Ansel “Meditations” Cridland: “My songs—the way I write—it has to be truthful” (The Interview)
When: October 17, 2022
Where: Los Angeles & New York (via Zoom)
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos/Clips: Courtesy of Stephen Cooper and Ansel Cridland & the respective record companies.
Copyright: 2022 – Stephen Cooper
The Meditations are one of the most righteous, roots-heavy bands in reggae’s storied history. Not only is the band legendary in its own right—with many hit songs and acclaimed albums—The Meditations provided backing vocals for reggae’s biggest stars—on some of their biggest tunes.
On October 17 I was blessed to interview Ansel Cridland, a founding member of The Meditations. Ansel’s still making irie, conscious music that uplifts, challenges, and instructs, and further, that often praises—and always honors—His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I (the former emperor of Ethiopia and King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah).
During the extensive, wide-ranging 90-minute interview, Cridland and I spoke about many subjects of interest to reggae fans, including but not limited to: the early history, hit songs, and classic albums the original lineup of The Meditations released; the most recent Meditations album called “Smile Again”; Cridland’s early childhood and coming-of-age; and, Cridland’s reflections on working with reggae icons Sly Dunbar, Bob Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, Willie Lindo, and Gregory Isaacs.
What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Embedded in the transcript are links to The Meditations’s music, exclusive images and photos, and more. At the end, there’s a link to the entire video of the interview—available on YouTube
Yes. Greetings, greetings.
Can you see me and hear me okay?
Yeah, I’m hearing you okay.
Okay, cool. Hey man, it’s great to connect with you. Please tell Sharene I said, “thank you.” And I want to start by saying, on behalf of Reggae-Vibes, Ansel—
—how thrilled and honored, and thankful I am, to interview you today.
For myself and for millions of reggae fans internationally, The Meditations are one of the best, most righteous bands, ever to come from Jamaica. So I just want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with Reggae-Vibes—[to] reason with me for a little bit. And Ansel, because you are a legendary singer who has been making music for more than 50 years now, I want to, if it’s okay, by way of introduction, just provide a roadmap. Just an idea of some of the topics I want to talk to you about today—[to] reason with you about today. I want to talk about the early history, the hit songs, and some of the classic albums that the original lineup of The Meditations—yourself, Danny Clarke, and Winston Watson (rest in peace)—released in the 70s, and the early 80s. And then, later on, too, of course we’ll talk about the lineup of The Meditations in current times, and for more than 15 years, which, of course, consists of [first], yourself, the only steady component of The Meditations from the start. And then, supporting you [now and during the last 15 years,] Daddy Lion Chandell and Laury Webb, who you, I know, tour with.
Running From Jamaica
Turn Me Loose
Woman Is Like A Shadow
Then also, I’m gonna try and squeeze in a few questions about your solo [career] history. And then, you know, as we talked about last week, I have to ask you about some of your collaborations with some of the greatest legends in reggae music. [People like] Bob Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, Gregory Isaacs, Jimmy Cliff, and more. And if you see me smiling, Ansel, it’s because I’m like a kid in a candy shop—
(Smiling and laughing) Hmm.
—to get to talk to you about—
That’s what the song say, you know? (Smiling) Smile, smile. When you smile, it’s great.
Well, thank you. And you’re making me smile now. And I’ll be smiling again, later, when I look back upon this interview—and I listen to your most current album—which we’ll talk about today. And actually that’s the first thing, Ansel, I would like to talk to you about—this album that you have out, the most recent Meditations album, which was released, I know, now, close to a year ago—the album “Smile Again.”
Yes, the reason for that album didn’t reach the people the way it’s supposed to be [was] it come out in the [peak of the] Corona [virus] time. So when there was a lot of chaos going on—all over. And as it so happened, that song “Smile Again” [was] written and record[ed] about a couple months before the Corona [virus pandemic] start[ed].
So like when it [was] released, it just like (chuckling), [was] saying what I have in mind from ever since—I want to be happy again. Because after the Corona, everything shut down. Nobody could go anywhere, and there’s a lot of chaos all over, you know, so…It’s good to see we back on the street. And that song really is to reach the people the way they say: I want to “Smile Again.”
True. And Ansel I do think, because of the Corona virus, like you say—and a lot of things going on in the world—and also, because I think so much music gets released these days online, etcetera, I think a really quality album, even from legends like yourself and The Meditations, can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. And people don’t know about them. So I’m glad that we’re doing this interview today for a lot of reasons. But I’m also glad, because like you say, I think not enough people know, not only about the song “Smile Again,” but the entire album “Smile Again,” [too]. And I’m glad, like you say, that you’re getting more opportunities to present the material on that album to the people. And I know that you have a show, for example, tomorrow, at Sony Hall. In New York. How did the rehearsal go yesterday?
Great. Great. And as I said, when the album released we didn’t have the chance to go out there and promote it.
And this is the first we have a little chance to do some promotion — in August to September; we do “Reggae on the Rock” and a couple of places in Iowa that, you know, really take on to the people dem. The people was so happy. And [hearing] “Smile Again,” the people was so full of joy when that song play.
That is what I’m saying, you know, we didn’t have the chance so we could go different places to perform so the people there could hear that album.
I’m glad that you’re getting this chance now. And Ansel, I noticed that many of the tracks on “Smile Again” were recorded and mixed at Mercy Sounds Studio, which is also in New York City where I know you live. And I know that the album was engineered by the extremely talented Sidney Mills—a lot of the album—
—who works with ‘nuff artists. And I was curious. Sidney is, of course, best known I think to many people for his work with Steel Pulse. But, how long have you known Sidney Mills, and did you know him back in the days when he was in Jamaica, too? Or did you only start to work with Sidney once you moved to Jamaica from New York?
Well, I know Sidney a very long time. When he worked—we always meet up on tour when he was with Steel Pulse. We meet up—on many, many occasions, we meet and talk. And the studio I used to do a lot of my work [in] before, it was Philip Smart[’s]— [who] passed away. We do an album together—that album—what’s that album name again? [It was] [j]ust before he passed, we do that album—I forgot that name.
“Dangerous Society” [is the name of the album, released in 2011].
I think it’s “Dangerous Society.”
And then we work at Sir Tommy. Yeah we do a lot of recording there[, including The Meditations’s album,] “Stand in Love.” Many of those tracks we did on Sir Tommy. So after Philip Smart passed, Sidney Mills was the only outstanding one that we see around that, you know, knows the business [and] that can really [produce] a good work. So we stick with Sidney Mills. And one of my brederens, we call him “Mikey.” That’s where I record that song that I put out with Al Campbell and myself.
No More Friend
“Ah De Same Mouth.”
Yeah, I got to ask you a few questions about that one.
So Sidney is able to produce the sound that you want?
Ansel, you know, the first track on the album “Smile Again” is kind of intense. And I have to say, when I first put on the album, you know, ‘cause you’re thinking “Smile Again,” but then the first track that you hit is “So Stressed.”
And it gets your attention quick. Given the serious, somber nature of that song, it’s not exactly the kinda song you might think you would hear at the start of [an album called] “Smile Again?” No?
It was confusing to me. That song “So Stressed,” that song, I write that song—I think [I wrote] that song maybe over four years.
Every time I try to bring it to the studio to record [it], I did not. So one of the times I make up my mind, just before the Corona, to do it. And after I recorded it and the Corona start, it fit right in it.
