People often ask why I invest so much time into writing a non-commercial, not-for-profit blog site. While it is true that we do not make a penny from the site (including ad services), my spirit is made rich from the people who write back to us about their love for the site. Most of all though, it is those few instances when I have the opportunity to share this platform with a legendary artist that enrich my spirit the most. To give back, pay it forward. and just “listen to the words of the prophets.”
These are the thoughts I had when I was contacted about an interview with the great Ras Midas.
Lorenzo Nembhard aka Ras Midas is one of those enigmatic artists who emerged from the underbelly of the golden age of reggae in 1978. He wasn’t propelled to international fame, his career was a slow and steady burn. His talent was unquestioned. Not as much a singer as a chanter, he has always been revered by the most serious heads who mention him alongside names like Ras Mikey Star, Burning Spear. This is a serious man who is different from other artists of the day in almost every way. He did not come to the Rastafarian faith through his association with the music, or through his kinship with friends and artists, in fact it is his grandmother that is a devout Rastafarian.
Dubbed “The Musical Prophet” in Europe early in his career, Ras Midas consistently delivered dynamic, positive, high energy performances throughout his career. Ras Midas’s first international hit was the single release “Kude-A-Bamba,” recorded in English and Swahili on Island Records/Harry J. Records. He was the very first Jamaican artist to record reggae lyrics in French for the song “Too Long In The Wind/Tout Longtemps Dans Le Vent,” which appears on his landmark Rastaman In Exile album. The album won the Album of The Year award in France (1980) and is now regarded as one of the great reggae albums of its time.
So, without further adue, Ras Midas…
So Ras, tell the people how you became involved in the music business.
When I was 14, I was introduced to Harry Johnson [Harry J’s Recording Studio] by a family friend whose parents knew Harry. He listened to some of my compositions and encouraged me to keep composing and writing; he told me that I was not ready to record as yet, and to return in two years. So, when I turned 16, I did another audition, and Harry said he was pleased with my improvement and that he was interested to be my producer – I agreed.
A week later, I was in the studio with Sly and Robbie, Horsemouth Wallace, Ernest Ranglin, Chinna Smith, Ansel Collins, Wya Lindo, Winston Wright, Jeffrey Chong, Dean Fraser, Nambo Robinson, Junior Chin, Sticky Thompson, Skully Simms, and Dirty Harry – all experienced musicians, some of the best in JA in 1974. Harry got leading vocalists Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and The Cables to accompany me. So there I was, 16 years old, at Harry J’s, recording enough songs to complete an album. I was very fortunate… Harry J gave me guidance… He was my mentor and we developed a good working relationship over the years.
You often worked with the great Sylvan Morris at Harry J’s. What makes him such an exceptional engineer?
Sylvan Morris had experience working with Studio One, and he grew up in the creation of the music [Reggae] as a young engineer with some of the best singers in Jamaica – The Wailers, The Heptones, so many others, and the finest musicians that JA had to offer. Sylvan is not only an engineer, he is also a superb arranger and he is my assistant producer. He is a man of high moral values and intelligence – with a good ear for quality sounds.
Working with Sylvan and Harry J was wonderful, the three of us created a team; I am very proud of the music I recorded at Harry J’s. I realized early in my career that Sylvan was the right person to assist me with my arrangements and producing. I am so happy to associate with a great gentleman like Sylvan Morris. Sylvan became a close friend of mine in the 70s, and we remain close to this day.
Many of the younger folk may not know that your first hit was tune called “Kude-A-Bamba” which was issued on both an Island records 7” and also on their subsidiary Black Swan. The single sold 500,000 units?
Yes, it did – and that was in 1974! “Kude-A-Bamba” was my first international hit song…
From all the songs I recorded in my first session with Harry J, he selected “Kude-A-Bamba” to release as a single. The day the song was being mixed, it just so happened that Chris Blackwell [of Island Records] came to the studio to pick up some works that Harry J was doing for him. I heard Harry tell Chris about me, that he had a new artist whose “style of singing was unusual and different.” Harry asked Chris to listen to “Kude-A-Bamba.” Chris seemed to be excited about the song – he decided to give it a try on Island Records.
What is the message in this tune?
Harry introduced me to Chris, who asked me the meaning of “Kude-A-Bamba.” I explained it was a saying that I learned from my grandmother – she was a Maroon – from the Ashanti people in Ghana and that it meant “love of the common people.” Chris suggested that I should do a version in Swahili and Harry agreed. Until this day, I am well known for this song, and my fans in Africa still call me the “Kude-A-Bamba Man.”
