Burning Spear ADD

Burning Spear - The 'No Destroyer' Interview

08/21/2023 by Shrik Kotecha

Burning Spear - The 'No Destroyer' Interview

There are some events in the music calendar which will spark attention instantly and one such event is the long-awaited release of a new Burning Spear album. The world has been patiently waiting for nearly two years after Winston Rodney (aka Burning Spear) announced a new single Mommy from a forthcoming album No Destroyer. Given that his last studio album release was way back in 2008, the Grammy-winning Jah Is Real, the wait is finally over. The twelve-track album on Burning Music Productions has beeen released on August 18.

In 2022, Spear spoke to Reggaeville’s Gerry McMahon for the 2022 edition of Festiville when he made a welcome return to live venues after an absence of over ten years. These saw Spear performing to sold out venues across the States as part of the Fan Appreciation Tour before heading over to Europe to bring sheer delight to his fans worldwide, yearning to see him perform live on stage. Here in 2023, he’s heading back on the road once again.

This year also celebrates the 50th anniversary of Studio One Presents Burning Spear. The reggae legend's first album produced by Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and Winston Rodney reminisces on the earlier parts of his career, spanning more than five decades, as well as discussing future plans for a documentary.

Shrik Kotecha spoke to Burning Spear about the new album No Destroyer, the magical live shows throughout his career and his musical legacy.

Your new album No Destroyer has kept your fans worldwide patiently waiting since it has been almost 15 years since the Grammy-winning Jah Is Real album was released. Why has it taken this long?

Well, you see when you’re putting something together, especially music, you know it’s going to take time before I as the artist think that the time is right to do this, to come with another album or another album or another album. So, everything has been done orderly and timely. The time’s right now for the album No Destroyer.

Your beaming smile tells me that you’re very happy with the new album.

Yeah. I think it's a very strong album dealing with a lot of things where people can relate to things which people see every day. You know, all these things I've been saying through the album. And I think my creativity working on this album was really outstanding with the help of my wife, Mrs. Sonia Rodney. She gave me a lot of strength when I was going back and forth in the studio. She might just hear something, and if she think that I could do better than that then I just get right on top of it and do what needed to be done. So, with the help of her influencing me to go to a distance I never been to before it worked. As I said, I think it's a strong album, one of the best Burning Spear albums I ever come forward with, in my time doing my own business, Burning Music Production. Of course, Marcus Garvey and Man In The Hills were some strong albums that were for different people. Now, what I do now is for me, and I think that it is one of the most outstanding albums for Burning Music Production - No Destroyer.

And the time felt right to release No Destroyer here in 2023. Is there anything specific or particular that made you make that decision to release this in 2023?

Yeah, the time is right. This album going like 12 years now since I record it and never release it. The time was not right at that time to release the album. Now I think the time is right to release the album No Destroyer. Moreover, the fans been asking what is going on with Spear, how come Spear not releasing no songs, no album, no nothing? I have to remember the people, for I’m a people person. Without the people, maybe today I wouldn’t be able to talk to you, maybe I wouldn't be Burning Spear. So, the people play a big role in what I do musically, So I say OK they been asking and waiting for a long time, why not release the album.

Your fans had a glimmer of hope of an imminent release when the single Mommy - an ode to “the woman that holds a family together and prevents her children from fall” was released late in 2021…

(Laughs!) Yes, I also thought that it was good to release a single from the album so people could get a grasp of what the album sound like. I think Mommy was a good strong track sinking in with what is going on around the world, with the virus and so many people have lost their jobs. Some people never get called back and will never get called back for the job. So, I think it was the right time, you know, let it be known daddy lose his job, mommy get laid up and it's going on and on and on. That's a very strong track. It's like a nursery rhyme, something like a bedtime story you could tell your kids about it.

The challenges you talk about in that song are challenges faced by parents of every race, religion or creed in all four corners of the globe. Do you see the challenges being faced changing in today’s modern society, especially with Covid, the war in Ukraine, and the rising cost of living?

Oh yeah, you see so many things is within the song Mommy, which parents and people in general could relate to. But I'm just saying it as it is. I'm just saying what I see people live and all these things are reality, things happen when people never thought these things would happen. I myself didn't think these things would happen. But here comes the inspiration what comes to me so I could present a song like Mommy. Where do all these lyrics come from? They come because I was open to receive lyrics and working on a song’s lyrics take a long time. Sometimes it takes a short time and sometimes you have to throw away lyrics and replace lyrics to have this story telling the story the right and proper way so listeners could get that understanding about what I'm dealing with.

