Q: What should take reggae music further as you see it? It should be distinguished from the dancehall stuff, which is just another branch of the Jamaican musical tree in a way. Reggae stands on its own, it is trodding its own path. You said in a 1970s interview that musicians were, in general, too lazy, didn't practice enough or came up with something inventive.
A: Same thing happenin' now, today too. Beca' I mean, the whole t'ing is about being... a star. Is a whole hype t'ing. It's not about making a difference. Beca' I mean, any man can jus' have a lickle - most of the singer dem today, they might jus' have a lickle one hit song, an' they're all over the place! They jus' have one song. So, they gone on tour with one song. So after they sing that one song, what song they gonna sing again? You don't even have an album. So I don't even think these managers an' dem t'ing deh that get involved now, they try to program these guys to be someone they... You have a one song, well, that's good, but you need another one, and you need another one, and you need another one. You need at least twelve songs, to complete a CD. You don't need twelve number one songs, but you need like twelve songs that people can communicate with, y'know, an' tune in to, so at least when you go out on the road you 'ave a show. Wha' you a go do when you sing that one hit song, you goin' sing a bunch of Bob Marley songs or someone... you know wha' I mean? That is not a show. What kind of money you can get from a promoter to come out on the road to sing your one song? You know? So this is what's happenin'. Before that you hear group like the Diamonds, but you still 'ave the music! (Chuckles) It's like Dennis Brown, John Holt an' dem man, they have the music. Them 'ave tune. Tune (laughs)! So much tune that (chuckles)... I mean, Gregory Isaacs, too much tune! Today the artists dem don't penetrate dat way deh, ca' the radio just hype up them one song, or the deejay dem an' ray, ray. You see dem come out on the road, dem cyaan represent so dem come out with a package, and they run around the stage an' them do two or three song an' jump off an'... you know? We haffe forget about an' get rid of this package stuff and get back to artists come on tour an' do a show.
Q: A lack of seriousness?
A: It's not as if they're not takin' it serious, they do. Ca' it's their job, their career. But that's how it become.
Q: Just a rush job, and they get trapped in that.
A: Yeah, yeah, is just a rush an' the hype side kinda decrease when it's supposed to increase, because of wha' - reggae music already promote itself, it need no more promotion. All it need is for the featured artists to get paid for the work that they have done, and the musicians. Not just the promoters and, y'know, the big corporation. Then what could help is if we could set up a lot of institution, like community centers and places whe 'ave some musician, so they can go out an' earn too from their music. And bring out programme like analog recording, so engineeers can learn how to mic a drum an' a guitar properly, an acoustic piano, horns, an' all of dem t'ing deh that require micing a certain way. You know, all the technology, technicalities, you know, that it takes to bring out music sounding like what it used to sound like then, not now.
Q: Is this something you could see yourself being involved with, to supervise?
A: Well, y'know, I do, I do that. I remember I was workin' with some guy in Jersey a couple of years ago, and we set up a plan an' he was supposed to bring in some instruments or whatever. We tried to transact to get those equipment, an' him jus' swing a next way. Because what I wanted was to like set up a programme, which I know I will, eventually, when I'm in that position, materially, to do that. 'Cause I'm always up an' down the place, but I'm thinkin' about it, to give something to the youth dem, something positive, to see that they can help themselves and develop their talent an' the culture.
Q: I did pick up some reissues on the High Times label which was actually Freedom Sounds productions, Prince Alla or whatever it was. Do you still distribute and work with Bertram Brown, Freedom Sounds?
A: Mmm. No, he is doing his own t'ing, but we work together, still. They have their own label for themselves. But we work together through High Times.
Q: The whole concept behind the Freedom Sounds set up was to create something original and different than the bigger labels did at the time, like Joe Gibbs, Channel One, recycling old Studio One riddims or whatever, how do you look back on that period?
A: Yeah, the Freedom Sound t'ing, you'd have to talk more to Bertram Brown about that. My idea of the whole High Times was jus' the High Times artists an' musicians. I guess 'im is responsible an' tek up the music that's theirs an' deal with it on a certain level. You try that an' everybody - sometime people just become greedy an' want to do somet'ing else, an' I guess that's what 'appen.
Q: Back to what you have in the High Times can again, how much could be released of what you have, what is there in the vaults?
A: We have album for every month for the next three years.
A: Lots of stuff, yeah.
Q: What is the recordings that haven't seen the light of day so far?
A: Well, a bunch of t'ings (laughs)! Bunch of t'ings dem.
Q: Like what?
A: Well, most of them, maybe not a Bob Marley, y'know (chuckles). Or a Burning Spear an' t'ing, but a lot of the other names dem. There's Frankie Paul, Freddie McGregor, Devon Russell.
Q: Do you still have that album in print, Joe Higgs' 'So It Go'?
A: 'Triumph', yeah.
Q: 'Triumph', yes, sorry. Brilliant LP.
