Interview with Aba Shanti-I
Aba Shanti-I (born Joseph Smith) is a sound system operator and dub producer from the UK. Aba and his sound system have been playing through UK and Europe for over 30 years. He has been a resident sound system at Notting Hill Carnival since 1993 and was voted the No. 1 DJ in the World by DJ Magazine in the same year.
Aba was introduced to Roots and Culture through his father Allan’s sound system at a very early age. He went on to become MC for ‘Jah Tubbys Sound’ travelling up and down the country chatting his conscious lyrics over heavy dubplate mixes. With the coming of Ragga-Muffin in the 80’s, Roots sound systems were forced to take a back seat and only a few remained loyal. Fortunately, Aba never lost his vibes or his belief in ‘The Father’ and after taking over the running of Tubby’s sound, he made his debut at the Leicester Carnival in 1990 playing his own brand of dub plates. While deejaying for the Jah Tubby’s sound system, Aba Shanti-I was known as Jasmine Joe. Since then, Aba Shanti-I and his sound system play regularly in the UK, with residencies at the Notting Hill Carnival since 1993, Leicester Carnival and the University of Dub. The sound system has also played in Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain.Aba Shanti-I has produced and recorded with his brother and the band the Shanti-Ites, releasing records on their own Falasha imprint. Their first record, Tear Down Babylon was released in 1993.Aba Shanti-I currently has a studio on Morning Lane, Hackney.Aba Shanti-I sound system plays music in the roots reggae and dub style. He cites, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Junior Delgado, Yabby You and Prince Lincoln as inspiration. The original tracks are usually supplemented by reverb, delays and effects to generate his distinctive sound. Since then he has gone on to be one of the most prominent soundmen in the world of Dub music.
THIS MUCH I KNOW: Aba Shanti-I
By Leicester Mercury | Posted: July 27, 2013
I was born Joseph Smith, in Hackney, London, and have lived here all my life. My parents were from Antigua and came to England in 1960. It was my dad who introduced me to roots and culture, he was well into Caribbean music.
Back in the early days, was almost unheard of to get a community hall to put on an event, but Dad sorted that. Where we lived, the black community huddled together and had parties, blues parties, they called them.
I’d help set up the sound system and then get sent home. It wasn’t like today, where young people get in where they shouldn’t. This was strictly for adults and there was no getting away with it in a community where everyone knew each other.
My dad provided the music. It was everything from reggae and soul to Motown, calypso with a bit of rock’n’roll. He was my influence. At school I embraced people around me whose dads had sound systems, too. We used to split our dinner money and buy records and speakers. Our sound system was today’s X-Box, except once you’d built it, you didn’t want to keep it to yourself. You’d exhibit it, stack up a following, be as hardcore as possible and get everyone to hear you.
I was about 11 years old sound systems were a natural thing for me, but some people I encountered hadn’t experienced this world. I guess I was influencing people from an early age. When I was in my late teens I got involved with Jah Tubby’s sound system and travelled up and down the country deejaying.
The third dance we came to was in Leicester, at Highfields Community Centre. I called myself Jasmine Joe – Jasmine was our sound system. I was hardcore. My motto was be happy, it was all jokes and fun and hype back in the day. The battles were so heavy, the way we bullied each other with dub. Man, Tubbys was one of the heaviest sounds about. That’s where the next part of my journey began,dub plates, mastering CDs and learning loads.
When Tubbys started drawing to a close, we started hiring our sound out to visiting Jamaicans, like Black Scorpio, Kilamanjaro and Stone Love. We had one of the best rigs in the world, it enhanced what they were doing. I’d spent my life collecting music and building the system up, I wanted to take that sound and play it – and it was mine to take control of.
That’s how Aba Shati-I became. always had that name in mind, right from being a child. It stands for His Imperial Majesty – the power, the trinity. It’s a very strong name. If we were going to be doing something conscious and spiritual – that meant something, that said what we were about as rastafarians – then this was the name. Yeah, we’re about peace and love, to every nation, all inclusive, integration, not segregation.
So in 1990, we hired a generator, set up on Victoria Park – uninvited – and played our sounds for 13 hours. Leicester Carnival finished at 8pm. People switched on their car headlamps and we went on until 2am. The only reason we stopped was because the generator ran out of diesel.
Leicester Carnival has become our annual pilgrimage. It means so much to me. Leicester is such a multicultural city and the rasta thing, it brings all nations and religions together on that one special day. I see people who I haven’t seen for years, those who first came as babies in the pushchair. That’s why we continue to do it. To me, it’s like saying a massive thank you to Leicester and its people who’ve supported Aba Shanti over the years, embraced us and adopted us as their own.
