Gwan Inyaki, founder of Basque Dub Foundation (The Interview)

by May 1, 2024Articles, Interview

Gwan Inyaki! (The Interview)

Where: London UK
When: 2012
Writer: Ray Hurford
Photos: Inyaki Yarritu, and the respective record companies (labels/sleeves)
Copyright:  2012 – Ray Hurford

Up until around 2000, London was still regarded as the home of reggae in Europe. It was around this time that many big Reggae festivals started to take place in every major European capital – except London! This was followed by European Reggae labels. The most recent development are European Reggae producers. One of the first is Inyaki Yarritu from Spain – founder of the Basque Dub Foundation or BDF. This is his story.

When did you get into Reggae?
First time I heard Reggae was in 1978, I was 14 then. Some Bob Marley & The Wailers album like “Kaya” or “Exodus”. There was no Reggae at all in Bilbao (a small city in the Basque Country where I’m from), apart from BMW, and the other artists on major labels like Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & The Maytals, Third World, Inner Circle, etc… that’s pretty much all the Reggae one could hear then and I thought that was it! I became a lifetime fan. I didn’t know much about Reggae but I was certainly obsessed about knowing. It took me a few years to realise there was a whole world of Reggae, a whole universe in fact, that existed apart from the stuff on major labels… hundreds, well more like thousands of Reggae artists and labels! A few years later I got some UK magazines like NME and thru that I found Small Axe (around 1983) which was a huge discovery for me! (My everlasting respect to your work!!!!) Also asked friends, who were coming to London, to buy me records. I made lists from reviews on Small Axe, Reggae Quarterly (fantastic Canadian magazine), even the NME had a reggae chart which was very useful to know which artists were popular, cause I didn’t know much! After my first visit to London in 1985 (where I bought many books, magazines, records, etc) I decided to start a radio programme as nobody was playing any Reggae on the radio in Spain. I used to come to London to buy records.

What was the name of the radio station in Spain and the name of your show?
Programme was called Reggae Rocking (the name was taken from the title of a Cimarons’ tune on the “Maka” album). The station was a local pirate called TBI (disappeared many years ago). I’m very proud of those years ’cause we were pioneers trying to popularize the whole of Jamaican music to the best of our youthful ability. We used records, cassettes and also 1/4″ revox tapes to do jingles like Mikey Dread or Rodigan. We had been hearing some recordings from DBC (Dread Broadcasting Corporation) and Rodigan radio shows. They were our inspiration, we didn’t have any previous experience or training so we basically copied them as much as we could. I certainly never had a good voice for radio!

Roy Shirley - The High Priest
So were you playing any instrument at the time?
Not at all. I never played instruments then or knew anything about notes, chords and all that (that’d be many years later). I was just another fan. In the late 1980s I moved to London. That’s where I started making music. One day while searching for Reggae records in a charity shop, they had a melodica for sale, the same Hohner 26 grey model that Augustus Pablo used! So I bought it for 15 quid. Didn’t have a clue how to play it, but it just looked great! (I still use that melodica, the best sounding melodic ever!) Anyway, I started messing around with it and trying to find the notes and all that, playing alongside Pablo records. A friend of mine had an 8 tracks multitrack half inch machine at home and I suggested to build a riddim and record the melodica.

So it was the melodica that got you playing! Very unusual. Did you enjoy any other melodica players?
It was my first instrument but I wouldn’t call it ‘playing’ as yet… more like messing around really. I was a huge Pablo fan since I discovered him ’cause the “Original Rockers” album (compiled by Chris Lane) was released in Spain in 1980. That album and the 6 volumes of “Creation Rockers” (called “Lo mejor del Reggae” in Spain), a fantastic Dave Hendley compilation… those albums were the most fantastic music I’ve ever heard, a real eye opener for me: Rock Steady, Ska, Studio One, mid 70s Rockers production, toasters, dub, etc… loads of artists and producers I’ve never heard of before. I was young and very naive about the Reggae scene. I also thought I was the only one who knew about Augustus Pablo! Apart from Pablo I knew the other players on the “Melodica Melodies” album by Trojan: Joe White, Glen Brown, even Peter Tosh. But to me none of them can play like Pablo, he had a fantastic flair for the right notes, also great technique breathing (many people forget that the melodica is not just a keyboard… you have to blow it) and also I love his trademark harmonized notes. To me he was miles ahead.

