Judah Eskender Tafari Interview – Part 2
In part 2 Judah Eskender Tafari talks about Gussie P and the ‘Rastafari Tell You’ album, his close bredren Jah Mel, the ‘The Builder’ album, and his unreleased Studio One album.
TWELVE TRIBES VIBES
Then you went over to Canada sometime in the eighties from what I understand, you recorded or was that a tour with Generation Gap?
Yeah, well, I record over there but it wasn’t like my recording, I did some recording for Brigadier and Ilawi over there in Toronto. We don’t do any singin’ neither, just keep something going and play some bass for people and Ilawi play some drums, and we record some things.
It never came out?
Actually no, not that I know of, y’know. I went to England and also did an album, my second. My first album never release as yet.
The Gussie P album?
For Gussie P, yeah.
What was leading up to that trip, you performed at a dance in Southern England, a Twelve Tribes arrangement?
Yeah, I went over there on a Twelve Tribe occasion.
This is like twelve years ago now.
Yeah, somewhere there. This bredda have a sound system and wanted me fe sing like special for him, y’know. So he take me to this studio and right away this guy Gussie P, him just know of me already. I don’t know this guy from nowhere would know of me and so him start sing the songs and I said “Wait, this man know my music dem”. Was a nice vibes towards I man and everyt’ing, he proposed doing an album with me an’ t’ing, and I agree. So we get started in the studio after a while and actually finish an album, fourteen songs we made.
You did that over a period of, what, three weeks?
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m telling you…
Was a fast move an’ t’ing fe real (chuckles). Yeah, because the time was coming for me to leave England, y’know. And just have to sacrifice and I give thanks to this sistren named Sonia Zebulun who was really instrumental in taking me around, driving me back and forth from the studio and make sure me eat some and all that. So that’s Sonia Zebulun, Jah bless her for all a them things she do for I, yunno. Yeah, and so that was like that, we accomplish the work, finish it up. And Gussie him never really give me the rightful due what me is due, y’know. Until now Gussie no deal with I man, the royalties offa me album right now Gussie sell t’ings all over the place, Gussie no seek for I and I man or nutten or communicate with I or nutten, y’know. Gussie is just a next lickle pirate, I couldn’t believe that when I run into him, yunno. Just a next pirate the lickle man.
Have you approached them about this?
Basically Gussie no waan deal with me, Gussie no waan… stop to talk to me, you see. ‘Cause, from the album done I coulda see the vibes change, from I man done voice up the songs them fe him, you coulda see here him have no more love or show I man again any from that, y’know. So the most important t’ing for him must have been me record the songs them. So, for me that’s just a next pirate deh.
It’s not a bad album overall, the ‘Rastafari Tell You’, but you feel – in general – there is something lacking in the mix. It lacks that ‘sting’ there.
Yeah, it coulda mix better or somet’ing.
Not only because it’s mainly computerized, but it could be less… you know.
The mixing could have done a lot to give it a warmer sound. I dunno, that’s just what I hear.
Yeah man. Him should have someone ride to the station an’ dem t’ings deh and jus’ a look ‘pon certain t’ing so t’ings a go work, yunno. You haffe know wha’ you a deal with, you na deal with ‘uhh uhh Jah children dem’, you haffe know wha’ you a do. These t’ings use to help us in the beginning, yunno.
I remember reading somewhere in an interview with Freddie McGregor about ten to twelve years back, that since his Big Ship studio was set up, he wanted to produce the debut album for you for instance.
Yeah, but that never actually materialized, he never really contact me ‘pon the t’ing there. Freddie never really get to me officially ‘pon that, really. That is just all proposes, proposing t’ings. Never make I man insterested, ’cause I was there if he wanted to do an album with me, I was always there. I guess that’s just one of many of his meditations, what him meditate upon. I figure an artist like that woulda really have I man beside him all the way, due to we all come up from Studio One and been through ups and downs an’ everyt’ing with Coxson. I guess every man is for themselves, y’know.
But you’re still up for it if he suggest a project like that?
Of course I would’ve done it, man. Like I say, I’ve already worked for most people an’ t’ings. But like I say he jus’ never really seek I out still to accomplish that.
What about Jah Mel, or Jahmel, your close bredren – what have you done with or for him?
