Marvin Sparks caught up with Anthony B to discuss his beginnings, Rastafarian faith, reasons for legalising marijuana as well as an in-depth look at the pro’s and con’s associated with Reggae music.
Marvin Sparks: What inspired you to get involved in music?
Anthony B: Well, growing up in the country [Trelawny, Jamaica], I used to live next door to this Rasta man who always listened to Peter Tosh and as a young youth I was always saying I wanted to be like [Peter Tosh]. I got this motivation because his music touched me. Listening to Peter was so convincing, so I wanted to do music. That was the first step.
Marvin Sparks: Where do you draw inspiration when writing lyrics?
Anthony B: I would say just reasoning day-to-day; reasoning to Jah and reasoning with people in the community. Reading books, watching history channels, reading history books, watching the Discovery Channel, going around the world, looking at situations. Sometimes reading a headline will give me a topic that I want to write about. write about. Different, different things.
Rastafarian inspiration: clean, conscious and diligence. I realise there is a deeper motive to music than just entertainment, its also the first form of education. In infants school, most of the instruments that teachers can get them interested in education are musical instruments. The first type of educational songs they sing them to the kids. ‘A, B, C, D, E, F, G’ and ‘Do-re-me-fa-so...’ are all melodies.
Marvin Sparks: You weren’t raised in a Rastafarian home. When did you decide to grow your locks and let the world know you were Rasta?
Anthony B: Around 1990, because in ‘88 there was a great storm in Jamaica [hurricane Gilbert] and it damaged my parents home, so I got to go on my own and went to live with my uncle. Living with my uncle wasn’t like living at home with my mother and father; I could go and explore and do what I wanted to.
From there, I trimmed my hair one day in the barbershop and thought to myself, everyone I know in life who gave me a helping hand [was a Rastafarian]; through music, and growing up as a youth. The neighbour in country was a Rasta man. He was the man who would call us at Christmas time and give me some pocket money. He would plant his food, and call, and give me 2lb of yam for the house.
When I went to [Kingston] to do music and [met up] with Garnett Silk and them, so I just saw my whole life as a Rasta man. This is something that I love from the dear of my heart. The reflection is going to come out when you surround yourself with people with the same [outlook] and you are inspired by it and you see nothing dangerous, violent or brutal, so you say to yourself, ‘This is the life!’
Marvin Sparks: There is a lot of appreciation for marijuana on the album. As everyone knows, Rasta’s are fond of the herb and always want it legalised. If I were the man in charge of legalising it, what argument would you bring forth for me to raise the ban?
Anthony B: The first thing I would say is: I have never really seen the danger with smoking, and driving, and having accidents, but I see the danger with drinking and having accidents, and I see alcohol is still out there legal. There is still a medical link with alcohol damages your liver and you kidney.
I remember there was a time in history when marijuana used to be legal because it used to help people medically and alcohol was illegal because it used to destroy families, break homes and make husbands come home and kick their wives and throw their children through windows. The more abusive substance is alcohol, so why is it legal and marijuana is illegal? Then the prime minister would have to show me; I wouldn’t have to show him the points and the relevancy of marijuana. I would just have to show him the dangers of alcohol and the amount of lives it has taken.
Marvin Sparks: What motivated you to write the song ‘Stop Fight Reggae’?
Anthony B: After a genre of music has been about for 20 years, it becomes pop music, [people need to] establish what its about and establish the message. You’ll find in this day-and-age that there are some people out there who like to class reggae as hate music, murder music and crime music. Come on; how can it be? Don’t you know about this music? There have been people from this [reggae] community whose lifestyle has been out there for 20-30 years in your face, that you know about this movement, so what is the sudden twist now? Is it because of the mistakes a few entertainers have made that are going to deteriorate the whole movement?
Why don’t you hold those who are responsible, and don’t try to brand Jamaicans and the whole genre? And that is the point that I am trying to get across. The world know Reggae music, so I don’t think they need to be scared of Reggae music.
Marvin Sparks: One of the first songs that brought you to prominence, ‘Fire Pon Rome’, was banned.
Anthony B: Yeah, that song was banned. And another song called Nah Vote Again. 3 songs in my career have been banned.
Marvin Sparks: What are you feelings on banning of songs?
Anthony B: Well if it is not something that we call lewd - that means it is not good for the kids to listen to - its not saying to murder someone but it is just asking what has this man done, just asking a question, it is just censorship. It is not something worth banning because it is putting sex, crime or violence on the radio. The banning is just censorship because they are scared of the backlash it may cause or the uprising.
Marvin Sparks: Did you find you compromised your future work to stop that happening again?
Anthony B: No, I have never done that. The compromising comes when you spread violence. When I said ‘Fire Pon Rome’ I didn’t attack the Roman Catholic movement. I did not attack an establishment. It was just a colonial mindset. The mindset of slavery, the mindset of imperialism, the mindset of first and second-class citizenship are all from Rome, so that is what we attack and not Rome.
