Mutabaruka: The Ultimate Interview
Part I: Gathering of the Spirits

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The interview was recorded April 3, 1998, Washington, D of C. by Carter Van Pelt. It is the first segment of two hours of interview done on April 3 and April 5, 1998. The first segment deals with Muta's new production, Gathering of the Spirits, to be released by Shanachie Entertainment in June 1998. Further transcriptions will be posted as they are available. Click here to go to part II.

First subject I want to talk about is the new album that you have produced. What caused you to decide to produce a full album of old school reggae artists?

Well, the album come about between Randall from Shanachie and myself. Doing the things that made reggae what reggae is about and doing it live rather than with machine. It was my intention all along, knowing that most of albums is done with live musicians. To really carry musicians in the studio from the old school and select music that I liked over the years and ask artists to do them.

How often is a full live studio production done in Jamaica anymore?

You hardly see it. As a matter of fact the studio are not built again to hold drumsets. You hardly find a studio that is built now to hold a drumset. So, as a matter of fact, we had a problem with getting a drumset in the studio that we used. We had to go to a next studio.

Where all did you record?

We recorded at the (Gussie Clarke's) Music Works on Windsor Avenue. The first drummer I approach was Horsemouth. Horsemouth had a drumset. Sly had a drumset, but it was very difficult to locate a good drumset to carry to the studio, and I wanted to use an acoustic drumset, not really none of those synthesized [sets (Syndrums)]. So, we had to move the drumset from one studio to the next studio, then we had a problem now of there are a lot of engineers, they don't know how to set up an acoustic drumset. So we had to get a person who knew it to do it. And it weird, knowing that Jamaica is a place where reggae music come from. To go through all that fe make an album, a normal album, cause I consider that a normal album, but it wasn't normal, considering what is taking place in Jamaica now with the music.

They must have had to go through the same kinds of troubles to record Ernie Smith's album (After 30 Years, Life Is Just For Living).

Yea, yea. Well, most of the music that is coming out now . . . all they have in the studio is a keyboard player, and the keyboard player play everything that is necessary on the record. The thing about this session that was so meaningful was that all of these people met in the studio for years. I remember the first night when we went into the studio. . . What was so great about that session was that so much musicians met in the studio that never see each other for a long time, especially in the studio. For one night, we had Sly & Robbie, Leroy Sibbles, who you know is an original Studio One bass player. He produced such bass lines as "Satta Massa Ganna" and dem riddim. You had Chinna Smith, Dean Fraser, Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Everybody congregated in the same studio at the same time, like a party to see so much musicians who did carry the music to where it is now. You hardly get that right now in Jamaica. That alone to me was very heart warming to see that taking place. We had Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt. We brought in Justin Hinds, a long time stalwart. We had, later on, we had Culture. Culture, Big Youth. Big Youth is old style. One of the most fascinating ones was the Diamonds. We gave Diamonds a tune to do that Alton Ellis did years ago, "Black Man Pride." The harmony that came out of them that night was something else, cause most of the tunes that we hear the Diamonds sing now, and I must say, it don't carry that harmony that they used to when they did "Right Time" and "Mercy" and those tunes. This tune shows that they have that there, is just that the producer . . . they need to get a producer who can bring that out of the artists dem and musicians.

You really made them feel the vibes.

Yes. I think what is lacking now-a-days is the production. The artists are out there. It's just that the people who call themselves producers is not in the studio with them. A lot of people say they are producing records, but they just leave it to the musicians to just do what they doing and then they come out of the studio. But I was there. I mean I don't leave anything to anything. I am the producer, and I take part in the arrangement and need to hear. I handle it like my album. The beauty is that I am also an artist, and I know what I want to hear and I wouldn't settle for anything less fe a next artist. So being the producer of my albums, it was very important to me to see that quality and the standard live in the music.

You must have put it together over a very short span of time. It sounds like one evening you did a lot of these tracks from what you're saying. . .

No, this album has been done over one and a half years. . .

Oh. You were talking about the first night you spent in the studio? . . .

The first night we did two tunes. The first night two songs was laid. I think the first one we lay down was the Diamonds and Justin Hinds. Then several weeks after . . . you see, it's weird to get artists like those to go to the studio with an artist like me is very difficult, because when I am touring they are in Jamaica. When I am in Jamaica they are touring. Everybody have to be caught at the right time. That is why it really take over a period a year, nearly two years to do. I remember Marcia Griffiths, I started to do Marcia Griffiths, this demo track that she did. I was in Jamaica and just when I book the studio time she left and I say alright I'm gonna catch her when she come. I call her house and I hear she coming back the next day and that was the time when I was leaving. So I went to Europe for like a month and come back and she wasn't in Jamaica. So it keep going like that, but I guess it's a matter of patience. You need to do this thing the right way and you're not going to settle for less.

