Junior Dread: “I hope my music can uplift everyone” (The Interview)
When: August 23, 2022
Where: Minneapolis MN
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of Stephen Cooper and Junior Dread
Copyright: 2022 – Stephen Cooper
Junior Dread, a rising roots reggae singer from Brazil, graciously agreed to reason with me — on August 13, in downtown Minneapolis — before taking the stage at the inaugural “Word. Sound. Power. Music & Arts Festival.”
We talked about many subjects of interest to reggae fans, such as how Junior Dread’s debut album was co-produced by legendary guitarist Junior Marvin; how Junior Dread learned English by translating the lyrics of reggae greats; Junior Dread’s career trajectory thus far, including his collaborations with legendary sound engineer Scientist (also known as Hopeton Brown), and New York City’s renowned Subatomic Sound System.
Greetings, Junior Dread. Officially, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Reggae-Vibes. Give thanks!
Yeah, man, greetings. It’s a joy to be here, because I appreciate the work you guys have put on, and, you know, it’s an honor to be here.
Thank you so much. Now, first, how are you feeling about performing at the first ever “Word. Sound. Power. [Music & Arts] Festival,” here in Minneapolis? How do you feel about this?
Well, I feel great you know. And thankful, because we are working with music for a long time, and [to] see it manifest, you know, here, in Minnesota, “word. sound. power.” You know, it’s strong, the name? You understand? It’s all about that, because we’re trying to use — we’re not trying — we [are] using the “music” and the “word” to spread a message that connects people. And you’re gonna have every kinda people here — from vocal, global — so it’s great to be here, man.
Respect. Respect. Now, I have to admit, before I heard about this festival — from your manager Scott Stanley, who also happens to be responsible for producing and basically putting on this entire irie festival—
—I really had not heard your name before.
Except for maybe just in passing. But then, Scott sent me the official video for your song “Desperation.” I watched, and I listened to it closely. And truly, I was blown away.
My thoughts were, wow, this guy’s voice, this guy’s flow, this guy’s whole style, is very similar in a lot of respects to Damian Marley.
But unique, too. What do you think about that comparison of your style with that of Damian Marley?
Well, I think it just come[s] natural. Because, you know, it’s not something [where] I plan it. Because the music is all about sound. You have different ranges of sound, right? And of course, Bob Marley, the whole Marley family, has always inspired me. But it’s not something that I plan. I just sing, and from time to time people say, “You know, Dread, sometimes you sound like this and that.” Okay. It’s great. Because, you know, you have really good artists and tings—
Am I the only person who’s ever told you that you sound like Damian Marley?
Or has anyone else said that to you, too?
—no. Some say like, you know, Ky-mani [Marley], and Julian [Marley]—
Yeah. But you know, I give thanks because they’re wicked, but it’s not something that I plan. It just came natural.
Now this song “Desperation” and the official video for it — that everyone later reading [or listening to] this interview will immediately go pull up on YouTube, etcetera — it’s really a powerful, conscious tune. One that I think is made all the more poignant — and righteous — when people consider how you yourself grew up: poor in the slums of Brazil. Would you agree?
Yeah, yeah, because, you know music carries a special energy — like the whole concept [of] “word. sound. power.” I’m the product of that. Because, the place where I grew [up], it’s very violent. And you know, we have to deal with different things, and you know we’ve got the strength from the music. And people who inspire us. So I’m really thankful [for] being an instrument of that. Bringing this message. Because a lot of people look to me — where I come from — and now I’m going places, and I really feel that it’s a mission. Even though I’m a real human being, I really think it’s a mission because music connects. So I’m able now to inspire people through the music.
Junior Dread – Sound System
Junior Dread – Wonderful Feeling
Junior Dread – Revolution 2 Freedom
Yeah. Yeah. I feel like that.
Nice. Now, my understanding from a recent interview you did with, I think his name is “Keliz,” for the “Emancipate Show”—
—is you grew up and still live in a small town—
—maybe two and a half hours away from São Paulo, Brazil. Is that true?
Yeah, yeah. During the pandemic, you know, the whole world change where — I was living in São Paulo, you know, doing my thing, like tours and everything. Everything, thank God, was going good. But then, Covid came. And then I have to, you know, change where I was to move to a place where I can get nature, you know? Be able to connect—
—so it just came natural, and I give thanks, because now I don’t want to leave anymore. It’s possible, you know? So I tell, everybody, you must find a way where you can balance. If you are in a big city — you have to balance it. It’s good.
