Rarely in the annals of music history has a reggae band resonated with such resounding popularity worldwide as Raging Fyah, from Kingston, Jamaica. The fact that Everlasting, the band’s third album, was nominated for this year’s Grammy award for Best Reggae Album comes as no surprise to Raging Fyah’s loyal and growing fan base (“The Fyah Squad”); the only surprise is that they lost, and also, that in previous years, Raging Fyah’s first two albums, Judgement Day and Destiny, weren’t also Grammy winners, or, at a minimum, nominated.
On July 6, 2017, I interviewed Raging Fyah shortly after they performed an ebullient, electrifying set before enthusiastic fans at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The topics we discussed included: the genesis of Raging Fyah’s current tour with UB40 and Matisyahu; Raging Fyah’s willingness to collaborate with bands across the musical spectrum; Raging Fyah’s indefatigable brotherhood, unity, and humbleness, and how the band will weather fame and fortune; the Jamaican government’s level of support for Raging Fyah’s Wickie Wackie Music Festival in Bull Bay, Jamaica; and finally, some of the reasons why the Jamaican government hasn’t done more to invest and properly promote reggae music as one of its natural, most unique, national treasures. What follows is a transcription of the interview modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.
Q: How did Raging Fyah hook up with UB40 and Matisyahu to do this current tour?
Demar Gayle (keyboardist): Ali Campbell, the lead singer for UB40, rated “Everlasting” as one of his top ten favorite albums in Rolling Stones. From that, there was a lot of interest in us collaborating on a tour. Someone showed us the article and management from both bands put it together. As a matter fact, his kind of audience, more mature people, those are the people who really gravitate to our music, you know?
Q: To reggae music?
Demar: To our music. I can’t speak for all of reggae music.
Q: Well, your music is part of roots reggae music?
Demar: Yes, it’s definitely part of roots reggae music. But, you see the content of our lyrics is mostly wholesome. We have wholesome music for the family. It attracts mostly a mature audience. Children too, you know. But, because we kind of try and educate and uplift people, the majority of our audience is similar to the audience that UB40 attracts.
Q: How did Matisyahu get wrapped into this tour with UB40 and Raging Fyah?
Demar: Definitely not through us. But, I remember, years ago, our manager asked us who we’d like to collaborate with, and I personally selected Matisyahu. Because I’m a fan. I’m a fan because of this one song, “One Day.” That one resonates with me.
Demar: It kind of reminds me of what I stand for, you know? Those are the messages Raging Fyah promotes. Basically, it’s just like [Raging Fyah’s song] “Jah Glory.” [Singing softly] “Don’t worry, my people don’t you ever forget.” Pretty much the same thing; don’t worry about nuttin’. That’s what he’s sayin’ [in “One Day”].
Q: “Try Again,” [on Raging Fyah’s album, “Everlasting”], is like that too?
Demar: [Nodding in agreement]. Those are the songs that resonate with me.
Q: Overcoming personal struggles?
Q: I’m with it. If we’re honest, we all have them. Now, one of the things that I love about Raging Fyah is your willingness to collaborate with anyone. You guys are willing to be risky; you have a modern edge to your roots reggae because you explore different musical styles. And, you are willing to go out there with diverse bands like Stick Figure, Fortunate Youth, and with artists you’ve said, Kumar, are bands you wouldn’t normally associate with Raging Fyah or roots reggae. The fact that you are willing to open reggae music up to different markets and to different audiences – is that a strategy or approach that the band is going to continue as you go forward?
Demar: Before you close a door you have to open it.
Kumar Bent (lead singer): Yeah. We’re in that space right now.
Q: What do you say to people who call themselves “reggae purists” who argue that some of the reggae being produced in the United States, and especially in California, has strayed from the original messages – even the sound of traditional roots reggae music?
Kumar: The sound of reggae music is ever-changing. But, what needs to be made clear concerns content. “Purists” of reggae don’t expect you to sing a love song to a girl; they always expect preaching and telling people what to do. It’s revolutionary music. But, we can’t box ourselves in I would say, always producing that kind of music. Why not explore? Why not open the door, as Demar says? Even if some disagree, at the end of the day there are going to be people who will appreciate the modern edge that we have, as well as fusing it with other things to create a more international sound. To me, reggae music is probably the most played type of music worldwide, in every little crevice and corner. I mean, it’s not top ten, it’s not on the charts –
Q: But it’s there?
Kumar: It’s there. It’s underground. It’s the biggest thing. Everywhere you go, reggae is there.
Q: One of the things that’s so great about Raging Fyah is the band has such an obvious brotherhood. There is such genuine unity between you guys. It’s obvious in your performances and whenever you do interviews. There’s a love that you radiate. I asked Selecta Jerry – the DJ and host of Sounds of the Caribbean on Z88.9, in Pemberton, New Jersey – what he thought was a good question to ask you guys. And he said, I should ask you guys some more about this great brotherhood. Specifically, he said I should ask you: Now that Raging Fyah has released three successful albums, you’ve been nominated for a Grammy, and you’ve toured all over the world playing to packed shows, how will you guys manage to keep this great brotherhood that Raging Fyah has going? And, I thought this was such a good question to ask because you have only to look at UB40, who you’re playing here with tonight, to see how easy it is for successful bands to lose their brotherhood. With UB40, you have actual blood-brothers not speaking to one another and suing each other over use of the band’s name. How is Raging Fyah going to weather that pressure that inevitably comes with success – to keep the band’s unity intact, and not splinter?
Kumar: Yeah, well, success is not final, you know? We’re not perfect, I would say. We’re human beings. And we do have brotherly fights. Just like any family. But the love we share is unconditional, especially when you’re dealing with your brothers.