Culture is a next one. I remember when I ask Culture fe do this and him say yes, and I say alright I'm gonna go book the studio time. Lickle more I hear that him was in Africa. And we buck up in Kennedy Airport and I say, 'we a go book de studio time,' and him say yes and by the time I go down I haffe go way again. I buck up him in JFK Airport a come from Ghana and I say I go book them studio and him say yes. When I reach Jamaica again. Is like I did haffe leave. So it keep draggin out draggin out pon a level deh, but eventually it came together.

Some of the tracks that stuck out in my mind. . . My first reaction was that the Justin Hinds track was very strong.

Yes. "Sitting In Babylon." I play the funde on that tune. That was Leroy Sibbles on bass. I think it was Leroy on bass. That's a good song. I tell you now. It the weirdest thing. I tell you how I get him on it. I want him to come on the album, and I say how I gwan'g go find dis mon. Nobody know where to find him. And through the radio program that I have (The Cutting Edge -- IRIE-FM), I put the sound out. I say bwai, "Justin Hinds get in touch with Mutabaruka urgently." About a week after, I get a message in a shop inna Ocho Rios that him came there and I say yea, and make that hook up. It was good fe have him inna de studio, cause a whole heap a mon never see him yet. Man inna de studio never see him yet. The weirdest thing too is that nuff people never see Sly play drum. Nuff youth. That was a unique thing that's true, because I remember one of the engineer youth say, 'bwai you know me always hear about Sly ya know Rasta, but me never see him play live drum yet.' Because Sly dere at the studio a whole heap of time with these youth engineer, and them never actually see him a play the drum, yet say them a hear that him is a drum legend. So that was something else fe them too . . . fe actually see Sly roll a drumset up and play drum.

Joseph Hill even said recently that Sly forgot how to play drums, cause he'd bring Dub Mystic down to record those Culture albums at the Mixing Lab and not even have Sly at the kit.

Him play it still. If you listen to the thing, him wicked.

He plays on all the tracks . . . no, Horsemouth . . .

Horsemouth play on two tracks, (Sly) play on the rest.

Do you remember which?

Alright, Sly play on Judy Mowatt track, Marcia Griffiths' tracks. He played on Hortense Ellis track. . . Pablo Moses, him play on Culture (& Big Youth). Desi Jones played on my track. Desi Jones was formerly with the Chalice. Him have him own band now, Skool. And then Horsemouth play on the rest (Diamonds, Justin Hinds).

Leroy Sibbles . . .

Leroy Sibbles play bass on two tracks, and Robbie played on the rest. Alton Ellis sung that tune "Black Man Pride" years ago, and when I called Horsemouth and Leroy Sibbles in the studio to play and I say this is the tune me a want them sing over, and I hear Leroy say, 'but a no me play dat tune deh. . .' And Horsey say, 'Yea mon! A we play dat tune deh!' So is like me say 'wha!' Same tune mon dem come back again, come fe play back the same tune after most of twenty-five, thirty years. So that was nice too. That was nice.

That's a classic. That horn line. That song has come again so many times.

Yea, yea mon.

How about the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. What productivity has there been from them since Count Ossie time . . .

They are more into community work in Warika Hill. They have school going there and thing. The musical part of them is not out there as much. The other day I was in Paris and I heard that the Mystic Revelation was inna next part of France. The same day I was playing, they was playing, but they haven't been doing any recordings for a very long time. Because some more involve in community work, but that also again was a treat to have the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari in the studio and Dean (Fraser) is featured with Chinna. If you listen to the tune, there is two guitars playing, the acoustic and electric guitar. That was Chinna's lead and Dean. This is an original tune by Earl Kluge. I selected that tune cause I listen to the original and I say it's slightly reggae. I said, wow, this would be wicked if the Mystic Revelation a play it. And then we draw on Dean Fraser, even though the original didn't have a horn in it, but I said it would be nice if Dean blow sax inna it with Chinna, and it came out that way.

Well, that's the producer's role is to see the finished product and get the right people. I'm curious about the Ernest Ranglin version of "Iron Lion Zion."