Every word that I sang, it fit right in it. I meet some friends of mine, and dem heard it, [and] dem say “Man, Ansel, what you’re a prophet?” Mi say, “Well I transfer it [into] what I sing, you know.” So it just hit the time.
Yeah. Absolutely, Ansel. In February of this year you released a very poignant official video for that song “So Stressed”—
—and people can watch that on Reggaeville.com—
—or on YouTube.
And I found it to be a very compelling, emotional kind of video to watch. And it’s about a family that’s struggling, just like the song is talking about, to put food on the table, and pay the bills. There’s a husband and a wife [that] are shown arguing—
—about how to pay the bills. And it’s really a very gripping, and kind of a gritty video. You’re in the video.
Who else is in the video? Is that your family that’s in the video?
No. A friend of mine and my son. One of my sons [is] walking with me there and ‘ting, you know? But looking at that video, that part—that dawta create that likkle part and say—she listened to the song, and she said, “Man.” She wanted to act that part, and show what the song really say.
Who is that now that you’re talking about?
I think they call her “Amila.”
She’s the one who’s playing your wife in the movie—in the video?
Right. Right. Like a movie.
Yeah! It is like a movie. It very much is. And I hope that everyone listening, [or who] later will read [this] interview, will go immediately and check out Ansel’s video [for “So Stressed.”] Is that video filmed in New York?
Yeah, [it’s] filmed in New York.
Okay, cool. What part of New York City are you walking around in?
That is in Prospect Park.
And is your son in the video—is that Liviti?
No, not Liviti.
That’s a different son?
Yeah, that is Ansel Jr.
The title track of the album “Smile Again,” I told you last week and I wasn’t lying to you, it really is one of my favorite songs off of the album. And the tune is—it could easily make you smile, because it’s a lot more upbeat than, for example, “So Stressed.”
—but then, [also,] a plea to God—a plea to Jah—
—to uplift [the people,] and to make things better?
Yeah because you see what’s going on now, when you listen to the news now today, everything [that] is going on [is] bring[ing] more stress on the people. We the people. Because to keep the roof over your head now, it’s really a struggle. All kinds of pain comes in all different ways right now. So those songs just deliver the message to the people dem who in need. So dem can hear what I and I really saying to “John Public.” Like you see, in it I mention the politicians and war-mongers, they’re mashing up the world.
They are mashing up the world, Ansel.
Yeah. They’re mashing up the world.
You hit it on the head. Ansel, also on the album “Smile Again” there are some really great cautionary tunes about—you already mentioned one of them—about the nature of the people that you deal with in life. And basically some very conscious ideas about living, and interacting with the world-at-large. I’m talking especially about track three, [the song] “Rally Around.” Which is a wicked track. And one of my favorites—“Rally Around.”
Well that song, I wrote that song [for] two of my personal brederens. ‘Cause I was ill during the [peak of the] Corona-time. And those two brederens was there for me. A sistren and a brederen [actually]. ‘Cause one called “Prince.” And the other one is Sister Cuchy. They were there for me. And they helped me right through my sickness and everything so. And that’s why you hear me say I want to rally around, I want to rally around the ones who really care for me. The ones who really want to see I through. The ones who really want to see I prosper. See my songs, the way I write, you know, it has to be, it has to be truthful. It has to be something meaningful to what’s really taking place on earth.
Yeah. Well that song is very meaningful, and one of my favorites [on “Smile Again”]. And then also the song that you mentioned, that features Al Campbell on vocals that’s on your album, “Ah De Same Mouth.” Track 8. And you know, this is also a very great tune. And I was just curious about this track a little bit. You know, it’s a tune about people who kinda talk out of both sides of their mouth.
And it’s really got a great message. And it’s got a great vibe to it. And I noticed that you produced it, and played guitar on it.
And then, I noticed that legendary drummer Sly Dunbar is on the drums—
—on this track. So you know—
Yeah Sly, Sly—
—this track is wicked.
—Sly Dunbar, you know, is the number one drummer around. ‘Cause he’s the one that played [drums] on “Woman Is Like a Shadow”—
I noticed that, too.
—and many, many other ones.
How many other Meditations’s hits has Sly played on? Has he been on some others, too?
Yeah, he played on “Miracles.”
He [also] played on “Ram Jam Session.”
That was at Tuff Gong—
Yeah we give Tuff Gong [“Miracles”] to put out—I give them that song to put out. And [Sly] played on a song that I did called “Quiet Woman.”
Oh yeah, that’s a great song too.
[There are] [a] whole heap of [Meditations’s] songs [Sly played on.] [He also played on] “Life Is Not Easy.”
Do you remember, Ansel, when you first met Sly Dunbar?
Yeah. When I do the song “Tricked.” That is ’76—no. “Woman Is Like a Shadow” [was recorded] in ’74. And it was on tape. That’s where I met Sly the first time.
At Channel One?
At Channel One. When I heard him playing that drum—I said wait, it coming like a marching [band] (imitating a band). And then we have some great other songs that he played [on], like “Standing on the Corner,” “World at War”—
Oh I love that song. “Standing on the Corner”—
Yeah he played on some great songs like, “[Life Is] Not Easy”—so many tunes that Sly play for I, man.
But you recall, Ansel, that it was literally that day that you recorded “Woman Is Like a Shadow”—that was the first day that you met Sly and kinda talked to him, and got to know him?
Wow. And you cut the tune that very day. Was it one of those one take—one cut—
No, no, no. When we go to sing it, we take one cut. But that song, it [took] over three and a half hours to make. Up to—[Bertram] “Ranchie” [McLean] was playing the bass. And we were going over and over, because (voicing the riddim)—if you listen, that was the last time, when we go back over it, he make that mistake. And Sly said, “No, we’re not gonna play anymore. It gonna work. And just leave it as it is.” And man, the producer didn’t like it.
Joseph Hoo Kim?
Yeah, he didn’t like it.
I was gonna ask you, Ansel, how it’s possible that that great song, “Woman Is Like a Shadow,” sat on the shelf for two years.
It was just selling on dubplates. In early ’76, I saw a man, him say, “Ansel, that song, it sell over 2,000 pieces on dubplates alone.”
I read that, eventually, when Dobby Dobson—who produced The Meditations first two albums—
—when he got a hold of that song, “Woman Is Like a Shadow,” from Joseph Hoo Kim, then, eventually, it was released in ’76. Then I read somewhere, Ansel, that it sold—it went to number one in Jamaica, and then, it sold like 45,000 copies in a month.
Yeah. Just boom.
Which back then is—I mean, even now—no, now that would be [an obscene amount]—because everything is streaming. But back then [still], I mean 45,000 units in a month! From a group like The Meditations. You didn’t even have your name—I don’t think you had even—
No. no. (Laughing)
—decided [as a group to call yourselves “The Meditations” yet]. I’m gonna ask you some more questions, Ansel [about “Woman Is Like a Shadow”]. I got a little ahead of myself because I got so excited [about that song]. Because I’ve listened to it so many times. And I love it. But I’m glad that you told me about Sly [Dunbar]. I have a few more points [and questions] about your album [“Smile Again”], but I’m gonna hold off, just because I’m a little bit worried about time. So, we’ll come back to those [hopefully]. But I mentioned, Ansel, earlier, that you have a son named “Liviti.”
