It’s not everyday you wake up to talk to a veteran musician in Nigeria. Penultimate Saturday took a different twist as I was preparing for production in the office but met a change in my schedule. The veteran reggae artist of over 3 decades, Ras Kimono, had finally agreed to an interview and was available. I quickly jumped on the interview often and made a dash for it before he got busy again.
Ras Kimono served a long apprenticeship on the Nigerian music circuit, experimenting with a number of styles, before making his late 80s breakthrough as a reggae singer. Together with his Massive Dread Reggae Band, Kimono released his debut album, Under Pressure, in 1989. Accompanied by the popular single, ‘Rum-Bar Stylee’, this revealed both a Jamaican and native African influence (the latter particularly evident in his ‘patois’ delivery, as frequently employed by Fela Kuti to communicate with the urban underclass).
His strongly polemical lyrics produced album sales of over 100, 000 copies, and a fervent following for his advocacy of social change. What’s Gwan proved even more successful, with the topics selected including “legalisation of Marijuana”, and the need for Africans to intellectually repel colonialism and its arbitrary boundaries between tribes. Most controversially, he was not averse to naming directly those in power he saw as synonymous with backdoor imperialism.
In this interview with City People’s Showbiz Reporter, DANIJI EMMANUEL, the home and abroad recording artiste revealed a number of interesting facts about himself as well as his journey into music. Let’s not keep you waiting for too long. Enjoy the interview below.
You have a very long dreadlocks; how long have you been growing your hair?
I have been growing my hair for over 30 years now and in those years I have remained a vegetarian.
Could you tell us about yourself, especially about your early career in life?
Ras Kimono is a true born of Africa. I left the shores of Africa in the 80s for Europe. When I came back, I started playing sound system, called Mobile DJ sound system. I was moving from colleges to colleges and Universities. Thereafter, I started playing in a boat at the Marina. There was a boat at the Marina, back in the days. I was running it to promote reggae music.
At that time, I was already aware that one day, I would come out with reggae music. So, I was using the process to build my career. Some years later, before anybody knew it I came out with my debut album, “Under Pressure,” which took the music scene by storm. That was in 1988. Before then, Kimono was already known. So, coming out with that album was like a great expectation.
I am a Rastafarian and a vegetarian. I don’t smoke or drink. People believe that every Rastafarian must smoke weed, drink and fraternise with women. I don’t do any of that. I am a reggae musician with a difference. I believe in telling the truth. That is why I use my music to fight the ills of society. It has become part of my philosophy.
Does this have anything to do with your childhood? Could you tell us about your childhood experience?
I grew up, like every African child. Though it wasn’t a bed of roses, I don’t complain about it. It was just like a ladder to success. I grew up in the ghetto. You know how it is like growing up in an African environment, without electricity or rather the basic necessities of life. That is why I said I am not complaining because it is the life of an African child. Every rich man you see in the country today grew up in a shanty. But today, they have become rich and have history. That is how I also have my own history.
When some people say I look too much like a rich man’s son, I always laugh because we are not different from one another. We all grew up in the same way. The only difference is that I didn’t go to school, like the others. I am not educated, I’m also not an illiterate. I have Jah’s wisdom. I was done with Babylon education long time ago. I move with very intellectual people and I have read a lot of books too. So, as for classroomeducation, I don’t have anything to do with it.
Does that mean you didn’t even pass through the basic educational system?
I don’t want to talk about it because that is not where I got my education. I got it from other sources. I got it from the street, as a little boy, from intellectuals and reading books about African history. I don’t read mutual romance books and that of Shakespeare. They don’t give me any inspiration. That is why I read African history to enable me talk about African people. Everything I have got is Jah’s education. So, I don’t want to talk about educational background because I am done with it.
What inspired you into reggae music?
I wasn’t inspired by anybody. It was from my tender age that I told my parents that I was going to be a musician. So, becoming a musician is not by accident. It was what I professed from my youth through Jah’s blessings. Jah planted it in me. In terms of reggae, kudos to people like Bob Marley, bURNING Spear, Burning Wailers, Peter Tosh and people I have come across, who made me love reggae.
I find it more comfortable to express my feelings. It is not about jumping and dancing, but a medium you can use to express your feelings about the ills of a society and human rights. There are about one hundred and one types of African music, but I chose reggae because I feel it suits me best to reach out to people easily. Great musicians, like Bob Marley and others promoted reggae internationally and used it as an instrument to fight injustice worldwide.
How did you get the name, Ras Kimono?
The name Ras is a title and every African is entitled to bear it. It is an old American word, which means “head of the house.” So, every blackman is the head of his home. The word, Kimono, derived from Kimumu, which means, “what is wrong with the society?” But because of easy pronunciation, I had to change it to Kimono. Many people have told me that Kimono means Japanese wears. But I replied that mine means, what is wrong with the society.
What was the market like when you started compared to now?
When I started music, I never saw it as a means of generating money, it was all reality and singing was not just fun because I was preaching reality not fiction or tales by moonlight… Money comes and it goes but spreading my music around the globe was my priority and spreading good tidings in every of my tracks was all l wanted to do.
Do you think Nigerian music these days have some negative influence on our youths when compared to your time?
Some of them are, but I cannot tell you that all the music done in Nigeria today is bad. The problem is that l do not think people still check these music before it is allowed free passage to the masses. That also is a way for the youths to be influenced negatively.
You’re highly regarded as a legend; does that make you in any way feel old fashioned?
Well, I don’t know about the Legend Rasta you know. Like when I hear they call these artists legends, I ask them, do they know the meaning of legend? They should look up their dictionary and know the meaning of legend.
If you’re calling me Legend, then what will you call Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey who are alive? The ones that are dead, Sunny Okosun, Oliver De Coke, Osadebe, what will you call them? Icon?
But nowadays everybody is saying he is a legend, legend, legend and that word is pissing me off. So, at the end of the day, people don’t even know the worth of a legend. When people call me legend I’m indifferent about it.
What’s next for Ras Kimono?
I’ve been working on some singles and an album. I just got back from the United States earlier this year where I was recording and I’ll be dropping some new songs before the year runs out.