Reggae singer Mikey General was a key member of the Xterminator camp through the roots revival of the early 90s. He has sometimes been overshadowed by Luciano, but his work has always stood on its own. I found him to be full of positive energy and enthusiasm while he disucssed his career.
This interview was done on February 28th, 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri. I talked to Mikey General after speaking to Luciano.
I was reading about you yesterday that you spent some time in England with the Fashion label. What's the story there?
Well, I went to England in 1982, so after about 2 years I was working. I left work and was singing on sound systems like Saxon. While I was singing on Saxon I was called to do some dub plates for a sound and I went down to Fashion and they were the dub plate studio at the time. I put down a special and John and Chris called me and said they liked how I sing and wanted to record me. I did some work with them for about three or four years. They were good in that, the message they didn't really want the message music, but in terms of getting the music out, they were there. They wanted mostly like sound boy kinda tunes. If you would recall you would find that most of them were sound boy, sound clash tunes.
How long were you in England then?
I was there for ten years actually.
That was a kind of time where in Jamaica the music got very artificial. Did it retain some of its authenticity in England?
True to a certain degree . . .
There was always new music coming in from JA . . .
Right, right, but England is a place . . . Treasure Isle, Downbeat (Studio One), that kind of music continues even though they play new music. They never leave the foundation music. So that was one of the things that kept me grounded, live music and ting. During that time there were great musicians like Jackie Mittoo, passing through at the time.
A lot of great people went through the Fashion camp too.
Right, right. It was a great experience for me too -- a learning process.
It sounds like you came back to Jamaica in exactly the perfect year?
Oh my! You talk about spiritual vibration. I will have to tell you that it's Jah himself take I home at that time. I was in England and I kinda felt fed up. My musical career there wasn't really happening to the extent that I desired. And the spirit said to me, say bwai, better you leave. Because England and America too, but in England if you are a reggae artist in England, even though you may sing good, they don't really accept you. They accept the music from Jamaica. So I was there singing but the respect that I thought was due, I wasn't getting it, because we were putting a lot of work. I said to myself that I need to change my life. The spirit came to me and said, well, why you don't go to Jamaica and spend some time. While I was in the transition to Jamaica, I adopted, or I became, I acknowledged the Rastafarian faith. Now that was a new lease on life to me in the music. Because I always had that spiritual side of me. But when I came down to Jamaica, being more grounded and rootical, it brought me to dig deeper within myself. I adopted the principals of Rastafari and it made me find songs . . . my whole singing improved, my whole countenance, everything. So I think it was a phenomenal time in my life.
And you bucked up with Luciano right there at the same time?
In December of 1992 I met Luciano. And I think that was really the turning point in my life still, because Luciano was the person that . . . I used to see him before I really link up that close. I used to admire him because he used to be a loving youth always healing everybody. Cause Luciano, through you see him have on him locks still, him have the Rastafari flex from long time, if you know him! Him always loving and him kinda remind me of a side of myself that I used to penetrate when I used to read my Bible and him bring out back that inna me. Me say, is them kinda youth me haffe pair with. So him can strengthen me. Him strengthen me, I strengthen him. To me Luciano is a total source of strength to I. Me a tell you. Where ever we went, he wasn't driving at the time, I had a little blue car that they call Betsy. And I pick him up in the morning . . . (Mikey and Luciano start laughing at the memory of this). Him used to live in central village at the time. So me used to pick him up inna the morning, and me and him tour the road and lick a lot of specials and go a studio. We just circulate and people start to admire the livity between me and him still, because them notice that I never leave him. We always showing love. Sometimes we're on the road. Luciano can tell you sometimes, twenty dollar gas we can put inna the car (about US$0.60), between me him and Shadow Man. Twenty dollars nah whole heap a money, not even a gallon a gas that! But by the time we drive, still Jah would bless us with something. But those were the good old days. Yea mon, that's where we're coming from. I can tell you say is Jah himself make me link up with Luciano. I personally think that I&I are soul mates, because to the understanding weh we a have of each other, it couldn't be from this time. It must have been from way back. As he said about King David. I & I see ourselves in the lineage of King David. I think that when King David and the chief musicians were there, we were there in that time too. But we forward in this time and place.
You're still there.
Reggae music is the King's music. I'm convinced of that. As you said, reggae, when it first started, how it became international was through talking about the struggles of people. Bob Marley used to sing about the struggles and about spirituality. This was the thing that appealed to the worldwide audience. That was the foundation of the music. Even ska and all those musics, the "Israelites" and Desmond Dekker. That was the foundation, spirituality. Toots and Maytals. That was the foundation of the music. Now in the 90s, it has returned. A generation has passed really. It has come forward now in the 90s to bring it back to its original essence. As you say Luciano is one of the main architects of the new renaissance of reggae music.
You've been there visibly too.
Yea, I been there right through. Thank you mon. But it was a strengthening of each other, because Luciano, when I met him, was singing in that direction. And this livity converted me forward that meditation. I couldn't see myself singing anything (else). I don't sing any love songs again.
