Mixing styles and genres is difficult. To have a clear and easy labelled style is usually easier and more commercially successful. Someone who has managed to combine his two favourite genres is American singer Toussaint. Reggaemani had a chat with him just before he went on a 16 day tour.
Toussaint started his singing career like many other great singers – in the church. He’s the son of a preacher man, so church was a natural place outside his childhood home in Indiana. At home, his parents often played music. Mostly gospel and old school soul from legendary record labels Stax and Motown.
− I’ve always listened to music, but when I was younger I had to sneak out from home to listen to reggae and hip-hop, Toussaint laughs on the phone from San Francisco, where he is to set off on a U.S. tour with NiyoRah and Tuff Lion.
Mashing up genres
On Black Gold Toussaint successfully combines soul and reggae. His blend of genres might be too much reggae for soul fans, while reggae fans find it too soulful. But I think he handles the mix very well.
− Over the years I’ve tried as many genres and styles as possible, whether funk, soul, jazz, reggae or hip-hop. With Black Gold I wanted to mash up genres. Mash up soul and culture, he says eagerly, and continues:
− For the first time in my life I’ve been able to do my own thing without having to compromise. I work with people who understand what I want to do and have the same ideas as myself. In Soulive, it was more difficult. We had different ideas, but it was an important experience to tour and perform live on stage.
− Singing is a spiritual experience for me and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. I come from soul music and that’s my strength. But if I need to rhyme, I can do that too.
The concept of Black Gold is African heritage and history. It deals, among other things, with Afro-American issues. Toussaint says that there are big challenges ahead, and immediately becomes more serious, though obviously still close to laughter.
− Afro-Americans are facing difficult times. I believe that we have what it takes to conquer, he says, and quickly adds:
− I mean conquer in a spiritual sense and that Afro-Americans need to stand firm.
− People don’t realize that power, to be judged, he says, and continues:
− It’s the same violence all over the U.S. It’s in New York, Los Angeles and even in Indiana where I’m from and that’s supposed to be a hick-state.
“You can’t own land if you’re dead at 25”
Toussaint has obviously put much thought into the lyrics and concept of Black Gold. And when I ask him if he has a solution for the problems he is quiet for a moment and then fires off several opinions and ideas.
− We need more self-determination. You can’t own any land if you’re dead at 25, he laughs, and then gets serious again:
− First we need to realize that we have problems and second we need to be aware of misconceptions about manhood and womanhood. We have to realize that we’re worth something. That we’re capable of great things.
A big heart is not enough
He wants to contribute to the cause, for instance through working with young people and teaching them history.
− I’d like to start a foundation and do workshops and things. Right now I’m just gathering capital to do greater things. Because you must have money. You can’t approach youths and say ‘Hey, I got this big heart, do you want to eat?‘ he laughs again and says:
− I want to be honest in my lyrics. I don’t write fluff. I want to show the problems we’re facing.