Interview with Tony Ray Jacobo of Tribal Seeds - Talking about Ancient Blood
02/13/2024 by Gardy Stein
A conscious force in the US-American reggae scene, Tribal Seeds have been rocking studios and stages for almost two decades now, building an ever-increasing fanbase around the world. Founding brothers Steve and Tony Ray Jacobo have consistently developed the unique profile of the band, and while both have taken a well-deserved hiatus from the group in the past, they are now back with full force to share their new album.
Ancient Blood connects the dots between their own Mexican heritage, the African and Jamaican roots of the music they play, as well as Native North- and South-American wisdom. In our first-ever interview, Reggaeville spoke with Tony Ray about the album's production process, the numerous amazing features included and the special place European fans had in its creation:
Greetings Tony Ray! Thank you for taking the time for this interview. For starters, how was 2023 for you? Can you share some of Tribal Seeds' highlights?
Sure! We got to go on tour with Dirty Heads and SOJA here in the States for two months, a summer tour with them. That was definitely a highlight, that whole tour. And then we got to record a single and a song that's on the album with Hector "Roots" Lewis called Dust Till Dawn, we got to record that while on tour. So yeah, just a couple of great moments we got to have with Hector.
Hector came to fill in for your brother Steve as lead singer. How has the time been with him? How was the chemistry and the shows you did with him?
Hector was great! For his first rehearsal with us, he was coming straight from Jamaica to San Diego, California, and he came prepared with all the lyrics memorized. The way Steve writes, it's not easy to memorize all these songs, but Hector nailed it, he was ready. And it was just a great vibe with Hector, he just lights up the room, it was an awesome blend that we were able to have with him. And we went on a long tour during that summer and it was just great vibes and a great time.
Your brother Steve is back in the band now, right? What did he do in the meantime?
He took a little bit of a hiatus last year, or actually in '22. We have been touring and making music and playing shows since we were 19, 20 years old, and we're 38 now, he's 36. So, we've been doing this a long time. Actually, I took a break for a while, too, I went on a six year break from the band, from touring because, you know, I just felt like I need to step away for a while. And Steve kind of felt that a couple of years ago in 2022, where, you know, he just kind of needed to step back for a while and take a break. So, we had Hector come and fill in for him. And now Steve got his break and he got to work on the album and finish the album, finish writing and recording. We've been putting the finishing touches in 2023 and now we're here!
How long has Ancient Blood been in the making? When did you start considering it?
Wow… I think the initial productions and writings for this album maybe started about six years ago or so. It's been a long time. Like I said, a big portion of that time I was out of the band, so I wasn't constantly working with the band on these productions and writing these songs. When I came back, that's kind of when I stepped in and was like, "All right, let's get this done now!" So, it's probably been about six, maybe even seven years of this album in the making.
Talking about the title Ancient Blood, can you tell us about the roots of the band Tribal Seeds a little more? I read that it's a US-Mexican band, so where does the Mexican blood come from?
Myself and my brother, we are both Mexican. We grew up in South San Diego, which is right by the Tijuana border, and roots reggae is big in this area. For whatever reason, South San Diego really gravitated towards roots reggae music, so we grew up with it. Before we could even talk, we were listening to Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, and then we saw Midnite from the Virgin Islands live here in San Diego, and that's what really inspired me and Steve to start this band, Tribal Seeds. Rest in Peace to Vaughn Benjamin!
You recently posted a video snippet on Instagram where you wrote "That's how it all started." Is it you and your brother as kids?
Yeah, it is. So, like I said, before we could walk and talk, Bob Marley was playing in our house and we were trying to sing the melodies and sing the lyrics as best as we could as babies (laughs). But yeah, Mexican American, that's our culture, that's what we grew up in. You know, we've got a Mexican American artist on this album, too, his name is Chiquis, and we have another artist from the Mayan Yucatan peninsula, and he gets to flow in the Mayan language on our album. So, we just kind of wanted to tap into more of the Mexican and Spanish and indigenous cultures down here and have that a part of our album.
Can you tell us about the cover art? It seems to combine some Mexican and Latin American traditions. The cover itself is really beautiful already, but then the animated version with the rotating circles that you did, this just blew my mind. Who's responsible for that?
Awesome, yeah. That's exactly what it is, you know, the indigenous blood that flows through us here in Mexico and the ancient blood that flows through all of us through Africa. We just wanted to pay respect and intertwine that with what runs through our blood, you know, this ancient knowledge and wisdom that the ancestors carried, their blood runs through us. So that's what they represent. The artist who did it, his name is Nate Dino, he's out here in the States.
It's really amazing work. You already mentioned the artists that feature on the title track, Ancient Blood. Can you elaborate a bit on how the collaboration came about with Chiquis and the other artists, Los Daddys and El Dusty? What are they singing about, because some parts of the lyrics are in Spanish?
