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Purest Passion: Exclusive Q+A with Tarrus Riley

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Stopped to think recently when someone said: “You never get someone who is going to solve your life by loving you, until you’ve solved your life. Love is a reward. It’s not a solution.”

And what a wonderful reward it is.

Ce la vie, there is no turn key solution for those, say, looking for love. There are hints and bits of advice, suggested paths, et al (i.e. we know not to go looking in all the wrong places) but of course most facets of loving yourself/another remain an evolving mystery. One way to maybe step forth in the right direction is to bring a ready willingness and strong passion to a given situation.

One man practicing this in life and in song is none other than Tarrus Riley. Raising the bar for this generation of true vocalists hailing from Jamaica, and infusing fortified energy into what is sorely lost and needed to be found — Rock Steady/Lover’s Rock. From his earliest of recordings to his latest album Love Situation (2014), Tarrus Riley has shown us the way — weaving together the numerous fibers of love one can witness in the world, and stirring up a passion for more, using his music to uplift and inspire rather than chant down and burden with general’s orders.ReggaeInThePark2015

Perhaps sensing the times are ripe for folks to come together — as Stevie Wonder said last week at Dilworth Park: “Love needs love, ya’ll.” — Tarrus is embarking on a multi-city Catch A Fire Tour alongside artists including Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Stephen “Ragga” Marley, Morgan Heritage, special guests Jo Mersa, Black Am I, Skip Marley and Jamere Morgan. Coming up next weekend this fire will burn right here in Philly for Reggae in the Park 2015 at The Mann Center (Tickets HERE).

Purest Passion: Exclusive Q & A with Tarrus Riley
I had the pleasure to talk with Tarrus about, among other things, his passion for his craft and how he has succeeded in reaching a diverse audience.

Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook
Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook

Aran Hart: Talk about the increasing fusion of reggae music with other genres and what you think while you’re observing the world’s music scene right now?

Tarrus Riley: Well first of all, as far as what’s happening in the music business…everything is seen nowadays because of social media. So things that used to happen in private now are in everybody’s face. The good thing is the unity part, and ya know, music inspires music. Within reggae music there are of course different influences. And it’s not only happening in music… it’s happening in fashion, in art, in movies. It’s happening in all these creative situations where people are mixing and blending. Everyone is trying to just share their country and how they see what’s going on. Everyone is everyone… like the last time I checked… everything is everything.

In any conversation you find those so called purists who want things forever to be how they once were, saying “Now it isn’t real like the past, etc.” Do you feel that reggae maybe has an unfair extra level of this critique?

Well first, because it’s blended doesn’t mean it’s not pure. I mean people like what people like. There’s a man who likes what he likes, all day everyday… And there’s another man who likes another thing, all day everyday. One man wears jeans and another man wears khaki suits. And then there’s a girl who wears shorts and there’s a girl who wears a church dress. And that doesn’t mean they’re not pure. They have their own different kind of style. And you’re allowed to have your style, and you’re allowed to like what you like, in my opinion.

I understand the concept of purists wanting things to be a certian way, but we’re not going back in time. We’re going forward in time and it’s funny, ya know — the more things change the more they stay the same. So if you just look, I mean purists don’t have to worry because there are fundamental things that cannot go anywhere. You have to understand that and allow the music to grow and evolve.

Many folks mention how you are able to stay rooted in traditional sounds of reggae but are also able to sound remarkably contemporary… Do you agree with that and is there a conscious effort to do so?

Well, music is my best friend. So I just listen to what my friend tells me. I make Reggae music and rock steady music. Recently you saw me on a song “Powerful” with Ellie Goulding and Major Lazer. Call it what you want, I make music. I’m not musically prejudice… I’m not prejudice of any kind. Regardless of how rooted I am in my beliefs, like I said it’s certain fundamental things I don’t change… such as I don’t change the content of my music. But you may hear the beats change.

In my bio they try to put me older than I really am. I’m an 80’s baby, man. I grew up on different kinds of music and have different musical influences: from Tupac and Biggie to Shabba and Super Cat, and many R&B people too. So it’s unfair to my creative mind to do one kind of thing. I just reflect who I am.

