Interview with U-Roy
U Roy – DJ Originator (1942-2021)
Feb 18, 2021
Career: Deejay / Sound System owner
Really sad news came out of Jamaica. Ewart Beckford, known to reggae fans worldwide as the deejay U Roy, who was also known as The Originator, has passed away at the age of 78. Affectionately called Daddy U Roy, he was the teacher for all deejays, the most influential toaster to emerge on the Jamaican scene, the first deejay to take the ghetto uptown by putting down on vinyl the lyrics he would chat in the dance. Even though it was known that he wasn’t well for quite a while, it’s still a great shock to hear the news of the veteran deejay’s passing. To salute this reggae icon we here feature a part about the legendary deejay that is included in Beth Lesser’s 2012 book ‘Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall’. Rest in power, you will never be forgotten!
U ROY – DJ ORIGINATOR (21 September 1942 – 17 February 2021)
Legendary toaster U Roy used to listen to Count Machuki. “I used to love to hear that man talk because when him talk it’s like you wan’ hear him say something again. So, I always try to be in time, the way he was in time with the rhythm. Cause there’s a little art to it. You have to listen and be in time with the rhythm. Them things me learn from dem man there.”
Yet, even with so many deejays performing regularly in the dance, Jamaicans didn’t take deejays very seriously as artists. “People didn’t really recognize the deejay stuff until U Roy took over,” explained Dennis Alcapone to writer Carl Gayle. “King Stitt did a good thing with things like [hit 45] Fire Corner, but it didn’t really get off until U Roy came along. I came on the scene about three months after U Roy. Then Lizzie came – he used to play Jammy’s Hi-Fi. And then you had Scotty… [but] I rate U Roy, up to now, as the greatest, Yeah! I used to go and listen to him and I admired the sounds he put out. He used to play King Tubby’s sound system. That was, and is, the best. It had everything a system should have. When you sat down and listened to that man [U Roy] playing that sound system, it really blew your mind.”
“King Stitt made it interesting. We hear King Stitt and we were like, ‘WOW! This guy’s talking!’ And then we hear about U Roy and [his 45], ‘Wear You To the Ball’. U Roy came and mashed the place up!” – Singer Madoo
During the ’60s, a small but increasing selection of deejay records was released. “You had deejays that actually recorded in the Ska era, you know. Lord Comic, ‘Ska-ing West’ – ‘Adam and Eve went up my sleeve…’ And then Machuki,” Producer Bunny Lee explains. “But those deejay didn’t follow it up. Machuki do a nice tune for Clive [Chin]. But when U-Roy come on the Duke Reid rhythms and say, ‘Wake the Town’, it take off everything else.”
U Roy, who teamed up with producer Duke Reid, shot off like a rocket. U Roy, himself, was stunned by the songs’ success. “Not long after the two tune recorded in the studio, me hear them a play pon the radio station. When I hear the two tunes playing pon the radio, I just tell myself, seh, ‘Oooooo, a just two little stupid tunes whe’ them a play pon the radio, just like how so much tunes just a play pon the radio and don’t get nowhere. That is the first thing I tell myself.” But, the tunes didn’t disappear. They just got bigger. “I hear them everyday! Them things was a big surprise and that was the starting of something good for me”
‘Wake the Town’ went straight to number one on both radio stations. And so did U Roy’s next two 45s, ‘Rule the Nation’ and ‘Wear You to the Ball’. “To my surprise, those two songs become number one and number two,” U Roy recalls. “It was like a blessing to me. A deejay never do that. And a couple of weeks after, I had the one, two, three on the radio station. ‘Wear You to the Ball’ stay pon the chart for 12 weeks in the number one position.”
The fact that U Roy was talking over the versions of the most popular records of the day made all the difference. It was the U Roy/John Holt combination that made the records work so well. As Singer Madoo explained, “The reason that U Roy got so popular is because John Holt was already an international star. If U Roy didn’t join with somebody who was already making hits, it would never have happened.”
The U Roy releases with Treasure Isle were revolutionary. Each 45 featured something old and something new. The John Holt songs were already well known throughout the island, but the toasting was new. The combination of something familiar and something different caught fire, paving the way for the deejay revolution. Dennis Alcapone remembers, “It took the place of the vocals that was going on at the time, because U Roy actually took over the charts. He had one, two, three [songs on the top ten]. Deejay records took center stage at the time.”
1986 U Roy at home (Photo: Beth Lesser)
After U Roy’s success, everyone wanted to be a deejay. And every producer thought he could get a hit by putting a deejay over his old vocal tracks. And a whole generation of young men had a new hero to emulate. U Roy also deserves credit for his style of deejaying, which was very different from what was going on earlier in the dance. Deejay Dennis Alcapone recalls, “U Roy actually did change the whole thing. Because U Roy made up his thing like it was a complete song, like a singer. Lyrics were going straight through the rhythm and he actually made up a song that people could sing along to. [Before that, the deejay was] in and out, in and out. No one wasn’t filling out the whole rhythm with lyrics. It was regular dancehall jive, in those days. Then U Roy came and filled the rhythm out with lyrics, and that was something new.”
