Another Riddim Mag piece translated into English – for Riddim #59 published in December 2011.
A decade is a long time in reggae. In ten years a Sizzla or a Luciano can have over 20 albums issued bearing their name. Yet in ten years – an eternity for what is called “the six week music” – the Rasta deejay turned singer Warrior King has released just four albums. The latest, Tell Me How Me Sound, overseen by master producer engineer Colin Bulby York, featuring productions from Sly and Robbie, and Steely and Clevie, dropped in September of this year.
Warrior King, however, sees being less than prolific on the album front as a badge of honour.
“I believe in good works that can last for a lifetime,” he says on the phone from his Jamaican home “I believe in doing it properly because it’s going to represent what I stand for. I’m a Rastaman I believe in truths and rights so the music I put out there must be representative of I and I self”.
Nowhere is this representative aspect more prevalent than in the disc’s title track. Its refrain of putting “melody melody melody in a me voice” illustrates Warrior King’s musical journey from being a Bounty Killer influenced deejay named Junior King to adding more of the singing style we know today. But it also makes public a dimension to his personality, previously only known to insiders.
“If you know me like some of my friends, my manager and people around me, whenever I sing a song or record a song I always ask ‘Tell me how me sound?'” and by way of proof he bursts into the hook of his Frenchie produced hit Oh What A Feeling (which Riddim freely concurs sounds incredible even via the limited frequencies of the phone) “I love constructive criticism. If I’m doing something that’s not right I’m willing to take instructions because I want to be the best at what I do.”
Titling the new release with this character trait was Bulby’s idea. Working together on a record was something Warrior King had wanted to do since before he first bust through with the song Virtuous Woman in 2001. “The first time I came upon the road Bulby was the first producer my former manager took me to but for some reason it didn’t work out,” he recalls. “That was maybe 15 years ago, before I got the break in music. Bulby is a very good engineer and a very good individual too so we just linked up through the powers of The Most High and we took our time and did this album step by step”.
This particular project had been in the pipeline for over 5 years due to a combination of perfectionism (“When I’d get a riddim sometimes I’d drive into the mountains and I’d sit. Or I’d write the song while driving. But I would always take my time in putting them together”) and the distribution issues that dog reggae (eventually Kingston/Miami based Tad’s Records stepped in). But Warrior King takes inspiration from the older generation of artists, who were recording long before he was born Mark Dyer in Kingston Jubilee Hospital 27th July 1979. “Beres Hammond always told me ‘Music is like old people. You cannot rush old people. You have to take your time with them so you have to take your time with music too.’ Music was here before us and we’re going to pass on music after we’re gone.” In 2003 Dyer went to Europe for the first time with veteran harmony group the Abyssinians and was shocked by their music’s universal appeal. “I heard them performing songs from before I was born and there was a lot of youthful gathering with elders,” he enthuses “The young and old were at the show.”
The influence of the foundation can be heard throughout Tell Me How Me Sound. There are rhythms originally voiced by Bob Marley (Blessings on Bulby’s relick of Natural Mystic), Burning Spear (Nah Tell Nuh Lie over Steely and Clevie’s digital retread of Door Peep). Bulby’s hypnotic take on Black Uhuru’s General Penitentiary (Oh Yeah!) rubs shoulders with its original makers, Sly and Robbie themselves, on What A Gwaan. The danger with different producers on one album is that it can just sound like a thrown together compilation. Yet with Bulby at the controls, giving all the components a final polish in the mixing process, Tell Me How Me Sound feels more unified than many “patchwork” albums.
Warrior King agrees: “Bulby deliberately chose all these riddim tracks because that was the direction he wanted me to go. He said ‘People complain about the [lack of] real hardcore reggae music that they’re used to’ so doing this album he said ‘Warrior King, we are going back to basics with this album.'”
Back to basics meant soliciting the help of two of the most legendary rhythm making duos in reggae. But when Warrior King sought out the late Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson and his partner Cleveland “Clevie” Browne he had no firm plans to record. “I wanted to hold a vibe with Steely because I always want to be around people who can guide me and direct me and give instructions so I can get better and go further in what I do. Now Steely is a man who if you go check him he go put on a riddim. He go ‘Put on the riddim deh by Burning Spear’ and the song just start coming word by word so I record the song there and then” It was one of the last recordings with Steely who a few months later would pass away, bringing the great partnership of the digital era to an end.
Steely and Clevie’s methods differed greatly from that of Sly and Robbie – mainly because of the older duo’s use of more live instruments. “I love live music, live band music. That’s how I keep the standard – with the live music. I love Sly and Robbie, the Ranchie, the live sound because it can’t dead. No matter what come and what go it always haffi deh deh.”
Warrior King has shown his love for foundation music on other projects too. In 2008 he was the only modern artist on Linval Thompson’s Ghetto Living album – the veteran singer/producer’s first long-player in 12 years. The track Bad Boys created “on the spot” after meeting the legend while buying some juice is a particular source of pride because Linval is very choosy about who he works with. “He always tell me he see me as one of the youth that carry it to the next level where reggae music is concerned. He sees the discipline that I have and the mindset I have too”.
Warrior’s even been working with the sons of yet another icon in the Fams House production team, offspring of the Wailers Familyman Barrett. The result is the scathing roots lament “Where Colour Is An Issue” which shows up as a bonus track on Tell Me How Me Sound. While clearly about racism the song had a surprising inspiration.
“I was in Italy on tour almost 3 or 4 years ago” he says his voice lowering in seriousness “I was on a train and saw an African girl. I said ‘Nice and beautiful African princess’ and she spat right in my face. She doesn’t have a love for herself and her race.”
“I have experienced racism in different parts of the world,” he expands “We all are one, created in the same image and likeness of the most high we all have blood running through our veins we all have emotions and feelings. If you hurt me I’m going to cry. If you aggravate me I’m going to get angry. If you make me laugh I’m going to smile.”
Fortunately the reaction to Warrior King abroad has been overwhelmingly positive. Where many conscious artists now do more business in Europe than anywhere else, Warrior King (who proudly announces that he is President Obama’s favourite reggae artist) is popular throughout the world.
“If you put me in America, the Caribbean, Japan, England, Europe or Africa people know Warrior King. I feel the secret of it is Haile Selassie the First because I have no control over them ting deh. His Majesty is the strength of my life and with him all things are possible. That’s the secret of it, just put your trust in the most high and he said ‘Unto the four corners of the earth the music shall be’.”
In the ten years the world has been aware of Warrior King, the industry has changed beyond recognition. Vinyl has stopped being produced in Jamaica, the internet has irrevocably altered the business, his idol Bounty was embroiled in the Gully Gaza feud and Europe has become the centre of cultural music. But Warrior King remains un-phased by the shifts.
“You have to keep focusing on what you’re doing. Modern technology we have to work with. We are in tune to the internet; we are always on Facebook, Twitter and iTunes and so forth. Sometimes we have to change too. I was 21 when I got the break and now I’m 32. It was a seed, then became a plant, then became a fruit. We have to keep in the change but keep in the positiveness with the changes.”
Has the message of his music changed at all? “The single driving message of the music is just love. Love and put your trust in the most high. We must all overcome our petty differences and come together as one people because at the end of the day love is the key and the foundation. If you don’t have love you have nothing at all no matter who you might say you might serve, just have love and let’s move forward as a people because whether you’re black or you’re white we’re all one people. One God, one aim, one destiny. Rastafari”.