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Interview: Samory I

Interview: Samory I

Interview: Samory I

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - Comment

"I-man Strictly Roots. The only way I’ll be not doing roots is if I do a collaboration with another artist from another genre"

Sampler

Samory I’s debut album, Black Gold, is one of the most outstanding reggae releases of recent times. Delivering his works in this Rasta-oriented patois on a long-distance call from Jamaica, the individualistic singer speaks of his turbulent youth, the inspiration behind his music, the crucial input of his manager, and the process of working closely with Rory Stone Love to produce Black Gold.

Samory I

Your given name is Samory Toure Fraser. How did you end up with a name that references a historic figure that resisted colonial rule in West Africa during the 19th century?

I was named by my father who was a massive reader. He always read a lot of books, so I-man get I name from I father.

Were you raised by both of your parents?

Yeah. One thing, them always show me the unity, in terms of love. So I-man was raised by I-man parents.

What kind of work were they doing?

My father alone worked. My mother used to stay home with us, cause there’s five of us. And my father was a gas station attendant.

You have four siblings?

Yeah, I have one brother and three sisters in total. I’m the third amongst all of them, and the second boy, the last boy.

We live inna the ghetto, sufferation 24-7

You grew up in Kencot, near Half Way Tree, which is right at the border of uptown and downtown Kingston, or close to the approach of uptown. What was it like growing up there?

Believe me, we live inna the ghetto, sufferation 24-7. We live Kingston 10, Kingston 13 is just to the left of me. Uptown is Jack’s Hill, Meadowbrook, Norbrook, I am totally far away from that. The reason why them call Half Way Tree uptown is because it’s central to where the places are. It doesn’t mean uptown in terms of riches. It’s bread and tinned milk, that me get for dinner, growing up.

You mean, you come from more of a have-not community, a struggling community?

Yeah. Trust me, Kingman, all now, it’s hard.

Is it true that when you were four years old, you were asking your father, where does Sizzla live?

Yeah, me no remember, but growing up, me mother used to call me ‘Dreadlocks,’ instead of calling me Samory. So from a youth, Rastafari was there on my mind, due to the fact that reggae music was always a part of my community, the people them inna the yard, because I-man grow up in a tenement, you overstand?

So you were exposed to Rastafari from that formative time, in that sense?

Yeah, cause my mother is a strong Adventist woman, you know, she believe in some of the teachings of Rastafari, so the only reason I-man am supported by my family is because I’m doing something positive in my life. My old man support me, because I turned my life around and make it positive, you overstand?

Let’s talk a little bit about these transformations. You grew up in the church and began singing in the church, is that correct?

Samory IYeah. Grew up inna the church. I-man never know I could sing until I-man starting singing in the church. It’s just me going to school in this community, they wanted me to be like…what we in Jamaica call the Dons of the community, that is what strayed me from the church as a youth. So I-man turned to the streets, turn to I-man friends them, the people them I looked up to, and that just changed my life and turned me into a monster, in terms of getting into trouble on a daily basis, you understand?

How and when did that start to happen?

I start getting into trouble from I was 16.

Before the trouble, you were in a gospel group, is that correct?

Yeah, all during the trouble.

You were getting into trouble while you were in the group? Or you left the group and then you got into trouble?

Me get inna trouble the same way when me inna the group. The group was basically taking me away from trouble for a minute; as soon as rehearsals were finished, I-man was back to being…you know?

What kind of trouble?

Trouble, overstand? Just trouble.

The Dons of the community strayed me from the church as a youth

But you’re saying that there were negative influences in the community?

Yeah, inna everything there’s good and bad. I-man was just caught up in the bad, because as a youth in the community, the bad did look good…girls and money, you know? Violence. One thing that take me away from trouble was football, so that kind of lead me away from it for a minute and that was the time when I met my manager, Bridgett Anderson. I think I meet her when I was 19, about 2009 I think.

You met her through Inna De Yard, Earl Chinna Smith and his family?

No, she introduced me to them. Bridgett lives in the community, and you know that a Rasta woman in the community, she is highly respected as Garnett Silk’s manager. Judy Mowatt, you know? She’s very respected, she’s a good woman, so when she speak, usually people would listen, and I was one of those persons listening when she spoke.

