Rototom Sunsplash 2014 ADD

08/16 - 08/23 2014

Interview with Super Cat

07/28/2015 by Angus Taylor

Interview with Super Cat

With his tough, trancelike flow, Anthony William Maragh aka Super Cat is one of the most respected deejays of his generation. Raised in the musical hothouse of Kingston 11, coming from Indian/West Indian parentage, he first appeared at the microphone in a dance aged around seven years old.

After a spell in prison during adolescence he began taking his calling seriously in the early 80s. His abilities on the sound systems King Stur Gav, a clash conquering Killamanjaro and Stereo Mars led to some immortal recordings as the reggae world was turning digital. These included Trash and Ready (on King Jammys Sleng Teng rhythm) and Boops (for Winston Riley).

When the decade ended the Cat relocated to New York, where he had another brush with the law (ultimately being cleared of involvement in singer Nitty Gritty’s death), landing on his feet with a contract from Sony/Columbia Records. In Jamaica he was a conjoiner of the live instrument and computer eras; in NYC he was instrumental in keeping the link between dancehall and hip hop, working with Heavy D and even child duo Kris Kross.

Due respectability comes with age or absence: as demonstrated when Super Cat returned to Sting 2013 (site of a 1991 clash with Ninjaman where bottles were thrown) to a hero’s welcome. This summer he performs in Europe at Roma Red Hot in Italy, Reggae Geel in Belgium and Rototom Sunsplash in Spain, and consequently granted Reggaeville the following rare interview.

Super Cat has a unique mode of expression – his rhythmic, serene utterances take on the riddle-like quality of a Holy man. Yet amidst the many allusions to horseracing, classic Western and gangster movies, his speech is riddled with fascinating historical references to Jamaica in the 70s and 80s.

It should be noted that his management stipulated we avoid certain topics of conversation. Even so, this short discussion gives a flavour of the man: who, despite an at times complicated life, has maintained a simple focus on his craft.

Hello? Is this Super Cat?
Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir, Wild Apache Anthony William Marajah – aka Super Cat

What was your first ever experience of music?
My first, first, first great insight of reggae tune was Radio Ocean 11 in my home in the island of I-Mecca – some say it’s Jamaica. When I was growing up, maybe I was a quarter dozen years old, three years old.

What music was playing on Ocean 11 at that time?
The Carpenters. (sings) “There is no getting over this I-quivalent rainbow”.

So it was American music that was playing?
I’m not sure if it was American because I listened to everything. I listened to the British invasion. The Beatles, everything, because that was the radio that would give you all them top classics. Lifetime classic hits that never die.

And what about Jamaican music? What were the first tunes you heard?
I figured all of it was Jamaican! Like (sings) “Hey June… don’t let us down” I didn’t know if it was June or Judah! But then Gregory Isaacs came along and Dennis Brown. (sings) “Hang on, the rain come shine, after the storm, there has to be a calm”. And so it went on.

What about your first experience of sound system? When did you first hear a sound?
First sound? Not Ocean 11 Radio. Before I saw a sound box, in my home at Broadleaf Road and 16 in the home of Jesse James I was listening to Keith HiFi. Listening to (sings) “Little miss muffet, sitting on a puffet, eating her church or pie”.

And how old were you when you first stood in front of a sound box?
I figure I was like seven years old. I was listening to VJ the Dub Master when Joe Williams came to lock up everybody and said “Guys in Clarks, this way, barefoot guys that way[1]” and then all of a sudden, everybody was barefoot so Joe Williams said “We have a way to sort this out – lock up all those Clarks and everybody who doesn’t have shoes is going to jail”. I was the only one who escaped because I was a youth so they weren’t seeing me slipping out through the dance gate running from VJ the Dubmaster, who was one of the greatest sounds I ever listened to because that was the only sound where the sound boxes would walk around if they didn’t tie them down with hemp rope.

