Real Audio Interviews of Reggae Artists on The Uprising at IREGGAE.COM rastafari

Ireggae.com Interviews
Ijahman Levi
August 20, 1999

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On August 20, 1999, Ijahman Levi  gave an acoustical tribute to RAW co-founder Papa Pilgrim at the 8th RAW Conference. This 55 minute performance at the Grande Ballroom of the Hyatt Sainte Claire in San Jose, California included "Busy Body" and "Live Like a Star", two previously unreleased songs, along with classics like "Jesus Selassie I", "Africa", "Are We A Warrior", "Jah Is No Secret" and "Jah Heavy Load".

Following his very moving performance, the legendary Ijahman sat down to reason with IREGGAE.COM about his first recordings and how his song on Rico's "Man A Wareika" lp got him a contract with Chris Blackwell for 4 singles. These singles eventually became his seminal album, Haile I Hymn. Ijahman talks about how he changed his name when he moved towards rastafari during his days in prison. Ijahman is trying to increase his american listening audience, and is in the process of completing his new album, Ark Art, which will be released later this year.  He is also working on a cross-over album. Click on image to hear interview.        

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On August 20, 1999, Ijahman Levi gave an acoustical tribute to RAW co-founder Papa Pilgrim at the 8th RAW Conference. This 55 minute performance at the Grande Ballroom of the Hyatt Sainte Claire in San Jose included "Busy Body" and "Live Like a Star", two previously unreleased songs, along with classics like "Jesus Selassie I", "Africa", "Are We A Warrior", "Jah Is No Secret" and "Jah Heavy Load". Following his very moving performance, I had the opportunity to reason with Ijahman Levi:

Well greeting Ijahman, and thank you for joining us here on "The Uprising".

Give thanks my brother, rastafari.

That was quite a spiritual performance you gave for us today at the RAW Conference here in San Jose.

Thank you very much, I am glad that you can express everything so clearly because you are at home, so I thank you very much, I can’t, so thank you very much.

And now you just came out here to California for this one performance, it that correct?

Yes, due to respect and the honor of Papa Pilgrim, I have flyed many many miles, because I heard about this a couple of months ago while I was in Jamaica, and since then I have been to London to prepare myself to be here. And I have returned to Atlanta, and then I am here now in San Jose for this program. So it’s a long time, and a long flight, and in fact I get a date for today in Washington a couple of weeks ago, but I said no, due to respect of thy word, and honor, I have to go to do this show in the name of Papa Pilgrim.

Well we are certainly grateful for your coming out here.

Thank you.

And I understand that you have done some performances recently on the East Coast as well?

Well I don’t really know where is east, west, south or north, but I know that I was in Amherst, yes, and I did a little show there, and then I went over to Rhode Island, is that the East Coast?

Yes.

Yes, and I did my last festival there, which was very nice. But I don’t do much work here (USA) you know, but I am working on it. Hopefully by next year, things will be getting a bit more workable. I am now on the internet as I mentioned tonight, www.ijahman.com . I am an artist who can’t be found for many many years, I am very hard to find. I am here, there and everywhere. It’s the Levi spirit within myself, as Moses spirit, i man have to trod creation and give the message, and not really stay over here. As Mercury, the sign which I am under, move here, there and everywhere. But hopefully through the internet, I will be found and things can be more professionally done in the years to come. Rastafari.

Well, we will look forward to that. Now most of the people know you from your days starting off with Haile I Hymn in the mid and late 70’s, but I understand that before you moved to England you did some musical works in Jamaica, is that right, in the 60’s?

Yes. I made my first recording in Jamaica through the help of Stranger Cole, who was working along with Duke Reid. He was the one who discovered the artists, and gave them the audition, and gave them the go ahead. And I had the opportunity to do my very first song for Duke Reid, a song entitled "Red Eyes People", which I have never heard. The only time I ever heard it was in the studio when them play it back. I’ve never heard it again, because in 1963 I migrated to England with my family and grandfather. So that was my very first recording. That was where I get my very first experience as an artist to sing around the microphone and know what it is to record. Until I reach England, then my career start working, as England is a very international country. All things are there.

And it was through your recording with Rico Rodriguez on the "Man From Wareika" album that you were first noticed by Chris Blackwell. Is that correct?

