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Interview: Ras Jumbo

Interview: Ras Jumbo

Interview: Ras Jumbo

By on - Photos by Valentin Zill & Antoine Jomand - 12 comments

"Many people talk about Sly & Robbie, but there was José & Jumbo"  

Sampler

Without any doubt, he‘s one of the best bassists in the Reggae universe: David Jnr. Baptiste a.k.a. Ras Jumbo. You‘ve surely seen him live on stage several times, whether with Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Jimmy Cliff or Burning Spear, to name just a few of the most important artists he worked with. His own projects he works on in Paris with Charly Laubé, Alpha Blondy‘s drummer, and Fariband enrich the European Reggae scene like few others. It‘s high time to let the virtuoso from Dominica have his say. Next to the swimming pool of Bamako‘s hotel Dafina - “I‘m an island boy, yuh know, I love water” - he recounts the rocky path he took to become a professional musician and talks about repatriation, his numerous tours, today‘s projects and why water is as important as fyah.

Ras Jumbo

What brought you into contact with Reggae music?

Well, don’t forget I’m born in the English Caribbean. I’m born in the Commonwealth of Dominica. I make a bit of publicity for my country: it’s the land of 365 rivers, don’t forget. We call it the nature island of the Caribbean. It’s the very special island where you have one river per day of the year. We have natural spas, we have hot baths, we have waterfalls. Reggae… I always had contact with Jamaica, it’s part of the English Caribbean like Dominica. We have one national cricket team together - the West Indies - to compete against England, against Australia, against India, against Pakistan. So Jamaica was no secret for me. I grew up with Jamaicans, I grew up knowing Jamaica, I’ve been working and performing in Jamaica. From my earliest childhood days, I always had Reggae at home. It’s part of our culture. So meeting guys like Tiken was like, you know, bringing my part, my knowledge of how to do it into African Reggae.

Meeting guys like Tiken was like, you know, bringing my part, my knowledge of how to do it into African Reggae

When did you start playing music?

I began to do it at a very young age. My dad was a pianist in church, so I grew up in the church really. Like most Afrocaribbean people, we have lots of religions, protestant churches, catholic churches, gospel churches. You know, we grew up singing. My dad played the guitar, better than me. He played accordion, violin, banjo… So at home we had instruments. I have an elder brother who is in Miami. He’s a bass player. I grew up in the music, very early. But I never knew I’d be a professional musician one day. I wanted to be a doctor!

Did you get formal musical education?

I did some theoretical music at high school. And I learned drum music in a military band at school. I learned what I had to learn. I took what I could take. But then, music is all natural. You learn this theoretical thing because you need to know the notes to work faster. But music is inside of you. You gotta feel it, you gotta have to have the beat. And if you listen to Reggae music you know there’s something particular. The beat, the silence, the pauses… It’s not like Jazz where you run for scales. Reggae is more like the heartbeat. You don’t always play on the beat or in front of it, sometimes you play behind it.

How did you become a professional musician?

It might have been in 1977. I was quite young, just finishing high school, and I had a band, called Wax Power Vibrations. We had an album, recorded in Martinique in the Three A studios, in Fort de France. We were invited to tour Martinique. I saw Jazz concerts there, and I wanted to play like the guys I saw on stage. They were virtuosos. I thought if I wanted to be a musician I need to learn to play like these guys. But it took me a long time. A long time of hard work, perseverance and personal sacrifices also. It’s not an overnight thing. Music is my passion. I was a teacher in primary school, but I quit because my passion overtook. I love teaching, it’s the key to life. Education is the key to life. But my passion for music overtook me. So I became a professional musician. I moved from Dominica to Martinique, from there to Guadalupe. Then I went to France though most of my family lives in America. In the French Antilles I got an offer to play in France. I went there as a freelancer and played for everybody to get known. I met many, many people. I met Alpha Blondy and performed with him, I performed with Jimmy Cliff, Jah Mason, Determine, King David, lots of opening shows for Third World, for Aswad, for Steel Pulse. I toured with Burning Spear. I recorded three albums with Alpha Blondy. I worked with almost all of the French top Reggae stars, Tonton David, Pierpoljak, Princess Erica, Neg Marrons, even with most artistes from the French Antilles. I love music. And I couldn’t work for a boss, you find so much injustice in workplaces. I could never stand a boss. I never had a boss in my life. Only music has been my boss. It’s important to be disciplined for musicians. Now I’m touring with Tiken Jah Fakoly all over the place, mostly in Europe and Africa. It’s OK for now. But hopefully it will be better in the future [laughs].