—he contributed to the album. And I wanted to ask you [about him], because he’s in the music business, too. I saw that he—
Yeah the song—I don’t cut you. We have a song that we do together, “Jah Always Find a Way.” Me and him wrote that song together. That is—yeah, that’s what the album’s named[, too,] “Jah Always Find a Way.” And he do his part, and mi do my part in it.
Nice. How old is Liviti?
Mi think him touching 40 now.
Okay. And I saw that he’s been involved—
He tour very [often]. He go to South Africa. He go to Dubai. You know, he do his own thing, regular.
Wow. He also does hip hop, too?
Yeah. I was looking at that. Now it’s a good opportunity, since I asked about him—
—to segue for bit, Ansel, and just ask [about] a different topic—and ask you—because again I mentioned that I didn’t find this, and I really wanted to know about it: A little bit about your childhood. And I know, just from reading online, that you entered the music scene in the late 60s. And I know that you were born in 1951—I believe in Westmoreland (Jamaica). True?
And why did your family move to Kingston?
No, it’s not the reason “why.” My mother, she was the first one, when maybe I was around five years old. So, my father leave now to England. When I [was] 6—yeah, going [on] 6 years old—he moved to England. And the trouble for my life started that way—started at that time. Send me to another [settlement in Jamaica] called Darliston. And it was terrible. And some lady saw what was taking place, and couldn’t bear to see what Ansel going through. So she asked me if she put me on a bus, [could I] find my way? So I find my way to my uncle. And my uncle bring me to my grandmother.
That’s how you ended up in Kingston? Because your grandma was in Kingston?
No, my grandmother send me to my mother. At the age going like 7 years old. So the rest of my life I grow up in Kingston.
I didn’t know too much about the country.
When you were growing up in Kingston, you were growing up then with your mom?
Yeah, with my mom.
What did your mom do for a living—if you don’t mind my asking?
Well my mom was a hard-working [woman], you know? Like anyone. She worked there, [then] worked there[, and so forth]. Survival. Because, at the time, you know, the struggling was on—the whole time. And you know? You know how life go.
Yeah. For sure. How did you—I read that early on you had a passion—just like—I found it interesting—just like Cocoa Tea—that you had a passion for horses. And that you trained to be a jockey.
Oh yeah. What happened, when I—[where] we was living [was near] where the National Stadium is, that is in Jamaica—on [Hope Road]. My stepfather was a trainer—
—so the owner asked him to come and live on the premises. That is a place up there they call “Naseberry Grove.” It’s a big, big, big, big land. And a land without light, you know? You have to use bottle-torch [to] make light up there.
Yeah. And while up there as a young youth now, I decided that I want to ride. But my stepfather didn’t want it—[he] didn’t want I to do that. He was fighting against it.
He didn’t want you to ride horses?
Yeah. Neither my brother[, too].
Well him have his reasons, you know? So the man that used to take me—to apprentice me—him used to get up early in the morning, like five o’clock. But what happened [is], one of the mornings I was on this horse and him start to gallop away with me. And I decide to jump off of him, because I remembered one of the brothers at the stable [the same thing happened to] was mashed up for 3 months—in the hospital. So when him a-run away with me and I am patting him on him shoulder, and I say, “Hey, cool, cool.” But I didn’t know that by patting him, I [was actually] making him run faster— (Laughing)
So I jump off of him.
You jumped off of the horse!?
But I didn’t learn that when you’re jumping off of a horse, you have to jump backways. You can’t jump off sideways. When you jump backways then you will just follow [the horse and] run—till you drop. When you jump off sideways, you have no balance, you know? So that is what happened to me. So my collar bone here (tapping his left collar bone) mash up.
So that give my stepfather more ammunition.
I could see why. Being a musician is a bit safer. Maybe.
So there was another brederen up there that come and want to ride, too. But it didn’t work out for him neither. But what changed the stable, one of the jockeys that come from Barbican, we call him “Ticks.” But his name was “Nick.” Nick Olsen. He was riding also a morning, and the horse run off of the track. And there was two mango trees, and [the horse] stand up like a man. And then the [horse ran toward the] mountain. The horse coming from this end. And the way I see his position, I know there’s no way, the speed him going, it will either take him in the mountain or take him inna the tree. And I keep bawling to him, I say “Jump off him! Jump off!” And I look up and I hear [making a crashing sound]. [I] [r]un up and say, “Oh my God.” And the horse—he died the next day—around twelve o’clock.
So that mash up the whole stable. Everything. And they moved the horses dem to Caymanas Park. And the next brederen asked me, “What are you gonna do when you go back in the town now?” Mi say, “Mi a-go sing, you know?” And [mi] say, “What are you gonna do?” [Him say,] “Mi a-go drive.” And it so happened that after I go live down at this place they call “Majestic Gardens,” they was bucking down the road—the trees dem—to make two-way roads. And I saw these brederen a-buck down the trees dem all the time, but I never take notice. So where my yard is, down inna place they call “Back to Majestic Gardens,” there was a big tree there where a lot of people come and [cool out under the shade]. So I saw the tractor go underneath the tree. And so mi look, and say “What that guy—” So I come and mi say “Indian?” And he was so shocked. And him say, “Ansel?” And [he] grabbed me up at that time now, and we started recording. My recording—that I could show him—was a song for La-Fud-Del named “Bongo Man.”
Yeah. That’s a cool song.
Yeah. And then I do—there was another song that I do the harmony [for] named “Never Fall in Love.” I don’t know if you know that one?
I’m not sure I do.
That was—[the lead] on that one was by Winston Haywood. (Singing) “No, I never fall in love with you again.” That was a big, big hit. So—
No, go ahead Ansel, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Yeah, and from there now, you know we just start jam, jam, jam—down there in the ghetto. And after that, mi do—no, that was between ’68-’69. When I just meet one of the brederens called Oswald Gray. We form our group and called ourselves “The Linkers.” And then The Linkers now, we do a song for Live Matador named “Seh Seh.” And then we do another song—named “Loser”—I don’t remember what that guy’s name [was that we did that for]. Then from there we go to La-Fud-Del and do those—we do a couple of songs for La-Fud-Del. And then in ’72, I do “Nyah Man’s Story” for [Sir] J.J. [It came out] as [a] Linkers [song]. Then ’73, I booked the studio myself and was about to do a song named “Sitting on the Sidewalk.” That’s when I met Danny [Clarke]. So Danny—
And he had been with Winston Jarrett—
Winston and The Flames.
Yeah but he just come down to the ghetto at the time—and live down back there [at] the time. So we more now, you know, flexed together now when him showing me some different chords on the guitar. And when I tell him I’m about to record a song, him say “Okay.” And then, him say him play a melodica. So he came and him blow the melodica on that song (“Sitting on the Sidewalk”).
Danny Clarke did?
Yeah, Danny Clarke did. And it goes on, you know. We just jamming, and he was playing in a band down there. And like when him go to the countryside, I would follow them and they kinda called me “John Holt, Jr.,” because, you know, I did love The Paragons—bad, bad, bad, bad—John Holt’s voice, you know? And the harmony that The Paragons sing, you know? I was crazy about it. So I would sing John Holt’s songs. So I was just doing that for quite some time until Danny tell me that “Jo Jo” (Joseph Hoo Kim) was doing some auditions. And that’s where I went up there and do the audition for “Woman Is Like a Shadow.” That was [in] ’74.
