Jah Ova Evil Family - Interview in Kingston, Jamaica 2016
03/31/2017 by Gardy Stein
Movements are inspired by and inspire people. One that has been steadily growing over the last years is a movement that honours the legacy of a single man: Alty George Nunes III aka Likkle Joe aka Jah Ova Evil. After the artist's sudden and unexpected death in 2011, his twin brothers Aijah "The Gideon" and Jahnoi "Selah" Nunes have created a community that builds on the values of love, equality and solidarity, thus perpetuating the messages their little brother stood up for. On the occasion of the release of the first album of the Jah Ova Evil family called Forever Judah (digital release in 2015, physical release on March 3rd 2017), Reggaeville visited "their" Vineyard Town in Kingston 10½ in March 2016, which is where the magic unfolds. Yes, this interview is longer than what you are used to, but the work these people do, the visions they hold, deserves every minute of your attention:
First things first. Can you tell us about the history of Jah Ova Evil? Give us some background information.
Selah: Wow, rewind button… (makes a pull-up noise). It started from wayyy back. The musical energy initially started with my mum. My mum is a prominent Jamaican dancer, her name is Patsy Ricketts. From '91 to '95 she used to travel a lot, right, she used to do a lot of workshops and had a lot of contacts with promoters, so she organized to do a family tour with her kids. We'd be doing cultural music, you know, drumming and dancing and singing, a lot different from now (laughs). That is the first trace of music I remember, the first step with me in music. Mum took us on a British tour, we did England, Scotland and Wales, that was really nice, that was when Joe himself was alive, he was really young. By the way, JOE, for all who don't know, is the abbreviation for Jah Ova Evil, seen. This is the label we now operate under, it's inspired by my brother's name, but anyway, not to cut this story short… we evolved from singing as youths and drumming, to composing more individual music, you know, mainstream music. We started singing in college and win the ladies with all the kind of harmony stuff, you know, so it really grow from that. When we left college, we met a lot of people who are basically in the industry now, that's some of the key players.
Now, Jah Ova Evil it's a… I can't give you the whole thing (laughs). It's like… where we are now is coming from Flo Factory, seen. In a nutshell, we got ourselves some equipment from a bredrin, big up uself Josh, and then started recording our own music. Our brother used to work with a local label called Equinoxx, but he unfortunately passed away in 2011, from an aneurysm. That's when the whole movement really started to move because, honestly, everybody was stuck and paralyzed by the Kartel venom, no one wanted to move or do anything (interruption by arriving visitor).
Have you always been based here, in this place?
Selah: Yeah man, from youths man, from literally before primary school. It's been a long time here, you know, about 20 years. The whole yard belongs to my mum, and me and my brother control the studio. When my brother passed in 2011 we were called Flo Factory, F, L, O, that's my Grandma's name. We just started as a natural progression to move from Flo Factory as a label, 'cause the studio is still called Flo Factory, to Jah Ova Evil Records. That's where a lot of the energy came, as I said, he passed, and we had a support team around us at that time, all friends, family, everybody, so that energy is really what created the whole vibe to turn heads, you know. When we were going out, we would bring a crowd. Even still now, but then… you could feel the energy, you could see that something is moving right there, you know. So that was the catalyst for a lot of the energy going on, that's basically in a nutshell, in a big nutshell (laughs) where Jah Ova Evil is coming from.
Would you say that the contacts you have in the music business was building up on your mother's experience and network?
Selah: The thing is that, yes, my mum's name is almost like an exclusive passport. Still, we do a lot of hard work til we reach. I don't know about the music in Europe or America, but in Jamaica it is very much like this, it deal with blood lines and permanent people that's been in the industry. So, they rather take somebody's son that's been there already and somebody known from the industry, no matter what aspect. Yes man, my mother's name was always good, when you go to the radio station, Alice Kelly is my mother's good friend, so she used to listen to our music, you know, big up herself, me love her. So yeah man, it's like that… Jah Ova Evil.
Speaking about the album Forever Judah, how did you select the artists that are featured on there?
Selah: Well, the first selection is a natural one, which is family, my brother and the mother of his child, that's one of our main artists at the moment, Nicole Miller. And talent, that's how we select, because I've really gone out of my way to contact singers, unknown singers and DJs and so, but you have to be very exceptional, that's how I choose people to work with, other than my family.
Apart from Nicole Miller, who do you think deserves attention?
Selah: The Gideon, of course, and D'Excell, that's a really talented kid, he is in Trinidad right now. This youth has the wit to be the next Kartel, lyrically, and on an entertainment level. Yeah man, there's a lot of artists that I work with, but who I consider the core of Jah Ova Evil right now, who will never leave us, that's Nicole Miller, Aijah Nunes, who is The Gideon, and myself, Selah. Full stop!
