Interview with I-Taweh: “My dream is to live long and healthy to see the unification of this human race”

Donavan I-taweh Cunningham was born in the hills of St. Ann, the same parish in Jamaica where the great Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear and Bob Marley all rise from. Like most successful artists, he comes from humble beginnings. Raised in the farming community of Prickly Pole, he spent most of his childhood farming alongside his father and four brothers. As a young child he played music on handmade instruments crafted together from bamboo and sardine tins.
It was the move to Kingston in 1992 that jump-started his musical career. Living between the communities of Mall Road, Grants Pen, Portmore, Rockfort, and Duhaney Park, I-taweh found comfort in the ghetto at the Community Center of The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari.

This was extremely influential for his music and his mission, where he was amongst some of the greatest musicians in the industry including Dizzy Johnny Moore, Earl Chinna Smith, Nambo Robinson, and Bongo Herman. During this time he was rarely seen without his guitar, and was given the nickname Danny Gitz. Along with the name, his skills and reputation as a musician began to grow, until the legendary Sugar Minott took him under his wing as his guitarist and harmony singer.

In 1998, I-taweh became the youngest member of The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, Jamaica’s most influential Nyahbingi, religious and cultural group. With Brother Sam Clayton as the leader, they toured Europe extensively until 2007 presenting traditional Jamaican music and educational workshops.
I-taweh produced and composed his first solo album, Overload, which he released in 2011. He has since gone one to self-produce two more albums, Judgementwhich was released in February 2017, and his latest project, Reload, released on January 3rd, 2020.  He is currently promoting his new single “One too many” that is denouncing the brutality of police against black people in the World. He composed this tune after the tragedy of George Floyd, happened in USA. The Artist underlines that every human being deserves the same justice and human rights otherwise there will be never any peace without any justice.

1. As many great artists you came from modest origins. Could you explain us how did you approach to your musical journey in the first place? 
I started out in a tiny community called Prickly Pole. It’s in St Ann Parrish, Jamaica, just a few miles from the home where Bob Marley grew in Nine Mile. My first real musical approach was playing in the church of my community.
2. Who are your biggest artistic inspirations? 
I would say The Wailers and Kenny Rodgers.
3. You’re a Rastaman. Could you tell us something more about the tour u did in Europe in 2007 to educate people to this culture? How it was the feedback here so far?
 Yah man. I’m proudly a Rastaman. The tours I did in Europe were very good for me especially because I got the chance to visit new places, to meet new people to share my vibrations and Reggae music with.
4. Your last project ‘Reload’ was released on January 3rd. How was working at this project with your team?

My latest album “Reload” was released in the beginning of this year, was a very good experience for me putting it together, I wanna give thanks to all who was there with me for the ride. This album is I-Taweh’s greatest body of work-to-date.

All songs are composed, written, and produced by myself through my independent label Tap Nat Muzik.
5. Do the topics inside your albums reflect any of the main dream of your life? 
The main dream of my life is to live long and healthy to see the unification of this human race. I tried my best to express this message through my latest album.
6. Do you believe in the power of conscious music as a privileged way to give universal messages then? Why in your opinion is important that younger artists keep some great values of the past? 
Yes, I do believe in conscious positive vibes. Since I was a little boy ’till now it’s being a positive uplifting force in my life. Today I’m in a point that hopefully I can reach some young minds and souls with my music.
7. Any Future project as soon as everything will return back to normal?
Well, I am always working on projects, the inspirations keeps flowing which I’m thankful for… so I am constantly in the studio recording new songs. I’ll soon update you.
8. Could you give a special greetings for Gege Vibes Magazine readers?
Eugenia Conti

NO RACISM IN ITALY / Gege Vibes & Timeless Sound set up a business involving Gambian and Italian promoters

In this sad political moment for Italy, with a racist leader and hate feeder like Salvini, I was living in London for work and I had promised myself to never return in Italy if the Lega party will win the elections.

Unfortunately it happened with a surprising broad consensus. The monstrosity made by this Government is to see the “brothers of Italy” united through ethnic discrimination towards other peoples. It is because of the Salvini’s propaganda if many Italians have turned against Africans and have started to be obtuse people who point the finger against the immigrants who live in our Country, sometimes without not even a reason.

