Interview: I-Taweh

December 4, 2011

If you listened to some visiting reggae artists giving interviews in Europe you might think no one was consuming roots music in Jamaica. But one of many exhibits for the defence that have surfaced in recent times has been the late blooming success of backing musician turned frontman I-Taweh. Born Donovan Cunningham in the little village of Grants Mountain in St Ann’s parish before moving to the farming community of Prickly Pole at the age of three, I-Taweh began strumming the guitar at church to accompany elder ladies “Who’d never tell you what chord they were singing!” Relocating to St Ann’s Bay – just five doors down from Burning Spear – he enlisted in the Ocho Rios High School band, coming second in a schools competition in Kingston, which gave him the confidence to move to the capital and start a professional music career. In the early nineties he was taken under the wing of the renowned “youth promoter” Sugar Minott and went on tour with an assembly of friends known as the Bad Black Roots Band. In 1998 I-Taweh joined the legendary Nyahbinghi drumming collective Mystic Revelation of Rastafari and spent a decade on the road. But all the while striking out on his own was in his mind, and a fortuitous meeting at the turn of the millennium with the French group Broussai, led to the first recording sessions that would result in his debut album ‘Overload’. Released after 17 years as a touring player, in January 2011, on I-Taweh’s own Tap Nat Muzik label, it has reached Richie B’s Jamaican album chart’s top five, with the title track entering the reggae singles top 20. Angus Taylor spoke to I-Taweh from his home in California, about how his dreams came to pass…


At what point did you decide to go solo and do your own album?

It’s been a fire that’s been burning through all those years touring behind Sugar, Gregory Isaacs and all those people. I was singing in Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari. I used to be the lead chanter for many tours so I know what it feels like to do it. It’s a fire that was burning so hot and so deep but I know and I always knew that I was going to be the main man some day. I just wanted to sing my songs. I was writing songs for so long before I started singing them that it’s like I get old with my songs. I don’t even want to sing some songs anymore because when I sing it and somebody hears it they’re like “Whoa, is that new?” and I’m like “No man, it’s 13 years old!” (laughs) So I know it’s something I have to do from in the gut long time ago.

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