When talking about today’s roots scene it is impossible to ignore the many talented singers and players of instruments out of the Virgin Islands that have been releasing high-quality productions on a number of labels for over a decade now. Among these artists, Bambú Station, Midnite, Ras Attitude, and Dezarie are a few of the names at the front lines of the “deep roots” movement that has been making waves across the West Indies, the United States and Europe. After a slew of quality compilations and solo releases, Bambú Station has distinguished itself as one of the foremost reggae bands active today. With a signature heavy sound cultivated by the multi-talented instrumentalists and the haunting vocals of Jalani Horton, they are not a band anyone can afford to sleep on. I was blessed to sit down with lead vocalist Jalani Horton and discuss the new album Break The Soil, the origins of Bambú station, Mt. Nebo Records, and much more. The following conversation occurred in April of 2007.

Bambú Station

Q: Could you tell us about who Bambú Station is and where you are coming from?

A: Well, in 1996, I had a thought to create a group to express the thoughts and the songs and the poems that was coming to the heart, you know? And um, so in 1996 started out looking for musicians, and by 1997 I linked up with some brethrens and we recorded one album called Congo Moon and did some regional type gigs on the east coast and then kind of evolved from that group to some new members, Andy Llanos, Tuff Lion, and um, a few years ago Warren Pederson, and then the band still evolving, you know, like all things do. So right now we are five members, Cat Mitchell on keys, Reginald “IGee” Beazer on bass, Swan Richardson on guitar, myself Jalani Horton on lead vocals and Andy Llanos on drums. The basic foundation, you know, like most bands is to share their musical hearts, but also Bambú Station really represents an organized effort to share positive things, so it might not just be music, could be community events, charity events. For right now we’re pushing the music and we’ll be producing some other singers too, Reemah, Ickarus, Niyorah and some other folks too.

Q: How did you develop as a singer-songwriter, did you take music formally as a kid? What kind of stuff were you growing up hearing?

A: Well in 5th grade, I said I was gonna join the band from my elementary school, played the flutophone and that was it, you know, never really went anywhere. I grew up… I guess it would be easier to say that the biggest influences on me as a singer-songwriter have been varied. The biggest influence was the brother from Steel Pulse, David Hines. The album True Democracy, Nyahbinghi Fever, Handsworth Revolution, Earth Crisis, huge influences on me, you know, the phrasing, the content. This brother’s lyrics make me look up who is Steve Biko, who is George Jackson, you know, and that was bless. Not to mention the timbre of his voice was unique. Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, all heavy influences. A lot of Bob Marley’s songs got me through some tough times as a youth, you know, cause I really didn’t grow up with a father figure around, or I didn’t grow up with male energy other than the older kids on the block, you know? So, Bunny Wailer’s Protest album, huge album in my life; Third World, 96 Degrees album, huge in my life. Chuck D, Public Enemy huge, huge influence during my college time. I wasn’t singing but these are the ones that I gravitated towards, these are the lyrics that penetrated me... the way they’re phrased, what they have to say... full penetration. I put Chuck D in the lyrical class of Bob Marley and David Hines. A group out of New York from the like 60s called the Last Poets, powerful! “New York, New York the Big Apple, New York, New York the Big Apple”, you know, I was listening to that on 8-track brother! My uncle had a 8-track machine with 8-track tapes, you know, I was listening to the Last Poets, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, “It's like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep”... you know what I mean? That song there [had a] huge impact on my time in high school. So varied penetrating lyricists, songwriters; I’ve had no formal training, my training has been through the streets, through the radio, imitating others, reflecting, and trying to come through with your own voice, your own expressions, you know? You may hear some of everyone inside of me, because I am that which I experience.

Bambú Station (Photo: Kimberly Parker)

Q: At what point did you take that next step and realize that music was what you were going to do with your life and orient your career towards?

