Jah Beng brings a river of healing

11 Dec 2005

Toronto is a city with musicians galore and that makes it challenging for all of them to get mainstream recognition. Many times we seem to focus on musicians with notoriety; those with the greatest buzz. And as such, we are not exposed to great artists that are not as well known.

One such artist is Jamaican born Colin Grant a.k.a Jah Beng. With a soulful, seductive, melodic voice and positive, thought-provoking, revolutionary messages, he is a musical force to be reckoned with. I first met Jah Beng at this year’s Toronto Natural Hair show. What struck me about him was how dignified, gentle, polite, knowledgeable and positive he was.

He was selling his CD but he was not throwing it down anyone’s throats. He was just outlining the benefits of listening to it, one of them being that it was music that you could listen to with your children and yet have no fear of being embarrassed by the lyrics.

This year he received a U.M.A.C (Urban Music Association of Canada) nomination. Jah Beng earned it for Best Reggae Recording with his smash single Biggest Part of Me. In 1998 he received a Juno nomination for his debut CD Cry For The Children. In a world of songs that glorify guns, misogynistic lyrics and materialism, he is a breath of fresh air. He has been in opening act spots for musical artists such as Maxi Priest, Buju Banton, Anthony B and The Abyssinians. Jah Beng’s music video for his first single from the River Of Healing CD entitled Biggest Part Of Me is being played on MuchMoreMusic and MuchVibe stations in Canada. Most of the video was shot in the beautiful land of Jamaica.

Why did you choose the name Jah Beng? What does that mean?

Beng is taken from the Abeng horn. This is an instrument that was created by the Maroons, people who were taken from the Gold Coast of Africa and brought to Jamaica as slaves. They made this instrument using the horn of a cow. They fought fiercely to liberate themselves from the British oppressors in Jamaica during the 1700s and used the Abeng horn to warn of danger and to signal war and coming battles. JAH is the name we (Rastafarians) call our creator. Jah Beng, therefore means spiritual horn or the horn of Jah.

You were born in Kingston, Jamaica and currently live in Toronto. How much does your Jamaican background influence your music?

My Jamaican background influences my music heavily. I grew up in Trench Town and was exposed to the thunder of reggae music tearing up the speaker boxes of the sound systems that played in my area on a regular basis. The music of Burning Spear, Bob Marley, Culture, Dennis Brown etc. stuck in my brain and was a source of great inspiration. The philosophy and teachings of the Rasta people gave me a great sense of pride and a deep understanding of my roots and culture and my place in the universe. When I emigrated to Canada, the Rastaman''s music and ideals were my sources of strength and provided me with some continuity in what was a very strange and, at times, unfriendly environment.

I know that you sing politically, spiritually and economically conscious songs. What inspires that?

Well, when you grow up in Trench Town, Jamaica, a place where many were once (and some still are) ashamed to say they were and are from, you get to see some of the best things and some of the worst things that life has to offer. I was a very quiet but extremely observant child and I soaked it all up. With the guidance of the Rasta elders and youths, I was able to develop the power of discernment and refuse the worst while moving toward the best. I saw poverty, death, the manipulation of the people by the political parties and their well to do and/or well armed co-conspirators. I observed the efforts of the people, including my own family, who struggled against all odds to retain their dignity. These experiences were stamped indelibly in my conscious and subconscious self. As a teenager, I developed the power to express my ideas in words and melodies and began to create the songs that Jah has blessed me with.

Who are your musical influences?

As I mentioned earlier, the legends of reggae music provided the foundation on which I am now building. I was exposed to other forms of music including Jazz, R&B, Rock& Roll and even studied "Classical" music for a little while but Roots Reggae, the music of the Ghetto is and was my heart beat.

What do you think of the state of hip hop today?

If music reflects the state or mind-set of the people who create it, then we are in serious trouble where present day hip-hop is concerned. Tragically, hip-hop has become the music of the spiritually, creatively and physically dead. It was not always like this. This was once a genre of music that was once vibrant and entertained us in positive ways and educated us as well. I say bring back Public Enemy!

