Raising Consciousness with Reggae and Rastafari: an Interview with Raging Fyah

Raging Fyah performs at the Ninth Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival in Monterey, California. Photo: Stephen Cooper

If Las Vegas were taking bets on which band will drop an album the world will soon be talking about – and singing, skanking, and otherwise shaking their booty to – an album that will quickly catapult to the top of all relevant rankings, we could, all of us, break the bank betting on Kingston, Jamaica’s Raging Fyah and their feverishly anticipated new album, “Coming in Hot.”

On May 27, shortly after their jubilant, Jah-inspired performance at the Ninth Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival Cali Roots – a performance that showcased the band’s spiritual energy, its sensational musicianship, and its unique and uplifting vocal stylings – I had the honor of interviewing Raging Fyah’s lead singer Kumar Bent, bassist Delroy “Pele” Hamilton, and keyboardist Demar Gayle, for roughly twenty minutes. We discussed the band’s backbreaking work ethic, the official video for their song “Happiness” (off of their 2016 Grammy-nominated album “Everlasting, the new “Coming in Hot” album and the track “Rebel” (the first song released off of the album as a single), marijuana, social media, Rastafari, and several other interesting subjects. What follows is a transcription of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.

Q: That was a sensational performance. The crowd loved it. And I just want to congratulate you on it. And also congratulate you because today you’re wrapping up the tour that you’ve been on, the “Marching Orders” tour. How did that tour go?

Kumar: It was a great tour; about six shows with The Green and Iya Terra. It’s been great learning new music, you know, from these guys. And getting to know them. Because we’ve been introduced to the U.S. market (only) three years now, touring with the bands on the scene.

Q: I thought it was (ironic) the tour was named the “Marching Orders” tour because you guys had just finished up another tour with Rebelution, the “Winter Greens” tour that you did in January and February, which was an even longer tour. So, really, you guys have been “marching” all over the United States for quite some time now.    

Kumar: Yes. Three years. Three years nonstop.

Q:  In fact, Dan Sheehan, the co-producer and talent-buyer for Cali Roots, identified Raging Fyah as a band that has been really “grinding it.” Especially in the U.S. market. Would you agree with that assessment?

Kumar: Yes. For sure.

Pele: Definitely.

Q: And have you noticed that it’s been paying dividends? Have you noticed that your popularity in the U.S. has been expanding as a result?

Kumar: Yes, yes, it has grown.

Q: Yes. I’ve noticed too. Now, in addition to your touring schedule, Raging Fyah has been very busy in other ways as well. For example, in March, you released an official video for the song “Happiness” off of (your Grammy-nominated album) “Everlasting.” Where was that video shot? 

Demar Gayle: In Richmond, Virginia.

Q: It’s such an uplifting video, the video for “Happiness.” In my opinion, part of the reason why is because there’s such a simple, bare-bones (but elegant) production (quality) to (it). (It’s just the band walking, singing, and dancing on a bright and sunny day in fall.) I mean, (Raging Fyah) has done much bigger production-style videos –  

Kumar: Yeah.

Q: I’m thinking about “Dash Wata,” for example –   

Kumar: Yeah.

Q: I’m thinking about the remix you did with (popular Polish singer) (Kamil) Bednarek of your song “Get Up.”

Kumar: Yeah.

Q: But with (the video for) “Happiness,” I got the feeling the band intentionally kept it (low-key and organic) to get the simple message of the song across. True?

Kumar: Yeah. Because the simple things in life are what make us happy really, you know?

Q: Yeah.

Kumar: Instead of getting complicated with a video of that nature, we just decided to be free.

Q: Now that you are about to release a new album, your fourth studio album, which of course I want to talk to you about next, do you think that this video for “Happiness” will be the last official video (Raging Fyah) will make for the songs off of your “Everlasting” album, or could there still be more?

Pele: There could still be more.

Demar: There could still be more.

Kumar: Because we have other songs off of the album that we haven’t (yet) released videos for; so we keep feeding people with videos from the (Everlasting) album.

Q: Please, keep feeding us, because we’re hungry for as much of Raging Fyah as we can get.

(All laughing.)

Demar: Just to mention, the video for “Happiness” was more like a lyric video. The focus was on the lyrics.

Q: Yes. Though of course people probably enjoyed watching you (in particular) do cartwheels (on) the video – because I think you’re the one that can be seen doing cartwheels – which is fantastic. (All laughing.) Turning to Raging Fyah’s soon-to-be-released fourth full-length studio album, which reggae fans have been feverishly anticipating, does the album have an actual release date yet? Or, not yet?  

