Ray Darwin has been in the reggae business since the 80’s, but it wasn’t until last month that his debut album hit the streets. Reggaemani had a long chat with this humble man, grateful to live in Europe, about his life and why roots reggae is on the rise in Jamaica.
Ray Darwin is an artist with many talents. He is a singer, songwriter and producer. He also paints and loves art. Somewhat surprising is his interest in gardening.
But he is not really famous for his flowers or plants. Tunes such as People’s Choice and the 7” celebration My 45 are songs that ring a bell for many reggae listeners.
Ray Darwin has been in the reggae business since the 80's and dropped his debut album in July.
Even though he was born in Jamaica, he hasn’t lived there much of his life. He spent 27 years in the U.S. and now he resides in Hamburg, Germany.
“I got a record deal in Germany in 2002/2003 as a solo artist, and I fell in love,” explains Ray Darwin over the phone from Hamburg, and continues:
“I used to travel between Germany and Jamaica a lot between 2003 and 2007, but moved here in 2008.”
Started in Jamaica
It’s obvious that Ray Darwin is grateful and happy about living in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It’s a long way from his country of birth, both in terms of distance and in terms of cultural differences.
“I need Europe. I need this lifestyle. It’s a better way of life. I’m more optimistic now,” he says.
Even though he currently lives in Europe, it was in Jamaica it all started. And two of the key individuals behind his career as a musician were singer Horace Andy and producer Clancy Eccles.
But also his cousin Marcia Pine, who had Horace Andy’s first child Tony, and Buster Pearson, former manager of British pop group Five Star. These three lived across the circle from his home in Buff Bay.
“When I was between eight and ten years old Buster took me with him to Dynamic Studio in Kingston to do recordings,” he explains, and continues:
“Buster only had electric guitars and when Horace Andy came to the country from Kingston to visit Marcia and Tony he brought with him the same guitar you see on the Skylarking album, and gave it to me to play. And he and Buster would chat. Horace was always cool and easy, and he took the time to show me chords.”
After Buster Pearson left Jamaica for England Ray was on musical fire, only eleven years old.
Clancy Eccles steps in
He joined a band in Buff Bay called Sound Vibrations as the lead singer. All members were over 20 years old, while he was still in school.
This is where Clancy Eccles comes in.
Clancy Eccles initiated the charity project Nugget for the Needy to raise money for the less fortunate and did a Jamaica tour with artists such as Dennis Brown, Errol Dunkley, Junior Tucker and many more.
“When they reached my town the concert was held at the movie theater, and some people went to Clancy and told him about me, and said that I’m a good singer and asked him to let me be on the show,” explains Ray, and continues:
“Clancy spoke to me and asked me if I thought that I could handle the stage. I was the local hero for a moment because I mashed it up. I did two more shows with Clancy, but had to stop because of school.”
Moving to New York City
Later on Ray relocated from Jamaica to New York City and fell in the camp of Max Romeo.
“Max had a deal with Rolling Stones records and opened a show for Peter Tosh with Sly and Robbie’s band and he allowed me to start the show with two songs,” says Ray, and continues:
“Later on I had my own band The Interns of Dub based in Greenwich Village. We opened concerts for artists such as Jimmy Cliff, Third World and The Wailers.”
Ray also joined a grunge/rock band called Strange Indeed that opened for acts such as Blues Brothers, Richie Havens and Joan Jett at CBGB’s and performed with the pop group B52’s at the last event at the (in)famous Studio 54 club.
Lands a record deal in Germany
He left Strange Indeed after a few years to pursue a solo career that initially included the previously mentioned record deal in Germany.
But things didn’t happen the way they were supposed to, and Ray started learning more about the dark side of the music business.
“People look out for their own interests and I struggled a lot with people that tried to take advantage of me,” he says, and adds:
“I was not doing this for fame or money. I was doing it for the sake of love.”
Career takes off
Despite all his struggles things started to happen, and in 2007 his career really took off with the single People’s Choice, based on a relick of an old Studio One riddim.
