Don Bonn ADD

Interview with Don Bonn

07/18/2014 by Gardy Stein

Interview with Don Bonn

Someone who has been a player on the international Reggae scene for almost 30 years should be better known than Achim Rhinow is. Some of you might remember bands like One Tribe or Umoya, in which he acted as leader and member respectively for a long time. About nine years ago, he decided to launch a solo career and put his energies in what has become his alter ego: Don Bonn. While enriching the Reggae world with his skilled, soulful voice that is remindful of his idols at times, he also has important messages to bring across. But read for yourself...

Tell us about your journey. How did you become the person you are?
Well, I became the person that I am through my experiences. The musician I am nowadays, that's a different story... I am actually celebrating my 30th stage anniversary in three years, so it has been a very long journey. I started out when I was 13 with a band called Jah Culture. We changed that name after four or five years into One Tribe. It was a very well known band for times when Reggae was not too big in Germany. Through that fact we were something like aliens to the music market, because you could find all these Rock Bands, Funk Bands whatever, but you couldn't find Reggae Bands that much, we had an advance. This is why we played internationally these days - it took us to places like France, Switzerland, Italy, Aruba which is ABC Islands, that's a story for itself... And that was my musical school actually. Everything I have learned, I learned from that band and from these 19 years I had with them.

Nineteen years, yes. From 1987 to 2005. I was the front man and head of the band, the first ten or fifteen years together with the drummer, Michael Klaukien. He is a film music producer nowadays and composed Out Of The Jungle, the first single I came up with after years again. It was exclusively made for the soundtrack of Tatort which is one of the most well-known crime series in German Television.
So, One Tribe really built the artist that I am right now. After some time I started to spread my wings and decided to do a solo project singing in German in 2008. I found that very difficult, because German is not a very good-sounding language to me and to my ears and it never was, but the nice part of singing German lyrics was that I could be kind of sincere and direct. There was no English filter to the people's understanding and the people's mind of what I'm saying. So, this was very different from what I had known, and I decided to go back and sing in English because that's where I'm coming from. (laughs) It's funny because people know Don Bonn as a German singer. Not many people know that I did English music for 19 years before that...

And are you still in contact with the band members?
Yes, I met them last week, because two of them had Birthday and we went into a bar and... well, we went into all the bars (laughs).

Nice that you are still in contact. So it is more than a band connection, it is also friendship, right?
Yeah, absolutely. These are the people I grew up with! You see, for me it's not necessary to have the best technique in playing instruments or to have the best instrumentalists in the band actually. I mean, you might need one or two musicians that can do solo parts and have an importance musically for the audience live on stage, but it's not too important to have the perfect bass player, the perfect drummer, the perfect guitarist and the perfect keyboarder. We were all understanding the music we were doing, we were living the music, we were listening to nothing else but Reggae. And still today I am not listening to anything but Reggae, except Motown and Soul, things that I need sometimes, but it's not too often really. So, if you do that, you will understand the music and recognize that it's not really important to do the best guitar licks, but to do good guitar licks on the right places in the song!
This is what the band was doing, we were all playing as a group. Michael of course is a good drummer, and... yeah the keyboarder as well, but nobody was standing in front of all the others. It was always a unity we came out with on stage, and this is why we have chosen the name One Tribe. That might be the reason as well why I am still quite unknown because yes, I am the singer of One Tribe, but we never promoted single names... Don Bonn was the first thing I did solo, and I started from a point where everybody is starting.

You said you were with One Tribe until 2005. After that, did you start with Don Bonn right away or was there an interlude?
In 2005 we had the situation that almost every member of the band was about to become a father. We tried to keep it up, but it wasn't possible really because there was no time to practice, to rehearse, no time to play actually. I didn't want to take a break, because I was not a father at that time. I wanted to play music and I was inspired by this wave of German music which came in 2003, 2004, with Nosliw and Maxim and Mono and so on. I wanted to do something like this, I didn't want to stop! Don Bonn was planned as a studio project actually, but it became clear very very fast that I need a band and I need to play live again.

