Addis Pablo: “Rockers” for as Long as Jah Provides (The Interview)
When: April 23, 2022
Where: Los Angeles CA / New Jersey (via Zoom)
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Footage: Stephen Cooper – Edited by Teacher@ReggaeVibes
Copyright: 2022 – Stephen Cooper
Addis Pablo, scion of the beloved Augustus Pablo, is a man in the mold of what is known about his mystical, legendary father: He’s extremely humble, creative, reflective, intelligent, and, passionately focused on using the melodica to make some of the most spiritual, special music in the world.
On April 23rd I was blessed to interview Addis via Zoom—Addis was in New Jersey; I was in Los Angeles—for a little less than an hour. We spoke about many topics reggae fans will find interesting, including but not limited to: Addis’s brand new sophomore LP, “Melodies from the House of Levi”; his recently released EP “Bright Star”; the basics about the melodica as an instrument as well as its history; the return of Spliffy Dan to music full-time; and the importance of honoring and maintaining his father’s legacy—as well as that of so many as-of-yet-still-shamefully-not-officially-honored Jamaican reggae legends.
Hey, can you see me and hear me okay?
Yeah man, I’m seeing you.
Okay, cool. Cool. Well thank you so much, Addis, it’s nice to make your acquaintance and meet you. And thank you so much for taking the time to do the interview for Reggae-Vibes — really appreciate it.
Yeah man, no problem, you know. Give thanks for having me.
Alright, well cool. You know I’ve been a big fan of yours for some time now, easily since you released your debut album, in 2014, [called] “In My Father’s House.” And as far as your famous, legendary father goes, well, I mean “King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown” is an album that I’m sure like many other people, is one of many albums that made me fall in love with dub.
And so often when I talk to people about dub, that’s an album that usually comes right to mind as one of my go-to favorites—that I always have ready to go. Along with others, you know, [like Augustus Pablo’s classic] “East of the River Nile,” and many others I could cite. So I guess I’m just really excited to speak with you today. And there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. Mostly because you’ve been so active, basically releasing music all the time. A lot of really, really, good music—both albums and a lot of different irie singles.
But the giant news has to be, the blockbuster news for all the Addis Pablo fans has to be, the news that you told me about just a day or two ago—is that you’re about to drop your sophomore album. Is this true?
Yes, man. So after, you know, a good while—it’s been eight years since the release of “In My Father’s House.” We’ve been working on this project for a while, over time of course, and different things happen[ed] [which caused delay], but finally we’re able to present it. And it’s a joy to bring it forward from that stage to this final stage now, where everybody can get to consume, listen, and full-joy the product; so we’re looking forward to that.
Okay, well very cool. As I said earlier, you know, “In My Father’s House”—actually I don’t know if I said this earlier—[but] “In My Father’s House” kinda had not a very unsubtle reference to your father with the title. The title is loaded—not only is it a reference I think—I feel—to your dad, but also, [it’s] loaded with biblical significance.
(Lighting and smoking large spliff) True.
And so what is the album name—you’ve told me, but I don’t know if it’s okay to tell the people the [name of your] new sophomore album?
“Addis Pablo: Melodies from the House of Levi.”
Excellent. So, you know, I was giving this a lot of thought because you just dropped this information on me a few days ago. And you know, again the title is loaded with a lot of biblical significance. What is the significance of the title of this new album, “Melodies from the House of Levi?” What is the significance one should maybe take [from it]?
Well, once again, it’s kind of a few references, because my dad—one of his nicknames was “Levi”—in terms of his—under the “Twelve Tribes” kinda things. Some people—that was one of his—just like you have “Pablo” and different—like nickname[s].
Wow I didn’t know that. And that actually leads me into my next question, because I was gonna ask you—because in your first album, “In My Father’s House,” if you were to continue that biblical line, it would be, “there are many mansions.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And so my question—I was [thinking about] asking you straight at the top [of the interview]—[because] your dad’s music is so spiritual: You know there are many mansions in Rastafari—I’m familiar with the “Bobo [Dreads”], “Nyabinghi,” and also the “Twelve Tribes”; was your father part of the Twelve Tribes?
Not really, you know. Not necessarily. He was a Nyabinghi, but the Twelve Tribes’s names, like usually, it’s just, even as a member, you’re born—whatever month you’re born [in], they gonna give you—like people are born in March—or[, for example,] June is “Levi,” August is Issacahar, and so on and so forth. [My dad] wasn’t a “member” so to speak, but he definitely was—he was in all houses. He was just a full Rasta, you know? [Chiefly, he was] Nyabinghi, but he was with everybody, you know? He interacted with all mansions, if you want to say.