I also read, correct me if I’m wrong, but that, during this time when you were—I guess when you were transitioning from being a jockey, and from being interested in horses, to music—being really serious about being a professional musician—that people like Toots Hibbert and The Heptones, that those were people who were encouraging you; I forget where it was that I read this—it may be from an interview from a few years ago.
Not really “encouraged me.” The other group members after The Linkers—some of the members—one of the members dem leave and come to the [United] States. And also, one of them turned [into a] Christian. So it was I alone. So I form up myself with some other brederens in “Jungle”—one of dem named Constantine Brown. And another one we call “Piedo.” So Constantine Brown, now he’s the one that took I now to Toots’s yard. And I remember from that day I hear Toots play—I was singing a song say (singing): “Come on now. Come on now. Come on, I’m waiting for you. I’m calling. I’m calling. Said I’m calling. I’m calling. I no hear no voice at all.” So when I hear Toots (making sound effects): “Wapa-pa-pa-poom-pom-Wapa. Wapa-papa-poom-pom-Wapa-pom-ponk-a-ponk. Pucka-pucka-poom-pom-waka-puk,” I say, “Man!” (Laughing) That never leave my ear.
It’s so funny I didn’t record that song, you know, up ‘till now. And then [Toots] took me down to [The] Heptones’s yard, Easy Snappin’ [Theophilus Beckford], Silvertones. So I met up with a lot of other singers. Then we go one time to do some auditions with Rita Marley. That is when Bob [was] living in Trenchtown—near the cemetery. And Rita was doing the auditions. Then when after we finish, she said “We need to work on the harmony a little more.” So Bob coming through the wall, coming through a hole at the wall at the same time, and Bob say, “Wah, how them sound?” [And Rita said] “Well dem want likkle more practice.” But I was so determined, because music was my heart, you know? It was my heart, so I go deeply into it.
Where things start, Ansel, to get a little bit murky, and I think you started to answer this, but—you did sort of talk about this a little bit—but just to tell you: When you read about The Meditations history online, there are some differences depending on where you’re reading—about the chronology and story about how it is exactly you, Danny, and Winston got together. You know, how it is that—you know, who met who first? And how did you—how did the three of you come together as The Meditations? How would you describe that? You started to—you said that you met up with Danny when he left [“Winston Jarrett &] The Flames.” Is that how things started?
(Nodding) Right. Yeah.
And then Winston—Winston—I read somewhere, I don’t know if this is true, but I read Winston was just on the scene, at Channel One, when you recorded “Woman Is Like a Shadow?”
No. No. No, no, no. Sometimes the reporter writes wrong things.
No, what happened [was], after I meet—[I met] Winston before Danny.
When The Linkers break up, when one [member] gone to the states, and the other gone to the Christian world, there was a brederen named Michael Black—he passed away also. He join up with me at the time. And [we] was rehearsing together. So there was a brederen passing around 3 Miles area, and saw me and say, him friend have a brother that can sing but him need a likkle training. So that was Winston. So mi say, “Bring and come him mek wi hear him.” So him bring him come, and we go by the train line, and we was jamming. But him never ready yet. So I said, “Him need a lot of training. And that gonna set me back there, so no.” So we never go along. So it’s when Danny come along now, in ’73, and me and Danny [have our] ups and downs now. They have a likkle band down there which everybody come and do them likkle talent—what them have, seen? So he come down there one day—I wasn’t singing. And the guy who really controlled the band, take away the [microphone] from [Winston]. And him get upset and start to cry. And so mi go to the guy, and say “Look, Bradley, I’m gonna teach you something. You see, when you see a youth a-try something, don’t try to [discourage] it. Because him [liable] to do something bad. It’s better you help him. Don’t discourage him that kind of way there.” So mi say [to Winston], “Come here and hold the mike.” And then, him still never come. Him go away. So after now we play and jam inna my yard, he would pass through, and him jam, jam, [but he would always] gone. And then that continued, we was singing The Impressions songs, you know? And I a-listen and a-teach him and I say, “No, harmony, go this way—no, harmony go that way.”
That’s how you trained him, [by] playing The Impressions?
Yeah. And him have that type of voice now that, you know, can really go out there. So we were training him. And then I’m working [during] them times now, also. So when I leave now, Danny take him and bring him to “Jungle” with dem brothers we call dem “Chantels.” So anyway, we’d been doing that for quite some time. So Danny do a song for Byron Lee called “This Time.” And so him was carrying Winston down there to see if Winston can get [an] audition[, too]. So I wrote a song, and gave [it to] Winston. And when Winston go down there, him didn’t sing that song. Him a-sing a different song. And the guy that was taking the audition, named Jerome, Jerome said “No, I don’t record them [kind of] songs. I need songs that have meaning.” So Winston go away that time, and we didn’t see him again. So after that now, the same song I wrote for him, I sing it to the guy down there, and dem record [the] song right away. This one called [“Roots Food”], and “Family Man” played on it. [We sang the song for Byron Lee]—I record[ed] that song. So we didn’t see Winston now for quite some time. And then Danny said, “Come we go a-Channel One and do an audition.” Mi say, “Alright.” So I went up there, me and him, and the brederen that was there doing the audition [was] named Ozzie Hibbert. He know me because, in ’72, I did over the John Holt tune [“Memories By the Score”] (singing): “Just like that view that cling to me, I cling to you my love…” And he was the one playing keyboards [on that song]. So him say to me, “Yeah man, just sing one song. And mi [sing] (singing): “If you run down your shadow now, you can never catch it. A woman is like a shadow, man is like an arrow.” Him say “Well, well, no sing anymore. That’s a hit song—that.” Just like that. So the brederen now that me and him did sing the song, “Never Fall in Love,” he was the one who was supposed to do the harmony for that song (“Woman Is Like a Shadow”). And we was waiting on him on the gully bank. And we don’t see him come, so there come we saw Winston [Watson] passing through—
Changing Of The Time
So when we see Winston pass, we say “Youth, man, come here.” And him come. And mi say, “Listen to this song here, [we] want you to sing the harmony.” And from the start him sing the song (singing), “If you run down your shadow now, you can never—” When mi hear the man [sing] (singing): “…never catch it,” mi look pon Danny, and mi say, “The man have a Bunny Wailer[-like] strong tenor!” And we just hire the next brederen, and we go a-Channel One [to] go do the song. Yeah man. And from that we start [to] rehearse—
If Danny—are you telling me, Ansel, that if Winston hadn’t been walking through the gully at the right time, The Meditations—the [original] lineup of The Meditations as we know it, it may not have happened?
Well, no, I don’t think so. What happened after that now, Winston no come around no more now. And then we start to rehearse more now. So a lot of other young youths would come by us, and a-sing, and a-sing. And we was there playing. Lots of people! People coming from all different areas, you know? And I sing, sing, sing, sing. And, you know, we sing like The Impressions song, “I’m So Proud.” And one day now, come from work and mi hear Winston say, “I record a song, you know!? And Danny sing, too.”
Mi say, “For who?”
Him say, “Dobby Dobson.” That time—when we sing “Woman Is Like a Shadow,” it’s the harmony dem come and give me—[Danny and Winston]—you know? We didn’t [become a] group [even after that song, yet]. At that time, it came out as “Ansel & The Linkers.” So, we go on [and] we do—when [Winston] sing the song “[Wo]man Piabba,” that was an old song. And that song took off in Jamaica.
