Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Anthony B: A Multigenerational Rasta

My article in this week's SF Bay Guardian:

Keith Anthony Blair, also known as the fiery Rasta reggae sing-jay Anthony B, is becoming a multigenerational artist. The 33-year-old began recording in his late teens and over 15 years has helped usher in a cultural revival via a dozen albums, thousands of singles, and relentless touring. Still, he was surprised while on his last trip through Europe when promoters asked him start his shows early to accommodate his many preteen fans. "The shows were full of kids," Blair says, speaking by phone from Jamaica.

Read the rest here.

In addition to the topics covered in the above hearticle, we touched on a number of other subjects. Following is more of the Q&A with Anthony B, recorded in February 2009.

ForwardEver: Talk about your evolution as an artist over the past 15 years. What kind of journey has it been? What’s changed?

Anthony B: We’re getting more work. There’s a wider world now that knows Anthony B. That’s the only thing that’s changed [is that] there’s more demand. We’re trying experiment a little more [with the music] because we go out into the world and realize that all types of different people listen to our music, so we come up with different ways of getting the message across. But out in the wider world we realize that we’re all related. In some sense, in some way, we’re all coming from one place; we’re all hoping for the same thing: Love, peace and unity, a better world for our kids, a better community, better leaders. These are simple things, actually.

Are there countries where people are resistant to your message?

Anthony B: Well, even down in Jamaica there’s a lot of resistance; sometimes it takes time for people to get understanding. But the same person who may not like you last year might become one of the biggest Rastafarians the next year because they finally get it. Some of the people in the past who reject I & I, you see them as Rastafarians living and doing great works.

Have you always expressed social and political views in your music?

Anthony B: Being a champion of the people, you want to talk about things that affect the people. The things that the politicians do affect the people because they keep the people needy and hungry and they become subdued. Then the people ask the question: Who is the problem? And they start to blame each other -- neighbors blame neighbors, and communities blame other communities, especially on the borderline. So Jungle a blame Rema, and no one look at the politicians and blame them.

When I start to sing on this now -- understand that you put your life at risk in many ways because you never know if the ignorant ones will take the [politicians] bait and say, ‘Him a dis di boss.’ But just Jah works and it must go through. It’s difficult because there are a lot of shows you can’t play because the promoter has a different political view.

So when you fight the politics of Jamacia you also have to attack the policies of the police too because they are the protective force. And if you’re an artists and you’re trying to say something, they could beat you down and brutalize you so you won’t talk about the politicians. There have been a lot of times when I’ve had to sidestep police, and I’ve had friends who’ve had to hide from them because there are a lot of people you can’t talk about. A lot of shows you not get invited back to, even if you were the best performer and the one people want.

These days politicians have to take the musicians and artists seriously in Jamaica because they're the ones really influencing public opinion, correct?

Anthony B: When a nation is in need, the Messiah is the man who is there to break them free from that injustice. That’s what music is now. People see entertainers in their communities more than their politicians. People can eat out of the hand of the entertainers in their community more than the [Minister of Parliament] that they voted for. That’s why music is so important to the people.

[Entertainers] are the ones who go to Europe and to America and come back with foreign exchange and help out the community with money. We’re an economic force in so many ways.

The community approaches us and asks us to perform when them keep a lickle dance to help with school fees to keep their children in school. We help with the college tuition and nuff people get help from the entertainer. Not one or two or three, but [all the artists] do something to help out in their own community.

Many politicians went away and got rich and did nothing. But someone like Shaggy went away and got rich and he spends his money on the youth.

There’s only one time when the politicians care, it’s called election year.

Your 2008 self-produced album Life Over Death was fantastic. Tell me about its creation.

Anthony B: We’ve been here many years and we still wanted to show what our potential is. After Garnett Silk passed on, the reason we were getting played is because we were making music that could play in the dancehall even though it was cultural music. Back then we could ‘take back’ the dancehall. There’s a new generation now, so we can’t sing the music of [old school DJ] U-Roy, or what my mother was listening to. It’s like, ‘how are we going to reach the youth now’?