Call Of The Righteous
Wisdom Of Solomon
I would say that there are a good amount of musicians that pass through Twelve Tribes. Some of them are members more than others, but, because Twelve Tribes—[you have] the Jah Love Sound System and all these different aspects, so it wasn’t just meeting for the exclusive Twelve Tribe members, in other words.
They would have dances, they would have different music in the studio, so—they were just doing various projects and activities that would involve musicians who might not necessarily be Twelve Tribe members, but you know, they associated.
Thank you. Respect for that.
My dad was a Nyabinghi though. As far as where he—if you want to say [what] his mansion [was], you know? But he was just a Rastaman.
Yeah I’m glad to know that. Because I’m not sure if that’s well known, so yeah, I appreciate that—
Not necessarily, because of course my dad was a person who didn’t do that many interviews and stuff. But for the people who know him close, and the people from the Rasta community—they know him from Binghi. He grew up Nyabinghi from when he was young. (Lighting spliff again)
Wow. Respect. Now as I said at the top, you’ve been releasing a whole heap of new music through your “Sons of Dub” production company with Ras Jammy, and through the [world-famous] “Rockers International” label your dad founded. And also[, in addition to that, too, you have] many straight-to-the-internet releases I found just from googling you up. On YouTube. And though Reggaeville.com. You can find many new Addis Pablo releases [on all internet platforms]. And as time allows in this interview, I want to ask you certainly, about a few of those. Because a lot of them come with very cool official videos. I know you have a lady who you work with by the name of Tizzy Tokyo—[she] is doing a remarkable job making videos for you.
But before that, I really want to spend a little bit of time, if it’s okay, to discuss what is, in my opinion, an amazing 8-track EP [you released]. Right after we scheduled the interview, again I googled up “Addis Pablo”—if you do that, it seems like every other day there’s something new to see. If you put [“Addis Pablo”] in your music streamer [search bar, you will almost always come up with something new]. [And,] in fact, just three days ago, I saw you released a new single—so I’ll be asking you about it—
—but, like I said, I [just recently] found out about this [new] “Bright Star” [album of yours]—I guess you could call it an “extended play”—because it’s an 8-track album.
And it’s a very interesting album—it came out only a month ago. So March 18 I believe was the release date on “Bright Star?”
I’ve been listening to it on repeat, since it came out. And the first thing that must be said about it is: it’s just so wicked. And it’s a quality album starting with the album cover. Which truly has some cool, meaningful iconography; you know similar to your first album cover. And for people who haven’t seen it yet: It’s a cool drawing of you, you’re kinda floating in the middle of the galaxy. And you’re among all the planets. And you’re kinda sitting atop your melodica. And on the right side of the album for “Bright Star,” it’s got the name “Bright Star,” [but if you look closely] the letter “a” has been replaced with the Star of David.
Which I find to be very interesting, because I actually wear the Star of David (indicating to gold Star of David pendant on gold necklace). And I even have a tattoo of the Star of David. And so it has a lot of significance to me, you know, to see that, being Jewish. And it’s one reason why I feel—I actually had this conversation, amazingly, and blessedly, inna di yard with [legendary guitarist Earl] “Chinna” [Smith]—
—when I was able to go to Jamaica [last]. I talked to him about how I felt, that as a Jew—being Jewish—I feel like I have a very strong connection—it’s one reason why I feel very at home with a lot of the Rastafari beliefs, and frankly, with the people.
True (smoking spliff).
Because I think that there is a strong connection. Many Rastas call themselves, you know, as being part of the “Lost Tribe of the Conquering Lion of Judah”—
And then, of course, [there’s] the “Twelve Tribes of Israel—”
Just a long-winded way to say that I really appreciate the album cover. Did you come up with that concept and design?
(Re-lighting spliff) Well, in parts. The design was a collaboration between the producers, “Evidence Music” out of Switzerland.
But for the most part, we definitely went over it together, you know? It was a back-and-forth, and that was the result as far as the text. Because we try to go over each aspect, from the lettering to the symbols [on the album cover]. Even if we don’t design it—like in an artistic way—we do have our input on what we like, and what we want, and the direction—most times in our work. Which is really fun.
When I listen to your dad’s work—and I feel the same listening to your work, frankly, too—it’s a very spiritual music. How big of a part does Rastafari play in both your personal life and in the music you’re creating?
You know, it’s like hand-in-hand, because really and truly, it’s a way of life as you were saying, and it’s how I was raised, so—where my dad and mom grow—where they say in a more “Christian background”—I grew up, both my parents [were] Rastas; a lot of my uncles, aunties, you could say a good forty or fifty percent of my family is Rasta. So that’s pretty much the way of life I knew growing up, and [it] remain[s], you know, the straight truth. So it’s almost [an] unaware type of thing; you’re not really aware until you interact with other people and realize that. But that was just the way that we—
Yeah, pretty much natural, yeah.