I was here at the Dub School last Friday, and was blown away by the amount of creativity presented there. Can you say something about the concept behind that event?
Selah: Yes, well, it's actually Supa Nova's brain child, but this 10½ has always been… even before my brother passed, long before that, we kept parties in a more Dancehall affiliated style, and then we started with "Live at 10 ½". That is an event that inspired a lot of the now Dub movement, you see, because everybody used to think about renting a venue, nobody thought about really keeping it at your yaad, cause nobody really wants anybody to invade their space like that, which is understandable, but.... We took the chance and it really paid off, because there were a lot of people always in the house, always in the yard anyway, so we just capitalized on it. But Dub School now, that was a travelling event, a normal event that came to 10½ and fell in love and never left (laughs). This man is the key… This man… (exchanges a hand-shake with Supa Nova) I'm telling the truth!
Supa Nova: I tried it a couple a places and it just work out right here.
Selah: Empress, if you know Nova, Nova has a Dub School in every nation of the planet. There will be a Dub School in Trinidad soon, Tuff Like Iron keep a Dub School in America…
Nova: A bredrin have a ting in Kenya too… all over!
Selah: So, it's his brain child but the whole team, if I end up in Slovakia, I'll keep a Dub School there because I'm a faculty of the Dub School team, that's how Dub School work now.
Nova: It's something whe definitely meant to be in every parish around the country, and in every country around the world, you see me, but without the cook and without the people at the house it naa go work. It's the best thing to do it at a family place, because it’s a family kinda event. Without you making you own merchandise, stuff like that, without us having the studio element involved where network going on and all a dat, you see me, it wouldn't… it's them thing that kinda mek the whole thing work together! Even if we deya and not that many people come, dem still benefit, people who come and print a shirt and people who come and hire you fi different ting just off the network, that’s the platform and the blueprint we want set up all over. It's just to par now with the right people, but we have a blueprint here and we want to expand. All in a time, we soon have two years anniversary, so yeah, we building!
What was the initial idea?
Nova: It's very similar to where we at now, but because you can't predict everything… more or less, it is to vibe with the music, artists can develop, we can meet people, network, we can meet overseas selectors, dem can come in and record, that's cool vibes. And then they get to meet people like you guys!
Selah: I would say this is like… you know Dub Club, Gabre Selassie, it's the biggest event because it has the most people, but I'd definitely say Dub School is the second biggest weekly Reggae platform in Jamaica, trust me.
Nova: Yes, so what we do here especially, it's an event as well as a full record label. Artist development going on, production going on, riddim building going on, riddim production, graphic design, artist promotion, you see me? Also, merchandise... everything get out there like that. You see the man here? This is Shaat Yaad, him operate the print workshop over there, we'll look at it likkle more. When I met Shaat I like lost all of my wardrobe and I've been all right since then, fi real.
How did you lose all your wardrobe?
Nova: (laughs) That's a looong story! But now I don't wear nutten unless Shaat Yaad print it.
Shaat Yaad: I'm a designer and print artist at Jah Ova Evil. We design and print our own T-Shirts, like the ones we are wearing, we manufacture our own craft items and stuff. It's all done here at the yard, that's where we are based right now and do our production. We sell at the Dub School and sometimes we go to Rebel Salute or other events to set up a stand.
Nova: We have stuff selling online too at www.tufflikeiron.org, check it out.
Shaat Yaad: But you can come here too, we are open every day! If you like something, or if you have a logo, you come and we make the screen, we do custom made printing, everything, even overnight if you have an emergency.
Nova: And if you are here for a while you can get cooking lesson too, the real ital food!
It's really nice to see that people create safe spaces, venues for exchange, like this here, the Dub School or the Nanook at Burlington Avenue, where people can come together and display what you have, so it's good to see this group dynamics…
Selah: Ultimately, I want to promote Reggae Festivals. I go abroad and I see these big festivals and I really love the whole energy, but I'm like 'Yow, we need something like this a Yaad!' Because all of this music been inspired by Yaad music. We need a Reggae Jam, we need a three day festival! Me talk bout three days, you know, on the river, tents, you know the ting, backpackers from all over, because there are people who come to Jamaica to have the full experience! You don't have that yet, so me want that big platform because Reggae gone global, it don't belong to Jamaica anymore alone, but it was born here.
You mean something like the Ganja Fest? This should develop and grow!
