REGGAE GREATS, RAS KIMONO, ORITS WILLIKI AND THE MANDATORS SHARE THEIR MUSICAL EXPERIENCES + Talk about their newest project, Africa Meets Reggae
The trio of Ras Kimono, Orits Williki and The Mandators visited YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine’s corporate office, on 29, Budland Street, Grammar School Bus Stop, Ojodu, Lagos on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 to talk about their forthcoming Africa Meets Reggae concert. Of course, we didn’t allow them to stop at just that – as we also got them to tell us about the good old days when they hugged the front pages and held the airwaves hostage with their hit numbers. Enjoy…
The three of you are up to something huge. Can you shed some light on it for us.
Ras Kimono: Yeah! We are trying to come back with more of Reggae hits. A lot of people say oh! Reggae is quenching, Reggae is dying and finished. But it is a lie. I remember in the 90s, we didn’t even have a lot of radio stations that promoted Reggae music the way they promote it now. Every radio station now in Nigeria or Lagos has a Reggae programme, so it’s more pronounced now. But people say it’s not making impact. We say yes, because there are not enough artistes playing Reggae and they say why? Why didn’t we leave a legacy for them and we say we don’t force people to do what they don’t want to do. Like being a Rasta man, you don’t force anybody to be Rasta man. You don’t force someone to be a vegetarian. It is a function of one’s heart. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. So, Reggae music, if you don’t feel it, you can’t play it. And besides, Reggae music is a hot rod that you don’t handle anyhow. The lyrics; the youths of nowadays don’t want to deal with truth and right. Everybody wants profanity and quick money, wants booty and to dazzle people. But that is not what Reggae is for. Like I said in my last album, I said “fire go burn dem the wicked politicians”. And they don’t even hear what I’m saying. I didn’t say fire burn politicians, I said wicked politicians, because in the midst of the politicians, there are a lot of them who are wicked. They never hear me well. They will just say “turn off that tune, I don’t want to hear that tune”. Now, if government is doing anything, I’m never there, if politicians are doing anything, I’m never there, because we are always criticizing. If 419 are doing anything, I’m never there, drug barons are doing anything, I am never there because we always criticize them. But these youths of nowadays, they don’t want to criticize, they just want to make quick money. So, blaming us for not putting them in the right path, I don’t agree. You did not force me to play Reggae. I chose to play Reggae. So, I cannot force these youths. But with time, maybe they will realise the right thing to do and follow because what we want to do is to leave a legacy. If we didn’t leave a good legacy, we probably won’t be here today. People will say oh! Reggae music, we are not making money, but anywhere we go, we have a good applause. If we don’t have a good legacy, we won’t be here with you. So, the youths, what is the legacy they are going to leave behind? Anyway, somebody met me recently and said “Ras, let’s do business, but you ought to change…”I said look at you, you want to change me at old age to make money. I say even if I’m dying today, my kids will survive. If I don’t have a dime, I fall ill, even though I have no billions, they will still survive. So, whether you leave billions for your children, those that are going to go astray will go astray. If you don’t leave a dime, those that will still come up right will come up right. Don’t come and change me at this age. We decided; Victor came back after me and said oh, I got an idea; a franchise, you know, Africa Meets Reggae. Let’s do it. We did it last year. It was not a financial success. But it was successful. So, we said okay, let’s try it again this year. So, that is exactly what we are trying to do now to promote Reggae. There are lots of artistes, young, old, Reggae, Hip-hop, Dancehall, Raga, Fuji. We are bringing different genres of artistes to take part in this carnival. That’s why we are promoting it and going around.
Now, let’s come to The Mandators. This idea, this concept, this initiative you just brought, what gave birth to it? How did you come about it, what prompted it?
You know, like Ras said, at the back of our minds, it’s always how do we move to the next step? So, travelling helped us a lot because we see some things like Africa Meets Reggae and World Music International Festival and you would think why do people who create such a festival call it that name. So, Africa Meets Reggae and World Music International Festival is a platform which I got and said you know what, let me and my brothers come together to create a platform where we can build a lot of artistes from stage to studio and to re-create that kind of consciousness we created from the beginning. We needed a platform. So, that is a platform for that. Because, like Ras said, everything isn’t all about money. It is about the legacy you are leaving behind. What is your contribution to the society through whatever format? If you are a teacher, then you feel like yeah, I could create a forum where I could get people to come and teach people, and create more educational things among people without them having to go through the stress of finding money to go to school. So, that is basically what we are doing. So that we can create lots of opportunities for those people that need to be seen, but they don’t have the platform and some people like I said, we want to take from the stage to studio, bring people, upcoming people, Reggae, Hip hop, Dancehall, Fuji, traditional music, because right now, we have Pasuma; he’s going to be featuring in this year’s festival, Oritse-Femi, Burna Boy, Righteousman, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Majek Fashek, Pupa Victory, Young Gracy. A lot of people are coming.
