Interview with I Kong (aka Ricky Storm) – Part 2
In part 2 of the interview, I Kong talks about bootlegging and thieving his music, his debut album “The Way It Is”, the “Forgotten Man” album, Tommy Cowan, dancehall and the future of reggae music.
“THE WAY IT WAS”
Tell me more about that song, ‘Trod Along (Zion’s Pathway)’.
Well, that was a personal t’ing inna me life, jus’ like ‘Life’s Road’. Them song deh a personal song, yunno, t’ings whe happen inna me life an’ me jus’ sing it inna song. Me get the inspiration from the Father as me say, me no write song from paper, them jus’ a come inna my head an’ me jus’ a sing them.
The thing about inspiration can be truly mystical.
Yeah, that me a show you, them t’ing deh a Father works. Ca’ a whole heap a song me don’t remember, yunno, me jus’ sing them an’ them jus’ go. But me say dem is a tribute to God Almighty himself, you understan’, ca’ Him na forget them an’ Him hold the whole amount inna Him hand. Sometime them come back to I, yunno, many many years after a song come home to me… A so it go.
One thing I, and I’m sure many others, would like to see accomplished for the future, if you, and your manager, could try to locate the uncollected 45’s, clean them up and put it out in your own name so you can get some money from them, at last.
Yeah, me a realise that because Stranger dem a me bredda, Stranger Cole dem a me brethren, an’ let me tell you; me know all a the old artists dem really good, we a brethren. Ca’ me no stop sing dem man praises beca’ dem man deh good to me from me a yout’, an’ dem man deh know me an’ me know dem an’ me love dem, you understan’. An’ me is not like most artists… me know seh you have certain man – beca’ him get big him forget him brethren, yunno, me no forget my brethren dem, although me no did. Me always ‘memba my brethren dem ca’ me ‘memba the good times. Me prefer to remember the good times, me no like to dwell ‘pon the bad times. Beca’ me say, when me dwell ‘pon the bad times the Devil mus’ ‘ave fe tek me over, beca’ him want you fe change to certain t’ings an’ me know me can be wicked if me really go da way deh. So me jus’ try fe ‘memba the good t’ings an’… you know?
Yeah, I understand. But it would be good to see that you eventually make some money from those recordings and get the original music out there again, y’know?
Make an effort in getting it out again, please.
Me know the whole t’ing, yunno. The same ‘Take A Hold’ an’ ‘Poor Man’s Life’ song ‘pon ‘im ‘Reconstruction’ album, all of a sudden a man tell me say it deh ‘pon it seh ‘written by Max Romeo and I Kong’ – Max Romeo na write nutten ’til him come check me an’ say “Bwoy, me like dem two song deh”, an’ me say a’right. See it deh? A wolf dem now, dem fe give me a money an’ me no get no money! And all of a sudden a man would tell you seh it deh ‘pon it say ‘written by…’ – but him no write nutten! Me give ‘im two song whe me write. (Chuckles) So, even though him a me brethren, ca’ Max a me brethren, me nuh know if dem really a Ras when you check it out. Ca’ Jah seh put a trust inna man but dem cyaan show themselves honest…
Yeah, there’s that other side of the coin. By the way, are you aware of the bootleg 45 of the original ‘The Way It Is’? Came out of New York some years ago.
No sah, Mutabaruka an’ Toots an’ even Bob before he died, they used to tell me that when dem tour they see my album an’ it big, an’ me no ‘ave nutten fe collect from it. Me neva understan’ nutten my bredda, an’ me never have no means of gettin’ it. You have fe have money fe reach certain t’ings. A no money me have, me jus’ a lickle sufferer. The way me a survive, is through the mercy of the Almighty me survive.
The boot single was out on the Reggae Shots label, and the track came upon a CD entitled ‘More Pressure’ in England not too long ago as well.