The deejays who were toasting over instrumentals left a lot of space for the music to flow in between the words. U Roy recalls, “That’s how it used to be when you at a dance and talk on a sound. You generally never used to crowd the music. Just say a couple of words and the people long fe hear you again. [When] you say a couple of words, it reach the people outside deh a street and, yea, your dance get cork up with people of all descriptions.”
That was the way it always had been. But when U Roy began making hits, he set a new standard. Earlier deejays used to start with a spoken introduction and then add a few carefully placed interjections to accentuate the beat. King Stitt’s song, “Van Cliff”, consists of Stitt intoning, after the introduction: “Die! Meet me at the big gun down. I am Van Cliff, Die, Die Die! I am Van Cliff. Die!” That’s it. And it was great for instrumentals, especially in the upbeat Ska age. But when Rock Steady took over, it was a different story. While mixing, the engineer left strands of the vocal in the version. This gave the deejays a jumping off point, something on which to base his lyrics. For example, in the song ‘Merry Go Round’, the engineer leaves the opening where John Holt sings, “Where must I go, if there is nowhere that I know.” As the vocal drops out, U Roy comes in with, “That is a musical question and it needs a musical answer. Where do I go from here? Got no place to go. Got to stay right here and work my musical show.”
Ironically, at the time, U Roy didn’t fully believe that deejays could make legitimate recordings. When he was working with King Tubby’s set in the late ’60s, U Roy wasn’t thinking of recording retail selling 45s. He was making dubplates for King Tubby’s exclusive use on the sound. “When I used to play with Tubby’s sound, Tubby used to have a dubbing [dub cutting] machine. So, if he want a special tune to make for his sounds, he could just make it. So, that was the only thing that ever got me to record at that time, doing certain tune for the sound.” Tubby’s recorded some excusive discs for his sound system with U Roy toasting over some of the rhythm tracks Tubby had mixed in his studio. Rock Steady producer, Duke Reid, heard them playing and was fascinated. “Duke Reid… heard the music and he said, ‘I would love to see this man’. So, I went to the studio with him and made some arrangements. So, I start recording for him and the first tunes I do was Wake the Town and Tell the People and This Station Rule the Nation.”
Duke Reid knew exactly what he was doing. He had a sixth sense for knowing which songs would go straight to the top. According to U Roy, “Duke is a man whe’, when him hear a hit, him know it- that it’s a hit. At first, him know it. The man used to have a gun and when him have a hit, whenever it’s a hit, the man bust up pure shot in the room.” The U Roy recordings were never meant to remain dubplates for a sound. When he made those first recordings with U Roy, he was aiming for the commercial market. U Roy recalled, “This is a record fe go out there for sales, and it’s a different thing from when you deh a dance. He [Duke Reid] definitely do them for sale purpose. No question about that. This go there to the public for sales, it haf fe more professional.”
Once U Roy hit the charts, deejays were freed from their live status and joined singers as regularly recording artists. A deejay on vinyl was no longer just a dubplate thing. Not only did U Roy’s popularity launch a continuing barrage of deejay recordings, it struck the first rock from the wall diving uptown and downtown Jamaica. People from all over the island bought the new releases, not just the folks in the ghetto who went to dancehall sessions. “There is a lot of people from up Beverly Hills, Red Hills, (from) all about, that buy a lot of my tune”, U Roy commented. The popularity of the songs bridged a great social divide and also created a market for downtown music uptown and all over. It also made U Roy the musical granddaddy to generations of youth that followed.
U Roy was well loved by Jamaicans. Former pupil, deejay Josie Wales used to look up to him, “U Roy used to be a pace setter like that and we used to admire him, as youth, and want to be like him.” With his gentle manner and warm humor, he inspired confidence in people. U Brown, the heir to U Roy’s vocal styling, followed the teacher closely in those early days. “On any given day, I wake up and I’m walking around Towerhill, when I see U Roy ride past on his motor cycle or on his brother-in-law peddle bike, It was like a joy to see him. It was like my musical god [is] there. I speak honestly. And I never get a chance to express these things to U Roy. He don’t have to put out a lot, like some people have to come and do a lot of physical things to make themselves recognized. U Roy just a humble person. But once you and him click, from there, the rest is just joy. I respect him a lot to be honest. I adore U Roy so much because the inspiration I get from U Roy, it makes me be who I am today, music-wise. Even clothes, I used to love how he dressed.”
Wearing his tall beaver hat with his red, gold and green robes, U Roy always looked the part of the star deejay. To U Roy, looking ‘trash’ was a professional requirement. “We learn to buy good things – it’s nothing about no show off thing, but you ina the music, music is a ting whe, is different from when you come out of a yam field. You cyaan go up on stage and look like you a come out of your yam field. If me sit down pon me corner then, those are the clothes me sit down pon the corner in, not the clothes me come pon the stage, you know?”
Spending over 40 years in music, U Roy saw the whole scene take shape, climbing the ladder from selector to deejay to sound owner. “If me didn’t enjoy it me woulda never, never do it. Until this day it’s my trade.” He influenced so many people and set the stage for what was to follow musically, a 50 year reign of dancehall music from Jamaica spreading throughout the world.
By Angus Taylor on Thursday, December 20, 2012
“When I started the only “rappers” I heard were people who got a job in a store wrapping gifts!”
