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Interview: Ras Daniel Ray and Tu Shung Peng

Interview: Ras Daniel Ray and Tu Shung Peng

Interview: Ras Daniel Ray and Tu Shung Peng

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - Comment

"Our mission is to give another light to the roots music"


Jamaican singer Ras Daniel Ray and the French band Tu Shung Peng released an album together in February 2012 entitled 'Ray of Light'. Combining the old Yardies recipe with a modern production, they give us a beautiful album with conscious lyrics; a fresh moment in crisis time.

Ras Daniel Ray and Tu Shung Peng

Could you describe the new album and tell us about its main influences?

Ras Daniel Ray (singer): This album is about teachings of life. Example: the teaching of the old school way. The concept is about the originality of the music and the colouring of the text around it and the melodies to let it reach to the public so that they can feel not really a modern thing but something from the past in a modern way.

Tu Shung Peng: We have a wide variety of styles and rhythms that make up reggae. There are foundation tunes, tunes that are more nyabinghi with lots of percussion, tunes that are more rub-a-dub or more steppers, tunes that are really roots. We have a soul tune, because soul really counts. You can also feel soul and jazz influences throughout the album.

We have the same influences as the Jamaican fathers, who we’ve listened to for many years, in the same way that Daniel has. Among the different tastes of the group members of all the group members the one thing we all have in common is that we are lovers of roots reggae from 1965 to 1980.That’s the music that has influenced us the most. Obviously also lots of soul, lots of jazz. We wanted this album to sound roots but with the aim of having a slightly more modern, good quality production. The music and lyrics revolve around a sort of teaching manual of reggae, with topics like self-confidence; of Jah, obviously in the context of Rasta…

Ras Daniel Ray: We talk about education for the children, for humanity, to remind them why it is important to bring back the roots. It’s not like roots has died, roots is still alive, but our mission for the Ray of Light album is to give another light to the roots music, to keep it alive, to pass the baton.

Creating a bridge between generations, delivering a message of ancient peace and love for humanity, but also learning to survive in modern times: positive ways to continue the fight of good against evil, to overcome fears, to do the best.

Daniel, Why did you come from Jamaica to Europe?

RDR: It happened in a natural and mystic way. It was in my head for a long time while I was in Jamaica, to travel to different countries. It happened that Europe was the first place. I have been two places in Europe, first place is Switzerland and second place is France, after we go other places in Europe: Austria, Sweden etc. With the motivation in France, we met Tu Shung Peng because I was living almost in the same community. We jammed every Sunday…. and ideas came. I didn't have a lot of original songs at that time because in Jamaica I did a lot of recording, just two recordings. We were just jamming songs like Augusto Pablo, Ras Michael, Errol Dunkley, Alton Ellis, my idols. Tu Shung Peng played what I like, old school style, foundation tune. So if they say “Come”, it’s no stress, just feeling. It brought ideas together. The band wanted to push reggae and support the roots, and my mission from Jamaica is to support people who want to motivate the culture of Rasta, reggae roots. That was my life in Jamaica to keep away from bad things, and we keep a positive way with Rasta and the music; with that we keep a cool head and the motivation. We just developed a massive inspiration around we with these vibes. 

TSP: We were lucky to meet a singer who liked the same music as us and drew musical inspiration from 70s reggae roots as well as jazz and soul. At the start of the band, we had not composed anything because for us there was a big difference between knowing and understanding the music, and playing the music so that it would sound like the classics tracks that people loved. For the first few years of the band we really worked hard at getting the roots sound. Then we wanted to create a Tu Shung Peng sound of our own, but obviously having studied hard at how to recreate the classic sound. There were quitter a few people in the group who were beginning to get frustrated because they had lots of ideas as composers and writers, so we opened the floodgates and off it went from there! We were also very lucky to be working with singers who we listened to. It’s one of the advantages of reggae that it’s relatively easy to work with the artists who have made this music. We had the vision to do this from very early on but we weren’t able to at the start.

How does the Ray of Light album differ from the first two albums of Tu Shung Peng?