I was ashamed for Italy every time I saw the BBC News, which emphasize the racism of my country when until few time ago, Italy was considered the Nation of solidarity and acceptance. Here, as our ancestors of Magna Greece have taught us, “the guest is sacred”. Or at least it always has been…

So I couldn’t manage to sit down and don’t do nothing. I decided to use my company of bookings and promotion of artists called Gege Vibes Worldwide Music Group, alongside the established selecta and promoter Timeless Sound, native of Gambia, to involve young Africans (also coming from the communities, from migrant reception centers or from the streets) in the promotion of events in Italy that will host our international singers or Djs so that we can help the kids learn a trade and build their own upcoming brands. Because music unites, generates integration, helps to understand each other, to socialize …

Jereh Njai, aka Mighty Timeless, is a Gambian resident in Berlin, founder of the prestigious Timeless Sound. He has embraced the initiative underlining how the cooperation between the two cultures could even be a determining factor for the entire Italian economy, just as it has been for years in Germany where Europeans and Africans live together and where integration is not a utopia but a fact.

Mighty is a prime example of this: he created a great business in the German capital relating to musical promotion in which people of all races work in team.

I am sure that together we will be able to achieve great results in unity and peace also in our country, Italy: we have shows scheduled for the summer with aspiring Gambian promoters supervised by us in Naples, Catania, Bologna, Milano and Catanzaro. A meaningful example that this project can really unite every latitude here too.

Our goal is also to allow young Africans to become one day professional promoters or successful artists, offering them the right experience and knowledge of the sector. We also want those who come from a more unfortunate background to choose the path of art rather than crime.

And believe me, it’s a really nice feeling to see what the music could create thanks to the universal language that composes it … What better genre than reggae music that always has professed peace and love to unite populations?

“One love” is precisely the concept to feel that we are all brothers and sisters. We want Italians and Africans to meet together in the same party, to dance, make friends and start collaborations. We no longer want to see people with prejudices and immigrants who feel they are only unwanted foreigners without any space in the society. Some days ago I was talking to Curtis, an eighteen-year-old from Gambia who actually lives in the community in Bologna. I met him in a club during a date of my tours. Curtis is so in love with reggae music that he defines Timeless his father and hero. He also called me his mother. He said that he is very proud of my projects, but that he will make me even more proud of him because he wants to reach a high level of education. He confided to me that he wants to enroll in the University to get a  graduation to become an architect. He is learning to draw on his laptop already. You have no idea how these words filled my heart with joy. These guys are called “Ghetto Youths”. Sometimes they arrive in Italy with nothing, only with their great talent. Many of them know how to sing, others can dance, others want to organize events or study at the University. “Ghetto Youths”, make sure me and Daddy Timeless will do everything to help as much as guys possible. We need to be a healthy example for them because everyone deserves at least one chance to prove its own worth. Music is not just notes in succession, music is the most powerful channel for changing the state of things, music is a life mission …

Eugenia Conti

‘Black and White’ / Nuovo singolo di Richie Stephens & the Ska Nation Band ft Paola Pierri per dire no al razzismo (Prod. Handel Tucker)


 

 


E’ difficile mettere nero su bianco le emozioni vissute in un’isola speciale come la Jamaica. Specialmente quando a visitare per la prima volta il posto in cui è nata la musica del proprio cuore si è in compagnia di una voce della scena internazionale come Richie Stephens e di un ensamble di nove amici ed in primis rinomati musicisti italiani che, da formazioni come Bag a Riddim Band, Vudz ed Adriatic Sound hanno formato la Ska Nation Band. Nonche’ la poliedrica cantante salentina Paola Pierri. Il veterano cantante made in Kingston è rimasto infatti positivamente incantato dal talento degli artisti provenienti dal Salento nel suonare lo ska, genere musicale originario dell’isola, primo ad avere una certa rilevanza internazionale. Si è consolidato così il gemellaggio tra Jamaica e Salento, un altro Sud del Mondo in cui la musica rappresenta unione e fratellanza, che si è tradotto nell’uscita del primo album di Richie Stephens & the Ska Nation Band intitolato “Internationally”. Sono stati questi i presupposti che hanno spinto l’altrettanto storico producer ed arrangiatore giamaicano Handel Tucker a proporre un remake in chiave ska/dancehall dell’importante brano “Black and White” reinterpretato appunto da Richie Stephens & the Ska Nation Band ft. Paola Pierri, solista e backing voice nei Festivals del gruppo medesimo. La canzone, dal testo molto profondo, risale al 1972, ovvero a quel periodo storico in cui c’erano ancora forti tensioni in America tra la popolazione bianca e quella nera.
Scritti da David Arkin (con la musica di Earl Robinson), i testi di ‘Black and White’ sono stati ispirati alla decisione della Corte Suprema degli Stati Uniti nel celebre caso Brown contro “Board of Education” (1954), che bandiva la segregazione razziale delle scuole pubbliche. La registrazione di questa nuova versione è stata un’esperienza potente e positiva per tutti i partecipanti e la speranza è che queste vibes ispirino l’ascoltatore a lavorare anche verso un futuro basato sull’antirazzismo. Il concetto fondamentale è che l’umanità è una e come tale tutte le razze devono rispettarsi ed amarsi a prescindere dal colore della propria pelle. Handel Tucker dichiara soddisfatto : “Lavorando su questa traccia ha evocato sentimenti nostalgici come un giovane adolescente e mi sono sentito fin da subito connesso con gli artisti e lo staff. Perciò mi sono reso conto che nella vita è importante esserci per fare qualcosa, per dare il proprio apporto anche attraverso le note”.

