zaterdag 1 augustus 2015

Reggae music lovers (in the Netherlands): Rowstone

INTRODUCTION

How people got to be reggae music lovers or fans has always fascinated me. Maybe partly because reggae still is off/outside the mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is not found that easily, let’s just say. It requires (to a degree) an extraordinary life path: that is, different from copying the masses, or simply following what’s commonly on television or the radio.

Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”. Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.

These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.

Before this I have interviewed 3 persons – reggae lovers I know, “breddas” (meaning “brothers”, or "friends" in Jamaican parlance) of mine – here in the Netherlands.

I started the series on this blog with a post of June 2012, when I interviewed Abenet. In April of 2013 I interviewed Bill. After this I interviewed Manjah Fyah, in May 2014.

ROWSTONE

This time, I interview another “bredda” of mine. His name is Rowald Kiene, who is also known as (DJ) Rowstone. I met Rowald in the reggae scene in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It was in a reggae-minded club in Amsterdam, where he was dee-jaying, spinning reggae music at the moment. I believe it was Café Frontline, in Central Amsterdam. If I recall well it was around 2012 that we met, though we might have been in the same place before this.

Rowald was born in 1989, so he is somewhat younger than me (b. 1974), and Rowald is now thus about 26 years old. He was born in the Netherlands, and has lived his whole life in the quarter of Amsterdam known as Amsterdam South East. This quarter has relatively many Surinamese and other “Black” inhabitants, as may be a known fact. Rowald’s parents are however not Surinamese, but from Guyana. Guyana - formerly British Guiana - is of course a former British colony bordering Suriname to the west. Actually, what became British Guiana was for a time a Dutch colony (until 1815), before it became British, but that’s another story.

I have seen and heard him dee-jay with Reggae music, as Selector.. I liked his selection mostly. He varied nicely, I thought. Sometimes he tended to Lovers Rock, then he played some good Roots Reggae, or Dancehall. Besides this, I thought he had a pleasant way of presenting himself at events and parties he hosted: lively yet calm and accessible. Not much else of him I knew at first, besides that he lived in Amsterdam South East, and also liked reggae. I talked with him sometimes since then, about his study (finance/economics) and other more musical activities, and he seemed to have some healthy ambitions.

Yet, I still remained curious to know more about him, his goals and activities, also regarding reggae music. For that reason I asked the questions underneath. Under the questions you will find how he answered them to me (translated from Dutch). This is interchanged (between comma’s) with additional questions or remarks by me.


///Photo above: Rowstone and me in venue Melkweg, Amsterdam in 2013. Rowstone was DJ there at an event..///

Since when do you listen to reggae?

I have been raised with reggae, really. My parents are die-hard reggae lovers. My mother is a fan of Gregory Isaacs. My father fan of Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, and Freddie McGregor. Thus also tending in his (reggae) preference toward Jamaican “lovers-rock”. My father used to buy the Strictly The Best compilation CDs, and every year the Reggae Gold CD. So in my home reggae was played all the time.

(Also when you were a small child?)

Yes as a child, but also Dancehall and Soca. So hearing reggae was, when I was a child, normal for me. I did not value it so much, but saw it as just normal, of something that my parents liked to listen to. Not me, though, at that stage. I liked pop music more back then; the music that came on TV, on channels such as TMF and The Box. Notably hip-hop. I went through my own musical growth and saw reggae as something of my parents. Until I was about 15 years old, I therefore liked hip-hip more. Hip-hop and R&B was up to then more my thing. I listened to it with my brother and sister.

When I was about 15 (around the year 2004), reggae grew stronger as an influence on me. This began more or less with the album Welcome To Jamrock by Damian Marley – released in 2005 – that combined hip-hop and reggae, it was - you can say - hip-hop-influenced reggae. This caused me to listen more to reggae from then on, and in and around 2005 I also listened to Jah Cure (then in prison), and got to know about new reggae Riddims (instrumentals) that appeared in 2005. Many good Riddims, like Drop Leaf and Hard Times, re-used ever since, were released in 2005, and I appreciated these. So I started to listen more reggae, and also started to listen again to the reggae my parents used to play. Then I realized that what I had at home, that reggae influence, was, how can I put it, “special” or “valuable”.