A: Wow, that’s a loaded question brother, loaded. And I’ll share with you why. My all intentions was to go to Law School after College. And I decided to take a year off and work with the justice system, and in that time I ended up becoming a family mediator. I did family mediation for 13 years, realizing I don’t want to be an attorney; and in those 13 years of family mediation, it helped me to realize the wounds and the scars that we as people operate from, and never get dealt with, and then when we are presented with adult situations, we make some horrible decisions. And so, while in the justice system I started singing. And one time we performed at the courthouse for a Black history month celebration, and you know, a sister came up to me, a sister I just knew by face, but she came up to me and shared with me how the presentation effected her. And she felt that’s something I should really consider doing. So I did it. From 96 to 98-99 I was working full-time and then doing music, building my skills. By 2001, I knew I wanted music, or at least artistic expression to be a large part of my daily life. And so, it's been that kind of thing. You know, it's hard on your family, hard on family life, being away from the ones you love; very difficult vibes, but there is an inner voice and an inner energy that cannot be denied when it gets a chance to speak. And you can’t turn it off, so I literally felt like if I didn’t sing I would die. And so I just made that decision to move forward, because I don’t like to do things blindly, and without substance, you know? I don’t just want to be a singer to be a singer to be on stage. I want to share thoughts and vibration to impact lives. And if I cant do that, if I’m not doing that... then it's not for me to do, you know? So, so far I think we’re growing and that’s happening and that’s why I’m doing it.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your releases starting with Congo Moon? How has your music evolved in your mind over the years?

A: Wow, loaded question, but you know what? The music has evolved in a wonderful way, because even though you may not listen to stuff you did in the past, or might not like some of the stuff you did in the past, it represents a time and place in your life. Elders and more experienced ones shared that with me. And so, the most important thing is commitment, conviction, heartfelt vibes, and vibes! If you have vibes, it penetrates the unskillfulness you might have. You might not be the baddest guitar player, but if you have vibes, it comes through with the simplicity that you play, you know? And the simplest lyrics are what's usually the most penetrating songs. So, in my personal journey with the music, Congo Moon was released in 1999, ah man, wonderful experience. Some beautiful songs on there that we’re still playing today. In 2000, we did a single called Amadou Diallo, and then in 2002 we did a compilation, Talkin’ Roots volume 1. Heartical, raw, organic. 2003, linked up with me brethren that used to play bass with Midnite, Phil Merchant, Andy Llanos who is now drumming, Andy was playing the bass, Phil playing the drums, you know, and we just put down a whole album, and that became One Day, 2003. 2005, released Talkin’ Roots (volume) 2, showcasing more various artists. 2006, we released Break The Soil, our next band album. And from beginning to end... well... from beginning to present, the music is growing as we grow, we cross people, we cross musicians. We still stick with simplicity, because it allows the lyrics to be heard in full clarity. But as our skills grow, and our understanding grow, and our lives evolve, the music takes on more depth, more texture, that doesn’t interfere with the listening, but it adds to the listening and the enjoyment and the meditation. It's been blessed, as I have grown as a musician, from dabbling on the guitar, to learning the piano, dabbling in some drums. And now being more serious about guitar, and learning chords that express more, the more you can express on an instrument that more it inspires songs. So it's been an evolution and our latest album, Break The Soil, is a reflection of that. Some people say it’s a little more jazzy, I don’t feel jazzy from it, it's just, it has more elements to it you know what I mean?

Q: What was you focus for making Break The Soil, and what do you want people to take away from it?

A: The core message, that album’s goes to the particular theme and then starts out... albums go through several names, you know, we say “okay we’re gonna name it this,” and then you write another song, and that song takes over your mind, and your feelings. The album is called Break The Soil, and the soil is our lives, because our lives have been like dry mud. Stagnant, without any living quality to it, and we say, we need to break that soil and get to the rich earth. And I mean simply, a statement that is not new, a concept that is not new. Looking within ourselves to effect the changes we want to see around us. So the song called “Chance to Grow” is where the album title comes from. I don’t say “break the soil” in the song lyrically, but it’s inferred. (sings)

Every situation is a chance to grow
Every sunrise another chance to sow
With our hands in soil, we’re making furrow
Examine what you know.
Oh Massagana
That we assimilating the assimilator
Foregoing our tongues and future cultures.
Just know their democracy is the greener grass test, so
Elder, sister, your younger brother
Watch my scars so no more will suffer
I play, I beg, my word consider
Sometime ago I met a bridge builder who said,
Every situation is a chance to grow,
And every sunrise another chance to sow,
With our hands in soil, we’re making furrow.
Elders say you never stop grow

You know? So, concept, theme is within. We can preach all we want, but if the change ain’t within, it don’t manifest nothing.

