Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Gyptian: Loverâs Rock God

Gyptian Gyptian

Determined not to fall prey to the âlove godâ phenomenon associated with Jamaicaâs leading loverâs rock icon Gyptian, I caught up with him at the Wembley Hilton in the midst of his promotional tour following the release of his fourth album âSex Love and Reggaeâ on VP Records.

Gyptian is a key figurehead of Jamaicaâs reggae scene who broke through in 2005 with the hit âSerious Timesâ, subsequently championing a slew of seminal hits including; âBeautiful Ladyâ, âMamaâ, âMy Name is Gyptianâ and âNah Let Goâ.

Also widely recognised forâ¦his phenomenal hit âHold Youâ three years ago (certified gold in the US), ruling the airwaves in the Caribbean, demanding the attention of the music fans world-wide, and spawning reaffixes from heavyweight underground EDM producers across the globe such as; Major Lazer, Toddla T, Shy FX, Benny Page, Coki⦠Versions of the track were released featuring the likes of Nicki Minaj and D Double Eâ¦I was lucky to witness a live performance of this track at the London album launch and it didnât disappoint.

The album (co-executive produced by Jerry âWondaâ Duplessis, previously having worked with Miguel, Mary J Blige, Lupe Fiasco, The Fugees) includes two outstanding covers, âMy Number Oneâ originally sung by Gregory Isaacs. Also Cindy Lauperâs âTrue Coloursâ, to which he not only does full justice, but gracefully holds the commercial door open to old and new listeners worldwide - speaking the message of the songs through the medium of his own music.

With the influences of the church and rastafari in his musical and cultural upbringing in rural St. Andrew, just outside Kingston, it was no surprise his talents were quickly channelled into the business of music. The universal appeal of not only his lyrical themes, but the uplifting hymnal chords and melodies within his earthy reggae, ensure that any listener on the planet can be touched by his musicâs central theme of love.

âLove â I just say that because thatâs what we all need: I need it, you need it, we all need it. My song is all about a happy time and really itâs happiness, people love that. So for me itâs just a fundamental thing, where people just come together as one; black, purple, pink white, you name it⦠dancing to the same thing.â

It may be impossible for anyone outside Jamaica, to understand the hard shell of circumstance that has not only catalysed the manifestation of reggae, but made it treacherous carving out a career there in music.

âWell coming from somewhere like Jamaica (a fourth album) thatâs quite an achievement really (laughs); itâs a particular achievement for a recording artist yâknow â Iâm not a producer.â

Although Gyptian turns his hand to a bit of drum and guitar playing, and is fully conversant with the workings of a professional recording studio, he knows his strengths, and plays to them with aplomb.

The themes and depictions in films such as âThe Harder They Comeâ are no joke, where the road from discovery to achieving international success is fraught with harsh politics, exploitation and cutthroat business tactics. The worldwide recognition of reggae means that any kind of musical talent is a serious career opportunity in Jamaica, often representing one of a very limited number of roads out of poverty and small island life available to young Jamaicans. The shameless exploitation of talent in the music industry is of course an emotive issue, but in the microcosm of Jamaican culture, itâs life and death, and when asked what he thought he would be doing if he hadnât followed a musical path, Gyptian responds:

âI donât think you would really approve of what I would sayâ¦â

Having braced myself for the âsubtletiesâ of a rasta love godâs modus operandi in relation to members of the opposite sex, I was struck by how down to earth, relaxed, and articulate Gyptian was about his music achievements and circumstances in life. I had fully expected his stage persona to be in full effect as is so often the case with ârock n rollâ egos, and yet I was instantly humbled.

He is clearly fully aware that the overt sexual politics underpinning Jamaican culture can be unpalatable to those who donât understand it, and how it could alienate listeners, particularly women, from other cultures who may disregard his music as sexist or even misogynistic.