Now is it accurate that you only initially spoke Portuguese, but that you taught yourself English by translating the lyrics of great reggae legends — like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, [and] Burning Spear. Is that accurate?
Yeah, yeah. It’s because in Brazil we don’t have a proper education where you learn English in school. And back then, I was a youth, like 14-15, we listened to the radio, and I always — because my family is like a Christian family, right? So music for me it’s always about, you know, like—
Yeah, about praising God, and creation, and love, you know? So I always look for what they are talking about. So I listen to the songs on the radio, and then I go to—back then, there was no internet, right? You got some magazines and things, you know, [and] they have the lyrics. And I say, I’m gonna translate this. Because I want to know what they are talk[ing] about. So I say, okay, good, pop music. And then just, I listen to Bob Marley, and say, yo, let me check this man. Back then, MTV was starting in Brazil, [in] the ‘90s — late ‘90s. And then I just see this guy, you know, talking about revolution, you know, and one love, and it just blows my mind. And back then, you know, [when] you’re [a] teenager, [you’re] kinda a rebel, right? Against the system. The whole situation. And it gave me a lot of positive energy. Sometimes I feel bad, like people say, “Yo, Dread, this and that.” [And I say,] “Brederin, I don’t feel like so.” Because it elevates you, so, yeah—
[It] gives you a good perspective—
—and then I just start to get — we have this shop where they have all the albums, like the LPs. And back then they used to have the lyrics — like people from — Bob Marley, of course. But [also] Steel Pulse, Aswad, many of them. And that’s the beautiful thing about reggae music, because it’s simple. Because it’s for everybody, from the likkle babies—
That’s it. We keep it simple. The message. And so it’s great. It just comes natural.
Respect. I was simply amazed to hear this, that you learned English this way. And then immediately I was drawn to your music when you said—I think you said this in the interview with Keliz — you said, “Reggae music came and saved me from the ghetto.”
And you discussed this a bit on that “Emancipate Show” — folks can find this online — but can you elaborate a bit, and explain, how did reggae save you from the ghetto?
Yeah, because I was born in the north part of Brazil, [in] São Paulo. And it’s a very rough life. Because there you don’t have no proper support from the government, right? So growing up you don’t have the access to have some basic things, you know? Like food. And clothes. It’s always a struggle. But some way I got some — like my father, like I say, he’s a Christian. So he found a scholarship at a good school [for me], right? So I have to just travel from my neighborhood to this rich part. And back then I have to deal with different kind of things. Because you always think, yo, rich people bad, or this [and that]. But I just find out that it’s just humans, you know? And you can — no matter where you come from — I think we just — we don’t have to put like good people in—
In a box?
—in a box, exactly. So I use that [to] inspire me. It’s all about your mindset, and it really changed [me]. And when I get back to the ghetto, it’s like, I was talking with my brederins there, it’s a different kind of mindset. You know some of them just need something, [and they think], “take it.” And I’m like, “No, bro, cool down, you know?”
Yeah, simmer down. If I have food, yeah man, just come eat man, chill, and you know, just everything pass just step by step.
You said on that Emancipate Show that “Desperation,” the song, “is about the desperation we have to face when we’re dealing with the system.”
I don’t know if you’re familiar with that song—
—in which a key refrain in that song is, “Tired of the ghetto living.” And this is on par, I think, with the message in your song “Desperation.” Do you agree that there are some similarities there — between the messages?
Yeah, yeah, of course, because this is like, you know—Jamaica it’s a country that just like Brazil, you know, [has] a lot of problems. With the basic things, you know? And that’s the thing, the ghetto, you know—I love the place where I born, right? But I still have to deal with the—
The problems there?
Yeah, all the problems. And we have the talent[ed] people that come from the ghetto. And I think everybody can access, you know, like the changing — the whole thing is like a mindset, it takes time. It takes a lot of effort. But it’s possible. Everything is connected.
Now you made this song “Desperation,” [and] the official video with Evidence Music—
—which really does quality work out of Geneva, Switzerland — every time. And they work with many of the artists I’ve interviewed. But let me ask you, too, to just say, so people know: Who is “Little Lion Sound?” What is “Little Lion Sound?”
Who you [also] made the song with?
—Evidence Music is like a big crew, and all of those guys, each one of them, they have their own project, you know? But they are in the same studio, and label, and things, so “Little Lion Sound” is a different project that they got—
They got you together with him? Nice.
Yeah, that’s it. You know, I did a tour—
Is he a DJ?
They DJ, they do everything — like video thing[s], it’s like a crew where each of them do something, like—
Can you also speak for a moment [about] why you and Evidence Music decided to film the [official] video for “Desperation” in that very specific part of São Paulo?
