Tarrus Riley (Born Omar Riley, Bronx, New York) is the son of legendary singer Jimmy Riley. The success of his album Parables (produced by Dean Fraser) and its Jamaican number one hit single She’s Royal, have made him one of reggae music’s biggest stars. Angus Taylor caught up with Tarrus in NYC to discuss music, life and his incredible rise to fame.
You’ve been around for a lot longer than many people think. Tell us about your early career.
TR: I’ve been in the music business from about age fourteen. I used to record for Willie Lindo and later for Main Street, Daddy Brownie and that. All this was practice for what I’m doing now. I start in the business as a deejay, and I can still deejay, but these days I sing more, play a little keyboard and guitar, not to be Beethoven or George Benson, I help my self with the music and use my ears, and it’s all good. I just give thanks to be a part of this music.
What inspired you to take up music?
TR: Inspiration comes from everywhere. Even interviews inspire me! Relationships inspire me. It doesn’t start from one place. I read books, I read the bible, I read Marcus Garvey, his philosophy and opinions, I go outside have a peace pipe and I feel inspiration. Inspiration just flow like a river. I give thanks for life because with life come experiences and from experiences come songs.
It’s been an amazing year for you. Many people see the hopes and dreams of modern reggae in your person. Does that affect you in any way?
TR: It doesn’t affect me, it just inspires me. It gives me the confidence and courage to go and do it. I want to represent the music business, our music business, and spread reggae to the four corners of the earth. So if I can give it hope it’s a compliment, giving me more health and strength to do it right.
Where many singers with famous parents sound very similar to them - Andrew Tosh, Kenyatta Hill, Junior Toots - you have your own completely different voice. Was this something you set out to do?
TR: I started in the dancehall and admire Shabba Ranks and Stitchie, so I never really wanted to be like my father. At the time singing was an old man thing so I couldn’t really relate to it. I was more (SINGS) “YOUNG GAL BUSINESS CONTROL JAMAICA!”, Shabba Ranks Trailer Load and things like that. That was what I could relate to. It was only when I find out about melody and things like that that I could relate to singing. So it’s not like I set out to be like my father, the only similarity would be that he was in the music business like me. I just wanted to be myself. But I’m a lot like my father. He is a singer. I am a singer. But I big up my mother every time because she is a great inspiration to me and push the music very far and I really love her.
Speaking of inspirational ladies - tell us about about She’s Royal – was it inspired by a real person?
TR: Yeah man it’s a reality song, I wrote just to let woman feel nice. Because we must talk about slavery, we can’t really go round it, a lot of conditioning from slavery still resonates today and the women still lack self esteem. They need some music to make them feel good so I think let me sing a song to big up the girls and say she’s a queen and she’s Royal. As a rasta you have to look to yourself as kings and princes, and because a prince must have a princess and a king have a queen, so this is a song that makes the woman feel nice. Because if a woman feels nice, the youth feel nice. If you come home to your woman and she’s miserable the youth feel miserable. The woman is the backbone of the house so I make her feel nice.
How often is your writing based on your own experiences?
TR: Sometimes they are your experiences, and some are my experiences and some are family experiences. Life is the greatest thing and with life we get to see things and go through things and it’s all good.
Did you expect She’s Royal to take off in the way it did?
TR: I expected it to take off but not that fast. I big up the fans, because you are calling from far away, over land and seas, from Europe to listen to Tarrus Riley and that make my heart smile. So I big up the people for making that song a success. We just make songs for the people so the music belongs to the people. They buy CDs, they buy records, the come to stage shows. So the music business really belongs to the people, so when they really love and believe in a song – nothing can stop it.
On Microchip you warn of the dangers of technology but the song doesn’t sound like it was created with just a guitar and drum. Explain the philosophy behind it.
TR: I originally wrote it on my piano. We’re not bashing the computer. Computers make life easy. We need it. We work with telephones and computer and laptop. But the deeper we get into computers the more we should learn about creation, about the birds and the bees, about the rivers and streams same way. The more we get modern is the more we should get ancient. Have a balance of all things because moderation is the key – and balance is life. We don’t come to divide people with religion and politics - I am into unity. Just because we are different doesn’t mean we can’t get along. You have garlic, thyme, pepper, all of them different but they make the pot taste nice.
According to Dean Fraser, Parables was made possible by the close friendship of those involved, going above and beyond the call of duty. How was the experience for you?
TR: Yes! Dean Fraser is my big brother and also part of my business. He is coming to talk to you now!
(DEAN FRASER COMES ON THE LINE)
DF: Greetings man! It was that situation exactly. It was the musicians that really put in that effort, to make this project and we should never at any given time forget the musicians – Robbie Lyn, Robbie Shakespeare, Michael Fletcher, Sean Dawson, and of course new faces, Donald Dennis, George Dusty Miller, and the great Kirk Bennett, Mitchum Chin, myself, Dwight Richards, the harmony singers – the Daffodils. A collective effort that has turned out something that will last a very long time.
There have been reports of the reggae industry being in trouble. As one of it’s big success stories, where do you see it going?
TR: I think the music is in good hands. Because a lot of fresh talent is coming out. We have I Wayne, Busy Signal, Duane Stephens, a lot of great youths coming out. Reggae music is high right now. Once we only have certain artists, but now we have nuff nuff so I feel good.
You come to the UK in March – do you have a message for your UK fans?
DF: Right now we are asking the UK fans to come out and help keep the reggae music, because the UK is having a little down situation with the music. We are here, we are producing music and we hope the fans can help us lift the music so we can bring more concerts to England. We beg rude boy to tone it down, we don’t want anyone to be looking over their shoulders, we want a collective effort so everybody is able to hear and enjoy good reggae music, music for love, music for joy, so they can hear the music on a level.
What does 2008 hold for Dean Fraser and Tarrus Riley?
DF: We thought Parables was done, but it’s just making its mark. So we definitely have to deal with it a little more. But we are still writing, putting together new tracks, so by the middle of 2008, we start recording some very serious songs, so we are able to give you a follow up.
Thank you for your time.
DF: You’re welcome.
Tarrus Riley’s single She’s Royal is released in the UK on February 19th.
Interview by Angus Taylor