Me no know nutten ’bout that, me only know seh me ‘ave three t’ing ya back in those times; me ‘ave City Hall Record put out a CD name ‘Zion’s Land’, various artists, dem ‘ave track ten as ‘Life’s Lonely Road’, on January 2000 that come out. That’s ‘Life’s Road’, not ‘Life’s Lonely Road’, the original title is ‘Life’s Road’, it’s put out as ‘Life’s Lonely Road’ on the same t’ing. Dem a eat food offa my head all the while deh. But the whole a dem a go get through. You ‘ave a nex’ t’ing called Delta Music, ’40 Reggae Greats’ picks track 16, dem ‘ave the track as ‘Babylon’, the original t’ing is ‘Babylon Walls’, not no ‘Babylon’. But through dem a try fe disguise it fe rob me, is a various artists t’ing. Then dem have Feel The Beat, them have ‘Way of Life’, which is ‘The Way It Is’, an’ that come out recently. So all these people eat food offa me an’ me no know nutten. Ca’ through me inna Jamaica nobody na call me an’ tell me seh this a gwaan an’ this an’ that all the while, me no know ’bout dem t’ing deh. Me nuh know dem people deh, me no even know how dem a get my record, an’ dem a mek food. So now me a do some suing now, beca’ me waan me money. Ca’ me will travel an’ look up dem people deh. Jah know, you talk ’bout Rastaman peaceful an’ everyt’ing, but dem people mek me feel when they rob me. Rasta, it’ll damage dem bad ca’ dem people a thief!
Did you know that ‘Babylon Walls’ came on an album about seventeen years back in the UK, Earl Sixteen did a version of it. You remember Earl?
(Silence) Me ‘memba Earl Sixteen but me neva know dem man do the same t’ing… It make me feel a way, the way how we talk now.
Tell me now about the album, ‘The Way It Is’, the original that came out on Top Ranking in the late seventies.
No, me no record fe Top Ranking! Me do my album meself! Me do the album, finish the album, a finish produc’ an’ go to Tommy. Beca’ by that time Tommy had Top Ranking, an’ him seh bwoy, him can distribute it fe me. Ca’ me no know nutten ’bout distribution, him tell me to distribute it. So, we had – him supposed to give me… at the time him ‘ave fe give me a wha’, twenty-five percent, you understan’, him no own no copyright or nutten. Me suppose fe own my copyright an’ me own publishing beca’ me put it out seh ‘published by King Kong Music’. But me jus’ use that through me no know nutten ’bout publishing, an’ people say ‘Bwoy, you ‘ave fe put publishing t’ing’. So that jus’ a come out of me head, beca’ through my name is Kong me jus’ a say ‘King Kong’, you understan’? But him was jus’ the distributor! Dem na produce nutten, so dem t’ing deh him a rob me from all that, that’s why me a sue him now. Me sue him for all thirty years of no royalties now, yunno, for ‘The Way It Is’, the 45. An’ fe twenty-nine years for the album. A thirty-five years I think fe the 45, eh, an’ twenty-nine fe the album… Beca’ me no get no money me brethren, me no get no money!! Me did that album so long an’ it’s out there. Beca’ me na go mek a man – me used to record tune for people, yunno, me have me own album an’ dem think seh is not my record, but years ago me a do my music as me tell you. Some of the numbers dem a some classical music me a deal with, an’ me a do work. I jus’ had my vision an’ as a man seh to me one time, a man mek this… a man we usually rehearse with one time, a great great great guitarist name Pluto Kolash, him seh to me say “Ricky…” – dem time deh him work as a distributor, an’ him seh “Ricky, you too advanced for them people ya you know”, an’ it look like it became true.
Who was that again?
Pluto Kolash? Him is a guitarist, him used to work at the Water Commission, so me usually go deh an’ rehearse. Him play guitar when we rehearse inna the early days when we grow up, when me start the group The Jamaicans, yunno, someone introduce me to him an’ I went there an’ him jus’ like the group. An’ him love how we sing when we rehearse, him woulda play the guitar. Beca’ a man, when him hear seh the great Andrew Segovia – you know Segovia, the classical guitaris’?