Given the themes of your music and the topics you cover is it safe to assume you had a strong network of people, family and community that you soaked up this knowledge from and now you’re expressing through your music?

You can say that, I mean it’s all love man. It’s all just love. I don’t want my music to be a burden to people. I want my music to be something to make people think positive, enjoy themselves and feel good. The world is a very stressful place and I think music should be comforting. When you feel down you listen to your favorite song and try to feel better… or you listen to something and try to learn from the music. So that’s what I want to be for people and why I make my music. For example I have a song called “My Day” and the words I sing are “It’s my day to do anything I want.” That’s what I want people to feel. I want people to know that it’s your day today to express yourself freely and do what you want.

That’s freedom…

Yeah that’s what we’re about. So I can talk about freedom without sounding like a dictionary or without sounding like I’m trying to force it down your throat. I can speak about it in a cool way. Go ahead and call it you want but I’m still giving you conscious music. I’m just not doing it like I’m bashing you with it.

We still definitely see the themes of struggle, rights, social injustice and culture, (these pillars of reggae music and its beliefs) in today’s music.  But take your most recent album with “Love Situation”, which surrounds to me what is perhaps the most abandoned topic of today’s reggae music… love. Where do you think the love has gone and why did you have this album choose “it” being love as the focus?

First thing about the album, is it’s “Rock Steady” music. Rock Steady being the era before reggae that gave birth to reggae and hip-hop. A lot of people call that music lover’s rock but it’s Rock Steady. And there are different kinds of subjects like on “Burning Desire” — which is a marijuana song, but I wrote it like a love song. So I mean there’s different kinds of love situations that have double meanings. And as far as the love being lost somewhere… A lot people are trying to act too much like tough guys, and they don’t know that the real tough person is not afraid to love you. A lot of people try to act rough and cool like them some killers and real bad man ting. Nah man, like c’mon, there’s a time and place for everything. There’s nothing wrong with love.

I recently heard your version of Gregory Isaacs’ classic song “Front Door.” How did that song recording come to be?

With love and respect, first of all. Dean Fraser is the reason why we did that. He was doing a tribute to Gregory Isaacs. So the whole thing was just to say respect and I think he called it “We Remember Gregory,” because we don’t ever want to forget Gregory. So, ya have a whole heap of young artists, paying tribute to the legend.

It’s great, I had never heard the version before, and it definitely made me smile…

Yea, and I knew Gregory Issacs. He was my father’s friend, so it was somebody that I used to see. That’s the cool thing about it, and the cool about having a father being a musician… I got to see a lot of cool people around the house, man.

I can only imagine! Speaking of your family, you just mentioned your father [Jimmy Riley], and I know your mother has been very involved with your career as well. But just because your parents were music pros/lovers didn’t necessarily mean that you were going to make music. So, why is music the perfect way for you to express your experiences?

My mother’s a nurse and she loved music. My daddy’s a singer and ya know, every youth in Jamaica wants to be like their father. When we say youth in Jamaica we’re talking about a son, ya know, and every young boy wants to be like his father. So maybe it was admiration for my father, but I didn’t want to do his kind of music. I wanted to do the music that I liked when I was growing up. I was introduced at an early age and by being around music I think it just created a love for it.

I have other relatives who sing also, but maybe don’t have the same passion like I do. I love exercise, I love sports, I love cooking. But I love music more than everything!

Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook
Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook

How do you know that a song/album is ready for release, and what’s that feeling like to release the music?

Well, you never know. Half of it’s following your gut feeling. You just follow your feelings. You just do it and see what happens, you go off of your instincts. You put your best efforts out, but then after a while ya just got to know that “Alright, I did my best!

And they can’t take that away from you…

Aaaaah right!

What is some great advice and/or criticism you received at some point during your career?

Hmmm, I would say, it wouldn’t necessarily be somebody telling me something… it would more be me looking at the people that I admire and seeing the mistakes they made and seeing the great things that they’ve done. Like, I’ll see some people do some great things and I’ll be like, “ok that’s really how you do it” ya know… And I would see some people make some mistakes and be like, “ok, don’t do that”. That’s the kind of stuff that really stands out. Understand me?

