RAGING FYAH INTERVIEW WITH AJAY TICKU SUMMER 2016
October 26, 2016
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kumar Bent, the lead singer of Raging Fyah. I can’t say enough about how great Kumar and his manager were to me in terms of flexibility when it came to accommodating this interview. We met up at a quiet, unassuming café on College Street, and had a great conversation about his life, his band, and their latest album. Unfortunately, due to various personal reasons and commitments, I was unable to actually sit down and transcribe this interview properly for a number of weeks. I would like to thank Kumar, his manager, and most of all TorontoReggae.ca for this wonderful opportunity and for their patience with me while I worked on this. Although slightly delayed, here it is now in its entirety, and I hope you all enjoy reading this as much I as enjoyed doing it.
Ajay: I’d like to start off the interview with a personal question unrelated to your music. I want to ask you about your name…Kumar is an Indian name, meaning son or prince…I know because my middle name is actually Kumar! How did your parents end up choosing an Indian name?
Kumar: Well as a child, growing up, I was born sickly. My mom said I had a condition and was sort of in a coma for a while. And the doctor who was at the hospital working on me, his name was Dr. Kumar from India. So my mom just named me after him. He’s still in Jamaica today, Dr.Kumar.
Ajay: I understand this is your first visit to Toronto, what brings you to town?
Kumar: Yes, I’m only in transit through Toronto. Jesse was having a show here you know, so I was coming to really hang with Jesse. But otherwise it’s really mostly business this trip, we’re trying to break into the US market and the Canadian market. So as much interviews and as much promotions as possible, linking with other friends and artists, like Jesse who is on our new album. Part of our management team is here in the north side actually, Calgary, Alberta.
Ajay: Where did you grow up in Jamaica? And how much of that made you who you are today?
Kumar: I mean, everyting, all of it. I grew up in the country. Humble beginnings from St.Elizabeth, you know, in the countryside. And growing up in the church, you know, you kinda develop a certain belief system. Even though it was a kind of for me a false belief of a god in the sky at an early age, after you actually realize that’s not true, you still have that passion you know that you develop and believe in good over evil but the truth behind it may change over time. That’s what influenced my music over the years in terms of that passion that we have as Raging Fyah cuz Raging Fyah is 5 people who went to school together, following their dreams.
Ajay: When did you first know that music was your calling? Was it something that was supported and nurtured, or was it a struggle to convince yourself or others that you were on the right path?
Kumar: It wasn’t really much of a struggle, but it definitely wasn’t easy cuz I was studying mechanical engineering before I joined Raging Fyah band, before I went to music school cuz I left high school at age 14 or 15 and I started going to university at 16 studying engineering for 4 years and I got fed up and I went to music school where I met the other guys in the band and they all had the same story. Their parents didn’t want them to do music because it’s not a real job. Over time, we find that we stick to it, and now my mom is happy with what I’m doing, my dad, everybody is happy that we are getting some recognition, especially in Europe and other places.
Ajay: And you went to Edna Manley College, which is very well respected music school right?
Kumar: It’s the only one in Caribbean. In the English speaking Caribbean, that’s the only music school. You have another school in Cuba, but in Jamaica, that’s the only English speaking music school. So we have students from St.Lucia, St.Vincent, Trinidad, Barbados, we have kids from all over the Caribbean, and Europe now coming to Edna Manley school. So Raging Fyah band is really ambassadors for the Edna Manley College, we have a very good working relationship with the school for the last 5 years since we left. We all went through a really good program and we support the school and actually raise funds sometimes for the college and incoming kids.
Ajay: Who were your biggest influences musically?
Kumar: Well my influences range from Bob Marley, you know, everybody likes Bob Marley, but I preferred Bob with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer as The Wailers of the 60’s. It’s a stronger sound, more together, and that’s why we have a band, Raging Fyah, and not Kumar and The Raging Fyah. We’re a team, because Jamaica hasn’t seen togetherness of musicians calling themselves a band. So now you have a lot of artists coming out which are some person and the band, but it’s really the guy who is in front. Everybody else is just cool when it comes to how everything works. As a band, I think Jamaica respects that now about us, and that we’re actually bringing back what was there with a Steel Pulse, Aswad, Third World or even The Wailers.