Alright! Let’s come to Pupa Orits. What got you interested in this project and why do you think that other people should also participate in it?
Basically, from the entertainment perspective, these days, you know a lot of things are missing. We started out as founding members of this present entertainment industry. In our days, the level of consciousness we brought to the people and the inspiration were so much. I got a lot of testimonies way back, you know, from Port-Harcourt. Somebody who wanted to commit suicide and he listened to the track called Jah Works early in the morning being played on Rivers State FM and he changed his mind. So, such kind of powerful inspirational content was what we were putting out and then we started announcing that there was so much corruption in the system. We shouted this to the heavens. Everyone of us shouted that corruption was everywhere and the need for people to shut it down. But no one listened, but today, 30 years after, they want to start fighting corruption. So, perhaps, if they had listened from day one to what we had been saying, telling them many years ago, that the level of corruption, if it’s not checked, it’s going to be epidemic in the future, which is exactly what it is now, Nigeria would have been better. So, we started this fight on corruption, but realized that it didn’t make sense to people. People didn’t quite listen, people didn’t quite see what we were seeing and so our youths, even now, do not dwell on such kinds of inspirational messages. They dwell on alcohol, booty and just shine and we feel that they are going the wrong way. They’ve gone the other way because concerts like we know them are a platform where you showcase the best of your ability, which you couldn’t do in the studio. So, when you say you’re coming to watch a live concert, you’re coming to watch a total package of what you have heard in the studio and now you want to see me do it live. You come with your family, you enjoy your money’s worth. But over the years now, our youths are doing what we call, DJ track 1, DJ track 2, which is bringing less value into the entertainment business. So, this platform will bring about that opportunity to re-orientate our youths, to make them understand that this is not the way we started it and that if you’re gonna last long in this, you got to do what is right by keying in or being able to at least play an instrument, by being able to play with a band on stage, when you say people should come and watch you live in concert, not calling people to come for a concert and you are jumping to your CD. So, this is like an opportunity for the upcoming ones to see how we used to do it and key in.
Let’s come to Kimono again. This concert that you people are working on, when is it taking place, where is it taking place?
It’s coming up on 27th and 28th of November, 2015. 27th is at Ember Creek, exclusive show, on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. Second show is the people’s show, the voice of the voiceless and that is at Hockey Pitch, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
For those who are salivating already, is this a free show?
Ras Kimono: It’s not a free show because we are the ones sponsoring. So, all the money, the venue, the lighting, the equipment, everything, we are doing. The gate fee, regular in the stadium is 1000 and a table is 10,000, VIP is also 5000 without table. We are making it very minimal for people. But a lot of us, like 30 artistes are performing. We are talking about real live performances.
During your time as Reggae musicians, you played conscious music. Why did you stop making music? Also don’t you think that it was because you people took off that those who came after you started doing what they like. Let’s take it one by one?
Ras Kimono: We didn’t stop making music. You could remember vividly as a pressman, from 1997,98, 99, 2000, Nigeria was under pressure. Remember, no musician would make money from live shows. Music was not even right for anybody. What was in sight for people, society, was food; second accommodation, third is medication. And if you don’t have these three, you can’t have or think of listening to music. Remember, even we don’t get sprayed when we are playing like the Fuji artistes. Remember, most of them ran away too because the 419, they were arrested. Nobody was spraying them, so they ran away. We didn’t have live shows. So, what do we do? Instead of stealing, some of us just decided, you know what, let’s walk aside and go look for greener pastures. Some of us, we left. By leaving, I could say, to me, was a blessing in disguise. Probably if I had stayed, I probably would have been dead, I probably would have derailed. I wasn’t surprised that my friend and brother (Orits) stayed. Orits was managing a studio, so he had something to fall back on. So, Orits relied on his studio, making some dough while we had to run for cover to go and look for greener pastures. That’s probably why he didn’t run with us (Laughs).
Let’s hear from Pupa Orits.