My parents are Guyanese. From Guyana.

(There is indeed a strong reggae influence throughout the Caribbean region..)

Yes, Reggae, Dancehall, Soca, but also Indian music, were influences.

What appealed to you in reggae music?

Reggae is a feeling. When you are “infected” with it, you feel it more strongly. This also because its rhythmic structure differs when compared to standard pop music. In this sense it is “off” from music one is used to, and has an own unique rhythm. Once you grasp that uniqueness and know how reggae music is built up, you just can’t let it go.

Moreover, the more I studied reggae, the more interesting and intriguing it became for me, with all its subgenres. Lovers, but also Conscious Reggae, with (lyrical) attention to the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, pan-African ideas, return to Africa, self-love as the way to well-being. I became interested in this religious/spiritual aspect as well, and found it interesting that reggae had such deeper, conscious subgenres, besides just Lovers, or with lyrics on “boasting”, “making money”, getting girls, expensive cars, or ego. Bob Marley combined different subgenres also well, and set the standard high. With reggae you can go in different ways, and it is as a genre very broad. Before I started to study this and listen more to lyrics, reggae was to me just something that sounded nice.

What music genres did you further listen to then?

(You kept listening to other genres as reggae, also after 2005?)

Yes I do. I am still a hip-hop fan and like R&B. I also listen to House or Soca, all kinds of music at times.. This depends, like for other people, on my mood.. I also keep track with how modern hip-hop evolves: I like what Kendrick Lamar does, and like some Fusion efforts of hip-hop with electronic, and other music. Like Major Lazer, who mixes dancehall, reggae, soca, and electronic music in one whole. That is really something typical and innovative in today’s music.

Do you have preferences within the broad Reggae genre? Does for instance Digital Dancehall appeal to you as much as Roots Reggae?

Yes. It depends on mood and circumstances. As a dee-jay, I find that music lovers differ, but go more with a certain vibe. You have good Digital Dancehall, and not-so-good or bad digital dancehall. The same applies to Roots Reggae. When it’s good I can combine, as a dee-jay, digital Dancehall well with (good) Roots Reggae in the very same set, without this “disturbing” the audience. The emphasis for me is on quality.

(and Lovers Rock you play too, as dee-jay? I heard you play it at times..)

Yes, also. As a dee-jay you can on occasion be like Cupid: bringing people together in a amorous/romantic way. Lovers Rock is part of that. It depends on the vibe, whether I switch from one subgenre to another, and on the audience. If people seem to prefer hardcore Digital Dancehall, I play that for a while, but later I change again to Roots when it is too much and a calm is needed. Varying is important as a dee-jay.

But to further point at a difference between Dancehall and Roots: it is the case that very much dancehall music is released all the time. With new riddims appearing every day, and many artists “busting loose” on them. Not everything is of good quality, however. As a dee-jay/selecter you must go through all this to select what’s good. This can take up quite some time.

With Roots Reggae on the other hand, with a new release, you sense and notice that effort has really been put into it. Just like the difference between Fast Food and Soul Food. With the latter you put more time and love in preparing the food, specific ingredients, seasoning, and everything. Dancehall by contrast is often very fast, aimed at scoring a hit.

(Sometimes too fast?)

Yes. Although I appreciate the “club bangers”, I think the dancehall scene needs more artists with uplifting messages.

(More Dancehall is released than Roots Reggae?)

In my experience, yes. At times it can be too much, so much that some tunes or riddims do not even reach the audience.

(It is more fashionable, maybe, among young people..)

With Dancehall more “hit” songs are made, I think more money is to be made with it.

You play musical instruments? Which? For how long?

Yes. I play guitar. It has been for about 10 years that I have a guitar. At first I tried things out myself, aided by YouTube films or otherwise. About one and a half years ago I decided to approach a good friend of mine – a guitar player – Jah-Irie, who then started to coach me, and up to now still is my guitar mentor and teacher.

I got that inspiration also because it did not go well with my study (in financial economics). I took a sabbatical (a time off) from dee-jaying to finish this study. Yet while working hard I felt I made no progress in this. I started to wonder what would be a good way to enlarge my “mental, intellectual capacity”, as well as my concentration skills. I found that this is, among other things, possible by learning to play a musical instrument.

