Interview with Niyorah
04/24/2015 by Dan Dabber
Niyorah is a man of many talents. In addition to being a phenomenal reggae singer with a growing global presence, he is also a music producer, the CEO of his own record label called Denkenesh Records, and a dedicated father. His new album, Rising Sun, released on April 21st, puts all these skills to use, even more so than any of the other three albums Niyorah has released in the past. He sings, he produces, he executive produces, and he prioritizes conscious and cultural themes to uplift and teach di yute dem, like so many of today’s fathers fail to do.
With Niyorah having so much control over Rising Sun, the album feels personal, pure, and completely genuine - truly a window into the artiste’s soul. But Reggaeville wanted to dig deeper, so we sat down for a chat with Niyorah to find out more about his musical DNA, his artistic progression, and the humble beginnings of his seventeen-year-strong career as a reggae artiste.
Your first album was released in 2005. What was previous to the first album? Did I read that you were a part of a group?
Yah, mon. The name of the group is Star Lion Family. I actually am a native out of that group. It was a group of seven reggae artists that came together. We were all from St. Thomas, yah know? So basically all the brothers came together, we all came together from different parts of St. Thomas, what we know as “Rock City.” We came together because we really wanted to set a good example for the community in terms of young men coming together in unity versus violence. So that crew is Rafija Siano, Jahgon Nature, Kimbe Don, Ickarus, Siras - he’s resting in peace right now, give thanks fah life still… and then we have Pressure Busspipe, he’s also a part of that crew, and myself.
So, you mentioned that you are from the Virgin Islands…
Yah, mon. I was born in Dominica. As a matter of fact, Nasio Fontaine (popular reggae artiste from Dominica) is my cousin…
Oh, wow, really? You also have a famous aunt in Dominica as well, right?
Yes. Her name is Ophelia Marie. She’s known as “Dominica’s Songbird.” She’s one of the most popular singers that the island has ever known. She sings creole, soul… she has a flavor of… that French vibe, yah know?
And you also have a grandfather who was a well-known singer as well, right?
Yeah, he was always part of groups in church and stuff. He was known as a very excellent singer during his time. That’s right.
Have any of these well-regarded singers in your family played any direct role in influencing your music?
Well, of course, in some way, shape, or form because, yah know, if I was in the house as a child and they were singing it would inspire me to sing as well. I also have a cousin who’s an opera singer as well. Her name is Rhea Olivacce. So this is a musically gifted family and I give thanks for that. I used to play the clarinet in school. My sister plays the flute… the piccalo. My mom was in choir groups and stuff like that growing up, so it’s musically inclined for sure.
And your father is a well-known rastaman… a healer and an herbalist.
Yes, that’s true. He’s the Caribbean herbalist, actually. Not just in the Virgin Islands, but Antigua and other islands as well. So… Ras Bobby!! Everyone knows Ras Bobby, which is my pops.
So was Rasta a part of your life growing up as a youth?
Yah, mon, because a lot of my father’s friends were Rasta and, in my opinion, they always had a good vibration. They always had a peaceful vibe about them. I was always influenced by Rasta and then Daddy himself became Rasta. Basically, I knew Rastafari from a very, very small child. I would have conversations with my father and with his friends at home as a youth, and I would hear reasoning about culture, about spirituality… I was raised on that.
I heard that some of your first reggae influences were from your father’s record collection. What specific records were most memorable or influential?
You know what, I can’t say there’s something I remember the most. But, growing up, I really loved Burning Spear, Lucky Dube... of course, Bob Marley, one of my favorites. And Israel Vibration… You understand? [Laughs] Yeah, mon, the roots, yah know…
What kinds of music other than reggae have influenced you?
I was raised up on jazz too. My parents loved jazz… Duke Ellington. Jazz and Blues… Louie Armstrong. Aretha Franklin for sure... But actually all forms of music live within me because… sound, frequency, energy, expression. I love all forms of music - hip hop, R&B, neo-soul, jazz, blues… I’m all for it. [Laughs]
Rising Sun is your fourth studio album. The first three were released between 2005 and 2010. So what’s going on with the long wait for number four?