And do you have a band now?
At the moment I don't have a band because I'm just... for me it's a bit difficult at the moment because of my private situation. I got divorced from my girlfriend and I have a daughter, she's 4 years old, almost 5. And I'm a weekend-father, so I don't find that much time to play concerts, but I still want to be part of the Reggae scene and come up with some music that I have in mind. So what I'm doing is some Soundsystem Shows here and there. I plan to go on tour in 3 years. That will be a bigger tour and I have some ideas of a different musical concept in Roots Reggae which I want to perform live but I won't tell you now. (laughs)

Yes. What I'm planning is to come up with a live band in the next year or in the next two years again. But I have to be there for my daughter. I mean, music is a very very important part of my life, but since my daughter is born, she is even more important.

I like the lyrics in the title track of your EP when you're singing that you have to live your life for her so that she'll be fine... Talking about children, what message would you give to parents who raise kids in this world?
I think I am not in the position to give an advice or to make people act in certain ways... what I can say is don't let the stress you have in the first few months get to you. If a baby is not sleeping, you are not sleeping and this can be very very stressful, depressing also. Because you don't feel good if you don't sleep, you know. You are more aggressive and more sensitive and this is a hard time, even for the relationship, even if you love each other. But what I can say is try to get along with that, don't take everything too serious. It is a normal process and it's manageable!

For you, what is most important to give to a child?
Love. Love is the first thing. And confidence. Leading the right direction, without forcing. You have to explain everything, this is what we are there for as parents, I think.

Coming back to your music, I read that you did a collaboration with Irievibration Records?
Actually I'm still cooperating with Irie. We got in touch about a year ago, because I was following Iriepathie and the work of the producer Syrix during the last years. They work with artists like Uwe Kaa and Jahcoustix - I love both of them. Great work! So, when I had my first demos from a planned LP which is now two EPs actually, I was showing them the tracks and asking them what they think and if they could imagine working with me. And they more or less directly said 'This stuff is absolutely good, you would deserve it, but we are not sure if we'll find the time.' So I had to wait almost a whole year until something happened. Live Some Life was the first single that we actually did together. But there will be another single that I think will be released in autumn. They are working on a documentary about Jamaican Studios, and in combination with that video there will be a sampler out with artists they have recorded. I will be on this sampler with one song. What is planned is another EP too, released at the end of the year or maybe beginning of next year, as a second EP of Don Bonn.

That would have been my next question, what is in the pipeline...
The pipeline is absolutely full! (laughs) As I said, I produced a whole album and we just released five tracks now, so there are others waiting to come out.

What made you decide to do 2 EPs instead of one LP?
Well... more or less it was the decision to work with Martin as well. I got to know him through Facebook. When I first contacted him he was like 'Yeah, I wanted to contact you when you brought out your first LP in German, but I didn't find the time to do it, so I'm very happy that you did!' We were understanding each other from the first second on. Musically the same. We don't need to talk. Like, when I'm voicing a riddim and he is recording, he goes like 'Put a little bit more on that O-Part, I don't want it to be O, more UOU!' I know exactly what he means, while everybody else would be standing there and go 'Uhm... what?' So, between Martin and me it's very easy and it's very efficient to work with him. I like the sound he uses too with his riddims, this is the reason why I contacted him and I'm happy to work with him. I wanted to bring out some stuff on his label as well, so this is what we are doing now. I hope that this work and the work between Irievibrations and Don Bonn will continue.