I have to ask you about that song, too, because that song—I hope you don’t mind me interrupting you, but that song is so awesome: “Woman Piabba.” And it’s such a funny song. And it does, like you say, it features Winston—
—and it’s such a cool song. I was curious though. I love the song. And it feels like a very distinctly Jamaican song. In fact, as an American, I’m not quite sure that I’m understanding everything that’s happening in the song. I get the gist of the story is that the singer is wanting something to eat. And he’s seeing an old lady. And she’s selling goods, but all she really has is a bag full of different weed.
And then the singer is explaining that the old lady is trying to get him to understand that, “Man piabba bush can really full your belly, but [you] have to cook it in a black pan.” (Laughing) Now—
(Smiling) No. What’s happen[ing] there now—you see, when [Winston] came to I and tell I about the song, I was curious about that song. Because it was the first [time] I heard that song. I didn’t know what the song was all about. I just liked the melody, and the way he was singing it.
Yeah, it’s got a lovely tone.
I didn’t know the meaning of the song.
Yeah. What does it mean?
When him tell I that it needs some more words in it. I was just putting those [additional] words to have it last for the three and half minutes, or whatever it is. Never really realized what it was singing about—what the meaning [of the song] was all about. Until, there was a man I met out at 3 Mile. And he was singing the song to me. And him tell me it’s an old, long-time song where him say all these things that’s singing—it’s bush. It’s the bush that cure you. So, that is the mistake I make in it when I [sing] “full your belly.” If I didn’t know—had the overstanding—it’s when I heard it now and I, after awhile I get stuff started. Listening to the song, it’s the bush they’re talking about, and what the bush done. I said, “Man, I should [have] put “cure” in that song—I shouldn’t have put “full your belly.”
(Laughing) Ha-ha, it [should be] “cure your belly.”
(Smiling) You remember, the bush is [the] collie weed, you see? Collie weed is what cure your belly. Cure sickness and tings.
Yeah, but you know [that’s what] happened. (Laughing)
Did—I’m just curious, too—I don’t mean to go back in time to “Woman Is Like a Shadow,” but that song is so great. Did you write “Woman Is Like a Shadow,” or did all three of you guys together write that song?
I write it. I have that song—I [wrote] it [a] long time before I met Danny Clarke. Before I’d even met Winston.
Because that time is when we call Winston to come do the harmony in it. Because the first person I take that song to was [Gigi]. I come with “Grow Your Dread (and make it be a long dread),” and “Woman Is Like a Shadow.” And Gigi select that song. And the day when I go to the studio, him say, “Sing another song mek I hear.” And me sing a tune named “Marry Me.” And him say, “Yeah man,” and him never record “[Woman Is Like A] Shadow,” or “Grow Your Dread.” Then I go to Niney [the Observer]. Niney was doing some auditions for Byron Lee at the time. And I sing the two songs again to him. And him say come record them Wednesday. So when I go there Wednesday, he tell I say, well, Earth & Stone have two love songs. And his love songs selling. So mi say, “Okay.” So, him never record it. So I go down to Phil Pratt.
Phil Pratt, now, [had] my best friend working with him at the time, Al Campbell. So, Phil Pratt say, you must come every Wednesday, come practice. And every Wednesday we’d go, we didn’t see him. So the last Wednesday we went there, Al Campbell said, “Look, Ansel, you see that song that we have—[that’s] a hit song. Do that song there for yourself. Make Phil Pratt [look like] a joke.” So when I go home, [I asked] my girlfriend at the time, “What [if I] a bill a [recording studio]? What you think?” She said, “Mi prefer you bill a [recording studio].” Because I did record this song, “Sitting on the Sidewalk,” on little Gigi’s [label]. And mi never get no money off of it. So [she said] it’s better if you bill [a recording studio]. So that song—mi go do that song for Channel One. So after mi do it for Channel One, and it was sitting there now—as I was telling you before—Winston come and tell me that him record a song. And Danny record a song. So the song Danny record was “Babylon Trap Dem” and “Longest Sliver.” So Dobby Dobson released “Babylon Trap Dem” as Danny Clarke. And “Woman Piabba” as Winston Watson. So looking to the whole thing now, we still never group. We don’t group [yet], you know?
Yeah, you still weren’t The Meditations yet?
No. It’s just because the three of us only can sing at the time to match each other in the ghetto, you know? But I was afraid of the group singing now. Because The Linkers give me a lot of trouble. This time, even when I’m going to record and looking for the next man, I can’t find the next man, you know? One would come today, [and] the next one don’t come. It was a lot of puzzling. So I was scared of going back into a group. And then, I go back in the studio and I produced “Tricked.”
Yeah. And when I do “Tricked” now, and put out “Tricked”—“Tricked” was the first song that give me the movement in Jamaica now as “Ansel & The Meditations.”
You guys landed on TV [after releasing “Tricked,”] I think?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah it was getting a fight because dem ban it. They didn’t want to play it.
Yeah, because it’s so fierce.
Yeah, and then after that now, Dobby Dobson come back to us [and] he asked me for that song to put out. No—no—yeah. No, after “Babylon Trap Dem,” he come to me and tell me that—after I do “Tricked,” and “Tricked” was selling, [he asked] if I could give it to him to release up there. And I give it to him. And then him come back, [and] him say the people love it, you know? Why not call yourself a group name? And then we went down to Lee Scratch Perry’s studio now ([The Black Ark)] with Dobby Dobson. And we do “Running from Jamaica,” and two more songs. And that—Ken Williams come down to Jamaica and hear the song, and say: “Dobby, a big tune this! Big, big [tune]!”
Yeah. “Running from Jamaica.”
Yeah, yeah. And Ken Williams take it, and come up here and drop it pon the radio. Mash up the place!
So I don’t mean to interrupt you, but just to go back for a second to what you just said—just to be sure. So it’s really Dobby Dobson who kinda said, “Hey, you guys should group up.”
True. Okay, good. Because I’m not sure that that’s really known. So I’m glad to pin that down. And I’m glad you started to talk about “Running from Jamaica.” Because I’ve listened to that, Ansel, I’ve listened to “Running from Jamaica” probably 50 times in the last week. And so, I love this song. This is a song that you wrote, correct?
I want to ask about it, because the song, you know, is kinda dealing with the violence in Jamaica at that time, and, to some people’s response to it—the political violence. To quote “Run from Jamaica” to other countries to take up citizenship. And to me the song is so genius, because at the same time it’s so melodic—it’s so nice [and] so pleasant to the ears to listen to. But also, it’s so up in your face. And it’s very vehement—the lyrics. Why did you have such a resentment, or why did The Meditations generally, you know, because you guys sang it as a group—but you were the writer of the song. Why did you have such a resentment at that time for people who were fleeing from Jamaica to other countries? Though as you [sing] in the song, pointedly, not to Africa. But why were you having such a resentment [toward] the people who were leaving Jamaica at that time?
Well, you see, when there’s a struggle, you know, when there’s a struggle, you have to come together and try to see that better come out of the movements.
And the same people dem that running, it’s the same people that destroying the country.
