Samory I - The Strength Interview
11/13/2023 by Gardy Stein
When asked what authenticity means, most people would probably agree that it's the quality of being real and genuine, of drawing from your own lived experiences – the opposite of fake. According to this definition, Samory I is an extremely authentic artist, as his music and his lyrics seem to come from a place deep within. The newest testimony of his ability to touch us with the unique timbre of his voice and the stories he has to tell is the album Strength, produced by the innovative Reggae advancer Winta James.
From his home in Kencot, Kingston, Samory talked to Reggaeville about the creative process behind the tracks, the amazing features, the state of the world and the person to whom this album is livicated: his son.
Greetings Samory! First things first – is everything okay with you and the family after the earthquake in Jamaica?
Yeah man, life is amazing. Everything is good, we all are okay.
That's great to hear. The last time you talked to Reggaeville it was with my dear colleague Munchy in 2016 – a lot has happened since then. What changes did your life take since you released your first album, Black Gold?
A great change that my life has made is that I-Man have a son now! I'm in charge of a life. That is the most amazing part of what has happened. Everything has just been locked because of the fact that I have a son. That has opened me for everything that I have accomplished.
Musicwise, a lot has happened as well, you have been to stages all over Europe. What were some of the highlights during the last few years?
Yeah, you know, I've been to Reggae Jam, SummerJam, Reggae Geel, I've been to a lot of festivals! (laughs) Couleur Café, all these places.
What kind of connections did you make in that time?
That is how the thing has been growing now because of the connection I made with the people, you know what I'm saying. The growth that we have made is because of the shows that we have done in Europe, you get me, reaching out to the fans, like, having them feel the spirit of the music!
Talking about your new album Strength, when did the idea of doing an album with Winta James come up?
You know, a long time like… me and Winta go way back. Like 2015, me and Winta were supposed to do some work together, but that never came to fruition, so we started with two songs, My Son and a song called The One, you get me, that was supposed to be the two songs, but we came together through that connection in the music and decided to do an album.
Yes, and now it's here! Can you tell us how it got its title?
The album Strength is named after my son! Because the whole community call my son Strength, you get me. They see what I've been through, you know, to where I got to right now, how he has changed my life, so he is my strength, everybody call him Strength.
What is his given name, and how old is he now?
His name is Jahseh Chantory Frazer. He is three years now.
Blessings! The album cover is very powerful and brings across that bond you have. Which of the songs on the album represents Strength for you? I know there is no title track, but if there was, which one would it be?
Me and Mortimer have a song called History Of Violence. And I have a song called Harvest (sings some notes), so those two songs represent Strength, I would say.
Powerful songs! They talk about the harsh situation in the Ghetto, how difficult it is…
Well, not just in the ghetto! People are dying everywhere, due to violence, so it's a situation everywhere. You know, people are dying every day, everywhere.
How did you manage to put this into words? How did the songwriting sessions go?
It's usually me and Winta James, we take on the tunes dem together, you get me? The riddim comes on and me shot the melody, sometimes it's 4 or 5 different melodies until Winta say, "Yes, that's it!" so we pick that one. The melody for me is very important, because nothing is supposed to sound like the last one, and I've sang so many songs before, so many songs in my past, so the melodies have to be on point, seen. For the words now, me and Winta go and pick it, and Winta is very very intelligent, especially when it comes to words. How his mind works when it comes to writing, that's something to admire. That is the process me and Winta write together. The melody comes, we write together, singing it about a hundred and fifty billion times… yeah it's rough, you have to be patient sometimes (laughs).
I can imagine! Apart from the melodies that you find for the lyrics, did you work on the songs musically as well, did you contribute any instrumentals?
For Continent… one second (goes out to talk to his son, comes back). On this song in particular, I played the Kette drum, the song with Jesse Royal. You have to check that out! (laughs)
Speaking about Continent, how did Jesse Royal come in on that one?
Jesse was one of the first established artists who let me know that I could call on him any time I wanted, even before I did any other song. He's a very humble person, Jesse Royal, a real youth! But Winta called him on this one, I mean we both thought he would be a perfect fit, after Winta suggested him. He has a beautiful way of thinking, him have a great vibe.
The song talks about the African continent, of course. Have you ever been to Africa?
No, it's a dream, you know, to go back home…
It will come true! You sing about that Africa needs to unite to move forward, can you say something about how you see the African future?
Who am I to say? My opinion is my opinion, you get me? But the unity throughout Africa, all the independent states, that can make a superpower in the world. Africa! It's the first place of everything. So it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.
Another great track on the album is Wrath, which is one of the singles out already. It features Kabaka Pyramid and Capleton, which is a surprise. How did that connection come?
Winta gave the beat to Kabaka Pyramid and he did his verse on it. Winta made me hear the beat and asked me, "Samory, this needs a singer pon it, me woulda love for you to sing this song!" Cause, the beat was originally for Kabaka. After I sang my chorus, we wrote a verse for me too, I sang that verse, and then the song wanted something more, but I couldn't figure out what the song wanted. But Winta, he knew, he just reached out to him, and he did great, trust me.
