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dotBass Interview Special Part 3 – Solo Banton

Im dritten Teil des dotBass Interview Specials steht Solo Banton Rede und Antwort.

Dieses Interview wurde auf Englisch geführt und so auch transkribiert.

BCSM: Hello! We are here at DotBass Festival in Nuremberg and we’re happy to be talking with Solo Banton. Can you introduce yourself to the people that might not know you? 

Solo: Greetings. My name is Solo Banton. I’m a reggae artist, dancehall MC veteran. I’ve been a soundman for a very long time and a recording artist for the last 15 to 20 years.

BCSM: How did this journey start? How did you get into music and how did you get into soundsystem and reggae music? 

Solo: I think I’ve always loved music. When I was very small, my mother always told me that the only thing I used to smile about was when they were playing records. I think music has always been a part of me from when I was born. Anything to do with music I was into. I have a bigger brother and he had a soundsystem. So when I was like ten, eleven years old I used to see him building, working and playing the sound. So, yeah, I got into it from a very early age. 

BCSM: Is your brother still running a soundsystem? 

Solo: He doesn’t run a soundsystem now, but he still plays music. He’s a DJ. He plays on a radio station. He also has his own website where he does VJing now. He goes by the name of DJ Rocksteady. But back in the old days he had a soundsystem called King Sharma International. He’s a music addict like myself.

BCSM: What artists inspire you in your writing process and where do you draw your inspiration from?

Solo: All artists inspire me. Like I said, I’m a music addict. I listen to all kinds of music and all music inspires me. Everything, even music that I don’t like. It inspires me to say: “I’m not going to make music like that.” So all music inspires me, all artists inspire me. 

As far as inspiration for writing songs: Just life.  Sometimes when you write a song, it might not be about an exact situation that happened, but you just change it to make it sound like it’s that situation, if you understand. For an example… I used to work with refugees who were awaiting to see if they were going to be deported or whatever, you know, and I used to do songwriting with them just to help them get their feelings out. We wrote a song, and the song was about waiting at a bus stop, waiting for the bus to come. Now, this had nothing to do with a bus coming. He was waiting for his trial. You understand? He’s just waiting for the trial, but you don’t know when the trial is going to come, you understand? So, you can have inspiration from real life, and then maybe you just change the circumstances or the characters. I talk a lot about reality in my songs as well as fun. So, yeah, just life in general.

 BCSM (Ju): Personally, I got to know you musically as a lyricist. And then I’ve read that you’re a longtime soundman and also a producer yourself. Can you tell us a bit about that side of you? I don’t know how it is about you, Jules, if you know much about that? 

BCSM (Jules): No, not at all. Solo Banton for me always used to be an MC on record or on stage.

Solo: Like I said, I started playing soundsystem. I used to play the soul music. Back in those days, if you were in some soundsystem, when you played in a party, in a house party, you played all sorts of music. You play reggae, you play soul, you play lovers rock. Studio one. Rare, rare, rare. And the first soundsystem that I joined, I used to play the soul music. But, yeah, anything to do with music and I always wrote lyrics. I was always writing lyrics and I used to DJ on the mic. And that’s when they started calling me Solo Banton. I even had a little stage when I was into hip hop and I was MC Solo. So, I even went for a little of that and did some shows as MC Solo. But I was never really interested in being an artist. I was happy on the soundsystem. I was happy singing on the soundsystem or playing music on the soundsystem. But I was never really interested in being a recording artist. So, when it came to making music, I loved doing that. I would write lyrics for my friends, I would produce the song and I had my own label and released many songs with many English artists as well as Jamaican artists. But as long as I was involved in music, I wasn’t really interested in being a recording artist. I was kind of forced into that. [laughs]

BCSM: Working in the studio and doing a live session are similar things but in different environments. Do you prefer to be in the studio or to perform live? And when you perform live, which kind do you prefer? A band setting or playing a soundsystem? 

Solo: I love it all. Studio is nice. It’s very intimate with whoever is in the studio. Whether it’s two people or whether there’s ten people. It’s quite an intimate setting and you’re sharing a lot of emotions when you’re making music. So it’s a beautiful setting. To be in the crowd in a dance setting is a lot of inspiration as well. What do I prefer? I don’t have a preference because I find they are different and they all deserve their respect. 

I love playing with a band because when you’re with a live band, you could bring different elements into the song. You can do different stuff with the band and it’s a nice interaction on the stage, so there’s more energy on the stage. 

