Interview with Spiritual
02/03/2017 by Angus Taylor
Collectors of Alborosie's unstoppable run of early singles will remember Marathon: a 2008 collaboration with a singer whose wood-smoked, nasal tone recalled Burning Spear and Culture’s Joseph Hill. That man is Spiritual and he releases his overdue second album Awakening through VP Records on February 3rd.
Awakening contains 14 tracks produced by Clifton “Specialist” Dillon, Bobby Digital and Horace Chin, featuring a raft of top musicians including Sly Dunbar, Robbie Lyn, Horsemouth Wallace and the late Nambo Robinson. All songs sound like they could have been recorded in the latter 70s - were it not for appearances by the equally ancient-sounding voices of Droop Lion and Iba Mahr.
A teacher and community organiser as well as a singer, Spiritual conversed with Reggaeville about growing up an orphan at the feet of West Kingston’s greatest music stars. He explained how his Rasta messages are inspired by his passion for good works; noted the significance of particular numbers in his life; and warned that he has a third album soon to come.
You are an artist who has been around longer than some might think.
Well I started my music journey in 2007 and now in 2017 I am coming up. I do things in sevens. My knowledge comes from the seventh son of Adam who is the first prophet Enoch the Ethiopian. I was born in the seventh month, the seventh child of my mother. I was born on 27 Hitchen Street. I have seven children. I have seven men in my band. So you see I am liking the seven.
Your voice has been compared to Joseph Hill from Culture who recorded the album Two Sevens Clash. You don't mind that comparison?
And the sevens clash again! (Laughs) Yeah, that's my teacher. I respect that they say that because they don't say it in a bad way. If they said it in a negative way then then it would be a problem. The big respect of knowing I am singing after he is gone is a blessing.
Did you know him personally?
Oh yes. I used to go to his house and pick mangoes. I was a little kid and he had a big yard up in Shortwood. We used to go there as kids and pick mangoes and listen to them practise. So that's where it comes from. I was a little bad kid but I liked music so I would always stay around musicians. I was around Bob Marley, Joe Higgs, and these things taught me how to be a real musician. A real artist.
You grew up in Allman Town, West Kingston. Which year were you born?
Yes, 27 Hitchen Street, Allman Town. I don't remember because I lost my birth certificate.
Allman Town is not far from Trench Town. So you grew up right in the heart of the music…
I grew up right in the music. So as a child you have a choice, whether you wanted to be a bad person or you wanted to be a good person. For me, I liked the good part of it so I stuck with the musicians. Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Joe Higgs, Keith Poppin, the Blues Busters, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, I grew up around all of them. If you come from the country the shows are in Kingston, the studios are in Kingston, you had Coxsone, and all of them right there.
When did you first start singing as a little boy?
I grew up without a father and a mother. My life begins at three years old - I don't know anything before that. My guardian took care of me until she passed away. I grew up with a guardian so she took me to church as a child. I became a choirboy so I sang in the choir at school and when I came out of school I was still singing. I was singing before I started writing songs.
Which church and which denomination?
Saint Matthew’s church in Allman Town. It was Anglican. My guardian took me there because they were Christians. That's how we grew up in Kingston - a Christian life. We would all go to church every Sunday. From there I got the teaching of the Christian life and in the school, and on the street, I carried it the same way because I was like little David playing on his harp, little David the Shepherd. That put me right into everything and I became a Rastafarian coming up because it was no different. That just pushed me right into the Rasta religion. Which is the reality - not even a religion - that is the life. The Rasta life.
How did Rasta come to you?
Well, it is an inborn concept. It already was in me and I was around it. So as a child I learned that I am in the church, but the Rasta is outside of the church, but they both go together. So I was in the church and in Rasta as a child. I wasn't dreadlocks as a child but there were people around like Jeremiah, who has passed away now, that is Burning Spear's friend. He grew me up and he was a dreadlocks. Dreadlocks touching the ground. So as a child those people brought me up until I accepted it because it's something to be accepted if you are lost. I wasn't lost but it was time to accept it so I took it on and I became what I am. So now I started writing and singing my own songs.
What was your vocation before singing?