Really and truly, there is a sense in the question or in the belief that there was a lacuna in the system that gave birth to a lot of youths going astray. I agree with you, because it came to a time where because there was a lacuna; that was where some other styles and patterns of music like Soukus came in, and it was like fire everywhere; on our airwaves, in our churches. At a time, choirs in churches started playing Soukus because it was the music. Even myself and Charly Boy, it was one of the things we talked about when we were taking over PMAN. We said listen, come o, all our bands, nobody is getting jobs anymore, because all the bands everywhere in Africa moved down to Nigeria. So, in all the hotels, you will see a Soukus band. Our bands were having no jobs. So, people will always run for greener pastures. As they left, some of us didn’t go. I also hung my guitar to see how we could fight to ensure that we had structures. That was why I had to go into PMAN to do some re-structuring, to ensure that there was an enabling structure in place. Otherwise, there was no way we could sustain the level of talent that we had around us. So, when that happened, I didn’t stop recording. None of them stopped recording. Even while Kimono was in U.S, he was still recording. There were a couple of albums that he released. Even my brother, Victor (The Mandators). But the problem was that the platform was no longer available to really promote the music like we used to have because other forms of music had taken over. Number one, the DJs were no longer our own buddies who knew us. You have small boys of 23 and 20 as DJs now. What do you expect them to play and so, they started to play Hip hop and so you had a lot of domineering music, at the detriment of what it used to be. In our days, you had K1 excelling on the airwaves, we had Shina Peters excelling on the airwaves, you had Pasuma excelling on the airwaves, you had Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Victor, all excelling on the airwaves. Lately though, it’s no longer so. It’s like one is played at the detriment of all other genres of music.
Back to The Mandators. Not only did you stop making music, you stayed the longest in America. What kept you in America for so long?
You know, just like my brothers just explained, if you have something somewhere that makes you feel like you want to be there, I think that is where you’re going to be. Check out the project we are doing right now. If I don’t have money, we are not going to be able to do it. Orits talked about all the other things that have happened. It’s not because people are not here anymore to buy records or to go to concerts, but everything has changed. Remember, we were part of MKO Abiola’s campaign, and because we believed in a better Nigeria, when we saw MKO doing what he was doing, we said he was the man. He was the man that brought some kind of respect and helped even the footballers to become comfortable and musicians too. We saw him as somebody who could lift the country and when we went to the pools, he actually won. But Babangida annulled the elections. Before then, I was planning to go on tour. But that very day that political decision came, it was the very day I travelled abroad, because we were watching in the news in one of our friend’s house in GRA Ikeja, when we saw Babangida came and said election was annulled. We left that day. That particular day was when we left because I was looking at the possibility of trouble. We stuck all our necks out. Don’t forget also, we grew up chasing the government and talking about the corruption, the oppression and injustice that were going on in this country. But they were only calling us Igbo smokers. Nobody did anything about it. And getting to America, you know, did this tour, after this tour, I never knew what was going to happen next. Like Ras said, coming back here, whether you are gonna get killed, because we were the ones supporting the candidate. So, it’s better for you to fight and run away to live to fight another day. But while there, we found it very difficult in America too. I ask myself some questions sometimes; that why did I even come to this foreign country? Well, because it was a terrain unfamiliar to me and in America, they have cliques, just like it is here. But I was lucky to have found and got a deal or record with a massive label. But that marriage didn’t last long because we fell out. So, I tried to do things on my own. It wasn’t easy, but I stayed till it worked. But now, I have all my things in America; so why am I am going to leave the place that has given me so much and come back here? Like what we are doing now, all these corporate bodies, not one of them wants to sponsor, because they say it is Reggae music. What crime have we committed? So, if I don’t have the money, won’t we be laughed at that Reggae is dead? But Reggae is not dead. All these people, you know, play music. But they don’t give Reggae that kind of airplay. Now, thankfully, there are a lot of Reggae artistes, upcoming, that’s what we are trying to do now in this festival to show that there are a lot of Reggae artistes and that Reggae is actually, like their father, the root of all this music. So, that is what we are trying to do to show that if we are lazy, if some of us don’t run around to get something, how are we going to do this, how are we going to survive and how can we do what we want to do? So, that is the thing. Nobody really ran away. This is our country! It is very difficult to do what I am doing here now. With all my brothers here now, we had to even go to places begging people. We came here now, you welcomed us and some people are looking at us like “you people, Reggae people, time out!”
In your own time, you made good music, but very little money. How do you feel now that the people are not making good music and yet are making so much money?
The Mandators: Well, because you know, bad things sell a lot and then Babylon. Babylon loves to see that evil overpowers the conscious, highly conscious, musically conscious people. But we don’t mind what money these people are making, because no matter how much money we have made, how many years… I made my first record in 1980. If you calculate from 1980 to date, you will know how many years that is. I am still here, very, very relevant; Ras Kimono is still here, very, very relevant; Orits is still here, very, very relevant. We want to see these people who are said to be making money to be relevant in the next 30 years.
Let’s come to Pupa Orits. What makes a good musician? How do we define a good musician?
