Up Close and Personal with Sizzla
As Told to Olimatta Taal -Intro by Shelah Moody
Sizzla Kalonji and the Fire House Crew perform Saturday, Aug. 5 at The 32nd Annual Reggae on the River Festival, Humboldt County, CA, www.reggaeontheriver.com.
“The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”—Psalms 9
Who’s afraid of Sizzla Kalonji?
Since he burst on the scene in the mid-nineties 90s with his melodic, sax driven tenor and fiery, Afrocentric lyrics, the “Words of Divine,” “Praise Ye Jah” and “Just One of Those Days” Sizzla has inspired his share of intrigue and controversy. It could be his rage against the colonial system, downpression of people of the African diaspora and his unflinching, pro-black stance. In 2004, Sizzla was banned from performing in parts of Europe, Canada and the U.S., having been accused, along with a wave of outspoken Jamaican singers and DJs, of promoting hatred and violence against homosexuals. And exactly what was going on at Judgement Yard, the gatherings at his home, people began to speculate.
But here are the facts. Miguel Collins, now 40, grew up in a devout Rastafarian family in August Town, JA. Named by one of his mentors, Homer Harris, who introduced him to producer/saxophonist Dean Fraser, his moniker, Sizzla Kalonji, literally means hot, ayurvedic, black seed. Sizzla is a disciple of Emanuel Charles Edwards; founder of the Bobo Ashanti branch of the Rastafarian Faith.
With more than 75 albums to his credit, Sizzla is perhaps Jamaica’s most prolific and influential reggae artists.
Reggae revival artist Keron Salmon, aka Kabaka Pyramid, was heavily inspired by Sizzla’s fusion of reggae and hip hop as well as his devotion to Rastafari. Sizzla motivated Salmon to choose his Afrocentric moniker, “Kabaka,” the Ugandan word for “king” and “Pyramid,” inspired by his studies of ancient Egypt.
“My greatest spiritual influence is Sizzla Kalonji,” said Kabaka Pyramid, in a press conference at the 2016 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. “Even though I’m from Jamaica, I grew up as a Christian. I found that Christianity was very close minded. Sizzla’s music woke me up and made me want to connect more with my African heritage.”- Kabaka Pyramid
In 2013, Sizzla’s full length recording, “The Messiah,” received a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album. In 2010, Sizzla traveled to Zimbabwe to perform for President Robert Mugabe and was later bestowed with land the country.
Given Sizzla’s massive appeal, It is no wonder that Stephen Marley chose Sizzla and Capleton to chant down Babylon in his new single and video, “Rock Stone”
When he is not touring or recording, Sizzla works to promote education, collective responsibility, self-determination and peaceful existence in August Town, one of Jamaica’s oldest, most Afro-centric communities.
Recently, Island Stage contributor Olimatta Taal sat down with Sizzla for an intimate conversation.
IS: How did Miguel Collins become Sizzla Kalonji?
Sizzla: It’s the whole personality and character; the intelligence of Africa. Having this zeal to burn the fire, to shine the light and enlighten the people and the children of the world. Homer Harris saw me and said, you know, you like burning too much fire, so your name Sizzla. Sizzla we gonna call you.
IS: Describe your experience growing up within the Bobo Ashanti Rastafarian movement.
Sizzla: It was a vivid experience, really humble. Being in the western hemisphere, in a system designed to colonize black people and to keep them down, you have to get that knowledge of self; knowledge of being and where you’re coming from. When you go to Bobo, it reminds you of your true self, because you keep the Sabbath, you’re praising a black God; you have black men chanting and black priests and black empresses. It reminds you of your true African culture, your true ways. The Sabbath brings things to rememberance. Apparently, it’s the foundation of our culture. All praise to the holy priest, Emanuel I, Selassie I, Jah Rastafari.
IS: What was the inspiration behind one of your first hits, “Praise Ye Jah?”