I think you just gave everyone some great advice on discipline and choosing role models…

Yah mon! So that was my advice because Jamaicans are not really into telling ya things… I’m not gonna tell you what to do now, rather just show you. And you just be around and keep people around to show you. Cuz if you don’t pick up then that’s your bad because ‘dem showing you…

Do you consider yourself a rebel with a cause?

I see myself as someone who rebels for a cause, whenever it’s necessary… But I don’t want to see myself as a nuisance. I’m making some music to enlighten people, and I’m rebelling against stereotypes and prejudice. I’m rebelling against people that try to put you in a box. I’m an advocator of free thinking, so…. I’m a rebel when needs be. Some people rebel just because — and I’m not a rebel just because. And I make music to share my feelings and my experiences, and to also speak for other people.

Finally, talk about the opportunity that you have as a voice, no pun intended, and a songwriter to reach the younger generation in particular… who it seems it’s harder and harder to hold their attention these days…

That’s why I spoke about the contemporary sound and things. I find cool ways of getting their attention and I move quick. Everybody’s attention moves quickly because of this whole internet and social media thing. It’s even hard to learn anything new because by the time you learn it, it’s gone tomorrow. Simple thing like a phone, the minute you get used to your phone, the phone company makes a new one. So things are moving so fast. You have to find your way and how you can communicate because it’s not easy. And no disrespect to the internet, it’s helping to make the world good, but bad happens in the space too… that’s the truth.

Anything else you’re working on right now that you wanted to highlight and any signing off message for your fans?

The Catch A Fire tour is something I’m really excited about right now. I mentioned the new song and video for “Powerful” with Ellie Goudling. Just tell the people who support my music, thank you very much. I really want you to write that… Just tell them that I never take for granted the support I get from people and I’m just getting started. I’m a serious musician, serious in the sense that I want to give them good quality music. I try to represent Jamaica in fine style from the world of music. I’m not here to be any kind of superman or anything… I just hope people can find comfort in my music.

Thank you so much for your time. We look forward to seeing you at Reggae in the Park and best wishes on your upcoming tour and beyond.

Yeah mon! Respect, thanks.

::::::: See and Listen to more from Tarrus Riley :::::::
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Two.One.Five | Morgan Heritage Exclusive Interview

For those who have not yet been introduced,  if you’re looking for a band that stays true to the conscious principles of reggae, blends in the latest sounds and musical influences of today, and boasts outstanding vocal talents, search no further than Morgan Heritage. For those fans already well acquainted, you know that these trademark characteristics have remained proud fixtures dating back to the early 90’s. We haven’t seen the Morgan family in unison the last several years, as each member has remained active but more individually, making this latest collective re-emergence that much more special.

The five siblings and original members of Morgan Heritage —  Una Morgan (keyboard/vocals), Peetah Morgan (vocals), Roy “Gramps” Morgan (keyboard/vocals), Nakhamyah “Lukes” Morgan (rhythm guitar) and Memmalatel “Mr. Mojo” Morgan (percussion) — shine on as the offspring and living legacy of famed Jamaican reggae singer Denroy Morgan. Recently, the next generation has joined in the shape and sound of Gramps’ own son Jamere Morgan.

In this current era with its generation criticized for its sense of entitlement, many seemingly too-often fail to recognize those who came before and struggled for the betterment of humankind. Morgan Heritage though, graciously gives due notice to the predecessors of their trade who battled and faced prejudice during a remarkable and transformative time. Yes this includes Bob and Peter, but stretches far beyond and into the isles of past icons the likes of Jacob Miller, Inner Circle, Dennis Brown, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, and Black Uhuru… the list certainly goes on.

Morgan Heritage remind their listeners that the work moving forward is not, nor will it ever be done. An ever-changing world provides new challenges, and needless to say, many of yesterday’s problems still remain far too prevalent today. But key is the road map their words in effect become, offering a guide to live better for your fellow woman and man. In the name of love and understanding.