I was an organiser. I used to run a club, the Royal Rangers club for kids, to get them mobilised and off the street. We would keep beauty contests, corner league soccer. To keep them away from trouble. I was a part of that organisation where we put the community together. I was like a person who fixes things for people. I was like a Rasta journalist. In Jamaica there is only one survival and that is the Father’s survival. If you believe in the Father you don't have to worry about survival. He keeps you going. That is something I'm trying to bring back - that the Father still exists. He is there for you. That is what brought me where I am to this day and is going to take me where I want to go.
Aside from the music West Kingston is known for being where the political troubles started. Did politics affect your life growing up?
No, it never did. There are two roads before you and you have to choose one. So I didn't choose the politics part of it because you don't have to. It comes and you don't have to accept it. Nobody can force you to accept it, so I didn't accept it. I lived with it but I didn't accept it.
In terms of your musical education, was it more sound system or studio and stage show?
It started with the sound system. Every weekend they have the sounds that come out to play. I would go around and they would know me so I would take the mic and do one song or a version of a song. I would just rock, then I would just leave.
Another person who your voice has been compared with is Burning Spear. The tone of your speaking voice is similar to the tone of your singing voice, so your voice sounding like that was an inborn thing?
It was an inborn thing. The same way like how they talk. These were my teachers. They taught me everything that I know because the songs I sing you can see are almost familiar, like their songs. You could say I got good teaching from them. Their advice was within their songs so I didn't have to ask them anything. They sing the message. I just listened to the message and just lived by their message.
How did you meet Clifton Specialist Dillon?
I used to sing at parties and stage shows. He had a friend that knew me so he said he wanted to meet me. We met and I sang a first song for him so he just took me on. This was in 2007.
What was the first song you ever recorded?
I think Red Eye. My manager called me and "Write a Song - Red". Just like that. Then he hung up the phone. I said "Red - what could I do with red?" So through people being covetous and bad minded and wanting to get everything I said "Oh, that’s like red eye people. I will just write a song named Red Eye". I said "God is bigger than the red in your eye". That was the first song I recorded. The first one I ever wrote was Freedom Fighter. They are on the My World album.
Tell me about your 2010 collaboration Marathon with Alborosie. I think that's the first time I heard your voice on record.
He works for the same company. Specialist. That song - it didn't come out. He heard it on my CD and liked it. And that's how we met because he liked Marathon - the original Marathon. He collaborated with my Marathon and I put my original Marathon aside. That is how you got Marathon with me and Alborosie. The original Marathon is not even out. Because he took that and made it even better.
So you recorded quite a few songs in that period of time?
Oh yes, I recorded a few songs. Most of the songs on the album coming out in February I recorded from 2007 with Bobby Digital. They know each other - Bobby Digital and Specialist. It is just one team. But they're just coming out now.
Why did it take so long for you to put out a second album?
Sometimes things happen and signs just show and you just follow the signs. So I just put it down for a good reason because I wanted to do some other things. The album was ready but at the time there was too much competition so I just said "Okay I can manage for now". We just put it on pause for a minute. It wasn't the right time. But I was still doing my work teaching because I am a teacher. I like to teach the right thing. I teach love and peace. People like that because there's not much of that going on. Everybody is just war war war. I just like the peaceful part and that is what I carry.
You live the message that you sing.
Yes, I live the message. So I think now is the time. Mr Dillon is still there and he said "Okay the time has come." So he said "Okay, let's just go now".
The album has a timeless sound. It’s not jumping on any musical fashion. It could be from any time from the 1970s until today. So I guess you could put it out whenever you want.
Yes. And the next one is going to be even tougher than that one. This is just the beginning. I've got another one for you. It will blow your mind. All finished. Trust me. Anything I tell you will happen.
Let's talk about some of the great musicians who have appeared on Awakening. The great Nambo Robinson, who passed away this week, played trombone on some tracks.
Yeah, I heard that he died today. That's how it goes. Musicians come and go but we can't stop, we just have to enjoy life to the best. Keep your eyes open and watch out for the unexpected because anything can creep up. Death is not something in front of you, it is behind you. It just creeps up and stops you and you’re gone. I am very happy with his contribution. He did a great job and I appreciate it so much.
You’ve also got Sly on a couple of tracks and Horsemouth on one. You've also got Mafia & Fluxy in from England on some tracks as well.
