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Interview: Jahdan Blakkamoore

Interview: Jahdan Blakkamoore

Interview: Jahdan Blakkamoore

By on - Photos by Lee Abel - 2 comments

"I am Babylon Nightmare. The nightmare of a confused, crazy society. Because we're not confused."


Jahdan Blakkamoore is a Guyanese, New York-based artist who has taken it upon himself to produce as diverse a collection of music as possible, uniting the world music community by building bridges between genres. Rather than riding the well-worn road of branding one sound, Blakkamoore defies all intuitive marketing methods to create a catalogue of tunes that employ styles from all corners of the globe. Fusing reggae with hip-hop is just the tip of the iceberg. Blakkamoore’s projects also draw from the rich fabrics of traditional r&b, afrobeat and latin sounds, folding in contemporary subgenres like dubstep and grime. His variety is owed to his fearless collaborations as he opts to work with equally bold producers. Partnerships are never chosen based on the biggest name or the longest list of credentials. Instead, choices are organically cherry-picked from both the vast bodies of underground and mainstream artists and producers to yield projects like the dubstep mixtape that took on a life of its own and wound up Blakkamoore’s debut solo album, 'Buzzrock Warrior'. In light of the impending release of his sophomore solo album 'Babylon Nightmare', Jessica Dore had a chance to talk to Mr. Blakkamoore in one of his few published interviews about immigration, music education, his existing and upcoming projects, and a brand new reason to give thanks for the late great Mikey Dread (like we needed it).

You were born in Guyana and came to the US as a child, but you were there for a few years, do you have memories of being there?

Yeah, I left when I was seven years old and I came here when I was about eight years old.

Were you happy as a kid there?

Oh yeah, very much so. I was living with my grandparents and I had a great time growing up there. At that time Guyana was nice, it wasn’t as crazy as it is now with colonization pretty much going on all over, it’s just been infiltrated by big companies and shit, and it’s changing in a lot of ways. But at that time it was nice. I had a normal childhood I went to school, my grandparents took care of me, my aunts and uncles lived there.

In your song “Come With Me” you talk about your journey to the US and you say it wasn’t easy, that it was a continuing struggle, and it sounds like you had to basically change your identity and start over as a new person.

Oh yeah, that’s all true stuff. At that time, a lot of people were coming to the US just on one visa to Canada, and then coming over from Canada to here and my mom did that and it was a success! I know I shouldn’t be saying a lot of stuff like that but, its true.

So what was it like for you as a kid when you got to New York? I can’t imagine what that was like.

Well I had to do a lot of adjusting of course. It was crazy, a culture shock. I came here and I had to fit in, and I had to change up my Guyanese accent and I tried to just fit in. It was difficult because I hadn’t met any Americans or anybody over there that had come here besides my mom and dad. So it was really shocking and I had to fit in. I had a little crash course in Canada but I didn’t go to school there, I came here and went to school. And that was really…Yeah, it was tough. I had to try and conform to new customs and ways, I had to just put myself in a different place in my mind. But I adjusted quickly, I was a youth, so you know kids adjust quickly to stuff like that.

And New York is such a diverse place. Were you finding people that you were able to identify with?

Yeah, my first group of friends from the building that me and my parents lived in were all from the Carribbean. You know, Jamaica, Trinidad. So I quickly adjusted in that way because I had my environment with my little friends from the islands, so that helped a lot. And then I met a lot of native New Yorkers, southerners and people who came from the Carolinas and stuff like that. So it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. But for me it was good because my parents, they kept me in line.

Your parents, were they into music?

Very much so. My dad, he was into music, he’d be dancing in the living room. My pops he was like a real party animal he would go out to parties and my mom as well. And my mother’s side of the family, they were highly religious and they listened to a lot of gospel music, a lot of Mahalia Jackson, a lot of Nat King Cole, artists like that, Aretha Franklin. And there was always a lot of calypso as well. Calypso, reggae, r&b, soul, a lot of these musics, my parents loved this stuff. Music was always playing in my house. My grandmother gave piano lessons and I remember hearing her teaching kids the scales and stuff like that. And it just continued over here, my parents were engulfed in music so I had a whole bunch of influences from all different directions. Even a little bit of jazz. My pops was into Miles Davis, so I got the best of both worlds.

Calypso, reggae, r&b, soul, a lot of these musics, my parents loved this stuff

You said your mom was religious, did you have spirituality or religion in your life growing up? Was that a part of your upbringing?

Oh yeah. It was very intense (laughing). I had to go to church, bible study, I was in the Pathfinders, which was a little program that was like boy scouts for church people. Yeah so we dressed up in militant looking uniforms and we’d go to church, read and study the bible, quote scriptures, stuff like that. I had to know the bible, I had to know different scriptures, I had to know the Ten Commandments, I had to know all different things from the bible. (Laughs.) Yeah, it was mandatory!

