A conversation with reggae legend Chuck Fenda. Paraphrased to our greatest ability from a grainy cell phone call to Chuck in Jamaica. Big Up to Joe Wiggins at VP Records for hooking up the interview.
How has growing up in between Jamaica and the US influenced your music?
Well, I was born in Brooklyn, NYC but moved to Jamaica at 6 weeks old. I went to school in Jamaica and the US. Reggae music is the rock of Jamaica and to really bust out in the music business I wanted to establish myself in Jamaica first. So I moved there to do music in 1998.
ZIF readers have heard a bit of conscious reggae; could you please tell us the difference between conscious reggae and more commercial reggae music like Sean Paul.
Conscious reggae is the same type of music that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were making. I consider myself part of the new generation that is carrying on Bob Marley’s work. His influence lives on and will never die. Bob laid the foundation, and now reggae music is known across the world. It’s huge right now in Europe, Canada and Africa.
What music are you listening to right now?
Besides (the artists listed above), I also listen to Burning Spear quite a bit. But really, I listen to everybody! It is about the message of the song. I listen to music that does not perpetuate or create illusions. The music I make and the music I listen to is about the message. I want to listen and learn from my music. Music has the power to change your life, elevate and inspire. There is music out there now that makes no sense and its creating false realities (violent music, gun this, bling bling that etc.) making people stray from what’s right.
So, if you are trying to bring a positive message about focusing on the right things and educating people, why was your music banned from the radio? Particularly “Gash dem and light dem” which was banned in Jamaica based on the government’s recommendation.
That song was inspired by a gruesome news story I saw on TV. A 6-year-old girl was kidnapped on her way to school and brutally assaulted, stabbed and murdered, her body dumped. This gruesome act highlighted the abuse that children suffer around the world and I wanted to bring this issue to light. There are many children missing and abused and the song is built around this topic. Unfortunately the government took it the wrong way and suggested it be banned. It was misunderstood, but I’m happy that the whole country was upset about it not being played, because they understood the positive message of empowerment I was attempting to convey. The government and media did not understand the concept.
This is a big issue in the US too, with all these kids being kidnapped. It’s time for the authorities to recognize that not all children are fortunate enough to be chauffeured to school. There are parents that can’t make ends meet, are poor and suffering and that is affecting the children. I wanted to highlight their plight, but the authorities are not interested in improving the situation for them.
It does not make sense to me because other songs about gun violence are allowed to be played. The rules are being applied arbitrarily. I’m actually talking about eradicating gun violence and not encouraging it.
Maybe it’s the fact that the public wants to be shielded from the brutality of such acts, and wants to protect itself by keeping it out of the public eye?
It was banned, but I’m speaking the truth. I’m not a racist. I am talking about unity and love. About the Almighty and how he will bring out the light to those who suffer and who are in the darkness.
My song may not play on the radio but it is serving the people of Jamaica because they are speaking and discussing the issues of the poor. In fact it is serving everyone, because the track is presenting relevant topics. I’m not against anyone, everyone should be free to do what they want, and I’m inspiring people to do what is right. I’m not against gays, etc. I want to do music, not bash other people. I want to elevate, highlight and speak the truth, and eradicate guns and violence.
Sounds like a true Rasta. The message in your music is closely linked to Rastafari culture. We’ll take any excuse to smoke a joint, but what is the role of marijuana in Rastafari culture?
It’s a natural herb of inspiration and meditation, which is like praying. It helps you meditate. Natural vibes. Authorities can say what they want about it but it’s not going to change the fact that it is a natural plant.
In the US, the justice system is not set up with rehabilitation in mind. The three strikes rule could have you spending life in jail for marijuana related offenses. What is the law like in Jamaica regarding weed?
They mostly go after people shipping it overseas in containers. They are only tough on the big dealers. As an individual, you could get away with a night in jail for about ½ pound. No matter how they make the rules, herb is good and natural. Bob spoke very highly of it and its abilities.