Yeah, we used to live like truly brothers, yunno. Me and Jah Mel, I used to be at Jah Mel house all the time an’ t’ings inna Jamaica, inna Pembroke Hall, yunno. Yeah, I still have nuff love for that youth deh, but it’s been years now I no really have no contact with him or nutten. So I don’t know how the situation is with Jah Mel right now, I still count Jah Mel as one of my bredren.
You did some work on his first album, right?
Yeah, I did some harmony, some background vocal on his first album too, yes. People always say me and him sounded alike, man, and stuff like that. Yeah, him sound like me an’ t’ing (chuckles).
Things are happening for him right now because I saw he just finished a tour in England, promoting the first (self-titled) album for Penthouse, Donovan Germain’s label in Jamaica.
Oh yeah? I don’t know ’bout that, I didn’t know about that. And that sound good, y’know, more power to him, all the best to him.
This project with Jeff Sarge (host of NYC’s ‘Reggae Schoolroom’ show), what became of that?
Yeah, Jeff Sarge I do some t’ings for, he even release one song or somet’ing, but no really get behind it, yunno. I don’t know, I guess Jah must have some kinda thing there for me somewhere, somehow. I release these things to the people. So far it seems like all the most success in terms of having the music out there with Coxson than anybody else. For this last album I deal with this guy and nutten happen all now.
Right, your ‘The Builder’ album.
Him have another label, Tan-Yah recording label.
Tell me more about that album for him, it’s a lot better than the Gussie P album as I hear it.
Just a rush fe get the album done an’ mixed. After I man go Jamaica to record all a the basic drum and bass track dem, all by myself, run up and down to studio fe the get things done, pick each musician dem how me wanted and all that, and come back a America and do some overdubs and t’ing, him just rush it fe get the music done and mix, and to me that music no really mixed fully either how me really want fe hear the songs mix and all that. Beautiful instruments were like hidden under the other, the mix no come out too big. It’s like him just release and jus’ leave it alone, man. Him don’t get behind it with no promotion or nutten, just leave it out there. Right now that’s a very good album and the man just… Right now I go look for the masters dem and it’s like him give me pure run-around, ca’ I man need the masters dem fe remix it and don’t give up ‘pon that. It’s so much different t’ings I’ve been through. I figure seh this dread ya now as a Rastaman now, him na deal with music correct. And it’s just a next one again, yunno, ’cause right now him na deal with me, him just a give me pure run-around and we talk and me tell pay out, he na do nutten with the t’ing. Him give me a dry remix. Me go do over the jacket and get the things properly presented and through that can get it manifest. We had a fifty-fifty agreement, verbal agreement, and dem time I forget the masters dem and him tell me him not available and all things, bredren, that a get me really highly upset right now. I look fe get the things… try to see if I can go a Jamaica or somewhere and try to see if we can get it mixed properly, and give it another try. It’s still not the masters I have all now.
Judah Eskender Tafari at SNMWF 2010
(Photo courtesy of Lee Abel)
This album was put out circa ’99?
Somewhere there, bredren.
I seem to remember a small advertisement of the album in The Beat at the time.
Yeah, even The Beat, man. Beat love it, y’know.
It was just a tiny little ad, and then you didn’t see the album anywhere again. There is the necessity of promotion as you say, it just disappeared after a while without trace.
Them bredren have other priorities, yunno, them prefer to… When them start in the music business them have to take it all the way deh, humble yourself and deal with a man right. It’s like him come like one a dem t’ing seh dem man a some (inaudible) or one of dem t’ing deh. Over all the weekend now, him cyaan be reached on a weekend, so I have to check him during the week until me tired of try go check him, from early morning an’ t’ing, and mek him call me again is a next t’ing – can’t mek it bredren, yunno. This album is an album whe me walk up and down with dem tape deh. Him might put the money inna it, but I man labour, seen. Put all a dem works ‘pon this, so I don’t see the reason why him cyaan bring the masters dem inna my hands, you see me? I could’ve done run off the mixes and all that, have that for myself, but I can’t do all kinda t’ing deh. I just deal with righteous deals and bring the t’ing dem come, and now the man gwaan like seh, well, him no turn over it for I man to remix it, you see. Them cyaan do nutten, them no waan do nutten. So wha’ you t’ink dem t’ing deh look like? So you see how man get nuff gunshot and get killed, yunno, and nuff t’ings inna this biz, beca’ them frustrate people. Me have children, five children me haffe deal with, my bredren. I go out deh now and work for people, after I have my musical career whe me sacrifice for years and try to mek sure say, t’ings can be OK. You see me?
