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Interview: Tappa Zukie (Part 2)

Interview: Tappa Zukie (Part 2)

Interview: Tappa Zukie (Part 2)

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"Johnny Rotten was a roots guy but in a different ghetto"


Read part 1 of this interview

For part two of our chat with Tappa Zukie Angus Taylor finds out about how he became a crossover success with both punk rockers in England and with record buyers in Jamaica. We also hear about his reasons for leaving Virgin Records, his work with the group Knowledge, his decision to concentrate on producing the likes of the Mighty Diamonds and Beres, and more on why he decided to become a recording artist again...

Tappa Zukie

Tell me about how your links with Patti Smith and the punk movement started.

Where it all started was when I was at home one day round at Militant Barry's house because that was my home away from home when Militant Barry got a phone call. It was Don Letts who used to run a punk clothes shop down in the west end and he said he was playing one of my records - I think it was Don't Get Weary - and this lady came running in the shop and said "I know that voice! Who is that voice?" When he said "Tappa Zukie" she said "Do you know him?" and he didn't but he knew somebody who knows me, which was Militant Barry. So she said "Tell him to get a message to him to get himself down to the Hammersmith Odeon in Shepherd's Bush". So I went, Don Letts came with Barry and we met at the Hammersmith Odeon. That's where it started.

You mixed Militant Barry's Green Valley for Keith Hudson - tell me about your friendship with him and this cult album.

I was just helping out Barry as my friend. He was the man who was on the road with me from when I started. When I came over to England he was there. He came over on his own. He was like my mc, my road manager who carried me on the road and everything. So I forced in him the studio and said "You haffi do something man - that's how it go!" I named him Militant Barry and encouraged him in starting to be an artist.

I named Militant Barry and encouraged him to be an artist

He talked about Sid Vicious and the death of Nancy Spungen on his song Pistol Boy. Do you remember how that came about?

(laughs) I don't remember half of it but it was because of the punk thing. A couple of things were going around about Sid Vicious. We used to make lyrics about was going on at the time.

How did you get signed to Virgin?

Virgin signed me when I was in Jamaica. They came down there and wanted to take two whole albums from me. That was the first deal. It was the time when they came and signed up everybody. After they took two albums from me and gave me some money they said they wanted to see me again. And when they came back again they said they wanted to sign me up so I referred them to my manager who was Vic Kerry and Rob Hollett who were living in England at the time and they took from there. I signed as an artist whereas most of the other artists only signed an LP deal. Because they signed me as an artist that was why I was on the road.

You mentioned the boom for major record labels signing reggae artists. I believe Virgin employed Johnny Rotten in an advisory capacity to do this.  John is a big fan of yours. How well did you know him?

I met him when Virgin came to Jamaica to sign me and sign up the others. When I got signed up and thing Don Letts took him down, called me up by the Sheraton and I took them to Trench Town with me. Johnny Rotten enjoyed himself there. He was excited to be there. He was actually a rootsman really. I think he liked ghetto people. It was exciting for him. I think he was a lover of reggae. He was a lover of Jamaican people and he liked Jamaican music. He was the one who encouraged [Richard] Branson to work with the Jamaican artists I think. He was like a roots guy but in a different ghetto. A roots guy but living in a different ghetto.

Did you enjoy the punk music you heard at the time?

Well... I like all music as long as it makes me rock and move. I loved to hear some of them. I didn't have a favourite. I'd just enjoy when I went out and it was playing. It's not a music where I'd say I had a favourite.

Then while your name was getting big in England you hit big in Jamaica with Oh Lord and She Want A Phensic.

Yes that was when I did Oh Lord and it took off and was like 10 weeks on the number one spot in Jamaica. Then it came off and went back again. It was nice to be a big success in England and Jamaica with different songs.

How did you link up with Horace Andy who you would collaborate with as both an artist (Natty Dread A Weh She Want) and as producer.

When I was the bodyguard for Bunny Lee some of the artists who recorded as Bunny Lee's artists would also love going around in the ghetto with me. I was like their protection in the ghetto. That was where me and Horace Andy started to go up and down and I started to record him. But at the time politics was going on in Jamaica and after I made Natty Dread A Weh She Want Horace Andy had to leave Jamaica because people were saying he was recording for politicians. People thought I was a politician in those times but I am not a politician because I am not political minded.