The unwavering respect afforded to the veteran toaster Ewart Beckford AKA U-Roy is a testimony to his achievements in a music where you’re only as good as your last tune. U-Roy is “the teacher”; “the originator”; the man from Jonestown who took talking over records from side show to main attraction – setting the wheels of steel in motion for the deejay-dominated Jamaican scene of today.
He had come up chanting on sounds like Dr Dickies Dynamic and Sir George Atomic in the 60s. He even deejayed for Coxsone Dodd‘s rig for a time but the impresario either didn’t see the great man’s talent or the potential of his trade. His recording debut came in 1969 for a producer who himself pushed the boundaries of traditional singing, Keith Hudson. It was via King Tubbys Home Town Hi Fi sound however, that his fame spread to Dodd’s rival Duke Reid – creating a trio of deejay classics on rocksteady rhythms that in 1970 claimed the top three positions in the now reggae dominated charts.
As the success of his jovial jive and flow gave rise to a cavalcade of followers and imitators – U-Roy pressed on with a roll call of producers including Alvin GG Ranglin, Niney The Observer, Glen Brown and Bunny Lee. In 1975 he signed with Virgin Records and released a series of Prince Tony produced albums that brought him to the attention of punks, rockers, and the international market. As reggae music has morphed and mutated over the decades, the love for U-Roy has endured – and he has continued to tour and entertain audiences around the world. In October 2012 he dropped his first album in six years ‘Pray Fi Di People’ – featuring his most diverse range of collaborators. Angus Taylor spoke to him on the road in France – and found a man who, while ever humble about his credentials, still has a few topics where he feels the need to set things straight.
Why did you decide it was time to Pray Fi Di People around the world?
(laughs) Because there is so much war and problems in this world today. I think we all need some blessings and some more love instead of war because war takes away people’s lives. Seeing war in Iraq and war in Afghanistan and war in Cambodia – it’s people just killing people. It’s like, hey, why not just think and deal with something better? If you love someone you don’t plan to hurt them – you know what I’m saying? But it’s not a matter of saying “Hey, the people must hear what I say and they must do what I say”. They don’t have to listen to what they say.
The album is credited as produced by yourself but the engineer on all the tracks is Gaylord Bravo – who mixes live with you on tour.
Bravo to me is like my son. I must tell you this. He is very, very protective of me. He takes the best care of me – especially on the road. I can trust him with anything. I can say anything that is private to him and it will be like that until the day he dies. So I take Bravo to be one of my best friends and a very good engineer at the same time. Because there are not many engineers in Jamaica right now that can record a band in the studio. Bravo is one of those people that can do anything in the studio. I am a Rasta and that I will always be
The band for your album included many great veteran musicians like Horsemouth, Flabba Holt, Bongo Herman, Bo Pee, Skully, Sticky, Sly & Robbie, Obeah – you were going for that classic sound?
Yes, I really agree with that. I just tried to find real professional people. These people are people who write and read music so I don’t think it gets any better than that in this time. I just wanted a roots album with live musicians playing – no computerised rhythms. That is what I have always been trying to put out there.
Do you dislike digital rhythms? I know you have ridden on some – on Singing Melody’s last album for example.
I like some of them. It’s modern technology and I am a person that is up for modern stuff. Because, look, we just don’t expect things to be just one way all along. There are young people that have their ideas and are very skilful with their computers so I have to lift my hat to that. But in terms of me, personally, I just want to do a live musician album. It’s not disrespecting the computer world because it’s nice to have these things. It’s a quick way of getting these things across to people.
Let’s talk about some of the vocal collaborators – how did you link Marcia Griffiths? Or Tarrus Riley with whom you covered Toots and the Maytals’ Pomps and the Pride?
This lady is one of my really good sistren man. We never pass each other on the street or get up on stage or talk on the phone without being friends. She has that respect for me and I have that respect for her just the same. Because she’s a real sweet lady I can tell you. I know Tarrus’ father from way back. And Tarrus is also a youth that we have known each other since he got into the business. I asked him to do this and he told me “Any time you ready Daddy Roy. Just say the word”. So this made me feel so happy and so proud. Just like Chezidek, Winsome Benjamin, Richie Robinson, they are all younger people than I. When I put the question to them and they give me such great answers it’s like, heeeey, let’s go and do what I’ve got to do now with these people!
You’ve also given your album an international flavour with Tiken Jah Fakoly, Balik from Danakil and Harrison Stafford from Groundation. As someone who has been a star in Africa since the 70s, it must be nice to make a record with someone like Tiken.
I’m telling you – that made a big difference for me on this album. We’re talking about a different generation with different cultures. Because I had no idea that I would be able to get all these very important people – a Frenchman, an African and an American – to play a part. I have to lift my hat to these people. Some people think in a very negative way – that if you are not Jamaican you are not supposed to be doing reggae. I think that is out of order to say things like that. Music has got no colour, no class, no creed. So for me when people in Africa, France, Japan, Germany do reggae music this is upliftment for reggae. I don’t know if I am wrong but that is definitely my opinion that it is great for the music.
In your song with Harrison, you say Buddha, Allah, Jesus and Jah are all names for the same thing.
