coach didn't know what to do with his inimitable roar.

“The lady doing the voice training was trying to figure out who [I sounded like] but she couldn’t come up with no one!” he says, giving in to his gritty laugh. “When she was playing the keyboard she said “No, this voice is not normal!” It’s just a special voice and I have to give thanks.”

Where Capleton’s voice came from is not a question he is able to fully answer either. His maternal grandfather blew the fife – the military flute that, like reggae to a lesser extent, has roots in both African and Celtic music – which he suggests may explain his lung capacity and range. Yet even among his fellow rockstone deejays of late 80s and early 90s dancehall, Capleton’s stentorian delivery is unmatched. The closest comparison is the way the blues singer Howlin’ Wolf’s granular growl stood out from his already gruff peers.

“In terms of the vocal it is natural,” he reasons “When I travel the world, at certain places, the microphone would be giving problems to every artist going on the mic. But when Capleton came and touched the mic it was like all of that problem went!” He laughs again. “Even the other day at Ninjaman’s event in Ocho Rios the mic was giving problems for five or six artists going on the stage and when I went up there, people were wondering if this was the same mic that the other artists were singing on! I give thanks to the powers of the Most High. I don’t know where it comes from but I know it’s natural, it’s authentic, it’s a gift from the Almighty.”


Capleton’s famously fearsome presence on stage couldn't be more distant when he arrives at Jimmy Cliff’s studio in Kingston for our interview. He has driven here on his own, without entourage. He greets us in the manner of the Bobo Ashanti mansion of Rastafari. “Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I the First, Holy Emmanuel I Selassie I, Jah Rastafari.” He is dressed in one of his striking yellow stage outfits with red gold and green banding and matching shoes. He is genial and smiling throughout.

Cliff is not at the studio today. However, a session is being run by Clive Hunt: producer of both Jimmy’s new album, and apparently Capleton’s too, tentatively dated for release this year. In January Capleton announced in the Jamaica Observer that Clive would be the main helmer of the long-awaited untitled record. Clive is more circumspect when asked, saying their recent track together Motive was a big hit and that an LP could follow. But given that Clive is increasingly the go-to musical director for distributor VP Records and this is the last set of their current deal with Capleton, it would make sense that he be involved.

Clive Hunt is one of our icons

“I’m working on my new album right now,” is Capleton’s update on progress “Doing some work with Clive at the moment. He’s getting the tracks together and everything. Clive Hunt is one of our icons within the levels of production and he has worked with so many great talented artists over the years. Every artist enjoys his production because he knows what the artist wants and he will definitely give you the best.”

Clive Hunt, one-eyed musical polymath, master horn arranger and producer of everyone from the Abyssinians to Etana, is synonymous with roots rock reggae – a direction Capleton has stuck to album-wise since he left behind hard dancehall for 2004’s Reign of Fire. It’s a reasonable assumption that the latest project is a reggae one.

“Yeah man, roots rock. For real. Because roots rock reggae, it has the soul. It connects to the people more. People more gravitate to roots rock because in terms of the spirituality and in terms of the soul of the music. And then you have the message in it. So roots rock reggae is the ultimate music.”

Roots rock reggae is the ultimate music

Capleton made his name – and got the attention of Def Jam – deejaying ferociously over up-tempo rhythms. He was inspired to switch course to gruff roots reggae on Reign of Fire when he saw how the older form and its practitioners were received by foreigners at festivals.

“I’ve travelled the world and I’ve seen how the people gravitated to roots rock. I said “Yes, I have to do a one drop album inna roots rock reggae.” And it did great for me. The four corners of the earth, people loving it. Knowing it was the first time they’d heard Capleton on an album that is straight roots and culture.”

Subsequently, other dancehall artists have cut reggae albums – Busy Signal, Mr Vegas – and in the last decade there has been a youthful resurgence in Jamaican reggae music. So although Capleton wasn’t the first of his generation to grow locks and embrace Rastafari in the 90s, you could argue he predated the cultural reggae inclination in the 2010s by a good few years.

He chuckles once more. “Well, you know, you have to have trendsetters. A lot of artists look up to Capleton and I connect with a progressive voice and in terms of the message and the music, even in the performance. If I’m going in a certain direction then they will follow.”

