Blessings Rasites. Maybe we can start off the interview with everybody introducing themselves?
Jahmel: "Greetings I am Jahmel aka. Talis and I'm the bass player and one of the lead vocalists in the band. Blessed!"
Cyrus: "Bless! My name is Cyrus and I'm the keyboard player for Rasites."
Kashta: "Greetings I'm Kashta aka. King Kash and I'm the guitarist and lead singer."
Otis: "Blessed! I'm Otis, drummer for Rasites!"
Rasites, young dreads from London... Where did that story all start?
Jahmel: "The whole thing is really rooted in our upbringing. We all had Rastafarian parents, so we grew up with those morals and principles. Reggae music has been part of our lives since day one. We grew up to the sounds of Culture, Abyssinians, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, Bob Marley and all the other greats. In 1996 we just linked up and realised we should play music together and we've been Rasites ever since."
Where did you guys get your musical background from? Where did you learn to play your instruments?
Kashta: "Some of us came from quite musical families. Some of our parents used to work on the radio and others in the soundsystem industry. There's always been a strong connection with music in all of our families and they were all heavy music collectors. So the access to that music was always there for us. We all played an instrument already, so the four of us coming together was something that was ordained to happen."
On your website I read that you guys won a competition at one stage, which allowed you to go and play on the legendary Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica. How important was that moment in the history of Rasites?
Cyrus: "That was a very important moment. Playing there on that stage where Bob Marley and Peter Tosh also had performed was like playing at the birthplace of reggae music."
In 2001 you guys then released your debut album, 'Urban Regeneration', but soon after you guys started backing other bands and touring with the likes of the Abyssinians, Black Uhuru and so on. Did you guys consciously decide to focus more on playing as a backing band or is that just something that happened naturally?
Jahmel: "It was a vibes thing. When we started the Rasites, we were basically a dub band. Eventually we started writing our own songs. The first band we backed was The Abyssinians and that was one of our favourite groups. From before we were born our parents had loved their music, so when we got the chance to play with these great artists we jumped at the opportunity. They for their part loved the vibe that we brought and being elder Rastafarians really taught us a lot too. With Black Uhuru it's more or less the same. We haven't really turned into a backing band; it's always Rasites, but musically there aren't any limits as to how far we can take it. In the music business they always want to make you believe that there's only one way to do things. For example there's the myth that a band can only have one leader, but we say: "Equal rights and justice!" we all decide things together. At the end of the day what is most important is not who we play with but that we get our message across."
Kashta: "Also some of us have families and children to feed, so in the end the bills have to get paid. If you can then work with people like The Abyssinians or Black Uhuru, that's a great learning experience. These guys are legends, so working with them is like being able to pay your bills in style (laughs)."
In the mean time though, your fans are eagerly waiting for a new album. About a year ago there were some rumours of a new album appearing on the VP label. What's happening now?
Jahmel: "Well musically Rasites have been through a couple of ups and downs, especially when it comes to putting out our music. Most of our time and energy since 2001 was put into touring and spreading our message across the world. Being the only young roots reggae band from the UK there was a lot of ground to cover for us. It's a good feeling to know that we only released one album six years ago and can still create such a demand and vibe with the people. Now we finally got our new album coming. It's called 'One World' (The album, released by Ariwa, was eventually entitled 'Sex, Violence And Drugs', red.). On 'Urban Regeneration' we talked about our local communities. Now we've had the opportunity to travel the world and got the opportunity to embrace different cultures. Now one world is our new topic; bringing that feeling of oneness to the people."
Kashta: "They say you have to learn to dance a yard before you dance abroad. On 'Urban Regeneration' we addressed local issues, things that were affecting us in our day-to-day lives and 'One World' is now the sequel to that. This time we're dealing with world issues. We're telling people to respect the earth and the environment, because if you fail to do that a backlash will come. The Almighty has mysterious ways of showing us that all of this is not a joke thing. If we respect the earth, then the earth will respect us. That's what the 'One World' album is about. We also address issues like underage pregnancy, which is still a large problem in a lot of communities all over the world. There's also an entertainment side to the album though. It has some fun tunes alongside some serious messages for the people to listen to."
Let's go back to your first album for a second. On that album you guys did a cover of that famous classic 'Picture On The Wall' originally done by The Naturalites. Is there a connection between that band and Rasites?
Jahmel: "Well, slightly. Some of our parents know the members of The Naturalites, people like Ossie Gad, for example. That song is like an anthem for all Rastafarians all over the world. Anyone that embraces the King can identify with having a picture of His Majesty on the wall. For the Twelve Tribes of Israel, this song is like their main anthem. Every time you go to a dance organised by the Twelve Tribes you will hear that song being played. It was something I really felt excited about doing and it created a lot of good things for Rasites. A lot of people got to know about us through that song. A lot of people don't even know the original."
For the last question I want to go back to the Rasta part of your lives. Most of the young artists from Jamaica that I interview are all members of the Boboshanti order of Rastafari. I don't see any of the Rasites members wearing any turbans so what is your story?
Jahmel: "We all grew up within the Nyahbinghi order and then trough observing, learning and transgressing in life we realised we have to identify with the King. By saying Ras Tafari, you are saying the name of His Majesty before He was crowned Haile Selassie I. So it's not only about shouting his name, you also have to learn about this man and find out what made him so great, observe the exemplary life that he lived. We show great respect to the Boboshanti Order as well, because the high priest Emmanuel was someone that His Majesty came to and gave a lot of orders to. He on his turn shined the light on a lot of people to make them see the truth about Haile Selassie I. Likewise in the Nyahbinghi order where you had people like Mortimer Planno who is like a saint to us. When Haile Selassie I came to Jamaica he was the first one you saw coming out of the airplane to tell the people the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah was there. If you look at the Twelve Tribes of Israel then, they had Gadman (born Vernon Carrington aka. Prophet Gad, red.), who established Rastafari on a world-wide level. So although we grew up with the principles of the Nyahbinghi Order, we do not segregate. We are Rastafari children and we identify with The King to the fullest."
Kashta: "Organise and centralise!"
And what about Africa; have you guys been there?
Kashta: "Yes man, we even lived and went to school there. It's important that the words that you speak are a manifestation of what's in your heart. You can't really sing about going back to Africa and never have been there. Africa plays a big part in the lives of the Ras Ites. We've all been to places like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Gambia, The Sudan, South Africa and so on."
Jahmel: "When it comes to Africa, the more we learn about our roots the more we are taken back there. We are youths that were born out of the black diaspora that came through the slave trade. Our roots lead straight back to Africa, so we have to identify with that. A pig is a pig and a cow is a cow. It's not because you put a pig in a cow pen that it will become a cow. It will remain a pig. We are Africans and we must identify ourselves as such. I think I can even state, that in time, we will even go and live in Africa."
Kashta: "Right now Jah calls upon the youths because Africa is crying out for development. Sometimes you hear people say: "Well you grew up in London, you're lucky because you've had a much better life.", but it doesn't work like that. We have to bring the best of all continents together. If you're born in Africa you will learn more about the agricultural side of life, whereas if you're born in the west you will have access to technology. We have to go and teach each other about those things. That's what needs to happen right now. Less talking and more action! Oneness! Bless!"