Monday, February 14, 2011

Bushman: In Step With The Stepping Razor

Reggae vocalist Bushman, the musical alias of St. Thomas, Jamaica native Dwight Duncan, has spent the past 15 years using his strong voice to convey socially conscious messages over suitably cultural rhythm tracks. Songs like “Fire Bun A Weak Heart” and “Cannabis” have become staples at roots sessions around the world, while Bushman’s appearance on riddims like Cousins Records 2008 Fort Augustus version are treasured for their quality. His albums include Nyah Chant, Total Commitment, Signs, Higher Ground and Get It In Your Mind and he’s also founded a music company, Burning Bushes music.

Bushman now turns his attention to one his main influences, Peter Tosh. Produced by Penthouse Records’ Donovan Germain, Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor features notable Tosh songs “Equal Rights,” “Bush Doctor” and “Legalize” as well as collaborations with Tarrus Riley and Buju Banton. Bushman’s aim was to bring Tosh’s music to a new generation and celebrate his legacy while Tosh fans will discover the wonder of Bushman’s smooth baritone delivery. 

ForwardEver caught up with Bushman at the VP Records offices in New York and he offered thoughts on the Tosh project, his next album Conquering Lion and sharp opinions about some fellow Rasta artists. Watch out, this man is a razor, he’s dancgerous!

ForwardEver: Hail Bushman! Where is your base of operations these days?

Bushman: Well, [my location] is unstable as water! I’m mainly based in Jamaica but for the last six months I’ve been [in America] getting back in front of the people, promoting and doing as much as I can for myself and reggae music. I’m mostly in America and Europe. I’m working with a promoter named Giovanni who puts on Rototom Splash, one of the biggest festivals in Europe called. We’re planning to go to Argentina and Uruguay on February 17 for 10 days to do some promotion in South America. It’s a new market for me to play in and a chance to make some new people aware of [my work].

What is your record label Burning Bushes all about?

We’re an independent company established about five years ago. We put out the last Bushman album Get it In Your Mind but we’re not signed to any major distribution company, we do it all ourselves. Right now Burning Bushes is mostly promoting my music. We’re looking forward to promoting some young artists that we’re working with. We’re about the real roots side of the reggae. We want to water that root and let it grow and flourish.

Lets talk about your current project, Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor. What was your goal in recording an entire album of Peter Tosh cover songs?

My goal was and is to get the awareness of Peter Tosh’s music to the new world of reggae who might listen to my music but might not know his music. I’m not saying that everyone who listens to Bushman doesn’t know about Peter Tosh, but you do have some who don’t know that man’s work. You also have people who listen to [Tosh] but don’t know about Bushman. I also think Peter Tosh is less spoken of [compared to Bob Marley or Bunny Wailer]. Some people only know Bob Marley as a reggae artist. [Tosh] was very influential to my career. So I said ‘This is one of the ultimate goals’, to do a tribute to Peter Tosh. I’m mostly about albums projects, no matter how many singles I put out. Albums like this really help reflect the inner man.

How much awareness of Peter Tosh’s music is there among young Jamaicans these days?

Most of the young people who know about Peter Tosh’s music in Jamaica are those who have been raised in a Rasta family. The music has changed drastically in Jamaica; we’ve seen dancehall take a great toll on the music. Dancehall is a great movement but sometimes for me, I feel like dancehall music invokes evil. “In the beginning was the word and the word take on the flesh and manifest” – I think that’s one’s of the greatest teachings when it comes to music, especially when you have people indulging in certain things that the music subliminally is saying.

But for me, for the last decade within the roots part of the music, it’s been like one rhythm repeating – that’s just my opinion. It’s just the same riddim being made over and over again. I haven’t heard any form of crafted artwork or anyone doing something different or new. If one man does something and it works than everyone follows. I’ve seen less creativity in the music, which also contributes to the deterioration of the roots music.

"We have bigger issues to talk about that afflict people every day, things that need to be addressed."

You did a version of “Stepping Razor,” which goes back to Tosh’s early days, right?

“Stepping Razor” shows the agility of a man. People can relate to the lyrics, and who feels it knows it. [Quoting the lyrics] “I’m like a walking razor, don’t watch my size, I’m dangerous!” So it was a joy to be able to express these things that Peter Tosh was feeling, knowing that I was feeling them too. Now, Donovan Germain chose some of the tracks and other people put in their own input. “Glass House” was one of the tracks chosen by me that didn’t make the final cut. There were other tracks I really wanted to do and never got the chance to. I thought more attention should be paid to the artist and his vision. “Nuclear War” is one of the songs I feel is a “now” song with the kind of wars that we’ve seen, the crumbling of the Twin Towers, fighting in Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and all of those places on the edge. Another track I wanted to do was “The Day The Dollar Die” [from Tosh’s album Mystic Man]. These tracks are significant to me and I thought they should be on the album but we never got a chance. But the album is great and the project is out.

The digital release version of the album contains a lesser-known Tosh song called “Bumoclaut,” which is a Jamaican curse word, right?

If it were up to me that would have been on the CD version too! You know, because it’s an expression but it’s also a word of power. And if you notice in the song [Tosh] sings, “What kind of evil spirit is holding me down, I could not make one single sound, one thing Jah told me, son use these words, now I’m free, free as a bird…” It’s a thing that people should know!

You worked at Penthouse studio with a stellar crew of musicians. What did the band and studio add to the project?