So tell me about how you got started with music.

Well I met, like I told you, my homies in my building, one of my dudes his name was Mario he’s from Spanish Town, Jamaica and in fact we’re still friends. And his uncle was very close with, um, I cant remember the name of the singer from Spanishtown, but he came up here and he was part owner of a big record store called Music Masters which everybody went to. Everybody that grew up in Brooklyn, New York, Flatbush, knows Music Masters. And they would sell us 45s and we had our own little soundsystem. My dad had a surround sound system for the house, and we would cut school and go to my house and play our 45s and pretend like we were a big sound, you know? So I got into dancehall and reggae music from him, from Mario. Man, he would go to Jamaica and he’d come back with these wicked cassettes King Jammy and Studio One, and then I started liking how the toasters would toast and the selectors, they would sing a little bit on the version, the instrumental, and I got fascinated by that real quick, so I started writing my own lyrics and we started coming up with songs together and what not, and naturally that led me to wanting to record stuff. And I was doing block parties, we’d go to talent shows, things in the school and what not. And yeah man, my other homie Kareem, his dad is the cousin of Mikey Campbell from Jamaica, Mikey Dread. I met Mikey Dread at Kareem’s dad’s house and they encouraged us to start playing music and learning to read music and all that. So I was the drummer, Kareem took up guitar, and my other bredren Mario was the bass player. And we started playing music. So that’s how I got into actual musicianship.

I met Mikey Dread at Kareem’s dad’s house and they encouraged us to start playing music and learning to read music and all that

So, everything that you know about music, have you had any kind of classical training?

I took a little bit of theory in college, I went to Five Towns College in Long Island back in the early 90s, a school for strictly music. I went there for audio engineering, and I studied theory briefly. You know, how to set up bars and play the notes and stuff. I don’t do that anymore of course, I mean I play, but I create music that people can write. Classical training I have very, very little, but what I do know is ear-sound. And anything that I can hear, I can play. And I can hear if a song is out of key, if I hear a classical song I can find the chords and the notes.

Your earlier band, Black Hearted Skavengers, were invited on tour with Branford Marsalis. What was it like to tour with Marsalis?

Word. I still go back to that as a reference point because that was my first major tour, international tour, and that was also my first time dealing as a professional in the business of music. Were it not for Branford I wouldn’t have started a publishing company with the Black Hearted Skavengers. Branford saw to it that we could collect our royalties. He showed us how to do it and walked us through the whole thing. So, that was an eye opener for me because I was able to see how things were really done. That was the first and last time that I was on the road that I ever got per diems; we had a meal, a whole clothing budget, everything that you could have wanted he provided us with. There was three of us out there; myself, my partner Mario and my other partner Kareem, Mikey Campbell’s nephew, and we had our own hotel rooms and everything, you know. If it wasn’t for Branford, I wouldn’t know how professional people actually do it. And I still go back to that as a reference point. Branford is a great dude. He’s really down to earth, he’s a very real person, and he’s an honest man. Most of the people I know in the business, everybody else has kind of robbed me.

Tell me about Dutty Artz. The website says Dutty Artz is “a music, television, multimedia web 2.0 copacetic media mafia.”

Yeah man. They put it in a really theatrical, fantastic way! That’s what it is! It’s just a group of dudes, friends, musicians that came together. I met one of the founders of Dutty Artz at a show of mine in Brooklyn, his name is Erwin but we call him Geko [Jones]. Geko, he organizes stuff. He doesn’t really work in depth on music, but he’s the dude that introduced me to Matt Shadetek, who produced Buzzrock Warrior. We were supposed to just do a mix CD, and it turned into an album because we were just looking at so many dope tracks we thought, why make this a mix CD when we can make an album, tour it, make it a real publication that we put out on the market with a bar code. So yeah, those dudes are very, very good friends of mine, we’ve been partners for a long time now for about seven, eight years now. And, Shadetek is a producer in his own right. He’s got a project that he’s coming out with, an instrumental album called Flowers, it’s just all his beats and his musical compositions. And his partner, DJ Rupture is another good friend of mine. He’s also a producer and he’s a great DJ. He’s internationally known, he’s been doing this thing for many years too. These dudes just wanted to get me on some dubstep beats. That’s really why it started out. They like what I do, they respect my roots and culture vibration that I bring with my music, but they were always encouraging me to push the envelope like, “you should sing on these beats, I can hear your vocals with this,” and “get used to this sound,” “check out what’s going on in London.” So we were supposed to do a little mix thing and next thing you know we got an album on our hands and we mastered it up. We want to push to do another project too, to follow up Buzzrock, in that same vein, just taking it a little further. Each of us are independently doing our thing on our own as well, but we love what we do together and at some point we’re gonna start working on a new project.