When did you first touch the mic yourself?
The microphone I first touched in a place called the great I-Brew-tico-Cat Bamboo Lawn in Ocean 11. Ranking Trevor was my teacher. At that time he was just coming out of the apprenticeship of U Roy with his triple crown in London – his triple hit in the charts. It was very great. I was imitating Big Youth. “Why do the heathen reign and those who imagine vain things?” It was Psalm 2 I was chanting. Some of my friends said “That’s impossible! That’s a baby” and I said “I’m not a baby, I’m a juvenile. I’m learning these things because I used to search the scriptures since I was a boy”.

You were raised in the church?
I grew up with people who were very spiritual and they taught us over the years. Sunday School I grew up in front of. The Sunday School was in Red River Valley until it moved from the Ballad Of Cable Boag until it goes to the middle of the street which was Broad Heaven Leaf Road 15. So a little boy carrying water, at Sunday in a bucketful, he would hear all the songs of the Sunday School and the (sings) “Father Abraham had many sons, and if I’m one of them and you’re one of them, no matter if you’re black or white or I-brew. Them and I, and I too and you too” and all if those songs we were hearing. That was my insight. I never attended. I never went in but I listened.

How did you take the name Super Cat?
Well I went to general penitentiary in 1980 after I was caught in a political eruption I didn’t know about and they just took everybody from the community. It was a curfew so it didn’t matter if you were innocent or guilty they were just doing a scrape to sort out the good, the bad, the ugly and the different and I was scooped amongst them. And in D 07 I got a great vision. I was in As-y-yah or in Asia seeing strange people not of my own species, they were looking like a far people out of my own species because I never went there. I was reasoning in the morning with the prisoners and they said that when a man comes to prison and has a vision it’s not a dream. It’s something that will happen forward in his future. Then I saw it when I went to Asia the last time because I was seeing people opening up fire chalwa and all those things. And the last time I went to Asia exactly what I saw in my vision is what happened when I toured in Asia – they said “Asia”. I said As-y-yah.

How did you cope in prison?
It was a great experience because I figure it’s greater than a university or a college. The things you learn there you never forget and then if the time comes when it is tough then you will outgrow a tough time and then if it is rough you will outgrow a rough time. And how great it is you learn a surviving time so I never made it a habit until I went there a few times and then I learned that lesson “I have to find a way from this”. So I went straight focus, straight aiming view about what I learned what was inside me, which was the reggae tunes I learned, I have them in my heavens and then I just started exploring them in the I-Brew Tik-o-ket Bamboo Lawn in 24 Broadleaf Road which was one of the greatest centres of our reggae tunes ever. Since there was Gemini and King Attorney and the great U Roy was dealing with King Tubbys and we were right there in the middle learning from all these great people. So we grew up in the heart of it.

Several reggae historians have said Early B was a big influence on you. Is this so?
No, no I was Early B’s teacher. Early B came in Kingston 11 and saw Super Cat doing his thing since he was seven years old. I was learning from Ranking Trevor in this time and Early B wasn’t existing. It was Doctor Rub Her Breast at Flames discotheque and then General Echo got in pirating Doctor Rub Her Breast then from Flames discotheque to Crystal Blue to Soul Imperial. Then I went to soundcheck U Roy’s sound. I and Little Twitch Way and Ranking Joe, who just left Ray Symbolic the Bionic, came to Stur Gav and then the Stur Gav rider got bigger and Jah Mikey was coming up so we used to listen to Jah Mikey, used to listen to U Roy, Big Youth, Ranking Trevor, the great, great, great Dillinger and never forget the great Sassafrass was also in our circle. Those are the elders we used to learn from.

What was the best advice an elder gave you?
The great Nicodemus the great. “Listen, never get a big stomach in the work that you work with. Because when you go for that great note, if you’ve got a pillowsack in your stomach you may never get that note. And a fire or you’ll never get that note and you’ll smoke. Because you have to keep the strength of the core to pitch them sounds”.