Selah: You see, for me, Ganja Fest should have been packed! It keep 13 years now and you only got a thirteen people in there. I love the effort and the energy, but it really have to do with collaboration. Because you have some peculiar circles weh… you see, people just try to do things to appeal to a peculiar crowd, but you have to open up to keep a festival.
Gladstone Taylor said something in his book KingSun about a Creative Revolution going on right now, which propels Jamaican creativity to the world. Do you think that's the case?
Selah: Me being the type of person I am, as a producer and somebody that actually creates, I don't want to seem contradictive, but it's like… yes, there is a form of innovation, but really and truly there is no true creation in the true sense of the word going on in Reggae. I would more give that award to Dancehall, because they try to do new crazy stuff that wasn't done last year or ten years before. So, that's where now… Ok, to be truthful, that's why sometimes I don't like to do interviews because a lot of stuff gets omitted. The revolution wasn't with Reggae. Reggae is fine, it always was fine, it's hard to sing negative lyrics in Reggae music. The real revolution came in Dancehall, that's where Jah Ova Evil started, hence the Jah Ova Evil that had Chronixx with us at the time, that was a mandate of Jah Ova Evil, to approach the Dancehall with positive lyrics that the same people that the devil music was appealing to, to appeal to them, you understand, and then the energy will be split or balanced even. So that's where the whole revolution, if you see it as a set of people gather and say we gotta change this, that's where the real revolution start, because everybody was just doing their own thing or doing what Kartel is doing. So that's where the revolution came and we were like, well, first of all we are not singing about the devil. Second of all, we not only do Reggae music at that time, I can tell you, those kids don't do no Reggae music, they were into Pop songs, Dancehall songs, because they are young, they are kids. We really approach it fi say alright, we are going to Dancehall and try fi clean it up, dem songs like Warrior, if you notice the type of riddim that's on, they are not Reggae music, another one, Behind Curtain, those kinda songs that the people who we are trying to appeal can relate to, so that was the real revolution. To me, sistren, revolution is not fame and glory when certain things come in now, because it was a group of people, yes, but you know that when a group do certain things, there is always a champion or a main spearhead or somebody that's been put forward. And when they do that, you get a lot of what I call glory, because the media wants to know who you are, whatever you doing is working, seen, so when the media comes to these people now, they have the opportunity, whatever they say, that's what goes. If they say one thing that represents a million people and it's wrong, that's still what's going out in the world. So that's basically what happen within this revolution, you understand.
I think Gladstone wasn't speaking specifically about music, he meant what's happening in general now, that you have a lot of visual artists coming up, designers, authors...
Selah: Yeah man, yeah man, when it comes to art itself, Jamaica has always been a very creative place. When it come to that aspect of it, then he is right, because with the access of computers, tablets and more technology, social media, the software, you have some good works going on out there. But when it comes to music, it's that what me a talk bout, what me know. When it comes to artistry in itself, yeah man, Jamaica is very creative, but really and truly it's the music which really influences the people. Wi haffi know se a youth like Jr. Gong, whether him is a Bob Marley youth or not, me have to rate the man, what him say, what him deal wid. We have a couple of people whe dem a di creative man dem, dem create, and even still dem take stuff from the old age and bring it forth to the people. It's definitely music that was the forerunner out of all artistries! Art went hand in hand with it as well, because Protoje, Micah Shemaiah, Hempress Sativa, you have certain people that gain a name within this time, where the visual artworks really followed with their music. Like Protoje artwork, that's the kinda artwork the bredrin is talking about, but we have some other ones who are bringing it forth to the youths. When you see it now, certain drawings look new. Dat a really wha me see gwaan. Youth like Taj Francis, he is really good. He did the Forever Judah Album cover, yeah man, nuff visual artists out there. Abebe Payne, the MauMau…
What do you think would it take to use this creativity… I know it's always been there, but now it's more visible, what would it take to use this to create jobs and generate income?
Selah: That now! There's two sides of the thing, there is the governmental aspect and there is the private aspect. We as a people haffi realize that the government will not set up certain infrastructure to know se, young artists that are promising can really depend on a certain infrastructure to say alright, me a go paint a painting and it will be sold, I do a certain action and I will get my money. There is nothing like that! If you don't have certain other places like a gallery or whatever that keeps paintings, like there is one at Craft Market down there, so it is to really set up infrastructures to get these things sold on small scales and big scales. To me, it's really about working with the government and working privately to establish a real visual art platform, because Jamaica has a lot of good artists whose work don't look like anybody else, so everybody have dem signature look. I just feel se, even the music and the visual artists, even if the music industry can develop some kind of merger fi know that alright, we have a project, we have millions of music to do and all of these need artworks, you know, provide a union to know the youths them can come and submit dem art work just like how they do with movie soundtracks.
