Interview with Anthony Senior | AL.TA.FA.AN Records
11/27/2013 by Angus Taylor
Anthony Senior is the founder of Al.Ta.Fa.An Records – main producer of Luciano’s latest album Qabalah Man.
Reggaeville met up with Senior at Luciano’s house in Kingston to tell us his story.
How did you get into producing?
I started out by sitting at a studio named 321 Strong. I had just left the army as a wandering sheep who didn’t know where to turn. I was living near 321 Strong which was built by Buju with Syl Gordon and there was a brethren there named Cedrica Soljie Hamilton who used to come in with Dean Fraser and the Daffodils to build rhythms with Firehouse Crew. Because I was sitting there with Soljie Hamilton who was a nice person and would say “Hey bwoy, come go a shop” and because I was still a young youth I used to go to the shop for him. He said “What you doing sitting under the tree every day? Here is a track” – this was when we had the reels and he gave us two 24 tracks with rhythms on them. That was the beginning of all things Al.Ta.Fa.An.
Where does the name Al.Ta.Fa.An come from?
It came from me having some brethrens who would sit in the studio so we started out saying “Come let’s do something with this thing Souljie gave us. There was one named Taffari who was the singer, me named Anthony, you had Fabian and you had the engineer that was in the studio named Al Graham. So we just took the names of the first part of them – Al – A L – Tafari – T A – Fabian – F A – Anthony – A N – and I just put it together and made Al.Ta.Fa.An. But they fell along the way because they didn’t believe in the programme! (laughs)
You often use Firehouse Crew as your band. But your rhythms sound different from George Dusty Miller’s productions.
Well Soljie always told me – what I do is I use the artists. I don’t just say “I want a rhythm”. I listen to the artists’ song and I say I need a rhythm to build to this song. Sometimes it turns out to be a selection and sometimes it just turns out to be a single song but I don’t just go into the studio and say “Give me a riddim” I say “This is a song”. You have to write a song for me like Daddy Rings writes a song and Gentleman and Mark Wonder, Lutan Fyah or Luci himself and we go build it to the song. So most of the time we get a different sound although we use the same band at times but it is the keys and chords coming off of the artists really.
They say there is a roots revival in Jamaica but you have been making roots reggae for years.
Yeah, but no one is seeing it. What is happening now is a roots revival in brain not in the music. Because I read something about an artist saying “How can it be a revival when it wasn’t dead?” So it’s a meditational revival – it’s not the revival of the music itself in my view. It’s the minds of the people. As Luci says, the people have degraded the music. I say it is not music – because music is to educate and entertain. Some of these dancehall songs where they call themselves for the devil you can’t dance to and you can’t listen to – it is not entertaining and it’s not educational.
Would you say Jamaica is still mainly a dancehall country?
When I grew up and lived with my father it was eight track – some little wide thing where they used to push in the tape. And the music that used to come on that was like Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson and some artists where I did not even know their names. My father still has some of those CDs and cassettes there. But Jamaica wasn’t a dancehall country. What happened to the people was – it’s like if you go into a restaurant and the chef is there but the waiter serves a great purpose in that restaurant too by serving you the food. If he doesn’t serve you the food then you’re not going to get that. The disc jockeys and all these people who serve all the food, they have a part to be blamed too. They are the waiter who has to bring the food to the people. Because most of these disc jockeys are big people that have kids inside their houses. So in the music you don’t even cuss the artists – you have to cuss the people who are pushing it forward.
You put out Junior Kelly’s first album since 2010 this year – Piece of the Pie. It sounded like it was quite some time in the making.
Yeah, most of it was singles but what you find out is that most of my songs they don’t get that break. I studied the Bob Marley thing and I saw most of Bob Marley’s albums have the same things upon them. So music can’t be old because a child that is ten will in ten years be twenty and they will never hear that yet. So if I put it back out in twenty years time then nothing is wrong because nothing grows old and this is new to somebody who never heard it before. So even if I changed the name from Junior Kelly and put it back out in twenty or thirty years’ time it is for the generations and next generations from generation to generation.
What’s Junior Kelly like to work with?
With me it is like we are family. Most people say he is grouchy, but me – I am more miserable than him! So we have this thing where he comes to my house and we are like a family where we cuss and he cusses me and he’s gone and then tomorrow we call “W’happen? Where you a go?” I don’t really have anything to say about him because I am miserable like him too, so both of us are compatible. He just has these moods and when you find him out he is a person with a deep soul. There is just something in him where he is not telling the public. But when it comes to meditation I don’t know where he gets the words from to use in a song, and his writing, performance, everything. But sometimes if he could just isolate himself and be an artist he would be a higher one. But he is my brethren, family.