Yeah, so, Chiquis, we met him a long time ago, he played in a band called The Expanders, he still does. And El Dusty as well, we met him years ago, he's a cumbia/ EDM producer. He's the one that linked us up with Los Daddys, another cumbia producer in Mexico, and we all collaborated together. Chiquis' lyrics, he talks about the ancient wisdom and the spiritual insight that we get that runs through us from our ancestors and the power behind that, what the ancestors passed down to us and what we still carry from them.
That's beautiful. And then in a similar line, you already mentioned the collaboration with the Maya guy, Pat Boy. What does the song title Aya stand for?
Steve named it Aya which is short for Ayahuasca, you know the spiritual ceremony, a sacrament that a lot of people do in Mexico and all over the world to tap into yourself and reflect upon things that are going on in your life that you're not really confronting or handling, so it's about that.
And how did you meet the artist Pat Boy?
We actually watched a documentary about the Wakanda Forever album, and in that documentary they traveled down to the Mayan Peninsula, the Yucatan Peninsula, and they met up with Pat Boy and we saw that Pat Boy was one of the biggest Mayan rappers in that region. We were like, "Dude, this is gonna be perfect! We're calling the album Ancient Blood, why not get an ancient language to be part of this?" So, we contacted him, and he was into it, that's how we got it done.
The album is special in that it has so many featured artists, there are only four or five songs which don't have a feature. Was that a conscious decision?
It just kind of happened organically. Steve would write songs, and sometimes he would have certain artists in mind like, "Oh, I think so and so would be great for this song!" We didn't really plan for it to have a lot of features, it just kind of happened that way. And we got the perfect features that we imagined for this album!
Let's talk about the first song, Bondage, a beautiful roots banger. It features the Twinkle Brothers, how did you link up with them?
Like I said, while I was making this production, right away I thought about Norman Grant from the Twinkle Brothers. And it happened, man, it blew our minds that we were able to get this legend on this song, on this album! We have a friend who lives in LA named Fabian Cook. He's from Jamaica, long time legendary Jamaican musician, artist, producer, engineer, and he's based in LA now. And I asked, "Fabian, do you have any links with Norman Grant of the Twinkle Brothers?" And sure enough, he did get in contact with Norman Grant. Norman agreed to the song and that's how it happened. It's amazing to have him!
It is! The roots vibes that it carries, it's just another level, and also the song Till I, it's very beautiful, the melodies and the rhythms. How did you work generally? You said that the band created some of the songs and you came in to create some… did you also bring other producers in?
Steve wrote some of the songs with the band, and I produced some of the songs, too. So, it was either Steve writing the song and putting it together with the band or myself starting a production and then Steve writing to it. When I came back in the band three years ago, I became the project manager to finish the production on the songs and get them all done. And as I said, we worked with El Dusty and Los Daddys on Ancient Blood, the title track.
For us at Reggaeville, it's also exciting that you have the Ganjaville riddim on it, on Irie Up. It features you and Gonzo, right?
Coming back to the features, you really have a wide range… Holly Cook is there with a beautiful piece, Roman Virgo too. One artist that I didn't know before is Natalie Doco. Can you introduce her?
Natalie Doco is from Argentina. She lives in France and tours all over Europe, she's out there. I have a playlist of music on my Spotify, and one of her songs is one of my favorites. So, when we were thinking about features for the album, I had this Latin style tune. I was looking through my Spotify playlist and thought she would be awesome for this song In Love. We contacted her and it happened, she came through for us! But normally she does world music, Latin music, not reggae.
Wonderful. Another one that is really great is Kabaka Pyramid on Nice Up. When he starts his verse, he sings "players of instruments have a duty to perform". Would you agree to that?
Definitely! I feel like the gifts that we're given were meant to be used to the full potential, as much as possible. We have a responsibility to make art and inspire and uplift as many as we can. So yes, it is our duty.
There's some chanting in the background and some what sounds like Native American or Mexican flutes. How was that recorded?
These were actually some samples that I found on a website called Splice. It's like a sample website where you pay for a subscription and you get to use it in your songs, royalty-free. I just found some tribal chanting and some flute sounds and put it into the session and cut them up and arranged it so that it fits the song.
Big respect for that, and also for the lyrics you write. You are a band that really tries to put this consciousness in the lyrics. I always wonder about those Pop artists who are in the Billboard Hot 100 or whatever, why don't they use their reach more to enlighten people about important subjects?
I often think the same thing. If you have this big megaphone platform to the world, you know, just try to uplift and inspire! I mean, it's good to have the feel good, fun songs too, but if you have that big of a platform, use it for good sometimes!
Yeah, definitely. About the connection to your US colleagues, The Elovaters and The Movement, who are also featured artists, did you work with them before?
We haven't worked with them on a record, but we have toured with them before. So, we know those guys for some time. When we went on tour with Dirty Heads and SOJA, The Elovaters were part of that tour as well. So that's when we met and we got to hang out and spend a lot of time together, so The Elovaters are good friends, and The Movement we've known for years as well and toured with them.
Breathe Easy, the song with The Movement, has so many layers… it has a full stop in the middle, it has chord change somewhere in the end and then some raggamuffin parts, too. Who produced that one?