Ajay: At what point in your life did your passion for music intersect with your spirituality in terms of Rastafari?
Kumar: Well, I mean, from the get-go, because of growing up in the church. Rastafari is no different from Christianity in this day and age. It’s just a rebellion against what was given to us as the truth, you know? So it’s still the same, I have that same passion since day one as a kid growing up. Firmly believing in truth, rights and justice and, just treating people fairly. Because we grow our dreads now, and because we probably not saying “Jesus Christ”, or we not saying what Christians want us to say, doesn’t mean that we’re not spiritual in how we write our songs. But that’s not our job, our job is not preach spirituality or religion, or belief systems. Our job is spread the positive vibes that we have because sometimes when you start telling people too much about what to think, what to believe, then you find that you have a set of fans who like you, and a whole set of people who don’t give a shit about that. But everybody gives a shit about love, you know? So we try to promote that the most.
Ajay: Can you tell me a little bit about your spiritual journey? How did that come about? Was it a gradual thing? Was there a moment of realization? Did you have a teacher or a mentor?
Kumar: It’s a gradual thing, cuz we still learning every day. As Protoje dem sing, “Who Knows?”, we still learn something every single day. You definitely go around people like Bob Andy, who has some serious history, Uncle Ronnie from Wickie Wackie, you know I was living with him, he’s an elder Rastaman. Most of these people kinda guide us, in terms of, you know, not to take everything too seriously cuz that’s another section in spirituality, sometimes you take things so seriously that you don’t end up doing anything.
Ajay: So you recently released a new album called “Everlasting”. What sort of reception have you gotten from the album so far?
Kumar: Yah mon, it’s been great. The reception from “Everlasting” album has been wicked, because it debuted number 2 on the Billboard charts. Not that that’s a very big deal, cuz it’s not like we sold a million copies, but it still means something because lots of people and bands try to get in the top ten. For reggae music, for our album to be there, it was a good feeling for us. The work starts now, because you have to tour and tour and tour to promote this record. So far it’s been good, the reception even on Spotify and different streaming sites that we tried, everybody loves what’s happening.
Ajay: I feel like the album is quite well rounded. There are some serious tunes, but nothing overly preachy, some fun, light hearted tracks like “Dash Wata”, as well as a little pop flavour in the track “Would You Love Me?” with Busy Signal. Was this done intentionally, to experiment or expose different sides of your band or did it sort of come out that way organically?
Kumar: It is organic as it is planned. Naturally, on a regular day, we make music. On a normal day, we just make whatever kind of music we want to make. You find that, when we were doing this third album, if you listen to Destiny, our second album, you would have songs like “Feel Jah Love” on a uptempo. Our core fans would have known that this was coming. Like these guys are going to try and bring different genres together, rather than actually just playing roots, rock, and reggae music as it has been played 50 years ago. We have to actually put something else in it, as in Protoje’s case, he’s mixing grime, grunge, roots, rock and dub into a new urban sound that’s working for him. So Raging Fyah, and Chronixx and all these other guys doing it down in Jamaica, we also think about how to make it new, with other influences. On our second album, we had a song like “Brave”, I like ballads, I like to sing easy, arena songs. You know, I also like U2 as a band, and Led Zeppelin, I listen to a lot of rock music, Coldplay, bringing the sounds of these different bands together, you can find a niche in roots music.
Ajay: Tell me about the production of this album, and how the experience was different than previous albums?