Makes sense. Now the official video that people can watch on YouTube of the album’s title track, “Bright Star,” is very cool to watch—and, of course, to listen to, too. And in the video you can see your dad’s famous record shop, on Orange Street—
Oh no, man! Next time you come to Jamaica, you haffi visit man. Not only Orange Street, because “Beat Street” is one of the—just like you have Trenchtown, “Beat Street” was pretty much the same, you know? The same as Trenchtown in the sense that—the historic, you know? Musical history. Jamaican history. There’s people from all walks of life that, you know, rise up from that vicinity of just where the record shop is—the whole downtown Kingston, but just that strip of “Beat Street—”
Yeah. I need to check all of that. I need to check it all out. And you know I even—not too long ago I interviewed [legendary bassist Earl] Flabba Holt—
Okay, yeah, yeah.
And I saw him—in preparation [for the interview]—and I also talked to him during the interview [about] this great video—you can find it on YouTube—where he’s singing his great song, “Gimmie, Gimmie,” I think it is.
And he’s right in front of Orange Street—he’s right in front of your dad’s shop—it’s a wicked video.
Yeah mon. (Re-lighting spliff) I know what you’re talking about. So yeah, Flabba and all dem, I always, pretty much [see them] everyday; that’s what “Beat Street” always ways, [it] was a place where you find every artist; it’s like, you know, what you would say is the “Hollywood of Music.” You would see every artist, musician, producer—
All the creative[s]?
Everybody, yeah, the whole scene would be there, you know?
Yeah. The video is so tight, too, obviously, because you know, it shows you playing your melodica behind the counter—at the shop [on Orange Street] in the video—[and] it’s just, it’s super-cool. Can you speak for a moment—I know that there have been some efforts—you and your sister Isis have [under]taken some efforts—I believe, to kinda preserve this site, as a historic landmark. And also, I understand, I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s now—I’d love to go to it, too—there’s now another Rockers’s storefront—I think in Brooklyn[, New York]?
Yeah, so you [are] correct on both points. For one, the record shop [on Orange Street in Kingston], [my dad has] been working on that since an early age, of course. In the recent years we did some re-development of it, just to—the structure was kinda old—[so] just to refurbish it and all that kinda good stuff, give it a more concrete, solid [foundation]. So pretty much what we have now will last as long as Jah provides for us—it will be there.
We’ve been working on that for a good while now. And it’s going well, we’re just always still trying to add more. And of course connect more with the official bodies of Jamaica—as far as the government and tourist people to kinda bring more attention to the area. Not just the shop, but the whole—for example, a person like yourself come here, you want to make sure you create a—you know people do come there, but, we want to facilitate that as best as possible.
Well I don’t want to go on too much of a tangent, because this isn’t actually written—I didn’t write this down, Addis, but it is an issue that is dear to me—I want to raise it, just because you mention that. I actually, amazingly, it’s so strange—I kinda hate social media, but, [I] kinda have to be on it—
Yeah I know what you mean, man.
—and so I had a back-and-forth [on Twitter] with the Mayor of Kingston, actually—recently. I believe his name is “[Anthony] Williams,” Mayor Williams—
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
In any event, what happened was—I’m just gonna be frank about it, I don’t see why not—a woman had posted—they were basically making fun of and kinda taking shots at “SOJA,” who had just won the Grammy award for Best Reggae Album. And a lot of people in Jamaica, including, I guess, the Mayor [of Kingston], was very upset that this white band from the United States had won the Best Reggae Album over, I guess, other people—other Jamaican artists were in the running; Jesse Royal, I know, was in the running—
And a few other people. And so what happened was, I basically made a point to the Mayor, that no one who cares too much about reggae music, really cares too much about the Grammy Awards. Because we all know, it’s just not really the award show for people who really love reggae music. And what I’ve always thought [is]: There should be a Reggae Hall of Fame in Kingston. A giant Reggae Hall of Fame, kinda of like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that exists in Cleveland[, Ohio]—
Yeah, of course—not to cut you, [and], not even going too much into your point, but really and truly, these people—yeah we understand how it could look, how people could view what happened with SOJA, and how it could look, you know? It’s easy to see how people could. But outside of that factor, if you’re talking about the government and certain people in Jamaica—there’s not really much effort being made to preserve it, you know? Just for example, my dad, [or] whoever else it is—the good thing is we are here to represent him. But for those many [reggae legends] who their youths may not know about them, or don’t have the interest, or didn’t have children, and—it’s countless. I don’t want to list names, but I can—
Groups like “Israel Vibration” who [were] affected by polio and certain things, and [are] still touring up until this day. These things are things that people deserve to be—that’s not no regular—that’s not—their story—
School children in Jamaica should have a place where they can go, along with the tourists, but also school children in Jamaica—
Yes, to learn about the heritage and the culture which is being created from that time. And it’s still being created. These people are still working. Burning Spear is still out there touring. So it’s time to do something while a lot of these ‘greats’ are still with us, because as you know, unfortunately—
We’re losing a lot [of them—especially in recent years…].
