Recently, the DIVINE Malika Madremana honoured me by allowing me to throw some questions in her direction and then responding. I had originally contacted her to ask her about the composition of a particular song, Just Jah, but she was SO easy to deal with and nice (and complimentary too!), that I thought that making an interview with her would be a WONDERFUL idea. I specifically (of course) was interested in her music and her lyrics and really getting to know who Malika Madremana, the artist, was and she came to be who she was. Her answers were great and generally got to what I was looking for and, of course, if you read my material with any type of consistency, you know that my questions were kind of long and sometimes humourous (I believe at one point I actually 'accuse' her of having herself cloned), but I think I ultimately, like I usually do, I got to the point.
And like I said, her answers were great. I tried so hard to put her in a direction where you wouldn't hear the stereotypical type of responses that you do in so many other Reggae interviews, but I think even I did ask her lame ass questions, that she would have given great answers. But I think I promised that I wouldn't analyze this to much, so without further adieu, I present to you AchisReggae's very first (of a few, hopefully) Interview with the lovely Malika Madremana.
Question: You're of Puerto Rican heritage and you've come through New York and California, these big and booming media capitals of the world and yet you come to be a Roots Reggae artist. Not a Hip-Hop artist or a Dancehall artist or a Pop artist or a Spoken Word artist or anything which someone might associate with your background. So my first question is: Why Reggae? Why is that the 'correct' medium for your message? And on top of that how far along did you get into developing exactly what your message was/would be before you decided to walk towards Reggae and not some of the more well known and probably more easily accesible types of music for you at the time?
Malika Madremana: I’ve been on stage since I was four years old. The first time I performed was when I was in kindergarten, I was the tin man in the Wizard of Oz! My mom wrapped a TV box in tin foil and put me inside, with holes cut out for my arms and legs. I fell down flat on the stage and couldn’t get up…it was a fiasco…to make it worse they filmed it all! Musta been tough skinned, because I was on stage singin or acting every year since… Always singin, always. All kinds of music, too. Many, many choirs. My granny just knew I was gonna become the Puerto Rican Shirley Temple. Bless her heart…had me singing Broadway show tunes…dear Lord…
To tell the truth, I used to rap in the hallways in jr. high and high school…I always knew I could rhyme…that was easy for me. I used to take songs and rewrite my own funny lyrics to the tune, to make people laugh. But I could write some hard lyrics too…and many rappers were my role models back then. I was one of the founders of the Black Student Union in high school and we were well blessed to have been exposed to culture and righteous teachings…that left us wide open for more knowledge. I was truly affected by the African culture movement in hip hop…and I played my role as a radical young leader in it. I more importantly found myself led to my spiritual path at a young age, and while hip hop introduced us to a little about religion and revolution… I needed more…It seemed like the Black culture movement at that time in hip hop was kinda fading…like it was a passing fad…Africa medallions and things… still I was open and hungry for more culture...and in reggae music it wasn’t just a passing phase. Roots and culture were the foundation…and always would be…so it seemed like a natural evolution for me to transcend towards. Reggae was the marriage of both the Black struggle and God…Rastafari emerged early in my life and I was locked in. I was implanted with reggae through Bob and Peter’s messages…Steel Pulse…Israel Vibration…
I’m a revolutionary from way back. Seems as if it would have been easy to go the R&B route…but pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I’m a soldier. A little rugged. Much more concerned with awakening the people than with makin another redundant club tune and dressin cute to catch attention. Too many girls doin that already. Not enough involved in the liberation struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a time and place for all kinds of songs, but I just could never truly put my heart into some bubblegum tune…can’t sing it with conviction. I had to sing reggae music. No choice.