You just knew her from the neighbourhood?

Yeah. But for me, I didn’t know what she did. She was a Rasta woman and I-man always have true respect for Rasta.

The first record you did was “Just Believe,” is that correct?

Yeah.

That comes out in 2013. So if you met her in 2009, what were you doing between 2009 and 2013?

I was going to her and chilling with her on a daily basis, just when I left training I used to come by her house, so that used to take me away from the streets, so she was teaching me about a chapter a day, she explained to me what I was supposed to be doing, and I-man look forward to that. Now, if I didn’t have a message, there’s no way I could come and spread that amongst the people, but the teachings I was getting from Bridgett…within that time she never even knew that I could sing. Chinna Smith’s daughters them, now, Susu and Jahmelia, the both of them did ah come to the yard, and thing. So me there, and Jahmelia just turn to me and every day they were asking me why me nah sing, and one day, me say, “But you never ask me to sing,” and they asked and I sang something and that was when everything changed. And still at the time, I never thought of pursuing a music career either. Because I-man was just still getting out of what I was into.

Chinna Smith’s daughters asked me to sing and that was when everything changed

So even though you’d had that background in the gospel group, none of them knew that you could sing?

No. By the time Bridgett knew me, and when I start coming around there, I was a long, long time out of the group, from when I was 16.

And with football, what position were you playing and what team were you with?

Me play centre and midfield, and my favourite team is Barbican Football Club, cause that’s the first football team I ever played for. It’s 13 and under, so I played under 13. And I played midfield and leftfield.

So she heard you sing and took you into the studio?

She heard me sing and was shocked. She was outside and I was sitting in the living room, so when I sang, when I started to sing she ran. The girls were shocked. I was there every day for some time, they don’t even know I could sing. At the time still, I never pursued, I never tried to do anything with music, so I needed to get a feel of the studio. So like, about two years after, there was a studio in the community and I started to do things there, just learn how to transition myself in a studio. I think it was called Holiday Recording Studio.

So you started to hone your skills in there?

Yeah. Basically, I’m learning how to write songs too, because I never know how to write songs. I write a poem, then find a melody for it.

Did you have anyone you were influenced by, a singing style that you appreciated, or lyrics?

Yeah man, like Sizzla Kalonji, and at the time I was listening strongly to Jah Cure. I don’t know per se if I was influenced by their singing style, but by the message that the artist pushed, and probably Dennis Brown’s singing style, cause you can hear it in my songs. But it’s the message from the I-them, mostly, that inspired me or influenced me.

I’m aware of two singles that came on Ajang, “Just Believe,” which is a devotional song about religious faith, and “With You” is more like a ballad.

The song “Just Believe” is a people song still, telling the people them to hold on. Cause it’s a song, me telling myself and the world, it’s a song generally saying that the people are telling themselves and the world that no matter what, I-man going to work hard and through my hard work, I’m going to bring prosperity.

So it’s a song of determination.

Yeah.

The other track, “With You,” is much more like a love song, a ballad.

A lover’s rock, old school. Me just sing what me feel, when me hear the rhythm.

Did you do any more recordings for them at that time?

No, me never do no more recording fi them. I was doing some recordings for Niney, I was recording an album for Niney the Observer, and then Niney left Jamaica for a long time, and me getting frustrated, because I felt I had a message to deliver and I was there waiting on Niney, who I felt at the time in myself, I felt at the time that he didn’t have any interest, so I got frustrated, so I-man, I was speaking with my manager, Bridgett Anderson, she got me an audition with Rory, you get me? When I went to the studio, Rory, I saw Kemar from Raging Fyah, and because of the way I was dressed, everyone though I was going to be a deejay, so no one expected me to sound the way I sounded.

He was going to have you deejay on a Raging Fyah track or something?

No, he was going to have me audition while they were there. He was there himself, he didn’t want to be the only person there, that’s what I felt. So he didn’t want to be there alone to judge. So they were there with him as well, so when I sang, every one of them was surprised, because no one expected me to sound the way I sounded and that was when I heard “Take Me Oh Jah” in my heart, and I sang it on that track.