Who was that friend you mentioned and where did you do your first recordings London or Spain?
In London. Just a mate from university days, not a Reggae person at all, more of a Pop/Jazz musician. He was a semi-pro musician and had a basic home studio set up and I had been always curious about how they actually recorded music onto tape. I saw him recording and was interested in his ‘strange machines’ that I had heard about (but actually I’ve never seen them before) like an 8-track half inch multitrack recorder, a mixing desk, mics, reverbs, delays, etc. Watching him was fascinating to me. So I suggested to him recording a reggae tune (we did “Cassava Piece”). I was the ‘producer’, guiding him what to do (even though I didn’t have any experience!). He played most instruments and I played the melodica and even the drum machine (manually as I didn’t know how to programe it!), and I had a go at mixing it… trying to be like King Tubbys (!), loads of over the top delays, echoes, muting instruments… very raw stuff cause I didn’t have a clue about producing or recording. Was trying to replicate what I had heard on records but I was putting the wrong chords, wrong EQs, wrong playing. These days I never let anybody listen to it… embarrassing!

So by that time you was really into certain sounds?
By then I was living in London and knew much more about the different Jamaican styles, from Ska to the latest (then) digital riddims of the 80s. I was into all the different periods and styles. Of course Pablo, one of my favourite artists/producers. London gave me a wide range of knowledge about Reggae. It was a huge change for me cause I didn’t have any shops to buy records back home so I was ordering by mail from London if and whenever I could save some cash (I was a student). For us over there, London was the capital for Reggae, the Reggae paradise! Over here is so easy to have access to the music. When I moved here I thought “I can go to Dub Vendor any day I want. I can actually look at the records too. I don’t have to order from a list anymore!” Some people in London don’t appreciate that. They have the language (I couldn’t speak English) and the records, even many artists and musicians live down the road. It’s so easy being informed here. These days internet has changed everything of course, but for me it was a huge struggle.

Inyaki on drums
How long after that very first session in London did you set up the BDF studio in Spain?
My first experience in a studio was around 1988. I played that demo I did (‘Cassava Piece’) to friends without telling them it was me. I wanted to have a real and honest opinion. I can’t stand bullshit or people not saying what they really think! The feedback was good (even if I wasn’t all that happy myself with the result) so that encouraged me a lot and made me think for the first time that maybe I might even have some sort talent for this music thing! So I decided to get some kind of training on engineering and studio production. At that time I couldn’t really play any instruments. I only wanted to be a mixer/producer really. I did a short course on studio engineering, programming using Cubase, etc… but I didn’t learn much to be honest.
Bored me a bit. But more significantly, at the same time I became professionally involved in music when I started (with some close friends) Massive Promotions, a promoting agency specialized in bringing Reggae artists to do live shows in Spain. Got experienced not only as the road manager, but also about how the business works (it can be a jungle!… but that’s another story.) and started meeting many of my musical heroes, travelling with them, going to rehearsals and visiting them in studios. I have to say that I learnt much more meeting real musicians (some of the best Reggae musicians working in backing bands in the UK) and reasoning with them, than what I learned on a audio engineering course. I could jam with fantastic musicians and also watch the engineer mixing a real Reggae band. A proper hands on approach, not like the engineering courses that were all theory and boring stuff I wasn’t interested in really… as I wanted to produce Reggae music not to know theory about audio engineering!

