Interview with Perfect Giddimani
09/13/2013 by Angus Taylor
In seven years Perfect, of Bamboo, St Ann's parish, now resident in California, has put out as many albums. Some, like 2008's Born Dead With Life for Austria's Irie Vibrations and 2011's Back For The First Time with California's Lustre Kings, have been critically acclaimed as modern roots reggae classics. Other more experimental efforts have divided opinion. But regardless of what the critics say, anyone who interviews Perfect is guaranteed good copy. This week he releases his seventh set for another Austrian production unit - Sam Gilly’s hardworking House of Riddim. And for his fourth interview with Angus Taylor this likeable singular character talks mento music, his reputation as a taskmaster with reggae bands, homophobic lyrics, and why he is proud to be a Bobo Shanti.
Your new album Over The Top is with House Of Riddim. How did you link with them?
I’ve been working with House of Riddim over the past six years – both on and off stage. I’ve been recording for them ever since our first single in about 2005. And we have done a lot of shows in Europe. We have done too many shows! We have always had a good relationship when it comes to work and we have maintained that over the years. We’ve built on it and until the time came when we thought it was good for us to produce an album.
I’ve seen them backing artist after artist at Reggae Jam. It’s clear they have a lot of endurance and stamina. How do you find working with them?
House of Riddim and I – we have this special connection. It’s not like the regular artists that venture to Europe where House of Riddim does the backing. Sam the leader and I are in contact every day and they have gelled into my set and my performance. They naturally know what I would be capable of doing next more than another artist. They understand my hand movements, my body language, my facial expressions. We have built something that is not the norm for any other artist they would back on stage. I have never had problems with House of Riddim. In the first years we used to work we would have little problems on stage where musically we’d overlook it because of professionalism on stage and carry on through. But I have never had a serious problem where I would say “Don’t play for me” or “Get off the stage” or “I don’t want to work with them again” or anything like that – never.
It sounds like you do sometimes have problems like that with other bands!
Yeah man, I have had problems with bands before! Where for some reason the drummer or the keyboardist has made too many mistakes which you can’t afford to happen on stage. Something that you have discussed with them but it’s still happening. It’s a no no. You give people a chance to learn but if after trying to learn a couple of times the same thing happens that a good keyboardist or a good drummer should know then it’s just not working out. Once or twice is good enough. If you are a real true musician. If you are practising your craft that is a bit different but for a keyboardist or a guitarist who has been playing professionally for ten fifteen years and you are talking to them over and over again like a kid then it’s just not working.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had with a band?
The worst was with a band from Hawaii in 2010. Hawaiians tend to play a different style of reggae. They have this special name for it. We were there to do three shows and from the rehearsals I knew there would be problems. They were a band that said they were playing for so many years together and just simple stuff they could not get it and I could not understand why they couldn’t get what I was trying to say. The show wasn’t a good show at all because they never played up to standard. After that I was speaking to a couple of musicians from Hawaii and they were telling me that they play a different little type of reggae. Although they are trying to play reggae they still put their feel into it which just makes it different. It’s ok for a Hawaiian reggae singer but for me trying to do my style it just doesn’t add up.
I guess for a band that wants to work with Perfect – the clue’s in the name!
Yes! But just to elaborate on that I have also been to places in the world like Hungary. I was backed by a band [Budapest Riddim Band] where on the plane I was thinking it was going to be such a miserable rehearsal and trust me Angus when I went to the rehearsal I was ashamed! Because they played like the record! I had nothing to say. I never had to correct anyone. I never had to tell the drummer what to do. Nobody. It was a superb rehearsal and we had an awesome show. That was at Reggae Camp festival in 2008 and then I was invited two years later and we did some club shows in Hungary and Croatia with the same band. It was too good to be true. That band had a female in where she alone was monitoring four keyboards! You have people with true talent that where they hear the thing one time they know how to do it. They’re not guessing or trying – they are doing what they just heard.
Over The Top is the second time you’ve worked with an Austrian production house. You’ve worked with two US production houses but the USA is huge and you live there. Austria clearly has something reggaewise that works for you.
