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Interview: Protoje

Interview: Protoje

Interview: Protoje

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"My mother gave up music for school so I gave up school for music"


Protoje Diggy was born Oje Ken Ollivierre, St Elizabeth Jamaica, the son of the singer (and now lawyer) Lorna Bennett. After attending the St Elizabeth boarding school Munro College, he considered going to law school like his mother, before deciding full time music was his thing. Seven years later he has dropped his first album, 'The 7 Year Itch', produced by his cousin Donovan “Vendetta” Bennett of Don Corleon Records. The disc contains five previously released singles including Arguments (produced by DJ Karim), Dread, and JA but also a raft of equally rewarding new material in the lush and sweet Don Corleon style. Angus Taylor had the privilege of conducting Protoje’s first interview with the foreign press about his album, his upbringing and whether he could be a future deejay megastar. At the time he was voicing his cut of Corleon’s new rhythm The Message out soon…


First of all, how does it feel after seven years to get your album out to the people?

I just feel very humbled and I have to give thanks for it because it was a long time working on it as you say. Just to see it happening now makes me feel good that I stuck to my music and didn’t give up on that goal.

Tell me about the process of making the album. How closely did you work with Don Corleon?

It took seven months to record fully. We would work for about a month and then I’d go off in the country and so some more writing. That’s how I work. Then I would come back and say, “I have this song” and we’d go do it. Protoje - 7 Year ItchBut on a day of recording I would wake up early and get to the studio about ten in the morning. Don is a master chef so he would have food cooking and make sure everybody is fed. Then we’d have a vibes and kind of mellow out, and sometimes I wouldn’t start recording until late in the evening when the tone and the mood is set. He recorded twelve of the thirteen songs on the record at his studio so we worked very closely. He is a real perfectionist so I learned an immense amount of things doing this album man! His work ethic is such that even at two or three in the morning when I am tired he would be mixing – because he engineered the album also.

Don Corleon is a master chef so he would have food cooking [at the studio] and make sure everybody is fed

You released a lot of the album as singles and an EP – how confident are you in the lesser known tracks?

The special ones to me weren’t released as singles. Firstly because they came later in the process but also because the strength of them meant I wanted people to come and listen to the album and be like, “Wow!” Four of my five favourites are still there. I feel pretty confident in the strength of the album because this wasn’t a collection of singles – we made an album and managed to craft it in a particular way from start to finish. What the rest of the tracks are going to do is put those five singles into perspective.

It’s a very live sounding album (as you’ve mentioned in previous interviews) – how much of it was built and how much played live?

All of it is live in some way. Some of the tracks were played with a full live band whereas others would have drum programming and then some live bass and guitar, keyboards and sometimes even live drums over that too. Danny Bassie pretty much played guitar and bass on all the tracks and he was the one who would come into the studio with Don and I and give us his creative ear. So he was a big part of me growing in confidence while doing this album.

This wasn’t a collection of singles – we made an album and managed to craft it in a particular way from start to finish

How did you and the band come up with the crazy dub jam breakdown on Wrong Side Of The Law?

When we me and my band Indignation perform Wrong Side Of The Law on stage, we always do this thing where I say, “Dub style! Dub style!” and they go off for a minute or two and rock out. So when I went to do the track with Don I said I just loved the whole “dub style!” thing. We were down in Tuff Gong recording with some real legendary musicians – Danny Bassie, Kirk Bennett and Bowie on keys – all veterans with me the young youth there. ProtojeAnd I just said it, “Dub style! Dub style!” and believe me, it was all them – they just went off into a whole musical breakdown. My lead guitarist in my band Jason Wharton is the one playing all that crunchy guitar siren sound. That’s one of my favourite things on the record because I’ve always wanted to do that.

Your mother is the famous singer Lorna Bennett and your father is track coach and musician Michael Ollivierre. Tell me about your memories of growing up with their music in your life.

I don’t have a lot of recollection of my mother’s music from being small. But she would do shows and I would go to them and see her perform. My dad was also a performer and they would have shows together. My dad is from St Vincent and he was a Calypso King down there one year. His influence on me was that calypso is different from soca because it’s very story oriented. So when he would sing songs to us it would be a story that has a twist. So I kind of incorporated that story telling into my writing. But music in general was always a part of my household, whatever type of music, they would always be listening.

What was the first song that inspired you?

That would be learning that Slick Rick song Children’s Story. One of my dad’s athletes, an older guy used to listen to it, and that was the first with music I was like, “Yow!” I was seven or eight and I just started to learn that song. It was the first song I ever knew and I used to rap it all the time. From then I just fell in love with music.

Your mother became a lawyer as well as a singer. Would you consider having a profession to fall back on?

