Release date: 16 February 2017

In advance of the 80s-inspired debut release Outta Road / Dem A Fraud on his new namesake Jahtari sub-label, New Zealand’s own Red Robin (the host of “Reggae Rodeo” and an all-round reggae aficionado), generously took the time to answer some questions from The Groove Thief.

The impressive 12” features strong vocals from Midnight Riders, Speng Bond, Steve Knight, and Tippa Lee on a pair of riddims crafted by fellow Kiwis Naram and Art Official, plus dubs by Naram and finishing touches by Jahtari boss, disrupt. This project has been years in the making and is definitely well worth the wait.

TGT: It’s mentioned in the Jahtari promo that you’re a farmer. What crops do you usually grow, and do you see this relationship with the land as a connection to Jamaica (and reggae)?

Red Robin: Yes, well I live here in Te Mata, a rural village of about 300 people, which lies 10km from Raglan next to some beautiful waterfalls called Bridal Veil Falls. Our 7-acre Reggae Rodeo is surrounded by farms and other lifestyle blocks [aka hobby farms]. On our land is a couple of miniature ponies, a dozen hens, 2 roosters, and 9 sheep so it’s more a lifestyle block than a farm, but I enjoy learning from the neighbors who are generous in sharing their knowledge. Renee (my better half and mother of our child) keeps a great big garden out here, which has over 20 varieties of vegetables and herbs and each season it’s multiplying.

I haven’t been to Jamaica so I can’t make that relationship first-hand, so all I can really say is that we are happy to know that the crops we do grow come from our own land.

TGT: The riddims on the 12″ showcase two styles of 80s dancehall as well as four vocalists who actively performed during that era. Why the strong focus on rub-a-dub, and how did each riddim come to be?

Red Robin: Yes, well spotted. So Naram is the primary producer and co-creator of the label, together with Art Official of Newtown Sound they have built the riddims on both sides of the record.

The A-side comes roughly from the 1984 period and the B-side from the later 80s period. The three of us all love this period of music, you can hear from Naram and Art’s other releases that their sound is from this very creative era of Jamaican and North American reggae music, so that is why Red Robin has that sound.

The riddim that Midnight Riders and Speng Bond ride was initially a rough sketch by Art, who was at the time living in Melbourne. He brought it to Naram and together in his Coburg studios they played out the instruments that now make up the riddim.

Same way but in reverse for the riddim Steve Knight and Tippa Lee voiced: Naram began the riddim and then Art and Yoni Top Ranking played on that one. We began looking for vocals on these in 2015, so it’s been almost 2 years since the riddims were ready till they are available on vinyl.

TGT: Tracking down artists can certainly be an adventure which isn’t always successful, so it’s nice to enjoy your positive results! Was a musical collaboration always on your mind, or what led from interview to voicing with Midnight Riders?

Red Robin: Yes, we have had a great deal of luck and help tracking down artists – need to big up the artists on this record for being open to dealing with our idea for this. Dub-4 out of Paris, France, and Tom Chasteen out of Los Angeles who helped link the vocalists, and also Kris Kemist in the UK and DJ Neil in Kingston for some recordings.

The vocals were recorded in 4 different parts of the world. Jamaica, L.A, Toronto, and the UK and so from linking up from down under it was tricky only in the sense of timings. The internet and applications like Whatsapp and Skype is a cost effective way to spend time talking and establishing a relationship with the artists.

The interview with Winston “Midnight Riders” Powell came mid last year, which was maybe 12 months after he originally voiced “Outta Road”. It was the first in a 4-part series we did with the artists on the record to help tell their story and promote the upcoming record release.

⇒ Arriving on a minor synth and Midnight Riders’ captivating vocal, this opening track fully demonstrates the revitalized 80s dancehall ethos of the Red Robin label. With well-regarded singer Winston Powell back on the mic for his first cut since the late 80s, “Outta Road” sports a tough rub-a-dub riddim providing appropriate measures of weight and space.

Slinking about, it’s a haunting musical companion to the indictment of street life run by rude boys: ‘police they not in street inna city Kingston; make a poor people a-run up and down; haffa sell on the road just fi earn a bread; while the bigger heads sit down and they don’t care a damn.’

This powerful opener then seamlessly switches to Speng Bond’s deejay turn, where he highlights the real dreads of modern life from the personal to the political to the poignant. ‘You know sensimillia it no good like before; to find good herb is becoming a chore,’ sits just a verse away from ‘whether you inna di EU or whether you are out; a pure bullshit them love to talk bout’. And likewise with ‘the future of the nation is the next generation; so make sure invest in health and education.’

Naram’s dub lays the reverb on right away, before letting the opening chorus echo away. The riddim is caressed, diverging from the original in hazy ways both strong and subtle. Further vocals emerge halfway, while the guitar melody is given dominance throughout.