I spoke with lead vocalist Peetah Morgan about the current state of reggae music, the important  messages Morgan Heritage sings about in their songs, and discussed reggae’s transformation into a global music genre.reggae in the park

Get advance tickets to see Morgan Heritage — plus Steel Pulse, Inner Circle, Matisyahu, Konshens and many more at Reggae in the Park 2014  @  The Mann Center in  Philadelphia! And stay tuned for more two.one.five exclusive interviews.  Follow: @215mag // @aran_hart

Two.One.Five Magazine | Morgan Heritage Exclusive Interview


ARAN HART: Why does Morgan Heritage feel it’s important to shine light on the founding figures of Roots Reggae music?

PEETAH: It is important for us to pay homage to the pioneers because they’ve been through the struggles that we are free from facing today. They broke down so many barriers. And that has allowed us to go into countries and places that they weren’t able to go because of the stigmatism that was upon Rastafarian and Dreadlock people, playing rebel music. We are now playing in places, on TV, and on radio stations that they never played on. It’s a great feeling for us to be doing this today as a tribute to recognize the hard labor of those who came before us.

ARAN HART: Is Roots Reggae music’s future in good hands?PEETAH: Roots Reggae music forever will be in good hands. It’s great now because it’s not just Jamaica. The music has become global. You have great reggae bands playing roots music from here in America, in Europe, Africa, Japan, and the South Pacific. We still have Jamaicans like Tarrus Riley and Morgan Heritage, Anthony B, Luciano, the list goes on. But it’s not just us anymore… it’s foreigners who have joined us as torchbearers of the music.

Photo credit bassweightsociety.com
Photo credit bassweightsociety.com

So our eyes are not just looking at what is coming out of Jamaica, we are also seeing what is coming out around the world. Bob Marley prophesized it many years ago — that reggae music is only going to become bigger and more global. Now we are seeing those words become reality. If you go onto iTunes, you’ll see that most of the top selling reggae music is not from today’s Jamaica — you still have the Wailers and Peter Tosh. We give thanks to the international bands like Rebolution, Soja, J-Boog, The Green, Lord Alajiman, and others who are carrying the torch because Reggae music is beyond borders. Reggae music is beyond color. Reggae music is beyond the islands.

Most reggae was created out of Jamaica and it was Jamaican artists who faced persecution to establish this music globally. But we are not fools to not understand where the music is today. We appreciate what each and every one is doing for the music. At the end of the day it’s not about people, it’s not about race, it’s about the music.

ARAN HART: You touch on many issues and have many messages in your songs… What is at the top of your list right now of issues you feel people can and/or should be fighting against/for?

PEETAHWe fight against racism number one. We fight against segregation and oppression. We fight against injustice. And we fight against sexism. And we fight for equal opportunity in the working world. For example, we have women now who are doing twice the work of a man and still only getting paid half as much. We are about equality and justice for all people. No matter your race, your color, your gender, or your creed. So we fight for women’s equality and rights. Without the women, we wouldn’t have the world that we have today. These things are important to us as a people and as a family. All people are respected for what they bring to the betterment of humanity.

In Jamaica right now, our communities are being hurt by gun-men, violence, and sadly enough we have a lot of young children who are being raped. These are things that we want to see eradicated from communities across the globe and are at the forefront of what we pay attention to. We need to educate our youth. We need to reach out to prepare the next generation who are coming up in the world today and will lead tomorrow. Everything is all about a better world. Everything we do and focus on — from relationships, to our social commentary, to spiritual awareness. The foundation of all of this is love.

ARAN HART: Including songs like “She’s Still Loving Me” and your latest single “Put it on Me,” Morgan Heritage is known to produce beautiful Lover’s Rock. Do you believe that pure love, kindness, and romance are the solutions to these issues you just mentioned?

PEETAHWithout love we have nothing. Love is the biggest foundation to everything we do in life. So, when we write songs about love and relationships, this is a form of consciousness. You have to be consciously aware to experience or share love with the ones that you love. You will always get that side of Morgan Heritage through our music. Just as much as you get social commentary or the spiritual awareness, you will always get love songs through lover’s rock music because it is a major part of life. Without love we wouldn’t be here. Our parents come together and make love to bring forth more love, which is life.

ARAN HART: How does it make you feel, having this opportunity to bring these messages to people’s awareness across the globe?