Let’s define a good music first. A good music is inspired. A good music is not any music you just sit down and say I want to write a song. You are first inspired to write a song and any song you are inspired to write comes out good, because it lives in the air. Air never dies, so the music will live forever. You can see music made in the 30s; they are still available. So, it doesn’t die because they were highly inspired music and so if you decide to play good music, then you must submit yourself to the realm of the spiritual to take control. And so we are like vessels. You can’t interpret it like a masquerade. You cannot interpret that and it’s not like one picks up a pen and a guitar or a keyboard to start putting melodies together. Melody that can play tomorrow that would make some people to cry. Melody that you can play for some people tomorrow to relax their nerves. You know, those things go beyond the natural realm. So, if you decide to cook up music, that is what we call jam-music, where you just say my guy, o’boy, make we just sit down, just cook some stuff together and you roll the computer and then you are fixing songs into it. Those are not songs, because it will come like what we call, a flash in a pan. Make noise and go away. But the original music remains and so for you to be a good musician, you must submit yourself to the spiritual realm.
Let’s come to Ras Kimono. What’s the commonest mistake that many musicians make?
The commonest mistake is just being puffy and heady. Don’t be heady and think you have arrived.
To The Mandators. Music has done a lot for you, what has music not done for you?
Now, I don’t think there is nothing music has not done for me, because like you said, music has done a lot for me. It made me to be very wealthy, made me to remain young still, made me to be very reasonable, to be very disciplined, made me to even draw closer and closer to God, made me to understand that we are one with God, coming through to do a lot of good things to humanity. So, there’s nothing that music has not done for me.
Pupa Orits, do you have any regrets taking to music and also taking to Reggae music in particular?
No man! No man! If I could come again, I will do the same stuff. No regret!
At the end of your earthly journey; you know, when you have aged and gone to Jah, what would you like people to remember you for and to say about Ras Kimono?
Well, the legacy I want to leave behind is about me as a proud African, revolutionist, a freedom fighter, when I go to Jah. I signed a contract with God that I leave at 95, but I may be lucky and get more. He might add another five years for me. But when I go up, I want people to remember me with all these things I have mentioned. You know, as a good musician. That’s why I am saying I don’t want to sing profanity, because I want to play in every home, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whatever you are, so that my children, your children can hear it and say who is the singer, who played this music? That’s why if I play profanity, it will get limited. That’s why we tell these youths, please if you want to remain relevant, don’t deal with profanity, deal with the issues in the town.
What about you, Pupa Orits?
As a man who fought the (shitstem) system without violence. Yeah man! The one who fought the (shitstem) system without violence. That is why they call me The Kool man Revolutionaire. So, I want to be remembered as one who put some little fire in the (shitstem) system to change the system.
What about The Mandators?
For me, I would let the works I have done speak for me, because you really cannot tell people what they should remember you for. So, I’ll keep doing what I am doing and let them believe and feel whatever they want themselves.
Of all your songs, which one do you always sing, maybe when alone? The one that comes to your mind, most times?
The Mandators: Love Your Country – (Sings) ‘Some are trying to find solutions, to all the problems we have…’ Why? Because a lot of people are poor, a lot of people lack, so until so many people have plenty, we will continue to speak on behalf of the people who are suffering, because of that song. ‘Some are trying to find solutions, to all the problems we have, some are making it impossible, for the problems to be solved, must you sell your father land… They oppress the brother man, the oppress the sister-woman.. you know, they keep us hungry and keep us in want. Where is the patriotism of the nation?
Pupa Orits, which of your songs, unconsciously or even consciously, do you sometimes remember and begin to sing?
Jah Works. You know, all the time, Jah works. I remember the mood I was in (when I wrote it). I was in some kind of strong meditation when I wrote Jah Works. That’s why I said, ‘I woke up this morning… what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul’. So, it’s vanity. At the end of the day, such message still remains with us, because these days, we parents also are consciously or unconsciously fast-forwarding the lives of our children. We don’t want a natural happening any longer. Here, you have a child at six months, you are already thinking of taking him or her to the crèche, because you want to hustle for your own daily living. Before you know it, you want your child to be a graduate at the age of 19. You want your child to be a master’s degree holder at 23. As a master’s degree holder at 23 years, he wants to be a company executive at the age of 29, 30. So, if he has achieved everything under 30 years, what is left to achieve? Nothing! It is to die. So, we must consciously realize this fact and allow Jah time to prevail in everything we do, because Jah who created us has his own appointed time for everything. So, when we rush, we begin to push our children harder and faster than it ought to be. And you are actually fast-forwarding their lives.
Yeah! My favourite tune that I always wake up and sing everyday is there are a lot vampires, hypocrites around. I sing that tune every time.
Lastly, do you have other Reggae artistes coming for this show?
Yes, we have plenty. Black Rasta and RedFyah coming from Ghana. Even many artistes from America and outside Lagos. From Port-Harcourt, we have C-Stroke and the band and even from Delta State and other parts, like Ibadan.
NB: First published November 2015
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