Interview with Tóke
05/07/2016 by Gardy Stein
new·com·er [ˈnü-ˌkə-mər], noun: a person who has recently arrived somewhere or who has recently started a new activity (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Marco Rais Abin has certainly arrived – not somewhere, but in the heart of Kingston. And he is getting things done fast! Merely a year after starting a new activity under his nom de plume Tóke, he went to Jamaica for three months, making important connections and performing whenever possible. Out of these experiences, he presents, again just one year later, his debut album Wake Up Inna Kingston. With the right people in his immediate surroundings who understand his talent and support his vision, he continues to leave his mark on the national and international Reggae scene. Reason enough for Reggaeville to seize the chance for an in-depth interview in Hamburg, where Tóke and Band played support for Sebastian Sturm:
Greetings Tóke! Were you surprised to be voted place 3 in the "National Newcomer of the year" section of the recently published Riddim Magazine Poll 2015?
Yes, I was! I didn't really expect anything like that, nor did I follow it at all. I mean, I respect these polls, but I'm not the biggest fan of judging artists and music like this. But yes, I'm happy about it, that people support me like that. We didn't do any promotion for it, we didn't post it once, so it's a nice surprise!
Well, it's becoming clear that you gain ground. Can you describe your journey so far in a few words, for those who might not know you yet?
Wow, that's a long way. I grew up with music in Indonesia. My father is singing, and I think it's from him that I inherited the inclination to do acoustic music, guitar and vocals. The singer-songwriter, folk influence comes from my Dad, he is really great in that and I think he's still a better singer than me (laughs). So, it started like that, and when I was 9 years old we moved to Germany, and when I entered high school I founded my first band. I remember that the movie School Of Rock really influenced me a lot, I was in the cinema with my mum in Buxtehude when I was 12 or so. I never told this to anyone, but this movie really inspired me a lot and when we came out of the cinema I said to my mum "I wanna have a band, too!"
I really wanted to make music and be on stage, and shortly after I started my first band called Skatterie. We did Ska and Punk, Skate Punk, I was maybe 14 and I played guitar and sang, lyrics of protest and skating and love. It was exciting, we were very young but we got to play a lot in the Buxtehude area. So these were my first stage experiences and I felt the power of it... or rather, the energy of doing music, of bringing different instruments together, different energies, what comes out of it. From then it went on, I had another band called Stepping Stone, we played folk, singer-songwriter, funk stuff. And then, when it got more serious, when I really decided that I want to do music for a living, then there was a point when I had to break loose from this band context. And then the Tóke project started in 2013, 2014. I did an internship in a studio at that time and had the opportunity to record some of my stuff, so I did. And during that process I realized: 'Wow, this is fun, I really like what I'm doing here!' It had a characteristic sound, it doesn't overflow the market already out there, so that's still important to me now. And then it just happened, the keyboarder of my last band, Goukie, is now playing drums and percussions, and suddenly I am in the middle of this Reggae thing (laughs)...
And you release your debut album!
Yes! This year and last year were very significant in my development. The connections I made, the life subjects that emerged, I wouldn't have thought about these things two years ago. Like about the tour, we already have 12 shows all over Europe now for the summer, also we shot a video for Frizzle in Jamaica, the album coming now... it's crazy! Super cool, and it's extremely important to me that I feel good about what I'm doing.
About the video shoot, how was that? Whoand who were involved?
