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Interview: King Kong

Interview: King Kong

Interview: King Kong

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"I really love the sound system, I love dancehall, it’s like a part of me, so when I’m making an album I always have that dancehall feel"

Sampler

With the release of his new album Repatriation, put together with the Irie Ites crew, King Kong has reappeared in the spotlight, after spending over a decade largely away from the music industry, following his migration to Ethiopia. Here, the musical ‘gorilla’ discusses the new album, the move and plenty of other topics.

King Kong

How did you become a resident of Shashemene? I take it that you still live there?

Yes, I’m still here in Ethiopia, and 2007 was when I decided to make the journey, but the mission was long time in the head—it just happened at that time. So after living and all these…the situations that you come across with people talking about going to Africa, and over the years, you see these people achieve [enough so] that they could go back home, and they still decide to stay inna the West, and me just kind of get fed up with the mentality of that, and me just say, “Let me go home, any which way.” So that was it.

Some of your fans that know you from the early part of your career might not really associate you with the Rastafari way of life. Can you speak about how and when Rastafari manifested itself in your consciousness?

Well, if they can go back to all my songs, you can see that I always speak of Rasta, or my lyrics always penetrating Selassie I or Jah, or certain ways, so it’s always there, and from I was a youth, because actually one of my cousins was Rasta and that was in my head, but even when I get dreadlocks, I still was seeing Jesus Christ, because I always picture Jesus Christ as a Rastaman. But up until England, I think when I was about 32, about in 1992, 93, 94, that’s when the fullness of Rasta come up on me, and then, from that time, that faith has been there and I decide that I have to go back to Africa. I always want to go back to Africa still. And then after I visited Trinidad in about 2000, and then I get affiliated with the Twelve Tribes, even though in Jamaica I used to be around these people, but I never go into the religion part of it, it was in Trinidad that I met some people and they start telling me, “You are Benjamin,” and that’s when I start seeking into that, and then the ultimate build up that, yeah, I have to repatriate.

2007 was when I decided to make the journey [to Ethiopia], but the mission was long time in the head

That visit to Trinidad, was that before you moved to London? Or you were already here?

No, I visited London from in the 80s, 86, them time, and been through the process, see up the Rasta light and all them thing, and always thinking of Africa, but never have a place in Africa. I always say I want to go back to Africa. I think I meet a friend from Senegal from the days I was at Bob Marley, then I meet somebody from Nigeria, but it was after that time in Trinidad now that Ethiopia becomes the place of repatriation.

I am aware that some of the early pioneers who came to live in Shashemene, some weren’t so prepared for the reality of the lifestyle that they were to encounter there, the hardships and the difficulties. What has your experience been like, and what was it like when you first travelled there?

Well, to be honest with you, I don’t think nobody prepared for whatever it was, I think everybody, it’s a big dream, everybody think that there’s a piece of land there waiting for you and you can just come home, get your piece of land, build your house and settle. I think that was everybody’s expectation, but then when you get there, it’s a different reality. In my circumstances, which I think most people that I’ve met and seen, been through the same thing. In my way, I reach there…actually, I think it’s a spiritual struggle as well as physical, because I try to save some money, I was in Europe on a tour, and then, for some reason I have to go back to Jamaica for about two weeks, and I have two cars there, I was trying to sell them, so when I go back to Jamaica, I ended up spend off the 7,000 euros that I had to travel with; it finish, I don’t know how it happen, but I even have to call a friend from Denmark to buy me a ticket from England to France, because I already buy my ticket one-way, first class, to Ethiopia, you know? So it’s a good thing I did do that. And that friend, she said she never been to Ethiopia so she wanna come for the visit, so I live off her for two weeks, because when I get there, I only have like 35 pence for myself in my pocket, so I live off her for the two weeks she was staying there, and then she left and I was on my own, and the reality is, the people that are there, they expect you to be rich or to come with money, so everybody come around you, they say, “Oh, there’s a land selling there,” or you can get that or that, and then when they see there’s no money in your possession, then you’re just left like that. So it was a struggle. There was a good sister, Gwen, she give me a piece of land beside her yard, so I went with a business plan, because I said I’m a farmer, so I had a blueprint from Jamaica, that was done by an architect for a farm, and then I opened an investment in Addis Ababa, and then they said, “Where you want to settle?” so I said, “Shashemene,” so they said, “All right, go Shashemene, locate the land,” and then boom-bam-boom. So this piece of land the daughter give me, I say I’m gonna make a office, and then when the animals come, they will come at the office, get checked before I put them onto the farm when I get that, but it was different kind of ways from what you’re used to. The cavaliers came and they broke down all what I had fenced off and they take away all my materials and say, “You have no legal right to come and build…” Maybe I approach it wrong, I don’t know, but that was a bad start, and then whole heap of bad things, but I still hang on until today. It’s still one of the greatest decisions I make, because I have a home, I have a family, I’m contented, you know?