Anyway, we promoted a show with Prince Lincoln in the early 90s and I linked up with the engineer who had a studio and booked it for a couple of days to build some riddims. I did 4 more riddims (“Fade Away” and 3 originals). Did another demo tape and send it to spanish national radio… and they liked it! They played it. Then I decided that I couldn’t give people a tape and calling it ‘Inyaki’s stuff’ or ‘Inyaki’s music’ so… decided on a name. So came up with the BDF name as I’m from the Basque Country! I didn’t want to use my real name and didn’t want people to know it was just one person so gave it a kind of ‘band’ or ‘crew’ name (the Basque Dub Foundation was a bit of a joke name really, but it caught on!). That was in 1994. Then I started a studio set up at home, very basic really. I bought a computer with Cubase, a midi keyboard and started to build riddims at home using an old Atari.

I also bought a drum kit and I started to teach myself to play drums for a couple of years (I’m sure my neighbours weren’t too happy!). I used just two very cheap mics (moving them around the kit) but to my surprise I was getting a very authentic sound, a kind of very lo-fi early Black Ark/Studio One… very raw! I bought a couple of Roland synths and started to learn keyboards and finally bass, when the bass player guy that was supposed to come to jam let me down (again!) and I was well pissed off! So I said to myself: “F*** it. I’ll do it myself. I can’t rely on other people”. So I bought a bass too and practiced. I’m self-taught, just listened to records, watched Reggae bass players on live gigs and went to rehearsals with London bands to watch and learn (asking many questions!)… hopefully!

Ministerio del Melodica

Judgement Time

juggernaut 1 & 2

And what was your first release?
First real release was the “Sustraidun Roots Dub” album in 1997. Before that it was just demos or dubplates, but not for sale as such. At that time I was also into the current UK digital type of productions. So the album is basically instrumentals and dubs. I worked with artists like Dub Judah, Jerry Lyons (Jah Shaka’s bass player) and Dougie Wardrop (Conscious Sounds). I sequenced the music at home and went to their studios to run the sounds and mix. Also Progressive Sounds in Battersea and Ariwa (Mad Professor) and a studio in Bilbao. I got calls to ‘perform live’. I wasn’t expecting that! So I started selecting/djing live with a guy on the mic and called it BDF Basque Dub Foundation Sound System!!! I’m a bit embarrassed by it now, ’cause I was never a real Sound (no equipment!). I did that for a few years in Spain, even huge festivals… like 12.000 people! I felt uncomfortable in front of an audience (that’s why I got MCs on the mic!). So I decided to form a live band instead, but I had no experience playing live. I was just practicing at home (bass, drums, keyboards) but I wasn’t proficient enough so I joined a couple of bands as a test. To my surprise, I could handle myself with other musicians (on bass and keys… on drums I couldn’t!). So I put a line up together and converted BDF into a live band, something I’d never considered 10 years before when I started messing around in studios (I was supposed to be a producer, not to play live).

And then your second release…
“BDF meets Loud&Lone” was the second album (2002). Very different to the first one cause by this time we were a live band playing live and we played ‘real’ instruments and doing it the old school way, analogue, direct onto tape. I had lost interest in the digital type of UK production. Started to sound quite cliché and robotic… the constant kick drum, one-finger synth melodies, no chord changes, over the top effects, not much human feel, it sounded to me as cold as the London weather and very far from the kind of Reggae that made me a fan in the first place really. Sequencers had taken over from ‘real’ musicians in the traditional sense: people who can play an instrument live for two hours onstage. Personally I was more interested in the traditional type of sound. Played by musicians who can play live and can record a rhythm track in the studio in one take. “BDF meets Loud&Lone” was also very different ’cause it had vocals (showcase style: vocals plus dubs) and it wasn’t a personal effort but a collaboration with Loud & Lone (Roberto Sanchez and Borja Juanco). They are the next generation of spanish musicians (12 years younger than me). They were members of the live band too. I had met Roberto in London in 1998. I was astonished to find another spaniard not only into the same music, but also very talented as a musician and producer. He plays many instruments, sings, composes and mixes too. We connected musically and started working together. Some drums were played by Augustus Pablo’s drummer. I had worked with Yabby U and Augustus Pablo years earlier. I had a recording session when he missed the flight, but I re-used the drum tracks for these new compositions. The album was released in 2002 and we did a national tour of Spain (including national TV). By then we were touring often.