Are there any Jamaican artists you have always looked up to or you'd like to work with?
There are lots of artists I would have liked to work with. One of them is definitely Bunny Rugs from Third World. For me he is more than just a singer, he is some kind of mentor without knowing it. I was listening to Bunny Rugs years and years and years... and I always said if I had the voice... I mean, one day you are maybe far enough to sing the lines Bunny Rugs sings, but you will never have the voice. So I always said if I had the voice of Bunny Rugs I would record from 6 in the morning to 6 in the morning. (laughs) Great singer, one of the greatest. Morgan Heritage is one of my absolute favourites at the moment. I like Bitty McLean too. I like good singers, I like singers with a soul touch actually. Black Uhuru and them... I think you can hear that if you listen to my EP now... all kinds of influences. I like good melodies, I like soul vocals, singing skills. For me, Reggae has changed into something that... it's good when it's cool, it's good when it's fast and aggressive, but that's the thing Reggae never was, it always was a music of peaceful protest and… yeah, that has changed. And it's a bit strange to come up with something like that because everyone will do more dancehall, dancehall vocals on a Roots riddim or something.... But I decided to do good melodies, soul and not the dancehall style.

It kind of hits the nerve of the time with the so-called Reggae Revival and all... let's say the ears are open!
I don't know. I don't know really. What I have experienced the last years was... it was kind of not cool doing the music I'm doing now. Ok, there are artists like Chronixx and the whole band movement coming from Jamaica again like Raging Fyah - they will set a little place for us singers, but I don't think that this will overcome the dancehall movement. I think the hip thing for the Teenies will always be dancehall or roots dancehall like Alborosie or things like that, it's more rough. But, well, if people call me not rough enough or too commercial or what I've heard in the last years, I don't really care because commercial means you address a lot of people, and there is nothing wrong with earning money from music you did by yourself! So, if I'm not cool enough for some people, I'll say ok, I'm not cool enough then, I don't care. I'm doing my thing there and it's fun to do it, because I don't need this singing thing as a job, this is my private ambition to come up with things I think about and compose.

Your lyrics are a good example of bringing consciousness into the music, like in Stronger Than You. That's my personal favourite. How did you come up with the song?
Actually it was a very personal experience. I had a hard time after me and my Ex-Girlfriend split up. There were a lot of discussions. I was missing my daughter and she was missing me and I couldn't understand why my ex-partner was trying to make time short between me and my child. Now it is settled, I can see my daughter and there is no problem now, but at that time I was thinking 'Ok, put the blame on me and offend me if you have to, I don't care. The love to my daughter will always be there and it will always be stronger than your hate.' And this is what I'm saying in the song. I mean at the end of the day, love is the stronger weapon. If someone is fighting you and you fight back, it's a never ending story. At some point you have to say 'Ok, you don't like me and I don't like you, but I try to live my life in a loving way.' Try to find love, no matter what it is, whether you try to find it in a partner or in the relation to your child. Finding love is life's sense, life's purpose.

In Propaganda you criticise the media, but a little while ago you said you use Facebook for your everyday business. Isn't that a contradiction?
No! I don't say that media is bad. What I want to say in the song is that we are living in a world which is western oriented. So, we get propaganda from the US and from the EU, from our own country, this is what I'm saying. It's how the world is in function at the moment. I think it's half truths and half stories that we get entertained with really. I mean, a news show nowadays is forced to entertain and not to inform in the first place. We are told stories which are economically and politically signed, influenced by money. I'm working for the TV and I know that there is some kind of censorship, even in the news, which should not be. So it's the other way round. I'm grateful for media like Facebook, the internet in general. I mean, you cannot believe everything you find there, of course not, but you have the possibility to read about other sides of the stories. I find that important, that's what I see as the right political education nowadays. Don't trust your German Television or your American Television, read news between the lines and find articles on the internet. Decide for yourself if you can trust that or if there might be a true point in it as well. This is what should build your opinion. I think too many people just get influenced by a TV program which shows only one side and one part of the story. This is what I'm saying in the song: 'I want my people to listen to the things that are missing.' It's half truths, it's Propaganda.

Great words for a closing. You said already what we can look forward to at the end of the year. Is there anything else you wish to add?
Yeah, I want to thank you, all the people who come up now because you promoted the stuff so perfectly. Thanks a lot! It's a very good possibility for me to share my music with more people than I could ever reach by myself. And thanks to all the fans and supporters as well! It's you I'm doing this for.