Tell me about your memories of how the Sleng Teng came and the music changed – and how you got involved in that?
Well the O Cat Kitten String - they didn’t get the word correct. When the O Cat Kitten String came they said it was digital. Still we already were well ahead of it. Because Wayne Smith found a sound, Steely and Clevie were around and I was already coming from Tyrone Downie who produced Super Cat’s first song and they were all long, long in digital, they were on the road with Bob Marley and Tyrone Downie was one of the first to program those digital sounds, playing them with his toes, playing his keyboard, something none of those other keyboard players had ever done. Tyrone Downie was one of my great, great, great inspirations as a musician who helped me while I was swinging in the street as a dangerous youth – since a lot of us lost focus through political environment and the community where we grew up and then we would have to correct ourselves through the influential people we know. Tyrone Downie was one of my influential people, since we grew up in the same ghetto and we used to play with the same toy. That flute which is on Bob Marley’s albums was a gift that Super Cat had and Tyrone Downie took it up that Christmas and the first song he learned to play was Java (sings the melody to Java). So we grew up in the same circle with influential people and they went there and they drag us through.

I understand what you mean. The digital drums on Bob Marley songs like Rainbow Country and Johnny Was predate Sleng Teng by many years.
Yeah because Tyrone Downie produced my first song which was Voyage To The Bottom Of the Sea and all of it was digital. And also his little brother the late great Carl Downie was another one who used to program them digital things. In those times you didn’t hear about Steely and Clevie, Sly and Robbie were maybe with the Revolutionaries and they were still upcoming, playing with Gregory Isaacs and them. Still we were long into digital before they find out.

Tell me about recording the song Boops for Winston Riley on the Train To Skaville/Feel Like Jumping rhythm. What situation inspired that lyric?
I was in Jamaica and a few girls were walking around when I was down in Hannah Town and one girl was looking for Nicodemus. I was in South in Superstar hanging out with the late, great Nicodemus since, when he returned that was where most of his family lived. His brother, Roland Demus, a great friend of mine, was working at Joe Gibbs record studio. Since Nicodemus is one of my great inspirations, since we know each other from the track – he was around one stable with Flying Fox and I was at Dapper Dan’s stable with the Iron Claw Leo Clawrus. We knew each other since we left the track to pursue great reggae tunes.

I was telling Mr Noel Harper the owner of Killamanjaro that we already clashed with every sound in Jamaica and we never lost a clash and kept ‘Jaro on top for over ten years number one. I said “Since there are no more sounds to clash with and we kept the championship for so much years, now I need a new challenge. And my friend Nicodemus the great is returning from dead”. He said “What?” I said “My friend Nicodemus the great is returning from dead and I have to go and assist him with this sound. We have a mission in Mars”. He saidWhat’s the name of this sound?” and I said “Stereo Mars”. He said “What the sound sound like?” I said “You will know when the sound arrives”. So he said “So you guys don’t know what the sound sounds like?” I said “No but when we have a sound moving forward we never fail. When the sound returns here playing you will know what it sounds like. You know when it return”. Because we never worked a failing job and because we worked ‘Jaro for some many years and ‘Jaro never failed we will show Mr Harper that our work is never a failure. And the time he learned he will know that he was never in a losing circle. And my friend did return and we went to Stereo Mars and it did happen.

So I was hanging out with him when he returned from the dead in Superstar and one of his girls Sexylegs came from South with two of her friends and said “Where’s my Boops, Nicodemus? I hear he’s taking care of a lot of people round here”. Nicodemus came out of the home and said “Why you calling me them kind of names? Nicodemus is no Boops”. So then I went home in my area Ocean 11 and my sister was saying [to someone else] “My Boops is looking you. I don’t feel go that you should like my Boops. It’s my Boops”. So I said “What is this Boops word?” and someone said “Well Boops is when a man have a rich lady taking care of him or a rich man taking care of a lady”. So I said “It’s the happening thing”.

