Reggae singer Tarrus Riley is set to release a new album, Healing, on August 28. The topical 12 track project will be the first Jamaican album produced entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this interview, we sat down to discuss music, Rastafari, Africa, and making hit songs.
Why would you rehearse?… because it’s the same band right?
People take my music very serious and I want to appreciate them. I always do a different show. I don’t want to give them the same thing every time . I don’t eat the same food or wear the same clothes everyday so I wouldn’t want to give them the same presentation every day. Even though they are my songs, we rehearse.
The Tarrus experience?
Tell me about Dean Fraser?
He’s my mentor, father, teacher, band leader, and music director.
You always perform with him?
He’s my band leader.
You never move without the band?
No unless it’s custom-built for a dancehall event in the real “sing on microphone” vibe. I don’t do stage shows, I do live concerts. That’s how I saw it from day one. It’s full gas. Real thing.
What’s your take on dancehall now?
Dancehall is a way of life, it’s a culture. Our young Music now, we call this dancehall because of the ‘boop boop riddim’. But in the dancehall you have singers and DJs. One reason the music is going through what it’s going through is because we don’t have the “dancehall” anymore.
Tell me some of those places where dancehall used to happen?
You had Cactus, House Of Leo that was the dancehall space. I couldn’t go to but I know. Why I said is a way of life is because in life you need somewhere to live. You can dress dancehall, dancehall has its own language, it promotes certain things. You could see the identity of dancehall in the youths. So if I’m going to do a dancehall show I know the culture.
So how would you define dancehall music?
It’s a way of life, it’s rebel music like Bob Marley was saying rebel music with reggae music. This is now the rebel music. Nowadays it’s extreme. Man a bleach, etc but it’s the same rebellious spirit to go against society’s norms.
People usually rebel because of the need for power. What is dancehall’s call to power?
It’s the ghetto people’s life story. Corporate couldn’t deal with it. Jamaican Music comes from the ghetto. Putting up a resistance, She’s Royal is ghetto music. It’s the music of the downtrodden.
Tell me more about Rasta’s rebellion. When I ask Alexa who is Tarrus Riley she says you are a Jamaican musician and a Rastafarian so who is Tarrus the Rasta?
Rasta couldn’t be a religion, we do a lot of things religiously as in repetitively, but it’s a way of life. Anti-colonial as in the times when man fight against slave master, in the days of black Heart man and Pan Africanist vibe. It’s embedded in black culture and Ethiopia, Hailie Sellassie I, world citizenship. It’s thought to action that became a movement. So it’s a culture I was born and grew in then I start to make music. Sometimes people wonder how I’m a Rasta and I have tattoos but that’s an African thing if you research you’ll see.
How close are you to Africa?
I am Africa. From you see me you see Africa. I am on this side of the world but I am African. One hundred percent.
That comes out through your music?
Yes, Africa can’t go anywhere for me. It’s a part of me.
Your album coming out?
Yes I have an album. I’m really excited about this album because it’s truthful in more ways than one. Now the music is truthful and I’m experimenting with sounds and having fun with it.
They should expect fun records?
Just expect nice music.
Your big song with Ellie Goulding, Powerful has over one hundred million views on YouTube. Tell me about that song?
Big up Major Lazer, Diplo, Walshy, Dillionaire, Shane.
Sing a piece for me?
🎶 ..there’s an energy when you hold me when you touch me it’s so powerful Oooh Lawd have mercy 🎶
How did the song come about?
Shane knew them for years, we stopped in Miami and did the song. Ellie Goulding sprinkled her magic on it and the rest is history.
Who wrote that song?
Tarrus: I wrote my part and they wrote theirs. We all put it together but it started with me and Major Lazer then she came after. It was featured in many places, Hulu, movies… it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
You are one of the Reggae superstars are you concerned that the genre is not turning out many superstars?
Jamaicans are natural superstars but the values of “superstarism” sometimes conflicts with reggae music values. So it depends on what your idea of a superstar is. A lot of artists are superstars. They just need the light turned on and a place to shine for them to shine.
Would you join the marijuana industry?
Yes but it would have to be with my friends, with Black Soil. Black Soil was always Ganja advocating although I don’t smoke a lot.
Anything else you want to say to your fans?
Always, I thank everyone who rocking with me for years. I can’t say thank you enough. Long time me a sing in the bathroom and no one knew but now people come out to concerts and buy my music and I will never disappoint you and I’ll always give you A-1 music. So thank you.
For the full audio version of this interview listen to The Top Form Podcast on Spotify, IHeartRadio app, Apple Podcast, and everywhere you listen to podcasts.