Duane Stephenson ADD

Interview: Duane Stephenson is Dangerously Roots

09/23/2014 by Justine Amadori Ketola

Interview: Duane Stephenson is Dangerously Roots

Duane Stephenson comes with a highly-anticipated third album. He worked for nearly two years on it and enlisted several heavyweights in Jamaican production including Clive Hunt, Dean Fraser, Christopher Birch, Phillip 'Winta' James and Donovan Germain. A true artist, Duane has created a new set with accompanying videos that reflect his passion for roots and culture, truths and rights and what he considers the essence of reggae’s allure, the drum and bass. As he explains to Reggaeville, everything was done deliberately for this album, there are no placeholders and the set was actually scrapped and rebuilt using seven songs that are released here as part of his dangerously roots mission. A contemplative thinker and mindful critic, the artist offers his take on the current state of affairs domestically in Jamaica for reggae and society in general.  

The 14 songs here are full of deep production work. The album concept “dangerously roots” seems to reflect this work, would you say your approach to the album as it relates to the roots, has to do with crafting songs from the ground up, as a songwriter, vocalist, vocal producer and part of the production team that includes the maestro Dean Fraser?
I think what I did was I put together a group of people that I could trust. I never wanted to put myself out there as a producer. People like Clive Hunt, Donovan Germain from Penthouse, Winta James who is one of the most potent producers right now in terms of deep roots. He still tours with Jr. Gong. I kind of went a different route with the mixes, I got GregGrammy GregMorris from Tuff Gong Studios, he was the one who actually did most of the mixes. Of course I caught one or two mix from Romel Marshall that mixed August Town but a majority of the mixes were done by that person because of the sound.

Many of the songs, and perhaps the entire mix has that particularly vintage feel, that “Tuff Gong” feel.  Did you go into the album planning that or was it the right people that you picked?
The intention was to go with the people, the intention was to go back and to listen to all of the things that really made sense, the Family Man work, and look at where the people were coming from. The truth is the drum and bass are really what made people get into it when it started. So I wanted that kind of feel, but I never wanted it to sound old. So as much as the melodies might be flowing and all kinds of things, the drum and bass remain the same throughout the album, which is definitely what I was going for.

Mutabaruka was recorded for this album to address roots reggae’s notoriety and preservation, how did Muta’s  contribution come about with its echoes of his radio talk show “The Cutting Edge”. Is this a topic that came up informally in conversation?
It did come up in conversation, because Muta is a man where you give him the songs and he has is own mind. What I did was I sent Muta the tracks, asked him to listen to the tracks and let him know that we needed his true thoughts and that’s what basically he did and we coached him. Not that you can coach Muta, he is not that type of person, he is going to tell you what is right to put not what you want him to put. So he sent three and we ended up using only two because of timing and everything. So that was a good perspective and his word.

It’s really a well-sequenced album, I resonated with what he said in the outro to close the album, about you putting it together “authentically and melodically”. The song Run For Your Life addresses tensions and changes in the community, do you see the effects of violence in your immediate area of August Town?
That track has everything to do with August Town… musically what I am seeing and what is happening. As a matter of fact, I shot the video for that track last year, as I say that we kind of scrapped on the album and rebuilt it and that track was done last year. Three of the people that appear in the video, is now dead. One murdered by police and the other two murdered by gunmen, one as recently as two months ago, King Dada that used to travel with Natural Black. Shot down over water business or some foolishness. Three people out of that video is dead….the video is unreleased and three people out of the video dead. When we realized that the album was not going to be ready and we scrapped it and started over, this was one of the songs that we kept.  We didn’t want to put anything out there that sounded like a brand new old album.

You have also added a new version of Nah Play to this set, with its vivid imagery about current day thugs. Do you think of the past as a time when there was more patience or sense of fairness and justice in the area?  
Definitely, you know say things change with people, economical frustration everybody is pretty much at their wits end, the truth is, people that is not usually of that nature become of that nature because of the tight squeeze and everybody is frustrated that’s how it is man.

For Dance For Me there is a lovely Spanish guitar and Latin lyrical vibe with a very romantic theme.  
But it is still driven by the drum and bass….as much as we pretty it up, if you listen to it, the drum and bass is really driving the song.

Also Come Right In a great tune making the case for love directly to the subject, listing her attributes, and House of Lies with Lutan Fyah. Do you think of yourself as a romantic person?   
I would not necessarily say that I am 100 percent, I have my moments, I definitely have my moments.

You also release Juline on this love theme and teamed up with I-Octane for a melancholic  one-drop groove.  How did the collaboration with this artist come about?  The groove and the support vocals have the feel of a Lucky Dube song.
Everything was deliberate, as far as how this song came together, I actually chose the people to collaborate with, in terms of Juline, I-Octane was the obvious choice because of his personality and his persona and his style. So if I got somebody else, if I got Lutan Fyah on that track it would be a totally different track. So Lutan Fyah is right where he is supposed to be on House of Lies because it is right up his alley and it s his persona and the vibe is just him, its a little bit darker, his presentation of the music is basically how it feels. Unlike Juline which is a little bit brighter a little bit more West Coast kind of thing so it means a little bit more for I-Octane.