As for being Puerto Rican in the reggae field, to me it seems just natural. Island blood. The Caribbean islands are all so close, in the grand scheme of the world, and even though we have different histories and cultures we do share very much in common…a similar story to tell. We’re all victims of colonialism. Not one island can boast of decent living standards for their people. While governments and languages and cultures differ, the poverty that people face is the same damn pain. So let the story be told from many perspectives. In Puerto Rico I’ve seen the emergence of some truly powerful reggae bands like Roots Natty, Zioniers, Cultura Prophetica, Gomba Jahbari…and it’s not so uncommon to see Rasta in a remote Puerto Rican town these days...It’s growing. That goes for many Latin nations…Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Argentina. Oppressed people feel the same way. The cry is the same. These countries are actually very conservative, however, totally colonial by tradition, and slow to change. But IanI give thanks to the pioneers who keep the faith and plant the seeds…
Q: The first thing anyone notices about an artist is their actual art, probably even before they've seen the actual person. So what I hear from you is an artist that seemingly developed on two sides at the same time. And I always point to the Elixir album, the second half of the album where the seven songs (excluding the remix) (and I could even add that because it helps to make the point) but the two that stand out, in terms of actual style, are It's Not Done Yet & Why You Wanna Claim Me Now. Why You Wanna Claim Me Now is kind of more aggressive and you have stretches where it's djaying/rapping and then It's Not Done Yet is just STRAIGHT like djaying/rapping/spoken word style. So the question is how is THAT coming from the same person? How did you develop both of those styles at the same time to get them to that point and on top of that how do you decide which to use because when you listen to the riddims themselves nothing sticks out as far the style except for, of course, the remix, but you grabbed It's Not Done Yet in such a different way and still top class with it. So did you just have that or did you get it from some artists who may have influenced you. How did you get both (or are there REALLY two Malika Madremanas out there?????)
MM: Okay…here is my attempt to answer this complex question…I’ve loved Dj’s for a long time. Used to listen to artists (still do) like Daddy U-Roy, Big Youth, Supercat, Buju, on and on and on and I admired their clever lyrics and flow. The way their words ride the music. So I naturally ventured into Dj styles.
I always knew how to write or bust a rhyme…it was within me. This developed in the 80’s. While I know I’m a vocalist, a singa, I can’t deny my love for the Dj’s and MC’s out there and how they influence music… and I often feel the need for a diversion from singin jus to feed that part of the soul that may long for a little roughness, jungle, or whatever you call it. I want all senses satisfied through my music. So I write a few rhymes that have a more DJ delivery…not really tryin to be known for that specifically…jus love to do it when it feels right. It kinda displays a part of my personality that’s raw sometimes. All from the same person…jus different delivery dependin on the vibe of the moment. Conscious dancehall has encouraged me to integrate singing with DJ…especially in the late 90’s… I had to be a part of it.
I wrote those songs before I knew artists like Attitude or Batch, so while I am influenced and learn from their incredible talent, I had my own flow long before. Ras Attitude did help me, however, for example in Why You Wanna Claim Me, he was in the studio telling me things like, “You gotta say it harder! Make that boy know you’re through wit him! Hurt his feelins! Let him know you’re serious! Your voice should be more forceful…etc…” So yeah, I’ve had instruction at times. Tryin to not sound too sweet or soft, it wasn’t easy! ha ha. Thanx for the lesson Ras!
The development of my songs takes different methods. Sometimes I create the lyrics before I actually hear the music I place them to. Sometimes I build the lyrics based around the riddim. It all depends on the moment. I never push my songs into a set formula…what comes out jus comes out! As for how did my “duality” of style develop…It happened unconsciously…I don’t ever feel like I’m purposely even tryin to develop it…it just HAPPENS! What can I tell ya! But as far as I know there is only one Malika Madremana out there!!! Straight up!
Q: Of course my favourite song from the Healing album is Just Jah but there are so many interesting tunes on the album. One of my other favourites and definitely one of the more interesting pieces is Underground Railroad? Can you tell us about how that tune came about because I'm trying to even think about some song where that topic was even casually mentioned and I'm there are some but I'm struggling to think of any what drew you in that direction?
MM: Well I always must honor our ancestors who suffered from such tribulation at the hands of slavery…that being the case Harriet Tubman came to mind…as a sister who led so many lives to freedom in the face of ultimate terror. While I couldn’t possibly equate myself to her greatness and bravery in light of her plight, I do relate to her drive to lead her people out of that madness…I feel the same need….so in Underground Railroad I compared our modern “escape” (so to speak) from Babylon, to the escape of the slaves…who moved by night so they wouldn’t be seen…listening out for drum beats to signal when and what the move would be…as drums were the secret language…
To bring it forward to the tune, I saw reggae music as a “train” for brothas and sistas to jump on if we wanted to get outta here. True the drums are still our language…no one can interpret them like IanI…and reggae music can truly free your mind…so it seemed like the perfect analogy. The chant MOVE is to seriously push our brothas and sistas on...cuzz too many of them are LAGGIN! Imagine how it woulda felt to be left behind when the rest escaped to freedom…TERRIBLE! So I felt an urgency to tell folks to hurry the F up and get on board. We leavin this wicked system behind. Even if it’s spiritually, mentally, emotionally….not necessarily physically yet…we still gotta bounce.