Sizzla: The inspiration behind that great song was just to know the Almighty and praise a black God and know your black self. As we say, it’s black liberation, black redemption. One of the first things that we need to know in order to regain consciousness of ourselves and our existence is to praise someone in our own likeness. When we do the research, we see His Imperial Majesty, Hailie Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, seated upon the throne of the Conquering Lion, King David, is our God and king. Hence, “Praise Ye Jah.” Hail the Emperor. Rastafari.
IS: What was the inspiration behind another big hit, “Black Woman and Child?”
Sizzla: You know, a lot of black women have lost their way based upon a lot of distractions; a lot of advertisements and commercials. Babylon has been placing things to really distort the whole history of black people. To build a great nation, you have to start with the family—the mother and the child. Once we can get the women in that state of consciousness, it’s only right for us to sustain our nation. Hence, we’ll have to do songs to encourage the spirit and strengthen the minds of the black woman. You know, all these people in the prisons, they are sons and daughters of the black woman. Knowledge runs deep and our history is beyond the stars.
IS: Let’s talk about another song, “Words of Divine.” What was the inspiration behind that one?
Sizzla: Now, that song was all about love, getting the women to have a sense of pride within themselves, and be conscious of the black morals and who they are in this time, and to let them know that we, as black men, do respect of the earth because they are our mothers, our sisters, wives and our nieces and so on.
“Words of Divine” is just a nice, typical love song infused with a sense of consciousness to encourage and heighten the spirit of the black women of the world.
IS: Throughout your career, you’ve produced more than 75 albums, making you one of reggae’s most prolific artists. What motivates you to constantly write and create?
Sizzla: Sufferation. Seeing the lynching and pillaging from the transatlantic slave trade. Seeing the deplorable state that black people are in. Seeing homeless kids, seeing people abuse children. Seeing people being incarcerated unjustly. We need our own black government, we need Africa, and we need black people to stand up and know that we can be fruitful and contribute to the global community. My inspiration comes from a lot of that stuff.
IS: How do you feel about your 2013 Grammy nomination for “Messiah?”
Sizzla: Well, the degree of achievement is well respected; it was good to see that the world had recognized such great works being done. Because it was not just the work of Sizzla, it was the work of other great musicians coming together. I appreciate it, yeah. It’s another stepping stone to see that we really stand up for what we represent and we reach out. Because you can do good and there is good waiting for us all out there. So, we appreciate those people from the (Recording Academy) recognizing us. I also appreciate the people who helped to nominate Sizzla and the people who’ve supported me from the beginning to the present. The effort was well worth it and I commend you well and say thank you. Lovely.
IS: Talk about your experience working with Stephen Marley on the video and recording, “Rockstone” with Stephen Marley? Why must we remember the legacy of slavery?
Sizzla: Well, we don’t have a legacy of slavery, you know. The white man has the legacy of slavery. The slave master enslaved us and took all of the money for himself and built this world with all of the riches upon the black man’s back. So we ain’t got no legacy of slavery. We’ve experienced the destruction and the heinous acts.
But what we’ve learned from it is really another notch on our shoulder to show us that we are the original, we are the foundation. Someone took us from our motherland and made great out of the transatlantic slave trade by booming their economy and all of those things. That speaks to the black man’s beauty and the black man’s love, energy, strength, blood, sweat and tears. What I’ve learned is that we can do things for ourselves, hence, there’s no legacy of slavery except pain and sufferation. We need repatriation, to return the black man and the black woman and the sons and daughters that were taken from Africa against their will and let us build Africa. Our legacy is our people; our legacy is education, intelligence, love, unity. No crime, no violence, no war, peace upon the entire planet. That’s our legacy.
To have that collaboration with Sizzla Kalonji, Stephen Marley and the other Marley brothers and Capleton—that was beautiful, awesome work. It was splendid, superb. We need more things like that to be happening. Fantastic!
IS: Tell us how Judgement Yard came about.
Sizzla: Well, Judgement Yard came about based upon Sizzla being all over the country and singing for the people and a lot of kids following Sizzla. When I get back to my place, we normally sit and read and eat and drink and we chant at times. So I decided to give this place a name. I just took inspiration from Psalms 9, as it states that the Most High shall establish a throne of judgement to judge his people.
