Interview with Ziggi Recado
05/21/2014 by Angus Taylor
Ziggi Recado never wanted to be an artist growing up. The St Eustatian singer-deejay freely admits he initially only busted a few rhymes to fit in with his friends who did. But the adolescent natural talent in those couplets kick-started the reggae scene in his adopted home of the Netherlands - with the grainy-toned melodious chanter at its head.
With each new recording since, Ziggi’s seriousness about his craft has grown - and it shows. This interview took place just as he’d returned to Holland after cutting his fourth album Therapeutic with highly touted US/VI production triumvirate Zion I Kings. It's the first time he has ever voiced a full project while in his birthplace of Statia - and what he saw there inspired many of his more rebellious lyrics.
Ziggi has a wide and winning smile. But when talking he fixes you with a truth seeker’s stare. Although he hasn't always been pleased with past albums - even the ones critics and fans have enjoyed - he sounds sincere when he says Therapeutic is his best yet. Once the flagship of Dutch reggae, Ziggi is an artist of the world.
St Eustatius is a very small island – does it even make sense to ask where in the island you are from?
(laughs) Nah! There are different regions but it’s so small that nobody talks about being from any specific region – it’s just one.
Every island has its own culture - describe Statian culture for those who don’t know.
Statian culture is probably very confusing. It’s been through a lot through the years. It’s a small island. It’s very underdeveloped in terms of schooling. Most youths leave no later than 16 to do some schooling – and a great deal of them never go back. There’s not much for them to go back to either even if they do. The island is controlled by the Dutch and compared to when I was growing up there it seems like it’s even more under control than before. It’s just switched to a different currency - from Antillean Guilders to Dollars - and that made it a lot crazier too. So it’s a very different vibe this time around for me on that island.
Are you from a large or a small family?
Small. I am the only child between my mum and my dad but they both have their families after me. I have two half-brothers and four half-sisters. I grew up in Statia with my grandparents and an older girl cousin and then I moved to Aruba for a few years for school and lived with my mum for the first time with my sister. She had my other sister and my little brother while I was there.
Did you grow up speaking English and Dutch?
More English because I ended up in Statia but my mum is Dutch so for the first couple of years I was back and forth a couple of times so there was some Dutch in there.
Your grandmother was the organ player in the 7th Day Adventist church. You came from a Christian home?
Oh yeah man. Hardcore. Being grandparents they were from an older generation and on a small island like that it was dead serious about church man. I had to be in church at least four times a week. I really believed that Jesus was coming any day. (laughs)
Is that where the music first came in to your life?
Back then I never had any idea that I wanted to do something with music. I guess some experience came in then. I was in the church choir learning about singing harmonies but it was only later on when I actually started to do music that it worked to my advantage.
Like many youth growing up you were into sports?
Very much. Basketball was my thing and I was planning to go to the NBA but I destroyed my ankle. I tore up all my ligaments in a game when I was 16. That was really dumb because every island I lived on I was in the national team. It took me out of rotation for at least eight months and after that it was never the same.
Tell me about Statian music culture.
Very Caribbean. A lot of soca and calypso. You’d get some other influences from the Caribbean too like reggae and some Spanish music. But the hardcore thing is calypso and soca.
What kind of reggae was reaching you in your childhood years?
A lot stuff man. I think Bob is probably the thing that most people hear because he gets played so much. But after that it was Buju, Til Shiloh – that was like turning up down there – Shabba was huge on the island back in the day. Anybody who was really doing things - because it was the Caribbean – just not on the soca level.
Did non-Jamaican reggae like Midnite reach over there?
Oh no. It still hasn’t reached man.
Even from so near?
I got a combination with Midnite on the new album and that island is the one place where you play that tune and people look at me like “What IS this music?” It doesn’t do anything for them.
Tell me about your spiritual journey – did it start in Statia?
I think it definitely started in childhood because of my upbringing and my grandparents. I was so entwined in church that I even gave sermons when I was 12. I was hardcore Adventist. Then for schooling I had to leave the island and ended up in Aruba where my mum was in the process of doing bible study and becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. So she was trying to reprogram my thinking. I think by that time I became aware of the spiritual aspect of life.
In what other ways was Aruba different for you?