You have the people dem living one way, and the people dem working like a slave. And don’t decide to give the people dem what they’re really supposed to get. So when you cry out now, and say “No,” you want a change, dem either send dem big police friend to come beat you or do some form of thing to you. See?
And then when the battle get hot now, dem run. You see? (Laughing) So the idea [where] that [song] come [from]—because, I live in it, you know? And I see what was taking place at the time. All of what’s going on. That knowledge, a lot there, between politricks and see the way how these politicians have the youth dem destroying each other—because of hungry.
Yeah, true, poverty. The song instructs “Pick your place for now,” and warns—
—“When the gate is closed we don’t want no knocking.”
And then you also sing—I want to ask about this—you also sing: “When the gate is closed, we don’t want no ruk-a-duk.” Ruk-a-duk?
Ruk-a-duk [is when] you shake the gates, you know? (Laughing)
(Laughing) That’s what I wanted to know! Because—is that patois?
Yeah, yeah, that’s patois.
“When the gate is closed, we don’t want no ruk-a-duk,” you know?
I had to know because I listened to the song so much—(Laughing and gesturing as if shaking a gate). “Ruk-a-duk” is the [sound of the] shaking of the gate.
Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for telling me this. Because I really wanted to know that. Now I was curious, Ansel, though: you know, later on in life, both Danny and then Winston first—those two, first—they later moved to the United States. And then, later on you would follow them—not until maybe the 90s, I believe. But because you later all moved to the United States, did you ever, at any time, look back on that song, that song “Running from Jamaica,” and think—
Well, you know I get a lot of—
—maybe you were a bit harsh because you guys left Jamaica, too?
No. No—I get a whole heap of backlash with that song with my brederen (smiling). You know, Jimmy Riley?
Well Jimmy Riley passed away, [but] Jimmy Riley [said to me]: “Wait, why you sing ‘Running from Jamaica’ to the United States? That means I run.” You have Glen Washington, that man [called me to laugh about it] every day. Yeah, a lot of people—
A lot of people weren’t happy with you?
No, but you see, it’s not a matter that “run,” you know? No, it’s not a matter of run. During the political times, mi youth—I was more concerned about the youth dem. And it’s not really me [that] I run [from Jamaica, either]. It just happened a way that, their mother brought them to the United States. And she asked me if I could have them here for a while. So I leave them at my father’s gates. So it just happened that with the political things going on, and the environments where I’m living, and you know, I just say, “this is my youth.” A friend of mine said, “Look, you have to think about your youth dem, you know?” Mi say, “But I can’t—my career would mash up if I come to the [United] States [to] live. And it really happened, because you know, in Jamaica, I was more moving up to the people dem.
Yeah. Very hard. But it’s my youth dem that caused me to really come here.
You moved for your children?
Right, children. I did it for them. I’m glad, too, because with what’s going on, you will be involved with things that you don’t think about. Because first thing—my thing—my heart is the love for the di people. Helping the people dem, you know? That’s how I see it. Because my yard, every day you will see people come “beg you likkle that” now. “Beg you likkle that” now. “Give me a bus fare” now. “Mi children want go a-school.” And I be always giving, giving, giving. So when it get away now, mi have a likkle shop out there where—mi never know why mi open it. Mi just open it for the people dem. For mi not get nothing off of it. And men [broke into] the shop at night—
—and it didn’t good for them too much, so you know what them do? Lay in wait me one night and chop off a-mi head. (Chuckling) So that’s why you see, my songs dem [have to deal] with reality, you know? What really takes place inna earth. And Jah gives me the inspiration to sing, and make the people dem know what’s going on.
Respect. Hey Ansel, eventually when you did move from Jamaica to the U.S., where Danny and Winston were, you guys, I know—
No I know where they were, you know?
Well when you guys reunited—when you all three were in the United States. And you had some great albums after you guys got back [together]—not that you guys ever really broke apart, but just that you were separated by distance. But when you were all together in the United States, you put out some great albums. Why did you stop performing with Winston and Danny? Why did you transition these past years to working with Laury Webb and Daddy Lion Chandell. How did that happen that The Meditations—the original lineup [of The Meditations]—stopped performing together?
No what really happened there, you know, it’s not a matter say of move away from them. It’s just that certain things happened in the time. But we was still singing together. There was a time we wasn’t—people say we break up. It’s when I was in Jamaica, and then my visa was canceled. And my foot was [broken, too]. So I was in Jamaica for five years—that’s why it happened that I do that album for Linval Thompson named—
“No More Friend.”
“No More Friend,” yeah. And that is the time when I do that album. Because I couldn’t come up here at the time.
But what happened where you stopped performing with Winston and Danny? What happened [so that] they don’t perform with you anymore? Why is it that—
No, no, no. It’s not a matter of why we stopped performing together. After I came [to the United States] in 1990—after I get back my paperwork—we started to tour all over again [in] different places. Ups and downs then. After a while, Winston was giving [me] a lot of trouble in the group. And, you see, it wasn’t good for the group. I tried to talk to him, because I love the group so much. But when we go places, people admire us very much, you know? They just want to see the three of us together. Because, the harmony, and the beauty about it—the three of us can lead sing. And the three of us can sing harmony.
Yeah. All three of you guys could be the lead or the harmony.
When it comes down to the harmony, there’s no joke about it. Because when we do those albums, those harmonies for some singers—Ken Williams himself send some tracks down there for us to put our harmony on. And then Lee Scratch Perry, again, [used The Meditations to sing] a lot of harmonies. The Congos—I introduced Cedric [Myton] to Lee Scratch Perry.
I am the one that introduced him to Lee Scratch Perry. And Lee Scratch Perry started to record him. But The Congos wasn’t a group with—or I was there before Watty [Burnett], but Roy was singing harmony. He was just there because—longtime he going to Scratch, you know? He was there long time. Every day he going there with Scratch. And then when Cedric start to come around now, dem try to do a likkle thing, but we have to do all the harmonies dem at the time [at Scratch’s Black Ark Studio].
“The Heart of the Congos” is such a beautiful album.
Yeah, the “Heart of the Congos.” Well you know you just have to give thanks and praises to the Most High. And just keep doing the best that we’re doing. And other artists come around—so what happened now, from there [after Winston left the group], Danny—we put Milton in the group—Milton Henry. And we do a couple of shows. And then Winston come back and say him change. [That] [h]e will do better now, and put him back in the group. But it didn’t work out again. Different reasons. Maybe him never see what we a-see. So it was Danny there now. And Danny have a little problem. And him went back to Jamaica. So it [was] I alone up here at the time.
I see. Yeah.
And then, I have to have now—that’s when someone introduced [Daddy Lion] Chandell to me. And [I] start[ed] to teach him the harmonies—the style of [The Meditations’s] harmonies. [And with] Laury Webb, mi carry dem on the road with we. So them been with me now for over 15 years.
Wow. Singing all The Meditations’s songs just like you guys used to—
Yeah and dem doing a pretty good job—Laury Webb and Chandell, you know?
Yeah. Ansel, I want to ask you—to squeeze in a question here about a solo album that you did. Because I ran into it, I was doing some research, and I pulled it up and I was just so amazed by it, and I want to ask about it. I saw that there was this live [album of yours called,] “Ansel Meditations: Live in Africa.” It was recorded on the Ivory Coast in Abidjan—
—I have to ask you about this. How did this album take place?