Well Angus as you know, one of the most rated albums of my career – and people have told me this over and over – was my second album Born Dead With Life. That was produced by Irie Vibrations Records from Austria. And even before that, when I compiled my first album Giddimani, I wasn’t being offered a deal from any label in Jamaica or North America. I knew it was a good album so I put it in my bag and headed out to Europe. At that time I was just doing some singles for Irie Vibrations. I was in a club one night and I met the boss of DHF Records who were the label that gave me the first deal for the Giddimani album. So I have always had a relationship with Austrians. And Sam Gilly is from Austria and we have been working together for a number of years doing numerous shows – so if we can go on stage together, go in the studio together to do a single, then why not do an album?
So why did it take you so long to do an album with House of Riddim?
Sam always wanted to do an album with me but Sam feared I would give him a huge price like X amount of Euros or X amount of US. That is what Sam feared over the years.
You and House of Riddim have equal billing on this album.
The way I have advertised this album is not just “Perfect Giddimani – Over The Top”. It is “Perfect Giddimani featuring House of Riddim” – that is actually on the cover. I came up with the idea to do an album together – 20 tracks all produced by House of Riddim – because that is showing a real bond between an artist and a band. Also it is future work, because after releasing this album people will want to see Perfect and House of Riddim. People have wanted to see us before but this is now something concrete like a stamp of approval for me and the band. It goes hand in hand and it works both ways. House of Riddim is the most popular band in Europe and they are one of the hardest working bands in Europe. So I thought it was a great idea to advertise it as both of us.
There are a lot of tracks on this album. You filled a CD…
I had to do that. A lot of people say “let’s do 13 or 14 tracks” but Beres Hammond is a mentor for me and he did an album recently with 19 or 20 tracks. This is a grown man with a huge catalogue, so that goes to show you that Beres is working, so what am I supposed to do? Mess around? I’m working.
To be fair that was Beres’ first album in four years so maybe he felt the need to do that many tracks! You put out an album every year!
Every track on the album is new. I did like 5 singles before for House of Riddim and none of them are on the album. This is a true album. We sat in the studio and we worked on this. It’s not something we boxed up and put together. 20 tracks and it is only Ribbi Du Bang Skeng that was released about two months ago to introduce the album.
So did they all come out of one period of sessions? How much of that time were you all in the same room together?
Yeah, all these tracks came out of a period of sessions that lasted about a year and two months. We were in the same room about 50% of the time because I was travelling a lot too, doing work in other areas but still on the album. For this album we voiced at least 28 songs and then it was handpicked back down to 20. We made a lot of original rhythms for the set and Sam has a huge catalogue of rhythms too. So some of the original rhythms did not end up on the album and some of the ones from Sam’s catalogue did. Because House of Riddim they make four or five rhythms every day.
How many rhythms do you voice in a day?
It depends on the day. Is it a relaxing day or is it a busy day? On a relaxing day I would say like three or four. On a busy day it gets up to like ten.
How many songs do you carry around on your hard drive at any one time?
Personally I would say close to 700.
So how many rhythms do you voice in a year then?
That’s a lot – you do the maths. And remember that if, say, it was 100, just 30 out of those will get released in the year. I’ve done songs for producers in 2005-2006 and I’ve just seen them come out this year! Different producers work at a different pace. That is the reason why sometimes you see an artist has two copies of the same song out but on two different rhythms with the same lyrics. It’s because you may have voiced the song one year and you wait for a year for the promoter to put it out. And because you know it was a good song you think to yourself “This producer’s a joker!” so you run to the next producer and voice it again in say, Spain. That producer in Spain might put it out in three months and then the next producer that you did the song for before will say “Oh, my one was voiced first” or “My one is the better one” and put it out too. So it confuses the fans who think that Perfect voiced two songs back on the same rhythm but they don’t know what happens in the game.
On track one of the album Still you talk about how you got your hustle from your grandfather. What kind of man was he?
My grandfather was a farmer. A medicinal herb farmer. He was also a banjo player and a singer. He used to get us all together. My grandfather lives like four miles from Bob Marley. That is where my family originated from but then we moved down to Bamboo, a bit closer to the coastline, which is a 25 mile drive. My grandfather was all about his music, his herbs and his banjo. That was his life. Apart from making his family comfortable at the time – for which he had to hustle. Every morning on the donkey, gone to the bush. From the bush to the market and then come back to play his banjo and hold a vibes with his friends on the weekend. Then back up because the hustling never stopped. Day after day after day the struggle continued.