The Gideon: The problem is, there is really no money being made out there unless you get to a big point where there are fifty guys lined up at the studio every day waiting for you to do a Dubplate and paying 500 Dollars each, you know. But there is no money being made, there is no electronic sales out here, there is no album sales out here, there is maybe five prominent stage shows annually…
Nicole Miller: The stage shows don't pay out here, that's one thing that has to change.
The Gideon: So yes, the money is made overseas. If one guy starts pushing back money here, I don't think it will make a big difference. Unless there is a whole scene internationally that starts doing that, then there might be a difference, but artists basically, come here, get the vibe, sit down by the river side and bun a spliff or whatever, write a song and go back a yaad, you know.
Nova: You see, the aspects of the production now, back in the day, inna di seventies, if you say you want to do Reggae, you'd have to get it mix here for it to be real, you'd have to get instruments played by Jamaicans for it to be real, aspects like that, you see me. A lot of things they log in now is mixing overseas, but there they are used to different genres, not Reggae. They learn in school how to deal with R&B, Soul Music, but when it comes to mixing Reggae now, the mix dem sound soft and weak, you see me. That's why me always encourage people to do it here, that's how Selah make fi him money and do fi him ting. And it work out better for them because they get one hundred percent quality any single time... nutten gwaan down ya so and up ya so, everything a one level. That's the level we wan fi keep it at. See me?
What current projects do you have, upcoming stuff?
Selah: We are in negotiations right now with the same label that we worked with to do the Forever Judah, but as usual, we just doing the music. We are working on Gideon's EP, working on an album. Nicole Miller is molding herself and recording as well, writing, to present her EP, it's gonna be fabulous. Tuff Like Iron is crazy, she's messing up the world and the world is just taking to her so fast, so quick. So that's the work I'm really excited about. The Jah Ova Evil memorial show is annually on February 7th, the day Likkle Joe passed, and then we have a birthday celebration on July 14th, those things we do every year. And Dub School every Friday.
The Gideon: Big up Nicole Miller, it's a joy working with her. Just work right now! (laughs) It's like I'm cooking some food now, and it's not ready to be served yet, but when it's ready to be served, it will taste nice, you know? Throughout the EP, we will pick up different points of focus, there are different songs but the thing is to make the EP tell a story, somehow, from beginning to end, no matter how different the songs are. So, this one will tell her story. Oh yeah, it's going to be real nice, classic! (music in background) This song is Nicole Miller and her EP will be very very special, it's going to be a golden moment in Jamaican music!
Nicole, how did you start to get involved in music?
Nicole Miller: It's just been... many people might claim the same, but I started to sing as a child, then I went into it more forcefully when I was 16, I sang anywhere you could think. I was getting paid for it at that time, so I would say I did it professionally. I did some background vocals for about 5 years with Julian Marley and all a dat, and hence doing some travels abroad. Now, though, I am focused on myself, developing myself personally as a solo artist. I have always hued myself, but sometimes you get into really surviving within the music and that takes you away from your real focus. Not from the music, but from your focus in terms of creating. So that is where I am now.
I heard two of your songs on the Forever Judah album, and now you work on your on release?
Nicole: Yes. It will be compiled of different colours of myself, you know. I'm a singer overall, so I'm not trying to limit myself. People ask me "Are you a Reggae singer?" but... I mean, Reggae is naturally what I come from and what I embrace, but there is so many influences and so many things that I've listened to as a child, so there is all of that. You will definitely hear it in the music, in the EP. I'm just doing music from my heart and soul, really from everything. There will be something that appeals to everyone.
What is your inspiration in songwriting?
Nicole: What should I say? I'm not someone that's writing five songs a month, I wouldn't say that. But every now and then there is something that inspires me. And more than anything else Gideon and Selah, they are the driving force. When I get together with them and it's the three of us, we always create something that is epic. That is what it is, really. When that is concerned, we are the three musketeers (laughter). Because it's three completely different heads right there, and we all represent something completely different, so that is that strength in terms of creating.
Have you performed a lot as solo artist?
Nicole: I have done a few things... this new work now, this is where I will be looking to expound my talent and showing everyone what I am about. Not trying to be competitive, just really doing the music that I love. Not trying to be put into any sort of box, not following any kind of trend going on, it's about setting trends. That's where it is!
Is Jah Ova Evil looking to go on tour as well, visit festivals in Europe and elsewhere?