You were associated with the PNP and the JLP at one time. Why did they think you were political when you were not?

Because of the community that I lived in. I used to be in Trench Town in those times when the political thing started. I had to defend my children so I was only defending my area. But because I was in that area they said I was a politician.

I am not a politician. I am a ghetto man who goes to all ghettoes

You have suffered the consequences of political violence.

Yes. Yes I did. And it held me back in my recording career in Jamaica. But I am not a politician. I am a ghetto man who goes to all ghettoes and even until now I go to every ghetto and deal all politicians - both sides.

Tell me why you decided to leave Richard Branson and Virgin at the end of the 70s...

Tappa ZukieOh man that's a long story. I was with some Rasta organization in England. They were dealing with research on history. That's how we got to find out about Steve Biko. Now if you notice I sang Tribute To Steve Biko around then. So when we got into it now I found out that the biggest crime against black people in those times was that the black man could read and write. That was the crime Steve Biko was charged for because he was a teacher and he was teaching black people to read and write. So it inspired me and I started to check out this man because it was something great he was doing. Then I got a report that Virgin was a South African company, mainly because the A&R man was a South African. I don't know if the information was right or if I was too naive or what have you. But when I heard that, at the time apartheid was going on, and I didn't want to get caught up in it. I didn't want to know that I was supporting things against my nation and they were saying that from every record of mine that was selling, a percentage was going to support the machine that was killing off black people in Africa.

Did you check up on this?

I went in to see Richard Branson and I told him that I didn't want to be a part of it and he said "Tappa? What are you talking about?" He didn't acknowledge it was like that. Maybe I was a bit naive but I told him that I didn't want to be a part of Virgin and I told him I wanted back my contract and he said he wouldn't give it to me. So I took up my album, because at the time I had another album to give him titled Black Man, and took it home and released it in Jamaica. And from that time I stopped recording myself. That was how I stopped recording myself and started doing production. They wouldn't give me back my contract so I decided to shut down Tappa Zukie and left it to work out itself. I got released from the contract but they didn't release the songs they had already

Tell me about how you met with the group Knowledge, who A&M records attempted unsuccessfully to market as a crossover group. Anthony Doyley passed away in February of last year.

Well Knowledge, as I was saying, was where I learned about Steve Biko. That was where I got the inspiration to come back and try to help my ghetto community. That was when I built my community centre [in Trench Town] and I saw these Rastaman who were in the ghetto. People said they were some crazy people but when I went and sat down with them I saw they were singing some good songs with good lyrics. I decided to take them into the studio and when I started people asked what I was doing and thing but we came out of the studio with some wonderful songs and from there it started.

I saw these Rastaman who were in the ghetto. People said they were some crazy people but I saw they were singing some good songs with good lyrics

Alla told me when the music started to change he became a fisherman. You just kept producing.

I kept on producing to keep me learning new stages and new skills from when I started so I could cover all angles of the music business. Because if you listen to the production of this album X Is Wrong you can know it's a more organized and together production. I'm more of a producer now

In the 80s and 90s you did some great work with artists like Yami Bolo and the Mighty Diamonds. One of the biggest artists you worked with was Beres - tell me about working with him on his Putting Up Resistance album?

At that time I was making myself a ten album catalogue because in those times people were all over the place so I told myself I had to give myself a new catalogue because most of my songs were all around. So I started to work with Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and Mighty Diamonds and a couple more. While we were there Beres came in and because he was singer whose voice I'd liked for a long time I decided to make an album with him.

What was he like to work with?

He is quite easy to work with if he wants to work with you. He knows what he wants and he is someone you can talk to but he likes to know you know what you are doing also. He likes to work with people who know what they are doing. When you know what you are doing and he knows what he wants it makes things a bit easier. What I try to do in my productions is work with top musicians who know and like to make good music. That means when I put the whole of them together it is exploring good music. That's where my head is - if I'm calling a session I get the best set of musicians so when artists see I'm working with the best set of musicians, artists love to work with the best musicians also. So when I line up guys like Robbie and Sly and Ansell Collins singers are just begging me to let them make a song with them. Which makes life easier for me.

You are still in touch with Bunny Lee as you released Cork and Tar, which is another nickname for you isn't it? You were both at One Love Festival - how was that experience?

Bunny Lee is my friend and is like a father to me. When we are in Jamaica we are like that - we visit each other and share ideas. We get along well.

