Bob’s ‘roots rock reggae’ alive with Alpha Blondy
Ryan Summerlin June 26, 2013
If you go
What: Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival featuring SOJA, Alpha Blondy, Passafire and more
When: June 29
Where: MontBleu Outdoor Event Center
Alpha Blondy is truly a worldwide artist. Born in Africa’s Ivory Coast, the 60-year-old musician has pumped out more than 20 energetic albums. His most recent, “Mystic Power,” released earlier this year, is a whole-hearted tribute to Bob Marley’s “roots rock reggae” (emphasis on the rock). He spoke to Lake Tahoe Action about the album’s meanings and how he manages to sing in three languages.
Q: On this album, you’ve brought the rock side of roots rock reggae to the forefront.
Alpha Blondy: I try to respect the roots rock reggae dimension. Usually, we kind of forget the rock dimension. We always got the ethnic dimension, the roots dimension. But not the roots rock reggae. I also try to make reggae go into nightclubs.
I mean we did not respect the trilogy, the trilogy that Bob Marley used to do, the roots rock reggae. We always do roots reggae. We do not emphasize the rock dimension of it. And that’s what I tried to do.
Q: You worked with some younger artists on this album like Beenie Man. How was that?
Alpha Blondy: Beenie Man and I met in French Guiana and Suriname. We were on tour. He’s a very, very nice person. We took up music at the hotel. I asked him if he could be featured in my next album. He agreed. When he got to Europe, I was in Paris. I called him and we did it.
Q: What is behind the title “Mystic Power”? I understand it is a reference to women.
There is a song in the album called “Women.” In that song, I’m saying have you ever seen a woman giving birth. If you have then you know that women are the highest power on earth: physical power, mystical power and divine power. That’s why I called it “Mystic Power.”
The album is dedicated to mankind really. Human beings are the biggest mystery in the universe for me. And man is the child of woman.
Q: Why did you decide to make this album now? Was there a particular incident in your life that triggered this?
They gave me life. The only reason I’m doing what I’m doing today is because a little woman somewhere in the world gave birth to Alpha Blondy. If there were not mothers, I wouldn’t be here. It’s a tribute that women deserve.
Q: Why did you choose to cover Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”? And why did you translate it to French?
That version was written in 1978 when I used to live in New York. I had made a French version of “War,” a French version of “Crazy Bullet,” and I made this French version of “I Shot the Sheriff “ because I wanted the people in my home to catch the message of Bob Marley. I wanted people back home to know what Bob was saying.
My record company asked me if I could do something for the 30th anniversary of the Death of Bob, I proposed that song.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
I speak small English, small French and big Dioula. English and French are not my native tongues. There are a few words in my songs in Hebrew and a few words in Arabic. My friends who speak Arabic and Hebrew will talk to me. That’s where I learned those words.
Q: You went to school in the United States for English, right?
Yeah, I did. That’s where I got my small English from, my American heritage (laughs).
Q: You sing beautifully in all three of those languages though. Do you have a favorite to sing in?
No, not really. It helps me make friends. It helps me communicate with my fans. I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to learn those languages.
Q: You truly have a universal fan base.
When you come into this career, you don’t know how things are going to work. I was lucky to speak those languages. And I was lucky that my career became international. All I can say is thank god.
Q: You often sing about religion or religious themes. Do you have a particular religion?
Sometimes when people ask me if I believe in Jesus, or Allah, or Adonai, I answer “God is my religion.” You will see that religion divides people. The common denominator between religions, God, will bring us together. I was raised with respect for all religions, so I refuse to put a label on my faith.
Q: What impact do you hope your music will have?
I hope that my music in combination with other music can bring people together. We have so much things in common. We don’t have to only talk about things that divide us. We should encourage those things that bring us together.