I praise Jah everyday for reggae music. Everyday. I like many aspects of reggae music, but Lovers Rock has a special place in my soft spot I care not to mention as my heart. To me, Junior Kelly is Lovers Rock, he’s love in general, and a lot of it. He is also a well spoken man with a lot to say and it was a damn pleasure to conduct this interview, a personal #1 in my soft spot.
: Thank you for giving me your time right now. I know you’re in Germany on tour, couldn’t be a busier time to do interviews.
JK: Oh you’re welcome.
ZIF: So can you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing in Germany right now? Are you doing a European tour, promoting the album?
JK: I’m doing a European promotional tour right now for the new album Red Pond. You know we’ve been to Amsterdam, it’s only the first week. Now I’m in Germany, been on the road for a week and half, promoting the album extensively. We’re going to the Eastern Bloc, Prague, ya know, Czech, ya know, Czech Republic.
ZIF: Yeah, I noticed you were going to be in Paris doing a show with Warrior King, middle of the month? Can you tell me a little something about how you liking working with artists when there is that age gap there. Is that something you look forward to? Something you have to cater to?
JK: (laughs) age gap. I love how u said that. age gap. No, shouldn’t be a problem, never a problem. Gap. See it’s music, music has no “age”. And so forth, it’s no problem, but I’m going to be the first to work with him,understand, I give myself more hard time than I would give everybody else. I am my worse critic, I am very critical of myself. You know, I’m one to work and Warrior King is a big tune, so you it’s no ego there, we just work together for the greater good of the music.
ZIF: Definitely. You’re in Europe now, you’re touring. Obviously there is a fundamental difference when performing in Jamaica and the Islands and everywhere else globally. Do you have a favorite region to perform in, and if so what are some observations you can make about the reggae community in Europe versus the reggae community in North America?
JK: Good question. You see it’s like a fingerprint, it’s different. Each one is like a signature, it’s different. I think, no, I have enough evidence so I can say: I know that European audiences are more attentive, they have a longer attention span. And when you’re in a country, a continent, Europe in this case, where it’s diverse, many languages, they are Caucasians, but different culture, almost. And to have these individuals singing your songs, and they don’t really speak English, it’s not their first language.
ZIF: Yeah man, it’s crazy.
JK: It’s wonderful. It’s amazing, it’s almost unbelievable, you know what I mean. It’s like America was colonized by the British, so they speak English, and yet it amazes me that the attention span is little bit less, and there’s an approach to different crowds and different audiences, places in the world. Like Japan, they have more attention span also. And I don’t know if it’s the music I do and I the places that I go like Japan, and Europe and Africa where they’ve been ravaged by so many wars and so many famines and so many hardships. Americans only read about those stuff, not talking about two individuals down south still using out houses without running water, I know that you have pained individuals, that’s where they are stuck in a time warp, and that’s America. But on a grand scale in places like Europe, Japan, Africa been through so much wars, they’re feeding off these lyrics and the content off individuals like myself. The music, it means so much more to them.
I have my audience in America, because I did a survey and surprisingly I have 5% more fans in America than Europe. Can you imagine that? Yes, lots in the Midwest, the west coast, and so forth, lots of east coast places too. I’m trying to dissect why the attention span here is different.Every crowd is different so when I go to a certain place, I strategically tweak my service to accommodate, every artist should.that place.
ZIF: Ok, going off that a little bit, when you do cater, or accommodate or make the adjustments for a specific culture or audience. There is also the dichotomy between an audience and the media. So do those two entities matter to you? Do audience and media matter as far as feedback for your music? Does one matter more, or both?
JK: Good question. I think each aspect you mentioned is an intricate part of the whole chain. Each one of them, each entity, whether it’s the audience, fans or the media. Each plays a critical role, the media influences the decision making process of individuals who cling to the media for advice and direction. That is why we have an obligation to say and do the right thing. You understand, both the artist and the media. Both play a pivotal part in my development. I am a person that thinks outside the box, i listen to my audience, I read my e-mails, and I know where I’m at. when you’re creating, I don’t create with media in my mind, and/or audience, it’s what I’m FEELING, it’s what’s coming from me at that particular moment in time. And hopefully you know the media loves it and the audience love it. And what I do to treat that now, is from the influx of emails, and I know that yeah, I’m on the right track. but that’s on the back-end, but i don’t make my media or audience influence the front end. Because the creative process like that, you don’t want to pigeon hole yourself, or short in a particular direction. Especially for a person or artist with a creative mind. But the two play a pivotal part.
ZIF: Ok, I’m going to go back a little bit, rewind to the origins of Junior Kelly. I know that growing up, I wonder what really drew you to being a DJ? I know your brother DJ Jim Kelly was doing very well before his life was taken. Was that an inspiration for you to take the torch and continue the music in the family?Or do you think this was this bound to happen anyway?