Q: And one more tune from that album I have to ask you about Jah Riddim because that song is like a walking, talking metaphor, like you're saying that the music belongs to HIM but you rarely hear it in those actual terms. So can you tell us a little about that song?
MM: This song is the first complete reggae song I ever wrote. In the early 90’s, I was vibin old school tracks (especially Studio One) and I loved the Throw Mi Corn riddim. I wrote the song to this riddim. Performed it to this riddim on stage a lot before it was recorded on Healing. It began as an observation of how hard babylon was dealin with the Black man…what the system puts yall through…yet how steadfast I checked the faith of the bredren to be still…a confirmation that no matter how much the system tries to take away from IanI the ONE THING that they will never be able to get their greedy grubby hands on is the invisible vibration that feeds our souls and keeps us alive…the music, the rhythm, the lyrics….all things that they simply cannot take from us! No matter what! Because Jah Himself instilled these things in His people…Anotha thing….I also reiterate that the Most High is in control of all things…Whose judgment is higher than The Almighty’s?...even though we get surrounded by ignorant and spiritually poor people who are under the false impression that man is runnin things….Judgement will surely come for the wicked…but love will overcome this craziness…love comes through the music…
Q: And two songs from the Elixir album: Can you tell us about Meaning with Batch, that's my favourite song from that album and I HAVE TO ask about Soldier Culture, that's my wife's favourite.
MM: I traveled all over this world, but the one thing that I notice from place to place is that no matter where I’m at people are basically the same…all of us tryin to raise families, to be healthy, to be loved, to laugh… to make some sense of the mysteries that surround us…through our faith and belief we make sense of life and all of its joys and pains…so our commonality is that we all long to know God’s plan…The Meaning is a reflection that the reason why we’re here is so much more simple than we make it…Just to love. There is no higher purpose that to share love and receive love with Jah and each other. Simple. It would completely solve the world’s problems. While performing this tune on stage, it developed into higher levels so now I never sing it without including “Love is the meaning, Love is the meaning of life” as a result because it’s no mystery. Batch came in during recording (he also played a major role in engineering the album) and he laid his verse…so unique and intellectual…his vocals are unmatched. Batch has an ancient voice, presence, and demeanor, yet relevant and familiar topics…outstanding. We’ve performed this on stage together and the crowds love it…the people need it… but it’s important to accept that love can’t come so easy as long as the inequality that divides rich and poor, black and white continues…
As for Soldier Culture…I wrote a poem in 1998 that described the feeling a sista feels when she knows her man has to go out on the streets to handle his business, but it could be a dangerous situation…and she don’t know when or if he’ll return…this is an unfortunately common feeling we go through for our bredren. It was jus inevitable for it to come out in a tune one day…
Black men in particular are soldiers in their own right, with the many levels of battles yall experience in society. And the sistas have to be strong to accept this. So in return, we have to supply an abundance of love and balance in “reward” for the struggle and fight…for what’s being done for us. No different than any military wife or spouse who has a soldier fightin somewhere in this world. This song reflects on the beauty and preciousness of intimate time spent between man and woman in struggle…the lovin has to be extra sweet to compensate for the risk taken…that’s who we are. Our culture is to love intensely. I wanted this tune in particular to be livicated to the brothas out there on the frontline…whether that would be the hood, the ghettos, the jungles, the universities, the workplace…the battlefields. Jus to make yall feel appreci-loved and SO valuable. Even though we never know what tomorrow may hold for IanI…we have tonite to live it up…such a special vibration shared between two united for liberation…
Soldier Culture started as a melody in my living room… I was chillin wit my sistas Isheba and Shaundra and we were chantin a little thing “Fiya, Fiya, Fiya” while I was developing the song…It makes me laugh when I hear the tune now I remember the three of us singin it together…but its beautiful to sing it on stage…many, many can relate in these times…Jah bless
Q: What do you think of the current shift we're seeing in Reggae with more and more Queens coming to prominence. It seems like just a few years back when there were only like one or two making conscious Roots Reggae like Dezarie and then Queen Omega, apart from the elders like Sista Carol and Marcia Griffiths, but from this specific era. And then people like yourself and Mada Nile came up and now it's Ifrica and Etana and Lady Passion and Empress Nyingro and Empress Isheba (who sounds all of about 9 years old) and Omo Lioness and Empress Cherisse and I could go and on (Sistah Joyce) (Ima) (Positively Nelsons). Why do you think we're seeing that now and what exists or doesn't exist that's making it so important for these Queens to step forth now?
