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Interview : Yellowman

Interview : Yellowman

Interview : Yellowman

By on - Photos by Angus Taylor - 5 comments

"The people are my energy. The Almighty God is my life."


Yellowman (born Winston Foster, 1959, Kingston, Jamaica) was the star deejay of the early dancehall era, attaining a level of popularity on his island and abroad that brought comparisons with Bob Marley. An orphan child who grew up in various institutions (including the famous Alpha Boys School), Yellowman defied prejudice against his albino complexion to become an international celebrity and even gained an unprecedented recording contract with CBS records. In 1986 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, yet, following a jaw operation, he has continued to record and perform to this day. Angus Taylor met a slightly sniffly Yellowman just before his sold out concert in Brixton to talk about his inspirational life, his music and how he goes about putting on a show...

How does it feel to be back in the UK again?

It's a pleasure always. Because this is the first country I started touring before any other country. Before even Europe and America. And the best thing about it is that they are still supporting me throughout the years and the decades also.

You first performed here in 1983 I believe? That was a huge event in British reggae history. Do you have any memories of first coming to Britain?

It was a great experience, because I was obliged to be escorted and body-guarded by the Scotland Yard from the airport to the hotel to the venue and back again! It was a great moment, unbelievable and one I'll always remember. That was a big part of my career.

How has the British weather been treating you?

Ah well, I caught the flu last week on Friday but it's clearing up right now. I can still perform with the flu no problem!

The energy you exhibit when performing is legendary - where do you think it comes from?

Well a lot of people ask me that one! (laughs) Both fans and people in the street. Basically, I do a lot of working out in Jamaica. I live in the mountains so I run up and down the mountain. I don't drink alcohol and I don't smoke. I try to keep as healthy as possible.

Would you say you are happier performing live on stage (or on a sound) or in the studio?

I think a little of each but more live. Because I interact with the people live so it's more entertaining for me to perform live you know? It's real. Nobody is in the studio, just me! I prefer it live. It's great.

And how do you prepare yourself mentally before a show?

I start by joking around with the band members and then I take that to the stage and the people. And then I keep the focus and I think about what I'm going to do, and which songs I'm going to do. First, I look at the crowd and I say, "well, THIS show that I'm going to do tonight is for THAT crowd". If I'm in another country then "this show is for THAT crowd". Because, in Jamaica, it's a totally different concert than in the UK or Europe or America. We do plan in advance but if I'm not comfortable with the line-up we change it in the dressing room. I'll say, "no THIS song, I think they'll like this song you know?" I'm willing to give them the satisfaction.

Let's talk about your music. Who in music inspired you back when you started.

There's a lot of people. I used to listen to the Beatles. I used to listen to the Jackson Five, the Wailers, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, U Roy. People like Mighty Diamonds, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, The Manhattans, Luther Vandross. A lot of artists.

OK, let me narrow the parameters. Which deejays inspired you?

Well, to tell you the truth, Echo. General Echo and then people like Welton Irie, Ringo, and Brigadier Jerry.

Now, obviously, the UK deejays at that time were very influenced by you. Was there a point where the UK deejays were an influence on you?

Yeah man. Because I used to follow up that guy that sing, "It's Good To Have The Feeling You're The Best - Yes!", who was on Greensleeves… (thinks) Tippa Irie! That's who I'm talking about. And Papa Levi too.

You recorded a huge amount of music. Dennis Alcapone, a deejay of the earlier generation, told me he would have preferred not to do so many releases in a short period. Do you agree?

(thinks) I wouldn't say it like that because music is music and if you love what you're doing you don't think about that. You just do it. So my response to that is - I love it and I'm very glad and appreciate that I do it.

What do you think of dancehall music today? Who are your favourite deejays?

The dancehall scene today is at a low rating because the guys bring the guns and the violence in the music now. I don't appreciate what's going on now.
I don't think I have a favourite deejay now because the deejays nowadays they are dividing the youths. I have to stick with the righteousness of the content of the music. I would say people like Capleton, Buju, Cutty Ranks, Daddy U Roy of course. There are some new very good singers coming out that I like too. I like Luciano. I like Jah Cure. I like Tarrus Riley. I like Etana. I love Queen Ifrica. What I think is ruining the music industry are the younger dancehall artists. Because a lot of journalists ask me the same questions about 'nothing good coming out of the dancehall again' or even out of reggae. A lot of artists use the music as a channel to bring in the violence out of the music.

Dancehall deejays' lyrical content has been criticised many times. Apart from violence are there any topics that are off limits for discussion?

I would say freedom doesn't mean you're free to do the wrong thing or free to say the wrong thing. And then, besides that, you can't get into a man's private life. Everybody has a right to decide their own destiny or which way they want to go, just as long as it's not going to hurt you. I think, even with the homophobic lyrics, you have to let people do what they think is right and let Almighty God be the judge. Every man has an equal right to live and be free.

You are a fan of Michael Jackson. You've mentioned him many times in your lyrics. How did you feel about his passing?

Yeah man! I love Michael. I even used to dress like Michael Jackson. It was a big loss for the music industry. I didn't feel that well because it was a waste. Too much controversy going on, that's the reason why after Thriller, his career was on the down-low. But it was always up and down you know? The child molesting and all those allegations, whether it was true or not, that was the downfall of Michael's career.

You yourself have faced many hardships. You grew up as an orphan. You have had money stolen from you. You have survived cancer. What kept you going strong?

The thing that kept me going is the people. I want to entertain the people all the time. I don't care what it costs because I try to live for the people and I try to entertain the people. I don't want to do anything else. The people are my energy. The Almighty God is my life. The people keep me going because they support me throughout the years and the decades and they are still supporting me so it's got to be the people you know? I just want to let them know that I appreciate all that they've done and that they are the ones who motivate me and give me inspiration to keep on doing what I'm doing. Because if it wasn't for the people I wouldn't be doing this. And I want them to be good. And if they can't be good - be nice. And I want them to be careful. And if they can't be careful - be happy and joyful.

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Read comments (5)

Posted by semayat on 01.11.2010
Interesting interview...Indeed, Yellowman is impressive in live. I saw him in Paris last november and that was very nice!!
I like his view on nowadays dancehall.

Posted by Prayer on 03.23.2010
Nice it up.

Posted by Kat on 04.24.2010
I LOVE KING YELLOWMAN. He is a very very roots friendly down to earth man a awesome musician and performer. The Reggae Zone misses you badly and need your performance in Asheville, N.C. Always, Much Peace, Love, Guidance and Protection to KING YELLOWMAN and THE SCORPIO BAND.

Posted by Mike on 08.03.2010
Big up to the king of them all. Saw him last week and his heart is as big as ever. No one rocks harder or gives more than Big Yellow. If you're not inspired by Yellow you're not alive.

Posted by t barnes on 08.08.2014
I have been listening to King Yellowman since I was a little youth. I love his music especially songs like Mr Chin and nobody move nobody get hurt and I can't leave out bluberry much love for you yellow. Can't wait to see you in NY, Jah bless.

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