Q: What's ahead for you now, there's the Congos album, the unplugged set. More?
A: Yeah, that's supposed to come, I dunno what time period have to release that, but that will come out.
Q: One final thing. I did pick up an old magazine a couple of days ago, reading about the tour Jimmy Cliff did to everyone's surprise to South Africa in 1980, when the Apartheid regime was still in full swing. It was hard to justify a move like that, he had to take a lot of criticism for 'breaking' the embargo and go there to play. You went along in his band, as can be seen in the German 'Bongo Man' movie.
A: Yes, yes. And I remember...
Q: What was your decision to go along to South Africa, even at that point?
A: There was no decision there, Africa, I need to go there. I mean, I do understan' what the whole Apartheid t'ing is. I never really love how Jimmy Cliff deal with it, because him bow! I said, "How can a man represent in a place like Africa an' bow an' feel ashamed or feel sorry?", that him went there. Beca' some crazy African attack him 'pon that. These Africans, they don't understan' what is going on, because they're so suppressed by a system that - you have to understan' that we come from a world we name Jamaica, yunno. In 1917 somet'ing, Englishman 'ave to give our freedom beca' we fight for that, you understan'? People like Cudjo an' Nanny an' all dem people, we no joke, we no ramp. We a deal with freedom, rights, an' dem t'ing deh. You understan', so we are different African from every other African, maybe that's why we no born a Africa, we born a Jamaica. So we say, "All right, let us go there". Same way how me an' him go Cuba too, an' when we gone there, there was one man that really upset me - African come to me an' talk seh me a idiot t'ing, an' me seh, "Wha'? Me go Germany, me go all over the worl', wha' you a tell me seh! And because me no born a Africa you a tell me, yu a idiot, go sit down!" So I remember, some guy name Credo, yeah one a dem Muslim priest, he invite us to his place. We go there one mornin' an' we haffe go away, beca' him say we need to come there before the sun rise. And when we went an' come the following day, an' him sit us an' start give us the whole history of South Africa an' how it become what it is, then we realised that 'im seh it was great that Jimmy Cliff an' people like we come there, beca' the people dem down there need people like us to show them. And me get fe see the whole of that free up, even though it's not so free up yet. But we get fe see all of that barrier, all of dem lickle t'ing deh break down, an' artists and musician a come out an' sing all the music too. And even give the Jamaican the respec', beca' them have some artists an' musicians soundin' like Jamaicans an' behave like it's a African t'ing. It's a Jamaican t'ing gone deh so, we a go create dat from right deh so, yu understan', through our oppression dat we go through from the slavery t'ing dung deh. We create dat, our reggae music, our weapon, our future, that we use to free ourselves. Yeah man. And me see Jimmy Cliff when we go deh, a pure army clothes we wear, an' then me see all band from Africa a play dem lickle t'ing deh an' a gwaan like a dem create it. Yes, ca' me no play. So, the Africa trip was a great trip, is just that me t'ink the artists dem should be proud of it going there. And after that, even the guy Credo was tellin' us too, him know that Jimmy himself goin' have a serious problem with Africa beca' of the whole t'ing. But him should know that an' deal with it a certain way. But you see, a soldier is a soldier. You have soldier an' you have different rank, inna the soldier you have soldier inna the bottom an' you have soldier at the top. And if you is a shepherd you have to know how you lead the sheep. And through me is not even a sheep, me is a lion, a shepherd cyaan even lead me, only the King of Kings, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Conquering Lion. You know dem way deh? So that's wha' me realise seh, me a the conquering lion. Jah live. Ca' most a the shepherd gone astray.
Earl 'Chinna' Smith
Earl 'Chinna' Smith
Earl 'Chinna' Smith
(Photos taken at WorldBeat Cultural Center in San Diego CA by Kimberly Parker)
Q: How do you feel about that some of the vintage artists, that most of them have such a struggle to go through and getting their music out? What about JAVAA?
A: Well, I don't want to talk anyt'ing negative about any... you'd have to come down there an' see what operate an' you can judge it from there then.
Q: But it's good to have something for the elders at least.
A: Yeah, but I mean all the t'ings you hear from the elders, they're settin' up - you don't hear that they're settin' up anyt'ing for Jackie Mittoo, nutten for Roland Alphonso, nutten for Tommy McCook, nutten for Theophilius Beckford, nutten for Delroy Wilson. So I don't understan' all of these 'vintage' t'ings, what are their purpose? These people died after so much great work, an' nutten 'appen. You see what I mean? So I dunno what they do represent.
Q: You mean they should put up some sort of fund to assist the elderly musicians down there?
A: Whatever. Somet'ing need to come for these people, y'know. You know who Tommy McCook is?
Q: I sure do.
A: Roland Alphonso, Don Drummonds? Jackie Mittoo, Winston Wright? Delroy Wilson?
Q: I know, it's a shame.