MM: Man has his rightful position, with all due Raspect and honor unto him. He has a role and duty to exist as the fathers of creation. As a woman, I don’t strive to be equal to man. I have my own place. Not that it’s less than man, jus different. I’m comfortable within this. That being said, I would say that for a Queen to come forth singing the words of the Most High is a rightful position, clearly. I have to stress...there should be no competition between Black man and woman. I feel like I get set up in interviews (not this one) because it seems as if people want a battle…to see a woman fired up about sexism in the reggae industry and bla bla bla. To complain about how hard it is to succeed in a male-dominated industry and such. Well I have had wonderful experiences growing in my music. I’ve been helped. I have also had some terrible experiences. I’ve been held back. To not admit that I’ve dealt with ugliness and corruption would be a straight lie. I keep rising above it through the grace of Jah. But ultimately, it has been through the support of many bredren as well as sistren who have helped me along the way that I’m still here.
How long now have the sistren been as active in the struggle as the bredren? Forever… not many would argue that…but it may just be the right time in Creation or our voices to be heard...Jah knows…Why are the sistren seeming to flourish and bloom now? Everything in its due season. Jah is in control. There comes a time, when the voices of the sistren are seen for the wisdom and love that is the true intention…maybe that time is jus now. It’s not that we have to shake our finger in anyone’s face and say I told you so. There should exist a calm and quiet acceptance that truth is jus truth…no matter who it comes from. Jah instilled the message and melody and power. I don’t take a stance about being held back, because nothing can hold me back other than Jah alone.
On another level, with technology more accessible and available than ever before, I think more sistas have avenues for production than ever before. More music can come out without the dependence on a major label deal in order to make it. I can’t even tell you how many folks I know who have garage or basement home studios…that produce some quality music…This has been a tremendous benefit for women and men as well…
The music needs to keep in rotation. Nuff times you hear a mixtape and out of 75 tunes there may be one or two females. So DJ’s, put the sistren in rotation regular. Make the people hear the music, and give female artists pathways to reach all parts of the world!
And take us seriously. We not here to play. The burden and the message is heavy. Don’t doubt that Jah has the power to make the message come through the sistren.
Q: So the first album was Healing and the second was Elixir. We're trying to predict that third name, is it Treatment? Is it Nurture? Is it Medicine? And when can we can expect it, whatever it's called and what is Malika Madremana working on? Also, I mentioned that the Healing album is VERY hard to find, but you have a way people can get it, how is that and lastly what message would you like to leave the people with and we thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU for your time.
MM: Next album…nameless as of yet…tunes keep comin so I always wait until they finish before I choose a title track! It will of course be a remedy…I’ll stay true…New wisdom, new lessons, new ovastandins about life and definitely more fiya against Babylon…but I feel like I’ve matured as a result of these years goin by…both vocally and lyrically…gained much experience on stage and advice from top artists…I’m humble still applyin what I learn and I hope to be more refined and crisp…more edgy…much more confident! So the production is in the process right now and I’m lookin towards the beginning of 2010 to release…Jah willing…workin with brand new producers and musicians from Puerto Rico to St.Croix to Trinidad to Jamaica…Pure strength. Rastafari knows. Stick close to my myspace for new releases and dates.
Anyone looking for Healing…it’s not hard to find at all…come to the myspace.com/Malikamadremana and leave me a message for now… I got cha…
Message to The People: Jah is the ALMIGHTY and HE is in control of all things in creation. This earth is a beautiful and glorious place that he provided for all of us to share the bounties of. IanI must work together to ensure that the bounties of the earth are divided up so that every man, woman, child, and elder is nourished, clothed, sheltered, healed, and loved equally. The time is now to give of yourself to help others in need and evolve into a higher level of humanity. Rastafari is the King unto whom we look upon as the pinnacle of African strength, wisdom, and spirit, brought to the earth as the example of Black divinity. Respect and honor the indigenous peoples of the earth as we hold the wisdom that will save the world from destruction. That day will come. Till then, love The Most High, treat each other with respect and honor, fight for righteousness’ sake, pray for those who suffer, live life to the fullest.
Yours in struggle,