You mean you just made it spontaneously?

Yeah, because that’s what I heard on the beat. Anyone who knows me can tell you, whatever I feel, that’s it.

Most times, when I hear the rhythm, that’s how me and Rory construct the songs. We just make sense out of nonsense

Is that the way you tend to work? You don’t write your lyrics first, you just wait to hear the rhythm and go on it?

Most times, when I hear the rhythm, that’s how me and Rory construct the songs. Cause when me hear the rhythm, me just want sing, and it sounds good, so we just make sense out of nonsense, and the things that don’t make sense, we just go over it, and me say, like, “This should be a part of the message,” and him say, “Oh, I feel like this should be a part of the message,” so this is how I write the song.

Samory I

There are a couple of other tracks you did for Rory around that same time, like “African Daughter,” which again was much more in a lover’s rock style, or roots lover’s.

Yeah, “African Daughter,” I didn’t know anything about “African Daughter.” When I went to the studio, I just went to the studio one day to do a track called “Power,” and Rory was telling me, making reference to black women bleaching, doing this and doing that, cause the man weren’t accepting them for what they are. So I have to do a song about black woman, for the women to appreciate themselves. So when I went home, I totally forgot about that, I came back to the studio, Rory wrote down some lyrics already, and that’s when I came up with it.

On “Take Me Oh Jah,” you have some interesting statements about repatriation and the notion that Africa is the rightful home for members of the black diaspora.

Let me ask you a question: where your descendants them come from, you know everything about your people, right? But I was robbed of that. The only thing I know is that Africa is where I-man come from. I am a plant, and the soil that I need to grow is in Africa, that is how I see it, because that is what I was taught, Africa is my home, so of course I-man want to go back home. It’s a strong message. Repatriation, so of course I-man have to sing about Africa for Africans.

So after “Take Me Oh Jah,” Rory introduced you to some other producers and you did some one-away tunes for them.

I-man was introduced to Amanda Ford from Taitu Records by Rory. I-man was introduced to Silly Walks by Marcia Griffiths who is also, Bridgett Anderson is also managing her as well; I was introduced to Silly Walks by her, cause Silly Walks sent a message out for us, for at the time we were working on the album, so Marcia Griffiths came and spoke to me, that’s how I did the song for Silly Walks, they came and spoke to me so I took the break. Cause I was gonna do it, but I was gonna finish the tracks on my album first before I do any (others).

'With “Sceptre” that came out on Taitu, the rhythm was produced by Amanda Ford of Taitu Records, based in the USA, and the dub was mixed in London by Russ D from Disciples, so it’s very different from the style of music that you had voiced tracks on before, music that was made in Jamaica. How did you find voicing that track?

I fell in love with the beat, because the beat is what I’m used to hearing in Jamaica. You hear the beats produced on my album, from you go old school, from you go vintage, that’s me, that’s my natural habitat, that’s where I feel the most comfortable. So it wasn’t difficult at all. I had the message, I got the message from my manager; when I heard the rhythm, my manager just turned to me and said, “Sing about the sceptre.”

The track for Silly Walks, “I Am Gad”…

Again, my manager said, “Sing about the tribe,” because I-man is a Gad, I’m from the tribe of Gad which is November birth, the 21st of November. You know what I’m saying?

Are you affiliated with the 12 Tribes branch of the Rastafari faith?

No, I-man am just affiliated with what His Majesty tell me, to read the Bible. I-man interested in anything that His Majesty tell I-man to do. So that is what I-man did when I-man read Genesis, Chapter 3, 9 and 10. It’s there so I find out about what tribe you come from, when you’re born; I found that out from the Bible, and explanations from my manager, but it’s within the Bible I saw the context about the 12 bodies of Christ.

I had read about a track you did for Frenchie, “Ride On,” but I don’t think I’ve heard it yet.

Oh, you know you can check out that track on my YouTube page.