So you were doing livestock farming?

Yes, livestock. That was my dream, you know, because when I read the Bible, Jacob and Joseph, they had so many thousand cattle, so I had this vision to raise as much cattle as I can and breed them, and that was it.

King KongSo you’ve been there full time since 2007?

Yes, I only leave last year, me and my wife, cause she want to visit Jamaica, so we take a little holiday and tour as well. So I was going from Jamaica back to Europe, Jamaica back to Europe, for about a year, so I only recently come back here now after that time.

Where does your wife come from?

She’s Ethiopian.

Had she ever been to Jamaica before?

No, that’s why I never had no plan to go to Jamaica again, but because of she telling me, “I want to visit Jamaica, why you don’t wanna go there?” and stuff, so I said, “All right, this time I go on tour, we will visit.” So it ended up over one and a half year in Europe.

What did she make of Jamaica?

Well, she’s wondering why I left Jamaica for Ethiopia. She says Jamaica’s like heaven and she love it, the food, everything. She can’t believe I gave up a place like Jamaica to come to Ethiopia. She love it!

So getting back to the music, obviously I want to talk about your tremendous new album called Repatriation. First of all how did the project really come about? How did you first link with Irie Ites and what was your understanding of the project before you initiated it?

Well I link up with the Irie Ites through this brethren from France named Jah Tool. I met him before 2007, but in 2007 I was telling him, “This is my last tour in Europe because I’m going to Ethiopia,” and then he came to Ethiopia to visit and enquiring to see if I’m there, and then we met and he said, “Wow, you inspire me to really come.” So he was doing a show in France to raise funds to go to Ethiopia, and I was on the show and then Irie Ites them make link with him, wanted dub plates. So it ended up where that’s how I make the link with them, and then, I do the dub plates and they were interested in music, and funny enough, they remind me of the two Chris in England, Greensleeves; they’re not interested in giving advance or nothing like that, but they’re really interested in music. So I said, “Let me take the chance,” do some work with them at their level, and see. So every year I come in France, we do a couple of tracks, few tracks, and it was like that until the album was coming to a finish.

[My wife] says Jamaica’s like heaven and she can’t believe I gave up a place like Jamaica to come to Ethiopia

So, it was something that was put together over a number of years?

Yes, it put together between 3 to 4 years since we’ve been working on this album, from when we met each other until this time. 

So the original link was Jah Tool?

Yeah, Jah Tool, he’s a French guy who, he love music too, he came to Ethiopia and visit me there and say, “Wow, you really repatriate for real.” So he was keeping a show in France and he put me on the show and while promoting that show, that’s how Irie Ites get in touch with him, because they wanted some dub plates for me, and then they keep a dub session, I went down to them for the dub session and then, yeah, it started from there. From 2015, I think, somewhere there, or 16.

They already had the rhythms built and you just went in the studio to voice?

Some of them, it was there like some of that, and then after we start working together, I would do some tracks on some rhythm they have, and then maybe some of these rhythms are not their rhythms, so they would send it onto Mafia and Fluxy or whosoever to do it over, their way, and stuff like that.

I link up with the Irie Ites through this brethren from France named Jah Tool

I see that Leroy Mafia gets a credit and Russ D of the Disciples, but the majority is Dwight Pinkney, Bongo Herman, Sly and Robbie and Roots Radics, but I don’t know if that’s meant to be sampled stuff from the past or if it was fresh recordings with all of them.