PEETAHI’m grateful and thankful everyday because it could have been anyone else. It didn’t have to be us. But we are aware that we have been chosen to do this. It’s fascinating to go to a foreign land, in front of people that speak a foreign language, and realize that the music talks, and brings so many people together. So it’s fascinating to see how through our music we are able to communicate and inspire so many people, globally. It’s a blessing and it gives us encouragement to continue doing what we are doing, because this is why we do it.

ARAN HART: Talk about the latest projects Morgan Heritage have been working on and what we all have to look forward to…

PEETAHIn addition to our own recently released single and video, Put it on Me — which is doing very well globally and we are very grateful for — we have been producing and song-writing a lot for other artists like J-Boog, Irie Love, and many others from Africa. It is a work in progress and we will continue to be song-writers and developers of new talent. Also, look out for our own project set for release next year. Plus, we have been working a lot with Gramps’ son, Jamere Morgan. Morgan Heritage has a lot more in store for you, yah mon.

Keep up with the Royal Family of Reggae:

Facebook // @morganheritageofficial // Morgan Heritage TV

Stay tuned for more exclusive features from Aran Hart and Two.One.Five Magazine:

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Matisyahu | two.one.five Exclusive Interview

Matisyahu’s journey is one that travels far beyond the stops of his very busy 2014 mostly North American tour. For the man we all grew to know as The Hasidic Jewish rapper / reggae star, this journey explores the growth and evolution of an individual and the lessons he searches to learn from. He shares a piece of this ongoing experience with us all on his most recent 15 track release, titled Akeda.

A decade into his professional music career, much has changed. Many will point right at his obvious physical make-over. But what you’ll find when talking to Matis is that the true transformation came from, and took place, within.

His unique path before and after he became publicly recognizable — from his time he spent without an audience figuring out his sound, to that epic performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live — has influenced and developed Matis into who we understand him to be today. Matisyahu has successfully blended his creative talent as a musician with a personal narrative he uses to inspire his fans across the globe.

When listening to Akeda, one understands his songs reflect a newly found comfort, but don’t overlook how he arrived there. Matis offers his story with signature grandiose choruses and chanting conscious lyrics over a mix of reggae, hip-hop, alternative, and pop music canvases, with separate guest appearances from Zion-I and Collie Buddz.

I chatted with Matisyahu a few weeks ahead of the Third Annual Reggae in the Park festival Sunday August 3rd, when the West Chester, PA native will take the Mann Center stage. We discussed how he developed his lyrical style, the inspiration behind his new album, and how he learned to walk through walls.reggae in the park

Get advance tickets to see Matisyahu — plus Steel Pulse, Inner Circle, Morgan Heritage, Konshens and many more! And stay tuned for more two.one.five exclusive interviews. Follow @215mag.

Coming up next: Morgan Heritage.

ARAN HART: Do you feel it’s harder for you to switch or evolve your style based on the image so many people associate with you?

MATISYAHU: I hadn’t really thought about it like that before, but yea. Being that I was a very specific thing to a lot of people probably does make it more difficult. There are a lot of artists out there that don’t have such an intense image that’s attached to them. But I feel like I go through this every record. I guess now it has happened in a more major way.

Matisyahu pictured here prior to his hair and beard trim.

ARAN HART: How did you cultivate your singing and lyricist style?

MATISYAHU: I found what I really liked, listened to it a lot and just soaked it in. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, without a career or an audience, expressing myself via that mode. I had a band when I was 18 in Oregon and I got to be a front man and learn about what that’s like. Everything from having the right energy on stage and relating to an audience. I moved back to New York when I was 19 and I wasn’t able to put together a band so I set up a drum kit and PA in my room and would play the drums and sing, and chant through the microphone with different delays and effects.

I would also buy instrumental tapes on Canal St. in New York. At the time I was listening to a lot of Sizzla, Capleton, and Buju Banton — that wave of conscious dancehall. I would listen really fuckin loud, get high and write. Then I would plug in my mic and try to do what it was that I was experiencing and hearing. I would get really inspired by that reggae music. I never thought about, “I’m not this so I can’t do it.” If there is something that I connect with emotionally then it always feels natural to me. So I started writing and producing that style.