Yeah, so while they’re here, it would be great for them to see something happen for the music, you know?
And also, just the last thing to [I want to] say about it [today], what I want to make sure just to say about it is, the Mayor pointed out to me that—again this is an exchange I had with him [on Twitter]—part of their [the city of Kingston’s] “strategic plan,” I guess, is to have some kind of wall [of] murals—it’s called like a “Walk of Fame”; essentially they’re gonna have a bunch of murals, and you know, that’s a good idea. I don’t disrespect the fact that they’re gonna have a bunch of beautiful murals to respect the reggae artists in Kingston. And I also want to say, I know that there are various museums in Kingston about music—about Jamaican music. But, not on the scale that’s necessary. And not as the government should [be building for the people]. Because as you say, and the last thing I’ll say [about it now is]: all these guys, all these people—for example, we’ll just mention “The Soul Syndicate”—The Soul Syndicate, those guys, Earl “Chinna” Smith, and Santa Davis, and Tony Chin, and Fully Fullwood—
—they should all have a wing in a museum—they could have their own wing in the museum—just for that one group. To talk about what that one group—did. In Jamaican music history.
Come’on man, the Soul Syndicate, as I said, when we start going into stuff like that, it’s easy because we understand the music and have an appreciation [and] love for it. It’s easy for us to say these things, because we know who they are, we know what they deserve—and even more.
The only issue we have—what I was saying to one of my good bredrins the other day, is that, what we realize [what] we have to do, is the same thing my dad and all these generations, all these great ones, older Jamaicans, [did]: they had to make the effort. Because if they were waiting on these people to help them in achieving what they did, it would have never happened. So—
True, you have to seize the power yourself.
And Scientist, Scientist, the great [legendary sound engineer] Scientist[, also known as Hopeton Brown], I want to give thanks to Scientist for connecting me with you—
—[he] has often said to me that reggae musicians really need to band together and do something themselves. On this issue. And if they did—if you did—if there was a museum of the sort [I was mentioning], or some kind of place like that in Kingston, for example, on the [vibrant] waterfront. It could have its own venue—
Yeah, of course.
—and [Jamaica] could have its own real reggae awards show. And people would really respect—no one would care about the reggae Grammy [award] anymore. It would all be about the reggae [awards] given out in Kingston.
Yeah, because to go back to what you [were] saying, when you think about one Grammy award for the entire reggae industry—
You have dancehall, reggae—[and within that,] classical reggae [and] new reggae—[then] you have lover’s rock—there’s so [many] different styles, like with any genre [of] music.
Yeah, so to give one award for all these people, obviously, it’s gonna be unfair. Obviously somebody’s gonna feel like—somebody did not get what they deserved. Because there’s only one award. For all these hundreds of great artists, you know? So it’s kinda—it naturally—it’s gonna always be controversial.
So well said, Addis, I thank you for saying that. Now just to take it back to the music—
No problem, man.
I have to ask about track number three on “Bright Star.” Especially as you light up your spliff. I have to ask about track number three, because “Inna di Dance”—
—is a song about the herb.
And it features “Spliffy Dan” who’s an artist I really wasn’t as familiar [with] as I need to be. I know he’s worked with you before—
—on previous works. But for some reason, this song, “Inna Di Dance,” really caught my attention. It’s really an herbsman song. And it really kinda hits. It’s the combination of your melodica, the lyrics, and Spliffy. And in the tune, Spliffy sings: “I want to tell you I feel irie. Because mi drink it inna tea.” And then he goes on to sing about how basically it’s part of his daily menu. And then the killer line for me, the killer line is: “Give me, give me, the good sensi, don’t you know my name is ‘Spliffy’!?” (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah man.
(Laughing) And I thought about it. I don’t want to be too childish about it, but I thought about this, and I said, you know, if you’re gonna hang out, if you hang out with Spliffy Dan, you better have some good sensi, because—
(Laughing) It doesn’t make sense [otherwise].
(Laughing) Yeah, that’s his name; that’s what he’s about, you know? And it’s true. True facts, you know?
Now I know that Spliffy—just because I was so curious about him after this song, [“Inna di Dance,”]—getting to know Spliffy Dan a little bit, that he was an artist who worked with your dad—in the 70s. And [he] had some hit songs.
