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Interview: Toots Hibbert

Interview: Toots Hibbert

Interview: Toots Hibbert

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Love = Music, The Brilliant Equation Behind Toots and the Maytals. Interview with Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, May 13, 2010 San Diego’s Soundwave.

Roots and Reggae legends, Toots and the Maytals, defy both standard and abstract superlatives. Toots comes from a time before you could read this interview on the Internet. They come before a time I could arrange a tour bus interview via a blackberry and a laptop from my living room. They come well before I was born and my weed smoking mom even conceived of conceiving me. When journos say, “Frederick Hibbert is a legend,” and other aggrandizing hyperbole, they say it with all of the veracity and sincerity of an untouchable in a musical-caste system. At the top of the Reggae hierarchy, Hibbert is as close to a living God one can get.

The now sixty-five year old is as alive as any twenty something newbie chanting “Jamaica Jamaica” on stage atthisverymoment. His energy is so staggering it is quite literally exhausting to watch. His performance is so engaging it feels symbiotic. When he dances, the audience dances. When he calls out, the audience calls back. He swaggers and shimmies and the crowd cheers for more. Hibbert certainly doesn’t phone it in. And he laughs through it all in a Rasta colored track-suit.

The San Diego crowd plays adoring and the near two-hour set ends with a stage full of fans dancing to a crescendo that rivals a New Year’s countdown. Hibbert accepts the applause and adulation with a giant sweaty grin and is ushered off stage to the quiet of the night sea. We are escorted to the bus and pods of fans with signs and CDs and shirts stare at this man, slack jawed and wide eyed. They say to themselves, “Is it really him?” and Hibbert stops and says, “Hey man,” automatically signing whatever they hand him. We walk away to their giddy whispers, “That was Toots.” It’s not a second later that three young college looking kids pop from around his bus and try to walk on to hang out with their idol. Hibbert is cool and offers to take a photo with them and then security asks them politely to take a hike. Again, a trail of whispers follows them like an echo of disbelief and gratitude that they just met this great man.

There are a few close friends on the bus, and me. Hibbert has requested a few minutes to relax before we start the interview so I start on a champagne and go over my notes. It is near one a.m. when Hibbert’s manager hands me an autographed 8x10 photo of Hibbert. He’s inscribed “Love” on the top right corner. Now I know exactly what we’ll be talking about.

I introduce myself and Hibbert turns off the championship tennis he’s watching on the flat screen. He asks if we’ve met before and I say, “No. I’ve just got one of those faces.” Hibbert is still sweating from the performance. He wears a towel around his neck like a prize fighter. He mumbles, “I’m tired, I’m tired.” I turn on my recorder and thank him for the show. Though he’s understandably tired, Hibbert freely goes to a deep, spiritual place.

I wanted to talk a little bit about your new record. You put it out on the Internet first before you have it in stores.

Yah, I like for people to be able to look online and know about the record, to hear what it is. We wanted to pre-release so people could listen to it ahead of time.

Everything’s changed so much since you started making music, way before I was born. Everything’s changed with how we get music, how we listen to music, how we share music.

Yes, everything’s changed, but I try not to change. I try not to change my music, my style. I can sing all kinds of different music. I sing R&B. I sing Reggae. I sing Gospel. I sing Blues, country. So the music has been changing but some things don’t change. I do it the right way. I stay positive.

Has Reggae changed to you?

No. But people can do a stupid song and call it Reggae, but that’s not Reggae. Reggae has to have a message and positive words. There’s a lot of unqualified music today. If you want to do R&B or Hip-Hop or Soul or Reggae, you should make it positive, not negative.

You’ve said your body is a church. Tell me what you mean.

Yes, yes, yes. Whatever you put in your body, it affects you. You can’t just say you go to church and that you are [therefore] ok. You are your church. You should do good and try to make things heavenly. You shouldn’t talk negative things about your friends, your neighbors. Everybody should come together.

Can you play Reggae and not believe in God?

You can, but it doesn’t make much sense. A lot of people do that. Some people say they are Rasta but they don’t call upon God. God is the father of all. [He is] the father of creation. Whether he’s black or white, I think he’s pure. He’s black and white. I think I’m a church because if something’s wrong, I talk it out. If something is wrong with me I keep malice at bay. I am part of the church. I am responsible for my church. I should not co-opt evil things. I do not sing negative things.

Do you think you’re a messenger?

I think so, yes. From where I come, people enjoy my work and I have the energy to do it. It’s hard work but God does a lot of hard work. We should do something to please Him. I perform to entertain people and to let God smile. My talent is God’s talent. I have to sing positive things. I have to sing the Gospel, and Gospel is songs with good, positive words. [A] love song is Gospel – a song about love, and I don’t mean sex. (Singing) God is watchin’ you, I pray that you will live forever.

Me too… Is music love? Aren’t all good stories based on capital L Love? Love of country. Love of man. Love of war.

Yes. Love is everything. Real love is coming from creation. Real love creates the world. When God created a pair of people and that same pair of people made children, [the] world grew and grew. It’s an invention of God. My kids are God’s kids. I created them through the love of the almighty. When you have babies, they look like you and they look like the Father.

Is it special for you to have your children in your band?

Yes, my son and daughter are in the band. But it’s hard work. I have to teach them everyday. They have the talent to do it.

Are they your messengers?

Sure. I made them out of my likeness. I gave them what I have. And I have what I have from my dad and mum and they have it from God.

Do you ever fight with your children?

No we can’t that. I’d beat them (laughing).

Where is the promise land? Do you believe Jamaica is the promise land as the birth of Reggae?

Everywhere is the promise land. God created the land. It’s just the people are getting rebellious. They don’t know themselves. They don’t know God. If you know God, you don’t do bad things. I try to know God and find him within [my] conscience.

What can we expect from this new record and what’s next?

It will be great. I did what I wanted to do with it. I know people are going to like it because we went back to the roots and the Gospel, [and] there’s a little bit of everything. I expect to see good feedback from my audience.

“Fool For You” is a great song. I danced to it in my room tonight.

Oh, you like that one? That’s good. It’s good when someone can be a fool for you. It’s about real love. It’s about … humility.

Can you talk about the BBC DVD that’s being made about your life?

I talk a little bit about my life [in the DVD]. Just a little. My life goes a long way back. It’s not easy to talk about in two hours. It could take years for me to remember [and cover] everything. The DVD covers some of my long long long long life.

How do you feel about putting your life in one area? In one film. In one place.

It can’t be done but we tried.

Hibbert lets me take a few candid and not so candid photos of him and he fusses over them like a middle schooler. He wants me to take another and another and he critiques his posture in some and he says he doesn’t like his eyes in others. We land on a good one and he says, “Oh we have it!” and looks at himself in the camera smiling. I thank him for taking the time to speak with me after the show and he thanks me for being me.

Toots and the Maytals are on a massive domestic and international tour through August 15, 2010 in support of their newest release, 'Flip and Twist'. Visit: for more information.

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