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Interview: Winston McAnuff in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Winston McAnuff in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Winston McAnuff in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"Music is never ungrateful"


Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of our interview with Winston McAnuff, he reveals how Horace Andy helped start his career renaissance in France, his involvement from the beginning of Inna De Yard, and why his mainstream fusion recordings came from a very Jamaican skill…

Winston McAnuff-21

How did you start working with Makasound and release your compilation Diary of The Silent Years?

They came to Jamaica for some magazine that sent them, but they only had the money to pay for two nights in the hotel. They wanted to stay for two weeks so I took them to my house in Manchester. I said "Don't worry about the hotel thing - you can stay in my place". When we were driving I played them this album that I had for 20 years. Me and Brother John went everywhere in England trying to get a deal but nobody wanted to give me a deal with the album. But the album was really advanced – I even went to Helene Lee - the same woman who we ended up saving her house. It was the time when Alpha Blondy had the Moon album. Cedric Myton sent me to her because Cedric knew her. Helene Lee you know her?

Yes, she wrote the book about Leonard Howell.

Yeah. Le Premier Rasta. We went to her 20 years before and she turned down the thing. She was around EMI, Pathé Marconi. So I can show you how long I had to wait with this Diary Of The Silent Years album. At that time Romain and Nicolas were maybe seven or eight years old. I had to wait until they became 20 or 30 years old for the album to be released.

Who played on the album and where was it recorded?

We recorded the album at Aquarius. Originally the album was recorded at Aquarius. It was me, Richie McCann, Calman who went to Japan. We had a group called Head Cornerstone and Cedric Myton went to England and got a deal with a company called Wisdom. But when he came back to the Chinese they didn't want us to be a part of the business.

So what I did, I waited one morning for Mervin the man who had the key for the tape room. When Mervin came and opened the tape room, I just held him like this and said "Richie, take out my tape out of the thing". And he said "Eh? Winston?" and I said "Richie, take out my tape them!” Richie took out my tape, the 24 track, and I let him go, and he ran out of the gate! He held the gate and said "Thief!" So I couldn't come out! (Laughs) Mervin! He is Rasta now today.

I just heard a spirit or a voice come into my head and say that I must just go back down the passage - and run like Usain Bolt to him! When he saw me get close to him he just let go of the gate and I just grabbed it out of his hand. I said "You come out” and to Bob Marley's place he did go. And Sister Diane called and quieted the thing "Leave the man with the tape because you don't have any contract to leave the thing locked up in your place".

So we ended up getting this half of the album. I got my songs from Aquarius and we distributed the songs. Richie had some songs. Scotty had some but when we got the tape and checked it some of Scotty’s songs weren't on it! (Laughs) Just my songs we got. And some other songs. So they went back after that and it made a big problem until the army came down now, because the owner of the studio was an army pilot. He flew in the World War. Mr Chin Loy. He bought the studio after he bombed how many people and he came back and bought the studio! So it was our base.

You mentioned Gussie P earlier. Tell me about the recordings you did in England.

When I was in England I was going to leave and I didn't know when I was going to come back so I said "I know these people" so I said "Okay, Gussie P I choose him." I said "I'm going to do an album for this guy”. I left England and I haven't been back there in 14 years.

You told me at Mixing Lab that when Makasound put out the Diary Of The Silent Years album, Horace Andy did you a big favour…

Yes. When we released that album, at that time you couldn't sell 300 vinyl in France and they did a pre-order and it was more than 1,000 so I said "What the fuck is this?" They wanted to do a promotional thing but they weren't in any position to do any tours. They were two journalists. So they saw Horace Andy was coming to do a national tour, and they went to ask the people if I could come on the tour to open for Horace. The people in France said "Hey, F off! No, no, no, no, no! The only way that could be possible is if you ask Horace Andy. If Horace says it's okay then maybe we’ll consider it."