As time has gone I’ve evolved from that. I don’t sit in my room and get high and listen to the same music. I listen to a ton of different styles of music now. But whenever I find something I connect with, it’s still kind of the same process. I explore it, let it seep into me and figure out how I can add that to my palette of colors that I paint with, so to speak.

ARAN HART: Your music has been licensed for use with TV, movies, video games etc… Describe the importance of having your music used in these various media channels…

MATISYAHU: That’s a huge piece of it all, getting people to hear your music. The business man in me wants the music to reach as many people as it can. So you look for any outlet. With the exception of my first song, I haven’t had a lot of support in radio. Also with the game changing like it is, it becomes about looking for alternate ways, and licensing is probably the biggest way. Whether it be a car commercial, or a video game, or a movie, you want to get people that access to your music. It’s important.

ARAN HART: How has being able to take your talents around the world and experiencing other cultures influenced you as an artist and/or an individual?

MATISYAHU: I’m gonna be honest. For a long time I really had my head down. It was hard to get past the jet lag, the airplanes, going to the hotel, going to the show, getting back on an airplane and going to the next place. I’m just now learning how to try and take things in. Even though I’ve probably filled up 3 passport books, or whatever. I was tired for a long time and traveling for a long time. You can’t necessarily take in all the things that maybe other people who travel are able to. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Even though it’s difficult, I love being mobile. You know, ever since I was 17 I left home with a backpack. So that’s who I am.


ARAN HART: In my estimation, so much of your music explores a personal journey, challenges, finding the ability to overcome, rising up and growing as a person. Where do you draw that inspiration from to write in that way?

MATISYAHU: I’m a pretty sensitive person. I’m affected by things. And it’s my nature to want to be growing. I’ve been searching for a really long time and I don’t see myself ever stopping. I mean, I’ve had periods in my life where I take it easy, but my nature is to keep pushing forward to elevate myself and get better at the things that I want to do. Whether it’s being a better father or singer. Being better at prayer. Being more understanding. Being a more compassionate person. Being able to take in my surroundings. All of those things keep me constantly striving and moving forward.


ARAN HART: Does your newest album, Akeda, represent a significant part of a journey or era for you?

MATISYAHU: About 2-3 years ago there were a bunch of things going on. One thing was, I was unhappy in my marriage so I decided to move on from that. I wasn’t feeling comfortable or happy in the religion anymore… and, when I say the religion, I mean specifically the rules. I had been following those rules for 10 years, and there are a lot of them. They dictated a lot about how I lived my life and the way I thought. Even though I struggled with those things, I still went through with them. I still woke up and lived according to a certain way. I started to feel claustrophobic and like I was being stifled.

I also had an issue with my voice. I had to go on vocal silence for about 3 months. I had finished a tour so I was sitting at home. I also had another health problem with my stomach that I was trying to heal. Basically I wasn’t talking, communicating, or eating normally. I was pretty much fasting. I got into a very deep meditative place and all of a sudden I started to feel all of my emotions start to come back. I don’t know if I’d ever felt things the way I was feeling. I was getting this intense mental clarity and getting in touch with all of these feelings. I could feel my heart waking up. I was claiming myself back from everything — the religion, the relationships, and even the lifestyle I’d been chasing. I’d been trying to be a rockstar all these years, thinking, “How can I get more famous, and make more money, and do more shows?” I just stopped all of it and went inwards. I was also battling drug addiction, and got sober. That’s where this record and all the creativity came out of.

ARAN HART: Alluding to the title of your single Watch the Walls Melt Down… Were these the walls you were watching melt and fade away?

MATISYAHU: Yea, the metaphysical walls. There was this one song they would always sing in Chabad, the Hassidic group that I was with, and the name translates to mean “go over the wall.” So this is my version and my take on that. You don’t go over the wall, but watch how the wall isn’t really a wall. Just watch it fall down, and walk straight through it.

ARAN HART: Have you walked through and achieved this freedom?

MATISYAHU: I’m still in the process, but there is definitely a taste of freedom.

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