Kumar: This album we hired Lamar “Riff Raff” Brown, he’s Stephen Marley’s keyboard player and a Grammy producer on the “Mind Control” album. He’s our friend, he went to school with us at Edna Manley, so we knew who he was. So he decided that, yo guys we need to try some new stuff with your music. Because the first two album we produced on our own and released, but the third one VP came on board and they suggested some producers, and out of the list that they suggested, we chose our friend. It was an easy working relationship, the album took 3 months from start to finish. Rehearsing for two weeks, then in the studio for another month, and then go and record the vocals and harmonies. By January we had the record in our hands, and we started in like November. So by January we had the record, February it was mixed and ready, and in May we actually released it. The process was different, it was smooth, it was more of an industry standard in terms of how we executed. Usually, we just recording one song today, one song next week, until you have enough songs for an album. This trip we recorded a whole bunch of music, more than we needed.
Ajay: Tell me about the creative process you went through for this album?
Kumar: Some of the songs were written back in 2011 or 2012, like we had lyrics for some songs, but the production of it, we never thought it through. We just had the melody and the guitar, and half the words. Some of the songs we actually did while we were working on the album. Like “Everlasting”, which became the title track, was actually one of the last songs to be written.
Ajay: Your title track was actually going to be my next question! It grabs you by the ears right away with that horn section, which is great. But I was wondering, does anyone in the band play horns, or were these sessions musicians?
Kumar: That was session musicians, Dean Fraser who plays with Tarrus Riley and Nambo Robinson who plays with Capleton. So it was really a set of legendary musicians that we enlisted to actually work on the record with us. They also played on Dash Wata, so our plan is to have horn players in the future, but for now we’re using technology. Sampling from the live ones we took in the studio, we bring that to a keyboard because these days you can’t travel with too many people when you’re starting out. But people love that song, and just the way the guitar goes on the offbeat like a ska, and then you have a slowed down version of a one drop on the third beat so it’s kinda catchy to the ear. It’s different, it’s ska, it’s roots.
Ajay: You mentioned as well that you worked with Jesse Royal on a track called “Humble”, what was it like working with Jesse?
Kumar: Well it’s always been good, because we’ve known Jesse for quite some time. Jesse has been a really good friend, and besides that track we’ve done other tracks that are not released. We’re always hanging out in the studio, so it’s just a natural thing, like a sixth member, like a brother. We play football and do all kinda tings together, so it’s really a good working relationship.
Ajay: Of all the collaborations you have done, who did you hold the best vibe with?
Kumar: All of them are great, but what was most inspiring for me was Busy Signal. I have so much respect for that artist, he’s such a perfectionist inside the studio, and he does it so quick! He’ll have a song done from start to finish, properly recorded, and he’s not gonna stop until he’s finished. He takes so much pride, everything has to be just right. His passion for music really inspired me in the studio. Sometimes you see a dancehall artist, and you just judge a book by the cover, but working with Busy Signal has taught me a lot, and the fact that I bargained for one track and he did two! Stuff like that makes a younger artist coming up feel good, you know?
Ajay: Are there any artists out there who you haven’t had a chance to collaborate with that you really want to on a future album?
Kumar: A lot of them, I would work with anybody. Raging Fyah as a band will work with anybody once they’re ready to work with what we’re coming with. Right now, I think artists like Danakil from France, and in the US, I’ve just done a collaboration with Stick Figure, we toured on the West Coast. So mixing with the right people is good because you get to share audiences. I’ve never turned down a collaboration either as a producer or an artist. We never used to do it two years ago for our first two albums, but since we opened up ourselves to VP on the third album the outside influence has been good.
Ajay: As I was going through your album, another track of yours that struck me as being a really powerful one was the last one, “Getting Dread”. The song opens with the lyrics “signs of the times are getting dread, nuff a dem a live, but dem a living dead” and I heard that line and it spoke to me. In the song you are encouraging people to wake up and live. In your opinion, is this awakening possible while most people, myself included, are trapped within Babylon’s system? How do we achieve this?