So they told me and I called Horace. I said "Horace, you know two French youth, two little journalists? They going to put out an album for me that I had for 20 years but the guys are not in a position for me to tour. So I’m asking if I could come and do like three songs for you just open to promote the thing". So he said "So what the problem McAnuff?" I said "If you don't say it’s okay I can't come." He said "Say that again" I said "The people up there doing the tour say if you don't say it's okay, it's not okay". He said "Okay, tell them that I Horace Andy say if you're not on the tour, I am not coming on the tour!" (Laughs).

Horace Andy can tell you because two weeks ago he came right here to record for Inna De Yard. I saw him in France and he said "Winston, you're leaving me out of Inna De Yard?" I said "Horace Andy, what is that you're telling me about? I see you're busy with Massive Attack and this and that." He said "You can't leave me out of Inna De Yard". I said "Horace, I don't have to call you Inna De Yard because without you there would be no yard. All you have to do is come, stand up and take your position. It's you Horace Andy who started the thing."

Horace Andy is a man I love dear

Horace Andy is a man I love dear. Differently from an artist. I see he is a man who has love. A youth who is full of love brethren. Seen? I was in a certain situation and I saw how he reacted. He is a man where you don't have to ask him, he is that intelligent that he would read up your problem and deal with it.

Winston McAnuff-23So how did you go from issuing your old material to recording two successful albums with French musicians like Bazbaz and Fixi?

So after that I had some albums to re-release like the Inner Circle album. Then I re-did Derrick Harriott. I was doing a Derrick Harriott deal. So after that I had three or four albums to re-release so I realised I was not going to be able to do any new recording for many years. Then Bazbaz came to the first show. I carried Derrick Harriott to the show too. After the show a beautiful woman came backstage. I was just in my underwear! I said "What are you coming round here like that darling? Where is your boyfriend?" "He's outside". I said "Listen, go back outside and bring your boyfriend. Don't come around here by yourself like that". So she went out and came back with Bazbaz. Bazbaz said "Winston, I like your energy. I'd love you to come to do some work with me to see what we could do". I said "Yeah man, I'm open."

I went to his studio and he started playing some reggae. I said "Stop. Don't play no reggae for me Bazbaz. I'm from Jamaica. Me and Sly and Robbie are friends. Don't insult me. Play some things that you make." He said "That I make?" I said "Yeah. Play some things, even if they're old." So he started playing a thing by mistake but it was a track from a movie named Le Marchant De Sable. I said "This one" and he said "No, no, no, that is bullshit". I said "Bazbaz, I'm the doctor and I'm telling you the prescription. You have a microphone?" He set up the microphone and I sang the tune. Sentenced.

The band Stick Figure just covered it in America. It was in the Billboard. I just showed him a while ago. They just did Sentenced. The first song I did with him that he was saying was bullshit. That's why I say you can't follow the people. You just have to go by your way of feeling. It's not something to argue about.

You can't follow the people. You just have to go by your way of feeling

There was a mainstream response to the Bazbaz album. The follow-up concert DVD took place in front of a huge crowd.

Yeah! Because I had a big, big journalist. I'm not going to call his name right now but he wrote "This is bullshit music - I don't like this music" about me and Bazbaz. But then after we got selected for the Trans Musicales – and it was Fugees opening for us! So the same guy came to me and said "So McAnuff, you're not a bit nervous?" I said "Nervous? All I do is go out there and do my best. I've performed with big artists when I had no tunes. I'm not afraid of anybody. I'm going out there and I'm going to do my best brethren". So we did the show that night and right away a man came to me and said "Don't move from here". And who is that man? The boss of Les Vieilles Charrues, biggest festival in France. And he booked me right away.

So many things happen from Bazbaz. We had a tune named Sort Me Out. It went into a movie called Hors de Prix. Bazbaz did all the music for it. So it was mystic. Going off on that tangent I started developing. I started to make some new audience until I found none of the reggae people came to my shows but they were still sold out. It was bigger than that. Some promoter was telling me "Winston, it takes two artists to do what you're doing right now" I said “Why?” and he said "You made that move. This move at that time with Bazbaz You’re one of the wisest youth.”