The B-side is bubblier and uptempo, with a rolling bassline leading the solid backdrop for Steve Knight’s denouncement of fakers. While the chorus of “Dem A Fraud” initially seems to target the dancehall, the verses reveal a far deeper societal issue: ‘they dress up in a jacket, run pure racket; dress up in a tie, a tell pure lie; put on glasses to cover their eyes; suitcase and answer them a big official.’

This gap between the government and the people is further explored in the next verse, where ‘nuff of them a talk bout the economy; some a talk bout, new policy; when you check it out, it’s all folly; bad mind people don’t care bout we.’

The final vocal from Tippa Lee definitely presents another theme here, of recognizing underappreciated Jamaican deejays who have often been overlooked, given that far more of their mic work happened on sound systems rather than in studios. Thus, “Salute The Veteran” is hardly rhetorical, with the chorus demanding respect for deejay before the verses proceed to prove why it’s well-deserved.

Smoothly-delivered lines like ‘I’m a native of the business, I’m not a immigrant’ give way to counting off famed sounds Prince Jammy, Gemini, Stur-Gav, and Stereo One, and then truthful boasts: ‘mi first hit song it named “Nuh Trouble We,” it go number one and run the country.’ Confidently ‘livicated to the dancehall posse’ indeed.

Rounding out the side is “Fraudulent Version,” a vocal-less ride that keeps the intensity of the preceding two cuts while opening up the dub vortex via rippling skanks, thick crescendos, and nuanced layering. Surely your friendly neighborhood sound system MC is eager for this one!

TGT: Your “Reggae Rodeo” show has been running for over two years, combining choice selections and thoughtful interviews, your talk with Midnight Riders is no exception. So how did you first discover “Me A No Gunman,” and what is it specifically about the tune that transformed you into a dubtective?

Red Robin: Yes, well the Reggae Rodeo began as a travelling radio show when I was writing for NiceUp at festivals and shows in Europe. We thought it was a good idea to do a series of interviews at some of the festivals, so Dubcamp and Nottinghill Carnival 2014 were the first Reggae Rodeos.

We then moved to Raglan and continued to do weekly shows here on community radio and even guested abroad and around the place. The interviews were originally the main parts of the show and what’s brilliant about the reggae community is that it is so open and willing to chat about experiences and history.

The tune “Me a No Gunman” is for me a classic example of Midnight Rider’s ability to make a killer song using street lyrics from his experiences in Jamaica. He explained this in a review of the tune I did for Niceup in 2015 and said it was the runnings by the police in Kingston in the 80s that led to the song. He also said he never knew for years it was released because Jimpys International out of Canada released this track and he never saw a dime at the time for it. It’s later been re-released by DigiKiller out of New York, which Winston says brought his music a second life to the reggae world.

TGT: In your interview with him, Speng Bond mentions a different era of reggae: ‘if you wanted a sound – you wanted to play music, you have to build your own sound.’ How does this independent ethos relate to your own approach to reggae?

Red Robin: Yes, Speng is talking about the 1970s and 1980s in Birmingham in that interview and I’m sure the same ethos applied all over the UK, USA, and Jamaica.

Me personally, I play music on the radio so I guess I have my own sound on my show. We have just cobbled together a small sound system out here in the countryside with the intent on playing at home and possibly in Raglan town.

I also DJ sometimes at parties or festivals which I think has definitely changed since Speng was a youth in England. We have talked about that and a lot of the elder reggae community have mentioned that since turntablism begun there has been a change of the focus being on the DJ and not the deejay and singers as much. I know that’s a very big subject to touch on lightly, but basically Speng’s quote sums that up perfectly that if you wanted to play music you had to build a sound.

TGT: What do you enjoy most about creating each Rodeo, and what advice do you have for other music journalists?

Red Robin: The Reggae Rodeo show each Friday is a nice end of the week for us, and also beginning to the Raglan weekend. Usually Renee, our daughter Sunny, and whoever is staying out here goes down to the Raglan Community Radio – which is located in the town hall – have a beer, a burger, and play some records and the occasional interview.

The only real advice someone gave me was not to take it too seriously and that seems to work well out here.

TGT: Finally, any chance for an exclusive NiceUp hint about where the label’s headed next?

Red Robin: If you go to Naram’s Facebook page, check out the video he shared that Legal Shot Sound System put up of them playing a tune the other night in France. Then I can all but confirm this will be on the Red Robin 02 release coming in a few months.

Also in saying that, there is a number of videos on Naram’s page of tunes that might be Red Robin releases. And also a mixtape coming shortly on Jahtari from myself, and a radio show on French Radio which has a whole heap of dubs and exclusives from Naram which are earmarked for the label.

I forgot to mention that Mitzi, the artist who did the design, was crucial in making that happen and the feedback on the imprint has been great. And of course disrupt was instrumental in making the thing happen (as Red Robin is a sub-label of Jahtari), and he also did additional touches on the tracks.

And big up all the crews abroad who have been running it on dubplate like Lion Rockers, Dubapest HiFi, Legal Shot, and the radio promoters pushing it during its release!

More info:
Red Robin 01 on Jahtari website
Red Robin on SoundCloud

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