Some big songs. Some big songs. Yeah man. So, Spliffy Dan is someone that not only worked with my dad in that time, they also grew up together. So he’s somebody who’s known my dad from—schoolboy—school-shorts days, you know? Short-shorts days. Sandbox [days]. So they grew up together and eventually worked together. And he’s somebody who was there—that’s like an uncle throughout my life [while] growing up. So to work with him was great; it was a matter of bridging the gap pretty much.
Cool. And then you know there was an article that was released on December 31st, on New Year’s Eve, in the Jamaican press, it was titled: “Spliffy Dan makes full return to music.”
And basically it’s about how Spliffy has decided to pursue a music career full-time now. And I thought this was so interesting, I [have] to ask you about it. It said that—this is because, in the past, I guess, when he worked for your dad, that he would split his time between being a singer and being an auto mechanic. And—
That’s the thing, you’re right. As Spliffy has said in the interview, he’s a very good mechanic. He knows all about cars and all that type of thing. So that was his career you could say for the most part, even though he had a career in music. He was doing them simultaneously. And as we know, sometimes, music doesn’t always—you know it takes a while to grow in the sense of earning and surviving from it, you know? So his car work was pretty much how he maintained—
And your dad—the article made it seem like your dad would give him some shit, about “hey, you should be concentrating on the music,” is that—
No, it’s true, because why did my dad do that? Because he knew what Spliffy had in terms of the sound—
—and as an artist, he knew the value. Because he was a genius at identifying artists. But the majority of the artists he worked with [were] people who were younger. And people who[se] [talents] might not have been really considered—not really taken advantage of. So [my dad] was a person that was a great talent scout—identifying people that would have sounds that would be very [desirable] to the world, you know?
Well he has a very unique voice, Spliffy Dan.
That’s what I’m saying.
And if he’s making a full return to music, I am quite sure, and I hope the people listening—producers and such listening to us talk right now—will start thinking about using a little Spliffy Dan [in their works], because, when you watch him in the video, too, I mean, we’re talking about a rootsman, this is like an “O.G.” Like you need to have Spliffy if you’re gonna talk about weed [on one of your tunes.] I don’t know—
(Laughing) Sort of makes sense. That’s the same way we see [it]. And really and truly, as you said, even if he didn’t get the chance at that time, the fact that he’s making the effort now—
—people are really serious, because the sound that Spliffy has is a sound that a lot of people even try to imitate. But that’s him. That’s his authentic [style]. So he’s one of the originators. That sound that he has is very unique, as you say, and rare.
Now that whole album, “Bright Star,” the whole thing is awesome. But there’s two more tracks I really want to ask you about briefly. The first is track number five; it’s called “Lights.” It’s a very unique song where you’re kinda—your melodica is paired up with Brother Culture.
And there’s a lot of interesting lyrics. It’s kind of focused on light. It’s mystical. It’s focused on the number “12.” And it’s interesting because, you know, we were talking [earlier] about the Twelve Tribes—
Yeah, yeah, true.
And so is that sort of the reference that is going on there?
Well the “Twelve” song, that kinda came a bit before the project. That one was produced by Evidence Music. And I wasn’t necessarily there for the recording of that one, you know? But that was kind of before we actually started the [“Bright Star”] project. But definitely, I think you pretty much, you know, summed it up. Because I listen to it the same way, and that’s what I got from it as well.
It’s a very unique song. And then the last song [on “Bright Star”] I have to ask about is track number 7. And this [track] features one of my favorite live performers. He’s a Los Angeles staple. And, of course, you know who I’m talking about—I’m talking about Ranking Joe.
Ranking Joe, yes man.
I’ve seen Ranking Joe at the Dub Club in Los Angeles—he is….When you see Ranking Joe show up at the Dub Club in Los Angeles, you have to get excited as a fan, because you know he’s gonna get onstage. Whoever’s there is gonna let him get onstage.
And no one can roll their ‘Rs’—no one can do that [like Ranking Joe]. He can create a whole beat off of just his rolling the ‘r.’
(Laughing) Yeah. That man—he’s legendary.
So how did you—have you always known him? How did you connect with Ranking Joe to do that track?
Well I’ve somewhat known Ranking Joe, you know, not directly. Indirectly, of course, growing up in the music. But that connection kinda came through Evidence [Music] as well. They had a working relationship with [Ranking Joe]. But yeah, that track is definitely one of my favorites as well. His whole energy and effort, and I’ve always respected him for that, you know?
So, concerning your background though first, Addis, just so that your fans can get to know you just a bit better. I read that you grew up mostly in Jamaica, but that you also spent significant time in New Jersey as well. Because that’s where I think your mom is from, and actually, I understand from seeing an interview that you did, that that’s actually where you were born?
