A Day & Night with Cutty Ranks in Kingston, Jamaica

I first met Cutty Ranks in the early 1990’s when Raggamuffin Dancehall DJ’s and Singers were getting signed by major record labels. It was a strange interview. All the mainstream media hype in the UK on Raggamuffin artists meant that all of a sudden even ‘The Times’ and ‘The Guardian’ were sending journalists to interview Jamaican artist who they did not have a clue about. These bods did not know even one word of Patois let a lone any tunes by the artists themselves.  The venue was a wine bar in Brixton and we was round a table, a posh journalist, Cutty and me. Within a minute, once Cutty Ranks started talking, the other journalist went as red as a beetroot. I could not comprehend his discomfort. It must have had something to do with Cutty Ranks opening statement about being Raggamuffin and coming from the ‘Ghetto’ – ‘I am fi real’ he declared…and is was like a knockout punch, the other journalist departed. So he focused on me and a discussion about his recent releases. I wanted to go back to ‘Gunman Lyrics’, which he found quiet impressive, that some one knew his first big tune and after that, the interview flowed just as easy as water down Dunn’s River.

The 12

‘Gunman Lyrics’ one of Cutty Ranks first big tunes, released on the Techniques label

Some twenty years later, I am in Jamaica, to attend The International Reggae Conference at The University of West Indies, its Shrove Tuesday, a national holiday. I want to go to the beach but a link up with Cutty Ranks is on. I am anxious. Its about 2 pm. I have walked around the deserted campus, taken some photos and written an introduction to my friend Andreas Tomblin’s Art exhibition ‘Spontaneous & Raw’. I spent much of the day under  a big Acacia Tree. I called it my ‘Meditation Tree’. For some reason most of the time when I was online I sat under this tree – mainly because there was no wireless in the hotel room and the only other place where it worked was the breakfast lounge. I felt much more comfortable here, with some background ambiance from various birds tweeting some interesting notes and melodies.

Meditation Tree near MONA Visitors Lodge UWI Campus Kingston Jamaica

Meditation Tree near MONA Visitors Lodge UWI Campus Kingston Jamaica

I hail up Cutty by 2.30…he is jovial and tells me he spent the night in a recording studio and that he will pass by to pick me up soon. Now this word ‘soon’ or the phrases ‘mi reach soon’ or ‘soon reach’ needs some clarification. I learned from the first day with any appointment that ‘soon’ could mean 10 minutes, it could also mean 2 hours. And arranging multiple appointments with artists in a ‘soon come’ type of culture like JA was not a wise thing, especially for some one like me no with no wheels to get around. So one major appointment / event per day, unless it was people I met through the conference, and patience my bredren, you are in Jamaica.

While waiting for Cutty I got talking with a security guard outside the hotel. When I told him who I was seeing his eyes lit up. Cutty is not only seen as a veteran MC (on the mic since 1979) he is also a national cultural asset who makes many Jamaicans proud. Mr Ranks arrives in a big black 4 x 4 –  a ‘diblokambono’ (double cabin) which would make many Cypriots proud. ‘Hail Haji Mike – lets go’ he said as I stepped into the vehicle.  We cruise around Kingston looking for somewhere to eat and start the interview and while Cutty drives he pulls tune after tune on the car stereo, all new stuff, enough to make a triple CD release! We also take some time out for a couple of snapshots…

CUTTY HM

Food is delicious….Cutty has shrimp I have rice and peas and jerk chicken. We talk and eat. Cutty Ranks is one of the few artists I have met who challenges and questions all kinds of inequities. The world crisis, banks and bankers robbing us all – “it’s not a colour ting any more, it’s not a black and white ting, it’s a people ting, worldwide’ he declares. Or the limited airplay opportunities for Jamaican artists on local radio airwaves due to corrupt practices of payola. I wont elaborate more on what he said, you can hear it all on the ‘Cutty Ranks Outernational’ podcast at the end of this blog piece. After food we head for home. Cutty lives near The University of West Indies, in a suburb on the hills. It’s a quiet area and just as we are about to disembark for his veranda for more conversations he breaks out into the most amazing on the spot rendition of ‘Mass Grave’ a heavy slice of reasoning from his recent release ‘Full Blast’. It’s great to share this with every one reading this, it was such a special experience…

After more chat we get back in the car, hear another set of new unreleased tunes, and head for a studio run by producer ‘Not Nice’. A quiet suburban street with a nice courtyard is home to a nice Pro Tools HD set up. I get to see Cutty on the mic in the studio which is an awesome experience. He chats one take, no edits, no cut and paste, just one long flow and done. Amazing…

CUTTY IN STDUIO 1

Its night fall by now…We’ve had a couple of Red Stripes as well and I am getting tired. Cutty takes me back to the hotel, we hear a few more new tunes as well 🙂 and say our hail ups until next time. Bless Up Cutty Ranks, a real revolutionary on the mic who I got to hang out with in Kingston, Jamaica. Click the link below for the interview….

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