Alright, that was not produced by me. That is the only tune on it that I didn't produce.

Okay, why did you pick that track.

Alright. I wanted Ernie Ranglin and I wanted Augustus Pablo on it. I approach Augustus Pablo originally. Again this is a next thing of me coming in and him going out. Then I was listening to a CD. Brand new CD. I don't think it reach here, get marketed here. Is a company in Jamaica name Kariang.

The Mystic Revealers label?

Mystic Revealers, they are in Ocho Rios. I got the CD, Tribute To Bob Marley by Ernie Ranglin. Is a new CD put out by them. So I was going through the CD and I say, yea, you know. I was (in Cannes) at MIDEM, not this year, but the year before. Him was there, and I check Ernie Ranglin and say bwai, I produce this album, and I would love you play pon it. Him say I would haffe check Island. When I came down, I try fe get through to Island, but them still never make the connection. There was two people who was producing Ernie Ranglin outside of Island. There was the owner of IRIE-FM, Mr. Carl Young, and Kariang. So I was listening to this new album, Tribute To Bob, and there was two tracks on it that struck me, "Iron Lion" and "Screw Face," I don't remember the next track. And I say, bwai, you know, "Iron Lion," I really go fe dis one. So I went to them and I license it from them. But what was happening now. They used machine, drum machine, and that wasn't good for me, so I say I would pay for a drummer to go back in the studio and mix it over. So I had to go back in the studio with the tune and take off the drum machine and put a live drummer and mix it over. What you're hearing now is not what you would hear on the (original) album. The (original) is a drum machine.

I thought Island Jamaica may have put that Ernest Ranglin album out.

No. This album is an album Tribute To Bob.

I thought I knew about that track. That's why I had to ask you. He also made it over the remix version of it. The rhythm is not the original.


Tell me about getting Hortense Ellis. . .

Wow. Well, I am trying to . . . I hope I can get this track to be release as a single in England, because to me personally, I think that it is a good lover's rock, English type of tune. Alright. You know over the years Hortense Ellis is there. About twelve years ago Hortense Ellis came, just appear to me inna me shop, and sey bwai Muta, me wan sing dis and me wan sing dat, and me say, yea mon, me try a ting. They had this sistren concert every year. Me ask dem why dem never put Hortense Ellis pon it. So they put Hortense Ellis on it and that ushered in the return of Hortense Ellis. She not getting a much recognition now as she suppose to. She went on a show the other day, an oldies show and she tear down the place. She wreck the place. Anyway, we keep in contact. Me is a mon who couldn't really do an album that didn't have no woman pon it. Me couldn't dweet.

It would be inconsistent with your philosophy.

Yea, so I say, bwai, Marcia Griffiths nice, Judy Mowatt nice, everybody know them, but Hortense Ellis now. I need fe go for Hortense Ellis. So I go for Hortense Ellis and I say Hortense watch me now, me have an album fe make and me wan ya a come pon it. She say yea Muta, anyting fi you. She just nice, ya know? So I say bring up a tune come show me and ting. So she bring this song come see me sey Hortense this ting nah soun . . we haffe fix dis ting right. So we sit down a deh studio and fix de tune.

The same tune as on the album?

Yea. We fix the tune and lay the track and it never work out, because something, I don't remember. She haffe come back, come dweet. I think she did have cold. Yea, she did have cold. Me say bwai Hortense, de track deh, it nah sound proper. We haffe come back, and she did it. It remind me of . . . Hortense Ellis. It remind me of Hortense Ellis, Rasta, to the point now where I a go try influence Shanachie if I could produce a Hortense Ellis album, like 'Hortense Ellis sings the greats.' I think it would be good, plus, she need fe dweet, cause she is one of the stalwarts in the music industry that has not been recognized over the years and she have the voice. And I feel that eventually it would be done. I think it would be done. I like that track. I like that track to the point where I kinda spend much time pon it. I brought in Pam Hall to do the harmonies. I sat with Ibo (Cooper) fe put some lickle flavors. He play most of the keyboards on the songs them. And Robbie Lyn plays also. I got him to kind of flavor it up and ting. I think it's a nice song. I think they should release it in England. Because if it could be released in England that would kinda open a way for her also in this modern time.

Do you deal with Greensleeves over there?

Shanachie deals with them. I don't license album. I just give it to Shanachie and Shanachie do what they want to do with it.

Is the Big Youth track on the same rhythm as the Culture track?