Q: Alright, could you speak a little bit about Mt. Nebo Records?

A: Mt. Nebo Records, formed and founded by musicians and music lovers from the Virgin Islands, and it’s an independent company that strives to promote, distribute, produce, and record artists that have something positive to contribute. Mt. Nebo Records doesn’t look to try to sign artists in a traditional sense; it’s a struggle, it’s a fight to give the artists their due worth monetarily. So, with today’s technology it allows us to cut a lot of costs, you know, with the click of a button you could email twenty thousand people, a million people, and um, in that way you’re promoting the good works that’s coming forward. So, Mt. Nebo Records, founded in 2002, to promote the independent artists coming out of the VI.

Bambú Station (Photo: Kimberly Parker)

Q: Tell us a little bit about some of the artists you’ve been working with on Mt. Nebo.

A: Ah man, just now in the background Ras Iba, from St. Croix. Produced an album for him called Jah Lion, and his new release Many Lives. Iba, a wonderful professional singer, very talented. We recently worked with sister Reemah, who sang on our Break The Soil album. Her album that’s coming forward gives me goose bumps. The sister, lyrically, is very penetrating, spiritually she’s very penetrating, and vocally she’s very, you know? A brother who sang with the Star Lion Family, named Ickarus from St. Thomas. He has an album called Mind of the Ictionary that’s coming out this summer, powerful, powerful album. We have a compilation coming out in May called Chant of the Lions I, and it features Niyorah, Pressure, Ickarus, Papa Black—it features a lot of singers that haven’t been heard in the mainstream if today’s roots scene. This summer, the first reggae album ever released from the Virgin Islands will be re-released. It was recorded in 1979 and it was released on vinyl by Ras Abijah, it's called Ras Abijah vs The Beast. Folks may know Ras Abijah because he played guitar with Midnite for three or four years, but Ras Abijah has been playing music for years out of VI, you check? And his album Ras Abijah vs The Beast, was released back in 1980 and so Mt. Nebo Records is re-releasing that album on CD, just to put the VI movement of music in perspective, you know what I mean?

Q: Who are some artists that you haven’t worked with whose work you respect or like right now?

A: Artists that I am not working with right now. I will say this. In an attempt not to be influenced by others, because I... when I hear something I like, it just sticks in your head... and in a effort not to be influenced by the phrasing and expression of others, I haven’t really in the last five years listened to music being released. I don’t go to clubs, you know what I mean? It's when we’re going to play, and I hear DJ’s play some, I might hear it. I don’t listen to radio, I really don’t. I don’t have a CD player in my car so I cant even play CDs in my car. But, I will say this, just out of VI, quickly, Niyorah—powerful youthman from St. Thomas, Pressure—powerful, powerful youthman out of St. Thomas. Ickarus—powerful, coming forward, Sister Reemah, Dezarie—powerful. There’s a brother we worked with, but just in general, we haven’t done a album with him but his voice is like no other, he’s called Ankh Watep... right now he’s playing keyboards with Midnite as they tour. Even Midnite, you know, there’s no voice like Vaughn. Outside of the VI, let me give this a little thought here, as we have traveled we have been blessed to see a lot of other artists throughout the world in Europe, Israel… let me see, there’s so many. The brother Jah Cure, you know his circumstances lends to empathize or sympathize with the vibes you know? But beyond that, the brother’s sensitivity and heart is on a different level, you know what I mean? Very powerful. Lutan Fyah, very, very, very heartical singer. Richie Spice, it's something about Richie Spice, I love his vibes man. I can’t sing it like him, but I love his vibes man. The music that the 5th Element crew is producing is... the tracks... is really blessed, you know what I mean? So that’s a few, and I’m not really out there like that to know who is who and who sing what but um, yeah, you know, Sizzla, I mean, whenever Sizzla chose to do roots is unbelievable.

Q: Any other thoughts you want to leave us with?

A: Well, I’m always striving to be in the positive, let us be the change that we wish to see, you know what I mean, and Bambú Station, broadcasting live, direct, in reality, coming soon to a place near you.

Much thanks to Jalani Horton for the insightful comments.
Article courtesy of Music.mnp / Words by Tristram Keefe
(Please do not reproduce without permission)