Well, some of the tracks, like I take them to Jamaica while I was going there, and then I would have Bongo Herman do congo on some of the tracks, and Dean Fraser, I have him blow on some of the tracks, but some of the tracks don’t come out on this album. You see, they pick out some for whatever reason, they leave back some, and so they hoping to put out a next album next year. So these are the tracks that come on.

Let’s talk about the topics that your lyrics are addressing on the album, and also, there’s a real mix of an old-school vibe, yet it’s also contemporary, and you’ve also got some guest collaborations on here.

Well, the old school…these brethrens, Irie Ites, they like to keep it digital, sound in the old school area. They are like that, so they did want some congo, but they want people from the old school area, from my time. So I was trying to do a thing with Barrington Levy, Chakademus, but Barrington Levy was off the island at the time, and I get in touch with Chakademus, but I didn’t make it to his place. So, when I was in Jamaica, going forth, going back to Europe, doing a couple shows, then running back down, so it was like who I come across and they were interested in Pinchers, they like his voice, so I get him, Burru Banton; I think they suggested him so I get him, and Eek A Mouse, they like him too, and Eek A Mouse come back in my mind from I was at Tuff Gong, he was like the big star at the time in 81, 82, so I always wanted to do something with Eek A Mouse, so I clap him on it too. So that was like that for the old school area. For the reality part of it, the consciousness, I am that person…some of the people, they clapped me, like what they call it…I sing off injustice or consciousness, make people aware of whatever, so that is really me; I like to do the positive conscious thing, I like to reach out to the mind and stuff. And then the other part of it about the reality of repatriation, I mean, since Bob Marley, every artist say they want to repatriate, from Marcus Garvey philosophy; everybody say “Africa, repatriation,” but then, starting in the early 70s, 80s, 90s, even up to the 2000s, all of them who got rich, you know, people who I really admire, and many of them die, but nobody do nothing for Africa, nobody. Everybody still hang on to the colonial mentality of life or whatever it is. Nobody, but they still sing about Africa, and about this and about that, some of them never even visit. So, I really been touched differently by that, and I think they are all fake and they just say things to achieve, but in their concept, they don’t really care. So I am just trying to make it across. Then, the next thing too, when I go to Ethiopia to live, I thought that, wow, as a singer who really make the first transaction, a singer who is known out there, some other brethren would follow suit and say, “Wha, King Kong gone live, yeah, me haffi go home.” Yeah, nobody.

So these are some of the aspects in the background with the title track, and the theme of the album. The opening number I find to be particularly strong in your delivery, about, “If life was a thing that money could buy.”

Well I heard the rhythm and at first, it reminded me of this song I used to hear in the 70s, I think it was some group that used to say, “If life was thing that money could ah buy, the rich would live and the poor would die.” It come to my mind, so then I start humming that, and then I said to them, “You know this song?” And I don’t think they ever know it, but they check on the internet and then they find the group that do it, so I still use it as the chorus and then I put my lyrics in. But it’s coming from some original group, I forgot their name.

What about “Pree The Money”? What’s that about?

Well, it was just about, really, the richer part of society. I think this is really about the government, you know? The Wall Street, because you have two streets, you have Main Street and you have Wall Street, and when I study the system, if you’re on the Main Street and you’re making money and its surplus money and you’re not contributing to the Wall Street, then you’re a threat. If you work it and you put it in Wall Street then you’re all covered. So I just say, “Them a pree the money and them nah pree the people,” like they care about the interest of how much billions, but I even sing these things before in many songs. There is so much money that could feed the world, yet there is so much suffering. So they don’t really care about people. I think the society that we have, they don’t really care, it’s all about me and my friends and family and my associates, and if you are not with us, you suffer. So it’s just about “Them ah pree the money and them nah pree the flat,” yeah, all of us pree the money because when you wake in the morning, you have to go work, you have to do that because that is for your family and your livelihood. But there’s another end where, people make money but they don’t do nothing to alleviate no stress, they just continue making billions, so it’s about the rich, rich, rich, rich, who don’t care about the other side of society.