The Gideon: Maybe not until 2017, 2018. We really plan to stay in Jamaica for a while, do some groundwork, get some promotional work and some marketing done properly in Jamaica here and really get our name to a certain level. Because, you know, when your name is on a certain level here, it kinda catapults you out to the world, you get me, so that's what we are really focussing on now. Next time we go to a festival, we are supposed to be a big name! The bigger the name you are, the more people you can reach and touch, you know. That's my aim, reaching a lot of people, making them hear what I have to say. The money will come!
Apart from music, are you involved in any community work?
Selah: Well, always! But listen now, the way how we deal with the community now, is that we go for youths weh we see potential and we know have talent and we try to… not necessarily help, because me don't really like that word help. We try to mold them and put them in a direction where we know se dem can start making some music, and in a couple of years start making some money with that. So that's how we really try affecting the community. Because we are not rich people, and it really takes money to do stuff, to move people and make things happen. We try the alternate route. My mum is like literally a Saint, fi real (interruption by bangs in the background) That's gunshots, we don't hear that longtime… My mum is a Saint fi real, when she pass she'll probably become an arch angel. A lot of youths come, we responsible fi all a dem, dem neva shy fi come fi anything, from money to a reference for a job or something or a drink of water, anything, that's how we deal in the community, we don't really try to go out and be the superhero, because people are coming to you.
Nova: This is Patsy, you know. Without her, there would be no twins and no Likkle Joe and all else what's going on right now. She's a legend! She naa go tell you that, but she's a dancing legend. If you are talking about the best dancers of the century out of Jamaica, you cyaan go lef out Auntie Patsy. She is the mum, you see me, she probably has 50 unofficial children who are attached to her (laughs). She make Dub School can go on every Friday, none of the neighbours nah go come complain because it Aunt Patsy Yaad and she make sure we turn down and gi dem respect too, you see me. Almost two year we do it now, no problem, and she, she is largely responsible.
Are you still involved in dancing?
Patsy Ricketts: I teach dancing classes, yes, I don't perform anymore.
So are there dancing schools established to learn this art?
Patsy: Yes, there are! Right now, I teach at the National School of Dancing, there is this in Jamaica, I teach there.
How does it feel to see your children grow and become the artists they are?
Patsy: It is amazing. When I started having children, that wasn't in my mind at all, but I also come from a musical background, I started music when I was six years old. My mother was an accomplished violinist in Jamaica, and she toured with an orchestra and stuff and so was my uncle, her brother. My father was a singer too, a classical Opera singer. His name was Hew Ricketts, looong before your time. At that time in Jamaica, that was a thing! (laughs) So I came out of that background, from a musical roots.
Was dancing something that you always wanted to do?
Patsy: Yes! As a matter of fact, I was born two feet first! (laughs) But my family was very over-religious, so I couldn't start dancing until I was 18 years old and had my own money to pay for stuff. So that's when I started dancing. And then I got into the National Dance Company here and then I toured with them and then I arranged to stay in the states where I went to the Contemporary School of Dance. Then I became a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem which is a black ballet dance company in America, I was a founding member, so I stayed there for a couple of years. I toured with them and then I came back to Jamaica to the National Dance Company. I left there in 1979 when I had my first child, and then I had a daughter, then I had them (points to the twins) and the last one was Jah Ova Evil. So now I do teaching and stuff.
Are there International Dance Groups coming to Jamaica?
Patsy: This is the thing, some used to come, but somehow it has gotten into a whole different thing now. You'll find some dance companies coming to perform and stuff, but not on a regular basis. We've seen the Cubans come and they are fantastic, the other day I think there was an African gentleman that came. Now the whole thing goes into Dancehall, where everyone wants to do classes and such.
And you organized a tour for your children when they were young?
Patsy: Yes, when Likkle Joe was 8 years at the time, I got together with a good friend of mine who had four children, and we decided that we want to let them see England. But we didn't have the money for everybody, so we got together and formed a group called Jah Children. It was singing and dancing and drumming, and there was an agent in England who liked the idea and she brought us up. So it was two adults and nine children, eleven of us. And we toured all over England, Wales, Scotland, everything! That was in 1992. We did workshops, they invited us to colleges and public schools, they would give us like a two week residence and then we'd train the kids at the schools. And at the end of the two weeks we would merge our kids and their kids to do a show. Anywhere we went, we did that. It was really great!
Respect, that sounds amazing. And also your place here… it is almost like a cultural centre!
Patsy: It's a home, right, but it's open, as you can see that gate (points to the gate which is wide open and laughs). I don't know when we are ever going to get a gate that closes. But, yeah, people come through, and mainly because the studio is here also, we have quite a few people coming here, in and out. It's a family vibe!
Indeed. Thank you so much for having me!