When the people is changing taste you either have to follow the change or stay true to your original appearance, with the latter example probably meaning a steady downfall of record sales and a much harder struggle to maintain your position within the business. Not many manage to do that and a man like Prince Alla certainly didn't. This drew him out of the business - for a while. But of course there's other factors involved and the continual never-ending story of being ripped-off and left empty-handed for all your creative efforts contributes to exit, instead of the other option. However, the withdrawal started a cult surrounding his name and exceptional songs. Born Keith Blake in the Greenwich Town area of suburbian Kingston, his first entry in the music was as member of The Leaders in the rock steady era. The group didn't last long and after a few solo sides he withdrew from the music scene only to return in the mid seventies sporting an impressive mane of dreadlocks and the equally powerful single 'Born A Fighter'. Teaming up with fellow Greenwich resident Bertram Brown (recently turned producer for the local Freedom Sounds label) and singing over heavy Soul Syndicate led tracks, the result was such epochal songs as 'Stone', 'Bucket Bottom' and 'Lots Wife' which gave echo in the rest of the reggae communities worldwide. Just as memorable was the debut album done for deejay Tapper Zukie in 1978 and not long after a compilation of his best recordings for Freedom Sounds was released. Neither of those was beneficial for the man with the forceful open-throated style and biblical messages apart from getting a solid reputation among lovers of hard-hitting riddims and rasta vocals. To these listeners Prince Alla was the very blueprint of what roots music was about. But in the early part of the eighties he vanished. Music wasn't to be his livelihood for several years to come. A man in Greenwich Farm known as King Shark brought him back to recording in the digital age and then the ball slowly got rolling again, cutting new records with people like Jah Shaka, Courtney Dodd, Jah Warrior and the Disciples among others.
The following interview was done backstage on the 28th of Nov. ('03) before a fine PA performance in Scandinavia supported by Swiss operator/discjockey Asher Selector. Even though he had a sore throat and not surprisingly appeared to be (very) troubled by this on stage Alla did entertain the crowd to the best of his ability, and he did it very well due to these circumstances. Many thanks to Asher, Steven, Karl, Tim P, Michael De Koningh, Robert Schoenfeld, Teacher & Mr. T and to Alla himself for taking time out to talk considering the bad throat.

Prince Alla & Asher.

Greenwich Town Area.

Q: Please describe the neighbourhood where you were brought up, that was right there in Greenwich Farm I suppose?

A: Alright. Yes man... give thanks. Well, this is Prince Alla, yunno. Well, in Greenwich Farm I went to youtrum (?) as a small likkle yout', yunno. Well, Greenwich Farm is a very nice place, because it's right in the city and it's on the southern part of the city, by the sea, you know. Right by the sea, and it's very nice, y'know. There you have place like the wharf, the Kingston Wharf, it's there. And the Esson refinery is right on there too. So Greenwich Farm is a very nice place. Fishening village, and it's a village weh really important you know because there's the wharf there and... you know? Big, big likkle town, yunno. Yeah man, and Greenwich Town is a town weh plenty artist really come, yunno? From all over Jamaica, artists used to come there, and come on the beach, and smoke and eat roast fish and play their guitar an' football and boxin' and... very nice, man. Greenwich Farm is like a community, a music community, yunno.

Q: Greenwich Town is close to... what? Jones Town, or Trench Town or any of those ghetto areas, not Bull Bay?

A: Yes, yes... well, no, no. Bull Bay is more... like if you go to the eastern part of Jamaica. Like going to St. Thomas Bay, y'know? Likkle before you reach St. Thomas, you find Bull Bay.

Q: Sounds like it's far out of the city of Kingston then?

A: Yes, because you know Kingston... you know Jamaica is not really too big still, but you'd call it a distance, y'know. Yes man, about ten miles, out of the stronger city, is Bull Bay. It's about ten miles, yes.

Q: What in particular inspired you to enter the music scene in your teens? Mostly you have somebody, someone in the neighbourhood, in the family, a classmate or some form of musical mentor that bring about the start, to take it further - how did it work for you?