Well you see that album, it was [so] amazing to I, myself. Because a brederen that I met named Georges Kouakou—I met him in Atlanta, Georgia—we, The Meditations, was doing a show down there. Going on tour, and we heard him and this next brederen, we call him “Irie,” they was playing. And while they was playing, I was listening, and [I said] that keyboard player is a great keyboard player—he can play. And the bass player[, too.] So after a few years we have them touring with me. Well after a long run, after I produced this album and give to Easy Star [Records]—and that is The [Meditations’s album] “Ghetto Knowledge”—
Yeah, that’s a great album.
Right. Tings never—some of the musicians and Georges Kouakou now, him a-join up with some of us. So he called me, and said they want me to do a show on [the] Ivory Coast. I think that was [in] 2007. And mi say, “Yeah?”
Had you ever been there—
Had you been to Africa before?
No. That was my first time. So when we get there now, there was three girls, and they was learning the harmony—and the musicians also. Then after—
These were African singers and musicians?
Yeah. All of them (laughing). All of them is Africans.
Wow! And they learned all The Meditations’s songs that are on that album!?
After I did the show [in the] night, in the morning the guy—no, after the show, them give me the CD. So mi have the CD in my bag there, you know? Never really think about the CD until when I get home now. And one day when I’m there now—when I’m here—mi plug in the CD. And [mi] start to play the CD, and mi a-say, “Wait!” When mi hear it never sound—mi say wait, what’s this?
What was the best part of doing that album in Africa for you?
Well that is what I’m trying to tell you. I was so shocked when I heard the CD. So I go to the record shop—Moodie’s Record Shop—and mi say play the CD here for me. And Moodie’s said, “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Who play [on] this CD?” Mi say, “Mi just go do this show and dem give me the CD. It no mix or anything.” And him say—Moodie’s was amazed about it, man. And right away now mi carry it to Bullwackie. And Bullwackie edit it. And after them edit it, dem say “Yes, this a bad CD, man!”
Yeah, the thing were we never asked them—during the time before the show, dem never have a video man that could video that show.
I would love to see that. If there was a video. Ansel, it’s getting late and I know that you have to perform tomorrow, so I only have a few more questions. We’ve been talking for quite some time already—almost 70 minutes now. And I—
But again, you know, but I still want to big up—before you go further—yeah mi work with some great producers. Who inspire I inna the business. Man like Willie Lindo—can’t leave [him out]. That man play my tunes dem, long time dem play inna studio. From Federal [Studio] days, Willie Lindo been playing [my] music.
You know, I was confused at first when you said—for some reason I was thinking—I’ll be honest with you, when we were talking last week, I was confused because you were talking about Willie Lindo. [And] I was thinking about Wire Lindo for some reason.
(Smiling) No, no, no. Willie Lindo.
And then I realized, I figured out my confusion because I was asking you about Kashief Lindo. Because he worked on your album “Smile Again,” too. [And he’s] Willie Lindo’s son.
Yeah, Willie Lindo’s son.
I want to ask, Ansel—first of all, give thanks for being so generous with your time. You’ve had such a spectacular career, Ansel, and you’ve had so many hit songs, I just want to mention right now, I’m hoping that you’re gonna let me—maybe you’ll let me interview you again some time next year. Because—
Yeah, we could.
—there’s so much music—you know all of your hit songs. And you know there are so many songs I haven’t even asked you about. And I want to ask you about [them], so hopefully, maybe sometime next year—
[Yeah and] I put out an EP a couple of years ago with Ranking Joe, you know—
And I love—you know Ranking Joe is a staple in Los Angeles—
—you know, he’s out here. And you know, he rocks it at the Dub Club—
—all the time. So you know I need to talk to you [at some other point] about that album—
—with Ranking Joe. But I want to ask you, Ansel, tonight, I have to ask you, because no interview of you would be complete if I didn’t ask you about working with Lee Scratch Perry and Bob Marley—as you mentioned to me last week. And I want to ask you a little bit more about it. You were talking to me—we were talking about producers last week. And that brought you to start talking about watching Bob Marley and Lee Scratch Perry working on “Blackman Redemption” [together]. Which of course The Meditations sang background vocals on.
I was wondering, Ansel, could you, for all the reggae lovers, could you please tell me that story again—about when you saw [Bob and Scratch] working together in the studio. And how that showed you how Lee Scratch Perry was as a producer. And Bob as an artist.
Well, when I get there, as I was telling, the people dem before was singing that song from 7:30 ‘till about 11 o’clock. So one at a time now when we come back out of the voicing room—I thought the song done. And then Bob come around now, and Scratch say, “What happened? You take a break?” And Bob say, “What you mean take a break? The song done, man.” And Scratch say, “You’re wrong, man.” And Bob a-say, “What!? You think I-man a machine?” And Scratch say, “Alright, here we go. Go take a draw and drink some water. You come back, and mek we finish it up.” So Bob looked [at Scratch,] and Bob laughed. Him say, “Alright.” And we go in there and do that song. And when Bob go back in there, Scratch show him some likkle thing. Now I understand—not under—overstand what it really takes, you know for a good producer to promote the best part of a man. Yeah, I see it. I see what it really takes. When I work with [a] man like Willie Lindo, and Scratch. And I see the movements of them. We have another friend named “General Lee,” you see—
With Scratch, you guys—the singles that The Meditations recorded at the Black Ark—which of course, you know, but just to mention—“No Peace,” “House of Parliament,” and “Think So.” Those are some of the most righteous songs—I think everyone would agree—from that era. And everyone who listens to them would recognize them. And I was curious, what is—you were telling me about “Blackman Redemption,” but you did so much work with Scratch. Is that time when you recorded— well, let me ask it this way: What is your fondest memory, Ansel, because I love Lee Scratch Perry—what is your fondest memory of Lee Scratch Perry?
Down there daytime with him, watch[ing] him doing [his thing]. And the way he was working, and the things that him doing.
Yeah. He loved it—he loved the music.
Yeah. He was outside there sitting, and a bird would come out and [(imitating bird sounds)]. And Scratch would see that bird and just run out there and put a mike out there. (Laughing)
That’s the man Scratch Perry was, you know?
Any likkle sound him hear, you know, he’d run and mike that, you know? Take any likkle sound, and—it’s a little 8-track him have, you know? But he used to get 32-tracks out of [just] the 8-track [system he had]. (Laughing)
Now I have to ask, Ansel, also, because you know, like I think anyone with any sense, I’m a giant Bob Marley fan. Can you tell me, in the work you did professionally with Bob Marley—and we know—
Well [in] the work [I did] professionally, [it was] when we were in the studio at Aquarius [Studios], recording “Black Man Redemption” and “Rastaman Live Up.” You know, that was a—memories! But one [of my best] memories [also] was when we was rehearsing for the Peace Concert.
Yeah. This is the “One Love Peace Concert” in 1978, which was the 12th anniversary of Selassie coming to the island [of Jamaica]?
Right. And they was singing “Keep on Moving.” And I remember when Bob say, “Take it, Meditations!” And Winston grabbed that note (singing): “Maybe someday, I’ll find a peace of land…”
And you know, Winston [sang] natural, you know?
So Bob—let me make sure I understand. In the middle of the song, Bob looked over and said, “Take it Meditations!?”