I couldn’t work for a boss, you find so much injustice in workplaces

What obstacles did you have to overcome to become a professional musician?

Well, I had to do a lot of personal sacrifices. I left home, didn’t have money, I couldn’t work every time… But when you have a passion you don’t always do it for money. I played a lot without getting paid. I think it’s important to have this money attitude, but I never had it. I went through a lot of sacrifices. I lost my first family, because my ex-woman wanted me to get a job. I was sad. I love her, but I had to do what I had to do, I couldn’t just look for any job. Ras JumboI went to a country where I couldn’t speak the language, where I didn’t have a home. But I kept on. I didn’t go selling illicit stuff, no illicit business. I think that Rastafari saved me from a lot of negativity. Being a Rasta and learning about the values of Rasta saved me. Many people call themselves Rasta but they don’t really study it or get the philosophy, the teachings of Rasta. It’s not just a being black and having dreadlocks thing. It’s a heartical thing, it’s a discipline thing, it’s a loving thing, it’s a respectful thing. You know, the value of life, the love of humanity, respect. Rastafari is noble. You can’t be a Rastaman and do wrong things to people all day. That’s a fake. My parents taught me to be honest. When I went to Europe, everybody told me nobody was gonna help me there, nobody would give me anything there. But when I arrived it was not like what I had heard of it. I met wonderful people, people who helped me, who opened their doors. That made me love France. It made me be more open towards humanity. When you grow up in a society without many differences, you don’t know that there’s good in every nation. You find heartical and criminal people everywhere! I never let obstacles bring me down. I learned from my struggles and my mistakes. But I’m still the same, still passionate for music. I still have my dreams and my projects.

Being a Rasta and learning about the values of Rasta saved me

You know that tune from Beres Hammond, “Journeys”: “If I had to do it over, if I had to live it all again…”. Would you do it over all again?

When I think of it, yes. Because I don’t have regrets. Music has been good to me. I’ve travelled around the world twice! If I was a teacher, I might have my little home, my wife and kids, I might be a headmaster now and lead a peaceful little life. But I’ve been to Africa, mon. I’ve been to Ethiopia, I’ve been to 17 African states. I’m so proud of this! I travelled through the United States, through Canada and South America. I’ve travelled the world playing music. I’ve been to most European countries. I’d do it all over again, yes. The only thing is, you know, I lost the woman I love… But I accepted it. Maybe that was the way it had to be.

You’re still based in Paris. Why don’t you repatriate to the Motherland?

My parents always told me America was the country for music. It’s true. But I’m already there in Africa. I have built a home in Ghana. I’m already there spiritually, and parttime physically, too. But I’m an ambitious person. I need financial freedom. That’s the reason why I’m still living in Europe. In Europe, I can be a professional musician, I can work, I can earn some money and advance with my projects. I come to Africa many times a year. I have my family and a home in the Caribbean, too. But I have repatriated to Africa, I am in Africa today [laughs]. And my home is in Ghana, in Kumasi. The Ashante people love Rastas, me tell you. And I’ve been to Shashamane in Ethiopia three times. In Ethiopia, they love Rastas, too. Ghana is particular. The land there was offered to me! I couldn’t refuse that. I know of other Rastas from the Caribbean who went to Africa and were offered land, too. I’ve invested some money in Africa. I hope, with the blessings of the Almighty Ras Tafari, one day I can relax and have my kids come home. And have my friends come over. I built this home not for me, but for guys like you, with positive energy, for friends who want to come to Africa and relax. Africa is home, mon, it’s home. Life might be rough here, but that’s because of its leaders. The food is good, it’s fresh. I don’t have stomach aches here. I really encourage Rasta people and all people who want to live their lives in harmony with nature to come here.