It’s the same at Notting Hill. It’s two free days of music in the streets and people travel the globe to come and share in that. It’s massively humbling for me, someone who is naturally very humble anyway.
We must be one of the only systems in the world who have dual citizenship, in Leicester and London – we represent both. I’ve been coming to Leicester for 38 years, man. I’ve played The Dome pub, in the city centre, Spectrum, De Montfort Hall, The Music Cafe, The Magazine, The Charlotte and a load of rooms you could barely fit two speakers in.
First and foremost, Aba Shanti-I is about making people understand where we’re coming from as rastas and what we’ve got to offer the world.
Music influences people to do things, not necessarily the correct things. We’re not promoting violence, negativity or homophobia. People have a negative opinion and we want to dispel that myth. We don’t discriminate. We know what it’s like to be ridiculed and frowned upon.
Bob Marley, when he came out, everyone used to talk. He was the first physical image to realise what a rasta was all about. It made people understand there was nothing to fear.
Not every rasta smokes marijuana. I did, but I don’t no more. It’s a very wrong perception that we all listen to reggae and smoke weed. But people have perceptions about a conglomerate and there will always be bad apples.
I’m not judgemental. I’ve been to the Wailing Wall, I’ve looked at books, yeah, I’m not one to jump and say it’s all rubbish, but wisdom can be found in the most unexpected of places.
The roots circuit, it’s a massive scene internationally. Only last week we were at festivals in France and Belgium and 6,000 people came to see us. To me, it’s like going back to the council estates of the ’70s and ’80s, where five or six sound systems battled it out.
A lot of young people inspired by that, they want to learn and it’s all positive – these young people are our future, we need to encourage them. That’s why we got involved with the Red Bull Music Academy. People ask questions in our lectures, we never thought we’d be asked. We’ve always been a self-funded thing, but I’m grateful to Keith at Jah Tubbys for working with me for so many years. And Leicester – we used to play The Dome every fortnight.
We draw inspiration our liberty. Aba Shanti-I has grown beyond itself, into a movement. We’re old school. We want to keep Aba Shanti-I as a soundsystem, we don’t want it looking like a PA.
There were so many people music in the ’70s and ’80s. ’s like a big puzzle, not one face dominates, every artist fitting together perfectly.
I play all sorts, including brother Blood Shanti’s music, but my role as a sound system is to promote artists and other people’s music. People come to me with the latest vibes. You would never have heard it on the radio. It’s our unofficial radio station.
One tune I drop religiously is Get Up Child. It’s a universal song that encapsulates the whole of humanity. The mentality that this is mine and I’m not going to share it… yeah, man, the world belongs toand if we don’t look after it, things happen like floods and famine.
I am happy. I don’t like sadness; I know it’s a part of life, not every day is good, there will be down days. We just like to hope that people who come into our dances learn and leave with the essence of tranquility.
Info: Aba Shanti-I will be bringing his sound system to Leicester Carnival, in Victoria Park, on August 3 and playing a DJ set during the afterparty at The Music Cafe, in Braunstone Gate.
By Dj Stryda on Monday, June 30, 2008
Dj Stryda from UK crew Dubkasm hosts a weekly radio show in Bristol. In the late nineties, he met Aba Shanti, one of the leading players of UK reggae and dub scene, focused on spreading love, peace and unity in his dances. Special thanks to Dj Stryda.
You can listen to his weekly radio show on www.passionradiobristol.com.
Stryda: Ok right now I’m welcoming the bredrin Aba Shanti I onto the ‘Sufferah’s Choice Showcase’, would you like to just say greetings to the people.
Aba: Yes, greetings and love to one and all in the name of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I The First, JAH RASTAFARI !
Stryda: Ok Aba, can you just tell us some of your early experiences of being around the roots scene here in the UK and of your involvement with Jah Tubbys sound system?
Aba: Well for years, as a youth, going to sessions and checking out the vibes and stuff like that I always knew it was the format that I would like to base my sound on, spreading good messages, playing nice riddim tracks, and seeing the good response from people.With Tubbys that was part of my early days, yeah the vibes was really vibrant with what Tubbys was doing at that time. It was like a mixture of styles that he used to play and when he used to play the rootical stuff and I was on the mic and you’d see everybody shocking out to it and ting-yeah them days with Tubbys was good. Educational because I got to see different parts of England where he used to play in the countryside most of the time.A lot of people wondered what happened to Tubbys at one stage in London and thought that he packed up and didn’t bother with his sound any more, but I went to one dance after five years of not hearing him and he was playing a tune and I went on the mic for him and it just kicked off from there. So I became his main mic man and yeah the vibes was good with Tubbys.