Look here. I am a Rasta and that I will always be. And we all are praying to the same man that created us. The same God that made white, black, purple, blue, pink and every colour you can think about is just the one man. But we see him as a different name. Muslim people would see him as Allah. Rasta call him Jah. The church people – which were my old people, my mother, father, grandmother and all those people – they call him Jesus Christ. Which to me, is just the same person that made us. Because, look, there can’t be two gods that created us here now – it’s one God that made every single man. So to me, if you want to call him Allah, you’re still talking about Jah. If you want to call him Jesus Christ – yes, it’s Jah. If you want to call him Buddha – for me it’s just Jah. It’s the Almighty just the same.
So all religions should respect each other?
Every man has his own belief – and to each his own. I’m not watching my colour because I’m black and somebody else is white. I don’t check on that. I check that if you cut each one of us you are going to see one colour blood – red. Whatever man believes you have to respect what a man believes in. My mother used to say to me “Why don’t you trim and shave because you will look a much nicer boy” and I used to say “Listen Mum, I did not tell you not to be a Seventh Day Adventist. I did not tell you not to play that organ on that choir. I’m going to do what I have to do Mummy and I’m not going to disrespect you. But what I believe in is what I believe in”. Every man has his own belief – and to each his own
On the album you redid your classic Duke Reid track Wake The Town with Sophia Squire.
The reason was because this song was a big hit for me in Jamaica so it was almost like taking a shortcut to find another song to make up the album! But to me it was very good because the lady is a good singer and she did a good job I am really happy about.
John Holt famously recommended you to Duke Reid. But you were working on King Tubbys Hometown HiFi and Tubbys did some mastering work for Duke Reid. So both Tubbys and John were the link to Duke Reid?
Yes, yes. Tubbys used to play a lot of Duke Reid songs. John Holt type of songs, Melodians type of songs and Alton Ellis type songs from his studio. One time John Holt came to a dance – because John Holt was always a man who loved to go to a dance! – and he went back to Duke Reid and said “I hear this youth talking ‘pon one of your riddims man – it sound good”. Duke Reid told Tubbys that he wanted to talk to me. It was just a verbal agreement – “Yeah, yeah, yeah – that can be done” – in those times we didn’t know about contracts and stuff like that. So I went in the studio and did This Station Rule The Nation and Wake The Town (Tell The People) – those were my first two songs for Duke Reid.
I know I have been ripped off a lot. I’m positively sure about that
A lot of artists – including a couple of the deejays that followed you – have said they were afraid to work with Duke Reid. Why weren’t you afraid?
Because – I must tell you this – people deal with you in the way you handle yourself. In my country, Jamaica, people take you for what they think you are. If they think you are stupid and they push you around here there and everywhere – they will do that. If they think they can work you and not pay you – they are going to do exactly that. If they know that once they work you, they have to pay you – they will come up with your pay. A lot of people at the time said bad things about Duke Reid – but I can’t say much bad. I know I have been ripped off a lot. I’m positively sure about that. But a lot of the things I asked for at the time – I got them. I’m just a person where – if I get proper treatment from you then I am not going to stray here there and everywhere. Because, at the end of the day, my parents always told me that “A dog that has too many homes goes to bed without dinner”! (laughs) So I can be very calm and easygoing so long as you are treating me in a good way. Because if I feel you are treating me in a way I don’t appreciate – trust me – you can’t do that! I am not going to accept that from you – and I don’t care who you are.
A lot of deejays have had rivalries to this day. But when I interviewed U-Brown last year he said “I’ve known U-Roy for over thirty odd years and I’ve never heard U-Roy enter into an argument with anyone. If he disagreed with something he would say no, he’s not doing it. But no argument or fight or anything”.
Trust me, my brethren, I have no time for cursing you and fussing you. We are all in this business, we all have to eat, we all have to live and survive. So if you are doing your thing, so long as you are not interrupting me or throwing bad stuff at me, I just see you as co-workers who have to eat and we have to live. Because there used to be this brother called I-Roy and he imitated my voice, my words, everything. But I didn’t make it a problem, because – guess what? – if the people want to see U-Roy they are going to hire U-Roy to do this work. If they want to see I-Roy they will hire I-Roy. If they want to see U-Brown or Ranking Trevor they are going to hire them. And none of them has ever been any problem to me – and will never be any problem. Because when you know what you’re doing, and you originate stuff, you just don’t worry about people. I don’t have the time to worry about other people. I take more care of looking after my business than looking after other people’s business. People want to know how come me and this person never had any argument when they are talking like me or sounding like me? Look here man, the Father has many singers and players of instruments. Millions and billions of us. You just have to accept that.
You were neighbours and good friends with all three Wailers – Peter, Bunny and Bob. How did you feel about Peter Tosh getting the Order Of Merit this year?
I felt good. This man was a very good musician. He was a very good writer. He knew a lot about the music. I’m only sorry he had to get this thing when he is dead. Trust me, until his day Jah B is still my brethren because he is the only living Wailer now! But Bob, we just lived so close to each other and Jamaica is such a small country. Once you are in the music business it is not going to be long before we are meeting some place, some time. Peter was my brethren, Bob was my brethren, and Jah B he is still my brethren. I live very good with everybody. Because, if someone is going to show you love and you show them hate – you are not dealing with anything. This was exactly what these brothers used to show me. When we’d meet and greet it would be “Yeah! Roy! What’s happening man? Wh’appen? Wha Gw’aan?” No animosity, no problem, no bad vibes.
