Interview with Billy Mystic - Return of the Mystic Revealers
10/14/2020 by Gardy Stein
Mystic Revealers - the name alone evokes a pleasant shiver, heralding the discovery of enigmatic knowledge and meditative music. Their message of truth, justice and unity have contributed tremendously to the Roots-Reggae-Sound of the 80s, spreading the word of Rastafari throughout the world on their tours and albums. For those who bemoan that this voice has been missing during the last decades, hush: the band is back!
Anthony "Billy Mystic" Wilmot, Leroy "Lion" Edwards and Nicholas "Cymbal" Henry have joined forces once more to deliver Jah Jah People, a twelve-track album that has just been released and is available everywhere for download and purchase.
Reggaeville was able to catch the all-rounder Billy Wilmot in a rare quiet moment to talk about his diverse projects (from music to marihuana company to cultural event center to surfing school), the personal tragedy of losing his home to flames last year and, above all, the new release:
Greetings! How are you feeling?
I'm very excited! It's been so long since we've done something like this, and I'm really looking forward to the launch tomorrow.
Before we talk about the new album, please take us back to the beginnings... how did the Mystic Revealers start?
Well, we started playing together in about 1978, just as youngsters, starting to write songs, learning about music and composition, that sort of thing. We learned to play some of the more popular songs that we were aware of at the time, to improve our playing ability. By the end of 1981 we had started getting the equipment together to make it possible.
And who of the original band members is with you on the new album now?
The original members, well... from the original members who founded the group in the seventies it's myself and the bass-player, Leroy Edwards or Lion, as everybody knows him. Our drummer, Nicholas "Cymbal" Henry who is on the album as well, he has been with us since the end of the eighties, and so I would call him a foundation member as well because he was on our first album. So the three of us are on this album as original members of the group. Drums, bass, and myself.
You got together again in 2015 to release the Crucial Cuts album...
That was a compilation album, it wasn't really any new material as such! It was a compilation album that VP was interested in putting out, because they felt that our material had not really gotten a fair show at the time and they think that it's still relevant, so they wanted to put something out, so that wasn't any new production. Jah Jah People is the first brand-new stand-alone album that we have produced in 25 years.
When did the idea come up to do this new album?
Quite a few years ago! We had started in 2017 or so... I had started to think about releasing a solo album and I had started recording some tracks, putting it together. I had about four or so tracks already recorded and a few more was in production, and that was right up until about 2019. Then we had a house fire, and when the house burnt down, I lose all the hard drive with the work I'd done for this potential new album. Only a few tracks were saved because they were actually in production in the studios where we were working, and they had copies of the files at the studio, so we were able to salvage a few of those original tracks from the first effort.
But then after the fire I decided that, I was looking at the whole music industry with this new digital format and the fact that people are producing music on their phones and all these things, so I was saying 'Let's try and modernize in a certain way, let's see if we can create a recording environment at home that we are able to produce the music!' Because the music is actually coming out of us, it's not something that we can only discover in a professional studio, because a professional studio is just the means by which you capture the energy that you are putting out. So, many of times we are rehearsing with the intention of going into the studio and you go through moments during rehearsals that you are trying to recapture when you reach the studio, and sometimes you get pretty close and sometimes not so much, sometimes it's a lot different from the original vibe. So now that we were able to capture our creativity closer to the moment of creation, I think this gave me a new lease on life in terms of recording and putting out the songs that I had written. I had a backlog of songs, since 2000, so it was quite a bit of material, and then I decided to choose some of them and work a bit in the studio. I wrote three or five new songs as well and put them together. And the fact that I was working with my children a lot, cause my son Inilek played a very significant role in the production of the album, me and him I would say are the main producers of the album. My son Icah as well on bass, my son Ishack play keyboards on some of the tracks, so it was a wonderful experience.
And I got a lot of help from people who believed in the group from long time, other musicians who worked with the group, who said 'Why are you not putting anything out, the industry needs to hear you again!', a lot of people were saying this. So all of these things come together at a certain moment in time and made me decide that I think it is the right time, with the support and the people are ready, people were saying 'We need Mystic Revealers back in the music business, we need your sound!' so that encouraged me and I think that's what really prompted the whole thing to come out.
Wonderful! I read that you created a little recording studio on your verandah?
Yes, I'm telling you! If you were privy to many of the files that we have on these recordings, if you solo them and take out all of the compression and take out the noise gate on it, you'll hear the kids running up and down in the background, laughing! It wasn't in a sterile environment, the vocals and everything were taken in a natural environment on my verandah, so it's a very truthful thing. I think it's only one track on it that I did with the Natural High guys, all other eleven tracks are just live recordings. So, we are very proud of this, I think we've captured the sound that is the Mystic Revealers, our trademark sound, so when people hear the material, it brings them back to what we used to do, to our sound and realize, 'Wow this is the sound that we have been missing.', so... we are very proud of the whole project!