The harmonies are so far in the front on “Juline”, similar to Lucky Dube, do you consider Lucky Dube one of your influences?  
Definitely, I love Lucky Dube’s music, I used to have all of his CD’s until they were stolen, so apparently there are people that love Lucky Dube more than I do. I always love his music, I love what he wrote about, what he stands for and it is unfortunate how we lost him.

As for Ghetto Religion, this feels like a song written for the ghetto people of Jamaica, how did you go about recording this song with Tarrus?
Me and Tarrus have been working together since day one, our first time recording professionally was done on the same day from way back in the day when he was recording Larger Than Life. We have never stopped working together over the years, I have sang on all of his albums, whether lead, and definitely backgrounds on all the albums. So those things just come like family business. With him its like a day of having fun and we have to do something creative at the end of the day, the song is actually much more intense. That song was actually done by Wyclef and R Kelly, it was one of those songs that was never promoted, but it was recorded as a placeholder which is very strange. That song is probably over ten years old. It was never promoted because sometimes those guys do a track for the sake of doing a track. But I think that song was much too powerful for that. You know we do stuff like that, do-over songs for two reasons, one, if it affects the album positively and enhances the project and two, for the sake of publishing, its business also.

You have created videos for some of the songs on the album, “Run For Your Life” as you have indicated, “Rasta For I”, “Cool Runnings”, are you planning to release any other videos for this album?   
I have also done a video already for Sorry Babylon and al of these things are on hold. I was planning two more to switch it up. Cause the truth is, the world is a little bit more visual nowadays. Because of how the album is, we don’t leave anything on the album to say, 'well this one is a placeholder' we did not leave any placeholder on the album. This is a deliberate move. We are going to as many videos as we can afford to so that people get that opportunity to take in the music.

Today is a historic day as far as the Commonwealth is concerned as Scotland votes to secede from Britain, apparently many African immigrants are voting in favor of independence as well. You sing London Bridge, a metaphor for imperialism and colonialism and those “longing to be truly free” and "Sorry Babylon". Do you see Jamaica as continued to be oppressed by the effects of imperialism and missionaries and so forth?
I think it is entrenched even in academia.The system starts in University of the West Indies, the University of the West Indies is reflective of all the governments that are not doing well in the Caribbean. They are claiming democracy but the people in the countries don’t truly have a say in the decision making processes. They don’t….they think they do but they don’t have no say whatsoever in the decision making process that runs the country, that is not democracy that is foolishness.

As far as Sorry Babylon is concerned, what type of vision came to you there, you seem to be saying ‘listen, we are not falling for this, this is not what the Garvey vision was’ …that seems to be to me what you are saying.  
A lot of time there are facades, our democracy to me is a facade, so a lot of people come to say they are granting this and am giving this, the IMF but it is sort of like someone coming in to your house and taking out your best chair and Christmas come and him bring you your chair.

There is a thread throughout this album, even more so than your other albums of ancient Kemetic belief, with Rasta being rooted in a spiritual leader in the form of Haile Selassie and a Marcus Garvey thread throughout the album. Would you say being “dangerously roots”, is it dangerous to be a rasta in this mainstream culture? 
Basically we are trodding a very serious line, it has become a way now where some people are viewing it as just a fashion, almost intimidating. But I think that is a fall off from where it began. It began with being self-reliant, spreading love, try to advocate for justice, unity, peace and equality and now a lot of people associate Rasta with a bobo and a man say ‘Bwoy, man come and try beat me up’ or you might be in a tight pants and this man a go bun you and ray ray. You know dem ting dere is kind of far gone from where we are coming from. So that is the danger Justine. Plus in terms of our music, we also find our music, our cultural music is treated like it is dangerous music. As much as it teaches you to beg off, it is nourishing to the mind, its marginalized. A lot of time the disc jocks have a ‘culture segment’. They play dancehall right through the day and they have a ‘culture segment’ as if that is the music that needs to be watched and marginalized. It’s kind of strange still.

What are the promotional plans for the album?  
As it stands right now we are definitely putting together a promotional tour to come out and so I can present the music live to the people on my terms. I do an album launch here in Jamaica on the 24th in Kingston I will be heading off to do two acoustic shows, one in Florida and one in New York to promote the album there. We will be doing a launch in England in late October and I am going to do some promotional dates there as well.

What about the release coming out on Kongstar/Greensleeves as a label?  Everything is deliberate, VP owns Greensleeves and Greensleeves has a very strong reputation in the business as far as a cultural reputation, so that is why we went that route.