Kumar: That’s the thing, asking the question is better than not asking the question because I don’t know, most people don’t know, who knows? But at the end of the day it sparks conversation like this so we can at least be aware that, okay, Monsanto is creating food that we don’t need to be eating, but unless somebody talks about it that means people are going to die quicker. It’s like having Hilary and Trump medicine in your hand, and one is going to kill you tomorrow and one is going to kill you in 10 years, but at the end of the day you are still gonna die from the same pill. It’s actually about making people aware to just to enjoy your lives while you have it on this earth because nothing lasts forever. We have to encourage conversation about what really matters. So signs of the times getting dread, nuff people are living but they’re just brain dead. Half the people I meet, especially in the US, not to be disrespectful, are brain dead in terms of what’s going on, it’s a total mess what’s happening around the world. So even people saying “Am I really brain dead? Let me go check to see what I need to improve about myself” is a good thing. It’s hard to escape this Babylon system, even though we as reggae artists sing about it, people might be saying, “You guys are hypocrites!” because every day we sing about the system and then we use a laptop and all these tools of Babylon, which is true! But you can still be a part of the system but not in it, you know what I mean? Or at least recognize it for what is and know how you interact with that system, that’s what we’re really trying to get people to do.
Ajay: For most people, an “average” day is getting up in the morning, going to work, playing with your children when you get home, having dinner with family, and going to bed. Then doing the same thing over and over again. Is there such a thing as an “average” day in the life of Kumar?
Kumar: It’s different. I have a wife, I have a son, my other band members have kids. We’re young guys, but we’re very forward thinking and family oriented in terms of what we want to accomplish. My typical day is hanging with my son, bringing him to school or chilling with my wife. For at least 9 hours every day I’m with my band, whether or not we’re on tour, linking up, rehearsing, reasoning, talking. And sometimes, crazy stuff happens, we end up everywhere, there’s always something to do. But since January of this year, we’ve been touring extensively, so I’ve been home only 4 weeks of the year. So it’s constantly moving, and it’s not gonna get any easier, it’s gonna be more intensive, so the typical day doesn’t really exist.
Ajay: I seem to recall that a while ago, you were reaching out to fans for artwork…I can’t remember if it was for a single or an actual album cover, but I’m curious to hear about that experience. Was it what you were expecting? Did it surprise you in any way? Do you see yourself reaching out to your fan base again in the future in a similar fashion?
Kumar: Yeah, for sure, definitely, because the fan base make us who we are. So when we reach out to them, people send a lot of artwork, sometimes you don’t get exactly what you’re looking for from the fans, but it’s good to see that they’re interested. So when you make a post and they’re actually engaging in that post, and actually send you something, you have to appreciate that. But definitely, we need our fans for everything like promoting shows when we come to a different city. Our Fyah Squad which started in the UK, which we are trying to bring worldwide so we can have more of our fans actually be part of the experience.
Ajay: How important are accompanying visuals for your music? Both in terms of album art and music videos? Is there anyone in the band that is also a visual artist as well?
Kumar: Well, it’s most important in this day and age I think because attention spans are so short. People are not really listening as much, so if you have both audio and visual then it’s good, but nobody in the band is a visual artist. Myself, I have an eye for visual stuff, which helps make those decisions. From videos to graphics, everything has to make sense, everything has to sync, because that’s what people want. There’s artists nowadays taking advantage of that in a better way than most and you see the results.
Ajay: I don’t want to ask you about the term “Reggae Revival”, I know that there’s some people who like it and some people who don’t like it, but regardless of how you feel about the term, how would you describe the relationship you have with this cohort of artists like Protoje, Chronixx, Jesse Royal, Jah9, No-Maddz, etc.
Kumar: I mean, it’s hard to escape it. From the get go they’ve been tagging everybody together, if you hear Protoje, you’re gonna hear Chronixx or Raging Fyah. We’ve knitted ourselves from the get go, so it’s hard to escape. If one person starts saying you’re part of the Reggae Revival, then you’re part of the circle and it’s not a bad thing. Initially, most people had a problem with the two words. But as Protoje explained it, it’s not really a revival of reggae, but actually a new age of youths just coming together to showcase what we have. If Raging Fyah didn’t start Wickie Wackie, you wouldn’t have heard about a lot of these artists from Jamaica. We have a festival that we’ve been doing for six years, and if we never started that, you wouldn’t be talking to me now. We had to create something to get ourselves out there because nobody was booking us, so it was just a strategy on the part of the names that you just mentioned.