I have built a home in Ghana. I’m already there spiritually, and part-time physically

Tell us about your best and worst experiences on tour.

Mon, I’ve been touring so much in my life. The best tours are always in Africa, because Africa is all about space. I love space. I was born on an island, you can drive around the whole island in no time. Here in Africa, I love driving. I love to watch the never ending horizon. And touring the Pacific islands with Pierpoljak and Fariband was very encouraging. We went to the dreamlands! Tahiti, Bora Bora… We had a wonderful time. But Africa is the best, because islands look alike anyway but in Africa I discovered something different. The friendliness, the respect, the respect of the elders, the way they receive you… There’s a lot of love in Africa. That’s the real Africa. The hardships are minor compared to that. My worst tour maybe was in America. After it we lost our drummer. May his soul rest in peace. Ras José Shillingford is his name. I lost my drummer. Many people talk about Sly & Robbie, but there was José & Jumbo. We were the riddim section of Alpha Blondy’s Solar System. José was Dominican. He was one of the best drummers in the world. In 1988, when we were in Israel, we were invited to jam in Jamaica with the Melody Makers by Earl “Chinna” Smith. He loved the way we were performing, he loved the way we were playing drum and bass. We never had the chance to go. I lost my half. I couldn’t sleep, I heard him drumming in my head. It was very difficult for me to find my next drummer. I got Charly Laubé. He’s my younger brother. I passed much of my savoir faire on to him.

Tell us about your projects and those with Fariband.

I have lots of projects. I’d love to produce Sister Shann. I’m working on my own album. I have so many ideas. I wanna do a Dub album, I wanna do an instrumental album. But at the same time I have given away so many riddims, my own riddims, I would love to recuperate them. Just yesterday I talked with Vivi about a guy from Burkina Faso we produced, his name is Jah Verity. Vivi and I did all the music, all the compositions. I work with a South African guy too, called Ras Dumisani. His very first album was recorded with me. I’ve given lots of basslines to many, many singers in Reggae music. I wanna produce a huge album with all these basslines in Dub style. And I’d love to produce some Rap youngsters. I’m into Rap and Hip Hop, too. But I lack time and I don’t rush into anything. I’m always on the road. I hope I can take time for myself and follow my personal projects when I stop touring one day. I’m like a doctor, always taking care of others! I’m also building riddims with Charly Laubé for Sowan Records. He’s very business-minded, which is very good. I’d love to be at home, either in Dominica or Africa, and work in a relaxed atmosphere and do it right, you know. Reggae X-ClusiveWith Charly, we’ve done Reggae X-clusive, an album. We produced many singers like Tiken Jah Fakoly, Tonton David, Sister Shann, Baobab, the crème de la crème of French Reggae. Next time we’ll do an all-women album, Reggae X-clusive Chapter II. I got a lot of projects with Charly. For example in December, we go to New Caledonia for two weeks for a huge festival called Musicali. There’ll be Julian Marley, Israel Vibration, there’ll be some French artists. Charly and I will back six singers there. Although we work separately right now, cause Charly is with Alpha Blondy - I was the one who linked them up, Alpha is my friend -, we’re still working together on projects. I worked with Alpha Blondy twenty years ago, from 1988 till 1995, when he was still young. He was really popular at that time, really hot. Now he’s an older brother. I toured the world with him. I’m happy for Charly, I’m happy that he can discover what I discovered twenty years ago. I stayed with Tiken Jah because I love him a lot and really appreciate what he’s doing. He loves Africa, he has a very sincere love for his continent, and I love people who are sincere. There’s much to come, you’ll surely have me on your MP3 player, on your MP4 player, on your live DVDs [laughs]. I’ll be there, I promise!