The single âVixenâ from the album co-written and featuring Angela Hunte of Jay Zâs Empire State of Mind fame, has overt sexual themes that could easily be misinterpreted:

âA Vixen is a woman that take command, that love to do it her way, but a powerful woman, in her sexiness, not in dressing up in costumes etc, just a way about herâ¦â

He also has a firm grip on the power and influence his words have on his listeners, and takes this on board, a trait which is sadly lacking in many artists who gain status through musical success:

âEven if I donât do it, people will do it, so you just put it in a song and put a melody to it and people can relate to it⦠simple simple simple, like, I sing about how to treat a woman, and a man will listen, and learn to treat a woman like that and if you really listen to my songs you realise that itâs not derogatory, and if itâs not derogatory itâs a good meaning, yâknow.â

In an industry underpinned by sexual politics and heavily sexist in nature, only the foolish would ignore the part that these politics play in it. It would therefore seem hypocritical to condemn, disregard, or censor a depiction of one of the driving forces in Jamaican and world dance music, which is veritably mild in comparison to the harder lyrical content found in sub genres such as bashment and gangster rap.

Gyptian has the kind of humility and self-possessed fortitude that comes with true star quality. Much as he was never forced by his parents to pursue a career in music, he would never impose his career choice or beliefs on his own children:

âI donât know. Itâs more like⦠a lot of people would say (about my children) why you donât locks them? No, they donât want to be locks, but they have their own freedom, their own mind⦠if they want to do (music) when they get older they do.

I got my own back. I know Iâm strong-minded. Thinking is when youâre going to do something: when youâre sure, itâs done. Coming from where Iâm coming from, and in this shit house game that Iâm in, you got to be strongâ¦. Itâs nearly ten years now.â

Despite coming from a small island, reggae has a huge amount of commercial and iconic power, to which the Marley empire attests. The Marley family is tantamount to royalty in Jamaica, and following the recent release by Tuff Gong of the film âMarleyâ, the legend appears to live on. I asked Gyptian how he saw the future of the genre in relation to Robert Nestaâs legacy:

âI mean, the Bob Marley recognition is forever, but the thing is itâs getting old⦠itâs not getting old, it IS old (laughs), but probably down to really young artists not working as they should, or people just literally trying to get rid of it, or from the beginning they never really want it, but they couldnât stop it: it went abroad, and has that impact on people, and I think itâs not really fans fighting our reggae music, itâs the music industry abroad, because itâs not in Jamaica! Politics is in everything, and politics donât stop. They probably have the means and the how to stop something, and bring something to the table; we all have to just adapt to it as usual, whatever structure whatever plan they have thatâs just what we have to do⦠It all has to do with the top: itâs not the bottom not the middle itâs the top.

They have the key to the dam: everywhere is dry, and they just have to reach up and turn that key and everybody just have water, but I guess it is what it is and they have their plans⦠man like me cyan stop it. We have to just try â sing â like Jim, sing like Bob sing like Shaggy sing like Jnr Gong whoever, maybe one day it become what we all wish for, what we all working forâ¦â

Much as he laments the constrictive sway of commercialism over reggae music, some of Gyptianâs collaborations, Nicki Minaj, and Snoop Lion, are clearly A listers in the US pop scene:

âBig acts like myself: you gotta pay your dues, but money you canât bring it with you when you die.â

When questioned about Snoopâs transition from âDoggâ to âLionâ, Gyptian gave an honest response:

âThatâs not my business, but I think itâs doing wonders for our industry; enough people probably saying Snoop is looking resurrection, but itâs not resurrection because thatâs Snoop. I have no problem I feel like itâs even broadening the music, because Snoop Lion fans will probably be bigger than Snoop Dogg fans, because from the littlest to the oldest it ring a bell; I think him coming into this thing is one of the best things happening in a long while: Iâm not into politics Iâm all about uplifting with our music yâknow.â

He is equally pragmatic and direct about what he loves and hates most about his chosen path in life:

âI love the girls, the applause, seeing everybody getting together, itâs different each time, leaves a good memory scar every time!

I donât like the politics. I donât mind the criticism because theyâre talking about somebody and that somebody happens to be you at times, people know that youâre still around. When people are fighting this and fighting that and not letting this go through just because they got the power, thatâs just that: the politics.â

Gyptianâs eloquently stoic philosophy seems to relate to music and to life in general, in equal measure, and for those wondering whatâs in store for the next ten years:

âFuture? What is the future? I will do this til I am no more, because Iâve tried everything else and this, it works⦠Music is the greatest thing for a man like me⦠whatever was supposed to be⦠it wasnâtâ¦â

The album âSex, Love and Reggaeâ is out now on VP Records.

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