“They travel the world too and whenever they go out there with cultural artists, they see how the rest of the world gravitated to it. Because [those] who went to Europe and did a performance on the bill with a lot of cultural artists, when they came back to Jamaica they wanted to do roots!”

Capleton’s second reggae album, 2010’s I Ternal Fire, started a personal trend, away from deejaying and towards melodic singing. It was controversial for some fans who found the poppy “one drop” reggae of the time too soft (the presence of Clive Hunt would suggest heavier fare this time around). Will this new record showcase more singing or deejaying?

“Both. We will mix it” he considers “Maybe mostly singing though. Because when you sing you can reach the people more spiritually. You can connect more to the souls of the people.”

When you sing you can reach the people more

In his previous United Reggae interview in 2013 Capleton said this was to be his final album for VP – is that still the case?

“Well, I wouldn’t say the last, but this is my final album in terms of the deal we have with VP. But we’ll see how that goes. Music is natural. More time you don’t have to plan certain things. If I have to move on by voicing for myself, doing my own production, or maybe for a different company or even do a next album for VP then time will tell.” Another grainy guffaw. “Time is the master and time will determine that.”

Unlike his contemporaries, Sizzla and Luciano, Capleton has taken his time between full length projects. Years can go by without a long playing release. This, he says, is all part of his view that music be 100% natural – like the raw vegan food he eats. “When you are born with something it is only natural. Our music is from our everyday livity – our lifestyle in terms of upholding the principles of Rastafari and in terms of how people have been oppressed and suppressed systematically. It gives me the urge and the energy to carry on. So we never feel pressured. Music is natural. When we go in the studio we don’t have to bust our brains, seen?”

CapletonCapleton was born Clifton George Bailey III in St Mary Parish on April 13th, 1967. His name came from his father’s side (“My father was Dudley Bailey. I know that Clifton is an English name and George is Greek and Bailey is Irish!”) and the music from his mother’s. Capleton has paid tribute to his mum on one of I-Ternal Fire’s most uncharacteristically touching songs – the tender ballad Mama You Strong (strong women have played a substantial role in Capleton’s life – another is his manager Claudette Kemp.) “Yeah and that’s why we love my mum” he reminisces on his childhood “She treated other people’s kids just like her own. That’s why I have the utmost respect for my mum – she cares about others. She cares about people.”

The young Clifton Bailey took nickname Capleton when his vociferousness in debates drew a comparison with a verbose local attorney. “One day on the corner with brethrens I came on the scene and they had an argument – they were talking about a particular issue and I got involved in the argument. I was talking as if I was there when I just came on the scene. Someone said “You weren’t even here and you came and started talking like you’re Lawyer Capleton!””

Soon it became his handle when deejaying on sound systems. He cites his favourite and biggest influence as Papa San – who inspired his lengthy a cappella chants live. “Throughout my career, Papa San was really my deejay still. What really fascinated me about Papa San most of all is the long lyrics that he wrote. He would do a lyrics and then the rhythm would finish and then the lyrics would still continue. So I ended up doing a lot of long lyrics.”

Throughout my career, Papa San was really my deejay

At the same time, he was always listening to reggae giants Bob Marley and Dennis Brown – whose birthdays are being celebrated across Kingston for Reggae Month as we speak. He is also a huge fan of Peter Tosh for his rebelliousness and uncompromising stance.

“I have so many favourites by Bob Marley, I have so many favourites by Peter Tosh, I have so many favourites by Dennis Brown. I couldn’t choose. I mean, these are my icons. These are my pioneers. These are the people who paved the way for me and left the footprints in the sands of time so I and I as a youth could really come and enjoy the glory and play a part and even carry the message because they are not around. We give thanks for the glory and the blessing and for the work that they have done. We have seen how it captivates the world and the people gravitate and interject - the four corners of the earth. There wouldn’t be reggae music without Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh.”

Every month is reggae month

“I think every month is reggae month!” he continues “Reggae is all time, but Reggae Month is good because at least the people can remember where the music coming from and glorify the people who paved the way and keep this positive and this conscious message going forward.”

Recently in the Jamaican media, there has been some unease over the alleged theft of reggae by other countries. For once, Capleton pauses, rather than jumping in with an answer ready in his mind.