There are few bands out there playing together in such routine and harmony as Fariband does.

Yeah, we’re a dream team. We know each other’s every move. I know every lick of Vivi. Vivi is my right hand when Charly’s not around. We are the ones who are the front. Vivi’s my lickshot. Ludovic is my younger brother. I’ve always had younger drummers. They’re my little brothers. You form a drummer the way you want him. Ludovic is great. And Dave is great, you know. We’re a good team, playing together for almost seven years now. We always want to do better and better and better. Every show is different. And Tiken is someone who is real. No one is perfect. He’s a man like every other man, with ups and downs. I’m not looking for the faults. I got my faults, too. But we’re a dream team. We listen to each other. We’re a band, and that’s what makes a group famous. There’s the singer, but there’s also the musicians. You can’t have one without the other. That would be like having a nice Rolls Royce but no tires! Even if the tires are in contact with the dirt, the shit, you have to have tires to drive. We’re together, and if there are problems we talk them out. That’s it.

Tiken Jah loves Africa, he has a very sincere love for his continent, and I love people who are sincere

As one of the most important musicians in the Reggae business, where do you see Reggae music heading to in the next years?

Well, in the Caribbean I don’t hear much Roots. In Africa, people are very much into Roots. The Caribbean is much into Dancehall. We miss Bob Marley. We miss Peter Tosh. We have Burning Spear, but I think that the promoters are promoting the wrong things. On the television, too. There’s too much violence in the Caribbean. They want to stop Dancehall music. Reggae is not violence. It’s a means to educate the people. It’s not about making money, it’s about conscious living. That’s what got me into Reggae. When I listened to Bob Marley, to Peter Tosh, they opened up my mind, they made me wonder and ask questions and made me want to discover things. Now there’s too much slackness. The music is good, but there’s no more message. So we need more conscious promoters in the Caribbean. There are always conscious singers, there’s always conscious music in the background. But we need people who promote consciousness, love and goodwill amongst men. No naked girls on stage, no disrespect for your family. So I see Reggae music in a down way, I don’t see it going upwards now. That’s maybe why guys like Tiken are so powerful. We must sing about educating the youths. They need to learn the values of life. If you sing too much about the government they’ll shoot you down. We’ve had too many dead singers and you can’t change the government anyway. We want singers who are alive and educate the people. Reggae music is not to divide, but to unite the people. Reggae music is to unite left and right.

Ras Jumbo

What about Reggae in Europe, especially in France?

Especially in Germany there’s still a lot of Roots Reggae. In France, we have groups that do mainstream Reggae, but no singers who take decisions, who say things to awaken the people. In England we don’t have as much as before. You could say there’s a recession. You don’t hear anything anymore from those guys who were big there in the 80s! Aswad and Steel Pulse are at least doing something. I don’t see the future of Reggae in France very brightly. Sad to say, because I’ve been working there for the last 26 years. I’m one of the pioneers there. You only have those groups who play Reggae music for the love of Reggae, but no one who is into Rastafari, into prophesying and into educating the youths. It’s all good if you play Reggae because you love it, but today they lost what we already knew, the generation of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh… None of the new guys is making me shivers. You know, like when Bob Marley said “Wake up and live”. Simple words, but they mean a lot… They mean get up, stand up for your rights, be conscious, you know. Africa unite. Bob Marley’s universally accepted. We need some more Bob Marleys. We need more Peter Toshs. They were avantgarde. They were way ahead of their time. That’s my only problem with Reggae music right now - we don’t have those lyricists. I don’t know what’s wrong with this generation. Is it a lack of inspiration, a lack of information? I don’t know. At least the Bobo Shanti are doing something, I respect them. Fyah dis an fyah dat, yuh know. But we need water, too. To wash away. To purify, you have the fire, but the water will wash away. So we need both elements. I don’t have a good image of Reggae in Europe in the future. We need promoters, guys who are really into Reggae music and want to see Reggae music prosper!