What did your grandfather play? Mento?
Yeah, he played mento. He was good with the harmonica. Harmonica and banjo were his instruments. He was a good dancer too.
What kind of songs did he sing?
Most of his songs I would say were folk songs. Linstead Market, Hill and Gully Ride. And if you listened to the fine lines between the lines they were all songs of joy, songs of hope and songs of freedom. There weren’t lines in them saying “Rastafari” or “Selassie I” but they were songs of hope for the people. It’s the same message. The Hill and Gully Ride is not just about a Hill and Gully – the ride is the struggle. You’re driving on a rockstone highway so it’s showing you the struggle.
In old times the mento was like reggae – it was a music that told people what was going on. It was a news update.
It was like a news update yeah. It was all about issues. It’s just that in those times the people never used to say “Fire bun Babylon” like how I and I would be saying it in these times. It was a bit more subtle. In those times we were just coming out of the slave masters’ hands so you still couldn’t talk too loud. You were hitting out but you weren’t hitting out. But if you listen between the fine lines of the lines you will realise that it is the same message as in these times.
So you feel free to speak out in your songs these days?
Right now we speak out in the songs because Bob Marley came and did it king. Freedom of speech right now – we have that. It’s just that there are certain groups and certain organisations where if you say certain stuff they do have the power to stop you from travelling or stop you from performing on a show. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speak out. We can speak out but consequences will come along with it. Some will speak and live with the consequences. Some will have to pay the price.
Do you mean like what’s happened with Queen Ifrica? Getting dropped from her show in Canada and coming with her song Freedom of Speech.
As I say again, it’s freedom of speech. What she said sounds right to a set of people and yet it sounds wrong to another set of people. The set of people it sounds wrong to, they feel violated and humiliated so they are the ones who attack her. That is what is happening.
You sing about corrupt governments, about slavery. Is someone’s sexuality really a topic of similar importance? Is it a topic you are interested in?
I’m definitely not interested. The reason I am not interested is that each one within themselves knows right from wrong. If you look at the world and look at nature you will realise for yourself what is right and what is wrong. If you know the right and you do the wrong then judgement shall be upon your shoulder and everyone has to stand for themselves when it comes unto that day. I just let them do what they want to do. Because I have no knowledge on certain matters and certain subjects. For example if you should ask me about making a rocket I cannot give you any information on that. If you should ask me what a studio is like, I can give you information on that. Some stuff I have no knowledge about and I am dumb to. Therefore it is what it is. It’s not my area.
Tell me about the story behind the song Proud To Say where you don’t just celebrate your pride in being Rasta but in being Bobo Shanti. Why at this stage in your life did you decide to sing it out?
I and I is Bobo Shanti, Angus, so it is an anthem song for I and I. I am proud to say it so we just say it proudly without apology. I had to sing that one. It’s just the joy. The whole happiness that comes with it Angus. Moving through Babylon and after all the atrocities and the beatdowns and the trampledowns they put down on Rastafari and I and I since then, we still wear the turban and exalt the Most High Selassie I and we still trod through. We have been to a lot of places where people do come and pay the respect and we feel honoured to be one of them king.
How did you come to be part of that particular order rather than, say, another mansion?
Because I was around Bobo Shanti. That is the reason why. After coming from high school in the afternoons I would put down my bag in the afternoons and then the next stop was to check the elder Bobo. At that time we just started to get kind of rebellious. In the last years of high school, we got a little bit rebellious and people in the community were saying “Bwoy, you not turn out to be nothing” and those things so there was one place where we felt welcome and we felt alright. Where we could smoke a little herb and nobody would give me a bad eye and look upon me a certain way. It was the Rastaman yard. Bobo Shanti yard. You’d get food, you’d get water and you’d just be keeping yourself out of trouble at the same time. We could have played football and stepped on the street and ended up in a gang. So from school to the Bobo Shanti yard we as a youth we learned reverence. Because you couldn’t go to the Bobo Shanti yard with your pants dropped down! You had to enter properly. Bobo Shanti were not telling you about any badness like when you’d go on the road. The Psalms Bobo Shanti would chant and then good reasoning, good food and in those times you could learn how to eat properly. You’d get educated about food from hearing the Bobo Shanti talk. It was like a school you had gone back to again. You’d get educated there on a whole heap of things king. So that was the starting point.
