Interview with Johnny Osbourne at Rio Loco Festival in Toulouse, France on June 14th, 2018
How was the show tonight? How do you feel?
I feel thrilled, you know. I didn’t expect the people to react so. So much life too. They know every song. They blew me away. So I hope I blew them away too.
Well you performed a lot of classics like “Truth & Rights,” that’s why I guess most people knew the songs. Most of the people probably came because they were fans.
Yes. They are some live people. They are full of life and full of love. The people of Toulouse, I want them to know that I hope I gave them back all the love they gave to me.
Tonight, it was really nice to see a Jamaican artist play with a live band from Jamaica. I have seen many live performances with European backing bands…
And it’s not the same.
No, it’s not the same at all. Sometimes they play with synthesizers instead of horns…
This is the real stuff. Real Roots Rock Rub-a-Dub Reggae.
I have seen you’re going to be at the Rototom Sunsplash in Spain this year…
Yeah, I’m touring with Sly & Robbie this year. I’ll be in Rototom with Sly & Robbie.
Where were you in Canada, Jane & Finch?
Jane & Finch. Yeah, that’s my area. When I just moved there, I was downtown. Once you realize that, people downtown gets crowded, then you need to step up, up, up, up, til we get to Jane & Finch. Then we stay there because Jane & Finch was a very nice big renting and housing area. Many people move up there, then it became a very great housing community.
When you were in Toronto, Canada with the Ishan People, which musicians did you work with?
Well, in Canada, I worked with a whole of different musicians. There was a bass player called Larry Silvera, them call him Professor Bassy [ed L. Silvera has passed away on June 17th, 2018. Source: Jamaican Observer]. There was a guitarist called Michael Murray. Tony Campbell, a great guitarist. Tony Peters, a great keyboard player.
There are not many Canadian Reggae music labels that people know outside of Canada…
No. In the time when I was there, there was one of the biggest Canadian label at that time. It was the GRT of Canada. So you know, Ishan People did two albums for GRT of Canada, produced by David Clayton Thomas from Blood Sweat & Tears. That’s where I get a nice break in Canada. I had a chance to really publicize myself in a very broad way all over Canada. I’ve been on TV, every radio. I played everywhere in Canada where Reggae could be played. Where they used to do Rock concert, Jazz concert, whatever, I took over all these places and brought it to some Reggae places. Those places just became Reggae venues after a while.
How would you explain that Canadian Reggae did not export as well as UK Reggae?
Canadian Reggae did not export as UK Reggae because the Canadian companies who were dealing with the Canadian Reggae, I figure, maybe they just tried it. Maybe they were just distributing all over Canada. You know Canada is a big place. So it was more like a Canadian thing. But after a while, Ishan People were one of the foremost Canadian Reggae act that reached anywhere. Our music spread far and wide in Europe just the same.
Where did you record the song “Leaving Babylon,” which producers did you work with?
In Toronto. Originally, it was done in Canada on some independent label when I did it. They were some people that were just trying to produce Reggae in Canada. I did it. They didn’t do anything with it. So, when I go to Jamaica, I had to re-record it for Winston Riley, Techniques label. I had to do it on one of my albums on Techniques label because it didn’t reach where I want it to go. It didn’t get out to the people. Because a man do it in Canada, they just keep it in Canada. So I recorded it really for Techniques label. So that’s the time people get to know about it.
You were in the Alpha Boys School…
Yeah, I was in the Alpha Boys School for a while. I tried the Alpha Boys’ band. I learned second trumpet for a while under the leadership of one of the greatest mentor and music teacher Lennie Hibbert. But his teaching method was very rigid. He don’t take mistake. Every mistake you make is a drum stick in your head, so. I could not learn that way. So, I stayed for a while but you know what I said? Make me stick to singing so I don’t have to go through nothing. I just leave the trumpet and let me keep the singing. It’s easy.
Do you play any other instrument?
I’m not an instrumentalist but I can go on a guitar or a keyboard and bang anything that I feel I could find it and bang it. I’m more like a banger. I will find it if it’s in my mind. Every time I go around an instrument, I’m going to find it. I’ll feel it. Just by feel. Feeling. I will have the feeling, and feel the feeling, and feel it until I find it.
What do you think of the current Reggae scene?
Well, first of all, the current Reggae scene is a totally different scene. Like the younger artists have their direction where they want to take it, and have their way how they want to do it. Whether, we, vintage artists, like it or not, is their time, and their world, right now.
So if we even dispute or knock what they do or what they say. It’s their time, their world, and their way, whether we like it or not. They’re doing their thing, and they have a space in the market place.We might not like it. Our age group might not like it. Everybody might not like it. But now they have got their generation.
So maybe they can please their generation. They may not please us but they are pleasing their own generation. It’s their time. So I guess they’re gonna take it to their generation and make it what they can make of it. It might not be exactly what we made of it but it has its place in the market place. I guess they will direct it where they want it to go.
But I feel sooner or later, the older they grow, maybe they will realize that they left out some of the main ingredients that made it what it is to the point where they picked it up. So they might turn back and pick up back some of the main ingredients that took it to where they found it.
That might help them really balance it. I’m not knocking them because when I was 17, I definitely did not like the music my parents liked but when I became 21 to 30, I realized my parents love some great music. So I started to want to take away all my parents’ music for myself. I realized it’s great music.
I figure it’s a phase. It’s their phase, and their time, their world, and their genre that they want to really push forward. So give them their time, and their phase. They might come to realization, and embrace the real music.
What do you think Major Lazer sampling “Mr. Marshall”?
Well, all I can say about this venture is that sometimes people is not looking for the best or the greatest but sometimes people is looking for difference. Sometimes difference makes a lot of sense because maybe it might not be the best or sound like it’s the best music. But it’s so different that it needs a hear.
Then, what Major Lazer did with “Mr. Marshall,” it made some young people who were listening to something totally different out of my bag, and out of my genre, came right to me, and love me for that song.
So, I figure from they took it from where they took it, and took it where they are. So these people could come to them to find me. So I must salute Major Lazer anyhow because they took my song into their home, and brought their people into my home, and brought me into their crowd, and let their people love me.
That’s when I go somewhere else, although I’m not in my crowd, I’m in Major Lazer’s crowd, and because Major Lazer gave them a song of mine that is great to them, they accept me with my songs that is not that genre.But they still get to know me and accept because of where Major Lazer brought me.
I can’t say Major Lazer didn’t anything for me. They brought me somewhere, to another place. Maybe I didn’t need to go to that place but when I get there, I know I want to be there. You know what I’m saying.
The very first time I worked with Major Lazer, it was at a Redbull Clash in Wembley Arena. That was a real nice crowd who accepted me like they knew me. So I said “alright.” It was good. So I say big up to Major Lazer, Diplo, Walshy Fire, You done know Johnny Osbourne a say big up.
Apart from Reggae music, what kind of music do you listen to?
Well, I’m a musicologist. I love all kind of music. I love to hear everything because I think to be a great singer, and a great musician you must listen to other genre, and other music from other people from other parts of the world.
Then, that’s the way I get to put my music together because I listen to a lot of things. I decide to please a lot of people, so I want to listen to a lot of music, and see if I can take anything from the other genre that could enhance the flavor of my music. That would make it be more palatable to the people who I try to bring it to.