You started your own sound King Stur Gav in 1978 which you named after your sons – and there you gave Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales their start on the sound. But apart from your own famous work talking on the mic, how were you at spinning the actual records and selecting the sound?
(laughs) You know what? That was the biggest fun in my life when I started doing this! Putting on the records myself, picking my own selection, because I had my stuff set out in front of me, I would search and select what I was going to play next, talking over the mic and saying where I would be playing next Saturday and where I would play tomorrow. Trust me it was the greatest fun for me. I loved that from my heart man. That was exactly why I had to have a sound system of my own instead of just playing others. I respect where I’m coming from to the max. I have to lift my hat to sound system because without sound system I don’t think people would know anything about me. It was from playing Doctor Dickies, Sir George, Sir Coxsone, Sir Percy then coming to King Tubbys. And trust me, I loved every split second of it. No matter how rough it was. Because sometimes it was really rough. The police would come and say “Night noise” and “Disturbing people” and mash up the dance and stuff like that. But that could never stop me – Jah gave me something that I loved so much I keep thanking the Most High every time for this job and I love this work.
And there was a lot of love shown to you when you played in London this summer for Jamaican Independence – alongside the deejays that followed you – Dennis Alcapone, Tappa Zukie and Yellowman.
As I said I enjoy my work and I am not worried about who is coming up before me or after me. Because I am coming to do what I am supposed to do. So it was just a nice vibes and then even afterwards backstage it was just pure joking, laughing and everybody happy. Those things keep me going. Because I am an old man now in this business but, look, I am going to stop when the Most High tells me it’s time to go but as long as I have my strength and my health, I am just going to do what I have to do. I am going to stop when the Most High tells me it’s time to go
Bizarrely, Tappa Zukie came back on stage and did two songs after you had finished his set but the band were too tired to play so he deejayed without music. What happened there?
I don’t know the reason why! But you know something, there are some people who – maybe – just love to be in the limelight! (laughs) I would put it like that. But I don’t know the reason why, I kept asking myself the same question “Why he go back?” But we must always learn something in this business – when you go out on stage and people love you – don’t overdo it. Because you can flop yourself. It’s like a guy would say “Woy! I’m coming to mash up Tappa Zukie, mash up U-Roy and mash up Alcapone!” Never should you ever go there with that type of mentality because you will mash up yourself. I have seen it happen many times. A guy thinks he’s so superbad – that he thinks he is going to go up there and crush everybody. But when he goes up there, trust me, he’s like a fool. I am just a laidback person. I understand how to be calm, do what I have to do, and if the people feel happy, just finish and go. Leave them with something.
You have been called the inspirer and inventor of rap music. What do you think of rap music in America?
I think they are all rolling off the Jamaican deejays – the Jamaican rappers. I can tell you this my friend: when I started to do this – yes, there were deejays before me like Count Machuki, King Stitt and Lord Comic. But in terms of putting music on a record to go out there to the public for sale, I am the first man to do that. And I am so happy to be a part of this. Nothing that I am going to get big headed or hyped up about or nothing. I am just one happy person. Because, when I started in my youth days the only “rappers” I ever heard about were people who got a job in a store wrapping gifts in the school holidays! I never heard of any other “rapper”! So they can go ahead and claim it, but, at the end of the day, people like you, and other people too, are going to know “Eh, you’re talking rubbish there my friend!” (laughs) So that’s why I tell you – I don’t worry about people. It’s like that, it’s like that, it’s definitely like that.
Count Machuki was the best! The greatest man who ever held a microphone around sound system
You mentioned Count Machuki, who was a big inspiration to you. But Machuki is really only known to Jamaican music historians. How come the music of U-Roy has inspired so many people but the people who inspired U-Roy are not so well known?
I was always worried about that part – especially with this man. This man was such an expert! This man had such an art to the thing! It worried me when I had one, two, three on the top ten charts in Jamaica yet this man never had a tune that got into the top 50. I used to say to myself “Oh my God, I don’t like this at all”. I felt very bad for him. Knowing that to me, this man, was the best! The greatest man who ever held a microphone around sound system. This man, when he talked was so intelligent, had so much timing, pacing his words between the singer and what he has got to say. But then, I said to myself, “What is for you is just for you. What is not for you won’t be for you”. I could never put it any other way than that. But this man was, until this day, the greatest deejay that ever played a sound. This man – he had a lot of arguments man, I can tell you this! This man, you had to listen to him when he was talking! You just better listen! But that’s how life is. They say sometimes the people who do the work never really get paid for it. That is happening all over the world right now.
Finally, you’ve done a roots album, will your next one be a dancehall album?
I really wouldn’t say that. I don’t know why people think dancehall came around since Beenie Man and Sean Paul and Shabba Ranks. Dancehall was there from in the 60s and 70s, because it’s the music that was being played in the dance, we used to classify as “dancehall music”. I don’t know why people try to make this big difference about dancehall and stuff like that. To, me there is no such thing. But, hey, the people have the last and the final say. Whatever the people say, that’s what goes. We work with that. But for me to do a dancehall album, I don’t think I would enjoy doing that. I think I would be coming to rain on the youths’ parade! (laughs) Whatever the people say, that’s what goes. We work with that!