What does the title track No Destroyer mean to you as the creator, Winston Rodney, and what message do you want the world to receive?

Well, the message is within the music and the listeners will grasp the message for what I'm saying lyrically is the message, and as I did say before, the time is right. Lyrically, throughout the whole album I think people will see the point, not just listening to the music, but see the point. The point’s what I'm getting across to the people, especially my fans.

The album has a very dubby sound throughout the 12 tracks, when you are recording songs for a new album do you go in with a specific concept in mind?

No, there's no specific concept in mind, but that's music. Music is not specific; you have to go with the flow. As I say, sometimes you might be working on a song and it can take you a long time because what you need is not coming and lyrics is not something you go there and look for. It’s just like melody, you have to relax, and these things come to you. When it come to me, I know what to do.

For me, the album portrays a sense of being autobiographical in a number of songs including the album opener The Spear which gives us an insight into exactly what happens when Burning Spear performs live on stage.

(Laughs!) That is exactly what I'm singing about, jump around not like a clown, talk about The Spear. I think so deeply when putting a song together, but I always try to remember the people, you know, and people been supporting Spear for many, many years and they know when I hit the stage what I do. I hit the stage and I do what I go on the stage to do, for the people. Without them the energy not going to rise up, so the energy from the people, the energy from me and the band we correspond with the audience. So, we can feel the audience and the audience can feel us. That's our duty.

For me, the real magic of your live shows is that with the Burning Band you create an extraordinary live experience, things like the extended versions of songs, sometimes running into 6 or 7 minutes and the crowd never tires.

It's the energy! I could feel the people digging in and they just want to go on and on. I don't mind go with them. You know, it's all about the energy. As an artist, you hit that stage your duty is to make sure the people be happy. That is all it’s about. You hit the stage, the people out there waiting to hear you deliver, when you deliver, and they receive and accept how those two energies cling together and a lot of good things happen on stage. It get really exciting; you can see people just open up saying “Give it to us Spear, give it to us, you know we want it, we need it” and that's my duty.

Last year, you gave us the Fan Appreciation tour, initially announcing 10 shows in 10 countries which then rose to over 20 shows. It seems like you’re going to be doing it all again this year with dates scheduled for some of the biggest music festivals worldwide like Rototom Sunsplash, Reggae Geel and Reggae Jam to name a few. What has made Burning Spear come out of retirement?

Yeah, I wouldn't say I came out of my retirement. I'm still in my retirement, but I use my discretion. I got to remember the people who were there and still be there for me for over the past years, those are some strong supporters. Those are some strong fans, die-hard fans who never turn back, never gave up, never change their direction. They are there for Spear, just like I am here for them. So yes, I use my discretion. Go out there and do something for the people to let them see that I'm alright and I'm strong and healthy so why not go and do something?

Well, I think that the fans worldwide are never going to say “No” to more dates from Spear on the live circuit.

(Laughs) They always want more!

Let’s focus again on the new album. Cure For Cancer has a beautiful flute intro where you push the medical scientists to dig a little deeper to find a cure.

Oh yeah, for they are the ones who doing that kind of medical work to assist patients or people. Medical scientists dig a little deeper so it might be possible, you might just find something for the cure for cancer, it's very important. I also think they can give it a little more attention also for there are so many things can happen, but we just don't know when some of these things are going to happen or how some of these things are going to happen, but as long as it's a good thing it's no problem. So medical scientists dig a little deeper, just see if we could find a cure for cancer.

Whilst we continue to live in hope for a cure, do you think that we, as a population, should be doing more ourselves to prevent these things from happening to our bodies?

Yes, but things happen where we just don't know why these things happen, where it’s coming from and a lot more to it. It’s the people who are in control of this kind of situation to really take a deeper look and be careful and create more security in their health situations. So, when things like this come about, they're ready to deal with it and to stop it and to prevent it from spread and going from one place to another place. That's their responsibility, to make sure when it comes to health, they're right on top of it. It's like security. I believe in security 100%, you know for that safety. So, it's the same thing like a virus out there, here and here. And you go at the wrong place at the wrong time, and you know you pick up this thing and you just don't know where you get it from, or you just don't know what it is. So here comes all these medical scientists to really take a deep look, as deep as they can and come up with stuff to prevent things like this from happening. 

You’re looking very well. What do you do to keep yourself healthy?

Well, I try to eat right. I was an exercise freak. (Laughs!). I don't mess around and I try to do things where I can benefit from what I've been doing, and I just do a lot of good things for me. What kept me going is all those years when I was an exercise freak and those exercises pay off now. I’m in age and I’m still feeling strong.