How did you record your most successful album, 2006’s hip hop Balle Musette reggae fusion Paris Rocking with accordionist Fixi?

So I did Bazbaz and then my friend Fixi from another band saw it and said "I could do something better with this artist". (Laughs) You know how it goes with some people? "I could make you better and buy you some diamonds and fix you up good!" Because Fixi was an intelligent musician. So I said "Alright, we could try something". So we did the Paris Rocking album. And it's my biggest selling album. That is why, when Makasound, the company, wanted to sign me to do the three albums I decided to do three of that album because it was my biggest album. So they said they wanted three more like that so we got signed for that and that's what we're doing right now.

I’ve noticed that some of the die-hard French reggae people were quite ambivalent about that album. I love reggae but it’s still one of my favourite albums.

(Laughs) We don't lose the moral. No matter which music, we're going to sing something sensible. If you play rock or anything we are going to come with something moral.

No matter which music, we're going to sing something sensible

But in 2008 you did do a more traditional reggae album Nostradamus - with the title track written by your brother John.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because Nostradamus has a French connection too. So we just rose up with Nostradamus because Brother John wrote the tune and I was in France so I said "Well, this is the right time to lift up this tune". But it was also to touch back to base too. It's not like we don't have the potential to do this too. We know the thing. But also we have to shine a light so Kiddus can benefit from it today as well. So Kiddus can work with Fixi. Kiddus can work with Bazbaz. Opening new ways because I can't be working with these people every day. By working with them they can get to understand how they can work with other Jamaicans too. So it's not just a stupid thing. It's not just for one of the people - you have many great men around here too.

Our last interview was in Gambia in 2013 with Mad Professor. How was your experience there?

I just came because I loved what Mad Professor was doing and I wanted to support it. Actually it was Asher [Selector] who paid my ticket you know? Because I reached the airport and I didn't have a ticket. It was Asher who made a call and Professor said "Buy the ticket" so Asher bought the ticket and I went to Gambia with them. But it was great you know? It was great to see. It wasn't for money or anything. We just went to support the Back to Africa thing with Mad Professor, as a man who is not Jamaican trying to do something. We want to help the thing because that is who we are.

When we did our last interview in Gambia it was shortly after what happened to your son Matthew. How are you coping now?

It's funny you say that. It's hard you know, Angus, it's not something I'd wish for anyone but as I told you, Matthew is mystic. Because there is one who tunes the piano, Jah D, [Dennis Fearon] and I'm friends with his son. That youth has a little studio too. I'm always asking for him because I go for Jah D to come and tune the piano here for Inna De Yard. So he’ll say the son is coming next week and the son will come, and I'll go for him to tune the piano again and I'll see his son.

Matthew is mystic

And he told me "Yow, you know Mr McAnuff, I did an album with Matthew". "You have an album with Matthew?" I never knew anything about this. Because I don't really hold my youth - like I tell them "I’ll do the first one and then you do what you want. I'll give you the first album for yourself". So this youth just tells me that he has an album with Matthew. So it just shows you how the thing… It's not something that's going away.

In 2014 you and your brother John went to Scotland to trace the McAnuff family name.

I went searching but finally I found that my grandfather was actually from Ireland. This was after we went on a big British paper up there to talk about the thing and maybe put on the kilt and you know? (Laughs) So we were checking out the thing but they said "No, no, no, McAnuff is from Scotland. We can go and check the ship records".

We went up to Glasgow and after the WOMEX thing we did a show in Glasgow and we went to eat and when I came back somebody said "Winston, a lady is here to see you". I said "What is it?" And she said "I'm Mary McAnuff. I'm living in Edinburgh and I heard your name advertised so I took the train to come to meet you". I said "Yeah, so Mary you're from Scotland?" She said "No, I'm from Ireland". There are two families of McAnuff in the area. Two families of McAnuff in a place called Armagh. But that's where we came from. Another member of my family went and found the family crest after that. But I think that crest has to be upgraded because I don't see a guitar on it or a Congo drum or Rasta nothing on it! (Laughs) Some new things have to be involved in the crest.

