Interview with Duane Stephenson about Dangerously Roots

This Interview is recently published in Irie Magazine Issue #11 which is available for download here:


DC: First of all, id like to ask you, how are you doing? How are things?
Duane: Everything has been going great, especially since the release of the new album. It has been really impressive, it debuted Nr. 6 on Billboard. So the music is good. We are doing mainly a lot of radio and press right now, just to really try get this album out there, so much more then the last one. Because the last album hasn’t had much support. So we have been really hitting the road, I have recently been in Florida, up to New York, then we went to Toronto and L.A. and some other places. Just to really get into the press with this Album. Because if people don’t know about it they don’t know.. we are really trying to get it to the people to let them tune in to this album.

DC: Your last Album “Black Gold” was released in 2010, what took you so long to release Dangerously Roots? 🙂
Duane:I think I really needed to go back to the drawing board, I needed to have taken a step back, So I did. And In thiatperiod of time, I linked Up with the Wailers for a few rendezvous. I was opening for them and was part of the show. It took me to different places so I could really see another side of the business. Because, the truth is… a lot of us, upcoming reggae acts right now, we are confined to what you call “Traditional Markets”. And like the Wailers who are just “In the Marketplace”. So there must have been a reason for that, and I wanted to find out what this reason was. It had to be in the Root of the Music, so that what I was mainly researching. And of course I did a lot of listening also and going back, just to figure out what, I thought, brought people into Reggae Music initially. And what I can do differently, to try and recapture some of that enthusiasm and that love. So that is the reason why this process took so long… Plus the fact that I got 7 Tracks in and I scrapped the whole thing and I rebuild the whole CD from growing up.

DC: How did you come up with the title “Dangerously Roots – Journey From August Town”? What the deeper meaning behind that title?
Duane:Well basically it was twofold. One, because I really went back to the Root of the Music. What was the root of what brought people into the music. And aside from some of the things what we are singing about. We were pretty much marginalizing Roots Music to “Fire Bun Music”. So because of that… our music was even brought up, in a sense, in conversations about “Hate Music”. You couldn’t be any further away from what Reggae Music started as. I needed to get back to the Root and of course the serious Drum and Bass and everything.
Secondly, I think Roots music recently has been pushed aside somewhat and treated as it is some dangerous Chemicals. Those are the two reasons why, and mainly because I thought that this album went back to the Roots. Even the essence of the Album was to recapture that feeling that people generally get when they come to the country and they go to the hotel and get this lilltle Irie feeling. Or even the locals when they go to a Stone Love Dance pon a Friday or Saturday Night and just exhale, just chill, you know what I mean?

DC: Talking about Roots, One of the songs on the Album is “Good, Good Love” by Mikey Simpson for Jack Ruby Records, Why did you record this song in particular?
Duane:Well, I never knew anything about Mikey Simpson, I didn’t even know that Mikey Simpson existed up until this process of searching. I started listening to some Joe Higgs and they recommended me other things where I was probably interested in. I went on listening to some Jack Ruby productions and saw this sessions with this bredren singing… and it was a Live recording. “It was the wickedest thing mi ever see!” This is what i try to capture for my new CD! Later I listened to the original version, but that was not as powerful like this Live version. So I asked Dean (Fraser), Who is Mickey Simpson? And Dean told me that Mickey Simpson could have one of Jamaica’s greats. But unfortunately he got in a confrontation with some Gang and was stabbed to death when his songs started to get some good rotation. So thats when I learned about him. So in the process of all this things I was even taken back to school also.

Its the feeling what I tried to capture with this record. It is twofold… one, how Jamaicans used to view the music and also how international audience used to view the music. We always got two different things out of it. Jamaicans consider it a “Cool Runnings Vibe” that we get out of Reggae Music,. While Internationally it is an “Irie Vibe”. That is what i was trying to recapture. And that is one of the reasons why I chose to cover the Bunny Wailer classic “Cool Runnings”. In the video of the song, which you can view on Youtube, Ras Kassa perfectly captured that fun oldskool vibe. Sometimes I was a bit to serious about the business and not about the Music, so I recommitted to the music and now the business is running a little better. (Smiles)

DC: On the album is a remixed version of “Nah Play” that was also featured on “Black Gold” Do you have a special feeling with this track that you put it on an album again?
Duane: I did this because I don’t think that the “Black Gold” album really got out there. For two reasons, one of them was that the record company was trying different things in this period and that didn’t work. The album was never really promoted by anyone, including myself. Because at that point I started getting frustrated with the record Company and I took a step back, so never actually did the work either. And a song like “Nah Play” I think was too powerful to get lost in transition. It is a tune that I personally love and people need to hear this kind of tunes. It has such an energy to it.
When you sing over a song, you do it for two reasons, first of all I try to reintroduce those tracks to a new generation. And secondly for the business of publishing. So yeah, this song was to Powerful to just put it in a box.

DC: In “Ghetto Religion”, a collaboration with Tarrus Riley you sing that Ghetto is a part of your Religion and a part of you.. How does that reflect in your daily life?
Duane: It does, because it is what we live and see, most of us. If you are an artist and you are richer or you move on to other places and you started in the ghetto. Or you are still comfortable living in the so called ghetto, just like myself. I still live in August Town. It will always determine a lot of what you think and how people think about you, and the way you go about things. Because our teachings are a little bit different then if you were in a more comfortable situation uptown. The cornerstone can be one of two things, it can be the source of something that you are building or you can use it to try and fling a stone at somebody. But whatever you try to do, it will always be a part of who you are, how you have lived and people view you.

