Reggae legend Jah Free, aka “The Dub Activist”, has been in the music game for over 28 years, and is still going strong. Ahead of a packed summer festival season, he spoke to us about his start in music, special releases and how reggae is spreading across the world.
How’s it going? Life treating you good right now?
Everything is great, I live and love to the full and I am using my time on earth well. I love my planet and I feel blessed to be here.
You’ve been involved in reggae for many years but how did you first get involved with music?
That’s a biggie. After a very cool, hippie style existence for many years, I came to hear Bob Marley’s Exodus album in Amsterdam. I instantly related to the lyrics and loved the musical expression. About six months later, a friend Marc Sloley came to visit and announced that he was in a reggae band called Tallowah, he sang a reggae song to his acoustic guitar, and I joined in on harmonies. “Wanna join the band”, he said. “Love too”, I said, and over the next 15 or more years we transformed into the eight-piece band Bushfire. I learned to sound engineer and after the band ended, I built a studio.
You’re known as “The Dub Activist”, how did this title come to stick?
Well, this name was given to me by a promoter in Wales, he added it to the flyer and I have used it ever since. The reason, I was and I am very active in social affairs, Greenpeace, marches, demonstrations, contacting the government and big business about issues. I got so many letters from the government and they are all full of eyewash! I work in schools with youths who have problems. So yeah, I’m busy and happy!
How important was it for you to have your own label Jah Free Music? And is there one release that is particularly special for you?
It just sort of happened. After writing music and lyrics in Bushfire, I started to record the songs that I had written. There were only ever live recordings of these songs, though we did end up with a 12” single ‘Babylon’. Time passed and I had accumulated about 20 songs, and a friend asked, “What are you going to do with these songs?” and I said, “I will make a record” – ‘Wicked Can’t Run’, I got it cut at Jah Tubby’s’ studio. Once you make a record you have to have a label. I designed an optical illusion triangle, which featured on my first three singles, ‘Wicked Can’t Run’, ‘Lightning Clap’ and ‘Riddim’. Each one had a different colour triangle, (red, yellow, green), a different colour background and a different colour mark. All these images put together makes my final logo of the Star of David. And my label was born. Special tune has to be ‘Lightning Clap’ 12”, made at a very special time in my life of freedom!
You’ve worked with so many artists throughout your career, are there any new or up-and-coming artists that you’ve been involved with recently?
Happily I have been blessed to work with many. Ras Mat-i, he featured on The War Drags On, and I have two other unreleased songs of his in the bag. Ashanti Selah, son of Aba-shanti, very talented, he lives near me in Southend. Cristiano JahVoice, very soulful, and Juniah K Inky, he is releasing a tune we made together called ‘Oh Mama’ on the ‘Mankind’ riddim from Sister Simiah. The seed is growing all over the world! Jah bless!
Why do you think reggae and roots music has become so big in the UK?
Well, when the English stole and colonised various nations, it gave the people of those nations rights to come to England. This was so in Jamaica too, but they brought their secret weapon reggae with them. This strengthened the people in UK to carry on their life with freedom and rights. Certain UK people felt the reggae vibes too. This led to 2 tone bands and sound systems and eventually, white artists performing and making reggae, but Jah no partial. He has let this music grow to spread the message of worldwide unity and peace through the father!
Are you excited for Seasplash Festival this summer? Have you got anything special planned?
Yes-I for sure, I haven’t played at Seasplash for a while and it will be a joy to return. No real plans, Seasplash Festival has a habit of just happening! Hoping to have the new Simiah release ‘Jah Guide And Protect’ by then but pressing plant problems all over.
What other festivals can people see you at this year?
I have two sessions in Germany, May 15th/16th and I play at the Dour Festival in Belgium right after Seasplash. Mexico at the end of June and the Inna Zion festival in the Cevennes in France on August 15th, plus One Love Festival in the UK on September 4th.
You’ve played all over the world, do you have a favourite spot?
Well I don’t have favourites, but Croatia and Poland were very important starting points for me. The Seasplash Festivals, Vrki Digitron, Radikal Dub Collective in all forms in Croatia, and Priest Maken in Poland. Italy is a bit special too, King David Warriors, Warrior Charge, HDM Movements, Imperial Sound Army, Humblebeat. Reggae has no borders.
And is there anywhere you’d love to play that you haven’t made it to yet?
I don’t think so. All I can say is that I go where Jah sends me.
When can we expect more new music from you?
One in the pressing plant, ‘Jah Guide’ 12” from Sister Simiah, two awaiting, ‘Hail The King’ and I-Mitri ‘Counteraction’, and ‘Fiya A Burn’ 12” from Jah Free! Also a release from Juniah K Inky called ‘Oh Mama’ and a release from Bababoom Hi Fi plus a release from Dub Iration in support of the Pinnacle Project, titled ‘Leonard Howell’, a great early ambassador for Haile Selassie-I and the Rastafarian movement.
What are you listening to right now?
I am listening to a combination of new and old music. Steel Pulse, Twinkle Brothers, Dub Judah, Daweh Congo, Nesta, roots tape cassettes and a lot of un-named music that people send me as compilations.
What’s the first record you bought?
‘Exodus: Movement of Jah people’.
What’s your go-to track to really get a crowd going?
Vinyl, ‘Jahoviah’ - Danny Red. My music, ‘Rebelman’ or ‘Rod Of Correction’.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and what would you do with it?
Mind control. Then I would sort the world leaders and politicians out!
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would it be and why?
World leaders and politicians, then I could mind control dem! Peace and love to all nations outernationally.
Seasplash Festival, Croatia takes place 16th - 19th July. Follow Seasplash on Twitter and head to the website for all the info.
Photo credit: Bartek Muracki