(Interesting. Seems plausible that it enhances intellectual capacity. I heard that stated before. I even think that with Percussion, which I study, you go to even deeper truths, beyond the reach of Babylon, you go the “heart beat” and such. Chording instruments like guitars are maybe a bit more systematic, but likewise educational for a person..)

Yes. Because to become better in it, you need to work hard, you need discipline, to concentrate..

(Yes, it is a good learning process..)

And it is also very good for your ego. In the beginning you’re not yet very good and make mistakes. But with a musical instrument it is the case that you learn from your mistakes. In a sense, the more mistakes you make, the better you become in time in what you do… It is not bad to make mistakes, in this learning process..

(Just continue and correct yourself, I do that too with percussion.. You perform on stage, actually give concerts as well, with the band DejaVu.. Does that go well?)

Yes, for sure.

(I have seen a concert by DejaVu, with you as guitar player, and it sounded good. I got the idea that you knew what you were doing..)

Haha, that is always nice to hear.. It all comes down to preparation, rehearsing, and perseverance..

Since when are you a reggae selector/dee-jay?

Since..2010.

(That’s not very long..)

No, no. Yet I had the ambition to become a dancehall and reggae dee-jay (selecta) for a longer time, even before this. I began with a MIDI Controller, making mixes at home. I was a “bedroom dee-jay”, you might say. I put mixes on YouTube.

Then..in 2010, I met Manjah Fyah (a Sicilian reggae/dee-jay selector, who then lived and played in Amsterdam). I was at times a MC for him, and in time he showed me how to be a dee-jay, showed me and inspired me about the real technique of mixing, including preparing sets, and how to make songs/tracks connect and flow over into each other. He played and did this back then with vinyl, 12 inch records, with no BPM (beats per minute) counter, but purely through listening,..which is very impressive.

In fact, I was active in it already, experimenting in dee-jaying more or less for myself, but it did not always go so well. Having observed Manjah Fyah in action I realized that that was the level that I wanted to reach in dee-jaying, the level that I needed to strive for. I remember going with Manjah to a gig where the venue only had one turntable. He didn’t complain and found a way to still mash up the place.

(I did not know that Manjah Fyah had a role in you becoming a dee-jay..)

Yes, he and Prof, (90 Degree Sound) are the real deal. Besides their residency at Café Frontline (in Amsterdam, Netherlands) they are very active in riddim production, cutting dubplates and hosting events.

(Some people think it is easy being a dee-jay, just playing records..)

No, because besides technology, you also have to understand people, sense situations, have a good timing.. And that’s only the DJ part of it. After a long period of practicing on my DJ skills, my biggest challenge was to perform for a real audience.

At first I started with YouTube recordings of my mixes and then slowly to organize a monthly party at Café the Zen (a reggae-minded club in Amsterdam, Netherlands). Not long after – around 2013 - I volunteered at a (Internet) radio station, called Hot-o-twenty, based in Amsterdam South East. I had a weekly radio programme on it called Bedrock, later on I also deejayed for another show called LionFace. From then on I dee-jayed more in clubs and bars, like also Café Frontline in Amsterdam, a place that I already mentioned..

So I did not really get Dee-Jay gigs in clubs just through friends who introduced me or knew people, as it often goes.. I “trod the rocky road” myself, you can say..

Do you have a preference for vinyl or digital? As listener and as selector/DJ?

(So you started as a dee-jay playing vinyl records..but now you play digital (mp3/wav) tunes as well as a dee-jay..)

Yes I do.

(Do you have a preference when it comes to sound? I mean, songs on vinyl sound different than digital ones. Is vinyl better regarding “sound” than digital, as some say?)

Vinyl sounds better, in essence. There is a technical reason for this..I am not very technical in this terrain, but I will try to explain it in my own words:.. The bandwith between high and low tones is much larger, with vinyl. So you hear the difference between high and low tones much better. While with MP3 files, to make a MP3 file, you actually have to “compress”, in order to get smaller files..but the sound is compressed in such a way, that you hear the layers between high and low tones less clear..