So I said "It's funny" and she said "No it's not funny - it's just like how I'm from Ireland now and I'm in Scotland talking to you. It's the same way you know?" Apparently they were clearing the islands for a whisky thing so they wanted all those people out from the islands so apparently that's why my grandfather just said "Oh fuck it. I don't want to go back to Ireland so I better go on the boat and go to Jamaica".

And that's why I still have a connection with Scotland because even if you check our flag it has the Scottish thing inside. It's them who put it there. Scottish people were living here. They were the big people on the plantation. So when something like that happened and things were going to change, these people had to have a say in the flag. And that's how they left their mark. The X in our flag. Just like the Scottish flag. So if you asked for my connection it's there in the flag. That's the connection with Scotland. But as for where my family is from I know it is Ireland. Brother John was searching it very hard you know? He was sure it was Scotland but it was nothing to do with Scotland!

Your brother John is currently working on his long awaited album.

 I think he is doing some releases with this woman from California. I think they started doing something and they've released something on the internet if I'm not wrong. I see he has a video putting out too.

Winston McAnuff-24And then there is Kush doing his thing with Uprising Roots.

Yeah man. I'm happy for Kush because the youth has fought for the thing. Music is never ungrateful. After a while music just crowns you. It may take long but maybe it's just trying to find what kind of crown, or what kind of material to make your crown from. (Laughs)

And what about your daughter Nadia?

Yeah, she is there in America. She should be on Inna De Yard but they keep running wild! What's the tune that Kiddus sings about the woman? She's a wild, wild child. (Laughs) But love conquers all.

At one point you were putting out your own wine - what happened with that?

Yeah, it was me and my friend. We're going to continue this wine thing but we had a lot of people who came down on it. Some Japanese and some other people wanting to take away the thing from us. So we just eased off a little bit because it's too much.

So let's talk about your involvement in Inna De Yard. In another interview Kiddus told me you were one of the founders of the project. What's your side to it?

Well, I have a side to it that people don't really know. The thing started really with I in the time that I had nothing to do. I have some little friends that have a sound system and a studio. I told the guy but I'm coming down there to record an album. "What kind of album?" "An acoustic album". So I went down there with my guitar and in one day I did the album. And I brought it back to Nicolas and Romain because I was going back to Jamaica saying "Listen, this is my acoustic album". They said "Winston, when did you do this?" I said "Today". "How many days?" I said "One day".

So they said "We’d love to do something like this in Jamaica. Do you know anybody?" So I said "I saw Chinna the other day and he stopped playing with Ziggy Marley. He stopped playing electric guitar and he only wants to play acoustic. So yeah man we could go and check Chinna." So we came and checked Chinna and the thing started. I'm telling you that before the thing started I am the genesis for the thing. Before the light of day I had that album the genesis! (Laughs) I still have that album, it can't get old. The longer it stays - it's like wine! (Laughs)

You played a couple of roots one drop tracks in the car that haven’t been released yet. 

It was two tracks I did with Bim and Bost. But actually it's Carlie Wailers playing the drums. It's two years they've been asking me to do the voice. But finally I did it in November. One is called No Warrior and one we don't have a name for it. It's that fresh.

Will we be seeing the release of the songs as some part of some kind of project?

Yeah certainly. My record company is going to control my part of the publishing anyway so it's highly likely that you'll see it appearing in some Chapter Two thing.

Do you have a new album ready to come out?

We have a new album with Fixi you know? I was just asked to do this Inna De Yard, Chinna wasn't going to be on it so I endorsed it. It's supposed to come out in early 2018. I think in autumn they're going to start some promotion. I spoke to somebody and they said that the booking agents, a lot of people are asking for me and Fixi. I was asking for permission to do a show in Barcelona in Spain with his friend. It's a ganja festival. But the booking agent says I'm not going to be able to do it because they going to start something in autumn and they want to release the album in 2018. But we're almost finished with the album.