Stryda: So what sort of era was that then, what sort of time are we talking of?
Aba: You’re talking between 1986-1989 after that he kinda slowed down with the playing out and stuff like that because of his business priorities. So yeah it was up until that point.
Stryda: After being a part of Jah Tubbys for the time you’ve just spoken of you went on to form your own sound system called Aba Shanti I which you’re known for today, what made you decide to take that step?
Aba: Well I found personally finding a good roots dance was very hard.The main players like Shaka was ok. But other than Shaka there wasn’t really much of a scene.You had up and coming sounds like Manasseh and Jah Warrior that was playing at the sessions and I was thinking yeah we could do with some more players cos I’m sure there’s a lot more of us out there that’s got something to say and to take the music into the 90’s and into the year 2000. So that was my main motivation in getting Aba Shanti established because I found that the majority of the sounds at that time there really weren’t giving thanks and that’s how I know the scene, when you go out man Rastafari vibes-come to give thanks. It’s not just a going out night’s worth of entertainment you really went out there to be uplifted and to get a message, so that’s what really pushed me into what I’m doing now.
Stryda: …and is the sound forever being built or has it reached the stage where that’s it now I’ve built the sound?
Aba: Well in this modern time of technology things change, obviously technology wise we like to move with the times with amplification and speakers and stuff like that. So right now anything to make the voice of Rastafari bigger, clearer, and better we will pursue that.
Stryda: By any means necessary really.
Aba: ha ha…so to say.
Stryda: Having been involved in sound system for a long time you must have experienced changes within the crowds attending the sessions from the early days of when you were just attending sessions yourself up until now running your own sound and experiencing the different crowds coming to the dance. Can you highlight some of the changes you’ve experienced over the years?
Aba: Well the most predominant change you can see is a change of nations coming into the dances. In the seventies and eighties it was predominantly black people that would go to these sort of gatherings still. But now the message is bigger, the message is open to a wider audience cos people of all backgrounds are listening to roots music now. To me it’s for the betterment of the whole argument that we’re putting forward as Rastafarians. Yeah the change is a positive change still so you find that who wants to hear the message will come who don’t wanna hear the message won’t come… so it’s not a case of you’re pointing it to one set of people and they don’t wanna come and other people come along…. It’s open to all people that are conscious and are seeking truth and right in this time so yeah it’s good.
Stryda: And all who accept it, accept it really and truly.
Aba: Yeah well it’s only an ignorant person that tries to affect something positive and something that’s for the betterment of the people. Some people think that they alone can control the whole movement and what’s going on but bwoy, Jah moves in mysterious ways.
Stryda: True. And years ago roots sound system used to be the top method of promoting new music do you feel the roots sound’s role is as vital now as it was back then?
Aba: Yeah well it’s not even just roots sounds, it’s sound systems as a whole on all scales…99% of the tunes that you hear that really make it were played on a sound system first, that is the first contact that the music has with any people and that is the first time you can see the actual reaction of the tune you’ve created so yeah it is paramount.
Stryda: As much now as it was…
Aba: Oh yeah, it always gonna be paramount. As long as people are producing music they want to know that there music’s being played on the best sound system at the time so bwoy, they can get maximum promotion on it.
Stryda: Not only have you been involved in the sound system side of roots music but you’ve also got your own record label with numerous roots releases on it, can you tell us what inspired you to go into music production?
Aba: Well as you know we’ve got our own studio and playing a lot of the material on the sound and it’s seeing the impact and the response that we get when we play certain tunes. So we see it as our contribution to the on going story so when people look back into the past and they come to the 90’s they can pick up an Aba Shanti record and hear what the reflection was at the time, how we was dealing with certain pressures. Happy tunes, sad tunes, all part of the story, so it’s like a book and that will be the chapter of those times-so that really inspired us. Plus we do a lot of work here (studio), a lot of singing, it would be unwise to build all this music and keep it for yourself if you don’t let it out. Some people need this, to them the music’s like a tonic man, sometimes when they’re down and depressed they might put that track on and it picks them up.
Stryda: Serious yeah. And using the tool of your record label and your sound system, what’s the main message that you’re trying to deliver to the people?