Pele: Not yet.

Kumar: (Wincing and smiling) Not yet.

Pele: But we have a title.

Q: You have a title. And I want to ask you about that, because I understand the title will be “Coming in Hot?”

Kumar: Yes.

Q: I was thrilled today (during your performance) because among my questions is: Peter Tosh has a famous song called “Coming in Hot,” and, is this why you chose that name for your new album? And then, I was gonna ask, will there be a cover (on the album) of that song? And of course, the first song you sang today was a cover of it. And it was beautiful. So, why did you decide to name the album “Coming in Hot?”  

Pele: I mean, (for) Raging Fyah, “Coming in Hot” is a bold statement. It’s stating that in 2018, if you think we were hot back then, in 2011, now you’re gonna see the real Fyah, raging in its fullness. So, as we say, we are the artists from Jamaica, Raging Fyah. So, we make sure that the music represents that. We’re very excited about the (new) album and the content. It’s very fiery, you know? Yeah, “Coming in Hot.”

Q: Can you reveal any of the artists who collaborated or who are featured on your new album? Are you able to release any of that information yet, or, just wait and see?

Kumar: You can wait and see, but we’ve been in the studio with some of our good friends.

Q: And you’ve been in the studio – I saw pictures of (the band) with the (music) producer Shane Brown of Juke Boxx Productions. 

Kumar: Yes.

Q: Did he record a number of tracks with you on this new album or help you to produce –   

Pele: Well, he’s actually the mixer –

Q: Ah, the sound engineer on it?

Kumar: Yes.

Q: His father, I believe, is Errol Brown (legendary sound engineer for Bob Marley). I know that he tours with Rebelution. I wondered if you guys had had any back in forth with him when you toured with Rebelution –      

Kumar: Every day.

Pele: Every day.

Q: – about your album? 

Kumar: No. Not about the album. But, it’s a family. We’re all family, you know?

Q: Now (Raging Fyah) recently released this great track you played today, “Rebel,” which DJs and selectors have been (spinning) nonstop since (you dropped the tune back in March). It’s such an (ultra-)creative, (conscious) song. I know it was (produced) by Llamar “Riff Raff” Brown who (Raging Fyah had such success with on its Grammy-nominated album “Everlasting”); is “Riff Raff” involved a lot on this new album as well?  

Raging Fyah: Well, not a lot. But he’s involved as a producer. Because we’re the main producers of this new album with co-productions from Riff Raff and Shane Brown.

Q: It’s fitting that “Rebel” is the first track to be released from off of your new album because so much of Raging Fyah’s (discography) tries to deconstruct and get to the root of what does it mean to be a rebel. And also, to me, the song shows that there are many ways to be a rebel in your life. It involves how we interact with people, how we tend to our responsibilities, how we pursue our heart’s desires. We have choices in our life to be a rebel every day. Do you agree?

Kumar: Yes. There’s always an opportunity to rebel, you know? Because you’re not going to agree with everything every time. But rebellion doesn’t necessarily mean you go out in the street and burn and crash things. It’s your thought process. And how you treat yourself. You know: your morals, your values.

Q: Yes.

Raging Fyah: That’s why we’re rebels with a cause. We’re not just waste(ful) people who go out there and say, “rebel because we think the system is unfair.”

Q: Have an intention?

Kumar: Yeah, there’s an intention.

Pele: Rebel on a mission.

Q: A VP Records press release observed that your new track “Rebel” has “a new subtle, alternative instrumentation”; can you explain or describe a bit how this is so? 

Kumar: I think that synth sound in the song – it’s not rebellious. It’s very subtle. It’s very easy on your ears.

Q: True; it’s a bit more up-tempo, melodious.

Raging Fyah: Yeah. It’s melodious. You know, you could listen to what we have to say and enjoy it too. It’s like a Childish Gambino kinda thing; we’re making it nice to rebel.

Q: Now about the official video for “Rebel,” and also, way before that, for the video that you made for your popular cover of Dennis Brown’s “Milk and Honey”: Kumar, I know you’re friends with Yaadcore (a well-known Jamaican DJ associated with reggae artist Protoje) from high school; but why did you decide to feature him and his young son, Streme, in (both of) those videos? 

Kumar: I think, you know, with Streme, I wish I had had dreadlocks when I was a kid. Personally. I think that was the driving force. I wanted to represent what a younger – what each of (our) younger selves would have been.

Q: A younger version of a Rastafari from youth?

Kumar: Yeah. A younger cultural youth. I think the easiest way to represent that was to have a rebel, a Rasta youth, who is growing up in a different household, with a different frame of mind. And Yaadcore is my good friend. So at the end of the day it was easy to get (him and) Streme (involved).