You’ve got your own parade.
(laughing) Right! I want them to go ahead and do what they have to do. If they are saying bad things that are not right in the sight of the public, they are the ones who are going to have to realise that this is wrong. When Buju came with some songs saying “Man Fi Dead”, “Batty Rider” – I can’t afford to have people hearing me saying these things. They would say “Wait? This man is getting crazy”. (laughs) But Buju, he changed. He started to become very cultural. So they are the ones that have to realise and change this habit or this attitude or these types of lyrics. But if someone wants me on one of their songs don’t expect me to say the same thing they’re saying if what they are saying doesn’t sound good! (laughs)
Well nobody wants you to change what you’re saying – even if it was on more up-tempo rhythms.
Trust me, I would never ever want to change. People know me like that and it would be so stupid of me to try to do what the youths are doing. I don’t care about the next thing that comes along. I won’t say “I’d love to sell a million albums so I will have to put myself down to say certain things. I will do what I know I have to do best – and that’s it. Jah blesses me for what I have to do – and I’m just going to have to keep it like that.
Interview with U-Roy [06/16/2018] @ Dub Lights
Interview with U Roy – Sète, France, 06/16/2018
Published on 07/06/2018 by krazygyal
Interview with U-Roy at the Dub Lights 3 Festival in Sète, France on Saturday 16th of June 2018
On Saturday 16th of June 2018, we had the opportunity to interview Daddy U-Roy, after he performed live with Mad Professor, and Lee “Scratch” Perry at the Dub Lights 3 Festival in Sète. Alongside, Mad Professor, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Jamaican deejay U-Roy performed at the Théâtre de la Mer in Sète, France on June 16th, 2018.
When we asked him how he felt earlier on stage, he replied:
It was good you know. It was very good. Audience was very nice, and stuff like that. Nice to see some young people come around to watch the show. It was great for me.
When we evoked the Spanish Reggae festival Rototom Sunsplash, where he had performed in 2017, he said:
We asked him what motivates him to keep on touring up until now, and he answered:
To me, it’s just my work. Okay. It’s just my work. So, I just go on doing it until Jah tell me to stop. Him don’t tell me to stop as yet, so I just continue to do what I got to do.
U-Roy was was 20 when Jamaica became independent. When we asked him how this major event in Jamaican history affected his life, he expressed his love for Jamaica:
It changed quite a few things because Jamaica becomes independent, it means that you’re independent. The Queen used to respond for us down there in Jamaica, and now everything has kind of changed, you know.
It’s nice to be independent. I feel proud of the country, even though it’s a poor country. But I still feel very proud of my country. I love my country very much.
In 1963, the Coral Gardens incident shocked the the parish of St James in Jamaica. So we asked U-Roy how he perceived this event when he was younger. He recalled:
At the time, I was very young you know. I hear about it, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. One thing I wanted to say is this is discriminating Rasta you know, and I don’t like that part of it at all. But now, it’s a different thing when it comes to Rasta people because they are more recognized now. They’re taking more position in different places, you see me. For me that is a great honor, because sometimes when I was young, you couldn’t tell people about Rasta. Even my parents, they didn’t like that to say that you’re a Rasta man, they didn’t like that. But I do what I have to do, and I’m serene about what I do, and I have no regrets about what I do. I just give thanks and praise to Jah, because to me Jah bless me straight along with my talent, with everything, helped me to go through life, everyday without problems. That’s great. I’m definitely a Rasta man, and I will always give thanks and praises to the most high Jah.
When we asked him when he became a Rasta man, he recounted:
From I was very young. From I was young, because I have young friends that used to tell me about King Selassie, and tell me about the blessing that you get from the most high Jah. I took on to the work of the most high because I’m very much interested in what I heard about the culture. So, I am proud of that. I just tell you, I am proud of what I do, I have no regrets. I will always be a Rasta man.
He added that up until now, his faith in Rastafari was still strong:
Very strong. I can tell you that. I’m happy, because to me whatever place I reach in life, I believe strongly that is the power of the most high, help me to reach there, to get across from point A to point Z. That is good for me.
We asked him if he had ever met people that lived in the Pinnacle, U-Roy replied:
I heard about it, but I didn’t meet those people. I heard about them. So, I think they done probably what they wanted to do. Because, like I’ve just said you couldn’t tell people in my country.
My mum, my grand mother, I grew up with those people, and when you say that you’re a Rasta man is like you’re saying the worst things at the time. But I didn’t care, because, I just tell you, I said to my mum: “Okay, you have your religion. You go to your church on Sundays. You pray to your God. Let me give thanks and praises to my God.”
While he was expressing his faith in Rastafari, a fan interrupted him to get his record signed. Then U-Roy explained that the love of the his fans keeps him motivated:
See, these are some of the things that keep me doing what I’m doing, keep me alive, keep me happy. When I see young people that is many years younger than me, come to me and say “Hey, I’ve been listening to you from I was a young kid! My parents tell me about you, my parents introduced you to me.” Those things is things that keep you alive and keep you happy. It make you think that: “Okay, whatever I was doing, there’s got to be something good or else there wouldn’t be so many people that is interested in what you do,” you know.