He came to Jamaica an’ met him an’ seh “Bwoy, this man is greater than I”. An’ I really rate Mr Pluto Kolash as one of the greatest guitarists, great like… greater than even Ernie Ranglin. Yeah man! An’ Ernest is me good brethren, I know Ernest from a longer time an’ Mr Ranglin is a man whe I admire an’ really really sing praises for Ranglin. Him in a league of his own, you see wha’ me a talk ’bout. Me no even know wha’ever became of Mr Kolash, because of that mix-up with him when I went to work on the ship an’ all dem t’ing deh, y’know.
How did the sessions for ‘The Way It Is’ take shape?
Well, the first man I approach was Family Man, because Family Man Barrett was always me brethren. Beca’ Family Man an’ meself an’ Vivian Jackson, that is Yabby You – you hear of Yabby You & The Prophets?
Vivian Jackson, yeah. Them always a very good friend of mine, we go a long way back, an’ Vivian used to use Fam’s ‘pon him recording dem a lot. An’ I a direc’ from a couple of years before, y’know, we always had a good vibe. An’ we decide fe do this album. I check him an’ I tell him the other musicians, beca’ I pick those musician specially for me beca’ those type of musician woulda work the best for this, wha’ me a hear inna my head. An’ me get all a dem together, book the studio time at Dynamics, an’ me did the album. A friend of mine, Ken Brevett, ‘Django’, Django say the greatest time inna him life was when I carried him to the studio, an’ me sat him inna the booth with the engineer an’ him watch me use my mouth, a hum the tune dem an’ a communicate. Him say it was like a marriage watchin’ me an’ the musician dem communicate, each musician. Ca’ that me haffe do, yunno, tek me mouth an’ hum the bassline, use me mouth an’ mek the drum lick ya so, the horn dem – everyt’ing, ca’ so me hear it inna me head so me haffe give dem, ca’ dem nuh know wha’ me hear. So me haffe do it da way deh, ca’ me play no music. An’ it came out well, it came out. Ca’ even then when them a play it dem say “Bwoy, this na go work ya!” An’ me say “Rasta, it haffe work da way, an’ me want it a way. Jus’ lef’ it, it haffe work!”An’ even when me done mix the album an’ me carry dem back inna the studio an’ mek them hear it nuh, dem say “Bloodclaat, is a new sound me seh, Rasta! You great!”, an’ ray ray ray.
You know? Dem neva hear wha’ me a hear as me say, so… Lookin’ back at it now me really did do well (laughs)!
It’s a classic album now. Did you ever get any feedback from what it caused overseas?
Oh yes, dem used to say it’s a classic album an’ a lotta people say bwoy, dem carry the belief seh at a time when most people a use two chords inna Jamaica, that really come out a Jamaica… An’ it weaken me, because, you see, I am the only livin’ Jamaican of Chinese extract doing music from before ska ’til now, yunno, in the entire world, an’ I’m the only Jamaican-Rastafarian (Chinese). So when them meet me – ca’ most people, is when dem see the album jacket dem na associate it with a Chinese yout’. An’ dem say bwoy, the voice even more powerful than seeing me, beca’ me is a lickle man, you understan’ me?
(Chuckles) Every man look at that.
You certainly have a big voice for such a short stature.
(Laughs) Oh yes, me really short. A so it go.
Then there’s the CD reissue on VP that is out now, re-released after not being available since its original vinyl pressing in ’78 or the year after. How did that come about, was it Tommy who approached you and said he wanted to put it out again and include the unreleased dub mixes as well?