How did you come to record the track?
I was coming from Stereo Mars with Donny Dreadlocks the great selector, we had a great night in Mandeville with Yami Bolo and Tenor Saw was coming up. So I was coming home that morning when Winston Riley a great producer from Techniques saw me somewhere close to Three Mile and Spanish Town Road. He was in a vehicle flagging us down and I said “What happen?” and he said “Every corner I turn in Kingston it’s your things playing and now is the time. They need you. Time for recording studio”. I said “Yeah, still I don’t like the recording. It’s a problem. You go recording and then you never get paid. That’s the part of it I’m afraid of”. Still it did happen because I went to studio with him. I asked him what time he was working and he said it was a Wednesday so I went there and gave him a quarter dozen songs which never failed me. We came to London at the same time, I and Nicodemus, working with Saxon HiFi and Coxsone HiFi which was a great time because Nicodemus hadn’t made it to London - although a few times they’d tried to bring him there since the Boneman Connection.

What was your best experience in London?
Driving from Brixton to Birmingham where we had a stick shift car. Nicodemus alone couldn’t drive a stick shift and Super Cat alone couldn’t drive a stick shift so one was licking clutch and one was licking gear. We had two girls in the back and they were saying we had to be Top Cat and Riff Raff because they’d never seen such a rough combination before! It was a great combination going from Brixton to Birmingham and returning without having an accident or a mishap on the M1. We were going to Hummingbird for a great dance. I don’t remember if it was Saxon or if it was Coxsone but it was a great night. Because we never had a failing night over there since we came to do that work. All those shows would sell out and it was a live sound system spontaneous around the microphone where no one would know what you were going to say. Even you yourself never would know what you were going to say – it was just straight off the top of your head.

What did you think of the UK MCs on Saxon and other sounds?
Well they are great sharp people. You have to be very careful when they are interviewing you because those people are great with words! For another thing, they have great respect for the roots of reggae tunes which they kept over the years and I figure those works with we and Nicodemus over there, up until this day I don’t figure there is any dance with any reggae tunes which they play on any sound system anywhere else in the world which top those works. Even in Jamaica they won’t find a minute to top those works that were done with Coxsone and Saxon across England and Wales straight to Brixton straight through in between.

Do you listen to or own any of the sound tapes from that time?
No sir. I never get time to listen to myself. Work is so hectic over that time and you keep moving so long, long, long after that time people keep telling you about “Well I have tape with you and Nicodemus in 1 Music Avenue in Ocho Rios” or “I have a tape of you and Nicodemus in Mandeville” or “We got some tape of you in London”. Still, we ourself, we only hear parts and pieces of them since we never get to collect them and since you are always on the move, going, keeping from one place to another since that was our work and we figure we were going through a great journey.

Why did you move to New York?
Well that wasn’t planned. That was just my work taking me from places through places. One minute I was living in London, another minute I was living in Canada, another minute I was living some place in Miami, then some place in California, some place in New York, then some place in Washington. So through travelling through and through and through I figure I should take what you call an opportunity as a great gift. So I went to register a label here and then I ended up marrying a lady here and I start doing my work here seriously because I had a production company. So I figure my work is what let me settle because if I was in Jamaica it wasn’t so easy for a Wild Apache Anthony William Maragh breaking a reggae label and I saw the United States as a great market place. So I took advantage saying “Well, here is a distributor, here are the studios and I can get what I need on tape and hire a producer and the musicians and I’m getting work” – so I went for it.

You’ve been quite involved with the rap and hip hop scene in New York – which rappers have shown you the most respect for your works?
I figure it was the late great Tupac, plus Heavy D. I saw Heavy D before I joined the majors. I was doing a few concerts across the states and I kept seeing this guy more than once. I saw him in Miami, I saw him in Washington, I saw him in California and every time I saw him he kept saying the same thing “I want to do something with you. You are my favourite artist. You and the General Brigadier from Jah Love. I rap”. So I’m coming from Jamaica where it’s 50 cents a stick and a dollar a quarter the guy keeps saying “Wrap wrap” and if I purchase a smoke it was in brown paper. So the third time he saw me and said that I said “You keep telling me you wrap, wrap, wrap – why don’t you give me a draw that you wrap? Let me smoke it and tell you if it’s good!