It’s not for me. I started to do my pre-law to get into law school and I stopped. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I just wanted to do straight music. I don’t even think about having something to fall back on. This is what I’m doing. It’s like, when do you stop a baby from trying to walk? He is going to walk when he walks.

I don’t even think about having something to fall back on. This is what I’m doing

Were your parents ok with that?

My parents are very supportive of what I’m doing. Naturally they wanted me to finish school but I just told them my spirit couldn’t resist it any longer. My mother gave up music for school so I know a part of her can sympathize with what was going on. I guess she just let me take the opposite route. She gave up music for school, so I gave up school for music. So it balanced again!

You talk about the pressures of having Don Corleon for a cousin on the title track of 7 Year itch. Have you had criticism from people about this?

I wrote that song a couple of years back when I was at a point where I been doing this for so long with nothing really happening. Me and Don are family but we didn’t really start working together until last year. Naturally a lot of people were wondering why both of us don’t work before. It was a mystery to them – especially when Arguments came out. A lot of people still think he produced that song. But he thought I needed time to develop and he was right. I wanted to just go but it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I got a chance to develop my craft. We were always cool in the time we weren’t working. I was just doing my thing. So when the time came to do that track I said, “What’s the word cousin? You help your cousin. So every word that they hurt me with worth something” meaning, “Now I have the chance so let’s go!” I wanted to kick off the album with a very honest description of my situation and that song is my favourite.

Me and Don are family but we didn’t really start working together until last year. He thought I needed time to develop and he was right

You really blew up with Arguments produced by DJ Karim – which talks about various girl troubles. How accurate a picture of your life was that song at the time?

Very accurate. I am really a soul writer. I write to express. But I write my music over any period of time it takes. The first verse is where I just got out of a relationship and I’m wondering what to do, then the second verse is me going into my new relationship and someone telling me to slow down and just focus on them. Now when I hear that song I would be more mature about it because I wrote that song four years ago in 2006. I’m past that stage.

Is there a lady in your life right now?

Right now the focus is music. 2011 belongs to the music: fully focussed on the getting the music out there and getting some travelling done. ProtojeThat’s where the focus wants to be even though at some times you’ll want for that aspect. Right now it’s music, travelling new places, seeing new faces.

As well as girls and ganja lyrics there are some more serious songs. Tell me about the meaning of Dread?

Dread is really about wanting to do music. It’s not really about hair or anything like that. That song’s background is me being eleven or twelve years old and wanting to do music. It’s about being submerged in the Jamaican culture of the time with everybody wearing those shoes and Buju Banton deejaying and locking the place like that. So Dread is to show the transition from being young, wanting to do music to being in the music. It flashes from ‘92 to 2010.

JA talks about the dangers of Jamaica but how you won’t leave. A lot of foreign people hear mixed messages about Jamaica. Why is Jamaica such a great place?

People have endured so much in Jamaica. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most positive places. The creation, the art, the music – just the positive energy that has been created from this place. (pauses) I can’t even speak and not get emotional about it. People suffer but they always find a way – and out of the hardships Jamaica endures. We always bring something positive out of it – always. You have to live here to know. Even though we have so much stacked against us people still say, “We Yard”. These sentiments I’m singing are what people say all the time. Jamaica is an inspiration – believe me.

People have endured so much in Jamaica. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most positive places. People suffer but they always find a way – and out of the hardships Jamaica endures

You talk in your lyrics about admiring the Marleys when coming up. How did it feel to work with Ky-mani on Rasta Love?

You’re not missing any of the lyrics seen? (laughs) It was an honour. I was so excited when I heard we were going to do a track. Hearing Welcome To Jamrock was another turning point. It was an inspiring record. The music being made has been inspiring to a lot of artists out here. So working with Ky-mani was a blessing. He did a good job. I met him and we reasoned on the music. He’s working on some new music [with Don Corleon] too so look out for his stuff coming out. We really hope people will get to hear this single. We’re doing the video for it tomorrow.

Will you keep working with Don Corleon or do you have your eye on other producers?

Don and I formed a sound together in 2000 so we’ll be doing music for a very long time. I’m open to working with other producers but we have a good vibe going right now. But we always welcome new music because new music to write means more music for people. I want to do a good amount of music and focus on putting my band together so me and my band can create music also. I really just try to get through each day, day by day. I don’t want to think too far ahead and get overwhelmed. I’m going on my first small tour in Europe with four or five countries and nine dates. These are new experiences so it’s hard to project. Instead I’m just taking it day by day. Keep positive, keep making music and keeping the energy balanced. The only thing I ask of people who hear my music is to spread it. And I hope they just feel something from it.

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