So I think what you’re saying is that some of the things that you did earlier in your life are now reaping their rewards now.

Oh yeah, exactly.

There is also a song on the album called Independent, I was struck by a line “Many times I question Jah about what’s going on, but I keep moving”. That’s really powerful. When you speak of being Independent, what challenges have you faced both in a personal and artistic sense?

You see independence is not an easy thing. Independence to me or for me it's not as soft as the cotton that was so antique by our people before us. Independence, it's a struggle, it's a journey and it's a rough road and it's a lot of competition within independency with record companies. Some business people don't like that, they feel that you always have to come to them. You always have to ask them about this and ask them about that. They have to say yes, they have to say no. So, when you bypass that and start to live on an independent level based upon your business, it’s not an easy road to travel.

From your earliest experiences in the music industry, things have somewhat changed. We live in this modern world of technology and within that comes its opportunities and challenges - copyright and trademark, bootlegging, piracy, artificial intelligence, how do you protect yourself? What processes are in place?

Well, to be honest, all these things you talk about you will always have these things in the music business. But it's our duty to come up with something and to counteract it and to create a wall. So therefore, some of these things will really come and rest on you. You can still go along with your business but in the music business, especially at an early time before the business take a dive it was hard. It was really hard for a person who decided to do their own thing, because you up against a lot of sharks.

They must be the “musical sharks” you refer to in the songs Talk and No Fool where you sing about some of the underhand and deceitful aspects of the music industry that you, like many others have had to face. I feel a sense of anger or resentment in your voice. Are they the emotions that Burning Spear feels when thinking about a song like Talk or No Fool?

Oh, you're talking about the song “I've got my Talk, I'm not afraid of no musical shark”. Yeah, here goes again. In the business there’s a lot of sharks, you know, musical sharks. People in the business think that maybe you shouldn't be doing what you're doing and how you've been doing what you doing. Why are you not doing it for them or doing it with them? So, all these musical sharks, they are coming from East, West, North and South, you got to be strong, you know, going up against the sharks.

And I presume that's the reason why your musical output has come through your own Burning Music Production label for a number of years, to rightfully protect what is your intellectual property?

Oh yeah. You see, I learn a lot and after learning a lot, I have to also learn how to present me. There’s no company who going to present Burning Spear. That was a long time ago. I'm presenting myself and I have to present myself in the right and proper way so people can see what we've been doing, and people can get their understanding about our direction and the things that we've been standing up for and the things that we have no intention of standing up for.

The album was recorded at the legendary New York City studio Magic Shop. That studio has been quite a legendary spot for singers including Norah Jones, Lou Reed and David Bowie.

Magic Shop was a very good recording studio and I think I did like three to four albums at Magic Shop, if I'm not wrong. This studio really have this sound what I need and that's why I kept going there and do all these works and I don't regret anything. It was like a family at Magic Shop. We go and do what we have to do and do it the best way we can.

What has that studio given to you that made working there so special?

It’s a studio where the owner of the studio is a down to earth person. He is an open person, and just gives you your space. When you're in the studios you know there is nobody looking over your shoulder and stuff like that and Steve Rosenthal is such a good guy, a really good guy. I enjoy going to the studio and I think the studio have a sound where it convince me to keep going there - the sound from the studio is very important towards the recording.

Talking of recording studios, you’ve done extensive works at studios in Jamaica as well. Are there any particular studios in Jamaica where you really feel at home?

Studios back in Jamaica is really different from studios in the States, but yes, I work in some good studio back in Jamaica. I work at Harry J, I work at Tuff Gong, I do a lot of work in different studios. But back in Jamaica, my number one studio, I would say Tuff Gong.

The song Jamaica talks about the history and the importance of the teachings and philosophies of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, do you see the school system in Jamaica doing enough to preserve those teachings for future generations?

Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to see that before I even get more older and can’t move around to see them lift the ban on Marcus Garvey, for Marcus Garvey did a great job for Jamaica. But talking about the song I think it’s a very strong song. When this album release, I think it's a song Jamaican people need to listen to, not just listen to the album, but listen especially to that song Jamaica. For it's telling you about everything, telling you about the culture, the roots, the history, the livity, the love, the oneness, the works what take place by various people - Rastafari, Marcus Garvey, etc, etc. This song has been telling you everything.

It's definitely a song that the Jamaican fans need to listen to…

…And do you know it’s my favourite song?

Oh wow!

Yeah, Jamaica, that song is my favourite song (laughs!). I think I put everything in that song. I can’t explain how strong that song is and how much that song means to me as a Jamaican African descendant, that's a beautiful song. Really beautiful.