The visuals are another level again, they were done by 300K – where did you shoot that?
We shoot that in my community, it's what the community call the Haunted House. We shot the footage there, and certain scenes in the surrounding area.
It's also a very serious topic, talking about the constant struggle between politicians and how they treat the people…
… and what the people stood for in the past and what the people won't stand for now! That's what the song is about as well!
Yes, I think we see all over in the world that we can't go on like this and something has to change. There is a song called "Rasta Government shall rule the world" by Takana Zion, an artist from Guinea. Do you think that people with a Rasta background should be more active in politics?
It makes sense, you get me, cause there is no one running the world right now who has principles. We are living in an immoral world, it's the worst time we have ever lived in. If we want change, singing about change is not the whole… how we set up to make change. So how can we step up to make change? People can't take us seriously enough to see our sense. You know, people with morals can run the country. Because everyone has morals, you know, everyone has some degree of morals. But when you give someone power, someone who is not used to be in that position (kisses teeth). So, I think everyone is a good person until… it depends what you have to do to run a country. (son comes in and says Hi) So, yeah, I think power changes people.
In the Continent song, you also say that people take more than they need. Greed, for me personally, is one of the biggest problems in the world. Do you think that it's a human trait?
I wouldn't say a human trait, cause we even see greed in animals too. It's just that when someone who's not been given a lot of opportunity has finally got an opportunity, then this is what this person becomes. You have to take this opportunity like it is the last one. I don't really understand what's going on in the world right now, even the wars, so much things happening right now, but in my country I can speak what's going on here, you get me?
Also Blood In The Streets is a song where you depict what's happening in Jamaica right now…
It's not just here, it's in France, Germany, Belgium, Amsterdam, especially Antwerp or Rotterdam… it's in a lot of places in the world! Blood in The Streets is not just talking about Jamaican, it's talking about people dying from violence worldwide. Let me tell you one thing I never knew, when I was coming to Europe, they put a program on YouTube for me to really see what was going on, cause I didn't know about these drug dealers that were residing in Belgium, I never know that through these drug-related problems people are dying on a daily basis. I never know about no cocaine, I come into these places to sing my music, to enjoy myself. To tell the people about what was happening in the world, I never saw these things until I watch these programs. So, Blood In The Streets is not something in Jamaica, it's something international, it's happening everywhere in the world!
For you personally, you said in another interview that your way out was finding Jah love, finding that consciousness, as you sing in the song Jah Love. Would you say that this is a solution for those who have lost their way?
Yes! For people who have given up or think that there is no way, I'm telling them that The Most High will never neglect, The Most High don't betray how humans do. But people tend to cling to human beings and stay away from the love of the Most High. This is what the song Jah Love is saying, that this is just the body.
How can people reach that state of mind? What would your advice be to people to be at peace with yourself?
The mere fact that you are taking breath shows that The Most High loves you. So giving up or fucking up is not the way.
The next feature I'd like to mention is Lila Iké, of course. Winta James said in an interview that Outside was very spontaneous – can you elaborate on that?
Yes! (laughs) Me and Winta wrote the song and it was the day for me to go singing in the studio. So when I was there, we had some issues at Tuff Gong, so I told them that I was going Live while they were sorting it out. So I'm out on Live, singing my verse, trying to remember it, until it plant in my head, over and over. Then I see Lila jump on my live, "Yow, I could sing a second verse on this!" And I was like, "Yo, Lila, come link me" and she say, "Come off the Live my G and let's chat!", and then I came off the Live and we recorded Outside.
What does Outside stand for? I mean, being outside, being seen, but does it have another meaning too?
Of course! Of course Outside have another meaning! To be outside is not just to be seen, people outside is to be greater in whatever they've been doing! Outside have a lot of things to stand for, it has so many meanings, but this Outside, it speaks to all the progressive people, the hard working people, the clean-hearted people, you know what I'm saying.
A great way to start the album! Who is the voice at the end of the song?
Selecta Boom Boom! (laughs) A popular DJ here.
In Crown, another very important song of the album that was released as single already, you sing "I help my people". Of course you help your people already by being an example, by giving lyrics of encouragement and so, but are you involved in any other community projects?
No projects, just give them mi money weh me get, that's all I do, I just help them by giving them my money, I don't save that. I've been touring the world across the border, but that's why I'm not rich cause I share it out.
Wow, that's so great. And you still live in the community where you grew up, right?
Yeah, that's my place!
We already talked about Wrath and Blood In The Streets, which are both out on video. Are there videos planned for any other songs?
Personally, me a try fi get a video fi all the tracks.
Ok, great. Is there a release party coming up, or do you have any other shows in the coming weeks?
Yeah, there will be an album release, and on the first of December I will have a live show… we'll keep you posted about that.
Samory, thank you so much for your time, all the best for you and your family! Is there anything you like to add, any song you wish to highlight?
I'd like to highlight every single song! And let you know that your dreams are valued! So continue to work hard on your dreams. (son comes in again and Samory waves goodbye)