A: Ah, well, I had a grandmother in Greenwich Town there, y'know. That she... I know she was on the choir, and dem t'ings, in the church. And I used to go to practice with her every time beca' they used to have choir practice, y'know. For to appearin' on Sundays, yunno. And dem t'ings. And I used to go to her and she used to sing tenor, and it was very nice. I used to love the music because of that. That is one, y'know? But after... likkle after that I really love all singers like Fats Domino, an' dem man deh. As a likkle yout' I used to hear Fats Domino an' dem man deh, is fatman an'... because when I was a youth I used to be fat (laughs)! So I love hear them say "yes man, gwan sing like Fats Domino, man!". So Fats Domino is really one a the singers dem weh I as a likkle yout' used to listen to, really. Used to hold me still, you know... as a overseas artist, different from the Jamaican artist. Well, my favorite Jamaican artist in dem time deh now weh... that used to carry me in a likkle open lan' on East Avenue, an' he used to have a old car in that open lan', and he used to come with his guitar and call me inside there and he used to sing songs for me and give me songs... is Slim Smith, yunno. Yes, that was the man that used to call me as a yout' an' give me songs, yunno. That was one of my idols, Slim Smith.

Fats Domino.

Slim Smith.

Q: Slim used to live in Greenwich Farm?

A: Yes, beca' he had a girlfriend in Greenwich Farm, yunno. And because he had this girlfriend in Greenwich Farm he was in Greenwich Farm so often he started recording for Bunny Lee, an' dem t'ings, because Bunny Lee was another promoter from Greenwich Farm too, so... Slim Smith, y'know. Record a lot of hit song for Bunny Lee, in Greenwich Farm.

Q: 'Keep That Light' and some of those...?

A: Yeees! Yes, yes, yes...

Q: I often wonder where from and how you developed that "open throated" style... you got that vocal style from... where? There's a lot of gospel in it... that's how it appeals to me anyway.

A: Alright... yes, yes. And you know, as a yout' I used to go over... beca' Greenwich Town and Trench Town is very near. It jus'... the road, the main road, is called Spanish Town Road, that really divide them two place. So I used to go over there. And you used to have rastaman over there that used to sing their drums all the while. Nyabinghi and dem t'ing deh. So is that... a part of the melody there, that I get from nyabinghi, y'know. That's why it's kinda different from... yes, it mostly like a nyabinghi, like 'Bozrock' an' you hear that nyabinghi style... 'Nah Go A Them Funeral', 'Lots Wife' - nyabinghi style, like. You know? 'Ca I used to listen them rastaman sing and... beca' them rastaman they didn't really used to sing fancy, them just sing natural! So they don't have to sing fancy an' find plenty clothes and girl, you know? So they jus' sing it smooth an' natural, and I kinda get the voice deh from the rastaman.

Q: So when did you seriously sight up Rastafari? Was this while being in The Leaders, in your teens?

A: Weh I really start sightin' up Rastafari is when I was a small likkle yout', about ten - eleven, y'know. About ten - eleven, I remember that. I had a vision one night that I see a likkle rastaman, a likkle short rastaman. And the rastaman wave his hand in front of him and there was water come up to his knee. Clear, pretty water. And then he look at me and wave his hand again an' there was pure fishes swimming in the water. So, when I wake next morning I went to some rastaman an' aks them seh "you know, I see a likkle short man and he wave his hand and there was water an' he waves the hand again and there was fishes in the sea... in the water, and I think I see a likkle short rastaman"? "A Selassie I you see, yunno! Like him short, is Selassie I you see". And they carry an' show me a picture of His Majesty. And from when I look at the picture of His Majesty it's like a vibe between the vision and the picture is just...

Q: Like a connection there?

A: Yes! Like in my mind somet'ing tell me seh "yes, it's that man you see now". You know that vibes, y'know. So from there I really start seeing Rastafari in myself but, you know, still couldn't really push it out the right way beca' them time deh my parents Christian. An' dem time deh if a you... when you say "Rastafari" people feel that... you get work-less now, you're gonna be dirty and you not going to shave, and you're not going to... you know? You're not gonna keep yourself clean.

Prince Alla.

Q: To become an outcast of society?

