It’s the day before Raggamuffin and the stages are going up at Auckland's Trusts Arena in Henderson. Sat out on the terraces overlooking the venue I caught up with Reggae Fusion singer songwriter Diana King and chatted about her early days with hits such as Shy Guy, and what the future holds for her music.
Hey Diana thanks so much for joining me! How are you?
Thankyou! I’m very good!
First of all, welcome to New Zealand! I understand it’s your first time here!
Yeah, and I haven’t had chance to really explore yet! I was actually supposed to be here from Feb 15th but I had a family emergency so the schedule had to be changed!
You’re working on a new album at the moment aren’t you?
Well… new music yes. It could just be an EP or a full album, you know these days there are lots of options! It might just be a single!
Is it true you are releasing it under your own label?
Yeah! And my last album was also under my own label 3 years ago.
Tell us a bit about that
Well I got the idea back when MySpace first came out. I started an account, put out my songs, you know Shy Guy, Lies etc, and then I got this notice that I had to take it down coz I don’t own them! And I was so upset! But then I thought, they’re right! I do not own them! I sang them, I wrote them, but I was signed to a major label so they own them. So although I got the idea, I wasn’t able to do it until like 2010, about 10 years after the fact! I think it’s best for me as an artist who wants to own my music my intellectual properties. It’s much more challenging than having a major label, and having that big budget to do all the things that need to be done, but it feels good. I’m learning so much, it’s been almost 25 years I’ve been doing this, and yeah it just feels good!
Your music has always been a bit of a fusion that evolved throughout the early years, what kind of sound does your new stuff have? Does it still have that “kinda but not quiet”reggae vibe?
Um…yes and no! It’s like, the reason I stick with that reggae fusion as I call it, is because it comes so naturally. Reggae is my music, my country. And then being exposed to so many other genres of music growing up, it was so automatic to do that, like the way I did Shy Guy was me singing and the Jamaican lyrics and the mixture I love that style. But right now I’m actually thinking of doing something new, which is sticking to a genre for different projects. So I’m not changing my style, as that’s what I love and it’s what I’m know for, but I love electronic dance music. So I’m working on an EP with that and I want to do another straight up reggae album which I’ve never done! I’ve done a few reggae songs here and there, but not all songs, just roots rock reggae, original one drop Bob Marley style, so I’m really excited about that! I’ve already got so many songs that I could probably release an album right now, but I’m gonna put some more thought into it, you know, make sure that they’re perfect!
Right back at the beginning, before there was internet, and social media, it was so much more difficult to reach the world. But even so you were kind of an overnight success, Boom there you were and suddenly everybody knew you. Now that it’s so much easier to reach a bigger audience, does that make you more nervous?
Well, over the years I’ve learnt more about myself and the type of artist I am. I think there are two types of artists, although I shouldn’t really pigeon hole anyone, but there are artists who Always think about the hit. Having a hit, wanting a hit, have to make it a hit, all the songs should be hits. I’m not like that
So you just do what you are feeling at the time?
Yeah I think that’s the meaning of artist. You can’t think about that! If it becomes a hit then it becomes a hit. I didn’t think of my biggest hits like that or of any song. I just wanted to make sure it was right. So that’s the type of artist I am and it’s awesome that we are at this time in history where its so much easier to get your stuff out there, but it’s still hard being independent. That’s the hard part. Because you don’t have all the machines etc. And what ever I do I have to do and pay for myself so that makes it even harder!
I don’t want to keep doing that, but for now that’s how it is and I don’t worry. I think it was John Lennon, who they asked at school what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said “Happy”, it’s kind of like that! I think there’s a market for that, I’m not trying to be number one on “The Charts”. There are different charts out there not necessarily mainstream and that’s the type of artist I am. So I’m feeling really good about this time and I’m excited! People can find you if they look!
Who are you most looking forward to seeing play at Raggamuffin this weekend?
I think the reggae bands. I’ve known them all my career and I’ve seen them, but I was just telling someone today that we can be on the same bill and you never even see any of them perform because you always have something to do afterwards and so do they. I’m trying to see everyone this time, especially the rap artists, as I’ve never seen them before live. But it’s gonna be tight because I also really wanna make it to the Auckland Pride!