The message of “Kude-A-Bamba” is love… love for my family, love of the people I grew up with in my community. You will hear the name “Sarah” in the lyrics – that’s my grandmother, and then about how I “go up to Providence up a Auntie Belle yard, see the sufferer dem picking pimento” – well, this is all true! Natty Congo and Natty Bongo are elder Maroon Rastamen that I grew up with as a child. To my astonishment, lots of people around the Caribbean and in Africa could relate to the lyrics in the song. Sometimes you do something simple, and it becomes quite large…
You have recorded songs in several different languages. Talk about that a bit.
Yes, I recorded “Kude-A-Bamba” in Swahili and then, in 1980 I did a version of “Too Long in the Wind in French” – “Trops Longtemps Dans Le Vent” – a song that was included on my most successful album, Rastaman in Exile. At that time, my manager was French; he came up with the idea that a song sung in French would be well received in French speaking Caribbean and African countries, as well as in France – and he was right!
You kicked off your BOILING TOUR this last Spring, performing in Holland for the first time in 30 years. What was that like?
It was wonderful reintroducing myself, and my music, to the European audience. I did a lot of radio interviews in the two weeks prior to the show in Holland and I was happy to learn that the DJs were familiar with my music, that they had been playing my music for many, many years.
What band are you working with now?
My manager, Johan Livens, Entertainment Works, choose Asham Band, one of the best backing bands for roots rock Reggae in all of Europe. These fine musicians worked hard studying my music for several months before I came over… It was fantastic to perform with a band [from Europe] that plays Reggae music at such a high level. It gave me joy to be on the stage with them. Asham Band members are as good as any musicians from Jamaica; they are disciplined; they respect the music and they respect the culture. I am so impressed with Asham that I will be recording my next studio album with them in Jamaica – at Harry J’s Recording Studio with Sylvan Morris, where it all began.
Stepping back on the stage in Europe was a great experience for me; I was very touched by the warm welcome I received. To hear people describe my performance as powerful and uplifting… well, that was wonderful. And, to my great surprise, Dwayne, a long-time fan from California, took the mic to introduce my encore. He’s now living in Germany – it truly is a small world! It was wonderful to see Dwayne, and to reconnect with Earl Sixteen and Leroy Sibbles.
I met many people who were so happy to see me, and many people let me know that my music had been important to them. Meeting Lorenzo Stam [Cultivizion] was a pleasure; after many years, Lorenzo finally got me to Europe for the concert in Holland. One gentleman, Roy, told me that he never believed he would ever see me perform, telling me and my manager Johan that my music “helped him in through his troubled teenage years. He actually had tears streaming down his face; I was so touched by Roy’s genuine feelings that he freely shared with me. I count Roy as one of my biggest supporters in the world. We invited Roy and his friend Haresh to my manager’s for lunch a few weeks later and to my surprise, Roy brought Rain And Fire – the first reggae album he every bought which, by the way, includes “Kude-A-Bamba” – for me to sign. The experience of meeting Roy was just great… he is more than a fan, he is my bredren.
You have been in this business 40 years. You’ve seen reggae grow from youth to elder. You witnessed the tumultuous adolescent and teenage years. Is reggae now an elder like yourself or does it have a long time still to grow?
Reggae is an evolving music… it is still very young… still an underground music… and still has many rivers to cross before it reaches its zenith. Any music that doesn’t have room to evolve will get stuck and disappear. Reggae is one of the original rhythms created in the western world – compare with blues and jazz – that influences other genres of music like pop and rock.
I am still a student – and a composer – of roots rock Reggae. Reggae is the people’s music – people who are struggling for equal rights and justice; it will continue to be the people’s music for many years to come. A music with life cannot die. It’s not only the rhythms of original roots rock Reggae but also the message of the One Love Revolution; it was so refreshing to see how enthusiastic and appreciative the fans in Europe are for authentic roots rock Reggae.
You have any current or future plans to record and tour?
Yes, I will continue touring in Europe this year – the BOILING TOUR Part II begins this fall and into the winter. In 2015, plans are being made for concerts in Africa, the United States, and hopefully South America – as well as returning to Europe next summer.
This is a continuing journey for me, to return to all the countries I performed in, in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I took some time off from touring to travel, to study world history; I also recorded and released four albums – and I composed many more songs which I look forward to record.
This BOILING TOUR is like starting all over again: can’t stop Rastaman now!
Make sure to visit Ras Midas at www.rasmidas.com!