It has that full sound indeed! And also it has a lot of instrumentals on it, saxophone, trumpet and flute, that brings a full body to the work. Apart from the family members that you already mentioned, who is part of the instrumentation?
Yes, we have vital instrumentalists on there! Of course, as I said my sons were there... in terms of other notable musicians, we worked with Cat Coore, he give me some guitars on the Kiss For Me song that we did with Natural High, he gave some nice acoustic guitar licks on that. We did some work with Chinna, Inna De Yard, on the Sitting On The Beach track, he contributed tremendously with the bass-line, the acoustic bass-line and lead acoustic guitar on that track as well. We work also with Feluké, he was present on the album too before he passed, we captured some of his work also, that was also wonderful. I have to mention Isax, an alto-saxophonist from Toronto, Canada, that is on the island and has been working in Negril for the past few years, we work with him as well. Micah Shemiah also assisted, he actually mixed the Sitting On The Beach track, so his name is also included. We work with keyboardist Bowie, Stingwray assisted in some trumpet and some other notable people.
Yes, their names are in the credits for those who are interested. You and Chinna, do you have a long history together?
I've known Chinna from long long time! When we were a little group coming out, we actually went to High Times to do auditions as Mystic Revealers, so I know him from that capacity, but in the mid-80s, I used to do knitting also, I used to do knit tams and vests and sweaters, and he used to have a little shop downtown in High Times, and we used to sell our hats there some of the time before we became a musical name. But then we met when Jimmy Cliff was in a movie called Club Paradise and I had a small part in that as well, and Chinna was there with Jimmy and as a result of meeting them we interacted, that's were I became closer with him and the rest of the members of Jimmy's band at the time, and since then, over the past four or five years, I have done quite a bit of time down at Chinna's place in St. Andrew Park, and I've done quite a few shows with him and Binghistra, I've done guest appearances with them around Kingston and Jamaica. So I've known him quite a while and it was wonderful working with him, a very talented and iconic member of our music industry.
Does he come to Jamnesia as well sometimes?
Yes man, of course! He come to Jamnesia, perform here, sometime just come and hang out to watch the young upcoming talent... They came also after my house burnt down, they came and held a Nyabinghi chanting for me, we did a 6 to 6 celebration, to bless the rebuilding of the house, they did that... we do a lot of that, played on many 12 Tribes of Israel celebrations together, shared a lot of times together.
You mentioned Micah Shemiah as well... I saw him in the video for Just Can't Deny It, was that directed by your daughter Imani?
Yes. It was a family project, my daughter directed it, my eldest son Ishack was the director of photography for it... yeah man, it was a family project, all in-house. We shot that from 6am until 3pm, we shot the whole thing, and it was edited within two days! It was a great experience working with the kids!
Is there a video planned for any of the other tracks?
Yes, a lot of people are interested in doing the video, but you know how it goes, videos don't happen for free, that's one aspect of the music industry.... it has become cheaper to achieve, but it is still not free, so we are going about it, we are going to let the people listen to the music and get their feedback, even from yourself, to find out which one of the tracks would you like to see in a video! That would help us select which one.
We already talked about Kiss For Me, you said this one was produced by Natural High. Were all other eleven tracks recorded in your Verandah Studio?
No, a couple other tracks were recorded at Grafton, Mikie Bennett's studio, because at that time we didn't have a recording facility of our own. So Blue Nile, we did there, and also the title track. Sitting On The Beach, we recorded that at Inna Di Yard, we went there to record the acoustic track with Chinna. And Micah Shemiah mixed that one at Bigger Dread Studio.
Let's turn to the message of the songs - there are two love songs for the heart, but the others are really Roots and conscious music. Can you tell us what was your inspiration? Are there any songs that carry a special message to the people?
Well, for me, the beauty about this collection of music is that there are songs that have been written over maybe three decades. There are tracks that were newly created over the past three years, maybe 40%, and the other 60% are stretching back over a long period of time. The thing is, we have such a large catalogue of music, each of the songs were songs that meant so much and were so appealing to me that every song is important. That's one thing I love about the album, I sit down and I put on my headphones and I put it in and I start listening, and from the first song I'm captivated, and I say 'Wow, I really love that song!' and then I listen to the next one and again, 'Wow, I just feel so good about this one!' and then the next one comes on and it's the same sentiment in different ways...
