Glen, you hardly need any introduction, the name Glen Da Costa is a legendary one in reggae music. The logical question to start off with might be asking you how you started out in music. Was that always your ambition?
Glen Da Costa: "It all started at Alpha Boys School. I must have been about eleven years old. That's were my foundations were laid. From there I moved on to the army, where I played classical music in the Jamaica regiment for about 10 years and I already played with some other groups while I was still in the army too. After I left the army I joined Zap Pow which went on to become one of the most prominent bands of the late seventies. Coincidentally a rhythm track from Zap Pow was just used recently by a Bermudan rapper called Collie Buddz ('Come Around' on the Come Around riddim, based on the Zap Pow tune 'Last War', red.)."
You just mentioned that legendary institute in Jamaica, the Alpha Boys School. When you learned to play music there, were you given the freedom to choose any instrument you wanted or how did that work?
Glen Da Costa: "I really wanted to play the saxophone, but reality was that they were in need of a clarinet player, so I started out playing that. I taught myself to play the saxophone."
Alpha Boys School is a bit of a particular institute. Not everyone got to go there; the pupils are mainly orphans or difficult children. How did you end up there?
Glen Da Costa: "I was originally from Maxfield Park children's home, an orphanage. And it's procedure that when you reach a certain age you move on to Alpha."
Over the years you've played with nearly every musician in Jamaica. Are there any names that have a special place in your heart?
Glen Da Costa: "Well, there were so many. I mostly treasure the artists I worked with during the sixties and seventies. Junior Murvin - who's also with us here today - for example, because we did a lot of work together at Scratch Perry's Black Ark studio. And then there was Bob Andy too. But again, there were so many."
In the eighties there was this whole digital revolution going on in Jamaican music. Horns were often replaced with simple keyboards. How did you experience that period?
Glen Da Costa: "It happened to all of us, because whatever affects one in the industry, affects all. The synthesizer started to duplicate all our sounds and financially it was also a much cheaper option. In my opinion it didn't do the music much justice. I'm sure that in time the authentic horn sound will make a comeback because I truly believe that because of the fact that you really have to put your breath in these instruments, creating a living process, adds life to the music. Most of the songs that are done by computer today don't have a long life simply because the sound is synthetic and mechanical. It just can't touch a person as much on an emotional level."
What is the situation with the youngsters in Jamaica like now? Are they still interested in learning to play an instrument and are you passing on your skills in any way or form?
Glen Da Costa: "I help who- and whenever I can. I always have young musicians coming up to me with questions and it's my ambition to start a school at some point. I already tried that a couple of times, but I never seemed to be able to find enough teachers and I can't be there all the time because I have to earn a living touring. Unfortunately I didn't make a lot of money in the business so I still have to go out there and earn a living. Just when Zap Pow was about to break internationally in 1981, the group split up. We just couldn't continue because we weren't earning enough as a group to make a living."
The founder of that band, Mikey Zappow (born Mike Williams, red.), passed away just last year. How do you remember him? What kind of a person was he?
Glen Da Costa: "Mikey was a very dynamic, creative guy who had great dreams and aspirations. We all did in a sense, because that is what made us come together as a group. We shared the same dreams, wanting to have our own business and create original music."
I don't know if you know, but the saxophone was actually invented right here; it was a Belgian invention.
Glen Da Costa: "(surprised) Really? It came from here originally? I always thought it was French."
It was actually invented in a place called Dinant, which is not too far from the French border, by a guy called Adolph Sax.
Glen Da Costa: "Oh, ok. That's nice to know. I would like to get a new saxophone, so maybe this would be the right place to get it? The one I'm playing right now, a Conn, is not so good, but it's a very durable instrument. It's a little defective right now because it fell off a cart while travelling. I also have an instrument that I played while recording a lot of hit songs, a Selmer, but that one is beyond repair now. It's over 50 years old. I used it on most of the Bob Marley tunes I played on for example."
You just mentioned the name of Jamaica's greatest reggae legend. How was it to work with him? What can you tell us about those times?
Glen Da Costa: "Bob was a very down to earth kind of person who was just very into his music. He felt he was ordained to help the disenfranchised and bring about more justice and truths and rights to the downtrodden people of the world. He felt a sense of responsibility through his music and I think because of his origin, being born as the son of a black mother and a white father, he was more conscious to the fact that everyone deserved the right to freedom and justice. I guess he identified with both black and white colour groups in society. Trying to find himself he realised that people are just people."