Aruba was very different man. It’s way down almost by South America. They speak English but the main language is Papiamento which is a mix between Spanish, Portuguese and some other stuff. When I went there I couldn’t speak a word of it so that was some different shit man. Over there is really Latin – very much South American influence. That was a very different swing from Statia which is a real black island.
How did Rasta come to you?
It was always there from the beginning. As a Caribbean island Statia had some Rastaman who I always used to be around. I think musically I was always very much into reggae and loved it more than calypso and soca. I think by the time I got to Europe that grew even stronger. As I started to focus more on the reggae it just became the most natural thing to tell you the truth.
You moved to Netherlands to study – what did you study?
At first I was doing economics. And by the time I stopped school and did music full time I was busy with computer programming.
You kept your connection with your Statian friends when you came over. It wasn’t like you were alone. You had a crew around you.
Very much. I had a few guys that had already moved to Holland long before me and I had a few that came while I was there. Eventually we had a little community of the whole crew from back in the island so of course, as these are the friends you grew with you most naturally stay in that line.
How did you adjust to the move?
I think the biggest adjustment was getting used to a whole new life. I went from being 18 in my mum’s house, never being out by yourself, never cooked a meal for yourself, to being in a country where everything is on you. That was a dramatic change so I did a lot of craziness in that period. I had fun but I did a lot of craziness also.
Your friends wanted to be artists but you weren’t that interested at the time – did they want to be reggae artists? Hip hop artists?
Dancehall. It was two guys to start with, later on three and then the fourth guy wasn’t an artist but he used to perform with one of them as a hype man and be everywhere. Basically the whole crew was into that.
What was the reggae and dancehall scene like at the time?
There was none man.
You guys were it.
Yeah. That was kind of unique. I think it helped get me some attention in Holland back then. It was just not happening there so what we were doing back then was really something fresh.
It’s a superficial observation but when you consider how much Jamaican artists like coming to Amsterdam it’s odd how little home grown reggae and dancehall was going on.
Reggae artists like to come and smoke but in terms of a scene that’s a completely different story man. Of course there were Caribbean people there before we arrived, so why they didn’t do more about a scene I can’t say. I’ve seen the whole Dutch music scene change in the years I’ve been in Holland. I remember when I came here and you put on the TV you’d see guys rapping in English on TV. Those were the most successful ones. You had a handful of them and that was it. In this day and age now it’s completely the other way around. Dutch rap is it. I don’t know any guys who do it in English who even succeed.
So the hip hop scene was quite big then compared to reggae?
It was at the time. What they called it in Holland was “urban” back then. I don’t know if they still do now but they used to put hip hop and R&B under one umbrella and call it “urban”.
It’s kind of a record store categorisation. So they don’t have to say what they mean.
How did you go from just saying a few bars for fun with your friends to meeting Mr Rude and becoming part of Rock’N’Vibes records?
That was the guy who was my first manager. This busting one line thing came out of just us at home in one room. I thought I would fuck with them. That one night I would suddenly do this and they would all freak out. But we ended up in a studio – well it wasn’t actually a studio yet but the guy had a little microphone set up and he was kind of scouting them or whatever so he wanted the whole crew to drop a line. Everybody did and then started looking at me, expecting me to drop a line. I didn’t want to but it was peer pressure back then so I went ahead and this dude liked it and wanted me to come back to do some work together. I started to mess with voicing a couple of tracks and that grew into him taking it more seriously until he actually built a real studio and then he said he’d turn into a manager/label. Once we had enough songs he made a CD single, got it on a Dutch “urban” radio station (laughs) it went to number one on that and things started to roll.
You are both a melodic singer and rhythmic deejay and all spaces in between - was that natural to be both?
Actually yeah. I was always about trying to make a nice song to sound nice in my ear so sometimes so if I was doing a piece singing I would feel like “OK a deejay piece is supposed to come in now”. I would just roll with that and not really think too hard about it like “Am I singing or am I deejaying” I’d just go with what I feel needed to come at that moment.
How would you say your sound changed between your first album So Much Reasons and your second album In Transit?
Dramatically man. In Transit is the first CD where I was consciously doing music and trying to think about how I wanted it to sound. That So Much Reasons CD is actually a collection of the first tracks I recorded when I started to mess with Mr Rude. When we had enough songs he put out the CD.
