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Interview: Tarrus Riley (2012)

Interview: Tarrus Riley (2012)

Interview: Tarrus Riley (2012)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - 3 comments

"I have to surprise you. The minute I stop surprising you we have a problem!"


Tarrus Riley has made the transition from "next big thing" in reggae music to "consistently big thing" with relative ease. The son of Uniques, Sensations and solo reggae veteran Jimmy Riley, the Rastafarian star has brought his powerful but distinct tenor voice to a wealth of original material: from lovers smash She's Royal (2006) to the African consciousness of Shaka Zulu Pickney (2011) to covers of John Legend and Robin Thicke. His fourth album, 'Mecoustic', is a collection of unplugged renditions of songs from his previous three albums 'Challenges', 'Parables' and 'Contagious', devised with and recorded with his BLAKSOIL band (Bredren Living According King Selassie-I Overstanding & Iritical Livity) under the watchful eye of hornsman producer Dean Fraser. Angus Taylor spoke to Tarrus for the third time about his new record, his love of nurturing other artists, and why London is the place for him...

Tarrus Riley

How did Dean and yourself decide to make an acoustic album and how did the project come to fruition?

We decided to make the album last year while we were on the tour bus, thinking about giving people some of the special, personal Tarrus Riley songs that they never probably got on singles. Songs with strong lyrics, real wholesome songs. It was Mr Fraser's idea to do it acoustic, I liked it and we started recording. It took about six months to record.

A lot of acoustic albums are just a voice and guitar but you and Dean have put a lot more into it than that.

Yes! For there is more to acoustic than just a voice and a guitar. Remember, acoustic is not electric so you have a whole heap of instruments you can use on an acoustic album and that's what you get on this album right here. So it's just like you said: "A lot more than just a voice and guitar" - and I've done that already on Parables with My Baby (Cyaan Sleep) where it was just my baby, a voice and guitar! So it wasn't just that, it was much more than that.

Then again, in your recent video for If It's Jah Will it shows these songs can work very well with just a voice and guitar. Tell me about how and where that was shot.

Yeah! That was on the set of the video for my song Come Over! I was there with my guitar giving them a little sneak preview of how the acoustic album was going to sound and we just recorded If It's Jah Will right there in Times Square. We were in New York for the Reggae Rhythm n Blues concert with Babyface and all them when we decided to shoot a video same time. But then at the same time I was playing the guitar and giving them If It's Jah Will so we just put it on YouTube to let people see what happens behind the scenes.

There is more to acoustic than just a voice and a guitar

In that video it shows you meeting your fans and doing some exercise. How important are those two things to you?

(big laugh) Well I'm the biggest fan of my fans! I really am. The fans make the music go on. They come to the concert and buy the records. The fans are family. Fans make Tarrus Riley. Fans make Omar Riley into Tarrus Riley. And exercise? We have to exercise to do music. Music is something that will definitely take a toll on your system so you have to exercise your mind and your body. And you see that on the video! Me on the treadmill and everything! I was not modelling - I really had to do that! (laughs)

As well as new material and hits from Parables and Contagious you've given a lot of songs from your first album Challenges a new platform on this album. You start off with the first track from that album, Larger Than Life.

Yes, definitely. Because when I did my first album I was a new youth on the scene with new music, a new sound, new rhythms, everything. So now that Tarrus Riley has been getting more attention we want to revisit these songs. They're very special songs and I definitely want people to get a chance to hear them.  And you have new material like Paradise, Whispers, you have nice brand new music on there also.

You sing with your father, not for the first time, but this time you sing one of his songs Black Mother Prays.

That's also a new thing for our generation. That's a very big song for him, and his generation knows about that more. Black Mother Prays is definitely a big Jimmy Riley classic along with Love and Devotion and the rest. So I really wanted the youth in my time to hear that song.

Another collaboration on the album is with the dub poet Cherry Natural where she adds some extra exposition to the song System Set about the Willie Lynch syndrome. Were you there in the studio with her? In our last interview you talked about how the slave owner Willie Lynch is not a person but an order, a mindset, so people who doubt the veracity of the Willie Lynch document are missing the point.

Cherry Natural is someone Dean linked up with in the studio but we're not strangers. We're all a part of the musical community in that sense. But in the studio she and Dean linked up and she did the song a whole heap of justice. Willie Lynch is the system. I don't know if there's such a face. I can't tell you if it's a person but I know that the Willie Lynch syndrome is a syndrome like you have other syndromes. They use your differences to fight against. That's how he works: he doesn't use your differences to make you stand out and be special and who you are. He uses your differences against you. So because you come from there and I come from here, or we walk different or we look different or we speak different, he tries to bring in a greater or a lesser value. That's how the system works inside and out. That's how the system works and how you see it. People prejudiced and ridiculing each other because of difference.

Let's talk about some tracks you've been doing with other people. You were vibing in the studio with your old tourmate I-Octane for the very uplifting song All We Need Is Love on his new album.

