By Leah Victoria
The "Original Bad Boys of Reggae" Inner Circle have a career spanning over 20 years. Famous for hits such as Sweat and that theme song from Cops, the original roots reggae band are heading to New Zealand to enjoy some summer sun at this years Raggamuffin.
Bassist Ian Lewis talks to me about the history and international growth of reggae, the good food of Jamaican music festivals and what the Cops theme song Bad Boys is really about.
Hey Ian! Thanks for joining us at Libel Music!
Tell us what's new for Inner Circle? What have you guys been up to recently?
So we've been travelling a lot, New Years was our last gig in Georgia, in Europe. It was really crazy cold, we're not so used to that cold weather. Playing with the snow falling was a new experience for us, we don't normally travel to where its so cold! We usually start back in Europe from march/April when its warmer.
So you're coming to New Zealand next month for Raggamuffin?
Yeah we are but its summer there now right?
Yeah, right now it's really hot!
So yeah that's why we're coming!
What can we expect to hear from you there? Any new material or will you run through your older hits?
Yeah yeah, you know it'll be a mix. Reggae music is funny, in that it comes in spurts. Now there's a new younger spurt of the reggae roots music coming up like Chronixx & Kabaka (Pyramid). They are the younger army who is kinda coming up you know, after the rastafarian side, after the real vibe of reggae music. So we have done a combination with Chronixx. We did a remake of Jacob Millers sound called Tenement Yard, after that we wrote a new song which is called We The People, which Kabaka did a verse for us you know . That song is about general popular topics in the world today. Like what Bob Marley says "When the rain fall, it don't fall on one man" so what effects you in New Zealand can effect us in Jamaica, so we have to realise we are global now, so we need more unity you know. The old with the new.
Who's currently playing in Inner Circle, still the same band?
Still the same man, Touter Harvey on keyboard, we got Roger on guitar, me on bass and Lancelot on drums. Thats been our line up forever. Jacob was our original lead singer, but now we've got a guy called Skatta. There's a pepper in Jamaica called Scotch Bonnet, so we call him "Skatta Bonnet" coz it sounds like his last name you know! (laughs)
I remember your sound being a mix of reggae/pop. Do you still maintain that style or has that also changed over the years?
Well you see the great thing about us is that, we have learned one thing about playing reggae music, you not only have to play reggae music, you have to also entertain.
If you understand what's happening in reggae music, what we call a "White wave" is happening here in America now, where you have 5 or 6 white reggae bands that are playing reggae music. So basically now, reggae music is universal, but we always stress the One Love point as our message. So you understand that if you travel anywhere in the world there will be 4 or 5 reggae bands. I think in Italy there is like 20 of them, in New Zealand you guys have the Katchafire band right? So it's spread globally in the sense that people have adapted their own style of reggae.
So it's spreading like that. Basically for us we have an industry to force out of the world now. So when we come, we always have our Jacob Miller roots set that we play which is hard roots reggae music. Last year we played in Jamaica at the Rebel Salute which is the biggest and the best roots festival. They sell no alcohol there, only like tofu and everything organic and vegetarian and healthy for you. The guy that runs it Tony Rebel, he could make a gazillion dollars selling Guiness Stout at the festival, but held to the word Organic. It's all tofu, steamed fish and juices and stuff. So we look at it in this way, we are true to reggae music coz we play our own style of reggae music. We don't copy anybody's style.
I was born in Jamaica with gun shots whizzing over my head, so I know what it's like to live poor and I know also how it is to live ok. So we don't worry and watch what people say, we know we were original peer and we have our own milestones and thresholds that we have built in Jamaica. We started a reggae festival called Reggae SunSplash which has spawned so many other festivals around the world. We have done things that has intensified reggae music internationally. We were one of the first bands to go to India to play, Sri Lanka, and Uganda in Africa and so many different places. To us it's a surprise that in Russia a 16 year old girl knows the words to our songs. We've been in Papa New Guinea at a school with 3000 kids and they're all singing Bad Boys and Sweat! And to me it makes me smile and makes me feel good in the soul! But they know the song coz it's been played in a television show in America, but what they don't know is that is about a young man in his home, who is at the age where he thinks he's a man. The original line of that lyric went "Bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do when LIFE comes for you" because you're making that transition from a teenager and that middle passage is very important before you get into your 20's, and the world is moving so fast with the internet and social media, kids are getting exposed to a lot of things before they can even walk you know.
That's very true. So is it important for you to try and inspire that next generation with regards to reggae music?
Definitely because if we don't do that, all of us are gonna be in trouble. Like with all this Isis thing going in the world. Great writers always write great. John Lennon said No country or no religion to die for, that's one hell of a line, you know what I mean? So imagine that if the world would just love one anothers people and just try to understand. Imagine just how the world could be, instead of saying your religion is better than mine and out killing each other with all the prejudice. We don't try to understand, we just fear when somebody looks different. So music I think is the healer. It can bring people together on a platform where we can celebrate comfortably without worrying about it. I think reggae music is one of the choice forms of music that really bring people together, black, white, chinese, you know what I mean?
You're doing a bit of a tour this year, where is that taking you?
After we do this New Zealand one, we have a stint in Thailand,I think we got four shows there. And from there we go on to do four months in Europe. I think we're playing one of the biggest festivals in Poland, with about half a million attending. (Calls out to the guys behind him "What the name of that festival in Poland?" ) Ahh it's called Woodstock.
You've been in the music industry for over 20 years now,. Where do you pull your inspiration from and what enables you to keep going?
It's just like we can feel it in the air, it's just something in the air you know? As long as the people want us and they wanna hear us, we will be there to play for them. Because we have taken that oath to be singers and players for the rest of our lives. When you stand on that stage you get that feeling, when you feel that vibration. I don't know how to explain, I just don't think I have the adjectives to describe to you that feeling we get!
What do you think of todays Reggae music? Do you think its still in touch with its roots, or do you feel its become more commercial?
With reggae music we have moved from SKA at 100 and something BPM to Rocksteady, to happy reggae. And the more people got disillusioned with life, they started to sing songs about being belly full but hungry.There are many things that we have seen in our lives, I could talk to you all day about it. It's definitely transformed.
Here at Raggamuffin, you will be performing alongside artists such as UB40, Macy Gray and Eddie Grant, who are you most excited to hear perform live this year?
Well UB40 are our very good friends! We know Ali really good! A lot can be said about them coz they also helped to expose reggae music by covering a lot of songs. Although it might be more on the pop side, they lived in England and it reflected their own culture.
Do you have any plans to return to the studio yourselves?
Yes yes that's what we're doing now! We're working on an album to release this summer! Right now we are bouncing around with names for it.
Well we will look out for it! Thanks so much for taking time to chat to us Ian!
Thanks so much, we're looking forward to seeing New Zealand! One love, One love to ya'll!
Saturday February 20th: Trusts Arena, Auckland
Tickets for Raggamuffin IX are on sale now and include VIP tickets, Grandstand tickets, GA tickets, Family passes and Youth tickets. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 www.ticketmaster.co.nz and Red Rat clothing stores.
For more details visit www.raggamuffin.co.nz
featuring Xzibit, Wu-Tang Clan, UB40, The Game, Xzibit, Macy Gray, Sly & Robbie with Bitty McLean, Diana King, Inner Circle, Maxi Priest, Junior Marvin's Wailers, Spawnbreezie, House of Pain featuring Everlast, Savage, Boo Yaa T.R.I.B.E, L.A.B, Aotearoa Reggae Collective (Majic, L-40 and Israel Starr), Cool Meditation and ReZist.