BDF meets Loud & Lone
Your next releases appeared on the Heartical label…
Heartical started as a sound system (from Paris) run by Sergio Marigomez. I met him in 2000. And soon after he started his label and approached me to record riddims ’cause he is really a selector/MC, not a musician. His idea was to release strictly 7″s on vinyl and to establish the label like the traditional producers: cutting well known foundation riddims and voicing many different artists over them. He knew that 7″ buyers go for the classic riddims. He handpicked a dozen foundation riddims for BDF to record: “Real Rock”, “Truth and Rights”, “Please Be True”, “Tonite”, “Promised Land”, “Fade Away”, “Far East”, “Satta”, etc… and I added some of my originals too. We have released more than 60 singles 7″s so far. I personally wanted to do more originals riddims instead of re-licking foundation ones, but the record buying audience can be very conservative and most people prefer to buy the same old riddims that they are familiar with. Fortunately, some artists wanted to voice my originals, so we have released some original riddims like “Ministerio” riddim and there are another two forthcoming (we are about to release one called “Freedom Rockers”). Sergio has been to Jamaica a few times to voice artists. Many of our Heartical 7″s have been in Reggae charts in many countries. Popular tunes… even if loads of people didn’t realized until recently that they were BDF riddims! We have put out some good productions, but some are very average in my personal opinion. Mind you, our biggest sellers tend to be the ones I don’t rate so… what do I know anyway!

Have you had the chance to voice any rhythms? Or does Sergio do all of that.
I deal with the musical side of production (recording instruments, arrangements and mixing) and Sergio deals with the other areas involved in production (voicing artists, pressing plants, promotion). I’ve been at some voicing sessions: Alton Ellis, Mykal Rose, Al Campbell, Earl 16, Cornel Campbell, The Viceroys, Anthony Johnson, Ranking Joe, Little Roy, U Brown. Unfortunately Alton died… the great Alton Ellis. Great man. In recent years I haven’t done much voicing. In a way I prefer it to be like that ’cause I saw certain artists hustling producers for money many times so I prefer not to be there or at least I prefer not to be involved in the payment (business) side. That way they don’t see me as the ‘producer’ (the ‘money man’ in Jamaican music traditionally) but as a ‘musician’. Artists don’t hustle musicians… maybe ’cause they think they are lower than them! We are not ‘money men’, musicians are the ‘working class of the Reggae world’, the unsung heroes. Is always the producers and artists who get the fame. Even the biggest collectors of music or the soundmen don’t know many times who played on records… unsung heroes indeed. But artists and producers need the musicians’ ability to transfer their basic lyric into a memorable tune with proper melodies and arrangements.

Does any session stand out?
One of the most especial sessions was with Alton ’cause I just love his vibes and voice. I backed him live onstage too. He was humble, listening to ideas, even accepting suggestions on his lyrics! Meeting and knowing artists like him, Augustus Pablo, Yabby U, Cornel Campbell, etc. had a great effect on me. Also The Viceroys, Abyssinians, Culture, Congos, Mighty Diamonds… cause I love jamaican vocal trios. I still get a big thrill meeting foundation artists, never expected to meet them when I was a teenager obsessed with Reggae, they are my heroes after all!