I did the production on that one. I wrote the chorus and then Steve jumped on and then Josh from The Movement jumped on. I was inspired by The Police and some '80s music, I just wanted to play around and have fun with the production and see what I could do, see what I could create. So yeah, I kind of went crazy with it, but it was fun for me. (laughs)
It's really fun listening, too, because there are so many surprises there. What's also fun is the dub parts in Down Bad Vibes with Suckarie and also in Fallen Kings. Was it live dubbing that you did while recording or was that added later?
Yeah, for those songs, like Down Bad Vibes, we just figured it would be a good instrumental section at the end of the song, just to kind of let the drum and bass play with some of the Nyabhinghi percussions. And that's just what felt right for that song, and in Fallen Kings as well. We added some string sections to that one, so we had some string players come into the studio and record that. Shout-out to Eric for putting that together! Also, shout-out to Kate and Warren who are the trumpet and sax players on One Time, they wrote those horn lines and they did great.
And who are the Fallen Kings?
That's another song written by Steve that he kind of gets deep with. It's basically about the ancient cultures, the ancient civilizations, and how they were very advanced, you know, they were astrologers, mathematicians, they had irrigation… They had it all, they had super highways, more are being found in the Amazon now, so it just talks about that, those ancient civilizations and how advanced they really were and about those kings, how much knowledge they actually had.
Amazing! I sometimes wonder how humanity has come so far and we have discovered so many great things, and still we are always going back to these stupid conflicts and wars and childish behavior… I don't get it. We should be much wiser by now.
Right! I mean, it's true, it's like with any good thing, men seem to ruin it over time because of greed and power and whatever.
Yes… but I don't give up hope, I think one day we'll get there, we'll get to the higher levels and luckily there are people like you who contribute to that. Speaking about the feature with Hempress Sativa, Wicked & Riled, in the beginning you put a kind of speech - who's it talking?
Yeah, he's a Native American elder called Floyd Red Crow Westerman. Steve found that recording and the speaker is not alive anymore, so we got the permission from his family to use that recording.
He's saying, "America is dying from within." What do you think he's talking about?
It's some discussions and conversations that himself and maybe some of the other elders and tribesmen talked about, about the future of America and where it's headed. I mean, it's an interesting time over here…
Yes, with the votes coming up and all… people over here are following that, too, hoping that it's not Trump again. How did you link up with Hempress Sativa to sing on that one?
That's another one while Steve was writing the song, he thought Hempress Sativa would be a good artist on that because, you know, she's really militant herself and she's really deep with her lyrics. So, he thought it would be great to ask her to be a part of this tune, and she agreed.
One of the non-featured songs is called Tokyo. I saw on Instagram that Steve spent some time in Japan, obviously. Is that song a kind of recap of his experience there?
Definitely! Steve loves going to Japan. That's probably like his favorite place to go on vacation. He loves the culture, and that's kind of a fun song, you know, like I said, it's good to have some of the fun songs. So, that's one where he talks about going to Japan, the karaoke, the traveling, you know, seeing the guys make the samurai swords over there… just a fun song for him.
Will there be a release party for the album, a performance or whatever?
We were talking about a listening party before the album comes out, but we we've just been so busy ever since we finished the album to like making content for promotions, to contact the other artists, you know… We've just been too busy to plan a listening party, but our release party I guess won't be till June here in San Diego, that'll be our hometown album release party.
The album will be out in vinyl as well - is there a vinyl market in America?
Vinyls actually made a comeback here in the States. So, yeah, we're printing up vinyls now and we've already had some people order them, they should be ready to ship out by April, I believe. We'll ship them out as soon as they're ready to go!
What are you looking forward to in 2024? Are there some special gigs that you have, festivals you will go to that you're looking forward to?
Yeah, we're announcing a tour soon in May. I guess I shouldn't say yet who we're touring with, but it's a well-known artist all around the world. And we really want to go out to Europe really bad this year and start making regular trips every year to go out there. Our European fans have shown us so much love over the years, and for whatever reason, we haven't been able to go out as much. The band went out in 2019, and then COVID happened so we couldn't travel for a while… Yeah, we really hope to get out this year and just start coming back every year. Europe is a big one for us, and also South America and Mexico, we really hope to get out there soon, so we're working on that as well. Just play more shows internationally, we want to travel and see more and do more!
Actually, I'm through with my many, many questions… do you have something to add? Something that you feel we left out?
Like I said earlier about our European fans that have shown us so much love… Again, we want to get out there on the regular every year now. We've really appreciated how much the European fans really appreciate roots reggae music and the message and the foundations of this music. That's of high importance to a lot of the European fans, it looks like. Because of that love for the foundations of reggae music, that really inspired us on this album and beyond to really make good quality music, good message music to please the European fans out there, to just let them know that we appreciate how much they love reggae music and the message of it. So, the European fans really inspired us on this album.
Thank you so much! And we appreciate you too for doing these beautiful works and music. Please pass our greetings to the band, we are looking forward to have you here once more soon. And all the best for the album release, for the shows coming up!
Awesome, thank you so much!