Ok, well here’s what… As we look at the industry, singles is what really pushes albums, right? It’s all about singles. So I’ve been releasing a lot of singles which are now on my album actually. Songs like Workday, songs like Mosquito Ah Bite Me, Let Love Flow. You know? So I have been busy musically because I have been releasing singles. But, in terms of the album… I’m a father, you know? I’ve been taking care of my children, which I put before music, actually. Nothing is more important to me than taking care of my children. So I’ve made that sacrifice and I’ve taken care of my children for the last… several years now. Because it’s just me and them. And I’ve been doing the daddy thing, being there for my kids. You know? Which is more important than anything else. Than me having to travel and do this, that, and the other. I really wanted to make sure that I put in time into those critical years.
What is your personal favorite track on Rising Sun?
Hmmm… Wow! Personal favorite? Hmmm... One of my favorite songs, right… Wow!!! Well, to be honest, of course I love all of dem! I can’t say that there is a favorite because I love all of them equally. But, Let Love Flow stands out. Workday stands out. Of course Rising Sun, Media Portray… So there is no favorite actually. But Rising Sun, the title track, is definitely one that’s in my heart because it speaks about spiritual elevation and overcoming negativity, you know?
Between your first album, A Different Age, released in 2005, and Rising Sun, what aspects of your approach have evolved or improved, and which ones do you feel have stayed the same?
In terms of improvement, I think I’ve improved on the hooks of my songs. I’ve improved on the melody riffs, the journey that I take people through in terms of melody. The first album was more lyrical to make sure that I get the knowledge out. But this time around, I’ve stuck with the knowledge. I’ve simplified it a little bit, but I’ve stuck with the knowledge and I’ve put a lot of focus on hooks and melody riffs because hits come from melody riffs. Taking people on a journey and having a solid, catchy melody, not just in the hook, but also with the verses as well… So I’m more focused on melody versus putting the primary focus more on lyrics. Yah understand? That’s why on this album all the hooks resonate versus the first one, in my opinion. Also, the musicianship is an improvement because the first one was when I Grade Records was in its early years, now the production has improved as well. So, musically, I think there is improvement in terms of the live instrumentation on the album and, me personally, the melody riffs and the hooks on my songs.
Ok. Then what has stayed the same?
What has stayed the same is, inna sense, the lyrics… Because I still write lyrically and I really put emphasis on that. I think my energy has stayed the same as well. My chanting, that’s one of my strong points, my ability to chant clearly, my clarity on lyrics, etcetera… Those things have stayed the same.
I noticed there is one dancehall track on the album, Dirty Streets.
Is this a musical style you plan on exploring more in the future?
Well, that style has always been there and that’s what the world doesn’t know. So, when we talk about Star Lion Family, the two that came out of that group who we know now, which is Pressure and then myself, we would practice every day for about four to five hours, literally. We would practice every day from 1998 until about 2006. There were many flavors because… To have seven artistes in the house, we would challenge each other to go to the next level. So the dancehall energy is something that has been in me FROM the late nineties, and a lot of people don’t know that. The albums that I’ve released is all about taking my time to establish myself as a reggae artiste and then showing the world that we have the ability to be versatile. So, number thirteen, Dirty Streets, is a way to show the world the versatility that actually exists within me.
If you could work with any reggae producer, living or dead, who would you work with?
[Laughs] Any reggae producer, living or dead? [Laughs] That’s a good question. That’s a GREAT question… [Long pause] I would work with Stephen Marley.
Why Stephen Marley?
He’s excellent. I love his tonation. I love what he does. I love his professional sound. I really love what he does at the controls. I think he’s really good at it.
If you hope to accomplish one thing in your career as an artiste, what would that one thing be?
If I could be a catalyst for the unification of African people and people on a whole… If my music could do that for the world. Yah know? Where it can shed light on culture and it can show people, in terms of the way of life, that they need to live. Once I have the breath of life within me, I want to be a catalyst for peace. Yah know? So, at the end of the day, it’s not about self. And I and I music speak of that. It’s all about being a catalyst for peace. So if my music can be that catalyst to help to bring people together and we can make more of a heaven on earth… Because that has happened at many points and times. There’s heaven and hell on earth. But the more I can help there be a heaven on earth, the more I can be a catalyst for that… That’s simply what I want to be. I don’t care to have the flashiest this and the flashiest that and the most this and the most that. All I really care to be is a humble man, a righteous man, a Rasta man… It’s all about peace.
Photos by Noelle Olive Photography