Randy Valentine Interview
Randy Valentine is currently touring Europe as part of the Havana Meets Kingston project, and will grace the stage at the 40th edition of Reggae Geel on Friday 2nd, 2018. Hence we re-publish Natty Nation’s interview from 2015.
London’s reggae scene has yet again sprouted a young promising talent. With a mixtape and two EP’s to date, Randy Valentine has proven his singing and writing skills in the various subgenres in reggae music. His recently released ‘Still Pushing’ EP was recorded and co-produced by Joe Ariwa. We sat down with the singer to try to get an understanding about where he came from and where he’s heading.
“FROM PRODUCER TO WRITER, FROM WRITER TO ARTIST”
Why did you name the EP “Still Pushing”?
It is for the obvious reason that I am moving forward in my musical career and that we are still pushing the “high-brations”, the music, the product.
What brought you to work with Joe Ariwa on this new project?
We’ve been friends for many many years and we’ve always been talking together about making a project. At the position where I am right now, as an artist and personally, I thought I could express a lot of what I feel through roots, dub and culture music. So I felt it was time to relocate to my former landlord Mad Professor and make the vibes happen inside Ariwa Studios. Actually, Mad Professor was my landlord in the past, when I was running my little studio next to his and didn’t know much about dub music. I was so impressed when I stepped into his studio the first time, considering the means and equipment we had in our own studio. I didn’t know much about him and started to realize who he was. I started to know Joe as well. And I schooled and educated myself in the dub music because I had never been exposed to this in my youth time in Jamaica. So I believe there was a whole journey for me between these first encounters and the work we did together this year.
Before the “Bring Back The Love” mixtape, we didn’t really know about you. Were you already involved in the reggae scene before?
No, I wasn’t. I was a DJ before. I wasn’t known in the reggae scene, but I’ve always been a fan of the music. I was an outsider. I’ve been making music for many years but was never known as a reggae artist. But when it came, it all came naturally, because everything I did before was reggae or dancehall inspired, even though I was more involved in neo-soul, acoustic or hip hop music. Our label was doing a bit of everything. That’s why we called it JOAT, Jack Of All Trades.
And now you’ve completely invested in reggae music?
Yes but you’re gonna be surprised to what is going to come soon, because it is going to be evolving…
Talking about crossing musical genres… You just did a track for Major Lazer. What was this all about?
This track is a dubplate style music, that they wanted for their album “Peace Is The Mission”. German producer Junior Blender told me that they wanted to record me and said they wanted this to happen. I found it perfect because I love doing dubplates, and I like the soundclash culture. And this was a perfect opportunity to meet up with the team of super-producers Major Lazer. Fortunately for me, the track came back featuring the voice of Taranchyla, who is THE soundclash voice. And I’m a big fan of him, as a soundclash fan. It was another great opportunity.
But you’re not promoting this one too much?
Well, we’re going to do a few shows somewhere down the line this summer. But we’re an independent group trying to promote our music with so much strength possible. Every day, we’re pushing, still pushing our product. It’s good to jump up and say: “Major Lazer, Major Lazer!”, but we still keep focused on our core business… We don’t just want to hype on that track.
And the EP might have more longevity?
Yes, right. The EP is here to stay. Major Lazer, no disrespect to them at all, but it’s a different style of music, surfing on the vibes of the present time.
How did you get involved with Joe Ariwa?
I went in their studio. Joe Ariwa was there, and Mad Professor too. They gave me about 25 riddims to check out. So I went home, sat down and listened through them, and chose the ones I thought were the most appropriate and I kept on writing. I came to a finished product quite fast. There were even four songs that we didn’t put on the EP. All the riddim tracks were laid already before I went to the studio. Except the intro; I did this one in my studio. I sat down and first recorded the vocals, and then the harmonies and ended up by playing the piano. I wanted to keep the a capella style in the beginning of the EP. I did it like this on the mixtape “Bring Back The Love” and on my first EP “Break The Chains”. And I like that mood, the atmosphere that it creates and the way it introduces the listeners to the project.
It could almost have been an album then. What prevented you from releasing an album?
It could have been an amazing album, but we’re still working on the EP format; still working on the music to come forward, to build a fan base first. Because if we release an album now, without having created a fan base and some expectation about an album release, then we could miss our point. We have to ready the people to expect an album.
You said that Mad Professor was also involved in that project?
Yes, Mad Professor is credited on the album, he did assist with the riddims and some of the mixes, but most of the project was led and realized by Joe Ariwa and his brother Karmelody, who did a lot about the vocal production.
Not many singers take as much care of their lyrics as you do.
What really helps me in my writing is that I have spent more years producing than singing, so I think I might have an understanding of how I want to sound. I can sit in the studio for hours and hours, just to play with the flow. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s just a natural vibe. Normally I start with a melody and then let that melody play over the beat and then fit the lyrics on the melody.
We’re talking singing, but you also deejay. Where did you pick up that skill?
This goes back to when I was a very little youth, going to school in Clarendon, Jamaica. I think that every little youth in Jamaica, even if they’re not an artist now, will tell you that at one point they were writing lyrics and were deejaying. I don’t always bring the deejay style in my songs, it depends on the instrumental. Whatever happens happens. Sometimes I just stick to singing, sometimes the beat changes and I speed things up.
I’ve noticed you like telling stories, like the one about gangsters in “Consequences”, one of the tracks on your new EP.
My growing process in music was like this: from producer to writer, from writer to artist. So before I was an artist, I used to write stories and do poetry. Whilst at school in Jamaica, I used to have a preference for English literature because I just like storytelling. I love creative writing.
After having been away from your home country for more than ten years, you recently went back to Jamaica. Did you do any recording whilst you were there and which producers would you like to work with?
I would love that. That would be amazing and it will probably happen. Apart from this, there was this riddim release last year by DJ Frass, called “7th Heaven riddim”. It’s been my own choice, my favorite riddim for a long time. Right now when I was in Jamaica I was very impressed by this man who produces for Chronixx: Teflon, the military youth. I like his Zinc Fence Band in general, the sound they have is amazing. I’d like to do some production with them. During my trip I met up with Warrior King again, whom I had met a few years ago. He came to meet me at Cali P’s house and we did a track together on a new Hemp Higher riddim. I also recorded a song called “Jah Is Gonna Take Control” with producer Clive Hunt, which will be released on VP Records.
After touring Europe, you’ve recently been to Australia and are heading for the US soon.
The good thing about all that adventure, since I became a producer, is that nothing was planned. It’s just been coming naturally and it’s always been good. So any other blessing that’s about to come, I’m just grateful about that. I would like to develop JOAT, the production company we have in the UK, more though: try to get more artists into the fold, extend the Hemp Higher label as well, and, at a later stage, make way for younger artists to rise in the business as well.