As human beings, giving back through charitable works has always been something that we generally don’t like to talk about. As humble people, we don’t like to blow our own trumpet so I’m going to do it for you because I have learnt of your involvement with Zazan Zazan’s Spread The Love A Move charity.

Sometime in life you have to hear out other people for people have lots of good ideas. Zazan is a full man, Zazan is strong and he believe in what he’s doing and he's honest and he cares. He always feels something from people who need, people who would like to say, can I have this and just don't know how to say it. And the person who don't need it always saying give me this and give me that and when he or she get it they don't really need it, they just want it. The needy people are the person who just don't know how to ask for it. So, to them, they prefer not to ask and not get more than they ask for. If I'm going to ask and I'm not getting anything, I'm not going to be asking anything. And you know, it really hurt to know that you need something, but you just don't know how to ask for it. And here comes Zazan, he is there for a lot of people. He know the needs of people. He feel the struggle of people. He see children need help, elderly people need help and people in general need help and that's his role. He’s playing a strong role, a clean role, a role where it going to keep him healthy for the more good things he does, then he going to look better every day and look stronger every day. That's his pay for the good things what he been doing for people today.

Give me some examples of the charitable works you are involved with.

Number one, Marcus Garvey High School, I support that. The infirmary, I support that. The infant school, I support that. I support a lot of things wherein people wouldn't understand or realise what I've been doing as Burning Spear, giving back something. I'm not a millionaire. I'm not a rich man. I'm just an ordinary man, an ordinary Rastaman who believe in the right thing and can identify people who really need something, and I'm here to give as much as I can to the people who need something.

Moving from St Ann’s Bay to Westmoreland and Hanover, let’s take a stop in Negril. Is that a place that you get to visit frequent?

Oh that's a nice song. Negril is a beautiful song. I've been going to Negril for many, many years before that song came along. You know, me and my wife were always going to Negril, like maybe every other week when I was living back in Jamaica and I see a lot take place in Negril. Way before Negril develop and be what it is today. I've been going there before all these hotels built up, before there were no hotels, they were more like cottages so you can see how long I've been going to Negril. The song came about based upon my back and forth to Negril. The inspiration came and my wife played a big role in the song Negril too. But when I thought I have the right lyrics, she was saying no, you need to go back and do some replacement and some changes and stuff like that, and I continue until I get the sound the way the sound should be. It's a very beautiful, calm inspirational song.

We’re here in 2023 celebrating your newest album No Destroyer, but I also feel that we need to recognise another huge achievement - this year celebrates 50 years of the release of your debut album Studio One Presents Burning Spear.

Yes, that's something else! You know that is cool, as a matter of fact that shot with me playing the guitar was taken across the street from the studio in 13 Brentford Road. I'm not a guitarist but you know, Mr Dodd say only guitar on pose as if we’re playing guitar. Studio One was good, Studio One was like the first musical college, we all meet there, we have fun. After I start to feel the music like in the late 50s, the 60s then I decided to look at connections towards Studio One, so how I ended up at Studio One was by meeting Bob Marley for the first time. I met Bob in the opposite part of St Ann, Nine Mile and I asked Bob where I could get studio time and he asked me if I know Kingston? He said tell Mr Dodd I sent you. Yes, I went there and here come the song:

“Door peep shall not enter this a holy land

Where wise and true man stand sipping

From this cupful cup of peace”

So therefore, I and I did have to chant down Babylon. Yes, Mr Dodd is very musical. Is Mr Dodd an honest man? No, but he knows the music and that's the key and we want to learn the music and learn how we go about dealing with the music. So that's why we always be there for over that period of time so, I could do my first album with Mr Dodd. That album, the pictures were taken, as I said before, across the street from the studio, which is 13 Brentford Road.

Share some memories of your time down at 13 Brentford Road?

When I first went to Studio One it was a Sunday, I think I went there and they were doing the audition and they like my song and as a matter of fact it was me and Rupert Willington. He was my background vocalist, and when I sing this song, I didn’t think Mr Dodd would like the song and then he said he liked the song and then he give me a day to come back and when I went back, I actually record the song Door Peep Shall Not Enter. But it was fun at Studio One, all of us meet, you can see we very anxious even though we just want to sing and have fun. It was all about the beginnings, but there were no salary. There was no payment there. There was nothing. You were on your own, you've been on your own for a long time and you're not getting anything from Mr Dodd. Mr Dodd don't care anything about the singers but we want to be something, so we always keep going there.