That was all courtesy of Robert Livingstone. He brought me to the studio and he wanted me on Octane's CD. As you know the first time Octane was on tour in Europe he was with us and we wish Octane all the best in what he's doing. All We Need Is Love is what the song is saying and it's true that all we need is love. We support Octane music and Konshens music and a lot of the new youths rising like C-Sharp and Protoje. We need more of them on the road so when we're touring we tour it up nice! And you see Jamaican music is bright just like how you see R&B with all the Ushers and the Chris Brown's and all of them. We have a whole heap of youth doing good music.

We have a whole heap of youth doing good music

I was just going to mention Konshens as both you and your brother Wrath guested on the remix of his Rasta Impostor on his new album too.

(laughs) You know about my brother too? Both him and Konshens went to Excelsior and they are friends. They play football together because Konshens is a good footballer and enough people don't know about that! My brother plays football and he deejays in his spare time and because I was on the album Konshens said "Yow, bring your bredda and mek him give me a verse!" So it was all fun and we'll see how far it goes.

Both I-Octane and Konshens have talked about the guidance you give to newer artists. Konshens said being in the studio with you is like being in a school class where you have fun.

Tarrus RileyWell that's a big compliment and I really respect Konshens with that talk there! Konshens is crazy and we always have good fun in the studio! It's funny because we do this without even trying to do it when the man them like Octane call me their big brother! I'm not even approaching it like that. I'm not even trying anything - I'm just being myself! So it's good when the energy is up and it's good, like we say, that we really expect great things from the youth.  Trust me. Because I can't do it by myself and I really want great things to happen to those youths to show you how powerful reggae music and Jamaican music is!

As a deejay when you started out you must have no problem helping both deejays and singers with their technique.

Honestly, that is my first music influences like Shabba Ranks, Bounty, Buju, that whole music. It was just the love of music and wanting to do music long term that led me into singing as well as encouragement from people like Mr Fraser and my brethren Gibby Morrison. I used to tell my brethrens at the time "If you're doing music I want to go for the long run" so they'd tell me "You need to sing" and I'd say "I can't sing!" I recorded a song for Danny Browne and I was singing "SCREW FACE LEFT FROM BOUT YAH" and he stopped the tape and started laughing! I said "W'happen?" and he said "Haha you think you're a deejay!" I said "Wha? I'm a deejay!" and he said "You're wasting your voice man!" But he still recorded me and he still put out the song. So now I can sing, I can deejay, I can rap, I can play a little instrument, I'm on a roll! (laughs)

We are working on some music right now that London is going to just eat up!

You're a big fan of the singer Amy Winehouse. Did you ever get to meet her?

No, I didn't and that was a big big big bad bad bad thing. I wish I met her and I would love her to rest in peace. I am a big fan of Amy Winehouse for real - that is true!

You have lots of European tour dates lined up. Will you and the band be playing acoustic, electric, both?

Well the way I play it is, the tour was around before the album was around! So now the tour and album work together because now we are on tour promoting the album. We've been in France for almost a week now doing acoustic sessions and they've been real good so that's probably the whole of the acoustic part! But you're still going to get the songs and it's good because we play every kind of music - reggae, rocksteady, nyabinghi , dancehall , the different diversity of the music and that's what the show is all about.  Where are you from?


London! My place! I like to come to London. Mr Fraser is just telling me that the 4th August is his birthday and we will be going to England. And listen, let me tell you, I have a special love for London trust me! I come to London and all of a sudden I am an Englishman! (laughs) Every time I come to England it is a big deal. The last time I was there with Beres Hammond, trust me, I had the best time of my life! And I am working on a project right now that London is going to love! We are working on some music right now that London is going to just eat up! You are going to love it.

The one thing we don't switch is the message

All the while you have been making this acoustic album you have been stacking up tunes in the dancehall. Will these be collected on your next electric album?

(big laugh) Nah man! No dancehall album! I know you all love them but listen! That is just another part of me that I had to express and we give thanks that everybody love it. It's nice because it makes the concert nice and it shows you the diversity of me . But I am Tarrus Riley and I have to surprise you. The minute I stop surprising you we have a problem! I have to keep you all on your toes so just as you think I'm doing it this way, I just switch it on you the next way. But one thing we don't switch is the message. Even though the beat might change we are still telling you to love yourself, love your culture, self esteem. It's all about BLAKSOIL and what BLAKSOIL represents - unity and gathering so you don't have to worry!


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Read comments (3)

Posted by beverley sinclair on 04.25.2012
Another great one..

Posted by m3nn0 on 04.26.2012
I was there at Petrol. Masterful performance. One thing he certainly does different from his peers is building slowly and craftly on his carier. He doesn't do 4 albums per year and mustn't have a new hit every week. No, it's only his fourth album in 6 years. And it's even recycling older material. He knows his songs and he knows how to keep them alive. Bless up.

Posted by Christiane Nicely on 05.23.2012
Love this interview and the clip! Where is Lamont Savoury though? - I want to be in London, too!!! Although I will be in Bersenbrück on August 4. Hope to see you there, Angus! :-)

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