Yes, yes, yea. We went to the studio and I go for Big Youth and I say Big Youth, bwai, ya haffe do dis ting. He listen to the track them and that was the track. As a matter of fact there is two tune that Big Youth do on that same track. I don't know which one them give you but. . . he was talking about 'Jesus is a condition.' (laughs). The condition, yea. (laughs). He had a next one on it, the same riddim. He got into the groove so much that he decided that he would give me two tune pon de same track so dat is a ting. We gwan look see if we can mix it with Culture voice and get a next tune out of it.

I was going to say you ought to put it on a 12 inch.

No, we don't want to do them that way, because we actually never signed with the artist them fe do 45s. I mean Tabby did want, Tabby dem say 'dat tune a deh wicked pon a 45,' but we never really tink pon it dahweh deh, but I definitely know Hortense Ellis. I'd love (to) hear Hortense Ellis (on a single). Not only for the tune but fe she. Fe she personally, as a tune I think could open up something for her in England.

I think you're right, cause you can really hear it, when somebody's voice can maintain.

She maintain her voice mon. In all a de stress and struggle, she maintain it. It's beautiful, you know?

Yea, certain singers I've heard over the years . . . I think Justin Hinds is another one . . .

Yea, Justin Hinds keep him voice. Yea mon, Justin Hinds is there. Consistently.

How about getting Pablo Moses. He's somebody who had a great flash and then we didn't hear from him.

Alright, Pablo Moses now. We was going on and on and on and Pablo Moses came up and I said, yea, why not. Pablo Moses there over the years, so we went to him and him say yes. I don't know, but I get the feeling . . . but it feel good to know that all of these artists, I could just go to them and just say come pon me album and them say yes without any hesitation fe say, 'well, me nah go . . .' dem we deh. I know is not everybody them artists would really record and actually allow the tune for produce it. So when I see them do that with me, I say yea, it look like Muta have some lickle clout deh someweh throughout the place. (laughs)

Please . . .

(Laughs). Well, I never take anything for granted! When I see say, I get dem man ya haffe come inna de studio. Sly and Robbie and Robbie Lyn. And I look inna de studio and I see the studio full up, and I say them ting a de studio come like old time studio business. Culture, we spend a long time pon Culture tune. Culture record it and dem go it over and come again and dweet and yea, it was nice.

First time, probably that Joseph Hill. . . Well, it's been a long time since he's played with Sly and Robbie and definitely with a live drum track by Sly, probably since the 70s. The old school Culture fans will go crazy for that.

(Laughs) Yea! yea. The time and effort I put in this album, as I say, is liking making one of my album dem. Over the years my albums have been very musical. I listen to so much music, and me try to integrate the different influences base up offa what. . . When I do this album, I say, bwai I wan create an album weh people who left reggae and get frustrated and a say, 'bwai reggae nah gwan wit nuttin now,' can see something brand new. And not just taking different tracks from different albums and putting it together and make a compilation. Cause that is what is really taking place now. People take different tracks from old albums and then put it together and make a compilation. I say, if would could a make an album now with the old musicians, new music with old musicians, that the people who get frustrated with the music can say, 'but wait, them thing a still dem out.' And then the new people them can say but this is a new album and hear the man dem who did make it from a longer time still sing it how it supposed to do. With a producer like me. It's not the first I produce an album that is not mind, but make this one, is like a baby. Is like I feel like I did something. It's important.

It's important. You've really touched on something, cause people who came into reggae and really started to feel it, then got pushed away, because reggae has got that heartbeat, that live human touch.

And now it's not human again.

I don't know if it was. . . I always look to Jammy's and Sleng Teng and that whole time, but that took the human touch out of the music.

Is a combination of the human touch and the human spirit. Because the music is no longer of the spirit again. It's more of the physical. Because it's not of the spirit again, the music itself is not of the spirit again, it's machine. When the music was in the spirit, there was musicians playing it, what was being said was spiritual. Now we all see the trend moving and we can see everything change to mechanical. And that is what a lot of people feel that reggae, the reason why they gravitate towards reggae was because of the human spirit. And now that the human spirit is there no more, they get frustrated and they find something else to listen to. So we try and we hope that when people listen to this album they will see a humanness in it, not just from the producer and the artist, but the music itself. Because my thing is musical, even though I am a poet. But when I am dealing with singer. I haffe look pon de music. When I'm a poet, I look pon it as what I am saying, the words. And when I choose, like I chose the "Blackman Pride" tune because it meant a lot to me when I was young. I chose Judy Mowatt tune, "Someday We'll All Be Free" is a tune that was sung by Danny Hathaway years ago, and that song to me represent a certain kind of freedom that black people search for. 'Hang on to your dreams and take it from me, someday we'll all be free.' So when I listen to the tune, I say, is years I say 'why an artist cyan sing over this tune? Why a reggae artist wouldn't sing over dis tune yah, right and proper way.' When I listen to it over and over I say, we haffe get Judy fe sing dis tune yah. And "Woman of the Ghetto" is a next tune that stuck inna mi mind from a school days. Marlene Shaw was the singer of that song over the years.