But then when it comes to soundsystem, it reminds me of how we used to do it before, and I still do it now. Sometimes I’m not even singing songs that I wrote. I’m making up songs on the spot and I like this. This is real. This is when you’re really in the zone. And I will sing all night and I won’t remember anything. In the morning I’ll be like: ”Did you record it? Because I want to hear that.” You know what I mean? This is a great space as well. So I think they both have their different things. I don’t know which one I prefer. Maybe, I would say soundsystem because it’s what I’ve done the most. But I love playing with a band as well, so I love all. As long as I’m doing music, I’m happy. [laughs]

BCSM: In our perception, the international soundsystem scene is rising and growing, and it’s kind of crazy what is going on. And amongst all the venues, festivals, and countries where you have been, do you have a long-time favourite? And is there maybe any secret recommendation of a venue or festival?

Solo: Whoa, I’ll be put upon the spot. I love it all again, I know I keep on saying “I love it all”, but honestly, I love it all because I love going to different countries and different areas and experiencing their culture and even their take on soundsystem culture because it’s the same, but it’s slightly different everywhere you go because obviously the culture of that region will be mixed in with it, too. I love to experience that. It’s beautiful to see how far soundsystem culture and reggae music has reached. Like you said, I’ve been to most countries in the world doing this, and I never would have done that without the music. If you’d have ever said to me, I’d be going to Russia or I’m going to the Ukraine, or I’m going to Bulgaria, or I’m going to Peru.” I would have said: “No, I don’t think so”. 

So, yeah. Is there a favourite?  I’m not going to use the word favourite because favourite kind of belittles everywhere else. I have special places. I’ve got special memories for many different places. 

I love going to Italy. I love Italy mainly because I love the food. When I eat them fresh vegetable it just gives me a different energy in the dance, you know what I mean? I love the emotion of Italians. I love the passion that they do everything with, and it’s the same with the music. I have a very soft spot for Germany. My first show ever outside of the UK was in Germany. 

BCSM: When was that? 

Solo: That was in Freiburg in… a while ago. I don’t know. It was a beautiful time. It was just amazing for me. Maybe the first two, three years of travelling, most of my shows were in Germany. At that time, before I went anywhere else… So, I have a soft spot for Germany. 

A place that I can’t forget, and I’ve only ever been there once, was Japan. Japan is amazing. I love the respect that everybody has for everybody. I love the way that everybody has respect and is aware of everybody else. There’s not many places you could go where people are aware that there’s other people in the room or there’s other people in the city, and they are so aware of each other. That was a beautiful thing to see. But, yeah, everywhere has been nice. Like I said, Russia was crazy. South America, Brazil is nice. Canada is cold, you know what I mean? [all are laughing] 

BCSM: So you have to bring the fire!

Solo: Yeah. You have to. Canada is cold man. Poland is lovely. Everywhere is nice. But, yeah, Italy, a soft spot. Germany, soft spot. I go to France all of the time, regularly. And Japan, and I’ve only been there once, but Japan was very, very special. 

BCSM (Ju): Yes. What you said about respect in Japan. I was in different guest families for three weeks. We were driving with a car once and there were no traffic lights on a crossing, and they were just bowing in the car to give way. A special moment where I thought: ”wow, I would have never seen that in Germany.” 

Solo: Yeah man, that’s a beautiful thing. Here, can I tell you another story? A memory that I have is we were on the train, you know, the bullet train. So the inspector comes to look at your ticket. It’s the nicest time I have ever had. Like an inspector or somebody who’s going to check your ticket. Just the nicest time ever. I can’t believe it. The way he came in, as he came into the carriage, he bowed, and everybody he spoke to, he bowed. And then before he left the carriage, he turned around and he bowed to everybody again. And it was just the most…you know for a ticket inspector, usually it could be a bit more intimidating, you know what I mean? But I was so happy to show him my ticket. It was beautiful. [laughing]

BCSM: As you said before we put you on the spot. 

Solo: No man I like it. It’s good, it’s good.

BCSM: I recognized it just now. I mean, we have worked out those questions in advance, but I recognize just now it’s really a bit like, do you prefer this or that? 

Solo: I don’t mind. 

BCSM: The next question is basically in the same direction. [laughing]

Solo: No Problem.

BCSM:  What are your three favourite records at the moment, or do you have some favourite records? 