Well, we were all over Kingston. You know the song, right? Every person and every place mentioned in the lyrics – we were there! It was so great, and Sherkhan, the director, is an amazing person. When I first met him, I thought he is the most Jamaican person I ever met... in the sense of preparations and stuff. I would have planned and prepared everything in detail, set up a plan, you know. But he was just 'Yeah mon, we will do it in one day, easy!' In the end it took us three days, but on the first day we got most of it done. We were on the road for nine hours in Kingston, on his motor bike, going from A to B to C. Down to Trench Town to see Torch, to Inna Di Yard next, up to Vinyl Thursdays in the evening, then back to Touch Di Road, the hostel I was staying at. To Papine at Kazam's Yard with Infinite... and everyone was in for it, happy to be part of it. This gave me a good feeling, too. I mean, I had a good connection to all of them, but it's been a year since I last saw them and there's always the question how is the vibe after all that time. To feel that people are still... that the connection is still great with all people, with Jesse Royal and the EDB clan, that was very nice to feel. And of course I was also curious to see what they would think of the song, of the new material. They saw me last year and liked my vibe and liked what I'm doing, but I really didn't have a lot of stuff released, it was just the EP Troddin With A Vision. Now with the album, it was good to see how it is received. This was actually one of the main reasons for me to fly to Jamaica this year, apart from the video shoot. I also had some interviews, but it was important for me to refresh the vibes and stuff. Also to show that I really stand behind my album 100%, that it is deeply intertwined with my experience in Jamaica last year. We will be on the road for a long time to play the tracks on the tour, so I really wanted to reconnect and it was an absolute success, I'm really happy about that.
Last year was your first time in Jamaica, right? Did you know the EDB Crew before that?
No! Exile Di Brave is one of the people who became a real buddy for me, almost like a big brother. I met him in the beginning of my stay, Steffen Sandwichmaker introduced us. So we were at Rebel Salute, that was the first time I saw him perform live, too. That was cool, he is so humble and down-to-earth, it was... I met a lot of other people who were like "Who are you?", especially at that time. This year was different, but back then nobody knew me. So, with Brave, we chilled a lot. He was a bit held back at first, because he had just started out with a performance at Rebel Salute and a tour in Europe upcoming, so he was a bit careful who he would let into his inner circle. But after a while I realized he's just testing a bit, so once you're in, you're really in (laughs). So now we are tight and he will also stop by at my place while he is in Europe. He invited me to the Free Bamboo Joint Show that he had in Kingston, so I shared stage with him there, my first time in Jamaica! There is a video of that on Reggaeville as well. So that was my first time on stage in Jamaica, and it was a mad take-off because a lot of people saw me and connected there.
And was that when you recorded the song Conscious Vibe as well?
Yes, it was recorded last year. I was there for a month and then me and Mikey Tuff went to Brave's little studio and recorded that, with Infinite and them. They did a wicked part on it!
How about the other two features, Conkarah and Ras Muhamad?
With Conkarah I had an interesting link. I met him in Dub Club and I knew that he had been in Indonesia with Ras Muhamad, so that was interesting already. And that day I had a bad evening in Kingston, there was an incident when I didn't know if I was safe or not. That's a big subject in Frizzle as well, by the way, this switch from having a great time to knowing that you could die any moment. But that's another subject. So, I had a real bad evening, and came up to Dub Club from the other side of town, from Tivoli Gardens. And it was like a relief, seeing that here are the roots people, here it is relaxed. And that's when I met Conkarah, because that day I was so glad to be alive and well, I felt like reaching out to people and that's what I did, talking to him. So he was at once completely open and interested. I gave him my EP and he wrote me little after that that he really likes it and that he'd like to do something with me. We started to hang out and we ended up spending a lot of time together, so the idea for the song kind of took shape in his yard. We recorded a demo which sounds completely different from what you hear on the release now, and when I was in Bologna we fixed the riddim and recorded and Bam!
How did you link up with Bassplate Records anyway?
In Kingston as well (laughs), everything started in Kingston. Mikey heard me play in Chinna's Yard, where I performed before Kabaka. Or rather between somebody and Kabaka, I forgot who it was. I kind of squeezed myself in. So, I played guitar and I sang, and meanwhile Kabaka and The Bebble Rockers were getting ready to play, so I thought nobody will notice me anyway. I just did my thing, and then, after that show, two producers wrote to me who saw me perform and Mikey was one of them and he was really impressed. I was astonished because I thought that nobody had noticed what I'd been doing. So we started to meet and he showed me some riddims. The first one he showed me was the one from Frizzle and I found it dope. It's such an interesting mix of digital elements which sound organic through the live brass and stuff. And when I was in Bologna, I put some overdubs with a really cool Electric guitar on it and so it became a lot more rootsier. So that's how it started. I have heard of them before, that they did something with Brave, that was cool, Dis Yah Sinting, and then it started and I liked most of their riddims, and that evening we met in Kingston at Touch The Road. Do you know Enrico? No? From Longbay, the Italian who also plays Vinyl. He was there for Vinyl Thursdays and Mikey too, and he wanted to go back to Longbay that night and asked me if I wanted to come with them spontaneously. And because the vibe was cool, I went to Longbay on the same day I met them, and we spent a few days there and that's where the idea of an album developed.