King Kong

Getting back to the old school vibe and the dancehall orientation of the lyrics, here it’s more like foundation dancehall. For instance, on the track “Dancehall Teacher.”

Yes, after the schooling of Bob Marley, because in my career, after I came to Bob Marley’s place when I was about 16, 17, I think I meet Bob Marley about 1978 or 79, so after that, then Bob Marley step out of the picture, in the physical sense, and I still stay at the yard and was with Family Man, Dread Lion sound; we had Family Man tour the whole of Jamaica and then come up to the eras when I leave Tuff Gong, about 1982, as in basing there. So I came into the dancehall as a revolutionary singer—dancehall, but radical. I really love the sound system, I love dancehall, it’s like a part of me, so when I’m making an album I always have that dancehall feel on 1 or 2 tracks. I always trying to show…I feel like the step where, saying Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, they would take that radicalness to an international level in their way, but I feel like I am still in the dancehall, so just feel like I am the king of that thing. So I always try to prove myself inna the dancehall way, same way.

I came into the dancehall as a revolutionary singer-dancehall, but radical. I really love the sound system, I love dancehall, it’s like a part of me, so when I’m making an album I always have that dancehall feel

You were saying before how you came to collaborate with Burro Banton and Pinchers, and I’m not aware of them collaborating previously either; the three of you, it’s like a triple attack.

Yeah, because they are from the dancehall era, and me and Pinchers, we used to do a lot of work together on sound system, on live shows, and Burro Banton the same time, I know Burro Banton from the days he was in Barbican, and them days, I was like a stepper; me and some brethren, like when they’re coming through, Burro Banton would be at the gamble house, sometimes sleeping on the gambling table. So I know him as a hardcore deejay until him start deejay in a dance. Them time him used to deejay same way, so I know him good as a real youth. So when this come about, I think, yeah, it would match good because we have a spirit from long time.

Eek A Mouse, as far as I’m aware, this is about the only recording he’s made since coming back on the street.

Well, maybe. You see, Eek A Mouse, when we was at Tuff Gong and I do the tune “Pink Eye” and he have “Wa Do Dem,” and he was trying to find some labels, we used to go up and down, you know? And he was so tall and I used to say to him, “Eek A Mouse, you should have named King Kong, and me name Eek-A-Mouse cause you fit the image.” So it was always in my mind to do something with him, so this was the time when it happened.

In terms of putting the album together, when you were voicing the tracks, it sounds like you took the rhythm tracks to Jamaica and did quite a lot of recording and overdubbing on your own, without Irie Ites crew present. So when you were voicing, did you voice some in Jamaica too?

Yeah, I think all the voicing done in France, only the combination part I took to Jamaica, and I don’t think I re-voiced my part either, we just make the space for the artist and that was it. I also voiced General Trees on the “Old School” but it wasn’t up to date, the recording, so we scrapped that and we used Pinchers instead.

So when you were in France, voicing, how much direction were you getting from Irie Ites? Did they leave you to freely do what you wanted?

No, I want to tell you, this brethren, Jericho, he’s very particular…maybe in my younger days, I would say he’s a headache, really, but as I grow to more receptive from people, he’s always, “No, I don’t think I like that,” and not only with him, the engineer who voiced me on most of the tracks, Judi K, he kind of have an idea too, and he guide me for something, “Yeah, that sound good but can we go up there on this,” like that. So it was some kind of guidance on some of the track, and some of them, I might feel tired but then I still go through with it, and sound good. So, yeah, I get some kind of…not only just me doing what I wanna do. On some of the tracks, it’s good, just me do what I feel was all right, because maybe I’m doing the right thing, on some of them. So, yeah. It’s like that.

How did you feel about the overall result once you heard the album once it was released?

Yeah, the overall result is nice, it’s a nice album. It’s only one thing I think, when it’s not a Jamaica [that] everything done, it’s always sound a little different from what you’re used to. It maybe sound more clean, like it’s all straightened out and ironed out, you know? Otherwise from that, it’s a nice album, I like it. There’s a few tracks that I wish was on it, like “The Border,” a Gregory Isaacs track I do over, but otherwise from that, it’s OK.