Initially when speaking to [Penthouse Records producer] Donovan Germain and we outlined the project I told him that I wanted to be in the studio with the musicians when the tracks are being laid, which didn’t happen, and that’s one my disappointments about the project. I just felt that it would have been an even greater album if that meeting happened. I mean reggae is based on five to twelve souls coming together to make music. That’s the feeling I wanted to bring back to the project. It didn’t happen but [the recording] went well because had great musicians -- some of them had played with Peter before. Robbie Lyn, Mikey Chung, Dean Fraser and Glen Browne knew Peter for a while. Lymie Murrey, Pam Hall and Nadine Sutherland did a great job on backing vocals. The experience was great – seeing the vision become reality was awesome.

Some of Peter Tosh’s songs have a Jamaican folk song quality, incorporating local phrases and sayings. Did you grow up with some of these folk sayings in St. Thomas?

Yes I! These are called Jamaican proverbs. Like “sorry fe mawgga dawg, mawgga dawg turn ‘round bite you.” Things like, “brand new second hand,” these are things we heard. It even inspired one of my songs coming out on the next album, a song called “Jungle Proverbs,” which consists of Jamaican proverbs like “you never miss the water ‘till the well run dry,” “can’t judge a book by it’s cover without looking inside,” “the older the moon, the brighter it shine” or “the higher the money climb, the more him exposed.”

"We all have to be careful of what we do and say in the music."
Many of your songs seem to be about natural living and educating people on diet and social concerns. Why is that important?

If it’s not good, why sing it? For me it’s more like edu-tainment than entertainment. If I have the platform to speak for a world of people who have been oppressed why should I speak of the negative or personal things that I possess? Like, how many cars I have, how big my house is, how many chains I wear… We have bigger issues to talk about that afflict people every day, things that need to be addressed.

This next [album] we have coming now called Conquering Lion has songs on it that wonder if the leaders are educated fools or educated evil workers. There’s a song [on the new album] called “Time To Know” [sings]

 “In this world of modern technology, where education is the source, I see mystery Babylon a use them force… And the people find it so hard to live, the system is so negative, got to be strong to stay positive…Parents be careful of what the youths eat – the genetic chickens and bacons and beef, ice creams and sweets are like vinegar to the teeth…

You did a song called “King Selassie I” on the Fort Augustus riddim. That sounds very heartfelt and personal. Tell me about recording that one.

That track was recorded in England for Stingray Records. It’s more like a testimony, [quoting the song] “from the rising to the setting it's the same.” The same man who trod through triple darkness, through stages and changes is the same man now. From then till now, from David to King Solomon to Christ to Christ in His Kingly Character.

[The conversation turns to a discussion of the current state of Jamaican music and the pressures of outside influences in dancehall music. Bushman also had some pointed thoughts for his Rasta peers…]

Music is the greatest teacher in the world and it’s up to us to regulate the music. [We could] have all the derogatory music played at dancehalls and clubs where under-age kids cannot go. It’s a situation that needs to be addressed.

And I can say this for myself, and this is my opinion, I don’t care what Capleton or Sizzla believe, but they break down the music by [doing songs like] “Tek Off The Drawers” and “Pump Up Har Pum Pum.” Rasta was moving strong until some people feel to falter. Sizzla is one of the bigger influences on young Rastafarians inna this generation. And when he said “Pump Up Har Pum Pum” and “Big Long Gun A Run Out” most a Rasta youth dem waaan long gun fi run out! If the leader a say dat a weh you a think the followers a go do? A lot of youths became Rasta [because of] Sizzla, through the message of him music. So I say, defile yourself, don’t defile a million people with you. Your personal thoughts nuh have nothing fi do with the platform you get to express yourself.

We all have to be careful of what we do and say in the music. I wouldn’t even care if Capleton or Sizzla a see this article and say ‘A wah Bushman a say?’ because it needs to be addressed too. [What these songs are saying] is a mixed message, it’s contrary from the Rasta message. And that is Babylon. If you look in the dictionary for the definition of Babylon, [it] means confusion. So when you are contradicting yourself you are confused, literally.

What do you have planned in the near future?

The next album I’ll release is called Conquering Lion on Burning Bushes music. As usual Bushman deals with social commentary and stating the state of the world. You know how some say the world is going to end in 2012? Well the Conquering Lion comes out in 2012! We’re working with the likes of Earl “Chinna” Smith, Robbie Lyn, Chris Merdith, Squidley Cole, Dylan White, my original drummer from the Grassroots Band and my original keyboard player Phillip James. We’re still recording and mixing the tracks but it’s coming along well and while we’re doing that we’ll be touring Bushman Sings the Bush Doctor both in America and Europe and the rest of the world. And remember one countenance brightens the other – the whole of the I dem inna the fraternity also helps to make the whole vision become a reality. Give thanks.

Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor
1. Creation
2. Bush Doctor
3. Legalize It
4. Buck-In-Ham-Palace
5. Stepping Razor
6. Mawga Dog “Gal go weh from me”
7. Brand New Second Hand Gal
8. Don't Look Back Ft. Tarrus Riley
9. Johnny B Goode
10. Mamma Africa Ft. Buju Banton
11. Equal Rights
12. Igziabeher
13. Bumoclaut (Digital Exclusive) “
14. Downpressor Man (Digital Exclusive)
15. Mystic Man (Digital Exclusive)