Yeah, so I was born in New Jersey. Red Bank, New Jersey, to be specific. That’s like central Jersey. But yeah, my mom is from there. And I was born there, but raised in Jamaica pretty much from birth—like a baby. Until high school. Went through high school in Jamaica, [took a] few extra classes and stuff like that, so probably 17-18, I started coming back and forth to the States more often. I was always traveling—from early—summers and stuff, you know—back and forth [from Jamaica to the U.S.]
And did your—if it’s okay for me to ask—how did your dad meet your mom? Was your mom into music, too? And did your dad meet her while touring? How did they—if your mom’s from New Jersey, how did they meet?
She was actually in Jamaica, at the time, and they met I would say—I don’t really know—early 80s or what exact year—I was born in ’89, so before that. Yeah, they met at a performance, if I’m not [mistaken].
Since you mentioned your high school years, too—and I know I already mentioned this to you before the interview, but I have to ask because, I saw that you went to high school, I believe, with Jesse Royal?
Yes, that’s correct. Yeah the high school we went to, it’s called “MeadowBrook High School.”
And did you know the “Small Axe” in high school? Were you guys friends at all?
The high schools aren’t that big, you know, in terms of classes, so even if you’re not friends [or] so-to-speak “close”—yeah, we did know each other, of course. We weren’t that far [apart]. We did have mutual friends.
Just because I met him, I interviewed him once, and he just has so much charisma, was that how he was in high school, too? I guess I could see him as being a very charismatic figure in high school.
Well, yeah. What I could say is that he started at that school later [than me,] he didn’t start with us from like 7th grade. So he kind of started—maybe it was 10th grade or something like that. So I can’t say I spent that many years with him at the high school to see him in, you know, full character. But yeah, I kinda remember him like that a little bit, too.
Now I know you received a lot of musical training, of course, from your father—before his tragic passing—and that from a very young age you were exposed to musical instruments, and to home studio equipment—
—and so forth. But did you also receive any formal music training in school. And if not, do you think that that’s something that you might ever do?
Well, no, I never received any formal training. What I did have was a good friend of mine who went to high school with me—actually we started playing music together, Ramone Derizzio[, unfortunately he passed away some years ago]. So he actually went to like classical training to a certain level—a few grades up. So he had that formal training [and] he gave me a lot of advice as far as playing certain stuff. [And being] around other musicians, of course, like—
What was his name again, Addis?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We call[ed] him “Shamba,” but anyway, yeah he had formal training. As well as others I’ve been amongst—some musicians give you advice, you know, or show you certain more theoretical stuff. But outside that, it’s pretty much mi self.
I mentioned Earl “Chinna” Smith earlier. My understanding is that he has also been an influence to you. But not only just an influence, but—I might just be making this up, [so] correct me if I’m wrong—but he also, hasn’t Chinna also been helpful in terms of learning how to play the melodica?
Well, definitely. Chinna is one of the key people that I went amongst as a younger musician, who of course I know from my dad’s—being a good, close associate and brederin of my dad, playing on many great songs together. Not just for me, but many musicians go amongst [Chinna] and learn their craft—guitarists, bass players, you know, just musicians—players of instruments. There are countless names of [artists] who’ve come there [to Chinna’s yard to] play amongst Chinna—
Yeah that’s the mecca [of reggae]—to be over there.
Yeah. Exactly. So I’ve been there from an early age. Probably 16 or 17, amongst him.
[And you’ve] pick[ed] up a lot of things I would imagine?
Definitely. And how he’s always facilitated me, of course, because of the close connection between him and my dad, he would [connect] us with musicians who could teach us and stuff.
Nice. Your dad’s style of playing the melodica has been described as a “Far East Style.” And you’ve said before that Japan is one of your biggest markets. And of course, every reggae fan, more than once I would say in their life, they should watch—they should google up your dad performing at Japan Splash ’86. It’s a remarkable performance. And to watch your dad connect with the crowd there in Japan—
True, true, true.
—yeah, and with the Soul Syndicate—backed by the Soul Syndicate.
Yeah, once again, the great Soul Syndicate.
Yeah, on YouTube. In the [Wikipedia] entry on the internet for the melodica—if you go look at it—and also in an article that’s called “History of the Melodica,” that’s on the “indie pop scene” website, it says that the melodica is popular as a tool that’s used in music education in Japan, and, in other parts of Asia. And I was curious if you had any additional insight as to why the melodica is so well-received in Japan and Asia [generally,] as opposed to say, in the U.S., and [in] other countries? Is it something about Japanese music, and other Japanese instruments, perhaps, that makes the melodica so appealing to them?