Solo: Okay, you have to give me a minute to think about this. But I like being put on the spot. Also when people do interviews with you, they ask you if you want to see the questions before. And I’m like, no, I prefer to hear them. And then, you know, the answer you’re getting is real. You know what I mean? Why would you want to do that? So, I don’t mind being put on the spot at all. 

Three records I’m listening to at the moment. If I’m honest I’m listening to a lot of my songs [laughing], because I’ve got some new songs and I’m performing them. So I’m listening to them to make sure I’m learning them inside out. Like the new Irie Ites song, a song called Dem Gone, and a new one that was released today called Pass Them. [starts singing] “I said we couldn’t reach them, but we passed them.” 

I’m listening to them at the moment. Outside of that… boom bam, what am I listening to? [thinks some time]

Uhh, it’s hard because I listen to a lot, a lot, a lot. I can’t really answer that. There’s a lot of songs I listen to, but I will let you into some things that I like to listen to. 

I like hip hop. I don’t like rap. I like hip hop, old school! Wu Tang, Busta Rhymes, Method man, Red Man, these kind of things. I like listening to the skills, you know what I mean? So, I listen to….That is a very hard one. [all are laughing] 

I really want to give you the name of some songs, but I really can’t…Maybe we come back to that.

BCSM: To round things up… since soundsystem-MCs often do a lot of teachings. Do you have anything on your mind that you want to tell our readers? 

Solo: We have to be true to ourselves. We have to be real to ourselves. When I say we have to be true to ourselves, that means we have to be confident enough and strong enough to say what we believe and not necessarily go along with what is trending. Too many people are too quick to conform and go along with what is trending. Most of the time, what is trending is not right and what is trending is not good for us. It’s not good for everybody. But people are frightened to speak up. So we have to be true to ourselves. That’s what I would say to the readers. Looking at your heart, you don’t need the media, you don’t even need your friend to tell you what’s right and wrong. You know within yourself, you know, if that feels right or if that feels wrong. It’s very easy. Just look into yourself, you know what I mean? 

These are crazy times at the moment. I don’t want to go too deep… But why is it so hard? Why is it so difficult for a politician to say we want a ceasefire? I don’t understand. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on. It doesn’t matter what side is funding your money. It doesn’t matter who owns you. It’s the simplest thing to say that everybody must want. And if you cannot say that then what do you want? You really want people to die? You know what I mean? So, yeah, we have to be true to ourselves. Let’s leave it there before it gets me mad, though, you know? 

BCSM: What is your personal incentive or motivation to push a music genre that is, at least in our perception, more associated with a Subculture? 

Solo: Um. Do you know my priority? Many people might not agree with this, but my priority when it comes to this genre is for it to stay real and true. That’s my priority. It has to be a message for the people. It has to be the voice of the people. And it has to bring an awareness of consciousness. That’s what it was always made for. That was the reason why it was born. And that’s my priority. If that means that we play in the underground, let’s play in the underground forever. It’s no problem, you know what I mean? I don’t see the point in coming out from the underground and being in the mainstream if it’s going to change. Because as you can see, everything that ends up in the mainstream ends up being diluted, twisted, and even sickening. Hip hop came from the same place that reggae came from. Hip hop came from reggae and in those days, that’s what it was all about. You could see, once the money came into it and the commercialization came into it, it became about something else. All of a sudden, everybody’s a bitch and a hoe and a gangster. So my priority is keeping this genre and keeping this culture as it’s meant to be. And if that means we stay underground, boom. I’m happy to stay underground. Yes I. 

BCSM: Alright. How’s the time?

Solo: Dubkasm reached? [Dubkasm’s flight was delayed]

D-MAN: No, they did not reach yet.

Solo: It’s up to you.

BCSM: Alright, let’s continue then if you want, while we’re waiting for them. What do you see as the biggest danger for the soundsystem scene and for what we are doing, basically? 

Solo: I think the biggest danger is exactly what I’ve said in a few other questions. Following the trend, trying to be popular, trying to reach the mainstream, I think, is the biggest threat. Because once you do that, then certain things cannot exist when you’re in the mainstream. Reality cannot exist for you in the mainstream. Consciousness cannot exist for you in the mainstream. You know what I mean? So, I think that is the biggest threat. I understand the threat because we live in a world where money is everything and it’s hard, and soundsystem business is hard. It’s expensive, unless you are a top soundsystem. Soundsystem is expensive. 

BCSM: Like even only building boxes.