Well, you know, when we come up with the song, this guy from Little Lion, Nico, he said, “Yo Dread, we need a video for that.” And I have an institution — not that I have — I work with an institution near my home — they teach surf[ing], and different languages, art — to the people from the favelas, right? And it just seems natural, because I’m there almost every time, you know, each week I give like a day for them. For me to go there, talk with the youth, you know?
Yeah. And then it just came natural. And they have this event there where I play [with] different artists, and [so] I said, “Yo, let’s film me here.”
Now, I think as you said, and as your music shows, there are a lot of similarities — much more than there are differences — between ghettos all over the world, whether you’re in Jamaica, or you’re in Brazil. Or wherever. What I was curious [about] — what I thought was interesting about your song, “Desperation,” is that it also seems to be true for the corrupt politicians. Because one of the lines that really stuck out to me in your song “Desperation” is: “Look pon the TV and dem a pose like dem love we, but in real life dem a try kill we.”
Yeah, that’s true.
And I was very moved by that — by that lyric. Now you have another pretty wicked tune, and official video that you released this year—again with Evidence Music — it’s called “Wake Up.”
What is the message of the song, “Wake Up,” if you were describing the song to someone who doesn’t know [it]? What would you say the message is?
Well, it’s like, nowadays mankind achieve such a great level of technology. Right now we are able to do so much great things. But, on the other side, we are acting like animals. And those who run the world—the people who have, you know, money, the power, they benefit from that. Because they don’t want us to know our possibilities. Because we can mainfest the things that we want in life. And you know, if you don’t have the clear vision, you’re just living your life on a day-to-day basis, you know?
Just being like a robot. So the “Wake Up” thing, it’s all about just look out, it’s like, it’s inside us. We must listen to our mind, and change our environment. And how we can achieve the things we want, that really matter. It’s not about money, you know? Everybody needs comfort, everybody needs security, and those types of things, but it’s more about your inside. And how you can get the best from what you have now.
Nice. Now at one point in “Wake Up,” you sing “We no play games, cause we a Rasta. We no beg no friends, we haffi hold it strong, a-man a rock it.” Then a bit later on in the tune, you sing “Musically, physically, we can rule this world naturally”—
—which is just an amazing lyric to me.
Yo, when I started listening to reggae music, as I come from a Christian [background]—
As also many legendary reggae musicians themselves did — came from a Christian background.
Yeah that’s crazy, because it’s just a worldwide thing, you know? It just came naturally. I find out that we can really be connected through this conscious[ness] — this universal conscious[ness]. And it’s all about balance. So when I [sing] “physically,” it’s because, you know, our body must have proper food and everything. We need to be, you know, fit.
Yeah, and fit. And spiritually, it’s like to access this conscious[ness] you must elevate yourself. And it’s all about love.
If somebody asked you, “Are you a Rasta?,” would you say “Yes” or “No?”
Yes! Yes, because Rasta is all about follow this—
Now is there a significant population of Rastas in Brazil, or are they small in number?
Well it’s growing, you know? We have people from Jamaica, like from the Bobo—
Yeah. We have some Bobo dreads. And we got some 12 Tribes [of Israel members, too,] but it’s not big like [in] Europe. And, you know, Jamaica. But still growing.
Okay. What are some of the — I think you already said this, but I’ll still ask you—what are some of the teachings and messages of Rastafari that most appeal to you?
Well, the love thing. It’s like we manifest spirituality on an everyday basis. Like everyday life. Through your family, your house, how you eat, how you connect with people. How you speak. It’s not something that I want to like just speak, it’s something that I want to live. You know the Rasta livity is great?
It’s a complete thing?
Have you visited Jamaica yet?
Not yet. Because every time I go foreign, it’s just for work ‘till now, you know? But I have many friends there. And I think next year, we gonna [go to] Jamaica and do some recording.
Junior Dread, how receptive — how accepting or non-accepting — was your family when you decided to start pursuing a Rasta lifestyle, and this reggae music?
Well at the beginning they got like, they say, “What [are] you talking about?” [Why is your] hair like that? And [why are you] listen[ing] to this type of music, they just smoke marijuana—” But, like I say the principles of Rasta, it’s love and overstanding. So when I start[ed] to listen to the music, I start to study English, I start[ed] learning about history, and all those kind of things—
And your family saw that?
Yeah, they saw that. And back then I was a rebel. So when I start[ed] to listen to reggae, I got, they saw that—
It’s good for [you]?