Ajay: Besides collaborating on songs, are their other aspects of your musical career where you work together with these artists?
Kumar: Apart from collaborating on songs, we just toured with Protoje in the US, so that’s a start to a new relationship in terms of having Protoje, Chronixx, Raging Fyah, Jesse on the same tour like other bands are doing. So we have to try to get that going, because the more we tour together the better for everybody.
Ajay: Not too long ago, it wasn’t very common for reggae artists to travel with their own bands. I’ve seen many acts backed by house bands, but you don’t get the same energy or vibe as with a band that travels and performs together all the time. Tell me how large a factor you think that is for your success, and the reggae revival in general.
Kumar: It’s big, like, even, same Protoje in Europe 2012, I remember Raging Fyah on tour, and Protoje was there with a DJ, Don Corleon, his cousin. Didn’t have a band. And I remember him saying to me at that time in 2012, “Yo! Raging Fyah! I’m never coming on tour again without a band!” because he realized then the value of having musicians. Most Jamaican artists from the dancehall era, I would say, from the 2000’s coming up, the respect for musicians was lacking. Because we used to play for everybody, in 2006 Raging Fyah was a backing band, 2007 we were still backing, 2008. The respect that you would get from them was lacking. You’re working, working, working and not you’re not getting paid properly to do it, and you’re not going in the studio with them either to get any publishing credit. It was a new wave when Raging Fyah decided to be a self contained unit. A lot of musicians, young musicians like that, because they see “Oh! It’s possible, even though they’re not making a lot of money, I see Raging Fyah tour, and I see their albums, and I see musicians forming a team who are all invested equally.” I don’t make more money than Pele, who’s the band leader, the bass player, I don’t make any more money than the drummer, we all make the same thing, equally across the board so that way nobody is the envy of anybody and we do that for the sake of the music.
Ajay: We have had a good summer for reggae in Toronto this year with acts like Lee Scratch Perry, Protoje, Jah9, Toots and the Maytals, we almost had Jesse Royal, and Ziggy Marley is coming through later this year. I think we’ve been lucky this year, because normally, we don’t see that many. How is Toronto or Canada generally perceived as a tour destination by your peers?
Kumar: It’s changing, it’s changing I think. Because for us, Canada wasn’t a big focus, our market was mainly the US, plus South America, Africa, and Europe, that was the target. But up until recent times, most of the acts for reggae music have been lacking because some can’t travel due to visa issues, that has been a problem. But now we have a new crop of artists who can travel, who can do what is necessary and use new tools to promote ourselves and reach a bigger audience so maybe you’ll start to see more reggae in Toronto.
Ajay: It seems like there is no lack of musical talent coming from Jamaica, in your opinion is it getting easier for musicians to make a name for themselves and carve out a career?
Kumar: No, no. The artists have to want to it, because it’s easy to get yourself out there now. But there’s so MUCH happening out there, so you have to swim through all the noise to actually get visible. To do that, you need to make good music and believe in your good music and promote it because it’s not gonna happen overnight. We’ve been around promoting, and we’re still trying to get known.
Ajay: On a recent trip to Montego Bay, I was actively looking for concerts or live music venues I could visit outside of the resort, but the staff seemed completely clueless. Do you think it was because I was in a resort town as opposed to Kingston? Do you think more should be done to promote Jamaica as a musical tourism destination?