We were supposed to just do a mix CD, and it turned into an album because we were just looking at so many dope tracks we thought, why make this a mix CD when we can make an album, tour it, make it a real publication that we put out on the market with a bar code

Obviously you’re involved with a whole bunch of projects, Noble Society, Dutty Artz and your own solo stuff, but you stand out as a lyricist and poet. What kind of stuff do you like to read?

Oh yeah, lately I’ve been reading magazines, music publications, Rolling Stone, VIBE and shit like that, just trying to gather up all the information and knowledge about the music business in general. But yeah, I love reading books, I’m really into environmental stuff. Global Warning—Warming. I just put out a podcast called Global Warning which, speaking off the topic, I put songs in there that speak to how I feel about certain issues, dibbling and dabbling in how I feel about it. I’m really into revolutionary books, Black Panthers, just reading up on what we’ve done as African American people, and internationally too, not just African American but in other cultures as well. Politics as well. I’m not heavily into it, but I’m very concerned about war. [I’m concerned about] the corporations that we all spend our money on, what they’re doing with our money, where they’re taking this whole thing. How these businesses and big corporations that are all coming together forming bigger and bigger conglomerates, and what does it mean for us? And what does it mean for people that are poorer than us, people that are below poverty? So any information that covers that kind of stuff, magazines, Internet sites, I’m trying to get up on that, that’s the future. But I haven’t read a good novel, a good science fiction novel in a minute!

Science fiction, huh? That’s what you’re into?

Yeah my dad used to subscribe to this magazine, Popular Science, I’m into it a little bit but I haven’t really been digging in as much. The last book that I really read was this book called Behold A Pale Horse, by William Cooper. So I’ve been going back to that book. For like three or four years I’ve been steadily digging into that book. But yeah, I like to read, there’s a lot of information out there. I’m always digging into something.

If you could work with anyone, living or dead, on a project, any kind of project, who would it be? It doesn’t have to be just one.

I would love to work with Sly and Robbie. If I could get Sly and Robbie, with Don Corleon, to do a project, I would do it! Or an R&B business mogul like Quincy Jones, just to see how he goes about creating a record, what steps he takes in the studio and what business information he could offer which I’m sure would be like, life saving information. If I could just be in a room with Quincy Jones or Sly and Robbie for like, a week, I would put some money on the table or…I’d do something! But there are so many people! I mean, if I could work with like, Barbara Streisand I would too! Just to do a song with like…(laughing) it wouldn’t hurt to do stuff like that. But until then, I’m gonna work with the people that I know and love. But given the opportunity, shit, I’d be in the studio with Michael Jackson’s producers…You done know!

I would love to work with Sly and Robbie. If I could get Sly and Robbie, with Don Corleon, to do a project, I would do it!

One of the most notable things about your music is that your catalogue is so diverse. It’s impossible to put a stamp on Jahdan Blakkamoore and say that you’re all one way or another.

And I’m striving everyday to make sure that’s the case! Because I don’t want to be pigeonholed, I don’t want to be held up in just one category. I don’t see myself as just a reggae artist. I see myself as a musician, a songwriter, and just because I came up in this genre of music, reggae, dancehall, it’s so easy for people to think that that’s all I can do. So any opportunity that I get to try something different, I’m willingly putting myself to the task. Because I think that’s what’s classic about any musician. That’s what will make what I do classic, by standing out for good songs. It doesn’t have to be dancehall or hip-hop, just a good song that inspires people to go more in a positive direction. And I see how easy it is for them to just put an artist in a category, and some artists want to be in that category. A lot of reggae, Caribbean artists, they don’t see outside of reggae. That’s all they’re gonna do is dancehall. And I don’t want to be in that category. I want to be respected differently for different things. I’m definitely not gonna make every project the same. This album that’s out now, Buzzrock Warrior, it’s completely different from the one that’s gonna come out on Lustre Kings called Babylon Nightmare. Babylon Nightmare, it’s reggae. It’s what people expected me to release when I put out Buzzrock Warrior. What happened was my producers were working in depth with so many other artists that they didn’t take the time I would’ve wanted them to take to complete my project, so I went and started working on something else that was supposed to be a mixtape like I told you. But when we saw how great the songs were turning out, we decided to make an album, so Buzzrock Warrior ended up coming out first. But this one, Babylon Nightmare, on Lustre Kings label, I always wanted to do a reggae, roots, traditionally reggae album. Like with live musicians, horns, back up singers, a real full-bodied project that’s been my dream to do since I first started recording and loving reggae and dancehall music. So that’s finally coming, but the next project after that will be completely different. It might be an acoustic album, it might be sounding like some jazz fusion or I don’t know, I don’t even know.