We show the youth that we can do what Vybz Kartel or Mavado do but we want to show the youth their potential. You’ve got to put the message across with a little energy and style so that the new generation can embrace it.

With Rise Up, I wanted to make an authentic album so I can still have people like my mother and father as fans but at the same time we want to speak to the 10-to-14 year-old generation.

I just came back from Europe and we had 10 year-old, 12-year old and 14 year-old kids come out to the shows – the shows were full of kids. The promoters were coming up to me saying, ‘Man, we got to start the show early, because a lot of kids buy tickets!’ So there’s a new fanbase now for the next 10 years.

Music and riddims is my motorvehicle to get my message out.

Tell me about the track “Just Can’t Live That Way” from the album Higher Meditiation. Is that one a fan favorite?

Anthony B: It’s a fan favorite and one of my favorite songs to perform. And I didn’t just write that song – that song is about my life.

A lot of people see me and just expect me to be upful and bright, but I’m not a pretender. In my career, I’ve been sold a lot of dreams. I sang for a record company for 10 years, and I didn’t really get any writing or publishing credit. So I had to learn how to do that because I was making a sacrifice for nothing. After ten years I wanted to take up that responsibility.

I linked up with Frenchie (producer of the new album Rise Up) because he’s an authentic producer who’s also open-minded to new ideas while lifting up roots music. There’s never an argument over the topics or subjects in the songs. I can talk about life, or the Illuminatti and he can relate to it.

[Ed’s note: Rise Up is Anthony B’s fourth collaboration with producer Frenchie, who also brought us 1996’s Real Revolutionary, 2005’s Black Star and 2007’s Higher Meditation.]

What's he message in the song “Where Is The Black Man Rights?” on Rise Up?

Anthony B: The world has accepted that the Jews have been through a Holocaust under Hitler in Germany and they’ve repaid them and recognized their struggle. The world has also recognized the history and holocaust of slavery and the poverty and the detriments that black people are going through. But still, where is that Amendment; giving back monetarily to these people? Where is that moment of reconciliation by the banks that were involved in slavery because they accept that their grandfather was a part of this official act?

There are so many black people suffering around the world who are tired, poor. We’re not begging or asking for a handout -- just asking for the recognition that a lot of these injustices were the result of our people being hauled off and put into slavery and that they provided for the kings and rulers. So what is their compensation? Slavery still harms the black man today because of this non-recognition. We’re not saying this because we want punishment. We’re saying this because it’s harmed the mind of young black youth.

Why do you think your following is so strong in Northern California?

Anthony B: We acknowledge it and respect it. It took a change or management and a rebuilding of relationships to get to this point. But we pledged that we’d come and rebuild the trust with the audience, we wanted to show the people that we’re really true to what we’re doing.

California is a place of experimentation. People know them roots, know where they’re coming from but they’re also visionaries. You come here and you find out there’s a new style, a new way of doing things. That’s what we like to find out. So I think we gravitate to each other, the way I do music and the way these people think.

The same thing is happening in Europe now. People are trying to pass on rootical beliefs. A lot of the young people gravitate to hip-hop music so much that there is a fight between parents and them. But you find a lot parents coming to the Anthony B concert and they tell me that their kids love my music. The parents are surprised that their kids like a Rasta artist. But what they like in my music is the excitement. But they’ll go home to their parents and ask them what my lyrics were talking about. So a conversation can build in the home between the parents and the different generations over music.

What do you think of the new generation of reggae artists coming up?

Anthony B: That’s the only way it can sustain. I put a lot into representing good works to show the youth that they can achieve from doing music too. It’s growing and inspiring another generation of talents. So now there’s Fantan Mojah, Richie Spice, Perfect, Lutan Fyah… Nuff youth, nuff warrior we see come pon the scene now.

When I came up, it was only like Tony Rebel that was doing this music, apart from older artists like Brigadier Jerry and Charlie Chaplain. So when I sing that song “One Thing I Can Do” I say give thanks for Buju Banton, Capleton and Risto Benji and all of the youth that come. Now we can see a new generation of youth artists and it has been inspiring!