Kumar: Yes definitely, in that conversation there is a lot more that can be done to promote local acts. First of all, we need venues, we have no venues locally, especially indoor venues where people can go. It has to be outdoors, and you have time limits and shut off by a certain time. These factors are government issues that have to be looked into. The average person in Jamaica won’t know that Raging Fyah, or Jah9, or Protoje, or Chronixx is performing tomorrow night somewhere in Kingston like the Dub Club, you know what I mean? But they’ll know if Popcaan is down the road. Those are not concerts, those are dancehalls with a sound system and a mic, not really for live events. Keeping a live event in Jamaica is expensive, and it’s also expensive to get in for the community. Sometimes people don’t wanna spend more money for a live band, they prefer to spend a thousand dollars to go hear a DJ spin and an artist working the mic. But because we don’t do that, it’s a little bit more expensive, so we have to have something really good for people to want to spend two or three grand to come and watch you.
Ajay: I first heard about Raging Fyah a few years through David Rodigan’s BBC1Xtra show where one of your tracks was the Rodigan Scorcher. When you talk to fans, do you get a sense how of it was that you came into their musical consciousness? Is it radio, word of mouth, social media, streaming platforms?
Kumar: A little bit of all of them, but most people hear about us through YouTube or live concerts. That’s where the power is, most times we gain fans from being on stage. By being on stage, that’s where most people see us for the first time and they’re like, “Woah! This band is good, let me check them out!”. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to getting music to the people before we get to the people, because sometimes we get to them but they don’t know us, but after 45 minutes of a show, you have them hooked.
Ajay: What was it like meeting David Rodigan?
Kumar: Yeah Mon! A few times now, you know, David Rodigan is a big fan. Even though he plays a lot more people than Raging Fyah, I realize that he LOVES Raging Fyah music. Respect every time.
Ajay: Have you ever been intimidated or star struck meeting anyone in your industry?
Kumar: Not really, but I do feel good whenever I meet certain people. Like you just meet Ky-Mani Marley, and even though you’ve met him before, just seeing him again you never get used it. It’s a great feeling because you look up to these people, and five years ago you were a hundred miles away from them and now you’re arms length. So it gets easier when you realize the circle you’re actually becoming a part of.
Ajay: I’ve always been fascinated with the process of musical discovery and how that journey unfolds. My introduction to reggae music started with old school dancehall like Buju Banton, Chaka Demus and Pliers, etc, but then slowly went backwards in time, leading to Bob Marley and roots reggae, and eventually even further back to ska with the likes of Prince Buster and Toots. How would you describe your musical journey?
Kumar: Mine started with Garnett Silk. First song I can remember as a child was “Zion In A Vision”. And then I learned about Ziggy Marley’s “Tomorrow People” because I was born in 1988. And I remember after that, my next favorite song was Buju Banton’s “Love Me Browning”, so that was my introduction. And then my uncle used to fix radios and speakers, so I was always around him every day as a kid and got hooked to it. He had all these records and I got introduced to vinyl, and started going into Jammy’s collection, and started going backwards into Lee Scratch Perry’s Upsetter Dub, and started going back into UK dub. So that’s kind of where my influence came from even before I even started to play, I started to research the history.
Ajay: So I’m down to my final question. What’s next for Raging Fyah as a band and can we hope to see you perform in Toronto any time soon?
Kumar: Yeah definitely, well, what’s next for Raging Fyah, and just to let everybody know, Raging Fyah is five people. Pele Hamilton on bass, Anthony Watson on drums, Demar Gayle on keyboards, Courtland White on guitar, and myself Kumar Bent on vocals and guitar. So what’s next is going on tour in October promoting the new album. We’re bringing Stick Figure from the US on this tour with us, so that’s a good look for Stick Figure, since they brought us to the US. Apart from that, we have a new mixtape coming out tomorrow as a matter fact with Mighty Crown. We’re just going to keep promoting the music and hopefully we get to come to Canada if not this year, then early next year and do a proper Canada tour. So just want to let people know they can follow us, Raging Fyah, on Instagram and other social platforms, visit our website to keep in tune, and we’ll be here soon.
Ajay Ticku http://tickutalk.com