Q: And Yaadcore is a big-time supporter of conscious roots reggae – like Raging Fyah music? 

Pele: Yeah man. Yeah man.

Kumar: Very supportive. We’re one family.

Q: I want to ask you a few questions about marijuana. This is an important topic that we talked about the last time I interviewed Raging Fyah; you guys had just launched your (own personalized indica-dominant) strain (of marijuana), “Everlasting Kush,” making a lot of news (in both Jamaica and the United States). Are you able to sell Everlasting Kush outside of Colorado yet?

Kumar: No, not to our knowledge, not as yet.

Q: And have you been able to realize any profit from it? Or has it been more useful in terms of branding and promotion? 

Kumar: Well, we’ve realized initial profits from the deal, but eventually I think the branding –

Q: That was with Elite Organics and Rock N’ Robin’s in Fort Collins (Colorado)? They have that store that not only sells music – 

Kumar: Yes.

Q: – but grows and sells weed? 

Kumar: Yes.

Q:  Are you frustrated with the slow pace of legalization in the United States? This is holding you back from making more a profit; many marijuana investors seem frustrated. 

Raging Fyah: Well, we are not really marijuana investors just yet. The daily frustration lies with the people who invest all their earnings into making these companies work. But, for us, it’s been great in terms of realizing that we can actually smoke weed legally in the U.S. (laughing). You know, it wasn’t like this three years ago. Two years ago.

Q: It’s gotten better – 

Kumar: Yeah. For us we are grateful that we are even able to have our name attached to –

Pele: Marijuana.

Q: Marijuana laws have loosened up and dispensaries are opening in Jamaica. Do you have any plans to grow Everlasting Kush in –  

Kumar: For sure.

Q: – Jamaica. Will that happen any time soon?

Kumar: Once the papers come through, we are ready.

Q: Has the Jamaican government become more open to realizing the full benefits (of marijuana legalization)?

Kumar: They are becoming more open.

Q: Raging Fyah does an excellent job managing its social media. By this, I mean (the band) is very responsive and genuine in your interactions with its fans. You don’t over-promote yourselves and somehow manage to stay “humble,” even on social media – which is really tough to do – respect for that! Can you say, for all of your fans who interact with you, who from the band is at the controls for Twitter and Facebook, or do you share social media responsibilities?

(All laughing. Pele and Demar point at Kumar).

Pele: Kumar is the main person.

Kumar: We all do, but I post most of the time.

Q: Since you have so many fans that engage with the band on social media, I (recently) requested that the “Fyah squad” send me some suggested questions to ask you guys (today). I received many (good suggestions), but there were two that came from some of your most hardcore fans on Twitter that I want to ask. Wez Acton in Fleetwood, England – 

Kumar: Yes, inna England.

Q: – asked: “Alive or dead, which reggae artist do you most wish you could record a song with?”

Pele: I say Peter Tosh.

(Kumar and Demar nodding their heads.)

Q: The second question comes from “Big Daddy” at CanJam Muzik, – 

Kumar: Canada –

Q:  – a record label and management company in Ottawa, Canada; “Big Daddy” asked: “What country has been the most responsive to Raging Fyah music? 

Kumar: Germany. New Caledonia.

Demar: Costa Rica.

Pele: Costa Rica.

Q: (Raging Fyah) has a huge following worldwide. Another place where anyone can see this is in Africa. They adore you there. The idea of Raging Fyah singing your song “Africa” from off of the “Destiny” album actually in Africa (brings) goosebumps. I mean (singing) “what if our destiny is that we’ll all be free, when we all meet at our homeland (in Africa)”? Kumar, you were recently on the radio with “Mister Parties” (a radio DJ) in Kampala, Uganda, on 97.7, and he was basically pleading for Raging Fyah to come to Africa. In fact, he just rated (Raging Fyah’s new song) “Rebel” the number one track on his “ReggaeHitsVille Top 10.” Are there any obstacles that prevent you from performing in Africa?  

Kumar: No. Not right now. We’re just waiting on the phone calls to come in the right way.

Q: (You’re) waiting for it to be setup. Because you would jump to go perform there if you could?

Kumar: For sure.

Q: Before you signed (a multi-album deal) with VP Records, you produced your own music initially. And I know that one of the big reasons you signed with them was (for) them to help you grow your market (share) on the West Coast (of the United States). You must be satisfied because it seems to be working as you said – they’ve done that. But: do you think that despite all the success you’ve had with VP, that someday you may go back to producing your own music? Or are the benefits of being with a big company like VP too (overwhelming)?  

