by Sista Irie, photojournalist, Austin, Texas
Sista Irie caught up with Protoje as he was chilling in Kingston between tours. With three amazing albums under his belt, Protoje has firmly established himself as one of the most recognizable artists aligned with the Reggae Revival. Protoje has played all over the world for his amazing fans and colleagues, while growing the love for reggae music across cultures. Protoje’s most recent album “Ancient Future” has received top rated reviews along with his massive hit with Chronixx “Who Knows”. Protoje continues to spread his music globally, and is excited to be performing this summer at Reggae on the River in California.
Sista Irie: Its been about five years since the release of your first official album “7 Year Itch.” Time, wisdom and experience has impacted you as an artist during that time. How would you describe the journey since then? What knowledge have you gained that would be important to share with an upcoming artist?
Protoje: It has really been an interesting journey. I feel like my sound has changed a lot since my first album to my last. I want to keep evolving as an artist, and staying fresh by coming up with new ideas. That is the main thing I have been able to do for the past three albums.
I was just speaking to Sevana about one hour ago and telling her that during that time period many things came up that could have derailed me or taken my focus away. You have to keep remembering that even with a million things to do, that any sort of shift in your focus or distraction can just turn it all wrong for you.
Sista Irie: Your latest album “Ancient Future” incorporates a mix of Jamaican musical styles and features emerging artists like Mortimer and Sevana. How did you arrive at this very unique mixture of content, and how was the objective for this album different from the previous two?
Protoje: For “Ancient Future,” Winta (co-producer) and I wanted to create something that had the spirit of the music we grew up with, while pushing the boundaries further. We wanted to go through all the Jamaican styles from ska coming right up through the mid eighties. I wanted to experiment with different sounds, and then inject updated sounds over all of them to make it cohesive. It was definitely something we set out to do.
Sista Irie: Did that take a long time to develop all those different songs, different styles, different collaborative artists? I think of “Answer To Your Name” an adaptation of a 50 year old ska track by Prince Buster. It must have taken a long time to put these styles together and make it cohesive.
Protoje: Yes, it really took time because we worked on it for about two years. Once we started to record, everything flowed much quicker. Winta is the kind of person who takes a lot of time with music anyway, so its always going to be that longer process of trying to curate the songs properly. It took time, but it was worth it.
Sista Irie: Your father was a well known Calypso singer named Lord Have Mercy from St. Vincent? Did that influence impact any of the music on that album?
Protoje: Yes, in terms of storytelling. That is what I got from my dad. His background was more like storytelling. For example on Ancient Future the song “Answer To Your Name” is telling a story, and reflects influence from my dad.
Sista Irie: This year you played Coachella and Cali Roots festivals in the US. How do you compare those festival experiences to those you had in Europe?
The European festivals seem massive in attendance compared to those in the US.
Protoje: Yes, Europe is more tailor made for the sound and they are more into the music on a wide scale. America is getting to the point where the music is more appreciated. Cali Roots was a really really good look. I liked playing that festival. I feel like it is just a matter of time before the music seeps into the American consciousness to a larger degree.
Sista Irie: When you play in Europe, are you mainly playing at all-reggae events? Where Coachella is a mix of genres?
Protoje: No, in Europe I played a lot of non-reggae festivals. I have played Montreux Jazz Festival in Canada, Paleo Festival in Switzerland, Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands, Vina Rock Festival in Spain, and Glastonbury Festival in the UK.
Sista Irie: You have played in Costa Rica. How did you feel about your show there?
Protoje: Costa Rica is amazing. It is one of my most favorite shows I have ever played. I love going down there to play music. Their energy is very high, they know all the songs. It was really awesome and one of my favorite highlights so far.
Sista Irie: Why do you think that is? Up until recently, I thought of Latin music being isolated from reggae, but it seems through Reggaeton there is an integration of Latin and reggae music. Is that what you think may be happening?
Protoje: Maybe, that just may be. I don’t really know what is happening. But in South America Jamaican music is growing at an alarming rate. When I see my numbers online, the views I am getting from Mexico, Columbia, Cost Rica are impressive. It is overwhelming that the movement of the music is happening so fast. I definitely think it is the next emerging music market for Jamaican music.
Sista Irie: I live in Texas so there is a lot of Latin American music here. We are close to Mexico. As I continue to listen to Reggaeton, it is starting to slow down, it does not sound as pop and some of it is headed to pure roots reggae, only sung in Spanish and coming from various Latin American countries. Have you thought about doing any collaborations with Spanish artists?
Protoje: Yes, but the right thing has not come up yet. Let’s see how that works out when it does.
Sista Irie: What is the ‘Producer Collective’ and do you plan to produce other reggae artists?
Protoje: It is just basically getting a group of producers together, and I do intend to produce other artists. I am putting out Sevana’s EP sometime this summer with Winta, and then what I want to do is form a squad of young producers that are innovative, have new experimental sounds, so that as an artist I can have so much to choose from as well as record other people. It would be nice to have a squad of ‘in house’ producers that I work with well.
Sista Irie: It seems like the youth of Jamaica are taking reggae back in their hands and giving it the professional touch needed to help the music be recognized. The movement also gives the younger folks an opportunity to grow in the music industry. So thank you for the efforts you have made to move that along.
The last time I spoke with you, we were talking about the Reggae Revival when it was starting off. Things have changed and people’s interpretations of the Reggae Revival have changed. What are your views today on what was earlier described as this movement specifically described as the Reggae Revival?
Protoje: It was an important time for the music and the music needed to have representation, something to energize people, something to make it known that good reggae music was coming from Jamaica.
Remember 2010 was a really choppy period. To look at all the international festivals, there was not a lot of Jamaican talent. The hysteria created around the Reggae Revival, mainly by international media, brought a lot of attention to the music and the movement. And that was a great thing and so needed. I was pleased that the Reggae Revival brought that attention globally. Now out of that attention, a couple of artists have been able to use the opportunity to reach further in the music. It basically gives people a window to look into, and now artists can travel and spread the music widely, but it is going to be on the strength of the work that is done to keep it up. You can’t just have attention and not have the material to back it up.
Sista Irie: I read recently that you performed at Calabash, a festival you had dreamed to attend and perform. What was it about Calabash that impassioned you to perform there.
Protoje: First, it’s where I am from in Jamaica, St Elizabeth. I always heard about it and have seen it and even been there, I just had not performed there. It touches on various forms of art, and I like to be involved in things like that. I wanted to be a part of that scene too, and give music to people who have that interest. It was a very good show, better than I even expected. I had a lot of fun just being on stage there.
Sista Irie: It is a literary festival isn’t it?
Protoje: Yeah, for sure
Sista Irie: The song ‘Who Knows’ both the original and recent remix. It is so interesting to listen to the words but people ask me what the title is referring to.
Protoje: Ok, the title of the song “Who Knows” – the whole tone is that there are so many things in life not in your control while living in these times, or any times, on earth. You have to hold on to your beliefs, and plan what you want to do and try to control life, but it is not really controllable. Who really knows what is going on, anything can happen so don’t try to know everything, because there are some things that you cannot predict or control.
Protoje is performing on Thursday, August 4th at Reggae on the River