RDR: The first two albums of Tu Shung Peng were compilations with various Jamaican artists such as Michael Rose, Ken Boothe, U Roy… With these connections, when we tour we realise we’re young and we want to motivate. So the ideas come together: why not do an album together because we’ve got different songs but we want to do something really fresh together, so we don’t really use songs that I have already or they have already, so we make new tracks and we arrange them, colour them, and with that we come up with this Light. In the beginning we never really knew the name but finally the name arrived by one of the musicians. With all that it brings a difference from the compilations. A compilation is just different artists, different tracks with different meetings. « Ray of Light » is just one concept; Bob and the Wailers, we play together on stage, in studio, on this album. That’s why it’s really different from the other two albums.  

TSP: Once we composed the songs, we played them on stage. It allowed us to confront the new tracks to public response. It is an album that’s better adapted to play live than the preceding ones, partly due to the style of reggae that we’re playing but mainly because we’re one group with one singer. Evidently with the albums which have loads of different singers on them, there are unfortunately many of them with whom we’ve never been able to play live.

RDR: In the building of the album the engineer, Fab Wize, gave a big energy in the way he saw the vision in the way he saw the album.

TSP: He has a really good knowledge of the groove of the reggae. He put a lot of effort into the sound, the mix, all of that. He’s been to Jamaica many times and has worked with a lot of Jamaica artists in Jamaican studios.

What drives you to make music and what was the inspiration for your lyrics?

Ras Daniel RayRDR: The Inspiration of my lyrics is the way of life with the Rasta concept. With this way of life sometimes we have to be patient. Sometimes we would like certain things to happen but we don’t have what it takes to make it happen.  So we try to write songs about this life and we balance it with other people who have the same life in different cultures. It just happens naturally, you know?

In Jamaica we use the Bible and the history books of the ancestors and we have to balance it with modern life. Not to really try to point the finger at anyone but when you say a thing it’s a reality. For example in this song « Justice revolution for survival »: on television we see to the news with different people, different country they don’t know what to do to get the establishment listen them. They do revolution for justice, and then they feel free. It’s important for people to realize that it’s not over. We have to really wake up. Don’t get confused by watching late news… there’s another day coming tomorrow, so prepare.

Show people how to survive, how to really make your way. In this track « Inna de Backyard » it’s based upon the farmer. It’s not about planting ganja or weed, it’s about planting food. We see the crisis happening on the planet where everybody wants to go just to McDonalds etc. and nobody wants to plant the food. We made the song especially for the agriculture, worldwide, to support the farmers to plant, and give them that respect because if you don’t plant food you can’t survive. 

This album is based on different topics, to really help the solutions with the music. We seek not just music, we seek a message. In this time the people don’t really want to listen to the prime minister or the president, they want to listen to what the artists are saying. They want the positive music where they can relax and feel that. A lot of people are lost in the world and the music is the only comfort for them. People love different music, but for we reggae music is really like a message, a vehicle to take the message to the people. We want to keep it like that, like the ancestors of the reggae, the old school people. We just want to keep that light more bright. That’s what we’re doing with the Ray of Light.

TSP: What attracted me to reggae music from the start, and what keeps me listening to it always, is the power of the lyrics compared to other sorts of music, which talk more about love or things like that.  Someday you are in trouble or in bad mood and you listen a song which puts you in a positive way for the rest of the day.

Why did you choose Daniel for the first album with only one singer?

TSP: It was due to the understanding we had of him and the confidence we had in him. The project has four years to complete from the time we started until it was released. When we get involved with an artist for an album you have to be sure that they can work with you, that they’re available, and ultimately the quality of the album means that that you have to have a friendship between you, that you can spend a lot of time together, playing together.

How do you feel about the reggae scene in Jamaica and in Europe right now?

RDR: In Jamaica the new generation have different problems in their life and they  get different inspirations, it’s not like in the past. They get more material things, more bling-bling and the bad ways and they make aggressive music, sex music. But there are artists who try to keep the light. In Europe people like the old school way and roots music. With this album we hope it can show to Jamaica with good music you can keep good vibes. If people want to do something bad and maybe listening to this album will change them.

TSP: The reggae scene feels good in Europe, the shows are often  full, there are many reggae festivals in lots of different countries, although reggae suffers from a lack of media communication it is very popular. The topics of reggae songs like colonialism, slavery day and revolt against of Babylon's oppression can affect many people around the world, not just the Jamaican people.

Translated by Veronique Skelsey


Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Franck Blanquin is prohibited.

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