During the last months I have made some connections to the Russian reggae scene. Yes, there is one as you can see by the number of participators at the “REGGAE GOT TALENT 2009” contest. Houseofreggae.de presents the largest interview with Russian reggae artists and producers you will find in the whole www.
At first I have planed to write an article about the Russian reggae scene but after some months of research I have had so many interviews that I though, well, let them tell their story by themselves. Here it is. All the answer came in via Skype and e-mail. Dip into the scene and meet:
Lady N (21) / Moscow: Female dancehall artist who will break through internationally, soon.
ellIjahman (27) / Kaliningrad: Musician and reggae artist
General Culture (20) / Obninsk: Dub producer who has released some tunes and albums on the net-label Sub Out Dub In.
Gerbert Morales / Moscow: Reggae artist and leader of the famous Russian reggae band Jah Division.
Pavel “Pablo” Timoshchenko (23) / Khanty-Mansiysk: Reggae and dancehall artist who is part of the dancehall group Kaya Warriors Smokaz Sound Company with So Wha?, Federico, Dimastah and Sanchez (artists). They have released the EP “Radio Urban Jungle” and will release their first LP, soon.
Rebel Steppa (21) / Moscow: Dub producer and musician
Rigos (23) / Saint Petersburg: Dancehall artist and part of the True Jamaican Crew with Bum Bam Basha and Papa Youth (artists), Black Jacket and El Toro (producers), Mr. Flash and ZJ Worm (selectors) and Jackson (dancer).
Vitaly “Italik Dubree” Fedotov (24) / Chernogolovka: Musician, producer and owner of the net-label Sub Out Dub In
The beginning of reggae in Russia
Since when does reggae exist in Russia?
General Culture: Well, in 80’s there were some rock bands, which tried to make reggae. The most famous are Aquarium and Jah Division. Actually it wasn’t reggae at all, we call hippie style.
Italik Dubree: As I know, reggae and dub groups began to appear in Russia in the early and mid-nineties. Before perestroika, there were some groups which used elements of reggae in their music, but I can’t call them reggae groups as is.
Gerbert Morales: Reggae movement in Russia was born together with the restructuring. In part, reggae emerged from the punk music. Elements of reggae music were used by well-known musicians like Barykin or Grebenshchikov. Rasta Reggae Roots movement began with Jah Division in the 90’s. We (Jah Divizion), if I may say so, are the founders of Russia’s reggae.
How did you get involved in reggae?
ellIjahman: I-man has personally recognized reggae message at the beginning of the 90’s. Probably from this time I got acquainted with the creations of Jamaican musicians such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or Lee Perry.
Lady N: I always loved Bob Marley`s songs, and I heard many times reggae singing in different styles of music. And one day, I was in school, still, it was 2004, I came to a reggae party in Moscow. I heard some Russian reggae bands like Jah Division and I liked the people and their music very much.
Rebel Steppa: It was from school, I started to listen to reggae after ska punk music, around 2000, I think. I just got myself the Bob Marley “Rastaman Vibration” album. I didn’t like it from the start but the more I listen the more I liked it. Once I found myself singing the entire album along with Bob and realised – yes, this music is pure vibration.
Pablo: We grew up in a Hip Hop culture. In 2000 or 2002 we listened Bob Marley, then we have changed into caribbean vybz like Busy Signal, Black Uhuru, Damian Marley, Mad Professor, Vybz Kartel. We saw that reggae dancehall music has more than Hip Hop, more artists with soul. It’s a message to the world about life, about good over evil, about our mind and soul.
Do you still know the first reggae tune you have ever heard?
Lady N: Yes, Sister Nancy “Bam Bam”.
Gerbert Morales: Of course, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear.
General Culture: Gladiators “Hearsay”, Johnny Osbourne “Rurify”. Oh, you know, for real, the first time i’ve listened the vibes is when I played GTA 3. There was the album “Scientist Rids The World Of The Curse Of The Vampires” – really tuff!
Rastafari in Russian reggae
How important is Rastafari in Russian reggae and especially for you?
Gebert Morales: To be an orthodox Rastafari in Russia is very difficult now, but I studied philosophy and the idea of Rastafari. In Russia the police do not like dreadlocks, because many people have no information about this culture.
Rigos: I know I am blessed because I am staying alive after a car accident. And many cops try to catch me but they can’t. Music is a mission; in that case I call myself a Rasta.
ellIjahman: For me Rasta is revelation, but reggae is message. I don’t know if Rasta prophets expected anything about Russia, but I think that when Jahlight will fall into the heart of the Russian people – Babylon shall fall.
Rebel Steppa: Rastafari is truth and right, love and light. I am not a religious person but I am still faithful, a part of His Creation, born for a purpose and a mission. I can say that the first generation of Russian reggae artists created a lot of stereotypes like, you know, Rastaman music is all about positive, ganja smoking, dreadlocks. That is no good. The new generation will have to break those stereotypes for the brighter future of roots music over here.