No, it no go like that. Me an’ George Campbell a.k.a. Sherebiaha, we get together an’ we a work ‘pon an’ album whe it yet to come out (now released) named ‘The Forgotten Man’. We had some of those tracks offa ‘The Way It Is’, re-record, an’ some new tracks. So, him send either two or three tracks go to VP, to some people deh, trying to get them interested in ‘The Forgotten Man’ album. An’ for some reason or the other them never reply back to him, dem must realise now through dem see the new version of ‘The Way It Is’, dem run go to Tommy, through a him did distribute it originally. So dem cut out Sheriba, ca’ Tommy did come to me an’ say “Bwoy, VP interested inna this t’ing”. But through me never understan’ nutten me say that seh, well, that album is a different t’ing not realising seh the copyright of one song, no matter how much different version is the same copyright. You understan’? Which I still own the copyright along with George, an’ we have a publishing with Mac Law Publishers. Mac Law, BMI, we do own that. Now, Tommy go behind an’ go tell them seh a Glory Music a publisher an’ all kinda eediot t’ing, which we a sue him over too. Up to now, VP dem no call me, dem owe me royalty. Me email dem, dem no waan pay me no attention, so me no have no choice but mek my lawyer an’ management a deal with the t’ing.
Oh boy, typical.
You understan’. Beca’ up to this day right as we a talk, nobody no pay me no mind. Tommy, me call him the other day an’ ’bout two weeks back an’ him a tell me seh me have fe call him back in half an hour, two half hour come an’ gone an’ how much hours an’ how much days an’ weeks, an’ him no call me back all now. So everybody a tek me fe a fool! But as I say, George have my interests to look for an’ me give thanks to the Almighty God that He send him my way. Him can get justice fe I and I, you understan’.
So you haven’t received a penny for the CD reissue?
Well, Tommy give me a lickle monkey money, an’ him give me fe some time interes’, an’ me haffe go by wha’ him say. An’ since that now ‘im forget the lawyer’s statement – me na get no statement, my bredda, me na hear nutten. An’ beca’ me call him him give me is jus’ pure runnin’ around an’ man a quit me on a whole, me na have no money, two years ‘pon call. Every time me a call them is not there, ca’ me na get no money, my bredda, as me a tell you. A the mercy of the Almighty, me na tell lie.
That’s just the business, if you don’t protect yourself from early on these people will do you all sorts of harm. It’s like the music business is, more or less, constructed to rip off the innocent.
Yea, you know. But a man cyaan do no more than wha’ him fe do an’ then Jah do the res’, for anything a man say him get ready. Father na keep from God nutten, God na forget nutten, yunno. An’ the righteous haffe survive, good haffe supreme over evil at all times. So me know Father God never a get me inna it. Beca’ my children dem need it, an’ my woman dem need it, an’ me need it. Beca’ after me get my money, after me give my children an’ my woman an’ dem get it, me na ‘ave mine. Beca’ you ‘ave people out a road whe… poor, poor people whe you have fe stretch out a hand an’ give them. Me ‘ave all some lickle school dem me woulda like buy some lickle computer, put in dem t’ing deh fe dem. Beca’ the lickle yout’ dem, you have fe bring fe the lickle yout’ deh. You cyaan bring fe the great one dem whe sick inna dem bad ways, you haffe bring the lickle one dem an’ teach dem the right way that them come up an’ leave somet’ing whe good fe society. That’s somet’ing whe me woulda love to do with my money too, yunno.
I certainly hope you will receive, sooner or later, the money you deserve from the CD reissue.
I don’t receive nutten, none my bredda. God Almighty know that.
None! Apart from the lickle monkey money whe me a tell you seh me get from VP, if I tell you seh how long it lasted me no remember that too.
Even though there hasn’t been much justice on the financial side of it, I hope the reissue will at least do some good for you in terms of getting your name out there again.
Well, I hope your t’ing will give me a lickle t’ing. Beca’ right ya now I have a operation to tek, but I’m plannin’ to hit the road July, I dunno where yet. Probably Australia or maybe even your country or dung a Madagascar, ’cause I met a lickle yout’ dung here, him tell me seh ‘Life’s Road’ is big dung deh. So I don’t know, or probably Beijng nex’ year. I’m tryin’ to get out there my brother, beca’ I know I have much more in me. More t’ings have fe wait fe come out, beca’ ‘The Way It Is’ was just the start. Is just that me get cut off fe all dem years because of wicked people. But me know me have music a come out, because me is a man… certain people say to me me always ahead of me time, so must have music deh-deh.