I don't know that name.

Well, that was the hit. That from in the early 70s. It was a big hit.

What studio or label did that come off of?

I don't remember, but I know is Marlene Shaw sang it. Then we have . . . the Mystic Revelation tune. Listening to Earl Kluge jazz, it would be nice if you have the Rasta vibes with the acoustics. I choose Ernie Ranglin tune, but is not my production. My song, "What About The Land" is really keeping within the context of my evaluation of what is taking place right now amongst indigenous people. Especially the other day. We been to Australia for the first time, and when we look on what is taking place in Australia amongst the Aborigines, we feel that as a spoken word person, it was my duty to express something about it and link it with the indigenous people of America which we have been speaking about for years. Since the first time we come to America we have been writing poems about that. Plus the Africans, plus the Amazon people. So that poem is combination of feelings and attitude that we pick up over the years with all these indigenous things that is taking place. We just get the music to suit it.

I know you've long had that link in your tunes, "Big Mountain," etc.

That song ["What About The Land"] was like a schizophrenic song in that the voices, how it was voiced, it's three different voices and the lines that sound like I am reading in my normal voice, it's from Chief Seattle. It's his words. When he's talking about, 'if I sell you my land, you must treat it like the rivers . . .

"Every mist in the dark woods . . . every sap which courses through the trees . . ."

Yea, Chief Seattle words. He was talking about . . . I don't remember if it's Custer or one of these guys he was talking about selling land and he was telling them. . .

We don't own the land . . .

Yea, we don't own the land. It was Chief Seattle words. When this album come out, we want the people to know that, because I've never really heard any reggae artist take up the struggle of the indigenous people in this country and express it in that way. We feel that as a poet who is looking on the wider picture of liberation for indigenous people, it was important to include Chief Seattle's words in it.

And the indigenous people so identify with the Jamaican struggle too.

Yes, is the same struggle.

Did you go to the Havasupai land?

Yea. I've been there.

What did you come away with from that?

Before that, you're talking about TV. Watching the TV cause me to really get this way about it. Because when me look pon the TV we see is the same perception . . .

The way they portray people . . . .

The way they portray it, yea. Then now we started to tour and we started to go amongst the Hopi and the Navajo and we went to San Francisco and Seattle and all these places. We start to meet indigenous people, and we start to feel more in that struggle.

Where I live, they were run out of there terrible, Pawnee, Lakota people. That's good to lift that consciousness, cause I think sometimes if you can raise people's consciousness about the African struggle, they don't even realize that they're living right next to these people who've been . . .


Yea. In this song, there's something, you're referring to 'Turtle Island.'?

Turtle Island is America. That's what the native Americans call Turtle Island. 'What about Turtle Island?'

How widespread is that?

I don't know. I just get it from them. I hear they refer to America as Turtle Island.

What people? All over?

Yea. Most of the native Americans call it Turtle Island. We've been amongst quite a few native Americans and we hear them refer to it. It's not the first time I used that term, me have a poem on an album Any Which Way Freedom called "Big Mountain" and we mention Turtle Island in it too.

. . .

I understand you were originally going to call the album Gathering of the Tribes, but it may now be Gathering of the Spirits.

Yea, the tribe thing now. Is not I was suggesting that is Randall (Grass). (laughs). Is Randall was suggesting it. Is Randall suggest the tribe business, but you see we not into the tribe thing. The tribe is what you call marginalization of people. We're not into the tribe thing.

It's divisive.

Yea, when I hear it, I said, 'no way!' We're not into that, tribe business.

So, Gathering of the Spirits.

Yea, that sound more acceptable to me.

This Interview is to be continued . . . in your mind . . .
Click here to go to part II.

Copyright 1998 Carter Van Pelt

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