Duane Stephenson Rebel Salute 2014DC:  In “Run for your Life” you sing again about the life in August Town, was this song meant as a follow up on the August Town Song?
Duane: It not necessarily a follow up, it is what’s going on around here now. Let me explain something. Initially the album was supposed to be out since late last year. But then we tried to refix things to make it better. As that song was recorded we planned to put it out as a first single so we needed a video for that song. We shot that video less than a year ago. It is not released yet but… three people in that video are already dead. Two because of murder and gang violence and one was murdered by the Police. It is a reality, some of those guys are not innocent people. A lot of these youths that live on one side of the community have never been to the other side of the community. Which is unfortunate, because we had an upbringing where we would walk in August Town from end to end. Even I have a daughter, she has never seen anywhere beyond where she goes to church. There used to be a vibrant life between a Thursday and Sunday morning where people just chilled out and played Dominoes in front of the bars. I have seen that disappear to almost non-existant. Can you imagine that bars all of a sudden disappear because of the fear of being shot down drinking coffee… And Because of the gangs, it’s sad that you can’t just chill out and catch a nice vibe anymore. We don’t have a Silverhawk vs Jammy’s dance anymore, because those guys chose to leave that aspect of the business. If someone gets stabbed on your party you are responsable. It has really eaten into our culture, but we try to reverse this now.

DC: The “Sorry Babylon” is a real Rasta Anthem. Do you think anything has changed since, for example Peter Tosh’s Babylon Queendom?
Duane: The facade is, that it has. But it truly has not. It hasn’t changed much internationally or locally. Jamaica is run by bureaucrats. They claim that it’s a democracy but we don’t have much influence on what happens. Recently Chronixx was upset about something and voiced his opinion about the politics. One of the ministers took time out of her busy schedule to be in an Instagram war with Chronixx. Thats how it shows. “Because you are an Artist, you shouldn’t have an opinion, how dare you have an opinion as an Artist?”
Also International hipocrisy is still going on. For example now with Ebola, i’m sure that within a few months all the Countries in the world come on and say “We will put in 200 million or billion Dollars to fix the Ebola problem”. Because now it has gone beyond the borders of Africa. It was so easy for everybody to say “ISIS is getting bad, lets spend 1 hundred million a week to fight ISIS. Ebola is just an African problem, It can stay there”. Not much has really changed, man.

DC: Are there things you wanted to do different with this album then you did previous albums? For example choosing different producers, like the experienced Donovan Germain and a relatively new producer like Winta James?
Duane: I deliberately did that, because I wanted that energy. Penthouse is know for it’s Oldschool Dancehall, but Donovan Germain is also responsible for Buju Banton’s “Till Shiloh” Album. So he has experience and sound and energy that coming out of his studio, and I wanted some of that. With Winta James, I think he, from all the producers aside from Dean (Fraser), he did the most work. When I was searching for Roots I was looking for that that serious oldskool Drum And Bass with a New Age edge. I had been doing stuff with Winta before so we needed to link Winta but he wasn’t in the country at that time. So we decided to wait for him. This is the approach we took. Same with Flabba (Holt), when we needed him for most of the Bass tracks, Flabba wasn’t here… so we waited for Flabba. Thats was the process. If we thought on some songs that the Bass wasn’t roots enough, we called someone and said “Play the Bass on this song”. Sometimes we took out all the pretty things or keyboard, because we wanted a Roots bass in it. Everything was deliberate.

We did a listening session and everyone thought it was a fantastic album, but we thought it was too long. So we took of a few songs. But then it might be a bit to short. So we sent the album to Mutabaruka and asked him to listen to it and we got a nice opinion from Mutabaruka. Cause you can’t intimidate Muta and tell him what to say. And in terms of the mixing process, we wanted Greg (Gregory Morris) from Tuff Gong to do a lot of the mixing, because of the sound that he has. And of course Bulby (Collin York) did one or two tracks and Romel Marshall of course in keeping what we always did. Even the Mastering is done at Sterling sound, so we didn’t take any chance. And of course Dean was always spearheading the whole thing.

DC: Now that your album is released, where can people expect to see on the road you the coming time?
Duane: Right now we are looking to go to Europe in early February, I want to do a club scene round. To get the people closer and interact with the fans, get them involved. I want to connect with the people. The process is to get the album to the people, grown level. So now we are doing promotion from here too .. Timbuktu. And then we plan the live performances for that time. Simply because we like the album to grow on people. At festivals you don’t always win hearts and souls on people. You need to be closer to them.

DC: Is there anything more that you would like to share with our readers?
Duane: I suggest that people really tune in to the Album. Not only Duane Stephenson but also the expertise of the production. Check the producers. There is a lot of great input in this. It is a great record, an entertaining, enlightening record, a needed record. Don’t take my word for it, tune in and listen yourself. Nuff thanks to the massive for the support and waiting for me, and still be interested and listening at something from me… If my fans not support me, I probably still would be singing songs for my bredren pon the corner or in the bathroom. Jah Love!

By Danny Creatah