JK: I never choose music, music choose me. You know, I always said from Jump street as a child, that you must have lawyers, doctors, entertainers, preachers. You know, your family must be rounded individuals, not only to be coached in a direction. I never want to do what any of my brothers are doing, because….it can’t happen that way you know. But I was trying to look in different directions, trying to find my calling so to speak.. So after he died in ’83, I was always doing compositions at school and bla bla bla, so it was easy for me to create after that, it wasn’t immediate after. And after I was creating, during, but just for fun. Because like I said, I never wanted to do what any of my brothers are doing. Because I appreciate what they’re doing and I respect that and sometimes you have to be sensitive to your siblings and their needs too. And coming into the business that they’re doing, it’s not like daddy owns the store and everyone must come and be in the store, you know, find your own calling. So I say and I always knew this to be a fact that music choose me, I never choose music. And I started creating creating and start and actually performing within the community by myself. And then people started to acknowledge and started turning heads in the community and saying “listen, listen, this thing is serious you know, you have a sound and I think it’s wonderful, I think you should, continue.” And I still laugh at them, even now when I look back. It’s not like I’m taking this lightly and not what God has blessed me with, of course not, it’s besides the point, it’s amazing where I was and where I’m at now. That whole process is like “woah”, it really worked. Because, not without lightly, because my brother was doing it you know, and then I realize that ‘woah’, I have a journey and my brother got cut off early, and never got to see that I feed off the fruit of his labor. And here I am now living longer than he did, he died at 23, very very very very young, they took my brother from me. And, I regret it to this day, and I’m still mourning, and nobody can stop me from and nobody can advise me to stop. It’s like in a sense God, said, you have to finish your brothers job, and also this is your legacy now.
ZIF: Great. Let’s roll with that for a second. Let’s talk about how Rastafariansim, specifically the mansion of Bobo Shanti. Obviously it’s a massive part of your life and your music, do you specifically consider your music a platform for preaching the Bobo Shanti ways?
JK: Good question. No, no. My beliefs sometimes trickle into my music, I try and keep it to a minimum. I don’t think I should, you know, it’s my private life, although it’s hard for me to separate my private life from my public life. Because as an artist doing music, people gravitate to your music and your words and believe in you. And for you to be contrary living your private life a certain way and not in line or conjunction with your music and the things you say it’s kind of misleading, you know? So I don’t preach Rastafarian way of life or belief in my music as much because the music should have that appeal to everybody. You know, and I don’t think it should be offensive, I think it should be uplifting, I think it should be a symbol for people everywhere. We have poor people in every different race, too much poor people in every different race. I think songs that soothe the souls and put smiles on people’s faces, and sometimes when your pushing a particular thing, sometimes it can be deemed offensive. So i have to…it’s a tight rope balancing act. Every artist have to decide for themselves what they are saying and what they are doing. Because one of the worst things is to preach a particular thing, having people believing in you and what you’re saying, you convince them and then your life is nothing close to what your singing and saying, it’s shameful. So I prefer and I’m practicing just doing WONDERFUL music that everybody can relate to.
ZIF: Great. Speaking of wonderful music. “Love So Nice” is my jam, I believe came out in ’99, I was a little younger doing the random girls thing, that song got me through my breakups. I’m really all about that track, and I’ve noticed following your career that you know you have a lot of these heartbreak tracks. Even on the Red Pond album you have “She’s Gone” and “Too Late” with Ifrica. Just love in general and lack thereof seems to be a major theme in all your songs, where is all this coming from and why is the love aspect such a fundamental part of your mission as an artist?