Solo: It’s expensive, and it’s very hard work. Even when you’ve managed to have a soundsystem, it costs you a lot of money to get it. Once you’ve got it, you need somewhere to keep it, that costs money. You need to maintain it, that costs money. You need to update it, that costs money. You need to have the music, that costs money. And even to take it out and play, that costs money. It’s not often you are making a profit when you play out, you’re lucky if you break even. You’re lucky if you’ve made it up just to move the soundsystem. So, I understand the trials and the tribulations and why you could be tempted to look to the mainstream and even change. 

But that being said as well, don’t get me wrong, you know, you can easily play, maybe play different music, or you could easily do other things that might generate money, but still keep the core culture and still keep the core consciousness. It’s not a problem. You don’t have to switch to be there. I have some other works that I do musically, and it’s very mainstream. Very, very mainstream. But I’m still on the microphone saying what I would say that same like I’m going to say tonight. Maybe I might change my language, maybe I might change my accent so the mainstream crowd could understand me. Maybe I might change the way that I deliver something. And maybe I’ll be singing on a different style of music. If I’m singing, maybe I’m just hosting. I might change these little things, but the message will never change. The heart will never change. So, I think that’s the biggest danger still. I understand it, but I think that’s the biggest danger. Definitely. 

Not to get too deep, but I think that even when you look at some things now, you can see soundsystem culture is changing to a degree. How can I word this now? The early soundsystems were born to play new reggae music that the people couldn’t hear because there was no radio station and it was also to chant Rastafari. So, I overstand that you might not be Rastafarian. I understand that when I was coming up, the soundsystem that I was playing wasn’t a Rastafarian soundsystem. Like I said, we played soul music and all kinds of things. But sometimes I see people actively trying to take the whole scene away from that, and I don’t think that’s fair. I see people saying certain things and making certain statements, like they want to take the whole scene away from that. Like, basically saying, nobody should be saying these things and everybody should be going mainstream. I don’t agree with that. If that’s what you want to do, you go and do that. But don’t tell me to do that. Don’t tell him to do that. Don’t tell other ones to do that. They can do what they want to do. If you’re free to do what you want to do, then surely they are free to go and do that. So, I don’t like people who are actively trying to change this thing. You know what I mean? You see you got me ranting now. You got me [all laughing] 

BCSM: Now that we spoke about the dangers, what do you see as the greatest and maybe untapped potential for the soundsystem scene? 

Solo: All right. I love the turnaround. The greatest thing that I see, and this is always my opinion, the greatest thing I see is all of the beautiful, wonderful soundsystems I see growing, building, playing in Europe who are adhering to the culture. That’s the greatest thing. You’re making a tear come to my eye, because I’m so happy when I see that. When I see people from different cultures, different backgrounds, embracing and wanting to do soundsystem as it was meant to be done. When I go to certain places and I go to different countries, and I have conversations with soundmen, when I see that they’ve got their sound, and I say: “oh, how long have you had your sound and where?” And they start to tell me, and they tell me the history. Today I was speaking with somebody, the person who picked me up from the airport and brought me here [Chris from Anaconda Soundsystem]. He got his soundsystem downstairs, and I look, and I said, oh, nice bass boxes. Very good bass boxes. He said: “Yeah, these are good ones. These are the ones that Saxon used.” I love this.

Come on and study the history of the thing, and they’re carrying on the history and adhering to the culture. So, don’t get it twisted. Even though I said, there are some people who are moving away from the culture, there are a lot of people who are into the culture and don’t want it to die. So this is the greatest thing. And the fact that they are attracted to soundsystem in the first place is a beautiful thing. Because there was a period, especially in the UK, when it felt like soundsystem was dying. Especially the roots. 

BCSM: Are you talking about that era when Shaka was like the only one who still kept it conscious or?

Solo: Listen. There was a time when a roots dance was empty. Shaka wasn’t the only one that was still doing it. He kept the faith and done his thing. He wasn’t the only one. There was many other ones. Abba, Jah Marcos, Jah Youth. There’s a lot of soundsystems that were doing it. But roots music, dub music was not the trending thing. It was not the trend at all. Those times the dancehall was very strong, and most soundsystems was playing dancehall. I was playing dancehall, Dubplates, clash. That’s when the clash started happening. When you talk about someone like Saxon and the MCs, and the birth of the MCs. Even then, after that kind of era in the UK, we started to lose all of the venues. Once you started to lose the venues, you started to lose the soundsystems because there was nowhere for the sounds to play. So there was a time when it looked like the soundsystem thing could be dying. Many people sold their soundsystem. Many people got rid of their soundsystem. It wasn’t mine but I was in a soundsystem, a very big sound system. And the owner of the soundsystem ended up selling it because we weren’t playing nowhere. And you’re paying to keep the sound. So, there was a time where it was difficult. So, to see the rebirth and to see the growth again, especially in Europe, where there are slightly more venues than there are in the UK. It is a great thing and I love it. I love meeting young people and they start to tell me about a song that I can’t believe they even know, you know what I mean? Somebody told me about Yabby You the other day, and I said: ”What do you know about Yabby You?” You know what I mean? I love that. That’s a great thing. That’s a beautiful thing. Real beautiful thing. 

