Natty ADD

Interview with Natty

03/02/2016 by Gardy Stein

Interview with Natty

Born in the Los Angeles to an Italian father and a South African mother, then raised in London from age one - Natty is globalisation personified. It might be this factor that makes it so easy for him to relate to, combine and intertwine so many different styles. It might also be his inherent genius, a deep understanding of music and arrangement that shines through his songs, palpable in his new album Release The Fear. With the occasional interruption of fans, Reggaeville was able to catch up with the teeming artist and find out about his life's journey and the recipe for his musical ingenuity:

(loud voices, shouts and laughter)
Sorry, I just stepped out of an event to do this interview and people recognise me and say hi... I'm just trying not to be rude. But we are good now, so let's start!

Where is the event?
It's in Brixton, a friend of mine does an event to celebrate the life of Malcolm X, so I'm just here supporting.

Will you have a launch party of some sort?
No, we are not going to do an event, you know. We thought we'd just put out the album and do a tour. I'm probably going to have a small listening party, just for family and friends. Apart from that, it's the upcoming tour through the UK, that's the main event.

When are you coming to mainland Europe?
I'd love to! I don't really have a live agent connected to the Reggae fraternity particularly, you know, he is a friend of mine whom I've been working with for a long time. Ideally... I don't know, I'd love to do some of the bigger festivals. Maybe next year, because I think they are all booked up by now.

Yes, but send them a promo package after the summer. They are always looking to exciting new music, such as yours! Which brings us to the release of your album. Congratulations! I read that it took you almost 7 years to do it…
It's been my life's work for a long time. I don't think that it took me exactly seven years, but in and out. Different things, I went travelling for a bit, I started a record label, I started a club night, we have a charity in Africa, so we built an orphanage for 52 children, we got a couple of schools… So I did all of this in the seven years as well, it's not just the album.

We come back to the charity later, now back to the album... you recorded it live with your band Rebelship, right? Can you introduce them?
We got Jamal on bass, he is also part of the RasItes, we got Tom on guitar and Lex and Calvin on keyboards and then Toby or Wesley on drums, depending on who is available.

Your label is called Vibes and Pressure. When did you start that?
I actually started it about seven years ago, to be honest. The club night is also called Vibes and Pressure presents... so the whole movement is about the feeling of vibes and pressure!

The label doesn't only promote your music, but other artists as well. Who and who are you working with?
We also promote a couple of artists from here. You may know Bongo Kanny and the RasItes. JJSoul who is an up and coming Soul and Reggae singer, she is great. Who else is there? Subajah and a couple of other HipHop and Afrobeat artists... it's more like a family, all of my musical family, and we just push it, you know. We have to keep a tight unit because it's hard in the music business, so we all have to support each other. You can check it out on

How did you link up with Alborosie and Busy Signal on the feature Change?
Busy Signal was just by chance... We had the same publisher and I wanted to get a feature on that song and my publisher was like 'Who do you want?' And I said 'Busy Signal!' I just love the tone of his voice. Sometimes the content is not for me, but I just like his voice and his presence, so... Then he played it to him and Busy liked the track so we just jumped on it. And Alborosie, I think I met him at Summerjam. I played at Summerjam three years ago, and we just met out there and spoke for a little bit, and then again I got someone to reach out for him. Then we skyped, I sent him the track, he voiced it in Jamaica and sent it right back to me. So it was going just nice and easy (laughs).

And now turning to your lyrics... you said in an interview a few years back that you sing about real-life situations with a very English and youth-culture perspective. Has that changed over the years?
Yes, I would say so. Because when I spoke those words I probably hadn't travelled, so it was more from an English perspective, or let's say from a Black English perspective. Whereas now, because I've had the privilege to travel and play my music a little bit, I would say it's more inspired from my spiritual journeys that I've taken and it's more on a universal experience. Love and fear is something we all can relate to, it's not culture-specific. The album is called Release The Fear, so it's more dealing with the times we are living in, the pressures of life generally, not just in London. But also the great things as well. As I said, I've travelled to Africa, to different places, and it's just been taking my music and my songwriting to different levels and realms.

In Release The Fear you also say "Embrace the unknown". It made me think of the situation in Germany, with all the refugees coming in… there are a lot of people that are rallying against them, putting up protests and being really hostile without even knowing the people and their stories, their reasons for flight. Did thoughts like these play a role in the conception of the song?
This is why I love music. One person, it means one thing, another person it means another thing, another person again something else. What you are talking about is a perfect example of what I was talking about. For me, embracing the unknown can be so much... it wasn't really about social, it wasn't about personal, it wasn't about national, it was about all of that. I went to play a gig in Calais the other day in front of the... I would call it camp, but it's more like a Shanty Town of refugees. It was relevant playing stuff there, but I wouldn't speak about the fear there, it was just about uplifting the people, so it was more speaking and giving songs about love, I guess, because they are probably sick and tired of hearing about equal rights and injustice and all that. The very last word on that song is love, when you get to the end of the ten minutes, and I think that love conquers all of our fears.