So these things, for me, is great honour for me that I tell you. Out there tonight on the stage, in the whole audience is 90% young people, which is younger than me. So these things for me is great upliftment. I really appreciate that to the max. I’m out of my country now, I’m talking about this. I’m in other people’s country, like France, Germany, Japan, and those places, and you see, all this audience come out and have been clapping and enjoying theirselves when you’re doing what you’re doing. For me, that is just a blessing. I can’t say it no other way than that. It’s a blessing from the most high.
I think Jah bless me every time to do what I have to do. And to make so much people all around the world know about me, it’s the more powerful of most the blessings. I am so happy with what’s happening. Give thanks for the time.
When we asked U-Roy what are his thoughts about politics, he replied:
Politics, right around the world, segregates people. Segregation is not good. Unity is strength. Love people is very good. When you love people, it means that you have a heart for people. If you see your brother or your sister going down, you will try a way to pick them up. When you see a person say “I’m hungry, I don’t have no money to buy some food,” is the quickest thing if I have a money to give it to buy some food. I can give you that, because look, he’s just going to eat some food. That keeps you alive. So, I’ll be giving that. So, I’m not a politician. I love people. So, I show them my respect as long as they show me their respect. I will always return that back to them. I don’t like to disrespect people because I don’t want people disrespecting me. What you don’t love for yourself, you don’t do that to other people. Because you want to be like just like yourself. You know what I mean.
He highlighted that:
Okay, I’m a black person. If a one person come to me and say “Hey, U-Roy, can I take a photograph with you?” It is not a problem man. It is my work. It’s my business to take a picture with you, if you feel like you want to take a picture with me. That’s cool for me.I tell you I don’t believe in segregation, I believe in unity. I always hear from my parents that unity is strength. Respect people, no matter what color, class, or race they may ever be. As long as they show you respect and love. Love them back. That is my belief.
U-Roy began his career in the 60’s, and began recording during the early 70’s. We asked him if he had ever expected to become so famous. He replied:
Oh my God! I would never ever think that, I could never ever. I could never sit here and tell you that: “yes, I knew from that time.” No! I never have no idea, not even just like the idea that one of these days I’m going to be here today at this time. Because, I’m in this business over 50 years now. Okay.
When I do my first two songs, I just tell myself “Oh, this is not going to go on more than two months or so.” You know, because at the time deejay music wasn’t something that people recognize in my country. So when I hear my two songs been playing on the radio, I been saying that is just a 2 month thing, it’s not going to go nowhere.
U-Roy added how surprised he was to see that people actually liked his work. Once again, he expresses how much the love of his fans brings joy to him.
So, it’s the biggest surprise for me to see until this time, I have to be talking to young people about this. It’s really honorable for me, trust me. It’s a joy in my heart every time I think about this. But I did not ever know. I used to tell myself when I was small that France, Germany, England, America, Africa, I’m not going to know these places because I don’t have no money to buy my ticket to take me to those places.
I used to tell myself that there is no way that I’m going to know these places, I can only say I heard about these places but in terms of going to these places I will never reach there! Listen to me, I come to France, almost every year. So you see what I’m talking about now.
You just never ever know what tomorrow is going to be. When I come to France, and thousands of people. I’m on those festivals and stuff like that. You see thousands of people out there “U-Roy!” I would have to feel good in myself to see that something that I would never believe was ever going to happen for me.
Even though U-Roy has been active until 2021, he has probably been the most active during the 70’s. He’s well known for dubbing classic Reggae songs from way back then. Nevertheless, he’s been keeping up to date, and has also collaborated with artists of the current generation:
Yes, yes, I have done that also. Because I do a couple songs with Tarrus Riley for his album, and many other young people. Many other young people call me to do stuff. So, I have no problem doing recent songs, even with young people. I have no problem to do that because like I’ve said it’s my work. When it’s your work you just got to know what to do. So it’s not a problem for me to record a song with Tarrus Riley or Beres Hammond or nobody. Because the whole thing is timing. Timing with the music. Whatever the singer is singing, you just got to know where to come in. What’s part you come in that you don’t mix up with the singer. You don’t clash with him, whatever he’s doing. I can do that without problem.
U-Roy was an original from back in the days, with true ingenuity when it comes to lyrics. About his writing process, he said:
Listen to me, in terms of writing, sometimes I might sit down and write something and by the time I get into the studio all these things be put in my back pocket. I don’t read nothing on no paper. I just go in front the microphone, open my mouth, and that’s it. The words just keep coming out.
So, look this night, Lee Perry call me on the stage. He’s just like “Hey!” It’s like a carpenter who builds a house. He knows what’s he’s going to be build before he starts building the house. You know exactly what you’re going to build. You want to build a nice house. So you know what you gonna have to get to build a nice house. It’s like that. It’s not hard. For me, it’s not hard. At first, in the beginning, it was hard. But, understand in my life there is nothing about my work that is hard for me. It’s never been hard for me by this time.