Abbiamo visto Mr. Tucker muoversi per ore ed ore dietro le telecamere a coordinare ogni dettaglio delle riprese del videoclip girato a Kingston lo scorso luglio.
“The world is black, the world is white…” recita parte del ritornello del brano. Le parole non potevano essere più appropriate per descrivere l’atmosfera dello shooting ufficiale a cui ho assistito personalmente. Accanto a Richie Stephens e Paola per l’occasione erano presenti tutti i membri di Ska Nation giunti in Jamaica per esibirsi qualche giorno dopo sul main stage del prestigioso Festival internazionale “Reggae SumFest” che si tiene ogni estate a Montego Bay. A dare il proprio contributo al brano anche Rankin Lele e Papa Leu (entrambi produttori del progetto Ska Nation) che hanno aggiunto un’ondata di allegria con la propria strofa dancehall. Ma c’è stato di più. Hanno preso parte al video crew di ballerini di tutte le nazionalità compresi famosi dancehall queens and dancehall kings. Ad esempio possiamo menzionare il Rifical Team, una crew molto popolare i cui membri “primeggiano” in tutte le dancehall della Capitale dell’isola grazie alle loro splendide coreografie perfettamente sincronizzate. Inoltre erano presenti crew giapponesi, americane ed europee. Non sono mancati nemmeno i bambini che, con la spontaneità che li caratterizza, hanno accerchiato facendo il girotondo i due cantanti solisti dando vita ad una scena davvero significativa.
Il giorno del videoclip la leading voice Richie Stephens ha confidato i propri sentimenti prima dell’uscita del prossimo singolo “Black and white”, title track del secondo album con Ska Nation Band. “Lavorare con Ska Nation Band dal 2015 per me rappresenta proprio il concetto principale contenuto nella canzone : il bianco ed il nero che cooperano insieme per far ricevere un forte messaggio al Mondo attraverso la propria arte. Era così triste che in Jamaica non esistessero nuove Ska bands, ma l’ensamble italiano ha ridato in me una speranza di rivalorizzazione di quella che è stata la prima musica internazionale dell’Isola”, conclude l’artista conosciuto non solo per la musica reggae, ma anche per la sperimentazione innovativa con ritmi diversi. Il brano è stato registrato presso il celebre Tuff Gong Studio di Kingston. Questa versione di “Black and White” ospita a suonare sul riddim musicisti del calibro di Robbie Lyn (organo), Franklyn “Bubbler” Waul (pianoforte acustico), Kirk Bennett (batteria), Winston “Bopee” Bowen (Chitarra), Lamont “Monty” Savory (Chitarra Piombo),Aeion Hoilett (Basso) e Dean Fraser (sassofono), supportati dalla sezione fiati italiana di Ska Nation. Quando Richie Stephens & Ska Nation Band si sono esibiti sul palco del Sumfest lo scorso 22 luglio il risultato è stato eccezionale ed abbiamo visto ripagati i frutti di tanto lavoro tra bianchi e neri. Nella scaletta dello show infatti sono stati abbinati brani tipici ska a brani classici dell’opera italiana come la celebre canzone napoletana “O sole mio”. Un esperimento inedito nella scena jamaicana, ma anche mondiale. I feedbacks infatti sono stati ugualmente di grande successo in Europa ed in particolare dopo la performance di Richie Stephens & the Ska Nation Band sul palco del ReggaeJam, festival che si tiene annualmente in Germania. Richie Stephens & the Ska Nation insieme a Paola Pierri hanno trovato la propria missione comune nel dire no al razzismo e si all’unità tra le persone. Hanno voluto dare un messaggio positivo di armonia tra popoli e con i fatti hanno dimostrato come molte etnie del Mondo possano essere in grado di appassionarsi ad un progetto artistico e di lavorarci in sintonia per diventare un’unica grande famiglia.

Eugenia Conti