My sister in law got one shot in her back, and the one shot that she got, she died but revenge and Rastafari don’t go together

So let’s talk about the album now. There are so many outstanding tracks on the album, but one that was released as a single previously is “Rasta Nuh Gangsta.” There are a lot of things I really like about the track, and you touch on a lot of different topics in the song, it’s doesn’t seem to just address one issue, it’s addressing many issues and the video compliments that notion, when we see scenes of skin bleaching going on, and we see you disarm a local youth and have him turn to football to do something constructive. You’re also showing police brutality which is a real issue for many Jamaicans on a daily basis. What can you tell me about that track? What inspired it and how did you put the lyrics together?

Let me start from what inspired it, seen? Rory sent me a rhythm to do a track on, but I didn’t even look on the rhythm, cause my sister in law went home, she’d just had a baby for my brother. She went home, right? While she was at home, she felt hungry, so she had asked her cousin who had a bike to just bring her to the restaurant so she could get something, come back to the house, right? Her cousin, him hot in the community, he’s wanted by other gun-affiliated men in his community, seen? So he was taking her and they saw him, while on their way they fired about 10 shots, him get about 8 and she got 1 in her back, cause they didn’t see her on the bike, cause he was riding fast. And the one shot that she got, she died. When I heard that, I didn’t focus on the music, what I was focussing on was to go and stir up down in that little community that she lived. I was thinking about revenge in my mind, cause it was something that we could have done easily. But within planning that revenge, the people I were planning it with were looking out for me, they called Black Kush from the Uprising Roots, who is Winston McAnuff’s son, told him what I was about to do, and he told Rory. The both of them spoke to me and explained to me what I was doing was very important, and that revenge and Rastafari don’t go together. Cause Kush was living at my house at the time. Daily, they made sure I was good, I was staying out of the darkness and into the light. And I find that even my brother spoke to me, my sister in law’s baby father spoke to me and told me that, “Don’t even do that, make the Most High handle it.” So that inspired me to write “Rasta Nuh Gangsta.” I touch on many topics, because I-man don’t get brutalized but I-man get harassed by police just for being a Rasta, you get me? Just for walking in places, I-man get labelled something that I am not, just by just walking in the streets. I have never been arrested and locked up, behind bars. So there is no police record, so therefore, I-man should not be targeted by police, because police don’t know me as someone who is doing wrong, I-man am a Rasta now, totally different from what I had when I was a baldhead. Walking in the streets, and I see this manifest and witness Rasta being brutalized by police, questioned, searched and beaten. So that song, within itself, “Rasta Nuh Gangsta,” as well covered that, as well as don’t do violence if you’re a Rasta, because Rasta preach love, so we’re covering all topics within just a few words, with 3 words, “Rasta Nuh Gangsta.”

It’s really a powerful track, for sure. Another song that is outstanding on the album and very different again is the title track, “Black Gold.” One of the things I appreciated about it is you’ve got this little motif you return to a couple of times with the old “Emmanuel Road” theme, folksong style, and also the song is such an evocative picture of the appeal of a sound system dance.

Look for the video. That song is me telling a story that occurred, not to me, not gonna tell you to who either, but a story that occurred. Heh heh heh.

Samory I

On the album, the way you sing is very unique in its way and the material, a lot of it is in some kind of a roots mode, but you’ve also got the track “Power,” which you mentioned before, it’s like a dancehall rub-a-dub, and at the same time you’re using it to sing praises to the Most High, it’s not necessarily what people would expect to come on a rhythm like that.

What you ah talk bout, man! The Most High, I must give praises, that is why the thing sound different. Cause me say, “Give praises to the Almighty.” “Power” is a very deep song, cause within “Power,” I see how Mankind say, “Yo, you might have dominion over animals, killing them, you might own a business, have some workers in it, but you don’t have the power. The Almighty have the power, and any time he can take away your comfort.” The fear of the Most High first, before anything else. If you give Jah the praise, you get through, it’s that simple.

There’s a couple of tracks on here, one is pretty much a straight cover tune and the other is much more an adaptation, but both of them, you do a Rasta re-orientating of these tracks, the first is, “Is It Because I’m Black,” the other one is “If I Were A Carpenter,” which is titled here, “Rastaman.”