Q: A related question. How, with all the band’s success, is Raging Fyah going to stay humble like the song “Humble” featuring Jesse Royal on your Everlasting album? I think a lot of people would view it as being a glamorous lifestyle – to be a reggae band touring with UB40, traveling all over the world. What do you do, either individually or as a band, to stay connected to regular folk in Jamaica? To regular folk everywhere? Are there people in your life, like your family, who keep you grounded?
Kumar: [Nodding and laughing]. There you go.
Delroy “Pele” Hamilton (bass player): First of all, we are regular people. So, it’s not hard for us to be “regular.” You know what I mean? ‘Cause we are regular people. [Everyone laughing]. Our lifestyle is regular. We don’t see ourselves as –
Kumar: You know when we’re walking around every day, it’s not like we –
Q: People aren’t flagging you down?
Kumar: No mon! We can walk. [Laughing.]
Pele: We can walk anywhere in Jamaica.
Kumar: We walk the streets in Jamaica, and people still don’t recognize us.
Q: I’m surprised. Even though you were nominated for a Grammy and walked the red carpet? I saw it. I saw those corny jokes that the interviewers made about how Jamaicans talk – I saw it. [All laughing].
Kumar: None of us were born into a very wealthy or a rich family. So [our] humility starts from the home, you know? From a young age. For me, like, I never had everything, but I was alright. You know?
Kumar: To reach an age where I can take care of myself through music. Not having everything today is not going to change me. So, when I get everything tomorrow, it’s like, it’s fluid, it’s not like something you are going to hold onto [forever]. Once you can survive and keep going, and you’re not suffering, you have that mentality that when a lot is around you, it’s just for the sharing of the people and everybody else, you know?
Q: That’s how it should be. Respect. Early in Raging Fyah’s history, when the band was primarily a backing band but wasn’t getting any of its own bookings, you basically created your own venue: The Wickie Wackie Concert Series in Bull Bay, Jamaica. And I know how that concert series expanded. And how it became a platform from which other young Jamaican artists like Jesse Royal, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Jah9, and others could launch their own careers. Big ups to you for that! Respect! Now, I understand Wickie Wackie is a two-day reggae music festival that takes place every year, in early December. Does the Jamaican government help support Raging Fyah with that?
Kumar: Yeah. Through endorsements. Through the Ministry of Youth and Culture. Endorsements meaning they purchase a certain number of tickets and booths. And then they send ghetto youths and other children who could not otherwise afford to go.
Q: Is that the local government in Bull Bay that provides that?
Kumar: That’s the federal government.
Q: Do you feel like they give you enough support? If there was something more that the Jamaican government could do to support the Wickie Wackie Music Festival, what would it be?
Kumar: Well, first and foremost. They’ve made Raging Fyah [reggae music] ambassadors under this present government. The minister made us ambassadors of the music, and you know they gave us a little write up in The Gleaner. It’s a good thing for us because wherever we go now we are actually carrying the flag of Jamaica. Not just by default, you know? By reason.
Q: So, the Jamaican government has done something to support you guys, but not –
Kumar: But, the festival in itself now, to get to answering your question, is, I mean . . . . In Jamaica, a lot of things come with a lot of pressure. And, the government itself can only do so much alone. Because the local government and the federal government might not be on the same page at the same hour, you know? And even still, the youth can’t afford to come to the show. And so, you might send sponsorship proposals to corporate Jamaica, and I mean, most of the corporate companies in Jamaica sell alcohol . . . . And Raging Fyah and Wickie Wackie, most of the people who come there want to smoke weed, and –
Q: And the government will clamp down?
Kumar: I’m just saying to get sponsorship from marijuana companies might prove a little bit difficult, you know? So, Wickie Wackie Music Festival, it needs sponsorship in Jamaica, that’s what it needs.
Q: From businesses?
Kumar: From wherever we can get sponsorship.
Q: And the government should be able to give you more?
Kumar: Yes, they could. But, at the end of the day, they are probably supporting other events, you know, longtime before us. So, I won’t say they’re not doing anything. Because it would be unfair.
Q: One of the things that has disturbed me as a lover of reggae music has been the Jamaican government’s failure to do more to invest and promote reggae music as one of its most unique and valuable commodities. What are your thoughts about that?
Kumar: Well, you know, the government for years wasn’t paying attention to this culture that came from the poorest, poorest houses.
Q: Rastafarian culture?
Kumar: No, I mean reggae music and just even the talent. The most talented people in Jamaica are the sufferahs. So, when you check your sufferation and with reggae music, and dance hall music, all of the subcultures that evolved from Jamaica, they all started from a lickle youth a run from gunshots and him have no shoes pon him foot. So, the government didn’t want to associate itself with the ghetto. If you go and associate yourself with the ghetto, then you gonna have to clean up the ghetto, you understand? And you can’t do that, because, well, you know how the politics system works. And the same youth, they don’t find the government trustworthy. It’s the suffering class who made this music, you know?
Q: And it sounds like it’s a wider discrimination than against just reggae singers who are Rastafarians – over their dreadlocks, over ganjah, or belief in Jah Rastafari – but rather, it’s discrimination against all poor people?
Kumar: Poor people music. Any kind of poor people music. But, you know, they all listen to it inside their house. Everybody listens to Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Them hide and listen to it. Stephen, there is a lot of things. But, at the end of the day it boils down to one thing, you know? The music that is making Jamaica so famous, and making the world fall in love, and cry, and think, it’s the same music that isn’t getting support to the people who make it.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. His twitter is: @SteveCooperEsq