Definitely, I would say that. And also the melodica—I can say a few different things. The melodica has origins in Japan. They’ve been making them as early as the same time as Hohner was making them in Germany—which is the early 40s, I think. 1940s or 1930s. So they’ve had—this instrument has been in their culture—similar to Germany. Also I would tell you that instrument, you have a lot of sounds which sound similar to it—the pitch of the melodica and high—
—yeah, so I definitely think it’s the similarity. Also the fact that it’s instrumental music. And as we know, a lot of Japanese people don’t necessarily speak English—some of them do, but it’s easier to relate, to me, in my mind, it’s easier to relate to rhythm. You relate to the lyrics as well, but you know [if you don’t know] the lyrics, you’re just listening to sound.
For me, the melodica, it puts me in a such a contemplative [frame of mind]. Immediately when I hear it, I get immediately in a meditative mood. I don’t even have to have any herb. I’m immediately feeling in a meditative mood when I hear the melodica—and maybe more so than [with] any other instrument. And I wondered, it hits especially in dub, it kinda fits in dub; there’s something about the melodica [and] the way that it sounds. Why do you think that, especially in dub music, the melodica is such a great compliment?
Well, as you said, the melodica is an instrument, a sound [that’s] for me, as the performer or player of it, it’s soothing, for one. And it also, it’s dealing with the mental. Like to me, it’s the mind. And I could even say, because of the high pitch of it, the high frequency, it touches certain parts of your body where—it penetrates [your brain]. Literally, you know, actually physically, and also, in the esoterical sense of it.
On the Hohner website, which everyone mostly associates, I think, with harmonicas, it says: “Invented by Hohner in the 1950s, the melodica combines the advantages of a wind instrument with the versatility of a piano-accordion.”
Then what makes absolutely no sense to me—I’m hoping you’ll be able to explain this to me—Hohner says, “This makes it a popular beginner’s instrument.” So I was hoping you could shed some light on this for me. Because when I see footage of you and your dad playing the melodica, it looks far from easy. That doesn’t look easy to me. It looks complicated. Not only are you using your mouth, you have a whole [miniature] piano—so it looks very complicated.
You have a good point. So I mean, why I think they use it for the children to teach, is because of the sides of the boards—it’s easy for them versus if they [tried] 66 keys, or the big, proper classical grand [piano] and stuff where, it’s so wide; it’s a way for you to learn the rudiments of melodies, scales, and such without—[and] probably for small hands—little children[, it’s easier]. I think maybe that’s why. But what you’re saying as far as what me and my dad did with it? Because a lot of people play the melodica as well. And he—the style and the way [my dad] played it was different than them in a sense. Where he made it like talk. He made it become a voice. Just like, you know, a singer. Doing that with [the melodica] is not easy. So to learn from it is one thing. But to take it to on that [higher] level is something which requires focus. And devotion. And time.
So this is my last question about the melodica generally. And it’s kind of a selfish question. I hope you don’t laugh too much at me. Because I told my family this, I told Tony Chin this, and I told Scientist this today: I have decided I’m going to buy a melodica. I’m gonna get my own melodica, and I am gonna try to learn the melodica. Because I’m so inspired by preparing for this interview, [watching] you play, and also, listening to your dad. I feel like this is the instrument for me. And so, it seems like it’s not too expensive to buy. And so, for anyone who’s kinda like me, intrigued by the melodica, and maybe wants to learn how to play it, [do you have] any kind of just general advice that you can give me? Once I get the instrument, what should I do so I can maybe learn how to play it? What [are] just some basic tips?
Well, as with any instrument, what I always was taught and heard from musicians [while learning] is that, you learn the scales. So basically if you buy [a] simple piano book online—you know, it’s easy to get stuff online. Online classes. Learn the scales, like C-major scale. And from there, the chromatic scale.
My wife is taking piano lessons, so she should be able to—
Yeah, so she can [help you], come on. As I said, why they’ve said the melodica is good for learning is because it’s the same keyboard [as a piano] in a small frame. Whatever [music] theory that you’d apply to the piano, it’s the same on the melodica. The difference on the melodica now is, as you said, the wind factor. So you’re able to do certain type of playing [on a melodica] that you could’ve done on a piano, but you wouldn’t get that [same] frequency, that effect. Because you can use wind control to get different [sounds on the melodica].
Unfortunately, I don’t think that my wife is as excited as I am about me playing the melodica. But I’m gonna work on her a little bit.
(Laughing) Yeah man, she’ll be able to help you. Like I said, it works—it’s very effective. It calms and it relaxes. It’s good.
Addis, thank you. I’m definitely going to get one. Addis, already we’ve been talking for quite some time. And I want to thank you for being so generous. I’ll only ask you just a few last, short questions, if that’s okay.
Of course, man.
And also, I want to suggest to you that we do a part two continuation [interview], if you have some time later in the year, then if we could please do another interview. Because I especially would like to have some time to listen to your [soon-to-be released] sophomore album—
Definitely. Yeah man, I really will get that to you, because I can say even before we get further, that I do appreciate how you carried out the interview. In terms of going into the songs. People do that sometimes, but not everybody. You can know, because I’m sure you watch a lot of other journalists and stuff, so—I do appreciate the effort that you made.