Would you say that, being born in a culturally mixed environment, gives you an advantage?
Probably, yes, I would say so. I find the journey that I've taken, I got access to certain places more than certain other people maybe because of the worldly environment that I've been blessed to grow up in. So I can relate to a lot of different types of people which makes my journey easier. And it also means that I can relate within the music to many different cultures. That's only if we are looking at the world on the level of the cultural, because once you accept love into your heart, then it just breaks down the cultural barriers. And I think also when you travel, you get to realize different people and different ways of doing things, so… yeah, I accepted love and I got to travel as well, so these things have added to the blessing.

You said you've travelled to Africa, did you meet family members as well?
Yes, I have! My people is actually from Lesotho, it's a country inside South Africa that remained independent while South Africa was colonized. So yeah, proud people and this is where my mum comes from, I've been there to see family. Then I've been to Sudan, Zimbabwe, a few different countries, just mainly to play music, but also to see family, yes.

I read that you were visiting spiritual leaders…
Yes, that was in South Africa. I went to see the great Credo Mutwa, I spent some time with him. That was an amazing lesson because he is probably the last living Sangoma of his rank, the last in terms of lineage, so to go and speak with him in the middle of the desert was crazy! It was great.

And from the South African desert, how did you come to Gambia?
There's an elder of mine who introduced me to the Gambia. He started a charity and I've been assisting him, and then I brought the whole team from Vibes and Pressure on board, that's been going on for a few years now. Then I was made patron of another organization in Gambia called The Bush Homeopaths. Since then I just kept it moving, anywhere where there is good things to be done, when I'm invited, I'll be there! It's important that we do what we say we are about! A lot of people talk about love and stuff, but do it maybe for the wrong reasons, so I think it's important to continue, to act as we say.

True, and you take every chance to act, it seems. Tell us something about the Ziggy Marley tour you accompanied back in 2011!
It was amazing! Ziggy and all of his band are cool. I mean, they are such nice people and because they are such great musicians, they've got no hang-ups, so they made it very accommodating for us. I got to meet Santa, who is Peter Tosh's drummer, he was drumming for Ziggy Marley on that tour. He was in the same room when Peter Tosh got killed, and also got shot. So I got to sit down and reason with him, and he is like a legend... I got to meet lots of really cool people, but then also just to tour in America was amazing. I took enough CDs out there to sell during the fifteen shows that we were doing, and we sold all of the CDs in four shows. So you can imagine how it was, all the people were really welcoming, they loved what we were doing. It was just acoustic, but it was a really good time. I love the country in America, it's a beautiful landscape, so much different terrains and climates... even when you drive just two hours outside of LA where you have sunshine, and then you get snow. It's crazy! So yeah, even just driving and looking out of the window was a blessed experience.

Are you still in touch with Ziggy?
Ahm, how do I put this, he is very cool to the point of where he doesn't really contact people. I think if he was coming to the UK he'd probably hit me up. We texted each other one or two times after that, but... I like him because he is quite a private person, I respect that. It's not because we don't like each other, it's just because he is very private and humble.

What other artists would you like to work with?
I like Jah9, I like a few guys like Chronixx and Kabaka… But my favourite artist to work with would probably be from St. Croix, which is Midnite. They are one of my favourite bands.

Coming back to your music, do you purposely choose not to play traditional Reggae beats or is it just that the music comes out like this?
The music comes out like this. I don't know music to have barriers. I think even with the expression of music, if you can be free in your spirit, why should you be constrained with the same musical formulas that have been happening over the past forty years? For me, it's not even... for me, it's a way of trying to get to the spirit of the writing, so even within the writing, sometimes it takes you to another place and you just have to go with it. And within the melodies and the chords and the rhythms especially... When you reach Africa, you see all the different polyrhythmic and other kinds of rhythms. You know, Reggae comes out of Africa, it's a branch on the tree. But when you go to the roots, there are so many levels of instrumentation and rhythms and musicianship. So for me, Reggae is more the spirit and the feeling, which is why I still would call myself a Reggae artist, or even a Roots artist would be more appropriate, because it's still the same spirit and feeling as it has in Jamaica, but I'm all about Africa. We all come from Africa, you know! (laughs) That's the riddims that I'm on and that's the music I'm doing.

The instruments in Motherland, for instance, they sound very much like African instruments...
There's a couple of instruments there, like an Imbira and a Marimba.... I play all these instruments on that track myself. I was given an Imbira by a good friend in Zimbabwe, he is a famous Imbira player out there and he makes them himself, so he gave me that one. It's on other tracks as well, like Stand Up and I'm Alive, but more in the background, whereas on this track it's up front.

Looking into the next 5 or 10 years, what do you still want to achieve?
I'm only just getting started! (laughs) I got so many places to go, I've been to Africa, but only to 4 or 5 countries, and there is so much more to see there. And that's just Africa. Even America, I mean there is the travelling element of it, but also there is the musical element of it, so I'd love to just expand my musical qualities and play with other musicians as well. I mean, I love my band, and I would love to take them with me even as well, trying different styles. It's all about searching, that's my main thing, I'm never comfortable to stay in one place. That's what I was saying about the musical style as well, it's always searching for something new. It's not even a conscious way of doing it, it's just... I can't even describe it. I think it is an instinct.

Well, keep it up! It is definitely a pleasure listening to your music.
Thank you very much!