U-Roy began recording in the early 70’s. At the time, recording in one shot was the norm. However, recording techniques have evolved a lot ever since, and it is more common to record a song sequentially nowadays. When asked how he preferred recording, he replied:
Sometimes, you know, because when I just started recording in Jamaica, you have two tracks. In the studio, 2 tracks. The music is on one track, and your voice is on the other track. If you make a mistake, any part of the song where you make a mistake, you going to have to start back from the top. I have seen people in the studio for like a half a day, and they still don’t complete one song. You understand. And, I try my best never to make this happen for me. I just love, most of my songs that I do is wrapped one caught. One, just one single caught. The first time I go in front of the mic “Yeah, and rae, and whatever, whatever, and my song is finished. Sometimes, yes, you don’t… At the time, you never have the type of technology that you can patch in these parts like for instance, you say something at the front the riddim, then you make a mistake, and then you patch back from where you make a mistake. You understand what I’m saying. It never be like that. If you make a mistake, whatever, the riddim is almost finished you’re going to have to go back from the top. Like I just tell you, it’s two track. Your voice is on one, the music is on one. So, I learn from the time to be trying my best to be the most perfect in every way that I can do this, until this day. I learn that. I keep that. This is your work, you don’t make mistake because you think you can just make mistake. You don’t do that. You concentrate on what you’re doing, you do what you got to do.
We asked U-Roy who were his favorite artists in the current generation, he answered:
In the young generation of artists, I love Busy Signal. Yes, I love Busy Signal. I love Capleton, Buju Banton, those people. Assassin, you know. I respect these artists, these young green artists. They’re young to me. Because I think they know what they are doing. Whenever it’s time for them to put their voice on a song, they know what they’re doing. That’s the best thing about it when you know what you’re doing, and what you’re going to do. You can’t beat that.I’m just happy about the love of the young people like I’ve seen in this business. Those guys are not talking bad stuff about ladies, and stuff like that, calling them gal and… Yeah. For me, I respect them.
We asked U-Roy if he had any tips to give to the young generation of artists. He advised them:
You know I can just say to them that, look here, just be yourself. Don’t make nobody tell you that you can’t reach from point A to point Z. Just be you. Whatever you have to do, whatever you like. Because, first thing: you have to like anything that you’re going to do, and you’re going to master it. You have to love it. If you don’t love it, you’re going nowhere. Nowhere at all. If you don’t love what you’re doing.
Many, many, many times I have problems in things that I’ve done but it’s like you know that you’re telling yourself, I have to get this done. If I don’t get this done, how I’m going to survive, you know. I can just tell them this, just be themselves. Just what do what you know to got to do. Whatever you love, don’t let no one ever tell you or try to distract you from that, or give you bad encouragements. Many times, I see things that are going nowhere for me that I take the trouble going but later on, along the line, it is going to fall right back in my hand for I want it to go.
So I must tell them that, just be themselves. Just be conscious of what you do. In terms of saying things on the music, don’t call ladies “bitches”. Hey, I don’t want nobody call my mother bitch, I don’t want nobody call my sister or my daughter a bitch. So, I don’t like that part of the thing. When you going to call a lady a “bitch”. So maybe that is their thing, so they feel comfortable in doing that. But me, I don’t think of that. I don’t think that is anything comfortable at all. I don’t think that is anything real you should style ladies. Because I just tell you, I don’t want they style my daughter a bitch. I don’t want them to style my sister or my mum as no bitch.
U-Roy began his career with sound systems. When we asked him about his favorite sound system, he recounted his youth:
My favorite sound system? When I start playing sound systems, as a youth I used to play for a sound named Doctor Dickies in my area that I lived. Sir George Atomic. There are so many sound systems, because sound systems were my special, very special, love. I don’t know but that is where I am coming from, from the sound system era.
When I was much younger, when sound system is playing down the road, and my parents sent me to the shop, they’re going to wait a long time to see me come back with what they sent me to buy because I’m going to stop and listen. So I have many favorites, many love for many sounds. It’s music you know. So you will always love. At least, me, I will always love to listen to music, no matter what. That is my first love to hear a sound system play.
Then, when I start playing sound system, I been at the garden. It’s crowd a people around me. I been putting on the records, YEAH! People been jumping and dancing. I love these things. This is why I think the most high make I be this type of person that I am, you know.
U-Roy loved music, and not just Jamaican music. When we asked him what he listened to apart from Reggae, and Dancehall music, he commented:
You know what, I listen to every type of music. Every type of music. It could be Indian music, as long as there’s something in the music that I feel. Because music is feeling. You have to feel a song to love it. And true that I listen to Beyoncé, I listen to Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston. I listen to all of these people, I have these people’s music at my house because, when you’re in this business you cannot just [Interrupted by the organizer]… So you know… Bobby Brown, New Edition, Temptations, Impressions. I listen to everybody. I listen to the Four Tops, I listen to the Manhatters, because they’ve been singing some songs that touch you. As long as a music touch me, I can buy a CD just for listen to one song. If I love this one song, I can buy the CD, and I only listen to this one song, and I will play it over and over. I’m no partial when it come to listening to music because you learn as you go along from everything. Since that other people say you have to listen to these young people because they’ve been saying things that you probably didn’t know it as a big man. So you just have to listen to what they have to say. You can determine from that whether what they say is right or wrong. So, if you want to take on to what they say, it’s cool. If you don’t want to take on to it, you leave it alone.