I know you don't like to be pinned down in genres but what kind of music will we find on the new album? The last album with Fixi, A New Day was partially inspired by Maloya music from Reunion Island.

It's world music. Yeah we did some music from different places. The big song had some Colombian beats, the Garden Of Love. Cumbia. And we did some Maloya things. That was interesting for me to really go into this Maloya music. Big vibes. Big energy in the music. I just simplified it so some youths could see that there is another way out of the thing too.

Do you like going to different parts of the diaspora and seeing the way the music has expressed itself through local rhythms?

Well to be honest, Angus, we as Jamaicans have been subliminally abducted by all forms of music. People can tell you that. So even now you hear some youth singing and they're making a new song you say but they are singing somebody else's song, some foreign song on a rhythm. But it's nothing to underestimate because honestly, what I'm doing with Fixi and when I work with Bazbaz, is a technique I learned from singing on sound system. Being able to find a song to sing on a rhythm after hearing it for one minute. That type of shit. Because six artists are there ready like sharks so you have to be sharp! Yeah! (Laughs) You have to be there waiting and saying "Which song can work with this rhythm?" With Bazbaz and Fixi and them, that's how I work. But it's from experiencing this in the dancehall, just singing on rhythms. So it comes back.

What I'm doing with Fixi and Bazbaz is a technique I learned singing on sound system

Because I first told Beres Hammond to sing on rhythms. It was like an insult to tell Beres that at the time! But I told him "Sing on some rhythms because you are a great singer and if you can find a way to write some good songs on these rhythms that are already known - it's going to be explosive". And that's what he's been doing.

When did you tell him that?

I told him that in the 70s. At Aquarius studio. I just said "Beres, sing on some rhythms". He was not really the type of singer you could tell that. To him it was like telling him to do bullshit you know? But I recognised Beres’ ability, if he went in that direction, the thing could explode.

Winston McAnuff-26

You mentioned learning to write to rhythms from singing on sound system. Can you tell me about some of your sound system experiences?

Well, my biggest, biggest experience was with Stereo Mars. Around this set you had Tenor Saw, Nicodemus, Super Cat. You had to be strong because it was pure giants. Pure giants around it. It was the school room but we never understood how big this thing was in myself until I went to work with Fixi and Bazbaz. Suddenly, we’d just deal with it same way like dancehall. Bazbaz would play something, I would listen for a couple of minutes and all I'm doing is finding out which is the best song in my head I can transpose on the thing. And it reached the point where I could do it, just like with a rhythm. I could listen to it for two or three minutes and say "Set up the microphone". I just go one time on it - yeah! We don't go back on voice back - no. It's pure one shot.

We don't go into studio to waste time

On this new album with Fixi it's pure one shot. You have an engineer called Olivier Lude. When he records he says "Winston, you ready?" Doesn't do anything else until the tune is done. He doesn't have anything to do - he's done. We don't go into studio to waste time. So the sound system was very important. Just singing. I feel youths should have some training where they just come and sing on rhythms. Stalag and all the rhythms. Because it has bigger implications than that. The effectiveness of it… You can't really explain it.

So what's next for you?

Well, now I've signed for three albums you know? I delivered one and the first one was selected in Grammys so I have two more to go. But they're saying that I have to do this Inna De Yard! But because these are my brethren and friends it doesn't really matter you know? So Kiddus is involved and they said "Winston, come and do this because Chinna…" I don't know... maybe he doesn't love Kiddus anymore or doesn't love me anymore but… He wants to step aside! (Laughs)

We still love the people whether they are on our side nor not

But we still love the people whether they are on our side nor not - yes or no - we still love you. So they said "Winston, you have to endorse this thing" so I said "But are you going to pay me for the ten Inna De Yards that I set up before?" Anyway, I said "Yeah man, we're going to go and do it" so that's how we’re doing this Inna De Yard. Because it's one family.

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