JK: Oh you’re not only a journalist, you’re a sociologist, OK. Wonderful questions I must say. Umm, everything influences me as a person of music, in the sense, when I say everything influences me, creative-wise you know, I can take what I want from it and throw away the rest. What I think, what I deem as important and what other people should hear and not keep to myself I put in the music so that people can be uplifted and see a bit of themselves from it, and know it’s not the end of the world so to speak. We try our best to not be bogged by pain and heartbreak, and try our best to avoid it, but actually it’s inevitable as a person on the face of the earth you’re going to go thorough a certain degree. Even rich people go through it, hardship and heartbreak knows no boundary or race or particular financial status. For me personally I’ve watched a lot of people go bonkers basically over the things that their lover has done to them. And how I’ve seen the pain actually render them, you know petrifies them, dem can’t move, renders them helpless, won’t eat, won’t go to work, just there, there, you know. Family members, my brother, me, have been happy, free and wonderful, and next thing it’s like “where are we? where is all that? when did it end?” Because when you’re in love, you’re the last one to know when it ends, you’re the last one to accept that. First thing about the process, mainly what causes it, maybe because my life and watching other people and what they’ve been through, the hurt, and turn that into music that can actually help them and help others too. It’s become something that….I’m good at you know, it’s not just heartbreak music you know, it’s many other music within the confines of lovers rock, or lovers music. It seems I can do it so well you know, it does not mean I’ve been through more heartbreak and pain than anybody else. It’s just I know what is going on, and you check any place that joins people in holy matrimony, unfortunately you have more people falling out of wedlock than going into wedlock. That whole institution needs a serious overhaul, because people now have short attention span. It’s not like my mother and fathers time you know, where people are more dedicated to making something work, appreciating each other and being there for each other, and not just money. A lot of people nowadays have this thing twisted that being there for someone means, financially, that’s just secondary, being there for someone is like, remembering a conversation and don’t to fall asleep in a conversation when your lady is talking with you [laughter], and the feeling and the vibe is mutual so she’s attentive and just there, it’s the little things that are so important. Nowadays it’s not the same, and it’s really regrettable and sad, and I sing about that, let them know, smell the coffee, before you know it you’ll be too old to try and find love, so make it work. People need to understand that love is healthy thing, and being out of love or pain from love is a health hazard. You know, so for that reason, when I sing about “Too late” and “She’s Gone”, now I’m getting to the point, it’s basically not to patronize somebody’s side when they’re going through pain, it’s for you to see what you have and try and to fix it before you reach a point where you’re saying goodbye and she’s saying goodbye. So it’s actually working in the sense that you listen to the song, you’re in love and you’re going through problems, and “shit, I don’t want it to be a situation where it’s too late, so let’s fix this”, you know. And also to let people who had something good and lost it, lost it, to know that the next time around I’m going to go all out to make this work. So basically, that’s two main reasons why I do songs like that.
ZIF: I feel you. I’m going to move on to a little more serious of a subject. You have a track on your album “Smile” called “Do Dem Something” urging politicians to step it up. Is there a political side to Junior Kelly that maybe we don’t see that often as opposed to other artists out there coming out of Jamaica. And if you do have opinions about politics and Jamaica specifically, is there anything you can shed quickly on what’s going on there now. I know a lot of people know about Jamaica but I know that the political environment is pretty unknown outside of the Island.
JK: It’s a tinder box right now, it’s a powder keg. You know, for lack of a better word. I have no particular political affiliation, my affiliation is with the people feeling the pain from. Political mismanagement and basically political two faces and I say two faces, you promising and you lying to the people and so forth. So my obligation is giving the people a platform, a voice, “oh, that’s what I wanted to say to these individuals, yes Kelly thank you for those words”. So it’s being a mediator, a go between, the people and the powers that be, the lobbyists, the regime, the policy makers, the politicians, you know because music is very very powerful, it’s a wonderful medium, and it must not be abused of course like freedom of speech and individuals know that they’re free to express because they live in that society and can do it constitutionally because that there are laws there and provided, you must not abuse that because you know you can, you understand? We’re obligated I think as artists, I know personally that we’re obligated, I sing roots music, and music that uplifts and bless, every know and then I might read the paper and stumble across something that’s [sigh] so terrible, you know I’ll create a song like “Do Dem Something” it doesn’t necessarily mean go out there and burn and pillage and loot and so forth, it’s using your brain to make it work, like “how can i do dem something?” In the sense that it doesn’t have to be physical, we can demonstrate we can petition and people singing them, we have 100,000 names and these are votes,these are people who are going to vote you out if you don’t act right and do what you’re supposed to do. So when I say “Do Dem Something” it’s in that sense.
ZIF: Right. Going with that for a second, I read an interview somewhere, I forget what the question was, essentially you said something to the effect that “tyrants should be dealt with, that’s a responsibility of people, even if that takes revolution.” And I have this question for you: are we heading towards revolution considering how much global corruption and tyranny there is out there? Or are we still capable of dealing with this socially and politically?
JK: Socially we are at our wits end, people are at their wits end. Almost to the point where all other aspects, medium of getting these peoples attention, is dwindling, it’s no more there. So the next process is calling in sick, walking out of our jobs, really crippling the country, which is a bad thing, I don’t want that, for us to get their attention of the powers that be, that’s what it is. Violence must be a last resort, a way last resort, I hate violence, I hate bloodshed so much. It takes revolution, but revolution is last resort. But if things ain’t fixed, like global corruption and so forth, because people are really so disenfranchised and so disillusioned, and when people are disillusioned it triggers people, they’re snapping, they’re snapping like twigs.
ZIF: OK, I’ve taken a lot of your time, one last question. You’re finishing this mini tour in Europe, what are your future plans? Are we going to see you in California anytime soon, any festival circuit.
JK: Yeah, well in the summer, we’re planning a U.S. tour. So look out for information on the respective mediums for the different tours and different locations.