Kumar: Well, producing the music is one thing. Because we still produce our own music. But the distribution is what you’re referring to. VP helps us to get the brand out there. Yeah, eventually we’re going to become, maybe, an independent label again in the future. But for now, I think it’s good to collaborate, and, you know, share what we have going on.

Q:  Kumar, in an interview with Angus Taylor for reggaeville.com in June 2014, you were asked, “(w)hat’s the next big development in Jamaican music? And you answered, quote: “Having the artists knowing about their rights and their publishing. I think the next big step is educating the artists and setting up a proper industry so that musicians from Jamaica can survive and not sell out the music. We try to educate the ones we can but there needs to be mass education of artists – everyone needs to understand the copyright laws.” Four years later, has there been any observable improvement in this area in Jamaica for artists to know more, and be more educated about copyright laws – 

Kumar: Yes. Yes.

Q: Good. Now, almost all of Raging Fyah’s members (Pele, Kumar, Demar and Anthony) met at Edna Manley College (in Kingston, Jamaica). All of you have often spoken about your appreciation for Edna Manley, particularly the tutelage you received from Ibo Cooper, (the former) keyboardist for Third World. Recently I learned that Riff Raff also (is) an Edna Manley alumnus. I saw an interview on “I Never Knew TV” with Riff Raff. And in the interview, the thing that Riff Raff said that Edna Manley does best is to teach how to practice correctly. I wondered whether you also received your knowledge about the industry, like copyright and stuff like that –  

Kumar: No, because the course didn’t exist when we were there. It’s just now that we’re traveling and giving information to the college (telling them that), hey, you need to get this information in the system. It’s now happening.

Q: So through Raging Fyah, the band is now able to provide more of that kind of knowledge to the students coming through?

Kumar: Yes.

Q: About all this stuff?

Kumar: Yes.

Q: Now I want to end by asking a few questions about Rastafari because this is such a (heavy) focus on all of your albums. Would you agree that that is something that factors very heavily in your music?  

Kumar: Yeah. As usual, I mean the teaching of Rastafari – we’re born in Jamaica, you know? It’s our third eye. That’s it.

Q: In a 2015 book called “The Half That’s Never Been Told (The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Dr. Dread)” by Gary Himelfarb, a.k.a. “Dr. Dread,” the founder of “RAS Records,” which has produced a lot of (quality) reggae music, he (wrote) he has a very close relationship with Haile Selassie I. He (wrote) that he actually once saw H.I.M., or had a vision of H.I.M., walking down Trafalgar Road, which I believe is in Kingston. And he (wrote) that no (one) can say that he doesn’t have a relationship with Haile Selassie I just because he’s a white man and doesn’t have dreadlocks. Nobody! And, in fact, he (writes) that he does have a relationship with His Majesty, and gives praises (to him) every day. Do you accept that? Can white men and white women have a relationship with Haile Selassie I?

Kumar: That question I can’t answer “yes” or “no”; I can just speak for myself. I mean the relationship you have with anything you believe in depends on your own self, you know? You could have a relationship with a cat, if you really believe.

Q: My understanding is – and (Raging Fyah) has sang about – (the fact) that there are different houses or “mansions” of Rastafari – 

Kumar: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying –  

Q: And so there are different Rastafari who believe different things – 

Kumar: – Exactly.

Q: – about whether or not white people can have a relationship with Haile Selassie I? 

Kumar: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. You have some people, (we) call them “religious police,” you know? Nobody owns any faith or any culture. Your culture can shape your worldview. And so if you see Rastafari as a light, then go right ahead. He’s not going to deny you.

Q: Isn’t there an analogy to be made to the popular debate about white people who are appropriating reggae music and making money off of it? If you come at it with a pure heart, just like if you come to Rastafari with a pure heart and intention, and you believe in it, and you show respect for the culture, and to the roots of it, isn’t (that what counts)?  

Kumar: Yeah. It’s like Taco Bell and Mexico. Music is just culture. Culture is – if you can appropriate it properly, and give respect to it, then it’s for everybody. It shouldn’t become something where we’re fighting: “Oh, you’re white, you can’t play reggae.” Well, “you’re black, you shouldn’t be eating Mexican food.” Or, “you’re white, you shouldn’t be eating pasta.” You know what I mean?

Q: Yeah.

Kumar: It’s just the world. It’s just so much fight. This against that. Then that against this. Let’s just cut it all out.

Q: Cut all the fussing and fighting out?  

Kumar: Yeah.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.