Sly, I went to his studio and we know each other. That's how that happened. I went to his studio and recorded there. Horsemouth is on one track. I met him too. He is a good drummer. I don't know all of them because some of them were recorded already.
And you've got the great keyboard player Robbie Lyn who played with Bob, Peter and many more.
I know him personally. Very nice man. He is very good. He can do anything. Cook, play the guitar. He does everything. You name it he does it! He’s very humble. Most real musicians are humble. Because the music keeps you humble. That's what Bob preached - to be humble. If you're not humble you are going to stumble so it doesn't make any sense.
How did Droop Lion come to be on the track Show Me The Way? He has his own album which has been a long time coming and I think is planned to release this year…
Yes. Well is the same way, he is on the same road like me as a Rasta man. Jah shows me the way to meet things so I didn't even write that song. I just went inside there and he liked my voice. I've never met him before but I've heard of him before and I heard him sing his song very religiously. It is the type of singing that I love. So when we saw each other my instructor said "Go in there and do a song". And that was the song - Jah Show Me The Way. And he loved it. He cried singing that song.
One of the engineers on the album is Roland McDermott who manages Iba Mahr. Is that how why Iba Mahr came to be on the track Liberation?
Me and Iba Mahr meet all the time. He likes my voice and I like his voice. We said "Okay let's collaborate now". We just liberate. We just come with Liberation from Marcus Garvey.
Have you been following the campaign to ask the United States government to exonerate Marcus Garvey?
He lived in that from the beginning. For me the… I'm not going to call a colour… I am just going to call them… righteous people. The righteous people are always pushed aside. And when I say the righteous people I mean people with a message for a good life. You always have a set of people who keep them out. They know they are good but they don't want them to come and mess up their system. You and me know that the person is good. But the person who can put them out there to prove that to the world, holds them back. I don't want to put a colour, even the name. So when you said, Marcus now, he is already a Mosiah. He said you shall see him in the whirlwind. So he has no problem with whoever doesn't want to exonerate him or give him a crown.
What do you think about the current state of the world? Is the world in as much trouble as it seems?
It's a shuteye country. People have their eyes closed. There has got to be somebody with vision because where there is no vision the people perish. People are getting up every day to go work and sweat and come back and fall down and money, money, money. No vision to keep a conscious life. Plus they're trying to stop marijuana to keep you conscious. So there's all types of craziness going on.
I am here now to open those eyes that are closed. Because my eye is always open. I see everything that goes on. I am not afraid to come out and tell the truth because it sets you free. Bob said it is an offence but not a sin. It's time to just come out and say the right thing because I am a humanitarian. I preach love. More love, more life, more blessings to everyone. Because we all bleed the same blood and we all have five senses. We'll have ten fingers. We are all the same. There is no segregation but they're trying to do that for years. There is no segregation in God’s work. We all are one people.
The album is very unified in its sound. Some reggae albums sound like a compilation or a patchwork. But your album is all one sound.
One sound. Thank you. That's what I want to do. I don't want too much "Oh, I don't like this one" or "I don't like that one". I want all of them to be a message. Just like how in Bob's songs there was a message. I don't want anybody to come and fight over my songs. I am telling the truth in my songs.
What are you going to do next?
Just keep writing and singing. That's all I have left to do right now. My time has come so I need to devote myself right now to music. Sing to the people all over because I sing the blessings and the message. The real things that people want to hear. I am not singing about any girlfriend or gang stuff. I am singing messages that people don't understand, so that they can understand. They can go research and see that "Oh, this guy is singing something that I knew but I didn't understand and now here we are going to solve it". That is what my message is for. Let us just hope people love that and accept me for what I am coming with.
I am coming with love for everyone. There is no partition. I want everyone in my life. I don't come to segregate anybody. I come to bring people together because everybody wants that. Even those who are afraid of it want it but they don't know how to do it. We’re tired of the same old thing where you get up every day and you have 24 hours a day to live. And when you have 24 you have to divide it by three. Three eights are 24. You have eight hours to work, eight hours to play and eight hours to sleep. But after that 24 you don't know if you have any more because you're not sure of tomorrow. So you have to live this day very nicely. Like a snail. But some people move too fast. And die very quickly.