Circa ’88 there was an album called ‘Africa Calling’ on the now defunct Rohit label out of New Jersey, it was supposed to have been your second album but it appears like it was a bootleg, only available for a short period. It was the original tracks but remixed and overdubbed, some apparently done by a band called ‘Jamaica’ in Bern, Switzerland. And I believe it was produced by the old Marley chef, Gilly, he co-produced it according to the credits.
Let me tell you this straight; me na give him the album fe distribute nor nutten. I remember years ago, now that you talk of it, years ago I went to Gilly house one day an’ was playing a cassette, an’ him seh to me say “Bwoy, me love that, y’know, Kong! Give me a cassette now, man”. An’ that’s how it come in, with a cassette! You understan’ me?
So him must haffe used that an’ do wha’ him a do, but me no give Gilly no permission. Me never tell Gilly fe… me an’ Gilly no sign no paper nor nutten, even Gilly no tell me fe try nutten fe me. Him say him love it an’ him want – me jus’ give it. Me no understan’ certain t’ings, me bredda. You understan’?
Yes, I know.
A pure thief, my bredda, a reach me – all me life dem been robbing me, but dem cyaan rob… God ‘ave a t’ing, yunno, there’s a part whe Jah say ‘He who steals my purse steals trash’.
(Chuckles) Right. True. The first CD issue of ‘The Way It Is’ was apparently put out in France about fifteen years ago on a label called Esoldun, and it was retitled ‘Ghetto Cry’.
The original album, but it was, again, only available for a short time.
(Laughter) Because a pure thief deh! Cho, me tell a man seh… Jah know, all dem t’ing deh a news too, me bredda. You see, I man come in like high, yunno, dem cyaan keep me dung. I keep certain t’ing all the while. So even when dem a thief me dem still can expose me, so when I come ‘pon the road when people woulda see me or hear me or know me, an’ know wha’ kinda t’ing I a come with. You have this CD a go come out name ‘The Forgotten Man’, beca’ that is what really happen to me, yunno. Like much people forget me, even people me woulda grow with, in an interview, dem no talk ’bout me! All dem talk ’bout is other artists. Dem no even talk ’bout me!
Hold on, you don’t even know how missed or highly regarded you are in the industry and on the European scene, you still have a name out there. Many was wondering what happened to you from those days, so you still have the interest among the public and, I suppose, the reputation. I’m sure some even believe you had passed away.
Rastafari know! God Almighty, him seh: ‘Let Jah guide and He will provide’. I did ask Jah one time, yunno, I said “Father, if You should know seh You a go give I the blessing an’ I go make a mess of it, na go give I”. So it come like me did know seh in my younger days I woulda mess it up, so Him neva give I. I a old man now, yunno, but it comin’ like Him still give I the strength. Beca’ the other day some brethren come look for me an’ me a sing an’ him seh “Raas claat, Kong, you sound better than when yu young, me bwoy! You sound mellow.” So, at least that give I that still.
Old but still young.
(Chuckles) As me brethren dem call me, ‘forever young’.
Tell me more about the new album now, ‘The Forgotten Man’.
Oh, well, ‘The Forgotten Man’. This album ya now is, as I say, some tracks off the original ‘The Way It Is’. I did over, an’ I also have some new tracks on it like ‘The Forgotten Man’, ‘Love Was’, ‘Ode To Africa’, I have a fast tune ‘pon it called ‘Can’t Get Over Losing You’, ‘Chinese Jade’, and other songs. I think people will like it.
Who do you work with on this album?