I know you mentioned that you like to make music that people can listen to even with their kids around. Do you find that being positive and conscious as you are carries some sort of price? Like for example does it affect your sales? You know, people like Common and Jill Scott do not sell as much as some hard core hip hop artists with negative lyrics…

Well, the media programs people and the media is convinced that people of all stripes want to hear black artists create music that degrade black women and inspire black men to kill each other. Therefore, my music which speaks of taking a revolutionary stance against the established powers and finding oneself beyond the programming does not get played in the so called "mainstream".

This will ultimately affect the sales figures but I have a greater purpose than achieving block busting sales...it''s about preserving my culture and saving my soul and there are many who share my vision. I will not bow.

Congratulations! You have an Urban Music Association of Canada Award nomination. The single, Biggest Part of Me, was entered in the Best Reggae Recording category for 2005. Also you music video is being rotated on MuchMoreMusic and MuchVibe station. Do you feel like you are finally getting recognized for your hard work?

It is good to be recognized. Such recognition means that I am reaching some people. However, I am not interested in the hype because it does nothing for me. When someone gets a hold of my CDs (River of Healing or Cry for the Children), listen to it and then sees me in the streets and says "your CD has been stuck in my CD player for six weeks man. I love it. My family loves it. It is so refreshing and uplifting. Hearing thank you is truly rewarding.

Where can people find your CD’ "River Of Healing" and what can they expect when they listen to it?

They can get it online at www.jahbeng.com. It is currently available at some of the music stores on Eglinton Ave. West. It is also available in HMV, Sam the Record Man and indigo/Chapters stores.

What inspired the song Biggest Part of Me?

Biggest Part of Me was first released by a group named Ambrosia. I heard the song and loved it. The original song spoke of the love between a man and a woman but in covering this tune, I decided to do it differently. Because I spend a lot my quiet moments thinking about creation and the Creator, I sang of JAH being the Biggest Part of me instead of focusing on the male/female relationship.

Can you please tell us more about producer/songwriter and bassist, Charles ‘Tower’ Sinclair of Kornerstone Productions? What kind of relationship do you have with him?

''Tower'' is an amazingly talented person. He was the bassist for MessenJah, the toughest Reggae band out of Canada and a group of musicians, who were second to none in the genre. He is part of Kornerstone Productions along with another great talent, Orville ''Wyz'' Malcolm. I consider Kornerstone productions to be one of the most formidable production teams anywhere in the world.

The music industry is a very tough one to crack, what have been your challenges in this regard?

Working with others who seem to have tunnel vision when it comes to the potential of Reggae Music in the Toronto scene and world-wide. We have the power to create a very special vibe in Toronto and push this out to the entire world. Getting others to see and embrace this vision is extremely difficult but I intend to triumph in convincing those who are still in doubt.

I can tell that despite the growing notoriety, you are not letting it go to your head. You are very humble. What keeps you grounded?

Reality keeps me grounded. The entire world is on the verge of being torn apart in my view. Many are suffering and dying and the propaganda machines of the western media tell only lies. I tune in to the vibes beyond the programming and know that it would be foolish to become an admirer of oneself in these times.

Your website mentioned performing in Ghana, Africa. What was your impression of Africa? Will you be performing in other African countries?

Disappointingly we did not get to make the trip to Africa as we found we were not dealing with promoters with the best intentions and therefore, had to abandon that prospect after investing a considerable amount of time and funds. We will make that trip in the near future and are looking forward to it.

What is a beautiful woman in your experience?

A beautiful woman is one who respects and cares for herself, her family friends and loves deeply. She is also a warrior who is prepared and willing to defend her community and family if needed and by any means necessary. She is militant, dread and powerful and above all loves JAH.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

I want to help people to wake up and see what is right in front of them...that the current systems we live under are cruel and inhumane and though some of us are not directly affected, it is only a matter of time before this is no longer true. When one knows what the problems are, then one can begin to formulate solutions. Right now the majority of us are just swallowing without question.

What is next for you?

Whatever moves me through the powers of the Most High JAH.

Jah Beng, thank you for your time.

Thank you for this opportunity. JAH Guidance and Protection. Blessed Love.

Jah Beng will be performing at my CD release party on Friday December 16, 2005 at the Opera House (735 Queen Street. East.). Please call Strictly Roots at 416.757.1024 for tickets or visit www.jahbeng.com

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