The Rub-a-dub master returns steaming with reggaemalitis
HE was dressed in a white top, with green, black, yellow and white stripes adding colour to it. He has a blue jean trouser, with brown trainers. His beret is green, yellow and red. He has eyeglasses on. Looking every inch younger, except for the frame that has grown heavier; he seems an appropriate feature of a returnee out to make a point. If you didn’t listen closely, you’ll probably think that Ras Kimono, the rub-a-dub master, speaks only patois language. He does so efficiently, especially when the issue is a grime subject matter. This afternoon, his upbeat demeanour belies the earnestness of his message.
Over the years, Kimono has been consistent with his brand of reggae music. Under Pressure, his debut album, released by Polygram International in 1988, won the Gold Disc Award. The follow-up, What’s Gwan clearly surpassed the first. In fact, it won double Platinum. That album swept all major music awards in Nigeria including Reggae Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Artiste of the Year Award.
His next album, Run Fi Cover, came out in 1992 and it was master hit. In 1994, he released another hit album, Oracle of Jah and nine years later, he came out with Still I Arise.
He has taken his message out of Nigeria to the world by playing major concerts in the United States, England, Italy, Kenya, Ghana and Papua New Guinea where his Benson and Hedges stadium concerts attracted a record average of 45,000 people per concert. He has also performed at the PANAFEST in Ghana, URTNA in Kenya, ROTOTOM Reggae Sunsplash in Italy, Golden Tones Reggae Sunsplash (Lagos and Kano, Nigeria), Vienna (Austria) and Essen (Germany).
In the United States, Kimono has performed in reputable clubs such as New York’s Tramps, S.O.B. and MONDO Festival at the Central Park, B.B. King Night Club New York and Zanzibar Water Front Washington D.C. He has also played at the Equator (Chicago), Carabana (Houston), Masquerade (Atlanta) and in various clubs in St. Louis.
The artiste, who has performed with top reggae artistes such as Shaggy, Shaba Ranks, Lee Perry, the late Lucky Dube, Culture, Inna Circle, Steve Wonder, Eve and K.C. and JoJo and a host of others, has developed his own style of root reggae music that skillfully blends his African roots with classical Jamaican rhythm.
When he strolled into the Rutam House den recently, he had more than he bargained; as veteran music writer, Benson Idonije, the arts writer Jahman Anikulapo and myself, Gregory Austin Nwakunor, drilled him.
What’s happening to Kimono after several years of being outside the scene?
Everything is going on fine. I’ve been away for several years, but I’m back with a finished product that has to be released. I have nine tracks on the reggae album and two extra tracks that are something different from Ras Kimono’s stylee as singles. If the company that will sign me on likes them, I will drop it for them to release as singles and let the people see my other side. It took me about 10 months to record this album and it was produced by me, Alex Zito and a brother called Chilly. The flashpoint of this album is that this is the first time I’m recording with a high technology. I did something with Zito and because he knows what is involved in having quality output and as a musician, you won’t be disappointed with the quality. I used his studio because he has one of the best up to date studio equipment. In fact, he has a state of the art studio. There’s a great gap from the rest in terms of quality and production.
The album features original songs composed by Kimono including Veteran, Matter of Time, Wicked Politicians, Good To Be Conscious, Mixed Dance, Beginning Of The End, Tribute To Lucky Dube, Screw Face by Alex Zito and Kimono, and Honour To Perry Ernest originally done by Perry Ernest himself.
Is there any record label marketing it?
At the moment, I’m in discussion with some companies but we’ve not made a head way yet.
What of your former recording company, Premier Records?
Well, we’re still talking because my contract with them expired before I travelled. If they’re interested in my latest work, I will give it to them.
Any release date?
There is no release date for now, but I’m still discussing with a couple of marketers. I can’t do the marketing because there is need for job specialisation. I don’t own a label and I don’t intend to do that.
Can you tell us your market expectation of the album?
The artiste does not preempt good sale. All I have is prayer and Jah blessing for people to like the album and go for it.
You’ve been away for sometime. What have you been doing in America?
I’ve been doing music and playing shows out there when it comes. I’ve been doing and living on music.
What’s your view of the music industry today?
It’s doing greatly. Lots of musicians are doing very well. Many of them are driving big cars and living in good houses. It’s good. Talking about the musical context, people follow the rave trend.
Are you threatened by the sudden rise of hip-hop music?
I’m not in competition with the new generation of musicians playing hip-hop because none of them is playing reggae music.
In other words, you don’t feel threatened at all?
No, I’m not threatened at all. The brethren are doing other kinds of music and I’m doing reggae music. My believe is that there are more than one million Nigerians, who are still in love with reggae music in our society and I know these people will definitely follow Ras Kimono. So, I’m not perturbed with what is going on back home. The first time I hit the music scene, there were many big time musicians, but I still found my bearing in the market. So, I will still be here doing my thing, while the younger ones do theirs.