Well, thank you, and yes, please do, when you’re able to, please do send me the tracks for the new album. And then we’ll set up a time to just focus on that new album. Now Addis, as we head toward the end of today’s interview, I want to point out to everyone who reads or watches this later, as I did already, that, they really, in order to keep up with all the new music that you’re releasing—if you have different music players—like I have, for example—I was shocked. I go in, I was like wait a minute, I just need to make sure [Addis hasn’t released something] new. And then I was like, wait, he did, he just dropped another song!
(Laughing) Yes, yes.
It was on 4/20. The famous smoker’s holiday. You released a wicked cool single. It’s called “Father G Livication” with Rebellion City Productions. Can you just briefly tell us about this collaboration, and you know, who is this “Rebellion City Productions?” I mean, it’s a super-cool track.
Yeah, so “Father G Livication” is a track which was done in tribute—it was a project actually, a single, it’s one of the singles from a compilation of—[a] riddim compilation—[and] it was done in tribute to Father G who was a New York, I would say “radio host”—
Yeah, a very strong person [in the] New York reggae community for many years. Unfortunately, last year he passed. This project was pretty much done in tribute to him. He had a lot of people he helped—I can’t even list [them all]—I’m just one of [them].
I’m so happy I asked you. I’ll have to look up Father G later.
Yeah, so “Power of Reggae,” that was his brand, “Power of Reggae.” Rebellion Sounds, Rebellion is pretty much a production [company run] by Bobo Reams. They created the track; they [were] very close, like business partners with [Father G].
Well, people—I’m definitely going to look into that a little bit more. And also, people should definitely check out that new track you just released—like three or four days ago. Now, just at the beginning of this year, you released a track with another very creative official video. On YouTube. It’s called “Hills of Zion.” In fact, I sent it to my whole family today when I said, “Listen, I’m gonna buy a melodica, so here’s what it is, take a look at this video.” But in that video, it looks like you’re walking down the streets of Kingston. But it could also be Brooklyn, at one point.
Right. So now going back earlier, we were talking about the shop, that was the [original] location we had for the new Rockers International shop [in New York]. Unfortunately, we had to change locations, and we haven’t secured a new location as of yet due to some issues with the building, and all that unfortunate stuff. But that was in our Bushwick area of Brooklyn that we filmed that video. So you’re right, it was [filmed] in Brooklyn.
Cool. And also you’re playing your melodica in front of some really awesome-looking—they’re kind of like Egyptian hieroglyphs—
Is that also in Brooklyn?
That’s around there. That’s from an organization, Oh God, I’m not gonna [remember] the name—it’s a group—it’s one of those African American—not fully religious groups—it’s like a quasi-religious group. So they have those temples or different buildings around—that was one of them, not far from the location of the store.
You know I love and I just respect so much how that “Hills of Zion” video closes where you see—you’re kind of in the building, and [we] see your dad’s famous label, and then you see, it’s a cut to the vinyl of “East of the River Nile.” [Which] as I said at the top of the interview, that is also one of your dad’s classic albums every reggae listener should have in their collection.
Yeah. And there’s just this feeling, you know, for me, when I watch this video, and talking to you today, and listening to your music, there’s just such a strong feeling of a continuation of your dad’s legendary legacy. And, you know, as a giant fan for many years now of your father, and now [of] your music as well, I just want to thank you so much for carrying on this tradition [of], you know, mastering the melodica. And I’m sure that, Addis, we’ll be touching base soon again. You know, like I said, I’d love to talk to you [again] once I’ve listened to the new album. And the last thing I want to ask you [today] is: Is there any final message or words that you’d like to convey, to all the many, you know fans of both your father and yourself—so, you know, we’re talking about a lot of people. Is there some message that you want them to know about the music you’re creating, and also, your father’s legacy?
Yeah, well all I’d really say to them is give thanks. For the years of support. From the early 1970s up until this day. And that their efforts keep us being heard, you know? Because the message that we are creating is special. And it’s for the world. But sometimes many are called, but few are chosen. So the ones that do relate to it, and do listen to it are many, of course. But outside of [all the] billions of people in the world, there are ones out there who does appreciate, listen, buy the vinyl, you know “stream,” “like,” [or] whatever you may do. We just appreciate it, and we give thanks. And we always will continue to provide this sound. And push it out there—as long as, you know—forever. Rockers forever.
Rockers forever! Addis, thank you so much, it [was] such a joy to connect with you. And you know, please stay safe, and we’ll be in touch very soon, man. Take care, it’s very nice to see you, man.
Give thanks, my brother, bless up.
Bless up, man. Take care. Have a great [rest of your] day.