Yeah. “Is It Because I’m Black,” the things black people go through, Kingman, from the time when Samory Toure was around, til my time now, and long before that, we see black people being beaten and chastised on a daily basis. We see prisoners of other colours get locked up but come out and get a job, but a black man, it’s totally difficult and different in his life from a white man. I come to show them say, “Yo, King, the reason why, this is the reason why we have been holden down so long.” I mean, I don’t have to point that out to nobody because it’s obvious, but no disrespect still, Kingman.

How about the “Rastaman” track, with “If I Were A Carpenter”?

Rastaman” track is about love, you know, how a Rastaman should love a woman. How I as a Rastaman see it to love a woman, I just expressed my feelings inna the thing. It was influenced by the original still but to put it our way, how we see it, was beautiful to us as well.

The lyrics on one track, “Not Because,” I got a bit confused. You’re saying something about black people feeling that they’re better than the slave master? What is that song really about?

That song is about all of the fools them who think that just because them black and them have corporate power, meaning they own a business or whatever, it make them deal with the people them, that them work for, like a fool, or like slaves. I just come fi show them say, “Yo, Kingman, you’re black and you do the same thing we go through for 400 years. You come and we get beaten by mental slavery, that is the whip we have been beaten with right now.” It’s minimum wage and all them foolishness there. And the same people that rebel, them call we worthless just because them want take we in their system or their style of living. So that was to just show them that, we’re just picking up where the slave masters left off, Kingman. They just don’t do it physically by beating us.

So that sounds a bit similar to the theme of “Suit And Tie,” where you say “The devil come to I in a suit and tie.”

Yeah, in a way, you know, because “Suit And Tie”, a man have independence now, the corporations don’t like that, so if a man tell them to try and buy out the business, or try for sponsor the business, so him within himself can birth from that, and if him try and birth from that, they try to tear down… me as an independent artist, a label don’t want see me build my resources, other than me not breaking the bread through them, him don’t want see that, so them send a man now, not the Devil with a tail, nor horns, or a big fork in him hand, but a man with a suit and tie, to let me know that, “OK, here’s the way it’s going to work for you. You do this and this, you take this from us, and I tell you to do this and that.” That is the Devil in the suit and tie that I-man knew that would come for I, who have claimed for I in many times, and the Devil don’t just have to come in a suit and a tie, Kingman, because, like how my manager say, the Devil is a spirit, he comes to you in a short dress with big breasts and big ass. He can come to you… a real thing.

On the closing track, which is an herb song, it’s a revamped cut of the “Dread Out Deh” rhythm, so it’s got this great trombone line and unusual vocal treatments, I guess this is Rory manipulating your voice in the mix.

Yeah, Rory.

I noticed on a couple of other tracks like “Power” and “Rastaman,” there’s some Autotune that creeps in there, maybe on “Not Because” too. How did you feel about that? I wouldn’t think there was any need for Autotune on your voice.

All right, me ah tell you this, me burn Autotune. I don’t believe in that, you know what I’m saying? So when you ask me how I feel about that, for real, I don’t feel good bout that. When you hear me live, you ah go see why me no like to mess up my voice with Autotune.

You’ve performed in Europe already, you came to Reggae Geel and some other festivals?

Yeah, I went to Reggae Jam, Reggae Geel, yeah, and Stockholm. I did a few shows.

The album Black Gold has been greatly anticipated. Now that the album is out, what plans do you have?

I-man will be performing here, and I’m planning to keep an album launch, maybe at the end of this month, or early August, before I leave to go to Trinidad. I’ll be coming back home from Trinidad, then to Canada, then from there I’ll be coming back home and doing a European tour at the end of October.

Will you be bringing a band with you?

Yeah man, definitely, I’ll be bringing a band with me.

Black Dub, one sound. But I-man will also be with one and two other producers, but I’ll be working with Rory

The same people on the album?

No, not the same people, they are on tour with other artists, just two of them or one of them will be involved.

At this point, are you planning to continue working with Rory?

Yeah, mon. Black Dub, one sound. But I-man will also be with one and two other producers, but I’ll be working with Rory. And again I’d like to say that I’m strictly roots. The only way I’ll be not doing roots is if I do a collaboration with another artist from another genre. I-man strictly roots.

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