So, vinyl is basically better regarding sound quality, more potential and possibility sonically.. When you go back to how music is actually recorded, with high and low tones, you’d also want that on a medium.

(That is an interesting explanation and opinion. There are by the way many different opinions regarding about whether vinyl or digital (mp3, wav/cd) sounds better; some say it does not matter, etc...)

There is a logic to it, I find, why vinyl can be considered better.

(You yourself play both..vinyl and digital, I assume?)

Well, I must say, that to play/spin as dee-jay, I prefer tracks/records on digital media. Also, because it is very easy to take with me musical (mp3) tracks on my lap top or on USB sticks, it is easily searchable, I can do more with it.. It is much more practical, really..

I think I myself (born in 1989) am of a generation where we do not hear the difference between vinyl or digital sound, but older generations that were used to vinyl in e.g. clubs when going out, note the difference, and lament the poorer sound quality of digital, compared to the vinyl they knew..

So, to resume: to enjoy music myself I prefer vinyl, but to play as dee-jay I prefer digital..

Why the name (DJ) Rowstone?

Ehm, well.. It is my passion to “found” or “set up” things and projects. To build up and let grow..That’s it, a bit: I like to set up things, even with limited means, such as a party..and “stone” is a building, construction material.. I see the link like this: a stone can be used to build, but it is also something natural, present in nature.. Plus..it lasts very long, is very durable, sustainable material.. It also is there in the name Bedrock, I gave to parties for instance..

(Odd, I never saw the connection between the names RowSTONE and BedROCK.., but there is one of course..)

Yes, there is. I found the name Bedrock appropriate for a party focussed on Lovers Rock.. Then I had parties with the name Cornerstone…. So I stayed more or less in the “stone” vibe..

(Yes, from the material “stone”..)

Yes, the building material..it’s solid, “solid as a rock”,..massive..

(and Row – in Rowstone - is from your name Rowald, I imagine?)

Yes, from Rowald. I was supposed to be named Oswald after my grandfather. My father’s name is Oswald jr. When I was born, my mom put a stop to it because it became too confusing, and came up with Rowald.

(I thought before a while that it related to “rowing”, as of a boat. I was somewhat puzzled about the name Rowstone.. how can you row with a stone? Doesn’t it sink, unlike wood? I found it creatively imagined..but did not quite get the name. At first, at least..)

Hahaha.. I heard that very often. Or that it sounds similar to Rolling Stones for some reason. (laughs)

(..but in reality it’s from your name Rowald and “stone”..)

True, a stone, which is solid..

(That’s interesting as a symbol, I think.)

Does the Rastafari message in much reggae appeal to you? How does this relate to your own background, or faith or spiritual/religious beliefs?

These are several questions in one.. Let’s see, how to answer... I have been raised Catholic, and actually went to church, but when I reached adolescence, or: puberty, I put that largely aside and started developing myself.

Right now...I do not consider myself really as a Rasta, a Rastafari as such. Yet, I do have very much understanding and respect for the Rastafari faith and philosophy.

(So to some degree you relate, or feel a connectedness with Rastafari?)

Yes, certainly. This relates also to the “natural way of living” Rastas espouse. Not eating meat or fish, respect for all living beings. Also, the similarities with Buddhism, such as regarding the “ego”, letting go of your ego.. I use that as a guide in my life, yes, in my own way..

I also consider Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey in and by themselves as interesting personalities, who certainly did good works, and set up important things. I would like to read more about Marcus Garvey, a good biography, for instance..

Since not long ago you also have become active as guitar player in a reggae band called Dejavu. How did that come about?

Well, like I told I have been playing guitar for about 2 years. I am active as guitar player in DejaVu since..September, 2014. I joined DejaVu in a later stage…the other members were longer active, actually first as a dance group, ..they danced. That’s how I knew them.. The core members of that group decided at one point to make music. At the moment I’m enjoying every experience. Music is a beautiful thing. Especially if you can make it with others.

(They were reggae-minded, also as dancers? DejaVu is specifically a reggae band, I heard..)

Yes, certainly. They are reggae-and dancehall-minded as well, of course. They used to perform at dancehall parties, for instance..