Yes. Yes. That wasn’t the first time I and Blackwell met anyhow. He and I met way back in 1961 or 1962 in Jamaica when I went to an audition through the help of Jackie Edwards, and I went to sing for Chris Blackwell. So, it didn’t work out because I did not make an album, but at least I did sing for him, and he didn’t disencourage me. He said I must go home and practice a little bit more. So I went home and that was that. I forgot all about that till time passed. I end up reaching in England, and there was Leslie Palmer, who was recording Rico Rodriguez’s album at the time, and he needed a little help with a track. He asked me if I would like to write this song towards this track, which is "Africa" the song which I wrote. And while I was playing, as it was told, Chris Blackwell hear my voice and asked who I was. And in the meantime, he was hearing this song, "Jah Heavy Load" even before I did that song for Rico. But he took more notice of me when I was on with Rico Rodriguez, who was signed with Island. So, I met Chris again, second time. Though he does not remember the first time, only I know. And he offered me a contract for 4 singles. And my contract was 4 singles, no album. But I ended up making those 4 singles into an album, which is "Haile I Hymn". In fact, I did lay down 9 tracks, when I went down, but it was 4 singles I went to Jamaica to make. The inspiration was bursting, and I was creating, so I just create 9 tracks, and lay them down, and ended up making 2 albums out of the nine tracks, "Are We A Warrior" and "Haile I Hymn". And that was that.

And those were all recorded in one session?

No. No. The tracks were laid down in one session, yes, in Jamaica. But it was recorded in various places like Compass Point, some parts were done at the Island Studio in London, and some parts were also laid down in America. I don’t know the name of the studio in America, but it was done through the help of Geoffrey Chung, who was my co-producer. And that’s where we got people like Gwen Guthrie, she was one of the harmony singers on "Two Sides of Love".

And I understand that, growing up in Jamaica, Joe Higgs was a big influence on you and helped you develop your musical talent?

No, I wouldn’t say he help build up my musical talent. I would say he is an artist who is older than me, and I would see him as my idol. He was a damn good singer. So I listened to what he was signing, and I tried to idolize myself as him. Cause he was a harmony signer with Higgs & Wilson, and I was a harmony singer with another artist, so I just idolized myself from Joe Higgs. I was close to him. Anything he wanted, I would go to shop, and we just developed a relationship until I went away to England in 1962. The rest in all on my own with the help of Jah Rastafari. And with the help of Chris Blackwell, who discovered my sound, and decided to give me that opportunity. Cause my sound is very strange. I laid down one of the longest track in reggae music history...

Zion Hut?...

...Which is Haile I Hymn, yeah, and it take a man who have time to give me that chance to work on it. And I did get that chance to work on it, freely. So give thanks, seen. And in the end of the day, I don’t get my reward where money is concerned, Selassie I. But, I reach the stage, now at my age, where I don’t even worry about money any more. Cause the earth is the lord’s and the fullness thereof. Cause here I am sitting down talking to you on the 19th of such a date, 1999. Many artists is not around to talk as I can talk. I represent the world right now, in the legendary form. So I give thanks just to be here. Ask Jah for long life, and more life, and everlasting life. And don’t worry too much about the earth’s vanities.

True. I want to ask you a little bit about your musical style. How is it that you came to develop such a melodic, chanting rhythms?

I would say only god to heaven knows. I just know I have that sound. I don’t even know myself what sound it is, I just know I have this sound. And I used to hear, Ijahman, you sound like an Ethiopian Priest. I had never been to Ethiopia at that time, never been to Africa, and don’t know. I just have this identity, and of course I am a spiritual person. So I really sing from what I experience. In anything I do and experience, I write it, and sing it. And some of the experiences can be very touching, very hurtful. Cause at times I cry without tears. I am not afraid to cry, because we are only human beings. I cried 3 years ago, I cried, well, well cried. After I finished Reggae at The River, 1996, and I went home and my family had moved out, and had left me. Yes, I really cry and take it to Jah and his mercy. But he is merciful and forgiving, and also I have to be merciful and forgiving. So I am on my own now, doing Jah work. More freedom to trod the road and do the work. Have to forgive to a certain level, cause some of these movements within Earth, especially if you are praising Jah, is not man works that you think is their doings. But is just that you have to feel it, and know that, even though you are going through tribulation, to know that it is the works of Jah. Cause Jah is a jealous god, and if you get too committed to certain livity, and certain ways of life, he will get very jealous and break down the house. He already said that he can break down the temple in 3 days and rebuild it in 3 days. But I just love her same way, and forgive her same way. And just love god and praise Jah. Voice of the people, is the voice of Jah, and if the people are happy, then I know that Jah is happy.

When did you first come to know and experience the spirituality of Rastafari? Was it a particular event, or time in your life?