Aba: The main message is that Rastafari lives. Love, unity, oneness, no discrimination, we’re all in the same boat y’know, we all got to give thanks and praise. As I said to you earlier before we started recording, we all have to teach each other about each other, it’s a one concept. At the end of the day a white man could be on the floor dying, as a man you stop and you help. We just got to live amongst each other and know say that bwoy …we’re all suffering the same tribulations, if we wasn’t we all wouldn’t be congregated in that one place at that one given time. Yeah, it’s got be love.
Stryda: I believe it’s true that you don’t play yard music on the sound; for example artists like Sizzla on Exterminator rhythm tracks. Why is this that you leave that style of Reggae out?
Aba: I don’t particularly leave that style of reggae out, if there’s certain tracks that I like and it fits in with the programme which we’ve created over the years then yeah there’s a time and place for all sorts of music. There’s a time and place for old music, there’s a time and place for current music, but there’s also a time and place for OUR music. So in playing bits and pieces as far as I’m concerned I’m representing what is coming from here and I’m the voice from here, so I want people to hear artist and vibrations from here mainly and to let them know that bwoy… yeah we can build music y’know there is a vibe in our music.If we keep playing all the yard stuff then our stuff don’t get through…It’s not no fight against the yard man still because nuff of the material I hear that I like I’ll play, and there’s other stuff that I hear and it don’t really fit in with what I’m doing….But the main emphasis is getting our message across and letting people accept our music…
Stryda: Localising it in a way…
Aba: Yeah localising it y’know, the man next door that no one don’t really know he’s got a wicked voice he’s got a wicked vibe, you hear him and you think he’s somebody else until we bring him forward and show you who he is and yeah he’s the man next door y’know. And you can say, yeah man we’ve got the confidence man, we’ve got the artists, we’ve got the players of instruments. It’s a universal ting.
Stryda: It’s been said that there’s conflict between you and Jah Shaka, is there any truth in this or has it been fabricated by others?
Aba: I would say it’s been fabricated by others.
Stryda: It’s been fabricated by others?
Aba: It’s been fabricated by others.
Aba: Shaka does his work, I do my work.
Stryda: And it’s as simple as that really and truly?
Aba: It’s just as simple as that bredrin.
Stryda: And what do you feel about the many people who are into roots music who often attend sessions but are not behaving in a manner which is not respectable to Rasta? For example getting really drunk, staggering around the dancehall and all the vibes that we’re used to used to seeing in a roots dance sadly nowadays. What do you feel about all that going on whilst you’re trying to deliver your serious message to the people?
Aba: Yeah obviously to the people that’s come for the upliftment it’s a sad distraction cos they don’t really affiliate with the music and the vibrations that’s being put across with someone being drunk really. You can’t stop a man from drinking but I suppose if he’s getting out of order all you can do is get the management to come and remove that person.But I don’t let that person’s actions distract me from the message that I got to deliver …cos bwoy the moment I let him take my attention away t….hen bwoy I’m taking everyone else’s attention away also.
Stryda: So you stay focused.
Aba: Yeah I stay focused.
Stryda: It’s just to me highlights how often the vibe is being mistaken. You’re not putting that vibe across and yet people are interpreting say for example that One Love vibe that we know to be Jah Love they’re interpreting to a One Love that we’re not dealing with really and truly. So what do you feel could be done to actually show these people what we’re dealing with to bring them round so to speak?
Aba: Well I find that’s usually just a minority, that’s usually just an individual, that’s not on a collective basis where the whole hall’s in that sort of state….. some people come out of curiosity, some people accept it and some people can’t take what they see…. I’d say that’s just down to the individual really, it doesn’t help, we don’t really support that kind of behaviour still y’know.
Stryda: Do you think roots music has helped or hindered the focus of the Rastafari livity?
Aba: I think it’s helped, well I don’t think I know it’s helped. It’s the foundation music, the music that we’ve been singing about all the time through good, bad, happy, and sad so it’s nice to see that even the conscious lyrics are getting more airplay now, it’s less of the negativity and more positive things.It’s taken it on a wider scale, it’s taken it to nations that only probably knew of Bob Marley so now they’re getting to know that Rastafari is calling from all corners of the earth y’know-so positive, very positive. It gives a man like you the opportunity to even speak of these things.
Stryda: …To do what I’m doing yeah. And there is differences between the various mansions of Rastafari and obviously it’s unity we’re aiming for. How do you feel unity can be achieved in this time?