“I wouldn’t say stolen.” He laughs at the idea. “I wouldn’t say stolen because reggae is for all people. I’m not one of them who worries about other races or other people who get involved. I just feel that is an enhancement to the music. More time, our people we don’t even value the music. When we see other people outside, our thing is [to] maybe get jealous and say “We are the creators”. But these people value the music and they know what the music is all about in terms of the spirituality, in terms of the blessing and in terms of the message. So I do give thanks, elsewhere in the world gravitates to my music. I love that and I know that means the music is doing something good. And if it wasn’t doing something good and if it wasn’t helping the people and the world then people wouldn’t gravitate to it.”

Reggae is for all people

“People are assuming that it has been stolen. It cannot be stolen. Reggae is in our hearts. Reggae is in our soul.” He laughs again “We live reggae, so again we give thanks for the blessing and the joy to the world, to the people to the music and to the people who paved the way. The hotter the battle, the sweeter the victory. We just have to continue to do the good works and continue to uplift the people within the music. We have seen how our people have been oppressed and supressed by the system systematically and we have travelled the world and seen how people gravitate and depend on this music because this music is the voice of the people. Look how it speaks for the less fortunate.”

Giving back to his home community is something Capleton believes in. His annual St Mary Mi Come From festival – which went on a hiatus since 2013 amid rumours of financial issues – returns this year and he is keen to stress that it is for a good cause.

“I want the people to know the show is up and running and the overseas people can book their ticket now. It’s August 5th and it’s a charity event where we give back to schools and hospitals and community centres and youth clubs and we give back to people with disabilities. It’s not only St Mary. We give in St Catherine, St Andrew, St Anne, Portland – we share the glory and the blessing. I did an interview on TVJ the other morning and spoke about it and the people were so excited – they can’t wait for St Mary Mi Come From because they know what the show does – it gives back to the community. We believe in giving and sharing because we know giving and sharing is the act of God. We believe in justice and charity and that’s why we do this show. Yeah man, August 5th 2016, Gray’s Inn Sports Complex – same venue, same date, up and running.”

Capleton also likes to keep the community involved when it comes to his team. His costumes (best described as portraying a Rasta for the video game generation) are designed and made here in Jamaica.

“I want to bless up the designer who takes care of my outfits and makes me look good on stage. People always say “Yow, who make your stage outfit? Yow, them outfit them bad. They make a Jamaica?” and I say “Yeah brother, in Jamaica we create them man”. And I want to give thanks for the shoes man as well because they both work together. The people think it is the same person who made the outfit but a different person made the shoes. The designer would take the material to the shoes man and he would build the shoes from scratch. It’s not like he would go into a store and buy the shoes and wrap it with the material.”

People need to parent each other’s children

Capleton stresses the importance of unity and working together. He feels his mother’s philosophy of seeing all children as one’s own could help the world.

“This is one of the things we need out there in creation – not only in Jamaica or in Africa but everywhere in the world. People need to parent each other’s children. If you see someone’s kids then you’re supposed to curb them and correct them or rebuke them and let them know whatever they are doing is wrong. Just like how you would correct your own. Then I think we would have a better world.”

“If there is no unity amongst the people then we won’t see a better nation. His Majesty said “Unity is definitely strength”. That’s why we always sing for unity. We always sing one heart and one love – peace and love for the people. No matter who you are. No matter what nation. No matter what creed. It’s just one love, one heart, one aim, one i-nity, one Rastafari.”

Know what the people want and just give it to them

“That’s why we give thanks for this powerful music – reggae music – that really brings forth that message and that love and that joy. When we go out there and travel the world and see how people gravitate and interject, it really gives us the joy and the glory to really continue. To press along and move forward to connect with the people with a progressive voice. To understand optimism and know what the people want and just give it to them.”

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Read comments (2)

Posted by Leslie Gutierrez on 05.04.2016
Capleton, I appreciate your authenticity, roots-references, praises to the almighty, biging up mother Africa & Black people worldwide, and your originality in your lyrics and clothing style. #KeepBurninFyah #ReggaeMusic #GoodOverEvil #BlackMusicMatters

Posted by Ivorene Reece on 05.17.2016
Love and respect the message that capleton bring to the youths.He have a heart full of love and compassion.Universal love Rastafari!

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