Yeah. When him say (singing), “Lord I’m gonna keep on moving, Lord, I’m gonna get on down.” Then him say, “Take it over, Meditations!
Oh my gosh! (laughing in awe)
(Laughing) And Winston grabbed Bunny Wailer’s spot.
That amazed, Bob. Bob said, “What!?” Bob say, “Tyrone! A-Wailers this!
Did you guys open that concert? Were you guys—
Yeah we was the first ones who opened the concert.
I read somewhere, and I don’t know if it’s true, Ansel, but, did Bob ask you guys to open the concert?
Yeah. No, no. He didn’t ask us. Him say him want [us to] come sing two tunes. And then sing two tunes with him onstage. But it’s Tommy Cowan. He’s the one that put we there to open [the concert].
Were you guys scared at all? About the political violence?
Well at that time, people did scare now. It was not an easy thing, you know? People did scare because, you know, it’s a political thing. And you don’t know what can happen with so much thousands of people gathering around.
You don’t know if your too political and your rival a-gwaan, so people was tense.
Did you smoke a lot of weed before you got on stage? (Laughing)
No, no. I never smoke, you know?
What!? You never smoked?
You’ve never—just to ask because someone [else] blew my mind with this recently, too. I think it was Judge from the Mighty Diamonds. Judge—he’s never smoked before, too. Are you saying you’ve never smoked?
Smoke wasn’t for me. You see, when I first started going in the studio, I couldn’t sing inna smoke at all.
It bothered you?
Yeah, dem have to open the studio doors and blow it out. Before I can really sing, you know?
Interesting, interesting. Now I have to ask also about Gregory Isaacs. Because you know, I love Gregory Isaacs. And I love that song “Mr. Cop,” [which The Meditations sang background vocals on]. Can you tell me, Ansel, what you remember most about Gregory—and working with Gregory?
(Smiling) Well, Gregory is a one-in-the-world. In movements, you know? If you around Gregory, man, you have to have your movie camera, because everything him say and do is a movie-ting that. (Laughing) Some of these people they act. But [people like Gregory], them movement is real. So what you see is what you get. And no pretending. You know, Gregory, was, if you around Gregory, [if] you can hear Gregory talk and move—you just laugh, man. (Laughing)
He was genuine—
A mystic man! Yeah, a mystic man, Gregory. You know Jamaica have some great artists, you know? I don’t know for what reason, you know, them not around here with us [anymore]. Because when you look back pon a man like Peter Tosh. When you look pon Bunny Wailer. Dem man there. Bob himself, you know? Dem people there—The Paragons. I mean, John Holt. Slim Smith—
—Dennis Brown. Just go down the line with dem man there. How powerful them men was, you know?
And when dem bring the recognition—what dem bring to Jamaica. All over. Because right now, you know, with the young youth mi a deal with, I feel there are not too many times where they motivate I with what mi a-gwaan with them now. They talking, and they fighting, and they chasing one another, and they’re telling one another [this and that]—nah, me no dig that. Rasta deal with—
“Ah Not My Thing That,” right?
“Ah Not My Thing That,” as Don Angelo would say. “Ah Not My Thing That.”
Not everyone may know, [but] that’s [the name of one of the] song[s] on Ansel’s new album.
Yeah, [featuring] Don Angelo.
[It’s] a great song. Ansel, because I’m confident that you and I are going to keep in touch and, Jah willing, I’ll get another chance to reason with you—
—I only have two last questions [for] you tonight—before we hang up. And you go—
—and get rest for your show tomorrow night.
As you say that, you see this eye, Steve (pointing at left eye)—
I do operation on it a couple of months ago—
—so, I don’t know. It giving me some likkle problems still. So I went to the doctor today. [And] I think he gave me around five injections in it (gesturing to left eye). [See how] it’s swollen?
Yeah so it—
You gonna be able to perform tomorrow?
You know, that can’t stop I; a not my throat (laughing).
Ansel, as 2022 comes to a close—and we look toward 2023—are there any new albums, new collaborations, any other new musical projects, that all The Meditations’s fans around the world—and we’re talking about a lot of people—that they should keep a watch out for? What’s next for Ansel Cridland and The Meditations?
Well, I don’t go back in the studio yet, because I don’t feel pleased yet with this new album—I know, say—this new album, now—
“Smile Again.” This album is so great.
You know when you done something, and you feel it in your heart?
I know it don’t reach the people dem, and it do not get where it’s supposed to get. Yet. But I still have hope of still promoting this album [some more,] before I even think of the studio [again]. You know, because the message on this album here is—is very great. Great message on it. And no joke. It’s what’s happen[ing] to us right now. Life I’m living. Suffering. People pissing all over. Things happening (shaking head)—
—you know—war. Look what a-gwaan in Ukraine. On this album we talk about [things like this].
You leave your home, [and] you’re not sure you will go back home. There’s always some ambush pon the road—and some form a-thing a-gwaan. You know, tribulations and all dem things. And that’s what we sing about. We just want people fi just listen, and try to do them very best. And dem young youths who are growing up? You know, [a true Rastaman] wants peace [not violence].
That’s what we think about, you know. Don’t war with nobody. You know, warmongers [all] over the world right now. No like it.
Thank you so much for saying that, Ansel. Ansel I want to thank you again—one last time. It’s truly been a great honor—and a pleasure—to connect with you.
And I hope we’ll stay in touch, Ansel.
It’s a blessing to meet you. But before we hang up for tonight: Is there any last message or any last words you want to convey to all the masses of Meditations fans—all around the world—people who have been listening to The Meditations now for 50 years—[and] maybe more. And we love your music. We love The Meditations. What’s the final message that you want to give to all The Meditations’s fans?
Just try to love each other. And stick with each other. The youths? Focus on them right now, because, what the youths dem are really doing right now, these young youths, it’s unbelievable. We don’t want to see that happen anymore.
I was just looking at some young youth that killed 17 children— people over there. 17!? And now you just reached twenty-four-years-old [yourself]? Why!? Why you doing that? You throwing away your life so young. You don’t have a future. You know, the parents dem, please, please stop buy your youth dem gun. And all Meditations fans, stick to the music, because the music is what brings unity and peace to us. So stick to the music. Yes I.
Respect. Ansel, I wish you all the best at your show tomorrow, and we’ll be in touch after today, and give thanks—
And the show is not [really] a “show,” you know? It’s a Peter Tosh—
Yeah [that] dem doing. And I’m honored to be there, because you hear we now, Peter Tosh died talking about release ganja. And the way dem fight ganja, I don’t see dem fight crack and coke [the same] way. Them fight ganja more than anything.
Yeah. And right now, see, how many people selling ganja now [with the blessing] of the government?
Dem should. Because they cannot sell it now and have [people] locked down in a prison [for it, too]. As long as they no kill nobody, and dem [just want to grow, sell, and smoke weed], free dem, man!
Well Ansel, all the best to you my friend. And we’ll be in touch. You take care. And best to Sharene, okay my friend? Take care.
Yeah man. One love.
Bless up, Ansel.
Irie. And bless up all the friends dem. General Lee, Ranking Joe—everyone, you know? All mi sons dem, also. And all di brederens in England, Jamaica, Canada, all over—family. Ansel. Cridland. Meditations. Jah Bless. Peace and love.
One love, Ansel.
And give thanks for your movements, also.
Respect. (Waving goodbye.)