Luciano: All our songs are love songs! (laughs)
Yea, but we don't sing about "Baby, I love you! . . ." Them kinda songs are out right now. If we sing a love song it would be like "Woman of Israel." You're talking about the virtues of the woman. These are the things that we speak about now. We're not talking about her body and re, re, re. We come outta that meditation now. That's where the music should stay.
Just recently I've been spinning a Firehouse 7-inch called "Red Hot."
"Red Hot." If you listen to the words, it's talking about the miseducation of I & I as a people, and how I blame it on society, them didn't tell us of our history. I & I as African people have a rich history, but because of slavery and other things, we have been taught to think that we were less than nothing. Now, the society in general could have rectified this by speaking the truth, but they didn't. So we had to search and that's how Rastafari come to be so important, because Rastafari was the alternative to what Babylon had taught us. Now, I say they didn't tell us about our history, our way of life, and because of this teaching that they have given us, it boil up now till it reach a stage where the youth have no self-esteem and no love for themselves. And therefore they don't have it for anybody else or any form of life. So that's why so much gunshots and things are happening. So I say that's why things gonna be red. Because the seeds that they sow has now come to bear fruit upon them. Seen? That seed that they had sewn has now come to bear fruit pon them now. We shall see that inna matter of time that the system, even in America here we see it. It's only a matter of time before it gets to be a military state, martial law and thing deh. So them a try an get gun control of everything under order. But they were the ones who started it. Now it's gone outta hand and them try fe stop it, but it's too late. And that's why it's gonna be red. It's just world events kinda make me get that . . . inspiration. The last part of the song [says] teach the youth the truth. Teach them to love, because if he loved himself, then he wouldn't be so violent. So that is really the message.
That whole process where they try to make Jesus appear to be white was, whether by design or not, it caused black people to lose self-respect.
That is true. Marcus Garvey speak on the same thing. Him say that it is human for I & I to see God through our own eyes. So if a one should see Jah as Chinese . . . if a Chinese should see Jah as Chinese, you couldn't blame him. Because I know that Jah is within every flesh and everyone. Your consciousness that you have, is not everyone have that same kind of mind. That's why it have such an effect, cause some of them don't have that consciousness to see God in everyone. But really and truly through studying even history and the geography of the time. You could see that there was a corruption of that image of Christ. As she rightly said, they projected it on I & I forcibly, not giving us a chance. That's why Rastafari rise as the alternative. Because Rastafari come see Haile Selassie as the Christ, the black king in this time. So I & I identify with him. I & I believe, as His majesty say, rightly too, that "until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior . . ." So I & I is not even for black supremacy or no form of supremacy. I'm for racial harmony and equality. That's what our music is about. But we know that Christ too came for his people, the Hebrews, the Jews. I & I come for I & I people first to uplift I & I people, bring them forward on that level, where they feel or they know they are equal with everyone.
But Christ came for all mankind clearly.
But amongst his people.
But it's doing the same thing at the same time. It's not even a separate thing . . .
No it's not a separate thing. Because really and truly he had to do it amongst his own . . .
It's not to the benefit of all mankind that part of mankind is in anyway down or oppressed. That doesn't benefit anyone.
And if you study the history of Christ, you would know that he traveled all over. The Bible tells us about until he was twelve, and then you see him come back when he was thirty. But the eighteen years during that time, if you read it, and you find books about the matter, you will find that Christ went to India, to Tibet, and to other places to learn from people of like mind. There were people out there, who were worshiping God in different ways. And he came amongst them. So him was a universal man. He came amongst his people and do the works, yes, but he didn't just come for them alone. He came for all humankind.
One more of your tracks in particular that I've been spinning lately is "Unseen Blessing."
Yes, well that song now is just like the old church songs, like "count your many blessings one by one." It's just a counting of the blessings. Some seen and some unseen. Jah is really good to I & I. Cause this breath of life that he has given us. . . We don't must haffe wake up in the morning, but he chose to give I & I this breath. And from we have life, we have everything. Everything is available to I & I. We have this life. Is just a song of praise to I & I, thanking the Almighty for these good things he has done for I & I. For protection, for carrying us from far. We a Jamaican, come all the way over, play our music [is] Jah blessing.
There are so many people out there who are less fortunate, so we have to give thanks for the blessings that we have. . . I really sang it with that praise in mind.
I have to ask about one more, a cut I used to play and bring out from time to time, "Miss Taylor Bwai."
Oh well, it's a . . . biography. It talks about my conversion to Rastafari. I went to one of the prominent high schools in Jamaica. St. George's. It's a prominent Catholic school. All over the world, anywhere from you say you go to a Catholic school, they say they know it's supposed to be a prestigious school. So when you go them school, everyone have high [expectations] for you. You're supposed to do something good . . .
You did! [laughter] . . .
I did, but to them, they don't look at music and Rastafari that way. So when some of the people in my neighborhood really saw me putting on the locks, they really wondered, say "is that Miss Taylor son?! Good good bwai, gone guh turn Rasta?!" You know them way deh? Is how the song came about.
Copyright 1999 Carter Van Pelt
For a bio of Mikey General, check the Xterminator site.
For a real audio interview with Mikey General, check Ireggae.com