A: If you are still dancin' to their music, what is happenin' to their families? You know what I mean? What are these 'vintage' things for then? Wha' go 'appen? You goin' have a concert or 'ave a day for these people? You goin' have something, what it is? So what is their purpose, tell me? You know, ask them and find out.
Q: I will, one day.
Q: Is there any special names you would like to bring back into the music business? A lot of talents from the 'vintage' days simply gave up when the struggle was too hard to stay in business, they are numerous.
A: Yeah, I'd love to, is just to...
Q: You have guys like Gideon Jah Rubbaal, remember him?
A: Yeah, very well. Yeah. Most of these people is there.
Q: They don't get the chance.
A: Is like them withdraw from the music beca' from how the business treat them. They're there with their stuff too, and just hoping that someone would be just honest enough to jus' come an' deal with their business 'pon a level that they feel free to start back into the whole process again.
Q: Some people say that, currently, there's a resurgence of vintage names in the music now, is this just empty talk or do you feel that yourself, that there's some truth behind it? A lot of names are coming back now, that it is opening up for them again?
A: It is, yu understan', is just that...
Q: They don't come through certain 'necessary' channels so to speak?
A: It's controlled, yeah. It's controlled. Beca' even though the market open up a certain way, the business still rest a way. Because I might have an album an' someone order it, order a portion of it, I go to get it pressed, I have problem in gettin' it pressed beca' the amount that I want an' through that big company that own the press coulda jus' low me down, y'know wha' I mean? And they're like that, the business kinda weird. So it's so many different kinda ways you can get sabotaged owing to the fact that they don't own your music and it's yours, an' you don't have a press, then a man can slow down your whole process because you're not in that position. And you haffe deal with it, because him own the press. I mean, a good pressing plant, then people buy the record. So it's so much different way. You have to - even the small producer dem, sometime them jus' do somet'ing else, and still 'ave their music. That is for those who is not selling out.
|'Earl Chinna Smith & Idrens' is far from the first album project in his own name, in 1977 producer Bunny Lee issued an LP titled 'Sticky Fingers' (no, no Rolling Stones covers included I'm afraid) through Count Shelly's Third World imprint, as by one 'Chinner'. It was a good idea, guitar-based reggae had had some sort of impact the previous year with the release of American jazz virtuoso Eric Gale's 'Negril' album, but just like Bunny's Carl Harvey LP 'Ecstacy of Mankind' (bootlegged as 'Guitar Boogie Dub' for several years but now re-released by the Paris-based Makasound label under its original title) the rhythms just don't seem to fit very well all through an album. The late seventies' 'rockers' sound was, somehow, a bit too rough to make it essential listening having a guitar on top, while someone like Jackie Mittoo could succeed at the same time with his 'Keyboard King' stuff over the same rhythms. Both albums, in retrospect, have their moments though. Without being a hundred percent sure, I believe Chinna reissued that LP on his own High Times imprint during the nineties, 'Sticky Fingers'. 'Idrens' gives me mixed feelings, I will never deny that. It's a bit uneven, although Chinna's guitar playing is a pleasure for the ears throughout. The DVD pretty much illustrates the session procedure, unmistakeably enhanced by that special 'silent saxophone'. The High Times 45s have been interesting for the most part of the nineties, with Istan Black's 'Garvey Inspiration' being outstanding. 'Dub It', the remixed counterpart to Mutabaruka's 'Check It' classic, came out on Nature Sounds a couple of years ago and is a worthwhile investment.|
Still wondering what Chinna has in the vaults if they are as good as this. Only the future will tell us. The future will also tell us if the excellent Joe Higgs album 'Triumph' will come out again, having been long unavailable since its original Alligator release back in 1985. A recent spin to the LP confirmed after so many years in absence what a beautiful production this is, co-produced by Chinna, and how missed the Godfather of Reggae really is. Where is the Joe Higgs compilation we need out there? Same goes for the Alligator 'High Times All-Star Explosion', the first ever High Times anthology but unavailable for more than twenty years since the blues label Alligator ceased to release reggae music. The whole 'Inna De Yard' project brought in something fresh to the industry, stripping off the music to the bare bone, and letting some long lost voices shine again. The Viceroys' effort has received the best criticism so far, and I agree, it is a solid record by a much missed vocal group and the number one to get in the series, followed closely by Kiddus I's superb contribution, in fact his debut album, which is a must-have. Cedric Myton, Linval Thompson and the recent Ras Michael Junior's 'Medicine Man' are all decent efforts. A Junior Murvin is to be expected in the coming weeks, which should be interesting. Personally I would like to see a reissue soonest of the late Devon Russell's beautiful Curtis Mayfield-cover, '(We the People Who Are) Darker Than Blue'. High Times magic at its absolute best.
7" single information courtesy Roots Knotty Roots.
Earl "Chinna" Smith website : www.chinnasmithmusic.com
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