Thank you very much for the interview, Ras Jumbo.

Thank you! I want to wish all the readers of United Reggae a happy new year, as we just entered the new year of the Ethiopian calendar on September 11. I wish you health and love and life and prosperity! Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and wish for better Reggae, better singers, conscious promoters, conscious people!

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Read comments (12)


Posted by MrQuick on 03.25.2011
Many people talk about Sly & Robbie, but there was José & Jumbo.

Excuse me, but you're not boxing in the same category! Delusional would be a polite way of characterizing this statement...

Posted by Harry Mo on 03.27.2011
Blessed Love Jumbo. Nice interview. Glad to see that I am not the only one explaining how long Dominican musicians and artists are making reggae music. I will be touring Europe this coming summer. I hope we cross paths. I am sure Lofty can link us. Big Raspect Everytime. Jah Love.

Posted by Six on 03.29.2011
Hi very good and interesting interview. Reggae is very good I love it ,Ii love bass too. Very good instrument " ki met du piment dans la chanson"
Good man mister Ras Jumbo.

Posted by DavidHill on 03.29.2011
MrQuick I don't think he was comparing. He means here that These are the names in Reggae Music in the West whereas the work that they're did and are doing is based on the African Reggae scene.

Posted by Ras Mo on 04.02.2011
Great interview, positive words Ras Jumbo. We need to see and hear your products. Keep on creating. Jah guide.

Posted by Lloyd Pascal on 04.02.2011
What a Great interview. This is the first time I am knowing about Ras Jumbo, but I feel you my Brother. I must confess that you have touched my soul. I want to hear Ras Jumbo's music. Keep on your Positive Mission. You are a GREAT BLACK MAN!
Thanks a lot United Reggae for that interview.
Onward Ever!

Posted by Mackie on 04.02.2011
Yes Jumbo! I enjoyed this. I still remember the show with Alpha in Boston and Jose doing his thing. Lots of love Bro, I'll be in the London show with Tiken.

Posted by jay on 04.03.2011
Excuse me MrQuik, I am a singer based in New York who had the pleasure of knowing/hearing Ras jumbo and Jose played together before his passing. There is nothing delusional about what he said. Jose was one of the best drummer I know, together they stack right up there with Sly and Robbie. Did you have the opportunity to heard them play together? If not, how can you scream delusion. You need to know not just believe. Jahlee

Posted by Ras Albert and Empress Tempie on 04.04.2011
Ras Jumbo speaks with authority and clarity, we need more conscious lyricists to change the mind set of humankind.

Posted by trencio1 on 05.18.2011
The interview full of good vibe, wisdom and love. Ras Jumbo is like good old brother (koro ko). This man worked with to eminent african reggae stars (Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah. Let the Ras Tafari send the peace upon them two.) I`m waiting for his dub album. I could find a sample of his skills on Tiken`s album Radio Libre (inedit apart Africa). He loves Africa with reciprocal!

Posted by Ras Perez on 06.04.2011
Greetings Ras......Nice vibes....

Posted by Wayne Williams on 05.16.2016
Blessing Jah son Am the Artist General Wayne i see that am one of your artist, and am proud to no, i see you have work with artist like Burning Spear, I start sing in Lime Hall ST ANN, I BORN IN LIME ST ANN I COME TO JAMAICA 208 CHEZ DEK , ME AND HIM TO COME TO THAT SHOW IN OCHO RIOS.MY NUMBER 07947876650. AM IN LONDON WHEN YOU WANT I FLY,

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