I don’t see myself as just a reggae artist. I see myself as a musician, a songwriter

So tell me about Babylon Nightmare. The title alone is pretty loaded.

Yeah, there are a million different meanings. I am Babylon’s nightmare. Babylon, in my opinion, it is not only a place in the Middle East out there, but the concept to me is confusion. When I hear “Babylon” I think just, confusion. No real direction. Anything goes. Madness. And the nightmare is that people can’t figure out what exactly is happening. They’re running crazy like they would in a disaster situation. So that is one meaning, people wanting to know, “how do we stop this problem? How do we stop this plane from going into the side of this mountain?” And the other meaning I associate with myself. Like I am Babylon nightmare. The thinking person, that is not going to conform to any one man’s way of looking at things. The open-minded, adventurous, courageous, brave, artistic minded individual is Babylon nightmare. The nightmare of a confused, crazy society. Because we’re not confused. We know what we’re doing, we know what we want to do, we know our purpose here on Earth. We were born with this specific purpose, a talent, a skill, ambition and a reason for living. People are going to hear Babylon nightmare and the obvious thing they’re going to think is reggae, Caribbean, they’re going to think it’s a nightmare for all of us. But when they hear the music, what I want people to walk away with is solutions for a Babylon nightmare. What are our solutions? What are we gonna do? What is each individual gifted to do? What is each individual’s purpose here? There are some songs on there that just lightly offer little anecdotes, little ways I feel about different situations and stuff like that, how I feel about different things in my life. Anyone that listens to the album is gonna find some song on there that they can identify with that motivates them in their life to do something better. It sounds harsh, the title, but that’s what it is. I’m offering my creative, artistic, contribution to the music business, to the world. So I think it’s a great album, it’s what people expected of me for a while now, and they’re gonna get just that. Live instrumentation, great music, really good songs, great choruses and great expression of Jahdan Blakkamoore’s feelings. My ideas on how I survive. I’m not a major international artist that’s got a great big giant record label with huge money behind me, but I feel like it will find its people and I just want them to be happy. I want them to be like, wow, this guy is good.

I am Babylon nightmare. The thinking person, that is not going to conform to any one man’s way of looking at things

Is it coming out soon?

It should be out by the end of summer. Going into the new season, the cold season. It’s gonna come out and heat everybody up. You’re gonna see some names on there that you know and you’ve heard and you love.

Can you tell me who, or is it a secret?

No, it’s not a secret. I have an artist on there by the name of Princess Menen who I’m really excited about, she’s a Caribbean artist. I also worked with two artists from my crew Noble Society, Delie and D2, they’re rapping on a song called “Against All Odds.” Also an artist named Lisa Harris, she’s singing background stuff on some of the songs as well. I hope people like it.

What’s the point of making music?

Well, the point is to make a contribution. To make a contribution to my fellow artistically gifted people. I happen to feel like this is what I was born to do, and to make a contribution to the world of music. I want someone to look at my artistic work and come away from it with something to hold on to, to help, you know what I mean? And in a practical way, to provide for myself. It’s what I believe I was born to do, I would do it no matter what, but it’s also my career. So I’m hoping that it yields a lifestyle that’s sustainable for myself, my colleagues involved and ultimately, people that hear it. I Just want to make a contribution using my God-given talents and skills. My music is something that will still be here when I’m dead and gone and people can still gain something from that.

I’m a very different person from a lot of the reggae or Caribbean artists. I’m me, I’m Jahdan. I strive to be unique, to just be about who I am. That is what I stand for. I’m realizing that there are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily who you see them as.
Unfortunately, it’s not their fault, but a lot of these guys come from such a rough, crazy environment that they are just looking for a way out. Music is it. They don’t have a clear view of where they stand. They just see: do this music, get this money. they don’t realize all the ramifications of what it means to be an artist. A lot of them take it for granted, but they get the rude awakening, a lot of them. I just want to make my contribution to the world of music.

Unfortunately, it’s not their fault, but a lot of these guys come from such a rough, crazy environment that they are just looking for a way out. Music is it

Photos copyright Lee Abel 2010 - Jahdan Blakkamoore at SNWMF 2010
Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Lee Abel is prohibited.

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Read comments (2)

Posted by Theory on 08.13.2010
Nice article, well done Jess!

Posted by Curtis on 08.17.2010
Very thorough, interesting article. Always been a fan of Jahdan. Looking forward to Babylon Nightmare!

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