Sly & Robbie and different, different… as I said, me always work with the bes’ y’know, me brethren, beca’ dem love me an’ me love dem. Me never had no problem in findin’ good musician, an’ good musician love fe play ‘pon my session dem. Because dem always a seh “Bwoy, I Kong, you a know music an’ you can write music, you have no obstacle”. But me cyaan write no music, my bredda, me cyaan write no music.
But you obviously have the ability to transform the sounds in your head. How many tracks for this album?
‘The Forgotten Man’, I think you have fourteen or fifteen songs.
All through the eighties and nineties, I know you did backing vocals on Max Romeo’s ‘Holding Out My Love For You’, that was the last time people saw a real credit from you. But during all this time, did you stop writing your own material there for a while, or you have maintained the songwriting all the time?
No man, me na stop write. God Almighty guide me every day, Jah Almighty give me ideas an’ songs keep coming. As me say dem a tribute to God Almighty himself, for Him no forget dem. Dem blowin’ in the wind, one day dem come back aroun’ to me. So me keep going on, songs come, songs go, songs come, songs go. So anytime me a go a the studio – me no go pick out songs neither, when I go fe tape dem songs. When I go a studio I jus’ start fe sing an’ band jus’ start play, an’ me jus’ work with my band. Me say ‘You play that, you play this’, but me always love to give me musician dem a lickle lead way. Beca’ you know, as a non-player, those are the man who play the music, so when me give dem wha’ me a hear inna me head, me give them lead way that them can put a little piece of themselves ‘pon it. Beca’ you cyaan stop a man creativity, yunno. That’s why me mek music nice. Music is – especially reggae music – the people’s soul, that’s why our music… reggae music is a totally different music, me bredda
You mean from the dancehall stuff?
Yes man, dancehall a no nutten… Whe dem call ‘dancehall’ now, a no reggae music, yunno! Reggae music a drum and bass! Ska piano or ska guitar, you understan’ me? Dem deh t’ing whe dem a gwaan with now mostly is hip-hop an’ some lickle ‘dogodogodogo’ mix-up together, ca’ a pure hype dancehall deh ‘pon, yunno. The righteous na listen to dancehall music. Reggae music is the heartbeat of the music, y’know, the righteousness, the God way of the music. Dancehall na have no soul nor no God inna it! Dancehall come in like it a Anti-Christ music when you really check it out, ca’ dem man deh a sing everything that is negative.
But still, there’s some conscious people involved in modern dancehall too.
Well, not all of their music me love, but there’s music me love that they do, especially the yout’ Anthony B. I met him years ago at Mikey Lee, when Mikey Lee at the control, Kariang Recording with Garnet, beca’ Garnet Silk was me good brethren too. Unfortunately, we did plan to do an album together, but it never work out ca’ he died before. I met Anthony B, he was very humble an’ I was very impressed by him, I still am. I like, as I said, not everyt’ing he do, but him do some music that I really am impressed by.
‘Fire ‘Pon Rome’.
Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. And also people like… whe this other brethren deh…? Him come outta Clarendon too… him not really a deejay, him a singer, man. Everton Blender!
Me love Everton Blender.
He’s an example that you can still produce cultural music in the dancehall, and being an elder among the younger ones and there’s not much in terms of generation gap, the connection is still there.
Yeah, but you see… Dancehall no really – every time you come with the real reggae, Rasta, dem fight you dung. Ca’ through it na have no hype, Rastafari a no hype t’ing, yunno, Rastafari is a way of life – a the God way of the music, dem people ya jus’ waan fe tek you down. Beca’ dem a envy you because it a negative t’ing. Rasta music a no negative, Rasta music ever positive!
How come you joined the Twelve Tribes at that time, that is what is known in certain circles anyway.
No, me neva join the Twelve Tribe.
No, I was never a member of Twelve Tribe. I knew people in Twelve Tribe, but I was never a member, I don’t join. Everyt’ing ‘join’ fe pass.
It’s what I’ve heard anyhow, but that’s a mix-up thing then.