Then one of his friends said “No, no, no – not like that. Like when you deejay on the mic – he’s saying “We rap””. I said “Rap? Let me tell you something, now where you’re from, everybody watch Kung Fu fighting, hip hop hippity hop. And some song by Denroy Morgan (sings) “I’ll make your dreams come true”.[2] I don’t know nothing about the thing so you have to pick the beat you need and show me what it’s about. We’ll go to Phillip Smart’s studio in Long Island, I’ve got Frankie Paul, the great dancehall Frankie Paul, and we’ll let it happen. Let me know what your work is about, your sound, your gauge and so forth”. He picked the beat, he made it from one of Winston Riley’s hit songs – I don’t remember if it was the Paragons or the Techniques[3] – and we went to Phillip Smart’s studio in Long Island and it happened and the first song was a number one for them. Then we did it again with some song called We No Worry We which was a number one again.

How did you meet Tupac?
I went out to LA to meet with Tupac and his producer at that time who was into the movie producing business with John Singleton and all of them. They wanted me to appear in some movie. I don’t know if it was Menace To Society or Poetic Justice. Then he was doing a single California but then there was a war between East West and I was telling them “The cross is mine. I never take any side. I travel from west through east so if you are going to have a war with east west I have no part in this. I can’t take a place in this song and forget the movie – it’s not going to move me”.

I left them in LA, I walked away because I didn’t want to have a problem in between these problems. It’s not my problem. I was just there helping them promoting hip hop but still, it’s not my culture. I have my roots and I didn’t have a selfish attitude about a major label. They asked me how I felt if they used Super Cat work promoting hip hop and I said “I get pay, they get pay, we walking forwards shoulder to shoulder pushing a wheel forward”. They said yes and I have no problem. Where we come from in I-Mecca they say “housing scheme” and here in the United States I saw the same problem where they said “projects”. Some of the same kind of depressive people in claustrophobic communities like us so I have no problem with that.

Which younger artists have told you that you inspired them? For example there is an artist from England called Mr Williamz who calls you an influence.
There was a guy when I was in Jamaica, a little baby, who was on stage with me when I went to do Sting. I can’t remember his name[4]. I called him I-Brew-tico. I saw him coming up as a great and he was a baby, I don’t figure he’s past seven or eight years old yet. I was on stage with him and Josey Wales and he was very impressive because if you have to keep up with a baby I figure our skill is still there because keeping up with a baby, he’s a juvenile and I don’t figure it’s a joke keeping up with such great ingenuity. He had great skill and he’s not short of words and he’s not short of work and he’s very quick so I look at him as an upcoming great champ. If you see a thoroughbred in his youngest form performing and he’s quick and he’s a sprinter and he’s a stayer then I think you’ve got a champ in the making.

You’re performing at three festivals in Europe – Roma Red Hot, Reggae Geel and Rototom. Are you looking forward to that?
Well they say I have a quarter dozen gigs there. I never have a work I let down. Super Cat work is forward so if I have to work I go do my work over the years . I just go work, get the work done, I never have a time where let down a promoter so if they give me a work – I’m gone working.

Thanks for your time.
Far I Far I. Great I spect. Up deh up deh.

[1] Police Commissioner Joe Williams would famously arrest anyone wearing Clarks shoes in a dance - because wearing Clarks was the sign of a Rudeboy

[2] Denroy Morgan’s I’ll Do Anything For You was a 1981 US hit  which helped establish Jamaican music in the territory

[3] The Techniques I’m In The Mood For Love

[4] Child deejay Wayne J