So they contributed the riddims and you did lyrics and melodies?
Yes, most of the times they had riddims and I played instrumentals on it. That was important for me, to be part of the process. I played bass, piano, percussions, acoustic and electric guitar, and so the riddims changed a bit. But there are some tracks that we produced right there. Movement is acoustic, it was important to me to have that as well. The bonus track now, Mi Name... we just felt like putting some 90ies Dancehall vibes. Respect we did together as well, we built these tracks in Bologna. I was there twice for a week, staying with Mikey, and I worked with them in the studio, it was a great vibe.
What about the artwork, who did that?
I don't really remember how the idea came up, but at some point we said we need an interesting artwork. I knew from their other works that they have someone who does some great stuff, who also knows how to draw. We started to think about illustrating a journey, because it's about me travelling to Kingston. And then there was this idea: Comic! One person in different contexts, with different people, I thought that would be nice. And then it was just about implementing the idea with Simonluca from Urbanmagic. Impressive guy, really. I had some ideas for the songs and I told him about it and he used some of them, but at the end he made his own, in Movements for instance, and some others too. He took travel pictures I had from Jamaica and used them in the background. Running Away for instance, on the mountains in the jungle, this was taken in Montego Bay, on that same spot. I was there and he painted it and that's another crazy personal reference, because I have these pictures in my head and now they are in the booklet, too. He was in the studio while we voiced the songs, and he did the artwork for it. So, that was a crazy vibe again, and I think this connection is transported through the pictures and the artwork. Respect to the Bassplate crew, I'm really happy for what they did!
Are you looking forward to the upcoming tour?
Yes, extremely! Especially because it's international this time. One show, we play support for Kabaka at the Afrika Tage Festival in Vienna. I was there already last year, TriXstar got me up on stage, but this year it's a real booking. Then we have some shows in Italy, there are many festivals this year, also in Germany. That will be very interesting, because last year, the experience to play on festivals was extremely nice. And it's fun too!
Will you do the gigs with your band? The one you present The Jungle Sessions with on Youtube?
Yes, some of them. The Jungle Sessions was something where I wanted to introduce to the people my band and how we interact. I'm so happy with them! I didn't really cast people to be in the band or whatever, it just happened naturally. Me and Goukie started out, and step by step we were built up. The bassie was the last addition, and it's important for me to present the live band and make people understand that this is an essential part of Tóke. Tóke is not a solo artist, but comes with the band, that's our vibe. You see, music is the aim and I invest everything in it right now. When I think about that the project Tóke exists since two years only, it's crazy how fast everything happened.
Last question: Can you imagine to live in Kingston?
Interesting question. Yes and no. Yes because the rhythm in Jamaica... how should I put it.... the way time is perceived is liberating to me. I feel free when I'm in Kingston, for work even, somehow. I mean, I'm also under stress in Kingston, not last year but this year, but inwardly I was very balanced and I think that's because I learn to not have expectations and to take things how they come and appreciate them. I lose this feeling when I'm back in Germany. And also because I'm in the heartbeat of the music there, I can meet people and do stuff, which here is not possible. So that would be reasons to live there, although I'm not sure if I would take that step. Crime is an issue, something I sing about in Frizzle. I sing "Down inna di valley... people bawl cause another youth just die" – real talk! It's so good in one moment, when I jam with Kazam and Infinite and suddenly we hear this BANG!, it sounded as if something huge had fallen down, and suddenly you hear people cry and it echoes through the valley... so this is shaking you. Police went crazy in that time, and to walk home from there was a tough moment. So, that's a reason... and I have people here that I love and that I wouldn't want to leave. But you never know, we'll just see what happens!