Aba: Just through the love of Jah. Each man’s an individual still, man and man has there faults, no man is perfect. But you would think and you would hope that when it comes to the concept of Rastafari that there’s got to be One Aim, One Love, One Destiny in that department.
Stryda: It’s just when that one aim is being interpreted differently from different sides so to speak it can get confusing.
Aba: True. But you have to seek, in the seeking even when you’re hearing you’ll be able to pick the sense from the nonsense still. So the seeking is a very, very vital part. …Cos when you get certain questions asked of you, you have to have that ability to sit there and think before you answer and not just answer off the top of your head. So yeah it’s very vital.
Stryda: And how important do you feel the continuation of the Ethiopian monarchy is?
Aba: Bwoy it’s the original ting man. The whole mechanism of the earth is based on the foundings of the Ethiopian foundation so they can’t really irradicate that, if they irradicate that they irradicate themselves.
Stryda: Being involved in the music scene there must arise opportunities to branch off into other areas of music. What keeps you focused strictly with roots music?
Aba: Strictly, strictly … that’s His Majesty’s music, that’s His Majesty’s voice we are coming with. We don’t wanna confuse anybody to think we’re talking this but we’re doing that. Right now we choose to stay on the righteous conscious path that we pursue at this time……you can diversify off and do different music and stuff like that but it don’t really inspire me yu know, I get the glory from this so I don’t see why we should really even water down our message that we’re putting across cos if we water down the message then …it’s not Aba Shanti, it’s not what Aba Shanti’s about…..So the foundation of it has to stay in that positive movement so even when a one looks on it and does a research on it and sees the direction that we’re coming from, when we say Rastafari they can relate to the music and the vibration that we come with.
Stryda: You’ve lived life for a number of years now standing as a Rastaman. How do you stay focused on the livity of His Majesty whilst being surrounded by the many temptations of Babylon?
Aba: it’s just the love of H.I.M. And to know that there’s a lot of others out there that are a lot worse off than what I am that has chosen to walk the other path and I’ve seen what it has done to them. In this time I haven’t got any time to waste doing negative things like that, and it just keeps the work going on, and on, and on, it just strengthens the work-every time we do something, or we play, or we make a tune it just makes it stronger, and stronger, and stronger. So the livity and the way of life-it’s hard, don’t get me wrong it is hard but through the faith and the love of the Father star-that keeps me going.
Stryda: …Just through H.I.M. really and truly. You’ve said over the mic on the sound that this thing is for all nations. For people drawn towards Rastafari there can often be a confusion in the doctrines put across by Rasta elders and Rasta organisations. Just to give an example; a white person seeking for Jah might reason with a black elder and be told that Rasta is for all people in creation.Then the same brother might reason with another black Rasta elder and be told that Rasta is just for black people. What advise can you give to all nations of people seeking for Rastafari to encourage them in their search?
Aba: I’d tell them seek ye the kingdom of the most high. No man on this earth has the power to withhold the truth from you, every man is entitled to the truth……you’ll have people with controversial views and so forth, me, I’m living in this time, I was born in England and I was brought up among different nations. The feelings that some man have towards different nations I don’t really feel, being brought up in a multi racial society. I’ve got black friends, I’ve got white friends, I’ve got Indian friends and I deal with a man’s heart. From his heart is moving positively towards what we’re both trying to achieve then there isn’t a problem……So no man don’t hold the power to withhold the truth so I would say ……just seek it same way bredrin.
Stryda: What do you feel the future for roots music is, plus what do you feel Rasta people should be striving for in this time?
Aba: Right, with the music issue I would say that it’s going to a bigger audience now. Where only certain countries were getting reggae music it’s gone real international now. Very positive because you’ll hear influences coming from Jamaica, England, and Europe so yeah man good inspiration for the music. With Rasta now I would say ….we all gotta strive to live up right inna dis ya time. We all have our differences and ting but …. if we’re all dealing with Selassie I concept then we have to come together as a force and mek Babylon see that we is not no joke, mek them know say we’re here and we’re here to stay star-as long as the work has got to be carried out.
Strdya: Ok Aba I’d just like to say give thanks for agreeing to do the interview with me and put some word sound out to the Bristol people. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and reason with you, Jah guide in all you do from now. Just before we bring the interview to a close is there any last thought you’d like to leave with the people to reflect on?
Aba: I would just love to say to each and everybody; live good, live positive, treat a man like you would like to be treated yourself. Honour, Respect, Love, Life, Rastafari.