Category Archives: london

People Reality: An Interview with Kenny Knots

Some will undoubtedly have heard of Kenny Knots through his work with a wide range of UK and European producers from Mungo’s Hi Fi to ManassehCultural Warriors to Jah Warrior.  Others may know him as the one-time singjay on northeast London’s Unity Hi Fi where he recorded digi dancehall hits like “Run Come Call Me” “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” and “Ring Up My Number“.  I met Kenny Knots in June of 2008 at his studio in Leyton, Northeast London, where we talked for an hour or so about his music, London sound systems, sound-tapes and videos, and a range of other topics.  Joining me on the bus ride to Leyton was Pras who is responsible for taking these photos.  There is some talk online of a solo album coming soon on Scotch Bonnet records, so keep an eye out for that along with any other Kenny Knots releases and please do enjoy the interview.

How did you get your start in music?

I spent some time back in the day in the first studio producing Unity music which was Must Dance International–which is Jah Bunny, Ruddy Ranks, Redeye, Elroy from Black Slate.  You know all these kinda people around so I got a pretty early insight to wha gwan inside the studio environment, so it was always kinda good on that behalf.  And I always had ideas, I could go to a dance and not, like–you have some singers and some deejays they rehearse very hard even to go to a dancehall, you know.  But I be the kinda man that don’t do much rehearsing, like on that department.  You know, just go in a dance, hear something ina your head, you know and say bwoy a dat me a go with and you just spit off a thing–like you just sing a thing or you deejay a thing, because I do a bit of both, you know, inside of the music industry I sing, I singjay, I do a bit of deejay, I do a bit of this, do a bit of that.  I try to fill my life with the music still, no matter how it a come from, you know, even a guy give me a link the other day who does dubstep and stuff like that and some minimal kind of beats.  And, you know, to be a artist would you only paint houses, or would you only paint cars, you know or would you only do drawings and never do paintings–so I look at it in that perspective.  For me, music is an all around thing, when I first started working inside of this place here and doing my little thing its like, people were sent to me that done r&b and stuff like that.  I could have turned them away and said I’m a roots purist, or try and learn from the experience and I chose to deal with the experience and find out what comes from it.  And it was fun I done about seven months of recording, like trying to create beats in a different style–which is nothing to do with where like perhaps I eat my bread from, but it was all very good and I cherish them moments. So, a so it go .

Who were the big sound systems in your area and what artists were you influenced by?

Well, influenced by, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, D Brown, you know.  The one that really give me the kickstart was I heard Nitty Gritty, and I never heard any kind of singing like that in my life!  I said bwoy me haffi try that style deh–and I tried it, and I went down to the Must Dance studio, I kept singing this song over and over and over: watch how the people them dancing, watch how the dance crowd dancing and the man say you know something, mek we voice a tune. And, my first time really in front of a microphone, you know like, in a studio with headphones on it was new, different to like just singing outside–there was a few people in the studio at the time and there was words coming–put in that word there and put in that word there. You know, and we put them in and Redeye and Ruddy, who really kinda arranged the music for Must Dance, they say alright then boom–sing that piece twice, sing that piece once, come back with that piece deh thats a nice likkle phrase  try that one deh again. And it was about maybe five, six hours, seven hours and the tune was voiced up, it was sounding good.  I struggled badly on harmonies, didn’t know anything about harmonies and stuff like that, but they said come on, you can do it.  So thats how “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” was created, and I felt more confident in myself as an artist coming along, you know, young fresh and green.  Obviously at the time it wasn’t very much like–you know you had like Johnny Osbourne and them and Tony Tuff and they was releasing their music like conscious ites, but you also had the other side which was like, very dancehall–light, about girls and stuff like that, you know.  And I went ahead with that like “Ring Up My Number” and stuff like that and, you know, same thing, just moving up the fire every single time.  And even around here–because that was kinda Hackney, Stoke Newington side–like this side, Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow, there was a few little sounds from round this side deh.  As a youth I had a sound called Boss Intruder, with a brethren called Beefy, you know and so forth, it was a lovely time.  We never had many speakers, we never had many amps, and we used to play like in house parties–them times it was alright to have a house party and like, you jam for the whole night.  Now you’ll get in trouble straight away with the police and rae rae.  So even at that time deh, buying a preamp, we got a guy called Reese to build us a preamp, and it was silver and it looked like a bomb, it was sloping like that.  When we was on the bus with the preamp someone said to me, like, what is that thing you’ve got in your hand and me say bwoy its a thing to play music.  Ohh its a thing to play music okay, so what’s this button do? And at the time I didn’t really know what the button done yet cause we just picked it up I was bringing it home to go and play it, so I was like I dunno that ones the bass, that ones the treble.  You know, long time inside of the sound system thing.