You explore some of these musical connections on a song called Open The Gate on the new album where you sing about your personal connection with Robert Nesta Marley and also namecheck some of our musical icons like Delroy Wilson, The Skatalites, Dennis, Gregory, and so many more - like yourself, they all have this very special musical talent, almost like a gift.

That's a strong song Open The Gate. Open The Gate is a lot of us going through the gate or coming through the gate, you know, so open the gate for reggae music. And I name a couple of those who've been opening the gate and going through the gate, and I'm doing what we have to do and do it the best way we can.

Your first recordings were for Coxsone Dodd and then you teamed up with Jack Ruby. What made you record with Jack Ruby?

Well after Studio One as I said before, I been going back and forth, going back and forth and nothing really happened. I then started to hang out on the beach, and I start to grow my dread and after having my dread and still going back and forth to Studio One I start to think that maybe because I'm a dreadlock, he's not going to be doing anything. So, I ended up cutting my dread at one time and he still didn't do anything. Willington walk away and leave me, and I hang around for a short time at Studio One. Then I myself walked away too, ending up on the beach, still maintaining my creativity. So here comes Jack Ruby, he heard about me on the beach, and he wants me to do business with him. So, I said OK, let's do it and so comes the album Marcus Garvey, but I was a solo singer and when working on the album Marcus Garvey, I still see myself as a solo singer. But at the end of the day, Jack Ruby need to do business with the company and the company prefer if Jack Ruby will present me to them as a group. So, we ended up as a group based upon the album Marcus Garvey and Man In The Hills. They were the two albums I did for Jack Ruby. After I did the two albums for Jack Ruby and there came a time Jack has to go about his business and I have to go about my business. Then I start to exercise Burning Music Production doing recording for myself, albums like Hail HIM, Farover, The Fittest Of The Fittest and it goes on and on and on and on for Burning Music Production.

You made the journey back to your home in St Ann’s Bay where you hooked up with Jack Ruby, who had a name as a sound system owner rather than a musical producer as such. Did you feel that you were taking a chance with working with an up-and-coming producer back then?

No, no, Jack Ruby is properly musical. Jack Ruby knows the music. You know there are some things within the music business Jack Ruby just don't know. But he was a good guy, pretty musical. And here comes again the record company, they knew Jack just didn't know certain things in the business, so they utilised that, you know, and they give Jack a face which didn’t belong to Jack and you know people start send the wrong message about Jack Ruby. But Jack Ruby was a clean guy, talking about music, I’m not talking about his personal way of living I’m not responsible for that. But musically I can tell anyone Jack Ruby was a clean guy, was a good guy, very musical. You know him love the music, he loves people and he believe in what you are doing musically.

And it was around that time 45 years ago when we saw a young Winston Rodney and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace in one of the most iconic scenes from the Rockers movie.

Rockers movie. That was a good movie too, you know. I play a part. They want me to play a part and I play a part. Did I benefit anything from the part I play? No, I didn't benefit anything. Nobody paid me a salary or give me some money and say “OK Spear”. They gave me nothing and that movie is such a strong movie and the world see that movie and they saw Spear singing Jah No Dead. You know, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace was the main guy, he was the star of the movie, and I don't even know what became of Leroy Wallace in a sense, hopefully he's still alive and in the best of health. Most of us who play a role in the movie, we don't get anything. But the movie came out good and it was good.

Talking of movies, I must ask you about the Burning Spear documentary I MAN which has been in the making for a similar length of time to the new album No Destroyer - when can we expect a release of this documentary?

The documentary is going to release. I'm going to go back and I'm going to start to do some strong work on the documentary, for I know a lot of people have been looking forward to seeing that documentary. And I’ve got all the parts, the pieces, just [need] to settle down and find the right person, and then we put things together and so therefore the public, especially the fans, can really see a Burning Spear documentary. That's going to take place for real.

It seems like there's lots of exciting things on the horizon. The tours, the new album No Destroyer and a documentary in the making as well. You are definitely not a retired man.

No, no, no, no! In a sense, no. And in another sense, you know, sometimes we take a break, and you know, let things pass by or pass over. But I am who I am, I'm a musician. I've been called upon to do what I've been doing. This is not about talent; what I do is a gift and I have to exercise my gift. There comes a time when people like we have to have to take it easy, of course I retire. I'm not going to say I'm not retired. I retire with discretion. I use my discretion and that's why we go out there, we do a couple show here and there, the people feeling good, feeling happy. I appreciate it and what more can I do? We have to just keep moving.

The Interview was first published in June in FESTIVILLE 2023! Download the free PDF Magazine HERE