Let me tell you this, when I was away, I was monitoring the local scene. There is this website I often visited — I don’t know whether Nigerians hosted the site — but all I know is that most times, I go to the site to see what is happening in music, video and films and unfortunately, I don’t think I noticed any strong competition. I don’t believe that the strong passion these days for hip-hop music is a threat. The artistes are not doing what I’m doing. Nobody is really doing what I am. I came back to see that the vacuum is still there. There’s a great gap that we have to fill. I have space to fill. If it were reggae, I would be scared. I’m not coming back to win the youths, but just to say that with time, they will love and appreciate. You know over the years, they’ve not heard good messages. In my subsequent albums, I will work with some of them. All these artistes that you say sing hip-hop have reggae feel in their music and that’s because they didn’t want to lose their fans.
Is there any possibility of doing something with the young ones?
Maybe in subsequent album, I can team up with the young ones. The problem with youths here is that they are always looking for easy way out to make quick money. Sometimes, you will see young guys come up to say to you, ‘uncle I’m into music’. He gives you what he has done, and you will be surprised that the music has no quality, and that it is not done out of passion, but just for the money. They are always seeking easy money and fame. Since there is easy access to laptop and keyboard, you can programme what you want to. To make it worse, a lot of TV stations play these songs. You are now forced to ask what is National Broadcasting Commission doing and why there are no Not To Be Broadcast (NTBB) tag on them. Some of the lyrics are vulgar and are played on air and NBC is not doing anything about it. In the US, there are club versions and radio version. They just do one version and this is what is played on air. Easy lyrics. Some of the youths, who play this music don’t have conscience. Give them four to five years and they will fade out completely.
Are you not disappointed that the music industry is not the way you left it?
I wouldn’t say I’m. Our music is growing. My only disappointment is that nobody is playing live music anymore. Everybody is miming and that’s not good for professional instrumentalists in the music industry. I intend, with my organisation, to do a welcoming concert for the media and some key people in the corporate world. I don’t mime, so, it’s going to be live music. I want to bring back live music with my coming back.
What would you attribute as the problem?
It’s big. However, to change the trend, I’m coming back with live music and do it the way it used to be. Live bands and live concerts. I intend, with my organisation, to do a welcoming concert for the media and some key people in the corporate world. I don’t mime, so, it’s going to be live music. I want to bring back live music with my coming back. I’m coming with live music because you know, Kimono doesn’t mime. Trust me and when I start again, others would follow suit.
How do you manage your concert plans?
At a time, Sybil was doing the concert arrangement. Then Eddie Lawani came. The truth of the matter is that most corporate organisations have agents, who make arrangements with the artistes.
Don’t you think with the growing importance of hip-hop, that you may get to perform in fewer concerts?
Let me correct one impression, there is no single artiste, who can pull all the crowds in a concert. Every organiser brings different artistes to add variety.
Can you tell us more about the songs?
My music is spiritual. It has a special message that I want to pass across. A few tracks are danceable. Mixed Dance is like rumba stylee. In Veteran, I want to talk to people, who are flashes in the pan. Matter of time talks about people who think that you have nothing to offer again… I mean people, who think you are finished. Good to be conscious is also about the society, the greed of Nigerians. They are never satisfied. In Wicked Politicians, I speak to politicians. I’ve got no business with politicians. Look at what they did to the late Attorney General, Bola Ige? How he was murdered and till date, there is still no clue about the killers! My message to them is that they should desist from their evil ways. I pray that they will listen. Screw Face, which Zito and I did, is about what’s going on in the society. Beginning of The End is about what is happening in the world over. The catastrophe and everything. It is to tell people that we are coming to the end of time. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 was a massive widespread power outage that occurred throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, and Ontario, Canada on Thursday, August 14, 2003. At the time, it was the most widespread electrical blackout in history. The blackout affected an estimated 10 million people in the Canadian province of Ontario and 45 million people in eight U.S. states. Who will ever believe such a blackout was going to occur in the US. Look at the tsunami that swept across Asia? The world cried because of the number of deaths, but what happened during Hurricane Katrina was far greater. What happened in Katrina is worse than what has happened in Africa. Tribute to Lucky Dube is to honour a nice, humble guy, an unrepentant soldier, whose fight was total emancipation of the blackman.
Youths should know that if Michael Jackson could be there without drug, they can equally do it. Youths should leave drugs alone because it can do them harm.
Honour to Perry Earnest is an attempt to honour such a veteran of highlife music. I’m looking forward to meeting Perry. A lot of people have asked me why did I do a song in Perry’s language. But I tell them, did I know anything about Ajakubo before I did the song. It was in The Guardian that I met Ben Tomoloju and I told him that I wanted him to give me right to the song. He gave me the right here. That’s why when I hear people say to me that I stole Tomoloju’s song, I reply them it is a lie.
Are you back fully in the country, or just to launch your album?
I’m back. You know, I always move around spreading the message of Jah all over the world, I cannot say wholly yes. I may be in Ghana or anywhere, but now, I’m home to promote my music and help the industry to grow.