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Rub-A-Dub Invasion

Tomorrow night is the first Boston date of the Dub Invasion Festival—Adrian Sherwood and Brother Culture alongside Subatomic Sound System, Q-Mastah, C Dubs, and General Motor at Good Life.  This promises to be an excellent night of music and for the price of only $5(USD) there’s really no excuse.   The rest of the festival looks equally dope—with a lot of events including a King Tubbys tribute by the Deadly Dragon crew, a film screening, and masterclasses with Clive Chin, Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood.  Predictably the New York end of things has a lot more going on but I can’t really complain, it’s surprising they even included Boston in the first place.

Back in 2007 I interviewed Brother Culture and was able to catch him perform a number of times during a stay in London.  He is a very talented MC and a really nice, down to earth dude.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation.


How did you get involved in being an MC and what were your early influences?

I started to MC in about 1982, and primarily it was because I loved music, I loved sound systems from when I was in school.  My older sister who was nearest in age to me, her name was Sister Culture and she was an MC, and she used to chat on a sound called Jah Revelation Muzik which was the sound of the Twelve Tribes of Israel—a Rastafarian organization—it was international and this was the like London branch.  So when I left school and I started to go to a lot of dances where my sister was MCing, people would naturally say “special request to Sister Culture’s brother.” Now, I sort of got the name from people because I’m Sister Culture’s brother not because I’m an MC.  And then halfway into 82, you know, I started to rehearse a lot, and get interested in moving with the sound system.  The manager of the sound at the time was a guy called Cecil Reuben; he said to me, “can you MC like your sister? Cause you look like an MC.”  And so I was glad for this and I took it from there, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.  I was working with Twelve Tribes initially for about ten years, all over the world, between Jamaica, America, Canada, Trinidad, England, I worked with all twelve Tribes sounds—worked with artists like Brigadier Jerry, Sister Carol, etcetera.  And then, about 92, after I’d been MCing for about ten years, I cam back from America, and the whole Twelve Tribes scene had kinda changed in London, and I wasn’t part of the Twelve Tribes sound system anymore.  That’s when I started checking out the UK dub scene, which was kind of having an upsurge at that time in the early nineties.  You had sound systems like Aba Shanti, Iration Steppas, obviously Jah Shaka, many others, too many to even mention.  I started to MC a lot on that circuit because at the time—in the beginning of the nineties—the actual kinda dancehall Jamaican roots which is where I was coming from had become very kind of, uh… the ragga movement had kinda taken over. There was not many spots with spontaneous like MCs, in such dances, but yet there was on the UK dub steppers scene, and I could sort of still go and chat the mic, and as an MC you tend to go where you can do your stuff.   So all in all its about twenty, twenty five years, that I’ve been doing this.

Taking it back even before that, was there a lot of music in your family—aside from your sister?  What kind of music were you hearing at home growing up?

It wasn’t a particularly music family, put it that way, but I have five sisters and one brother, all older than me, so a lot of it was the music they were listening to would influence me.  But when I was really young, when I was, sort of, seven, eight, nine, I was listening to stuff like the Osmonds and Michael Jackson, and David Cassidy, and all these kind of artists, you know what I mean it wasn’t like a purist reggae kind of upbringing.  But the first time I started to really get into my own music, it tended to be reggae music, because the three sisters nearest in age to me were all reggae heads, and they would bring Dennis Brown, or they would bring Dillinger tunes, and Big Youth.  But me personally, when I started to by records, I loved MC records—cause obviously I was an MC—and I was really influenced by people like Lone Ranger—an MC called Lone Ranger from Jamaica—I was really influenced by Brigadier The General, Josey Wales, Charlie Chaplain, Clint Eastwood and General Saint—it was a vast range of MCs that interested me.  So pon a personal level my house, my father would buy tunes by, um. . .  Desmond Dekker for example, my father would have like the whole Trojan “Tighten Up” series compilations—great reggae compilations that came out in the seventies—stuff like that.  But it was my sisters that started to bring sort of the more hardcore reggae into the house.  The Big Youth, and I remember African Herbsman Bob Marley’s album, Natty Dread was a big influence on my development.  And then when I was like seventeen-eighteen I started to get into real kinda English Rasta roots like Aswad, and Steel Pulse.  Not so much Mutumbi, but I researched Mutumbi later on.  Becoming an MC it was a fusion of those influences: Lone Ranger, Bob Marley, Aswad, and then I used to listen to loads of stuff produced by Sly and Robbie, compilations like How the West Was WonAfrican Dub is another album that influenced me a lot, so on and so forth.

What can you say about the sound system scene when you were coming up in the eighties and how has it changed since then?