Yeah, when I was in prison from 1970-72. When I was in prison, you know, my first family, there was no visit, nothing. So everything was breaking down. I was a rastaman before that still, yes, but never cut my hair, just let it grow and comb it, but never cut it. And from I know myself as a boy, in Jamaica. But going to England, I couldn’t dread because it cause certain things through customs and immigration. So I come over uncut, but combing, until I reach there and get into myself. It was prison where everything really happened through my visions. Changed my name from what I was singing as to become Ijahman Levi. Everything started really in prison. Then when I leave and go to Jamaica and realize that, through the 12 Tribes of Israel, that I am a Levi. And I get to realize who is a Levi, and what is a Levi, and start reading the bible and realize that I am on the spiritual side of Moses, and tradition and roots is from Moses, and the ways of Moses. All things put into Moses is put into me because it is the same spirit. So here I am now. To be truthful to god you have to be truthful to yourself. And I try to live my life in a clean and proper way in the eyes of Jah. Let my nay be nay, and don’t let my nay be yeah. A man is not proven by his words but by his works. Many of the words that many artists pronounce and sing about. Many of them have to be very capable. And some of them is not capable, and I see many words take form and take form, and then don’t live up to the tribulation. I try to take heed from each and every one. Cause every man is an example for the next one. And if that road you walk down is bad for you, it will be bad for me because I am just a man like you. And if you trod down that road and it is good for you, then it must be good for me also. So, at my age, and at my life here at 53, Selassie I, pass through 2 tribulations, 2 breaking up of marriage. I have 11 children, Rastafari. And since the last one, the last 3 years, I am on my own doing Jah work. Since then I have traveled the world, Like president of Gambia sent for me, offered me land to go back to Africa to help build a school of music in Gambia. Until that time come, so be it. I have also been offered land in the Ivory Coast from the mayor Theodore. He wants me to come and start some studio works. I’ve also been offered some land in Zimbabwe from President Mugabe way back. So, it’s been offers that have been given, but in the mean time, I’m not here to chose what is of me. I just do what I know is of me. I am an artist, and I am here to please god and to feed the people with Jah works. A man is not proven by his words but by his works. So by now, I know that god is pleased because my people love me. All over the world I am welcomed and loved. Even without a big band, me and my guitar. It’s joy and an honor to be here. Yes every day, give praise to Jah. Praise him every day.

Well I know that your musical works and your spirituality have touched me along with many, many other people that have listened to you over the years. I understand that you have a new release that you’re working on, "Ark Art", is that right?

Yes, I am working on tracks towards Ark Art. I made six tracks so far, another six I’m trying to work on and hopefully get it released in October, hopefully. I’ve got a track named "Busy Body", which I sang tonight. I don’t know what I am going to do with Busy Body. I’m wondering if I should put it on the Art Ark album. I’m trying to make a cross-over album, and Busy Body is one of those songs that could be cross-over. Also the song "Live Like A Star" which I sang tonight could be another one on the cross-over, and I also have a few more tracks which are cross-over, which is nothing to do with reggae. But the next album which I am working on which is a reggae album titled "Ark Art" is a nice album. But I’m thinking if I should put Busy Body on it. That’s my only problem right now. If I don’t release Busy Body, that will be released next year on the cross-over style of Ijahman Levi. But the next album is Ark Art which hopefully will be finished for this year in October.

Yes, well the people who were in attendance today got a special treat to hear your "Busy Body" song, acoustic style.

Thank you very much.

Ijahman, do you have any final words that you would like to say to the people?

Well, give thanks and praise to be here through the powers of Jah Rastafari. If it was for want of money, then I wouldn’t be here. Personally, I’ve come a long way on my own. But, the work has to be done, and his spirit have to be here to honor Papa Pilgrim who has put in a hell of a lot input and works over the years to build this organization (RAW). And I am now a member of RAW, to the fullest. I should be a member long, long time. But not even for the time, or even for the pledge membership. And hopefully, I will be working alongside Reggae Ambassador in the future. Along with my friend who I met 2 nights ago, Tom, who will be taking over for Reggae Ambassador. And give thanks for the people who were here today. Hopefully before I leave here, I’ve been told that they want me on 1 or 2 radio stations. Hopefully, I’ll be there to express myself in words and a song or two. Selassie I. It was nice to be here in San Jose. My very first time. And I just give thanks and praise to Jah. To guide me and to protect me. To be part of earth and creation, doing his works and praising him for long life, health and strength. And one love to all my people and all my fans who know me and identify me in songs. First time maybe you hear me talking, but I can also reason good as well as I can sing good. And nice to talk to my brother, Daniel. Selassie I. Rastafari.

1999 IREGGAE.COM

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