The new Luciano album Qabalah Man started as an official project in February – but how long has it been in the pipeline?
We started planning in February to put the songs together but most of them I had on 24 track and never released before. Some of the tapes they caked up so I had to bake and transfer to a hard drive. And financially I am not a robber and I am not a druggist and I don’t launder money so I take my time to work and hustle to make the thing go. It doesn’t make any sense me producing this music of the soul and then behind it the producer is a wrongdoer: you are not going to feel that music there. So I just honestly work and do my thing.
You produce seven of the rhythms on the album. How come you didn’t produce it all?
In everything you have to care and share. I have thousands of songs with him so I don’t need any producers to come there and get in. But when a man sees his songs on a Luci album on which VP or any other place will take it up it is a marketing strategy too. Because he himself in his little corner will push it and do his own little advertisement because his song is on it. The next man in Belgium will push it there because his song is on it. But that is not the main point why I did it still. I love when I am putting an album together that it tells a story. So my songs and all of the songs have the storyline that I wanted – just like with the Junior Kelly. It has Bob Andy starting “As far as the eyes can see my people all are free” and then we go to the next place and say “Africa don’t sell out”. Listen to it carefully when you go through it and there is only one song [title] not in line with the storyline which is Tribute To Dennis Brown. But [the lyrics] “Stop your fussing and fighting brother” are is still in the storyline because the storyline is what I wanted it to be – it is the mentality of the people. There is a song saying “Be careful of the skull and bone – it’s a devil sign so leave it alone” – it’s just the mentality of the people I want to jerk up.
There are some big collaborators on the album like Bob Andy, U Roy, Mark Wonder, Naptali. How did you link them?
The only person I didn’t know was Vido. But I knew the producer Big Fingah from years upon years. When he was young and first came to Jamaica it was me who produced the first song for him with Mark Wonder and some other artists. So I knew all of them. Oneness Records – same family, Mark Wonder, all family. There are no strangers on it. People I meet, it soon becomes a family. It is a team.
So U Roy and Bob Andy, you know them well?
Bob Andy is my father. He is a father figure to me. We will soon voice a song with Mark Wonder and him. That is a man who’ll say “Hey bwoy, where you are? Come and pick me up!” and we’ll drive and drive all over the place and talk with girls and laugh and run jokes and all these things. When I talk about Bob Andy I don’t look upon him as Bob Andy – I look upon him as father. His song with Luciano, Create Our History, he wrote that song and if you listen to that song is it well written. “Freedom is a state of mind we all must cultivate”. Bad, bad song.
And how about U Roy?
I just love his ancient sound. I just went down to Cling Cling where he lives and hunted him but he had gone a foreign. It took me one year to get him because he is ever busy. I had a vision. I don’t just voice anyone. Like a man will say “Chronixx a gwaan now” and run down. No - I have to hear that soul. You have a youth named Daddy Rings. He writes most of Gentleman’s songs. He has a soul.
What projects are you working on for the future?
We have a rhythm named Overdub which we have some youths on. It’s been a long time since I really did a rhythm. I really want to do some seven inches but the stampers they are so expensive now. It’s mostly overseas. Tuff Gong the next thing in the industry in Jamaica – they are not true to the thing. Because places like Tuff Gong, if one person is cutting the stamper they should still have the thing going because Bob Marley left it there as a legacy. Tuff Gong not cutting it. Dynamics not cutting it. No one there is cutting it. So I have this project named Overdub because I really can’t take the digital thing. I don’t have that feel for the digital thing. When you have the hard copy, even if you don’t sell one it is a legacy. So I want Mark Wonder and Bob Andy to do a combination and the other songs on it already are Glen Washington, Jesse Royal and a youth named Micah Shemaiah – listen out for that youth. He can’t just sing – he has a personality, he’s jovial...
He’s already voiced some big tunes like Dread At The Control.
If he don’t bust, music doesn’t exist! He has a big song on it for me and I am going to voice pure young artists.
Final question. Yesterday was Jamaican National Heroes Day [October 21st]. Who are your Jamaican National Heroes?
Really just one or two. Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley. Because most of them are questionable. Because how I check it the Paul Bogle thing was a joke thing. There was a madman a couple of years ago who mashed down the statue out of St Thomas and when they questioned it, it wasn’t his face for true. They say the picture of Nanny is a lady where somebody just posed for her in a picture – just like they did with Jesus.