Reggae role models and important people
Do you have any role models in the reggae / dub business?
Rebel Steppa: No, I don’t but to be-like-nobody-else is not my mission really. If any of my riddims sounds like somebody else, that is no problem for me. I am just learning now, trying to find my own recognizable sound. I try to make reggae music not something experimental.
Italik Dubree: All reggae and dub scene in the UK, their distribution, cooperation between sound systems and studios, is the best role model for me.
Rigos: I have no role models, but artists who make an influence like King Shango, Rodney Price, Adidja Palmer, Lord Evil, Gully God, Gangsta Ras and Energy God.
Lady N: No, but I really like the voices of Natasja Saad, Midnite and Robert Lee. And I like, of course, old reggae tunes by Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Jacob Miller.
Who are the most important producers, artists, bands in Russian reggae / dancehall?
Rigos: I rate Black Jacket and El Toro as producers; Bum Bam Basha, Papa Youth, Ras Thunder, Wins, Pablo, La Truk and Ras Ophir as artists and Spliff Ryda, Ragganinjah and DJ Worm as selectors.
Pablo: As I think the most important Russian artists are Termit, True Jamaican Crew with Rigos, Papa Youth and Bashinda. The most important producers are Smoking Bullets, El Toro and Black Jacket.
General Culture: The most successful producers are Rebel Steppa and Digiman. Lots of European soundsystems have their dubplates. Jah Rave is a good MC, he keeps a strong level!
Kebra Nagast, a man from Saint Petersburg, is the only one who really can sing reggae in Russian language. We are waiting for his album!
Gerbert Morales: In Russia the cult status takes Jah Division. We students there who have already formed their own groups. Professional reggae producers in Russia are not at this stage, everyone lives as it turns out, from concert to concert.
Lady N: I like Steppa Style, a dancehall and jungle mc, and True Jamaican Crew. Rebel Steppa, he is a roots dubmaster and a great musician. And of course – me.
Studios and labels
How and where do you produce your tracks?
Italik Dubree: Like most artists of my net-label Sub Out Dub In, I make music in my own home studio. I record material on the computer using Abletone, Cubase and other music programs, and I also use live instruments like melodica and percussion. and old analog synths. And after that I try to make the mastering in a professional studio if it is possible.
Rigos: Black Jacket and El Toro doing their thing in a home studio with midi keys, Reason, tons of libraries. And we get samples and plugins from Vinyl Shotz, a producer from Germany who is a friend of us.
Rebel Steppa: I do everything at home on very humble setup. Early 2010 I am going to improve my home studio, so my music will sound more professional.
Are there any Russian reggae labels or even recording studios?
Rigos: We have LevPravZvuk in Moscow and LKK.
Lady N: Now, there are lot of studios working with reggae style. But the first studio and label was LevPravZvuk. And it is staying the only one official Russian reggae label. And also rap labels sometimes work with reggae artists. A lot of Russian rappers are trying to do some reggae tunes, using reggae riddims.
Reggae in public radio
Do they play reggae music or dub in public radio?
ellIjahman: I do not know one FM station playing only reggae. But Russian performer can be happy if they get played three times a year on radio stations.
Gerbert Morales: On the radio reggae can be heard only rarely. It is difficult to say why. Perhaps affected by the absence of productions in this area.
Pablo: Yes, but not many. Now we are making connections with different mainstream radio stations and sends CDs. There are some reggae internet stations, which show Russian and world reggae music like 101.ru.
Italik Dubree: Unfortunately, in prime time in Russia you will not hear the reggae on the public (fm) radio. But there are some internet radio stations where you can listen music roots reggae, dancehall, ska and more. Also there are some different websites and blogs, where you can download podcasts with Russian artists like www.pullup.it.
How strong is the Russian reggae / dancehall scene?
Pablo: Well, it is on a low level, but the massive loves reggae music in all ages: from 15 to 25, from 25 to 35, from 35 to 50, doctors, students, smokers, politicians, DJs, selectors, sellers, creative peoples and more. They love Caribbean music, coming to parties. There are some websites, which show reggae and danehall music to the Russian massive like www.reggae.ru and www.reggae-vibes.ru.
General Culture: I believe that when the massive will grow up, the conscious music will become more serious and there will be much more producers and artists. Nowadays people think that reggae is something like hiphop, but soon they will realise, that its not a subcultural music – its true culture!
Gerbert Morales: In Russia, now the whole industry is in the internet, but if we talk about the Reggae industry, it is in the initial state.
Lady N: It is a very small scene. We don`t have special reggae clubs but we have a lot of clubs where we can make reggae parties every week. Every weekend there are a few reggae or dancehall parties. And we have “Mystic Nights”, a monthly party with Mystic Bo (from Mystic Roots Sound, Berlin), where he invites great artists from Europe.
Rigos: In Saint Peterburg and Moscow there is a reggae scene, certainly. There are no special days or special places for reggae parties but minimum once a week we are jamming in a club.