I tell the I, star, them man ya now just put me inna different state of admonishment (inaudible). A long time I hear and understand seh, this music business ya, a business whe you have to go out with guns and becoming like more and more that I man a see, yunno. More and more me see that as a reality.
You became seriously fed up after a while?
Fed up in one sense bredren, but listen, man, my faith is strong inna this, that’s why you hear me tell you say me a ask him fe give me my masters dem an’ go do me t’ing, me no fed up, man. Me still have strong faith inna this t’ing ya, ca’ me a say listen now: jus’ give me the t’ing and mek me go do my t’ing, y’know. You see me? A whole lotta push me around, push me around. And those who have the album love it, some figure seh the people cyaan find it in a record store or nutten. It’s just a situation whe it’s in the air, me not too love that, man.
What struck me about the album was that it was so melodious, some nice guitar playing on it for example.
Me a tell you, man, me put me heart inna the t’ing, man. Why people sacrifie, people don’t even get pay fe certain t’ings or help us, ca’ this bredda him hardly spend nutten, man. Now the man dem a gwaan like seh, well, it’s a trust, it’s a trust situation whe me have me own music. Me write and produce, all him do is just a lickle financing business. It a hurt me, man, it hurt me right now. But me no fed up bredren, y’know. It hurt me in terms of how people should get things right, ’cause me is humbleness, yunno. Not to say me cyaan be a warrior too.
Hope you can sustain the vibe there, the strain about this?
That’s how I uphold it my bredda, I try my best. I have my job and try to uphold it. Yeah man, perseverance fe real. Up to now me no really approach the wrong level yet, yunno.
What about this tour you did, I believe it came about around ’96 or the year after?
I come on a tour with Bob Andy inna England there, y’know.
How did that come about?
Mmm, how did that come about again…?
When we spoke in January you mentioned someone called Simeon being involved in one way or the other?
Right, but him na have nutten fe do with settin’ up that. This was organised through a sistren in England, she a work for Bob Andy. I think she do him books and papers and everyt’ing…
You mean Janis (Punford)?
Janis, yeah. Jove Records or something like that?
Yes, that’s right, Jove and I Anka.
Mmm. But she did really arrange that. Now this youth Simeon now is a next failure again, ca’ him supposed to take care of my album in England, but all that never go nowhere. So, I tell you man, nuff people a go feel it. Me and him jus’ bruk up relationship. But anyway, through that the touring never really work out, but it work out OK. I man did take him on that, I feel seh, well, him a good bredren, y’know.
How was the shows?
I find the concerts them was OK, some a them could have been more attended. But for the most part it was OK, yunno. It was pretty cool. It was a promotional t’ing for me more than anyt’ing else, it wasn’t really a monetary gain. Some people got to see me and such. But right now bredren I jus’ waan get back kickin’ again. Right now a bredren dem a go organise and try a lickle t’ing which with the help of the Almighty God will work out, ’cause I man have life and health and strength. No matter what I no give it up, you see me?
Good. What about CCB (aka the Cannabis Cup Band), what is the work you’ve done with them so far?
Yeah man, CCB still deh deh, we just go and do four shows for NBC the other day, on a private t’ing, a private party in Bermuda, play for people on a yacht.
Yeah. It’s just so that CCB is another t’ing again whe them na too work on a regular basis, so we cyaan even rely ‘pon that fe survive. But we do a few t’ings in Amsterdam, we go Amsterdam every year. This year I don’t think we’re going to Amsterdam though.
You knew that your Studio One album (‘African Blood’) was ready for release even as far back as ’79 with a sleeve and everything finished, but for some reason Coxson didn’t bother to put it out, as we all know now.
Yeah, I don’t know, yunno, and like I say if I no keep no communication to let me know what’s up. But right now for the most part, me just look fe move on forward, y’know wha’ I mean?
Sure. Soul Jazz will put out a Studio One album titled ‘Studio One Disco Mix’ with extended versions of some 7″ releases and some original 10″ and 12″ singles. ‘Rastafari Tell You’ will be on it.