Like, the first song on the album, you understand, my son wrote that song, it was written by Inilek, Are You Ready. He was the one who wrote, arranged, played a lot of the instrumentation on that song, so starting off my album with a song written by my son for me was a special thing in itself. Then the next song, Blue Nile, it means so much to me because I feel like, as a Rasta, when I just started to get into Rasta, everybody wanted to go home to Africa! And now you can be a Rasta and live in L.A. and you are comfortable, you are not thinking about going back to Africa again, there's not that yearning to go home that I used to feel in the Rasta community and the Rasta population! Everything when we were young and we got into the Rasta movement it was all about we want to go and live in Shashamane, or anywhere on the continent, just to leave the west and go home! There was that strong sentiment amongst the Rasta population, and I feel like it was lost or watered down. Now you are a Rasta because it helps you sell your records or because you are a model and your hair looks good and you get a lot more bookings, or maybe you are an actor and you have a certain look, it's become so watered down and it's not really a culture thing anymore, so that prompted that song! We need a place to call home, our own! Where your forefathers bones are in the ground under your feet! And not just your grandfather, but for centuries untold, you know what I mean! So that was a very emotional song for me as well.
And then Business Man, same thing, when I look back, when we wrote the song Got To Be A Better Way, it's like the same exactly, nothing has changed! We find ourselves in the same situation, facing the same demons, fighting the same dragon and the same bear! These songs, all of them are special to me, each one is addressing something that needs to be addressed, you know. A lot of the songs, when people listen to it they will realise that a line from one song is incorporated in another song as well, to tighten... to put a little strength to the tapestry, so that people can discover in the songs. People listen to the songs and realize 'Wow, that very same line is used in another song.', maybe in the chorus, so it's really an inspiration.
Same thing the love songs, Remember The Days... I sat down with my guitar and the melodies just picked me up and I heard the harmonies in my head and it was as if I listened to a completed song even though I just picked up my guitar and started strumming. Just the whole magic of creating, it just kept falling into place, that was very special to me. So there are so many, it would be unfair of me to tell you this one or that one.
Thanks for the insight. Why did you choose Jah Jah People as the title for the album, what's the concept behind?
Well, it's for everybody that love Jah and want to be acknowledged as a child of Jah, it's for Jah Jah People. I'm not really writing for people who are gonna be offended, anybody who is offended by anything that is said on the album, it was meant to offend them because I say nothing that I wish to take back! So it was written for the people that consider themselves to be Jah Jah People. Also, if you notivce over the years, our albums... we had an album called Jah Works, we had an album called This One Is For Jah, you know, so we come around again with this one now, mentioning Jah name in the album, so when people mention our works, Mystic Revealers, they are forced to speak the name of the Almighty from their voice and vocalize it! So we encourage that, this is part of the Mystic.
Now, you are not only a singer, band leader, songwriter and musician, but you have also many other roles, and I wanted to ask about the Jamaican Authentic Herb Company that you founded... how is it going, is the business growing?
Yes, the Marihuana thing is growing, but you know how Babylon is, they love to have their fingers in everything. So because of this there's a bit.. it's kind of sticky. There's a lot of hold-ups, a lot of stuff we are not getting clearance for because maybe they are not sure of how to control certain aspects, if they let it throught he gate they lose control, so the forces that are there they still are not sure, there is issues with licensing, export agreements, all of these things. It feels sort of foggy. So what we have to do is to put infrastructure in place, legal framework in place, have all our personell on the ground, locations where we can go into production, but we have everything in place already, so basically it is just the legal clearances that we are waiting for. A lot of people are already showing interest in it, in the industry there is a lot of hope for the farmers and the small farmers who have been doing it and struggling and hiding from the law for many years, maintaining the status of Jamaica's Marihuana, they are also happy. But we want to know that it is available to them and not just cornered off by big pharma investors, so... this is part of the struggle that we are facing, because there are people that don't want it to go to the masses, that want it to stay in a corner for themselves, and when they discover that you want everybody to have it for the cheapest possible rate, all of the cures, all of the medicinals, it's not a plan to get rich but to heal our people! So sometimes when you have that attitude, you have a lot of bounce back coming at you.
Another kind of community building you always did is Jamnesia of course, a hot spot for musicians to meet, is that still going on? I saw that there is a new format called Pon Di Bench...
Yes, Pon Di Bench is maintaining, the next season is coming up soon, my wife is one of the main protagonists for that, motivating the kids and the production team. It's a in-house production team, identifying notable acts that, because of the Covid-situation were unable to present at a level that other acts previously could. They had a much larger platform in terms of on the stage with musicians and an audience in front of them... it could go on for hours, we could start at 9 and go on to 3 if we wanted, it wasn't an issue. So... we still have young talent, we still have upcoming people, so Pon Di Bench was an idea that came up as how can we continue to give these promising acts a platform to at least better themselves? When we are finished we can give them a mix and edit so they can add it to their social media in the same way that they would have otherwise been able to do at Jamnesia, so yeah, it is going on. We just had a little break, but we'll come back again.