If you listen back to the first line, I said, ‘This is my question, to Issa and the one Matalan’. These are the big guys; the 21 families who run Jamaica. That’s what the song is about. How did they own all this land? You say you are going to sell people a house, you take the same ghetto land where people dump things, put up 4 walls and sell it for JA$1m (approximately £8,500). They move them out of the board house but it’s still the same dump. So this was all I was saying, but they didn’t want that to go across.
Marvin Sparks: Do you think it is important for artists to be a role model?
Anthony B: It’s great if someone looks at me as a role model. I try to live my life in that presence meaning the songs I sing about, I try to live like the music I make. I’m not trying to tell someone to go out and give Rastafari glory, and love Rastafari - I’m not doing it. I’m not trying to say eat healthy and live healthy. I’m just trying to show a person this is the way I live my life, and I’m just sharing my opinion with you, so if you value my opinion maybe it can stop you from getting into trouble. Just look at me give me your listening ears and a moment of your time and we can become good friends and maybe you can be inspired by me too - I don’t have to just be inspired by you.
Marvin Sparks: As an elder in the business, what do you think of the content that the younger Dancehall artists are currently putting out?
Anthony B: Hear what takes place in the Dancehall: there’s a lot of beef in the dancehall with artists against one another. People around the world may not know about but people closer to the music know about it. You will get one artist that says, ‘Shoot him in his face, and me kill him make him dead’. But that song will go around the world and people don’t know that is an artist saying it to another artist, they just think this is the song the person is putting out, not that it is a song for an opponent.
They’re looking at it like he is saying ‘Kill that boy’, but not know it was directed at an individual who is an opponent. Jamaican people are not going to say this is violent, they see it as they are talking to each other. In Jamaica, we call people all types of names to put each other down. So when you call all these names on record and they go out there, someone from another community will pick it up and say he’s talking about us. But he is not talking about the other community, he is just branding that individual.
You have to foresee the future before you can make it there, and that is what we need in Dancehall. More visionaries who can see what can affect you tomorrow.
Marvin Sparks: Do you think it’s correct for them to be singing those songs?
Anthony B: They need to draw the line now. They are no longer just singing for sound systems to clash against sounds, they are singing to the world. Dancehall is making a name because it has a lot of energy and a vibe.
We need to recognise that we have moved out of the dub plate momentum of the Dancehall, and we’ve gone more into the international scene. Sean Paul broke [commercially], Shaggy broke it and Elephant Man broke it. People are interested now, so let‘s do something different.
Marvin Sparks: Have you tried to guide any of them?
Anthony B: I’ve tried to reason with them of what can affect them in the long run but when somethings young you have to give it time. As Bob Marley said ‘Who feels it knows it’.
Marvin Sparks: What do you make of the beef between Mavado and Vybz Kartel?
Anthony B: This is also the point of destroying Dancehall. The same songs that are coming back to haunt certain artists, were songs of war against another artist. Now that Dancehall is going on another level people can go onto a website and say ‘But I heard Beenie say kill that man,’ and never knew who he was talking about, then judged it against him. Mavado is about to sign a big record deal...
Marvin Sparks: Who’s that with?
Anthony B: Well, I don’t know but I heard it through the grapevine. If he is mixed up in a war then he is going to have to say things to keep up his image in Jamaica. Then maybe when he gets the record deal, these things will come out in the international market and he won’t get the medium to explain it. He won’t even get the chance to go and show the world that is was something he said to an opponent. They’ll just say 'Oh we are not going to bring him on our programme'.
Marvin Sparks: What would you say separates or is the unique selling point of Reggae music?
Anthony B: We talk about reality. Reality is day-to-day life, social life, day-to-day living. Everybody pays light bill, water bill, and a mortgage. Everybody’s trying to live. These are topics that you don’t have to be Jamaican or British to understand. These are the simple topics that Reggae touches on. We touch on the simple things that people might overlook but it so much more important to the simple man who is out there.
Marvin Sparks: And what would you say is the main thing holding it back from progressing?
Anthony B: Because it won’t compromise or become lovey-dovey music. A lot of things in Reggae you only find a few rappers like 2 Pac may say, and they treasure him so much.
Marvin Sparks: Have you ever been interested in breaking commercially?
Anthony B: I just try to make music for a purpose to entertain. My whole dream is to see everyone competitive like the Olympics - all different countries. No violence, just to see who has the best music. Not being violent about it, no discriminating, just all on the same level.
You find a lot of failure in the music industry because people don’t market talent. You are just a product, that is why you have an appearance and a look. Its not like era where you had to sing a good record. Now it’s just a pretty face and a nice look, but the music doesn’t have any substance.
More can be done if they research the music and go for what is considered to be music. There are artists within the reggae industry that the reggae fraternity uphold strong. Who we would support if they were to go onto another level. But then, from morning they hear that this artist got signed to a big company and the Reggae fraternity are saying, ‘This isn’t an artist who we thought would make it’. When you blow up now then they reject you because you didn’t really hold it up like that and you become another failure for Reggae music.