After your first two albums you decided to change your name from Ziggi to Ziggi Recado because of confusion with Ziggy Marley.
My name is Ziggi from a youth. It’s what my grandmother called me so when I came to Holland that’s what my friends called me. Because I got into music in this strange way – it was never something I was thinking about – when Mr Rude decided to put out a song and was like “OK, what name are you gonna use?” I didn’t try to be creative, I was just like “Put Ziggi on it”. I was not thinking about big scale and Ziggy Marley and if it would be a problem – that was the last thing on my mind back then. So only when things started happening and I realised that was a situation then I had to do something about it.
The point where you become Ziggi Recado is also the point when you released your self-produced third album Ziggi Recado which is a lot more eclectic and branches out from just reggae and dancehall into many different styles. It’s also when you left behind the bouncy excitable high energy delivery of In Transit and begin to sound much more serious vocally. What was happening at the time that caused all that?
Man, that’s a complicated story too. When I was doing the Ziggi Recado album that was close to the end of my period of working with Mr Rude. At that point he had already moved out of Holland and was in St Maarten and I was up here doing the album by myself. I left my family and did the whole album in Rotterdam at my guitarist’s house. We created a great vibe in that house man. That Ziggi Recado album originally was excellent. I was in love with it. But I was doing it myself on this little MacBook and going to a show somewhere in Europe through security I dropped the MacBook. I had never backed anything up and that was the end of the hard drive. A few songs were spared - Mary and the track with Etana – because they were on some other computers, but everything else had to get done over again. That was not cool. That was the toughest time ever in the studio because we had something that was perfect and then to try to recreate that again was impossible.
But it was still a really good album. I have this conversation with producers a lot! Just because you know there was a better album that never came out doesn’t mean this one wasn’t wicked.
Exactly. You don’t know the original. So when it was released of course I wasn’t talking to people about it like this because you are trying to promote your thing. But I knew “Damn, this is not what it was supposed to be.” Not close, to tell you the truth.
Why did you split from Mr Rude?
When the laptop got fucked an investment could have been made to get it to some studio in Europe where there was a chance the stuff could have been recovered but Rude didn’t want to invest in that. We were already not on great terms and then him leaving the country didn’t make it any better. So everything that was going on around the album and the way they wanted to deal with it financially the situation just was not right in any way at all. So I had to step out of that.
What’s your situation now – are you a free agent?
Actually yeah. I am doing an album with a label but it’s not like I’m signed to them. Once we do this album together I’m free to do anything I like. Herb-A-Lize-It is my brethren who actually created an agency because of me and he had this sound so is well connected. Leaving Rude as my manager after all those years I needed to put somebody in the position to at least correspond with people on my behalf because I couldn’t do all that myself. He does a lot of management functions – not everything but he helps me with everything.
Your latest album Therapeutic is with Zion High Productions in Florida and produced by Zion Kings which is Jah D from Zion High, Tippy from I Grade in St Croix and Moon from Lustre Kings in Cali. How did you link with them?
Nothing complicated – Facebook Iyah. I got a message from David Goldfine from Zion I Kings. I didn’t even know who they were to tell you the truth but he sent a beat and it was really great so I didn’t hesitate to work with it. From then we connected and he let me hear other stuff and I got to realize exactly who they were and it was sealed.
Did you go out to Florida?
No, I was in Statia for all the recordings. I was with Tippy who is part of Zion I Kings in Jamaica for a week when Pressure was doing his album with Tippy. I have never met David in person.
How many times have you been to Jamaica?
Twice. I love it man. Jamaica vibes, if you love reggae and if you love herb there is no better place to be.
How do you write? Do you write stuff down?
For a while now I don’t. This whole new album I did not. My latest method is this. In Statia I recorded with one of my brethrens who has started a youth foundation where he built a studio. I used this studio to do the voicing. I would go there in the evenings because in the day the youths are there. But in the night I couldn’t smoke in the studio. That was a big problem, so in the day I would go by the next brethren of mine – another of these friends who as an artist but lives there now – and I would create the tracks at his spot where we could smoke and blast the music and catch a vibe. So when I would come up with enough of an idea – let’s say I would have the entire hook in my head – then I would pull out the iPhone with voice recorder and sing the hook so I don’t forget it. When I got the whole verse I would do the whole verse so I got that. Then in the night – forward to the studio. (laughs)
The first track on the album Masquerade compares Babylon to a circus. Give us an example of the circus and how it operates from either everyday life or a story in the news…
Well it’s like you say – there are too many examples. You just need to turn on the TV randomly and you’ll see examples. I got the idea in Statia. Because the island is so small their politics is like a family thing. You have a few big families and they kind of run the island for a while. You’ve got enough people who are totally unqualified with no level of schooling whatsoever but they get these positions because of that. So it’s clearly just a game going on and the people in power pulling the strings. But I could probably say the same thing for any big country. Any president you see on the TV telling you something.
