Guestlist had the pleasure to meet up with reggae artist UK Principal aka Douglas in the oh so quirky and inspiring bar of the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. We sat down with the experienced vocalist, who appeared as cheerful as ever, to talk about his 40-year career in music, Rastafarianism, his take on the UK's reggae scene and potentially creating a DJ album in 2018.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in 1961 in Dulwich, my mum was a literacy and numeracy teacher but before that, she worked in hospitality before she graduated from uni. My dad was a builder. Myself... my mum said that from the age of two, I was always singing as a kid. So she figured out that I would become a singer, long before I knew it. But as an academic, I am a school teacher and I train people.
Your artist name UK Principal, what does it stand for?
The name Principal came about because of the jobs that I do.
So Principal, like a school principal?
Yes, the UK part is actually not representative of United Kingdom but it stands for 'Unkept Knowledge' because I am quite a lyricist when it comes to lyrics and stuff like that.
You write as well?
Yeah, I write and I am also known for freestyles. The next album I will record will be under the name of 'Unkept Knowledge Principal'.
Where are you from originally?
I was born here in England but my parents are both Jamaican.
So your roots have definitely inspired what you are doing, right?
Let's clarify first, I have a love for music, yes reggae is my first language because this is what I identify with growing up as a youngster and I feel the messages of reggae music but I was trained properly as a vocalist and went to school to learn jazz and got a proper vocal training. That is why you can notice that my vocals are very clear. And my mum always used to say as she used to sing "the one thing you have to mind is that people need to understand what you are saying."
So if people don't understand me, then I am not doing my job properly. And I had a tune last year called 'Mystry Babylon', it is the tune that is taking me across Europe this year, it's one of the fastest selling roots culture tune by a UK artist in 10 years. We sold a thousand copies in less than a week and we are still selling more. The guys that put the song together are Petah Sunday and Mighi D who actually own the record and they actually had Barry Isaac who did a tune before me called Rastafari Army.
I like challenges in terms of music. I do reggae with hip-hop which is what I am actually known for, from my younger years. I am a singer first. Most of my records that I have released are all vocals anyway. I have not done a DJ album yet but that is coming.
What would you say to any upcoming artists?
I would say to them, do your research, learn your craft, make sure what you do suits the market you are going into. It is very difficult... it is not easy, especially for young women. Sometimes a lot of women want to sell themselves to get somewhere which I am strongly against because I have got daughters and I don't want them to do that. I am a man of values. And virtue should be in the music field. I want people to enjoy the music and be able to have that love for music like I do. It is not about me, it is about the crowd. We are entertaining the crowd. if you are entertaining the crowd you will learn to be happy, you will learn to enjoy what you do.
How you do to bring positivity to the world?
I work for a charity called 'Journey To Gambia'. Basically, we are trying to help them redevelop certain things like doing more for the children in education, looking at the water system, making a difference. The little thing that they have, rather than trying to find the money to do it. We try to see what we can do from a natural point of view.
Describe your music path?
It has been an interesting journey. If I tell you how long I have been in the music industry, you won't even believe it... it has been over 40 years.
As you've been on this journey for a while, in your opinion what message does reggae convey to the world?
Peace, love, unity, education and learning to be practical and Rastafari. My introduction to Rastafari was with Cosmo in my younger years and 12 Tribe of Israel which is up the road in Streatham. A lot of my friends who were Rastafarian, had a different concept, a different discipline which if practised properly was greater. For me this discipline was really to unlight the mind, it talks about educating one's mind and knowing thy self. Yes, the movement of going back to Africa is one thing, but you have to understand the whole concept and the religion itself. It is not a religion, it is actually a way of life and that way of life has strict discipline.
At the same time, being an artist I have to see what I can offer, how I can educate in my Rastafarian ways as not everybody is into roots and culture. So my message is very simplified. If you want to listen to the music don't only listen to the beats but to the words.The words are the most valuable. I recorded a song called 'Don't Criticise Me', produced by Mark Darlington, it is Ghanaian reggae tune. Ghanaian reggae seems quite high at the moment. I wrote the tune based on what happened with the riot in Croydon. It was to send a message to politicians saying, not every young person is a criminal, young people are frustrated because they don't offer them anything. All they tend to do is to criticise them so I wrote a tune about this. Which also highlight my beliefs and values for youth within reggae music.
Did your work with young people give you that perspective?
Yes, in my job as a tutor, I worked with youth. I have quite a great understanding of them and at the time I wrote the song, my children were youths so I have a reasonable understanding of them.
A song title that defines your life path?
'Never Give Up On A Good Thing', sometimes in life, you got a lot of opportunities but there are some opportunities you cannot take. So make sure you can choose the right one. 'Never Give Up On A Good Thing' is a good song title for my life.
How do you see the future of reggae in the world?
I am gonna say this out, you can quote me on it. Reggae, today is not in a good position because we are no longer in control of it the way we should be. A lot of the shows are run by counterparts. A lot of the time where you see shows organised by our people are in Jamaica, Africa but in a European atmosphere, we are no longer headlining as such. They are one or two people but not much. A lot of my shows, a lot of the promoters are Caucasians.
So you think it is not as authentic anymore?
We are losing the authenticity because a lot of our youngsters are not taking up on reggae as they used to. And a lot of our older people are not passing on the knowledge. Even if you are a person that used to rave to the music pass on the knowledge. We need that.
Three words you live by.
Try to do good. Actually four words.
The weirdest thing that happened to you during a gig?
The first ever gig I did as a teen, I tripped over the microphone wires and gosh it hurt me, I fell over and it hurt me so bad. But people thought it was part of the show.
As we finished off the interview we exchanged numbers and we promised to get in touch about his T-shirt line and the shows he will be hosting this year. UK Principal also invited us to a recording session which is only a testament of the kind of man he is, we were wowed by his wise perspective on life and we cannot wait to listen to his new tunes!
Stay tuned, UK (Unkept knowledge) Principal is only just getting started.