Jericho, he’s very particular…maybe in my younger days, I would say he’s a headache, he’s always, “No, I don’t think I like that,” and the engineer who voiced me, Judi K, he have an idea too and he guide me for something

Maybe we’ve got those other track to look forward to on the follow up album.

Yes.

I heard about an album that came out last year called In The Old Capital?

Yes, this was the same engineer, Judi K, who do all of the voicing on these tracks, it was his rhythm and thing, and yes, some nice little tracks; it’s all right, so far, it’s just the same, the sound of the rhythm, when it’s not made in Jamaica and mixed in Jamaica…because you see, one of the thing it’s about, Jamaica have the sound of the artist from his birth. They know the voice, they know the sound, so when they’re mixing the artist, they know even the pitch of the sound. When you’re working with other producers in foreign countries, you know, maybe they’re used to this clean…I don’t know. But to me, I think Jamaica has the real, everything that when you hear it you know, straight, reggae. Even if it’s a crossover reggae, you can hear the difference of the crossover, where it’s going.

So, that album that was released last year, with Judi K, it’s a continuation of the Irie Ites connection?

Yeah, cause it’s a friend of Irie Ites, it’s their engineer, and they were the ones who influenced me to voice for this guy, cause he’s doing a thing. So it’s a continuation in that level. But it’s a nice album, it sounds good, the lyrics good and the rhythm them nice, but it’s just the same thing: when you’re used to Jamaica sound, more bass line, more whatever, you’re used to it’s just that. But it’s all good. 

In 2005 you did that album with Bobby Konders, Rumble Jumble Life, the title track was a big hit. How was that experience? It’s America, but the Jamaican community is there.

Yeah, well, you see Bobby Konders, all the rhythms was Jamaican rhythms, hardcore, the same original rhythms that was there, whether it’s Channel One or Studio One or whatever. So it was the same rhythms, so that’s why you get that kind of flavour. Most people think it’s the best album I ever did, because it’s the hardcore. The sound, it’s that hardcore sound, and all the tracks voice in Jamaica too, only one track voiced in England, and it’s “Call Mr Madden,” actually that was a dubplate I did for him in 92 or 91, somewhere there, and then it was a big radio hit because I do a jingles, about the radio station, like, “Call Mr Madden, radio guy get missing,” cause you know he used to work on Hot 97. And then Fugee them love it and they even do the hook in there, “Ooh, La La La,” they do “Call Mr Martin, tell him fi build a coffin,” you know? But every other track was Jamaica voiced, so it was like the real sound and the engineer know your voice and he know the pitch and everything, so it was like the real King Kong. But I think this album with Irie Ites I’m doing more singing; on one and two tracks, people kind of getting me singing more than a singjay as what they class me in.

Another facet to your abilities.

Yes, yes.

I think this album with Irie Ites I’m doing more singing; on one and two tracks, people getting me singing more than a singjay as what they class me in

The only last thing to ask is about what the future holds for King Kong, and if there’s anything else you want to alert us to?

Well it’s just better and better where the music is concerned and I think the world reach a stage now where there’s only…I’m talking about the spiritual part, I think the world reach a stage now where we can look for some serious apocalypse time, so I think only the St Mary, I think is the only way now to get repentance. While I was in Jamaica, I had a vision and after the clearance of the vision…cause there was a word that I was using in the vision going through this thing, and then I didn’t understand the language and my wife said to me, when you go to Italy or Spain, find out what the word mean, and then when I get the word meaning, it was St Mary, or Saint Madonna. So it show me after interpreting the vision that this is the mediator way for repentance, so I don’t know what it is, but I have to pass it on to the world. So I think the thing is, people who never see St Mary or never consider Santa Madora or Santa Madonna should look now. I think she’s the only redemption. I think God close him eye now because man prove himself wrong so much and repeatedly wrong, so for God to look upon you now, you have to seek through his mother. So I don’t know if it’s stupid, but that’s what I’m passing on.

Thank you for sharing that vision. Wishing you all the best with the new album and in your life in general.

Give thanks brother, same to you and all my fans and loved ones out there, friends, keep strong same way, with the same spirit and love.

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