Thursday, October 26, 2006
In 2001, a young man took Jamaica by storm with a song called “Virtuous Woman”. Born Mark Dyer in 1979, the deeply religious artist and trained engineer who calls himself Warrior King continued to crank out niceness with tunes like “Power to Chant” and the spiritual anthem “Never Go Where Pagans Go.” For those of us who enjoy conscious, cultural reggae, Warrior King's second album, Hold the Faith, is a real treat. Not only are the riddims terrific—the production duties are ably split between Bobby “Digital” Dixon and Sheldon “Calibud” Stewart—but the message behind the music is overwhelming positive and uplifting. On a rainy fall day, Warrior King made me forget about the overcast skies as he spoke to me about his message, his faith, and his love for Jamaica. Portmore is also home to some of the best talent in Jamaica--and this includes Warrior King. I interviewed him last fall, when the weather was equally rainy, chilly, and just generally bad. He cheered me up...maybe it'll work for you.
Portmore is also home to some of the best talent in Jamaica--and this includes Warrior King. I interviewed him last fall, when the weather was equally rainy, chilly, and just generally bad. He cheered me up...maybe it'll work for you.
EM: On your first album you sang a song about the value of education and on this new record there is also a tune that deals with the importance of education. This is clearly a big issue for you.
WK: Jamaica is in a state of turmoil right now, basically because of the lack of educated people and youth. Majority a lot of illiterate people are there. You have big people down there who are in their forties and they can’t read or even write. So it’s easy to resort to crime and violence. If someone is educated, they can reason out and come to some sort of reasoned terms, but someone who is not educated prefers to resort to violence. So this is exactly why they mash up the society. Education, as his majesty teaches us, is the key to betterment and completeness of living in this modern time. So as a servant of his majesty, we emphasize the importance of education, because education brings liberation. It’s good for every nation.
But, if you want a good education in Jamaica you have to have money. A lot of money. I never used to pay school fee, but now the parents have to pay school fee for primary school, basic school. I have a likkle son; me have to pay $6000-7000 Jamaican dollars a month. That’s just a normal, basic school. So you see, most people can’t afford that so it end up that the youths, the parents carry them to go work ‘pon the street side. In Jamaica you see a lot of youths at the stoplight, wiping glasses when they should be in school. You can’t put blame because their parents cannot afford it. They cannot buy books for them, they cannot buy uniform, they cannot pay school fee. They cannot afford the fare to send them to school. Education is the key for any nation’s development. That means education should be free. You haffi consider the poor.
EM: Clearly you feel this on a deeply personal level.
WK: Yes. You see, I had it rough. I was grown by a single parent, my mother. It was very rough, rough. And my mother haffi work, night and day to send me to school. So I didn’t waste time where education is concerned.
EM: You have spoken to youth—especially youth who are interested in the music industry—that it is important to stick with school to have a back up plan.
WK: The more educated you are, the better you are. Because, what I think is that nuff Jamaican artists have the attitude that they have because of illiteracy. They don’t know how to conduct themselves so that give them a bad attitude. Education makes you more rounded so you can deal with the interviews, relate to people more better—all levels of people, whether they come from uptown or downtown, no matter what category they come from.
EM: You’re coming from Portmore—the parish right next to Kingston, Jamaica. There are a number of artists coming from there recently—Gyptian, who won the Portmore talent contest last year and has a huge hit with “Serious Times”, and of course I Wayne. There seems to be a similarity between you and these other artists from Portmore in that you are all very concerned with consciousness. What do you think it is about Portmore that leads to the development of so many strong artists committed to conscious, thoughtful lyrics?
WK: Definitely, definitely, because you know there are many Rastafari in Portmore. So that stimulates the youth to come out with this type of vibe, you know? But at the same time, some youth see the culture and the vibes and they jump on the bandwagon too.
EM: But isn’t it better to jump on the bandwagon of cultural music than to jump on the bandwagon of less positive vibes?
WK: Ahh, definitely. Negativity is bad. But you know Portmore and Jamaica on a whole they have a lot of conscious people there: Bob Marley, the foundation, same way, you know what I mean? Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown and those artists, Luciano, Beres Hammond. They don’t rate violence so people know that positivity is the way.
EM: In terms of Portmore itself, you still live there and give back to the community.
WK: It is very important to remember where you are coming from. Although I was born in the country, in Clarendon, I moved from the country to Portmore. I moved to Kingston in my teenager stage. But it is very important to give back to the community that you are coming from. Cause your roots and your foundation that is. Right now, we come from Waterford and right now we have a youth we’re teaching him the right riddim, his name is Persistence, and he has a single coming out entitled “Foundation.” That’s a way to give back to the community, by helping some of the youths who have the potential too.
EM: Your music is very conscious. Do you think this trend is going to continue in Jamaica?
WK: It is not really continuing, I just speak a positive sound on a record. Whenever you hear that positive music is on the rise, it is always being recorded. It’s the people in the media you see. The media people highlight the vibes. They highlight the slackness and dem highlight the positive, you know what I mean? Positive music has always been recorded in Jamaica. Every since reggae music has been established in Jamaica, but it is the media, sometimes they don’t highlight the positive music but now, we see a lot of people highlighting the positive music which is good, but positive music has always been recorded and done in Jamaica.