And then of course there is the surfing... I saw that your daughter founded a group called Surfing Girls in Jamaica...
Yes, that is still going on and it's growing now. On the weekends, my whole yard is filled with young girls walking around with surfboards, it's crazy! (laughs) It's really good, all ages from Highschool all the way down to kids in primary school age, and some mothers also, some mothers have joined in with their daughters, it's a beautiful thing.
Big up! Please tell her my biggest respect for creating something like that! A last question, what about the Negus Beats label you created?
No, that is no longer active. That was our first label we did our first song on, that was about 1982 or so, it was myself, Lion, keyboarder Patch, Jawaad was the drummer, that were the main players. Way back! No, we didn't follow up on that label, after we were introduced to Jimmy Cliff, quite a few of our releases were coming out on the Oneness Label at that time.
It's just such a beautiful name, I had to ask...
Yes, we will revive it! What happen is that all of the labels and stuff, we had some labels, some test presses from that time, I had a beautiful collection of Mystic Revealers memorabilia, from stampers to first test presses from the first ever pressed single, all of that went up in smoke! We lost everything, the press, so much stuff... filing cabinets full of press photos from our first tours in Europe and North America, all of these things, so much stuff lost in that time, as far as we are concerned, it was a huge loss! Now, I look when I walk around the yard and I look down on the ground and there is a little charred piece of paper and you pick it up and you realize, wow this was a box of labels that we had from the first pressing and these things... memories are there, but losing those things, it break your heart. And so many times, to be in a situation like right now in an interview and people say 'What about this?' and I want to get up and say 'Wait I'll show you!' and then it's like 'Oh no, I can't.'
I am so sorry for this tragedy... have you managed to build the house back up? Were you able to move back in?
No, we are not in the same place as yet. We come quite a way... it was a wooden floor house, two storeys, so the roof fell in and the floor burnt out and fell down, so we had to built some columns around to strengthen it. We poured a second storey floor of concrete and went up with those columns and put a roof back on. So we have the roof back on and we have basically all of the structural engineering and strengthening concrete work, that's completed, so now we are going to put in the interior, the tiles, the floors, windows, doors, interior partitioning, electrics and plumbing, that sort of thing, you know. We have a GoFundMe-program that my niece set up that has helped us a lot, that has even allowed us to get to where we are now, so...
Is it still active, can people still donate for that?
Yes, it is still active, i's called "lost all to fire (CAD)". We appreciate any help, no matter how small, if you can contribute we'd be more than happy because we'd love to get back in the home as soon as possible. Right now we are in a small room that we set up with plywood and some sheeting that keep us warm and cozy, but... we'd like to move back in our home.
But because of that, we realise you can't dwell on the loss, you have to be like the Phoenix, you have to rise from the ashes, so this new album is like rising from the ashes as well and we realize that we are in a moment in time right now where the whole social environment, the whole political environment is so much similar to the 70s, that same kind of energy, that same kind of consciousness... it's almost like you expect to see Martin Luther King in one of those marches that we are seeing, it feels so similar to the 70s! And the energy of the people is so similar to that, so to grab on to that right now it feels so natural to do this and to be out there right now.
I think that's a perfect note to end the interview, because you give like a wake-up-call. Be alert, don't let politicians fool you, search for your own truth, search for the stories behind everything. Give thanks for people like you who guide us to discover the truth and to think about everything going on!
And give thanks to you! I want to big up my band members dem, who stick it out with us and keep it together, Lion, mi proud of him cause him get a lead vocal on one of the tracks, Got To Get Away, this is a special feature, first time him lead one of the songs. And him have a very beautiful voice, it's a nice song he and myself wrote, so you have to put a star beside that track. Also my drummer who stick it out with us, who go through thick and thin, ups and downs, struggles and victories and defeat and all of these things over the years. We have to big them up! And special thanks to my kids and my wife who support the whole thing and make it possible. Not to forget Julian (from Reggaeville), this man has been there from ancients of days through everything, so we have to give thanks to the media team, and of course all extended family who have supported us over the years and I hope that they will share in the joy of potentially one of the best albums we've been able to put out.
Thank you. And to answer your question which song should be on video, for me it should be Sitting On The Beach, it gives such a calm vibe, what's needed today, to calm people down, to ground people, because everyone is so hectic...
Alright. Please let the people know that they have to tell us which one has to be the next video (laughs)!