My bredda, you hear all kinda t’ings.
People like fe say all kinda t’ing.
Me no join. Ca’ me know myself an’ me embrace Rastafari all dung to my family them. Nuff a dem turn ‘gainst me when them sight say me did start Rasta, grow me locks an’ all dem t’ing deh, me see all kinda t’ings. Dem pass me on the road an’ gwaan like dem no know me, turn dem back when dem see me an’ show me bad faith. Me know dem t’ing deh, ca’ Jah show me seh anytime you tek you covenant that a go happen to you. Me no join.
Ca’ me is a man, me still eat me meat, yunno. Me hear someone a say bwoy, you cyaan be a Rastaman if you no haffe be a vege-… Me did know a vegetarian, it tek seven an’ a half years, me an’ Vivian Jackson, an’ me join Vivian. An’ dem run some experiment down there… So that’s why me no vegetarian. Me know what is what, me na eat pork, me na eat makerel, but me do love me mutton (such as curry goat), you no see it. Me love fish, me eat wha’ me waan eat, Rasta. Beca’ me know seh God provide dem t’ing deh ‘pon earth fe man an’ man. Me no follow, as me said, me no follow, an’ me no join. Who waan follow an’ join, that a fe them way.
When the original album got ‘stolen’ from you, you retreated to St. Elizabeth. What have you done for the past twenty to twenty-five years?
(Chuckles) Me do all kinda t’ing, all kinda t’ing, my bredda. Me go all a market… fe go sell a coronation market you have your lickle box with six hundred pound with tomato an’ melon an’ all skelly an’ all dem t’ing deh, a that mek eruption on my stomach ya. Me do all kinda t’ing, my bredda, me no ‘fraid a work.
You have to survive anyhow.
How you mean, survival is a must.
Absolutely. So how do you… what do you wish for the future now, how do you look towards the future?
Well, I see my future… I no like the ‘wish’ t’ing, I want God grant I that beca’ is all through Him these t’ings come. I want God grant me a lickle more long life, an’ I want Him grant me that my voice keep strong. An’ I can go out there an’ spread the message, that I can earn a lickle money an’, as I said, come back an’ help the lickle youth dem inna the school dem an’ all dem t’ing deh. An’ so I can go further so I can go to China, try to link up with some of my father people dem. I waan go India, I waan go Vietnam, I waan go Russia, I waan go dung a Africa go see wha’ me African bredda dem a gwaan with. Anywhere injustice is me waan go an’ put in my input, beca’ me na afraid of no guy. Me no afraid fe chat beca’ God give me my mouth, I na put no block ‘pon it.
As it looks now, how do you see the future for reggae music?
Well, the people who is out deh, the true reggae artis’ dem, them haffe start invest back inna the music, tek it back. Ca’ there is yout’ out deh a come with conscious t’ing, is just that them na get no bly, yunno, dem na get no bly! Beca’ you see, the dancehall a show them the giddyback way an’ the hype an’ man feel say this an’ that an’ that, but you cyaan keep us down, you have fe come ‘pon top. So we will come through thru the powers of the Most High, we will come through. Is just that we waan get more control of our music. We need copyright laws inna Jamaica. We need to form a songwriter base so we can have people puttin’ out good songs, well-constructed songs, nutten ’bout no under-no-gal an’ gunmanship, dem t’ing deh a done days. Too much t’ings inna eart’ with God people that we can try to uplift an’ elevate the people dem, sooth dem sorrows. You understan’? Music is like a soothin’ form to the troubled, yunno, the troubled mind. An’ sometime even a man or them mother – beca’ even the track wha’ me do, ‘The Forgotten Man’, it’s a madman inspiration, yunno, ca’ that is what I originally title the song, ‘The Mad Man’.
What is the lyrics to that song?