(Laughing) You understand? So right now they are good, and they support it. And I am very thankful.
Nice. Respect. Now your legal name is Carlos Almeida, Jr. Why did you choose the stage name “Junior Dread?” How did you end up coming up with that, and what’s the significance [of it]?
Well, because, before I came as “Junior Dread,” right, we had a band there [in Brazil] called “Reggae Style.” And we played by the name of the band—
It was called “Reggae Style?”
Yeah. It used to be like a backing band for different artists from Jamaica and Brazil. And then we came up with an album together, and we traveled all over Brazil as an opening act for a band called “Tribo de Jah” — a very famous band there — and, you know, we play[ed] with different artists from Jamaica. And I don’t really remember which one of them came up with my [stage name]. [But they were like], “What’s your name? Oh, Carlos, Jr.? Okay, Junior—”
They started calling you “Junior Dread?”
And back then I had big dreadlocks. Back then [I had] big, big locks.
So somebody decided, no “Carlos,” you should be “Junior Dread?”
Yeah. And then after that, everybody [called me that]. And so I said, “Okay.”
“Junior Dread” that’s what it’s gonna be?
Yeah, and then when I started [my] solo career, everywhere I go, [everybody knew me] as Junior Dread.
You have yet another cool single, it’s called “Revolution to Freedom.”
Released in 2020. I believe you did that with Subatomic Sound System out of New York City?
Now, of course, Subatomic Sound is performing at this festival tonight. Will you be performing that song later together with Subatomic Sound — tonight?
Yeah, yeah. [And] we talk a lot — like for almost eight years, right? And we did a song through the internet. Then I went to L.A., we meet live, and it was great. And now we are here again [together]. It’s crazy, bro.
But did you — it sounds like you did — did you see and hang out with Larry yourself?
Not yet? Oh no!
Not yet. I need [to] — because he’s a big legend. I love everything he does. And the man is still there, you know, doing his thing.
Just a few months ago, shortly after he celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday—
—he and I hung out at Los Globos—
—night club. He performed with the Skatalites.
Oh, that’s epic.
So, yeah, I do hope that you get a chance to meet with him in person; you and Larry will definitely get along. Now your first official album — I hope I’m saying this correct—
—but it’s called “Saiba Viver.”
“Saiba Viver,” yes.
And it’s sung in Portuguese—it’s not a reggae album, correct?
Yeah. It’s kinda mixed, because that’s the thing, in Brazil, we have a big reggae scene, right?
International, but the reggae from Brazil is different.
They play different. And me, as a Brazilian artist, I love all kinda [music]. My main thing is like roots, right? Roots music. But for the Brazilian people?
I choose to find a different kinda of sound where I can mix different kinda things—
Something that would speak more [directly] to them?
Yeah, yeah. And we brought Junior Marvin from Bob Marley—
I — I wanted to — because what really got my attention in a big way. When I saw the news about that album, was that in fact, as you’re saying right now, that this album was co-produced by Junior Marvin, the legendary former guitarist for Bob Marley. How did you, or how were you able to connect to work with Junior Marvin—how did that connection even occur? Does he come to Brazil a lot—
Yeah, well he’s toured many times there. And we have this brederin, you know, he passed away last year, and he’s a Brazilian percussionist called Claudio Pepe. And this guy, back then you know, when I was a youth, I [would] always see him, because we used to live in the same neighborhood. He was a big, Black [man], [a] dreadlocks Rasta, you know? It was great to see him. And he inspired us. And he went to Jamaica. He toured with the Wailers for three years — playing percussion for the Wailers. And when I came with this album, the guy from the label, U.R.K., they said, “Yo Dread, we need to find someone who can produce the album.” And I said, “Yo, as we are doing reggae music, and reggae comes from Jamaica, we must have someone from there, you know?
Yeah, [to] give you some credibility.
Yeah, just to make sure you play it right, you know? No appropriation things, just natural.
And he just said, “Yo, who we can have?” And I just remember, “Yo, I know Claudio, he [was] like my uncle, you know — and then, you know, some people — the guy from the label was like, “It would be nice if we got somebody from Bob Marley—” And [so this Brazilian percussionist, Claudio Pepe] was a big friend of Junior Marvin. And he sent a message to Junior. Sent him some [of my] songs. And Junior [said], “Yeah. I’m all in.”
Wow, that quickly.
[We] don’t talk about money or nothing. We arrange everything—
Did you get a chance to meet Junior Marvin?
Yeah! We did two sessions in Brazil. It was like a dream! Jah works in a mystery way—it’s wicked.
