Natural Mystic

by Carter Van Pelt

Lawrence, KS. Anthony "Billy Mystic" Wilmot shuffles through his tour bag looking for a clean shirt to wear. He's sitting on a bench in the dressing room of Liberty Hall after a night onstage with the Mystic Revealers. A fan has just complimented him on the Revealer's success in the underground roots reggae scene.

Mystic pauses for a moment, peers up over the top of his dread sunglasses and then launches into a impassioned reply: "We don't want to break through the underground. Because once you come in from the underground, you faced with a whole struggle. People try to keep you underground. We don't even want to be presented at that level. This is Mystic Revealers! This is not from Jamaica or reggae music. We want to be promoted as Mystic Revealers who have these songs that you hear and love. Because trying to come up through the underground is like you have the system against you from the minute you admit you are underground. Jah music! A lotta sunlight and sky and stars -- it cyan be underground!"

Despite Billy Mystic's preference for mainstream international success free of the prejudicial attachments he sees associated with being labeled a 'reggae band,' the small crowd that saw the group at Liberty Hall was definitely what could be described as a cult following. It consisted of hardcore roots fans who have been disenchanted in recent years by the raced-up rhythms and fast chatting deejays talking about guns and sex, all under the banner of reggae music.

While the roots consciousness of the 70s is the cornerstone of the Revealers' work, the band has expanded its sound far beyond the traditional roots grooves of the same period. The Revealers music could be arguably be described as 'academic' because of Wilmot's intelligent lyrics and unusually scientific outlook; 'Rastafarian' because of the spiritual content; and 'pop' because of a distinct sensitivity to hooks, tight production, and a tendency for ballad-like songs. "Is a more international flavor of roots," Wilmot explains. "It blasts away all barriers and all boundaries and cuts through all chains. A man in India can hear it, and a man in London can hear it, and a man in Hawaii can hear it. And when him hear it, is just a music that him love, and him say, 'This is good, and I like it.' That's where we want the music fe go.

"If a person (has an) open mind and seeking knowledge, they must get gratification out of our music. Our music is saying it plain, straightforward. You can pick up our record sleeve and read the lyrics of the songs, and when you read it, you don't even need the music. You can read the lyrics and get something out of it. And then when you listen to how the music blend around those lyrics and how those lyrics fit within that musical accompaniment, then you see a beauty out of that. Is a music lovers' music. We never wanted to create a time thing. Is a timeless thing. A song that can play whenever. It wasn't made within the concept of a specific date -- is in space and time, it universal."

The group's name, Wilmot explains, comes from common Jamaican concepts. "We all know that music is mystic, in the form that it call cross all kind of boundaries and barriers. Language don't have anything to do with it. We see the music as a mystic vehicle that can take our (message) right round the world, (and) we are in a revelation time right now."

The chemistry that produced the sound that currently defines the Mystic Revealers began when Wilmot was a youth in Bull Bay, Jamaica. Wilmot's passion for reggae was fueled by listening to popular singers such as Barry Brown, Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Freddie McGreggor and inspirational trips to the first editions of Reggae Sunsplash.

Wolmot remembers the circumstances that brought the original Mystic Revealers line-up together. "As a Rasta youth, this was '78, I figure say, man must know how fe till the soil, and man should know how fe navigate the Ocean. There are certain basic knowledge where I feel say, every man should have. So I pursue a three year diploma course in agriculture at Jamaica School of Agriculture (at St. Catherine).

"(I was in) a school band. The school band used to play regularly. And we used to do tours around the Island. It was a time when we just together as hobbyists. Playing at the school and deal with the band, I realizin how it sound to perform with a band. And realize that ya haffe have a band really to get out the musical idea what you have inside. You might even listen to a record and say, 'bwai, the record sound nice, but if it was me I wouldn't have played the bass line this way, or I wouldn't do this.' So your working within the arrangement of the music.

"In '81 me start working. The first thing me do is go buy a guitar. We go around and try and find some producer that will produce a song that we write. Nobody never interested, and Tuff Gong them no interested, but all over. Is like the dancehall thing take over. It was as if we were left behind then. Them want something with a gimmick."

The 1980s presented the roughest challenge to the Mystic Revealers, as the musical climate did not in any way favor the kind of ideas that the group wanted to present. The young band did have one asset on its side, perseverance. "Is just a matter of paying your dues and sticking it out and being there after the dust settles. It pay off in the long run in that people recognize us as foundation. We held it through the time when nothing was happening. And gave those fans who love that type of music something fe hold on to through the period of drought."

The band got a break in 1988 and landed a spot at International Night at Sunsplash. The Revealers would play Sunsplash every year thereafter until this past summer. In 1990, the group's manager Julius Chin-Yee, financed a demo album which ended up being Young Revolutionaries -- the first album. "We were hoping to get a deal. We weren't really satisfied at the time, because we knew it was demo album."