BCSM: Thank you for your time and your willingness to answer all our questions. 

Solo: It was a pleasure. Finish? 

BCSM: Yeah, we’re finished. 

Solo: I could talk forever on. [laughing]

BCSM: I mean, if you want to say something more, like, if you want to have the mic, you can have the mic. 

Solo: Where is this blog? So you do a blog? 

BCSM: Yeah, it’s called Basscomesaveme. 

Solo: Nice name. Very nice name!

BCSM: It started in 2013 as a web blog and since 2016, it’s also a music label with vinyl and tape releases. 

Solo: Okay, what kind of music?

BCSM: We´re focusing on bass music and soundsystem culture, but we try to get all the aspects, like not only roots, but maybe some experimental stuff, some dubstep, some more dubwise music. 

Solo: Nice. Yeah. 

BCSM: The main thought about it is the diversity of bass music and soundsystem culture. 

Solo: Okay. Because obviously I love the era that I’m from, so I love the original thing, but I love to see and I love to hear experimental and forward thinking things. Hence my very good relationship with people like Mungo’s Hi Fi. Because I like the forward thinking. Because why not? When I was growing up, when I was a teenager and when I was in my young 20s, we would experiment. We wasn’t making music like Yabby You. We knew this music, but we wanted to try. Our energy was young and hype and this is why you ended up having dancehall bashment and garage, jungle music, dubstep. And I love all of that. 

You must experiment. We must move the thing forward as well. But we can’t forget the roots where we come from. That’s all. And again, okay, I was going to say I don’t like, but I don’t want to be negative, you know what I mean? But I love forward thinking and I love trying new things, and I love to see other people experimenting and trying new things. I also love to see when people respect where it came from and show some manners to where it came from. A lot of people forget where it came from, and I’m not saying you have to do that, but just have some manners and respect for where it came from. 

If you are going to brand yourself as something, then you must do that. You cannot brand yourself as martial arts and you’re doing WWE wrestling. So you cannot brand yourself as a dub sound and you’re not playing dub music. Brand yourself as experimental, brand yourself as Drum&Bass, but don’t brand yourself or use things that are associated with that. Don’t have the lion of Judah flag, the Ethiopian flag on your flyer. If you’re not playing roots music, if you’re not playing rastafarian music, don’t have that flag on your flyer. That’s a misrepresentation. That’s false advertising. You know what I mean? 

So, yeah, I don’t have a problem. I love hearing people try new things. Of course you have to try new things. We used to try new things all the time. Maybe that’s why I used to love hip hop, too. When you have the decks and the scratching, the sampling. You’re turning it into something new. Something old into something new. So, yeah, man. We love that. Still nice. So, you have a label and everything? 

BCSM: Yeah. 

Solo: That’s good, man. 

BCSM: Tino, who is our – let’s say – mastermind who founded the whole thing, he’s also doing artworks and obviously, we are doing interviews and other stuff like record reviews. We’re also building a soundsystem right now. Still under construction. We try to push things forward and stay active in the German scene. We have our ten year anniversary this year, so we’re motivated to go on for another ten years or maybe more. 

Solo: I always think if you make it to ten years, then there’s no point in stopping. No. [laughing] If you’ve done it for ten years, why are you stopping? No, you may as well just carry on, you know what I mean? Definitely. Even if it’s just for love. Even if it’s just for the love, you know what I mean? Even if it’s classed as a hobby, why are you stopping? Because it obviously makes you happy, because you’ve been doing it for ten years. So even if you do your work and then that’s your hobby, that’s something you do to relax, that’s something you do to put a smile on your face. There’s no point stopping. Why are you stopping? Selassie I. I had a nice time. Thank you very much. Thank you. 

BCSM: We have to thank you. We appreciate it.

Interview by Kilo Jules & Ju Lion


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