Before the title track on your album there is also a section of an interview with Usain Bolt at the London Olympics. How important is his achievement to you?
The fastest man in the world coming out of Jamaica. From Trelawny which is my neighbouring parish. We eat from the same vine of yam. We eat from the same earth where the coconut tree grows. It is one piece of land. Usain Bolt is someone where I would definitely have to endorse his works. Trust me he has done so much for Jamaica that the people don’t even know. That interlude was to introduce the song Over The Top which is telling you about becoming a winner or staying a winner. So I thought it was good to use the real winner – the fastest man in the world, to introduce that song.
You both get to travel the world telling people about Jamaica.
We have the same job field so to speak. It’s just that he is running and I am singing. It is something the people find amazing and we want to do it to a certain standard and a certain professionalism and keep it up there so you will always get that respect – that glow of respect.
You do a bit of running on stage as well.
We do running, jumping, hopping, skipping; it’s variety of stuff!
You’re based in California these days. Why do you like it there?
It’s a breeding ground for reggae music. I call it the Europe of America. You have Oregon as the next state beside which is an excellent ground for reggae music. Then you have Washington above Oregon which is an excellent ground for reggae music. Then you have Vancouver BC above Washington which is good for reggae music also. Our type of music. Not the jump up and down skin out thing. Then there is Hawaii which is a five and a half hour flight from that side which is super excellent for reggae music. It’s a breeding ground. It is somewhere we can actually network and get a lot of stuff done and work done and meet a lot of people. That’s the main reason.
As a resident of the United States what did you think about the Zimmerman verdict?
We know how the system stays from long time king. Over two hundred million black people died through the whole slavery vibes. So we know how the whole system is set up and we know that it is the dragon that still rules. So what I and I saw happen to the youth named Trayvon Martin, the reason why the people got so loud over it is because it was a white man, so to speak, who shot a black man. But black kill black a long time king because of the system. That is just a reminder of what can happen in a modern day Babylon. It’s not about what did go on or what will go on – it’s about what just happened right now which is the Trayvon Martin thing. It happens every day all over the world. People take people’s lives. We just don’t look at it like it was a sixteen year old – it is a life the same way. The other day in Jamaica a policeman fired a stray shot and shot a little girl and killed her. So what? That must just go like that because the policeman wasn’t a white man? Because the little girl wasn’t sixteen years old? So it is a thing that happens every day. Under the hands of Babylon the people suffer. I and I know as Rastafari that there is nothing too great that Babylon can do right now for I and I to say “Wow” and open up I and I eyes because we know that the dragon is capable of anything. The system is capable of doing anything king. That’s why Rastafari is always ready.
What did you think of the recent 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech? What do you think is his legacy and what do you think of his vision?
Martin Luther’s legacy is great, man. It was a great vision for those at home and abroad. Martin Luther is coming from the vine of the great, great honourable Marcus Garvey. He is someone that I have to embrace. I have to embrace his words and his messages too. His speech coming back right now in this time is a good look. There is a long way to go. We took a few steps up the ladder but there is a long way to go. It is not where it was at. It has moved. But not by much. The movement is improvement.
Nowadays there seems to be more roots music coming out of Jamaica. Is the time right for you to record your first album for a Jamaican producer?
Yeah, definitely. Of course. Like I said the last time whenever I am approached by the producer that I think is capable – because I don’t just work with anybody – whenever I meet the producer that is capable enough for us to work with or whenever I am approached we will definitely let it work now. It doesn’t have to be a big name. It just has to be a person that we feel comfortable working with. But we will make it work definitely. But as you know I do a lot of work in advance and the next album is actually finished already. The next album has been finished since March and it is not for a Jamaican producer.
Give us a clue who it is going to be with?
It’s coming out of France.
There are a lot of producers in France. Give us more of a clue that an educated person might get.
The label is out of Le Mans.
Thanks. That’s all we needed to know. I think we know who that is…