Yeah it’s on the same day! I’m also really torn between the two events!
Yeah I’ll see what happens, I’ll try to do a bit of both!
Auckland Pride really is something quiet spectacular! There are various things happening around town in the last week that really get you amped for the parade!
Yeah I’ve heard!
Since you’ve touched on the subject of Pride… you were brought in for Raggamuffin to replace Beenie Man, since it became clear of his controversial, homophobic lyrics, and wasn’t something that sat well with the promoters especially since it was parade day also. Does that give you some kind of extra energy, or motivation to come here and do a really good show? What are your thoughts on that?
Well I wasn’t really aware that was happening, so when I was booked I was just really excited to be in the show, because I’ve always heard of Raggamuffin Fest and I’ve always wondered how come I’m not on that? Maxi Priest was like a similar Reggae Fusion and my band, Drummer and Bass Player also play for Maxi Priest, and they would come back and say “Oh my god DK” they call me, “You need to be on this festival!”. So when my agent said they wanted me to come it was like Oh my god I’m so excited lets do it! So then after when I heard about the controversy I was was like you know, I’m just really happy to be representing. It’s like, I’m not just a lesbian artist, I’m an artist first and foremost yeah! It doesn’t matter where I am, I just give 100%! I’m really really happy to be here, and I know I got a lot of fans here, and it’s just love you know and good vibes. No labels no bad vibes just music.
I think you are so right, and that’s exactly what Raggamuffin is about! We just need the good weather!
Yes fingers crossed!
So you’re still touring at the moment?
Yes! I’ve not actually been on a long tour up until recently like a more than a month tour. I had a 2 month tour to Asia from October to December
How did it go?
It was great! I was in India for one month. Actually the first time I went to India was 1998, and I was the first Jamaica Reggae artist to tour India, and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. So it was really cool to go back there and try to connect with my roots, coz I’m half Indian, my grandparents came from India. The Caribbean has a lot of Indians! So it was really cool. Asia has been my biggest market, It was Japan that embraced my music first so I’ve been going there consistently for 20 years. So now I’m trying to connect again with Europe after this, in short stints. You know it works, in this stage in my career. I’ve lived in America for so long but I’ve never toured there! It’s a good central place to be, its hectic to travel from Jamaica so I’m trying to more shows there, as I do have a fan base.
I would never have guessed that you’ve never toured the States! That’s insane!
I know! The first place that my career took off was Asia. And America was actually the last!
I guess America is a tough market to crack.
Yeah and they’re so fickle!! God bless them but they can be like “Diana who?” There is so much music there, the ones who are at the top, and then there’s a second tier etc! It’s like who was on the charts last week? And you don’t remember! And that’s how it is now! So Asia has been very loyal, and Europe, so that’s where I’ve toured most of my career!
I also think the UK would be a good place for you to go back to!
Yes I haven’t been there in a while!
What can we expect to hear from you this weekend? Are you gonna do some of your new stuff or will it be a journey back through time?
Not so much new stuff. Personally I don’t like that when I go to see artists. I appreciate a couple of new songs but if I’ve never seen them before live, I wanna hear the songs that I know them from, and so that’s pretty much what the show will be. I might put maybe one song from my current album, and another that I might release as a single, I might do that!
But the rest will be songs from my Shy Guy album, Say A Little Prayer, Lies, etc. It’s such a short show, I only get like 45 minutes so I gotta make sure they’re not like, oh I don’t know this song!
Do you have your set list already decided?
Yeah its already set, but you gotta feel the audience and I may have a new song ready but if the vibe isn’t there I wont do it, but if it is I’ll be like hey check this song out! And if they don’t like it I’m not gonna release it you know?!! I tested it in the last couple of months in Asia and got a great response. I want to do it, if time allows!
I think the Kiwi’s are up for hearing a bit of new stuff from you also, so give it a go!
Oh good, ok ok!
So what time are you on stage?
I really hope the weather holds out for you coz it’s been a bit torrential this week!
Yeah I’ve heard! But you know I don’t mind it! If it’s raining and the crowd don’t mind, I don’t mind!
Well thanks so much for talking to us Diana! Best of luck for the show!!
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