His debut album – titled after his first hit song – was put out in July by Joe Fraser Records, and blends original riddims with updated versions of older ones. When talking about relicks, Ray explains why he uses vintage riddims.
“It’s the music of my childhood and I identify with it more. Plus I had much success with the Mean Girl riddim and people were expecting more of this formula.”
Re-recorded My 45
Ray is humble when he speaks about his debut album, a set mostly produced by himself with help from people such as Piet Abele, Lloyd Campbell and Jr. Blender.
“I hope people will like it. I put it together mostly by myself, but it’s not a 100 percent where I wanted it,” he explains.
The album also includes a re-recorded version of his second single My 45.
“I made it over and I like my version better. It’s relaxed and easy. I grew up in the era of vinyl and witnessed the transition from vinyl to CD. So when Scheppe from Love Tank approached me and asked me to write a song for his new label as a tribute to Studio One, I was delighted. I did it in a style of dubplate. Boosting about being the best.”
Ray takes a political stand on several songs, the title track being one. When we talk about that particular tune, it turns out that I had gotten the intention of the song wrong. I thought it was about Ray being the people’s choice, but I had clearly not listened carefully enough.
“The song is meant in another way, the opposite way. It was written for politicians using the people. They treat people like shit. When it’s election they manipulate the people. It’s your choice. I’m angered by this political shit that happens in Jamaica,” he explains, and adds:
“Tree of Life was my title. But Lloyd Campbell changed it. It’s my most popular song he said. You have to identify yourself with it. It’s not me saying ‘I’m the people’s choice’. I mean, I hope I am. But I’m too passive to think of myself that way.”
Decide for yourself
False Alarm and Dutty John Crow focus on the same issues as People’s Choice.
“Almost every leader hides the truth. Reggae music blazes the fire,” says Ray, and continues:
“But my album is just a reminder. You have your opinions. This is what I believe to be true and you should decide for yourself.”
When attending college Ray majored in voice, but when talking to him it seems that he was almost equally interested in political science.
“Next to music, politics and political science are my biggest interests. It affects our lives greatly and the mechanics of politics are hardly exposed to us. It concerns every aspects of life. They [the politicians] control policies and legislations, while banks and big corporations control the politicians” he believes.
“All politicians should be fired”
When talking about politics Ray gets wound up and launches a whole range of theories on the relationship between Jamaica and the U.S. He is also critical about Jamaican politicians.
“Jamaica has nuff natural resources, tourism, coffee exports, shipping harbor, ganja and music, but all the money leaves the country to foreign entities. Jamaica generates enough money to stabilize its economy, but we were kept in debt from the day of our independence in 1962. Jamaica is still a third world country,” he explains, and continues sounding a bit frustrated:
“And it breaks my heart. There is no relief in sight. All politicians should be fired.”
According to Ray, today’s Jamaican music scene – that he describes as superficial – is a bi-product of the politicians and the Americanization of Jamaica.
“I don’t mind them writing lyrics like that, but I don’t go for that shit. I don’t identify with it. It doesn’t help us going forward. I might not be hype like them, and I can’t change the world, but I can change me,” he says.
Bright looking future
But Ray is optimistic about the scene in Jamaica.
“Roots is back,” he says, and continues:
“The timing is perfect. People want more roots. Everyone’s going back to the roots. They see the value of roots reggae. Dub roots from Jamaica. There’s a new era of musicians graduating from the Edna Manley College. Really amazing musicians.”
Ray gives several examples of bands that prove his point.
“Raging Fyah, Rootz Underground, Uprising Roots Band, Dubtonic Kru and No Maddz. They’re hungry. I feel good.”
It’s no surprise that Ray is satisfied with the development that he foresees. His heart is within the roots reggae scene, even though he has other things cooking as well.
One project that he is involved in is producing dubstep versions of Linval Thompson’s productions.
“I like dubstep big time. I even do electro music and house music. I also work with a funk band in Hamburg called Diaspora,” he says, and concludes:
“I’m juggling a lot of stuff, and it’s all a great experience.”