Is it more about politics or about media – or the whole thing? For example, is the current thing that’s all over the media about Beyonce and her sister and Jay Z an example of the circus?
Oh that’s definitely a circus there. They like to keep people’s minds distracted and focused on unimportant things. I think they’re all connected. Politics uses media to get the message across to me and you.
PEOPLE DON’T REBEL LIKE THEY DID BACK IN THE DAYS
What are the important things people are being distracted from?
Everyday life man. It’s amazing to me how people don’t rebel nowadays like they did back in the days. In Statia for example, there was a referendum before 2010 about what they wanted the status of the island to be. Because it’s actually still a Dutch colony but they find a different name to call it every time. They just phrase it differently (laughs). So the latest one is a “state” of Holland but outside of Holland. The people did not want that so they voted against it but the politicians in power in Statia who came to Holland to do the business on the people’s behalf went and accepted that position anyway. So what happens? You expect people are going to go crazy and start some shit? But no, you hear people talking to each other “How can they do that? That’s fucked up” and then they go back to everyday life.
You also say in that sound that everything is planned. Is everything really planned?
It’s hard to plan every single detail but I think very much of it is planned.
But as you were just saying, if people see the world as being totally planned that can be a reason for apathy? If everything is planned and I’ve got no control I’ll just get on with my life.
Yeah – it’s hard to see that that’s the reason actually why you should do something! It’s hard to do something nowadays. The media’s so powerful. Everyone’s so quick to call you crazy as soon as you point out anything that seems shady.
With the song Earthstrong with Vaughn from Midnite you’ve followed the tradition of various artists like Sizzla, Twinkle Brothers and Linval Cooper in trying to create an alternative reggae birthday song. It has some quite raw reality lyrics – it’s quite a different mood from “Happy birthday to you”.
I’ve got to credit this one very much to my brethren Biggs who I did a lot of the music with. When we played the rhythm me and David had an idea about Vaughn for a track and that rhythm struck me as a Vaughn rhythm. When Biggs heard it he was on this earthstrong idea hardcore. I wasn’t completely on it at first because it’s a different kind of something but slowly but surely he kind of forced me to stick with it and we ended up working out a nice melody and after that it all went smoothly and easily. That hardest thing was to get into because it was such a different thing.
Have you met and reasoned with Midnite? There must be a degree of shared history between your groups of islands – even if one was colonised by the Dutch and one by the Danes.
I have. I actually reasoned more with Ron than Vaughn. I reasoned with Ron here in Amsterdam. I was surprised that when he spoke to me his accent is almost the same like mine. It was almost like talking to a Statia man. You don’t come across that anywhere because everybody from Statia you know already. It’s so small that everybody you identify by face so that was something different. I don’t know in terms of culture because I never spent time in St Croix but I can tell by the accent that, even though every Caribbean island has their own flavour, theirs is very close to ours. I know that for sure.
Are you pleased with this album and what does it represent for you?
I am very pleased with this album. It turned out excellent. This was the first time I went to the Caribbean to record musical work in an undertaking like this. For me, I think this is my best work. I always strive to improve and keep growing and I think I got that done. Production-wise an album with Zion I Kings turned out to be a blessing because musically I think it is strong from start to end. I am very proud of it man. I hope people love it. I definitely do.
I WANT TO ACHIEVE SUSTAINABILITY
What do you want to achieve next in your career? What barriers do you want to break down in the music industry?
I want to achieve sustainability. I think every artist and everybody doing something that they love would love to be able to just do that full time and live not having to worry about anything. Sustain and keep on growing myself as an artist reaching more people and get myself to a level where I know I can keep on doing what I love and be able to take care of my two kids like that.