You have managed to record some incredible artists.
We backed some of them live too (which involves rehearsals and travelling together) like The Heptones, Alton Ellis, Everton Blender, U Brown, Earl 16, etc. There are different levels of perfectionism and rehearsal attitudes. Personally I love the music creating process, rehearsing, trying musical ideas. I’ve been to many rehearsals, soundchecks and jams with other artists too: Sugar Minnott, Luciano, Gregory, Diamonds, Ijahman, Congos, Abyssinians, Horace Andy, Black Uhuru, LKJ, Spear, Prince Lincoln, Culture, Skatalites, Yabby U, Michael Prophet, Half Pint, U Roy, Dennis Alcapone, etc. And of course Augustus Pablo too. My biggest regret is not having produced Dennis Brown. I met him and had a chance of voicing him in the 90s, but it never happened. But some artists have disappointed me a bit in terms of professionalism, money grabbing attitude and badman, rude behavior. Some are off-key but don’t give a f*** (or maybe they can’t hear it either) as long as there is money in their pockets! Some artists didn’t impress me much, but I’ll keep that to myself. Better not to get into that!

Apart from Heartical, do you also work for other labels?
Yes I produce for a few labels. I produce for Kaf Island (the label is owned by the artist Nattykaf) and One in the Spirit (owned by Chris Roots and Fil Nationwide). Both are London labels releasing more rootsy type of music (the Shaka type of soundsystems play those productions). They asked me to re-do obscure 70s roots tunes to voice current artists. But I also keep recording instrumentals as I love instrumental music too. We have our own label called Massive Sounds, we released an album/EP on vinyl only called “Roots Melodies”, which I find more personal as is more original (not so many riddims relicked). Instrumental and dub stuff, like Pablo, Jackie Mittoo, etc.
So the Kaf Island, One In The Spirit and Massive Sounds are all your work?
Yeah, my productions, all the Kaf Island and Massive Sounds is my work, and most of the One In The Spirit, except a couple of earlier releases.

And they are recorded here in the UK. Any special studio?
Yes in London mostly. Except the voicing which is sometimes done in other countries. I have been using different studios. depending if it’s a vintage type of production (real instruments) or more digital type of production. Sometimes I combine both types. I’m a producer/musician. I’m not an executive producer (the guy who pays others to do the music in the studio). I arrange and compose the music, play a few instruments, I’m always there assisting the mixes, etc… I work a lot at Jamtone studio, run by Darren Mathers. He is very knowledgeable and dedicated. He is also a talented producer and I collaborate with him. I work with Dub Terror too, who is our live band mixing engineer too. Very talented too and versatile producer. But I do bits of recording anywhere I like the sound and vibe. These days you can carry your multi-track files on a pendrive and record anywhere. Recently I’ve been recording drums and horns in France or Spain. I like using current studio technology in the studio, but I love the old school recording style. There are not many big studios left these days, I mean the classic analogue ones. But I still work that way sometimes. Last year we recorded in a vintage analogue studio near Brighton (24 tracks, 2 inch tape, Hammond, vintage amps and effects, etc.) and we recorded 12 riddims, all musicians playing at the same time, one take business like in the days of Studio One, Channel One, Randys, etc. We’ll be releasing some of those riddims in the next few years!

So what is coming from BDF in the near future?
A new BDF 12″ release called “Juggernaut”, melodica instrumental. Two new series of 7″s for Heartical, both original riddims finally!! With about 12 vocalists each. Also I build riddims for other producers or I play on other people’s productions. I credited it as ‘Inyaki’ (when it is not me producing, I don’t use the name BDF). I’m collaborating with other labels like: Jamtone (some great productions with Linval Thompson and Cornel Campbell soon will be out), Soul Of Anbessa from Switzerland (who records foundation musicians in Jamaica), Roots Garden from Brighton and other labels from France, Italy and Spain. I’m producing riddims for Tuff Scout label too. And then of course I play live and tour backing artists.

Any albums?
Not a priority to be honest. The album/CD market is almost non-existent in Reggae circles, the distribution is very hard. But there are two Heartical compilation out now. “Heartical Story Vol 1 and 2”, on CD only. More likely there will be a Rootsamala album in the future. They are a vocal duet (brother and sister!) who I’ve known for almost 20 years. Very talented. We’ve done 9 tunes already released as 7″s.

(Thanks for the interview Ray. It took me only 30 years to finally do something with you! But as they say… nothing comes before its time!)