EM: You just need to encourage people to pay attention to it.
WK: That is the thing; that is the thing.
EM: It seems that some people don’t like to record political music because of the potential for controversy.
WK: Everyone has the right to speak their mind. So they shouldn’t be afraid to deal with politics. Politics are realistical issues that need to be addressed. Reggae music that come from Bob Marley, it mention social issues. That’s the foundation of reggae music, that’s how it start out. Reggae artists address social issues where political issues are concerned or crime and violence are concerned. The condition of the roads or the condition of the country, definitely.
EM: Your faith obviously means a lot to you and I notice that on the cover of your album you have pictures of one of the carved rock churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
WK: Ethiopia gives the world all the religion that the world posseses. The three main religions: Christianity, Judaism and the Muslim faith, all of those religions came out of Ethiopia. So the foundation of the faith, where these religions started was Ethiopia, Africa. That is one of the reasons for highlighting the church. The church that is carved out of rock is a mystery to this day, like the pyramids.
EM: Having been to Ethiopia, I was made aware that the Ethiopian people are very nervous about the Rastafari, because they are very nervous about the use of marijuana.
WK: But not every Rastafarian use marijuana. Smoking marijuana does not make a Rasta. It’s not a rule or a regulation or a law because we have nuff Rastafarian bredren and sistren who do not smoke, who are firm in the faith, who have never smoked from the day they are born.
EM: I think that that is a misconception that many people have—that all Rastas smoke.
WK: The use of herb is a personal thing. It’s for meditation. The herb is not a fashion and style thing, it’s a sacrament for I and I still. In reality, a lot of youths smoke marijuana because they see Bob Marley smoke it in a lot of pictures or they see a lot of Rastafarians smoking herb but me wan fi tell them say: “If you smoke the herb then you have to smoke the herb and think positive.” But don’t smoke the herb or over use it because herb is not something you should abuse, because anything you abuse can be dangerous to your health. If you drink too much water, if you sleep too much, if you have too much sex, if you eat too much, everything that you overdo can be dangerous to you. But there is a balance in everything, you have to reach it.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I went and saw Broadcast and the Sea and Cake last night. Since both bands have been referred to as “post-rock”, I thought it might be a worthy topic for my journal. It is really hard to define the whole genre of post rock. When I was working at Shift this summer, one of my colleagues was desperate to figure out just what exactly post-rock was. It became a bit of a project for everyone in the office. Although we could give her a list of bands: Gastr del soul, godspeed you black emperor, Do Make Say Think, Dylan Group, To Roccoco Rot, Mouse on Mars, Palace, Stereolab, Tortoise…I could go on, it was virtually impossible to define post-rock in any coherent way. I suppose this resistance to categorization could be viewed as somewhat postmodern and maybe that’s what makes a band post-rock. Interestingly though, I remember Patti Schmidt, host of CBC's terrific late night show Brave New Waves chracterizing a lot of this stuff as incredibly earnest. All of these bands are really serious about making art as opposed to music. These bands are quite somber and don’t seem to be having a great deal of fun, she was saying. There is also a lot less cynicism involved than in, say, punk rock.
What I noticed last night, particularly in Broadcast’s set, was a desire to layer—not just sounds, but images as well. They used no spotlights, but instead had an amazing film projected on a screen behind them. It was, actually, two projectors that had been set up to overlap. The films had evidently been pieced together out of old educational films and the effect was pretty spectacular. There was a particularly experimental bent to Broadcast’s performance and as I watched the performance I was able to set out somewhat of a definition of post-rock in my mind. Post-rock can not accurately be called a label in the same way “roots reggae” or “SoCal punk” are able to indicate a certain sound. Instead, post-rock indicates an attitude—perhaps even a theoretical model for music making. Each of the bands I mentioned above (and you could probably lump Radiohead in there too for good measure) seem to view music making as something that should be informed by a postmodern understanding of the world. I don’t think it is a coincidence that some critics refer to the stuff as “grad school rock”.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Monday, October 09, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
Okey dokes, so I was obsessed with Dinosaur Jr. for a great deal of my childhood/teenagehood/twenties (must I date myself?). Something about that guitar sound--Green Mind is still a terrific album. Anyhow, while I was working in publishing I got this great idea to do a book about Morrissey's fans--it really was a thinly veiled excuse to set up an interview with J Mascis, who I knew was quite the fan. Though the book never materialized, the interview did, and the resulting piece was only ever used as part of a school assignment; it was a project where I was supposed to "experiment" with journalism. This may perhaps be the first (and, frankly, last) piece of rock n' roll writing that I've ever done. It's bloody academic-y and I sound like a giant nerd. Also, when I think about this now, it does seem odd that I called one musician up to talk about someone else's music, but Mr. Mascis was kind and did humour me. Thanks to James for archiving this...5 years is a long time ago, eh?