Young Revolutionaries was released by Gong Sounds in Miami and distributed by RAS, who took a liking to the band and agreed to release another album, Jah Works, in 1993. Jah Works hit with the single "Religion," featuring a rap by D.J. Sojah, and tours supporting the album gave the band its first international exposure.

Wolmot respects the efforts of deejays like Sojah and others who have fought slackness in the dance. "The dancehall thing a gwan a yard come back round to consciousness. And is now like all of a sudden them start realizing, Mystic Revealers! So now we are a mature tree now. We are not like just a lickle thing growing like this where you can just look pon it step pon it.You haffe walk round it now. Cause it get big. Stand up in the wind. So you haffe notice it now say, bwai, Mystic Revealers! So the level there now where we reach where the people in the industry respect what we do. And come say, yea, we pay our dues, and we is not the greatest, but we on the rise and we haffe make it. You understand we have respect of all aspect of the music industry in Jamaica right now."
Space and Time was recorded in the winter of 1994 and released in the summer of 1995. The album has spawned two singles on the band's Kariang label in Jamaica, "Dem Problem" and "January to December."

Wilmot says the band wants to wait until Space and Time has had a chance to be fully exposed before putting out another album. "This album to me was such an effort. I feel so good about it that I'd like to see what (it) can do. I don't want to put out another album to compete with it right now. It (has) so much material in it of such a quality to us that me want it fe get clear round. Promote it fe the disc jockey's play it, because is the type of album where you play it, (and) you like more and more of the songs. They grow on you, and they grow on you. After while you find that this song was your favorite one when you just heard it, but you like this one, and then by the next month you say, 'Bwai, this one a me favorite one now.' Is not an album where there's is just one song on it you like, and then you put it down."

Even though the Revealers are breaking out of Jamaica, Wilmot has a serious concern for the future of music on the island where it concerns live musicians and bands. The computer revolution that swept the Jamaican music industry after Jammy's hit with "Sleng Teng" in 1985 caused a move away from live musicians.

Wilmot says it's virtually impossible for young players to get started anymore. "For them kid out in the country who is musically inclined, if he thinks he can play a guitar what is the sense for him to spend two, three, four years learning to become skilled on his guitar, when the only option for him as a guitarist is to play in a hotel band or be in a backing band, backing twenty-five different deejay on three riddim for the night? Is much easier for him to come down to the dancehall and pick up the mike and start toasting. Is a quicker avenue."

The apparent disincentive to learn an instrument has compounded the problem of fewer and fewer original bands coming off the island, he says. "There is no door for bands (to) go through, if you're going to play your own original music as a band. Is only so many showcases you gonna have. If you don't stay together long enough as a band long enough to put out enough material (to) get you that recognition, (then) you go on a stage and play one song of yours and 8 or 10 cover songs.
"Going out in front of that audience and playing cover songs is not building yourself up. It cheating the whole outlook of the band. If you do a cover song, you must do one, and you must do it so well and with such an amount of styling and arrangement that people take it as a showpiece. It difficult for a group fe really go through and do that."

Moreover, Wilmot says that a young band without a certain amount of catalog work will be stuck in Jamaica. "We were just lucky to be at the level where we can tour. In order to get a work permit to come the U.S., you have to fill certain amount of regulations. They have to figure that nobody here (in the States) can provide (the) service that we provide. We're not putting any American musicians out of work by coming here. We have to be well enough recognized. We have to get a letter from the American Federation of Musicians saying that they know about us. If you don't have a letter, you can't get a work permit."

Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success, Wilmot is eager to give advice to a young singer who approaches him backstage in Lawrence. "The only way to make it is to find a way to overcome. Because the minute you give in to the obstacle, you stop make it. So when something tough, don't give up. Just see it as another step. Once you overcome that you get to a higher level because you have been tested and you have found a way around it. If it took you a day, two days, a week, a month, a year, ten years, as long as you don't stop, then you always come closer to your goals. So the main thing is just weigh the opportunities, decide your priorities, establish a long term goal. Once you have a long term goal, you can move towards it. Once you do that, and don't give up, then you will reach."

When asked what the most important thing listeners can take with them from the Mystic Revealers, Wilmot doesn't hesitate to answer. "Take us serious. We're not just playing music just for fun, because we think it's necessary to say certain things. After while, when you speak, the words pass like a wind and are forgotten or lost. But when you make a record, they are recorded, and people hold them from generation to generation. And they will be there long after you pass away. The words will be there and will be able to be called upon again and again if those words are of any value. I hope that we (can be) conscious of what we are saying, so that we can stand up and defend it even ten, twenty years -- fifty years from now. We haffe know that we said the right thing, and we can still stand by it. Hopefully that is what the people will feel in our music."

The author wishes to thank Brother K, Sista G from KKFI in Kansas City, and Ras Mike in Lawrence for making this interview possible.

Copyright 1995 Carter Van Pelt

Originally published here
also to appear sin The Beat Volume 15 Number 3