‘Everyone that sees him, scorns and criticize him, they just pass him by, ’cause they don’t know how he feels inside, the heartaches an’ the pain is never shown ’cause he keep it locked inside, they don’t know that he’s lonely, they can’t see the tears that he’s crying, they don’t know about the heartaches and the sorrows, they don’t know ’cause it don’t show, so every day goes along with lonely ways, there’s always someone to pass an’ unkind word or two, ’cause they don’t really see the heartaches and the pain…’, etc, etc.
Very good. Do you have a deal for the new album?
Well, me lookin’ for a deal, but sometime people put stumbling block inna you way an’ t’ing. But hopefully somebody, somewhere, will realise an’ hold onto I and I, ca’ I and I na waan much, yunno, we jus’ waan live that we can bring somet’ing back to the people. Ca’ me is a fierce Jamaican, yunno, me is a staunch, raw chaw Jamaican (patriotic person). Me love my country, me love my people dem irrespective of your colour, your figure or your religion, me love my people dem. I love my people to death. We have nuff negative t’ing a spread of the Jamaican people, but me know seh we’re a great nation an’ we are a great people. Yeah man! Glorious people, man. An’ in years to come glorious t’ings will be said of the Jamaican people, man. The Rastaman especially, for dem identify I and I, yunno, an’ the whole world fe know that. We na bow nor we na beg no-one, we’re a wise people, we’re a honest people. We’re decent, yunno, we have bad people out deh still. But by and large… but when me a yout’ an’ grow the greates’ time fe me was when me walk ‘mongst the people dem an’ listen to them an’ greet them an’ them greet me in return, I see the love an’ the joy. An’ I hear how the woman dem a hum dem church song an’ the melody an’ the music of the people dem, a dem t’ing deh me remember an’ a show you, my bredda. Yeah man.
Is there anything specific you’d like to add here at the end of the conversation, that we forgot to talk about?
Well, all that I’d like fe add is that all a the people dem out there, including Tommy Cowan, an’ dem who’s been robbin’ me all the way over the years with all these t’ings wha’ you’ve been tellin’ me now, I waan dem know seh we deh ‘pon dem train an’ we will get our money by the grace of God, comes what may. An’ if push comes to shove, dem a go feel it.
For a time it felt like wishful thinking to have I Kong back on the scene again. He seemed to be the most withdrawn of artists, someone who got too damaged and ripped off by the business, someone you thought you would never get the chance to hear again. But it’s good to be proven wrong sometimes, isn’t it. Withdrawn and disillusioned, yes, but far from finished. If you’re on a mission you can’t be finished so easily. A true artist has to keep on going. That’s his or her purpose in life, no matter what happens along life’s lonely road. ‘The Forgotten Man’ is not a disappointment. Kong has kept the voice in shape, surprisingly well, and the new riddims are perhaps not that ‘adventurous’, but still satisfactory and well executed. The ability to write poignant, topical songs hasn’t failed him, that is clear. There are also the inclusion of the syndrum overdubbed tracks from the 1980’s bootleg, ‘Africa Calling’, as well as the original 7″ version of super rare tracks like ‘Trod Along (Zion’s Pathway)’. My only complaint is that that particular song could’ve been cleaned up better. But this is nothing to criticize as music of such raw beauty and rarity is most welcome anywhere, and here it is. The VP issue of ‘The Way It Is’ (for some strange reason felt to be an over-produced and over-ambitious effort at the time) came as a real surprise – regarding the release, not musically speaking – but maybe it was just a question of time before the demand for this man’s timeless music would increase. It should be at a point where the man will be able to perform it. I strongly believe that he will be on stage pretty soon, exactly where such a quality voice belongs. Also, to see early songs like ‘Cuban Cutlass’, ‘Dunny Dun’ and ‘Take A Hold’ collected, to name a few, would be a serious treat. No, Kong was never forgotten. Instead the supply of his kind of music is what is deeply needed in these soulless times. If I Kong is a new name to you, make yourself discover one of the best roots singers in the past thirty years. It will hardly leave you unmoved.
[7″ single information courtesy Roots Knotty Roots]