OK. Where you get all them information deh, man?new songs.
(Laughs) Keeping the eyes open.
So that’s one of my music inna the pipeline now?
Check it if you could, in November, when they will issue this one.
So this is how, this a come from Studio One again?
Yeah, but Soul Jazz in England are responsible for the release.
Yeah, I’ll make some enquiry and see what’s up, man.
But you know about Heartbeat’s inclusion of ‘Rastafari Tell You’ on the ‘Best of Studio One’ anthology? Mid eigties, I don’t remember exactly when but somewhere around that time.
Yeah, them do that. Heartbeat, yeah. I know them have a kinda deal dem with Coxson, but through them only deal with Studio One I no hear nutten from them ‘pon a official level. I guess the artists is always left out of all a these t’ings, y’know.
Residing in New York, you went over to Coxson’s shop to see what he was up to?
I check him a couple of times.
Did he ever say anything about the album again?
Him give me no reason about the album, him tell me nutten about it, no album coming out or nutten. As far as I remember him tell me him no like it, him probably mention like him want us to go back to the studio and do some t’ings and all of that, which I no interested in, yunno.
It seems like he have almost two albums there to put out?
Yeah, yeah. But him never do that. There’s still many more songs, man. So just a look forward into the future still, what the Almighty have in store. I just want to go forward bredren and jus’ gwaan go through fe really survive, yunno. The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong, but for those that can endure until the end, y’know. Yeah, a so me see it.
You mentioned to me this spring about doing something with Ansel (Cridland) of the Meditations?
Yeah, Ansel waan me come a Europe the other day, come a France with him and do some back up vocal, come up inna me yard and take all me credentials and me lickle passport and gwaan with everyt’ing, ca’ me no really a go travel. Is like the last minute and them change them mind bredren, all these people, them jus’ a test me faith, y’know.
You did something for Sister Carol too, a tribute to Studio One.
Mmm. Yeah, y’know, voice some songs for Carol. Did some tour with her and play guitar and we go Colombia an’ t’ing like that. So, she’s cool, Sister Carol. She just a try same way jus’ like I, no negative t’ing with Sister Carol. Yeah.
How did you end up in the States in the eighties, how did you find life there?
Yeah, I just come and try seh, well, make a difference inna me life. But I figure if I come to America I would get some real opportunities, musically. But is just same struggle over here, struggle hard.
I’m sure a lot of people lost track with the name Judah Eskender over the years, you go and come, try and fail like so many others, and such is the business. What would you say to those wondering what happened to you and your remarkable talent over the years, with some perspective on what’s been happening throughout your career.
A: Well, right now for those who hear I man and still wondering what’s up with me, you as a man who publish books or whatever, web magazine, just let them know seh Judah Eskender Tafari is still here alive and kickin’ and just waiting on for the right people to work with, and the people dem will always hear my music, y’know. So for all those who really interested in my art, just be patient and I man will be coming, with the faith of Jah. Give thanks.
Roots music has produced many outstanding talents over the years but seldom such a strongly tuned voice as Judah Eskender Tafari. With more of his recordings turning up on CD these days there must be an increasing audience and wider appreciation out there for his works. Hit me if I’m wrong? I find it hard to believe it isn’t. Just one listen to ‘Jah Light’ and you are caught, full stop. ‘Danger In Your Eyes’, his take on Tyrone Evans and the Paragons’ classic, was the latest one (’06) to enter a compilation, ‘Studio One Rub A Dub’ (Soul Jazz), even though it saw release after many years out of print in the vinyl only ‘Studio One Lovers’ bootleg at the end of the nineties. Prior to this ‘Rastafari Tell You’ graced the ‘Studio One Disco Mix’ CD (Soul Jazz again) and is also included on the reissued and extended ‘Best of Studio One’ (Heartbeat). And as mentioned during this interview, a Winro boot out of Italy once again made ‘Just Another Day’ available, but from the wrong end of the stick. Unfortunately it didn’t force Mr Dodd to take it into his own hands and bring the track to his printing mill before he passed, but it is now in the hands of Mrs Dodd to make sure that it will come out from the right source. And as far as I know, ‘Never Conquer’, one of the Eskender’s very best sides, has never seen a second pressing since those days.