Now, is it right that “Saiba Viver” translates essentially into “learn to live” in English?
Yeah. That’s right.
Last year, you released an album strictly on vinyl I believe—
It was called “Equality” with Japanese producer “Dubkaz”—
And I know in the past you’ve done some work with DJ Yaadcore—
—whom I also interviewed earlier this year—
—about his debut album. And I know further that you’re involved in some projects with Brother Culture from the U.K.—
Yeah, we did a tune with Scientist, and it sounds great, you know? Because the man is wicked. So, yeah, Yaadcore is a big friend. We brought Yaadcore to Brazil.
I’m friends with Yaadcore since I think 2009, or 2010. Even before he played with Protoje. So—
He’s a great artist.
Yeah. [And] he’s a great friend. And we just connect through the internet. And we did a tour together in Costa Rica two times.
And of course Scientist who I mentioned, he’s gonna be the master sound engineer for this entire festival—
Man, it’s epic!
—have you seen him yet today?
Yeah, yeah, I just big up him at the stage.
Cool, cool. I was curious did you also, growing up in the ghetto in Brazil, listening to roots reggae, did you also listen to a lot of dub music made by wizards like Scientist, King Tubby, [and more]. Or was it only later, you know, after you got into the roots reggae—you know, when did you find out—I guess what I’m trying to ask is, when did you find out about this whole thing called “dub.”
Dub? Well you remember when they [released] this Bob Marley box set?
The box set?
Yeah, the box set. And some of the songs have the dub version—
And the dub version was the songs that I most—
That you most love?
Yeah. Because it took me to another dimension, you know—
Deconstruct the strong and—
Yeah. So every song that I like with this version, the dub—
That’s interesting. I remember that box set — that [official] Bob Marley Tuff Gong box set.
Yeah, so I go to the shops and say, “Dub! Which album have the dub version?” And I got the “Marcus Garvey” album from Burning Spear.
Nice. In addition to the musical projects that I just mentioned, and others maybe I didn’t note and don’t know about — which all the reggae fans should keep an eye out for the ones that I talked about. And any others [you mention]. You also have, and I just want to make sure people know about this, you have an official website that your manager Scott shared with me.
And really, everyone should go and check [it] out, and keep tabs, frequently, on this website. Because I noticed that it’s constantly being updated. And I want to mention for the people that the website, I believe, is “juniordread.com.br”—
Yeah, that’s it.
And everyone should go check that out—
And not only is there a lot of good info on there about you and what you’re up to, there’s also a lot of free music—
—of yours. That people can just go and check out—just with a click — and listen to Junior Dread, and find out what you’re about.
And I highly recommend that they do that. Junior Dread, it’s truly been a joy to start to get to know you—
—and your music today, through this interview. I’ll be keeping tabs on your career.
And maybe down the road, we can reason once again.
So please keep in touch with me. And for now, however, I would like to end today’s interview by asking two last questions.
First, are there any other musical projects—like I said there may be things I don’t know [about] that you’re involved in — but are there any [other] musical projects that you’re involved in that maybe I don’t know about, [and] that I didn’t mention — that you want people to know about?
Well I’m working on some tracks with Scientist right now. We have some songs with Evidence Music, too, for the next year. I’m working on my next album for the Brazilian market [in] Portuguese — more like “Saiba Viver.” And, you know, we have different things coming up. And I’m heading to Hawaii right now [after this festival] — I’m about to meet different Hawaiian artists [and] connect. So, you never know—
Lots of new things can happen?
Finally, the question I want to ask last is, in these troubled times we’re all living in, and with all of the challenges that we’re facing together in the world—
—what message do you want to impart or leave for all the Junior Dread fans out there — including people just now, who are finding out about you and your music, and are starting to dig it — and are intrigued about your music — what’s the message that you want people who are into reggae — into Junior Dread — what do you want them to know about you [and] your music?
Well, I want everybody to connect with this higher conscious[ness]. Learning that we are here for a purpose. You know, no matter where you’re from, your color, your economic condition, I don’t care. But find a way where you can spread the love. It can be [with] your family, your work, and, be able to access this conscious[ness]. Where you can get the best from what you have now. Find your mission in life. You can be anything, you know, with passion. So we connect through music. I hope my music can uplift everyone who listens to it. And I hope everyone here can connect with this positive, loving, conscious[ness] that is surrounding the earth right now.
Thank you so much, Junior Dread.
I’m really, really looking forward to seeing you perform tonight. And I wish you all the success.
Yeah, congrats for this wonderful work, we need it.
Thank you so much, my friend.