 What’s changed?. . . Well, I can talk about the eighties, cause it was the eighties I became a teenager—or sixteen, sorry—and it was there I started to listen to physical sound systems.  When I was around, like 81-82—I’m from Brixton so obviously my starting point would be Brixton.  Brixton was a place of great sound systems.  Sound systems like Sir Coxsone Outernational, Frontline International, these were king sounds, but there was many sounds in Brixton.  Then you had your West London sounds like Java, One Love, you had your North London sounds like Unity, Fat Man, you had your East London sounds, you had your Nottingham sounds.  But I used to listen to Sir Coxsone Outernational when I wasn’t with Jah Revelation MCing, if I went out to listen to a sound I’d listen to Sir Coxsone; I’d go to clashes with Sir Coxsone and Java from West London.  Java is the sound that General Levy came out of.  Then obviously there was Saxon, I didn’t mention Saxon sound, they were a massive influence on me from an MC point of view.  Because, what happened in England, a lot of the sound systems up to the seventies were mostly following what was happening in Jamaica, this is including the MCs.  A lot of the early MCs used to listen to MCs in Jamaica like Rankin Toyan, Welton Irie, Brigadier, U Roy, and they would more—I don’t mean imitate in a disrespectful way—but it was more like an imitation thing that was happening, whereas when Saxon came to the forefront between sort of 82 and 86, they brought a new dimension whereas they were all English MCs, and they were very rehearsed.  When Saxon played, when you had Tippa Irie, Papa Levi, Rusty, Sandy, Musclehead selecting, Trevor Rankin, it was an organized body of youths.  And this really struck me when I was young that this is how I wanna come rehearsed, I don’t wanna come to the dance and just sort of freelance which is a lot of what the earlier guys used to do—off the top of the head stuff—these [later] guys were coming with like really serious compositions that you couldn’t perform unless they were really rehearsed.  So I took a lot of inspiration from those guys and developed it in the Twelve Tribes, and really became the main MC in the Twelve Tribes for this kind of innovative style—especially using English style cockney lyrics but on roots themes.  Cause Jah Revelation was a Rasta sound, but it had the kinda dancehall element with a Rasta edge to it, it wasn’t like a sort of doctrinal Rasta sound like Jah Shaka, it was more like a kinda dancehall development from Jamaica, but was rehearsed.  And that’s what made Jah Revelation—in my opinion—stand out of the crowd.  But we had great dances in Brixton with Jah Revelation and Coxsone, all these sounds I’ve mentioned.

Who are some of the artists that you have collaborated with?

I’ve worked with so many people but the ones that I’m sort of still working with are Adrian Sherwood.  He’s one of my closest work associates.  The first professional tune I ever made was in 1996 with a reggae artist from Jamaica called Little Roy, he done an album for Adrian Sherwood, and I’ve been working with Adrian Sherwood ever since.  I’ve worked with Manasseh for seven years, “Darker Side of Town” is a Manasseh tune.  I’ve worked with more or less everyone really, I’ve made albums with Aswad, I MC a lot nowadays on European sound systems as opposed to doing PA’s or anything, I go and I’ll do like old-school MC sets on whatever selection they’re playing.  Even though I do PA’s, but I still like to stay close to that kinda sound system thing, you know?  And I’ve worked with some of the best sound systems in Europe, its hard to know where to start.  But the highlight, I MC’d a dance in 1985 in Jamaica called the Khaki Dance.  Everybody had to wear full khaki wear to get in, it was a three day dance in Kingston, and Twelve Tribes members from all over the world came for this, almost like a convention.  And it was great because it was the first time a lot of Twelve Tribes people from different countries had actually seen each other.  And I got to MC with Brigadier General, which is like my teacher, my spiritual leader as an MC—I rate Brigadier General above all MC’s.

A lot of UK artists don’t really get a lot of exposure across the Atlantic.  Do you have any thoughts on why that is.

I don’t know but the first album that I ever made was in America, in New Jersey with a producer called Bullwackie, from Wackie’s studio.  But going back to your point I think its because America is so big, and its so close to the Caribbean, that the influence is gonna be from the Caribbean, it’s as simple as that.  Jamaican artists will be well known in America, and there’ll be lots of homegrown.  But then again Americas different, on the east coast is more of like a sound system scene, on the west coast its more of a band scene, there’s loads of reggae bands on the west coast of America, but it tends to be a very inward-looking scene.  You have to be someone like Mad Professor, Jah Shaka, I can imagine, can go to America and get a certain crowd.  And then you’ve got like the Morgan Heritage, Third World kind of “stadium reggae”.  This kind of thing probably goes down quite well in America because its very Americanized anyway in the way its produced.  But UK reggae artists, apart from Maxi Priest, I can’t think of one that’s sort of made much headway.  Papa Levi back in the days—the MC from Saxon—had one tune that was well known in America, Jamaica and England, “Mi God Mi King”.  But really, I don’t know, I think it’s because Americas so big, and you have to actually be living there.  As an English artist I reckon you’d have to be living in America and be on a certain scene in New York, I know there’s a good roots scene in New York, a thriving kinda dub scene.  But when I was there I was moving with people like, I don’t know if you’ve heard of like this artist called Jamalski, he’s an artist used to work with the Zulu Nation, and he showed me a lot of sort of spots in Manhattan and stuff that was playing reggae.  But, I don’t know, it’s a mystery . . . I think with the internet it might change though, you might see a lot more movement when it comes to vocals and stuff like that, voicing tunes.  I voiced some tunes this week for some Americans, one being Druba, from Brooklyn, and one called Ras Amerlock, from Milwaukee.

Full Interview @ Musicmnp

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