Interview: Alborosie – Born a Living Dread (November 2017)
It’s not easy to refresh and renovate reggae and its credo. It’s even harder if you want to do it keeping intact its roots and long-established features, but there’s an Italian (with a Jamaican soul and passport) singer-songwriter and producer who’s succeeding in the challenge.
We’re talking about Alborosie, the Sicilian-born musician who chose the Caribbean island – five thousand miles away from his birthplace – to express his artistic vision. Twenty years ago, after his band – Reggae National Tickets – reached the terminus of their story, he left Italy to fully embrace Rastafarianism and launch a new solo career in Kingston, which has brought him to become one of the most recognised players in the reggae scene.
On Thursday 23rd November, he will enliven Electric Brixton and his London fans with his upbeat sound. To help pave his way, we reached him by phone in Kingston and had a chat about his take on the reggae tradition, the island of Jamaica and his most recent releases.
“When it comes to reggae, it’s difficult to be innovative, because there are some definite patterns that you have to follow. Let’s say that I’m trying to be innovative in the box where I am, while abiding to the guidelines. Until now, I think I’ve always been successful doing that. The important thing is being able to change some sounds. For this reason, when it comes to vocals, I constantly try to be inventive in changing styles. This helps me to renew and revive my music, even if I still play a genre that, at times, is restrictive.”
Even if reggae as a music genre is hard to modify, you can’t say the same about its scene and the Jamaican music environment. Alborosie, who moved to Kingston in the early 2000s, experienced the transformation on his own skin.
“Since I moved here 20 years ago, Jamaica and Kingston have become my home. My family is here and my everyday life is here and I’m fully immersed in Jamaican life.
In that time, I’ve realised that the music here has changed a lot. In the past, reggae was the main music. There were many, many artists and the reggae catalogue was almost unlimited. Everyone played reggae at that time. In the last 7 years, the music scene has changed. There’s less reggae and people are listening to and playing more American sounds like rap, hip-hop and dancehall.”
Alborosie never gave up and has always kept spreading the reggae word. So much so that today, it’s pretty hard to keep track of all of his releases, whether they are original works, remixes, or collaborations.
In 2016, Alborosie published his 9th studio album, titled Freedom & Fyah, for the New York-based influential reggae label VP Records. Since his modesty would never allow him to say so, it was one of the best reggae albums of the year. Freedom & Fyah wasn’t his latest production because, only a few months later, he dropped a collaborative project in Italy (The Rockers) and a new single (‘Living Dread’, inspired by Black Uhuru‘s ‘Black Uhuru Anthem’ song) reflecting on the current state of reggae music.
“I don’t like to say it too loud, because I don’t like being self-congratulatory, but Freedom & Fyah was voted as ‘Album of the Year‘ by Reggaeville [a well-respected online reference when it comes to reggae music] and praised by other European media. I’m pretty happy about it and how people have welcomed it and reacted to it.
Recently, I’ve released another single, titled ‘Living Dread’, which is a song on its own. It’s not part of any projects. I’m preparing a new album, which is going to be released next year, but it won’t include ‘Living Dread’. Let’s say that it’s a warm-up song, to keep up my attention and interest.
‘Living Dread’ reflects upon the reggae scene, which is a world that is becoming duller and duller. It’s important for me to release music that is true and authentic; music that doesn’t follow the sales trends or charts because charts are just a celebration of sales. Today, it’s becoming more important how many copies you sell instead of how much quality you put into your music. Let me be clear, I’m not 100% against the music market and sales; it’s good when music sells and people buy music, but I prefer when a project gives priority to quality; when music has some meaning in itself, when it says something and is able to send a message.
That’s also the way I’ve chosen the musicians I’ve worked with in The Rockers. They’re all friends. Some of them are old ‘travel partners’; musicians who I worked with years ago and I like the way they work, while others are new friends that I’ve only recently come across. With all of them, I’ve given life to a cultural exchange because they’re coming from different music genres like rock, pop and rap. I mainly acted as a producer on this project, apart from two or three tracks in which I sing on too”.
There’s no doubt that his music listenings have facilitated the aforementioned cultural exchange…
“I always listen to every kind of music, from South American music to every sort of thing. For example, a few days ago, I was listening to Metallica. To be honest, I’m really into metal at the moment. If I have to stay within the Jamaican music borders, I’d say that I’m a big fan of Beres Hammond; he’s a legendary voice of Jamaican music and he’s inspired me a lot. If I had to suggest one Jamaican musician, I’d say his name.”
Just a few hours more and the Living Dread Tour (organised by TIJ Events) will lead Alborosie and his trustworthy Shengen Clan to Brixton to perform on the Electric Brixton stage. The London show will be the third leg of his UK tour – after Bristol and Brighton – and will be followed by another three gigs in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.
“Europe is cold at the moment, so it’ll be quite a shock to come over there. I’ll be there with the Schengen project, which has changed a bit over the years. In fact, there’s only one of the original members of the band left. The name of the band is my trademark or nickname. I have always had a wonderful relationship with the Schengen Clan musicians, and, bringing them on tour with me, I’ve helped some of them to obtain their visas. I’m happy to say that, through my music, I have supported more than one difficult situation”.
We closed our Trans-Atlantic chat by asking Alborosie to make a recommendation to the (very few) people who still don’t know him and invite them to listen to reggae and his music…
“If you’re interested and care about how things are going in the world and are aware of what’s going on around you, then you have to listen to reggae music. If you only live in your own world and are a product of today’s society, then you can avoid reggae and my music too. It’s as simple as that”.
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