Reggae seems popular in England again - it had some bad times.

Reggae is always going to be popular again. It has its ups and downs. Whenever you see reggae drop down it always has something that lifts it back up again. Right now I think it's going to be lifted up because people are getting fed up of the computerized music. So what the producers need to do now is start making more good music. What's really lifting back the music is Europe. If you go and take a look at the shows that are going on in Europe you see twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand people come out for them. But if you keep a show in England and get three or four thousand people you're a lucky man! The English players in the business like the cheap music. If they can get four LPs for a thousand pounds they just run down and grab it to promote over there! They water down the business and they don't rate you anymore so the Europeans take away the business from them now. They don't get to know the business. They just try to hustle it more. They just try to play middleman now. For instance, an English company is not going to deal with you now if you don't have a market overseas.

The English players in the business like the cheap music

What is the way forward for reggae music in Jamaica?

Most of the Jamaican people are just trying to keep up with the market. If the players in the business don't support us to keep up with the market we just have to do anything to survive. The companies don't start to invest back into the producers to make the good music. It's going to stay like that same way and everybody is just going to be doing their own thing. It's getting a little bit more difficult now because there are a lot of studios in Jamaica because everyone is setting up their own little studio and doing their own little thing. So now music is coming out like hot bread. One time you only had a couple of producers. Now you have hundreds of producers. What needs to happen now is, the performance on stage is what is going to take it to another level. It all depends on how the companies are going to work.

Will you be touring your new album X Is Wrong?

Little Roy and Tappa ZukieWhen I used to sell records it was the tour that used to sell the records. When I toured with my Jamaican band I only needed tour to make enough money to pay the band because the records would sell. Now records don't sell so if I go on the road I need to make enough money to pay the band and also pay myself. For artists like myself, when I stopped recording that help up my career so what I need to do now is start making an album ever year starting from this album. I will put out an album every year so the people will know I'm still here and I'm ready to take the road. I think I'm a better artist now because of my experience. Even on stage I'm a better artist. I'm planning on coming to tour Europe this coming year so people will get to experience what I'm talking about.

Will your next album feature a full band of top musicians recording new rhythms?

I am trying to keep up the originalness. I have the tracks and the songs now so I just need to record. For my next album I am going to try to sell it in the same vein as X Is Wrong because I don't think I can get them back until I make myself some money. Because to pay back some of these musicians in the studio now is very expensive. I need to go on the road, do a couple of tours and make some money - then I can start to make some acoustic rhythms because that's the way out now.

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Posted by shayne wellington on 12.26.2012
I was born and raised in militant barrys I remember what tappa is talkin bout..I had and still hav big he use to call me Papa Lips.. Remember papa was the dj name them times... I move with milltant Barrys older son Tony who now sings with the English beat... We use to play football across the road from Barrys house blacks vs white and along would come Tappa, Barry and the late Keith Hudson they would call us over and say if you beat the white kids you will get a pound.. Them time a pound was paper money and you could get nuff sweets with it.. So we step up our game and thrash da white boys... Get our money and go buy custard cream biscuits and 2 fizzy drink (me and Tony that is).. I knew Tappa and Barry was in the music business but not like how I'm readin it as a grown 44 year old man... As you grow old you move on.. And I never saw Tappa 4 a while.. Till I went to get a draw down all saints road in the earley 80s and there he was on the corner toasting to him self in his flair trouse and waist coat.. He said Papa Lip. Wha gwan.. Wha Tony da...I was proper glad he remembered me coz I was with a sound man at the time (bigga ranks.. Aiwa promotion sound).. After we left Tappa the sound man couldnt belive I knew such a man.. I didn't think it was a big deal.. It was just Tappa to me... Then he start tell me bout tune he producd that I played but didn't know he had a hand in.. (man did I feel proud that day) ....year went by and Tony (Militants Barrys son) emergated to the states in 88... 2009 comes along and Tony comes to check his Kilburn peeps and Tappa happened to be performing in Camden jazz café.. So we go and support him... We go backstage to check him and he looks at tony and says.. Ah no di yoot dat use to hang round number 14, Tony says yes, Papa Lips... There again I was so happy he remembered me.. The fuckin guys a legend and long may he live... Lookin forward to a album every year Tappa... We will link up some how.... From Papa Lips aka Countryman.. from Kilburn.

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