J Mascis on Morrissey
The post-punk era - mostly seen as bereft of political ideas and motivated primarily by a desire to either sell records or make self-indulgent art - is also the era of the Smiths. Providing an interesting antidote to almost all other British music of the time, the Smiths provide an interesting response to the times. Instead of being overtly political and anti-government, there is, I feel, a tremendously individualized resistance detailed in Morrissey's lyrics. It is subtle sometimes, other times more overt, but always insisting on positioning himself on the margins - refusing to fit in and blindly accept traditional views, morals, and ideas.
Perhaps that's why hardcore punk guitar hero J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr is such a big fan. I always thought that J Mascis's covers of songs originally performed by the Smiths were somewhat out of keeping with his normal punky fare. In addition, I've been interested in how people come to the Smiths and Morrissey and why they enjoy the music and lyrics so much. A multi-faceted and constantly evolving individual, Morrissey seems to open himself up to all sorts of fans - each one believing that Morrissey speaks to them individually. As a result, his public positioning as well as his lyrics are constantly interpreted and re-interpreted. I thought it might be an idea to ask J Mascis where he stood.
EM: The release of Dinosaur on Homestead in 1985 nearly coincides with the realease of The Queen is Dead in 1986. I enjoy both of these albums, but they are obviously very different. What kind of music were you listening to back when you started performing? Were you at all interested in the Smiths at that time? What has been your acquaintance with their music?
JM: I first saw Morrissey on the Cutting Edge TV show on MTV. He seemed quite annoying, like he wanted to be punched. I wasn't inspired to pick up any of [his music] at the time. Then, a friend in college went to see the Smiths--he was a heavy anglophile. He said they were great. I nodded in disinterest. I first got interested in their music when "Girlfriend in a Coma" came out. I thought it was really funny and I liked that it was short. I had heard "How Soon is Now" and I really started liking that song. I also liked the other video that popped up at the time - "Stop Me (if you think you've heard this one before)." My interest gradually became more and more til' I realised the genius of Morrissey. I was listening to the Birthday Party, Wipers, New Order, and Dream Syndicate at the time Dino started up. When I started doing publicity for Where You Been in England I got all their albums on 10" at the Warner office. I guess they had just bought the Smiths catalogue from Geoff Travis. That's when I first heard The Queen is Dead.
EM: Writers often list Sonic Youth and Neil Young (sometimes even Led Zeppelin) as influences for Dinosaur jr . Would you say that you have been influenced by the Smiths?
JM: I'm not sure how influenced by the Smiths I have been. I don't play like Johnny Marr or sing like Morrissey, but I love them.
EM: Having recorded covers like "Just Like Heaven" and "Show Me the Way," was there any particular reason why you chose to cover "The Boy With the Thorn In His Side"?
JM: I guess I was really getting into the Smiths at the time not realising that everyone already loved them. You know you get into a band and it seems like you discover it and no one else has ever really been into it like you were. I'm playing in england and every American band does a Smiths cover as if the English will be really impressed that you know this cool English band, but they're just bored. "Oh no not another American saying 'I'm cool, I dig yer people, I get it, English right?'" I didn't realize it was boring and uncool til' later so I still had a genuine enthusiasm while playing it. Americans still love to cover the Smiths - it's just not as tiresome over here. We weren't beat over the head with Morrissey in this country. He still seems cool.
EM: What is your favourite Smiths/Morrissey song? If you were to make a mixed tape with Smiths/Morrissey songs, what songs would you put on it?
JM: It's hard to pick a favorite song - it changes. Maybe "Panic." I like "Last night I dreamt somebody loved me," "Ask," and "Some girls are bigger than others."
EM: As an American hardcore/punk/grunge/indie pop figure (sorry to categorize), your version of a Smiths song raises questions about the influence of the Smiths in the US, and their influence on other musicians. What do you think the impact of the Smiths/Morrissey has been within the states? Can you think of any unlikely bands/musicians that have been influenced by their music?
JM: People I know seemed to start liking the Smiths after they broke up. They were a little too much for people at first - you had to ease yer way into them. Like, Henry Rollins would talk about wanting to beat up Morrissey and Robert Smith. The English camp takes a little getting used to after being a testosterone filled hardcore kid. Still a lot of my friends think the Smiths are too wimpy, but those who love them really love them. I thought it was funny when Choke from Slapshot really got into the Smiths and Slapshot started covering "How Soon is Now." He was the "hard" in "hardcore" - they didn't come much harder. Suddenly it was OK in Boston for hardcore kids to love the wimpy Smiths as well as loving hockey.
EM: Morrissey's fandom decreased in the UK after the break-up of the Smiths, but he gained popularity in the US. Granted, Morrissey still enjoys international recognition (enough to be named the most famous artist without a contract by Mojo magazine) Why do you think that Morrissey has such an enduring popularity?
JM: He's extremely talented - a great singer and lyricist. Why would people stop loving him?
EM: Have you ever met Morrissey? If so, what did you think of the man? If not, do you think you might get along with him?
JM: I never met him. I would hope we would get along famously after having 5 or 6 tea times together.
[EDIT: Whoops! I guess I was wrong...I did write this. Oh, and I couldn't help myself:]