IS: You’ve come under fire by certain interest groups in the U.S. and Europe? Why are people afraid of Sizzla?
Sizzla: I don’t know. You shouldn’t be afraid of Sizzla. I’m not an animal; I’m not a cannibal. I don’t support violence on no level or no degree. What you need to do is to get to know Sizzla. If you don’t know someone, I don’t think that you should stand aside and criticize the person. Spend some time with the person; get to know the person and then we can see where we best go from there. You don’t need to be afraid of Sizzla; you need to be part of the movement for Sizzla.
Love to the world. Yeah yeah! Don’t do that, ‘fraid a Sizzla fi wha?
IS: Talk about your experience performing in Zimbabwe.
Sizzla: Wow! It was like going forward, home to Africa. There’s a whole lot of projects going on there—beautification projects and roads and schools being built as well as factories, hotels and so on. It’s really beautiful, and so we should go to Africa and be a part of our family there. Going to Africa and performing in Africa was just another stepping stone for me as well as another vivid experience. It helped to direct me in the pathway of shining the light, leading the people in the western hemisphere as to where we should be going.
IS: What can we expect from your upcoming performance at Reggae on the River?
Sizzla: More love, more vibes, more entertainment. Being up close and personal with my fans. Reggae loving fans. They haven’t seen Sizzla for apparently a decade now, so we’re just going to continue the works of His Majesty’s righteousness.
IS: What new music and projects can we expect from you?
Sizzla: Well, presently, I’m working on an acoustic album out of my Kalonji Productions studio in August Town. We are also in the state of constructing a little Sizzla Youth Foundation museum. It’s a charitable foundation, a nonprofit organization. We are structuring an office for that. We’ve got 92 days of festivities going on in August Town in celebration of August Town’s birthday from 1838 to 2016. We’re doing fine; we’re doing well in the community. Our whole initiative is to help eradicate violence and helps people use their great talents. From June 1 to July 31, we’ve got sports activities going on such as football, netball, rugby, dominoes, road races and cricket.
From August 1 to 31, we’ll have cultural activities going on including stage shows, speeches and other activities for people to expose their talents. Just about everything that the people have decided on doing to be a part of the whole celebration for August Town’s 178th birthday. Our initiative echoed for 2016 is to know ourselves best by setting a better foundation for our children. We should start to see that our kids are educated—more educated than we are—so that they can stand the test of time. It’s a part of the whole initiative to unite the community and promote the Safe Community Project that we’ve got going on.
IS: We understand that you’ve also helped in eliminating the violence in your community. Talk about that.
Sizzla: Well, we don’t need a lawless community. We’re in the western hemisphere, but we should know that the laws of Britain are not the first set of laws on the earth. We’ve been living the laws of King David, the laws of the God of Israel from ancient time to present. Our initiative is to love the people, care for the people and share with the people, be there for the people and encourage the people so they can see that there is someone that they can rely on. That’s just the easy way to go about uniting the people. When the people see that; they can relate to you; talk to you and see that you are not harmful to them. They can see that you are loving and kind and helping them to be leaders and that you are not a dictator who wants everything for yourself. The people will work for you, because we’re all one family and we’re in this together.
IS: What is your overall message to your fans and supporters?
Sizzla: Continue reading and be conscious. Think Ethiopia, Abyssinia, Africa. What we’re saying to our fans is to help us lead the children in a positive direction. Keep them conscious and keep their spirit uplifted. Each one, teach one. As the old time phrase goes, education is the key. You’ve got to give the key to the kids sometime in the future, so set the foundation.
Sizzla is the 2016 headliner for the 32nd annual Reggae on the River Festival Saturday, August 6th
Shelah Moody’s Top Sizzla Albums:
The Messiah, VP, 2013
Black Woman and Child, VP, 1997
Sizzla: Addicted, LGN Entertainment, 2008
Words of Truth, VP, 2000
The Story Unfolds: The Best of Sizzla, VP Records
Sizzla: Da Real Live Thing, 2002