A: Yes! So that really kinda keep me back still as a likkle beenie yout' them time. But still I had it inside in myself to know seh well that connection of Rastafari.

Q: That you're not gonna leave that out?

A: No. There, I start sing with The Leaders now an' dem t'ings deh, yes? And after that now His Majesty came to Jamaica...

Q: In '66?

A: Yes, and I remember as a yout' I seh "well, I want to really see this man", and because Greenwich Farm... he was leaving from town on the train, from the city he was on the train an' he would have to pass Greenwich Farm because he was going to Montego Bay down a the west deh. So I went to see, and I went on a likkle... in right on the train gate an' stand and lookin' and see this train coming and looking, looking, looking! And then I see a likkle man push out his head from one a the coaches, an' wave to me! And is like him wave me heart, man! And I feel it, man. So I say "yes, a Rastafari, yunno!". So I see him both in the vision and I now have seen him with me eyes. So, that was a manifestation for me. That's when I start seeing Rastafari within meself more now, yes.

Q: It's not something that was uttered back in the sixties, not much anyway - Rasta was held back in the days of ska and rock steady. You couldn't hear those messages being expressed in those days?

A: No, no. And the police them times I remember in Trench Town, beca' I used to be in Trench Town for a few years as a yout' too, I used to see police come an' beat up rastaman, and trim them hair - with knife! Used knife, and hold them locks an' cut it off. You know, and scissors an' dem t'ings deh. And handle rastaman very bad, yunno? So all them t'ings deh really give me more encouragement, because I say why them fight against these people? And when I see them day by day all I hear them talkin', is about love! So it was really kinda upsetting to me as a youth. I say then the man was some lovin' people! And then police jus' come an' do them things deh, and that mek me love them even more! Yes. Rasta used to go through plenty hardship them times deh. Couldn't get a work, if you a rasta you can't get a work! So those rastaman them used to haffe make self-reliance for themselves. Like makin' clear-pots, mats and all dem t'ings deh. So the rastaman had to start doing things for himself because no man want to give the rastaman some work.

Q: So how did The Leaders come about as a group, was this around '66 or '67?

A: Yes, yes... Well, I was at school, an' me used to have (chuckles)... a likkle brethren...

Q: It was like a group from school then, not some boys from your neighbourhood?

Milton Henry.

Errol Dunkley.

Roy Shirley.

A: No, well, it wasn't... My brethren wasn't going to that school. I was going to that school, but I had this yout' who used to sing (with me) in the school, and the headmaster used to vex with us and send us to the backbench seat all the while, beca' him say all we do is singin' in this class, and dem t'ings! But he had a friend by the name of Milton Henry. So Milton Henry come to the school and check him one day and him introduce me seh "a me friend this, yunno" and them t'ing deh an' him seh "ah". So, is like seh I jus' get... beca' he could play the guitar, is this yout' name Milton Henry could play the guitar an' him get me... even get me more, from even outa the backbench in school to even out on the... he used to have a likkle avenue (chuckles), beside the school, so him even leave before you note from the backbench to... in the likkle avenue. So them times we used to go to school, sometime I don't even go in the class. We would be round there and singin' me an' them man deh til' headmaster mek my parents know an' dem t'ings deh, and they upset with me an' dem t'ings deh, so I have to stop go to school an' dem t'ing deh. So I say well, let us form up a likkle group, yunno. So, me in dem times I was in Greenwich Town, them used to come to Greenwich Town an' check me, so we used to be on a likkle corner we call 'Dallas Corner', an' so we used to have a likkle man now... he used to have a girlfriend living right next door to the corner, by the name of Joe Gibbs.

He used to come down there, an' he used to hear us all the while an' used to say "you want to join our group?", so we say "alright, come". But when him come he really... couldn't really sing, he wasn't a singer so I say "you know wha' 'appen Mr Gibbs? The best thing you do, yunno - go into the promoting business, man". An' him seh "alright!", so we jus' do two songs for him for the firs'. We, The Leaders, brought the producer Joe Gibbs into the music. An' after he did some songs with me, then he did some songs with Errol Dunkley, then Roy Shirley and so on.

Joe Gibbs.
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