(Did you hear where the name DejaVu comes from?)

No, not really. That’s just how I knew them. If I think about it, a deja vu is a vision that already occurred. So if you see us performing, you are likely to have a deja vu, because of our different backgrounds as entertainers.

What music do you prefer to listen to in the present? What specific artists? Any new “discoveries” you would like to mention?

I like the new generation of reggae artists, like Protoje, and those under his “wings", like Sevana, Runkus. Kabaka Pyramid I like very much as well. Further.. Iba Mahr, Jah9..

(Sometimes they even use new, original riddims, like Jah9 on songs..)

Yes, and what someone like Chronixx does well is using old riddims, but updating/renewing them to fit the present times..like with the song Tenement Yard..

So, the new cohort, or current of (Jamaican) reggae artists.. Here in the Netherlands I like Rass Motivated very much. Also artists like Joggo, Ziggi Recado.. they also released some good albums and songs recently..

Shout out to all Dutch reggae artists and bands that show passion for the music.. like Rapha Pico, Jeremiah and the World District Band, Tjerk & the Liquid Sunshine, Black Omolo, Verse Ital, Priti Pangi, Heights Meditation, BagJuice, Two Times, Lyrical Benji, Leah Rosier, Fullanny, Rashanto, Iyobel, Nosjeman, Jr. Kenna, Mr. Patze, Censi Rock, Shockmann, Royston Williams, Papeman, Le Prince, Snikone, Jula and Kalibwoy. I find it interesting to see how much talent there is, if you come to think about it.

Any more things you would like to mention?

Well as a see-jay/selector and as a musician.. I must admit that since I play guitar, that my appreciation and respect for musicians increased. Not that I did not have it before.. but I feel that sometimes it is forgotten in the Netherlands reggae scene that musicians, also players of instruments, work hard, put a lot of effort in their art and music. They also work constantly to become better in what they do.. They just don’t seem to always get the respect they deserve, seem to be taken for granted.. So also “backing band” members have their own life stories, not just the normally more well-known singers..

And moreover..well it pleases me to see how Promoters are very active in the Dutch reggae scene, promoting artists and events or parties, organizing in the background..

(I notice that on Facebook and other social media as well..)

Yes, yes. Behind the screens they organize and are very active…Their work is also somewhat underappreciated, I think..

(When compared to “regular” office jobs, let’s say, such jobs are known among some people somehow as “party professions”, like they just love to go out and party and such.. while it’s actually work as well.. Musicians as well, for each concert they have to rehearse, for example. Some do not even realize that..)

True!. And not just before a concert, you have to rehearse constantly, as a continuing process, even without concerts. To keep up, rehearse and practice on new songs. To get it “tighter”, improve on it, this way you are seriously busy with it. Then when a concert comes, you are well prepared..

Further..I would like to thank you as reggae lover and supporter. Shout out to you (Michel)..

(No problem. I love to give attention to reggae and people active in it, e.g. through my blog..)

REFLECTION AND COMPARISON

Well, I reflected and compared already in between the questions, and commenting on what Rowald told me in person. Still, reflecting on the interview a bit more, I can say that I found our talk very educational and interesting for me. I certainly got to know more about Rowald/Rowstone as a reggae lover but also as a person, his life choices for instance. He explains certain things well, I must say, such as the difference between music on digital or vinyl media/carriers. He explained this better than other people I heard and read about it. Also what he told about his musicianship, and selecting as dee-jay was instructive for me, and nice to know.

Compared with the people I interviewed before, there were of course similarities and differences. All “reggae lovers” I interviewed, including Rowald, valued the “conscious” (Roots) Reggae as better, as more positive, and more lyrically uplifting than the “slackness” (violence, sex, ego) lyrics present in a part of Dancehall. This seems to explain in part why Reggae as a genre appealed to them, at least in part (along with the actual musical structure). All interviewees at least respected Rastafari, or (in cases) to a degree seemed to adhere to it.

Funny was further the link between Manjah Fyah, whom I interviewed before, and Rowstone, as Manjah Fyah influenced Rowstone toward dee-jaying, while according to Manjah Fyah himself he as DJ/Selector started around 2004, and Rowstone around 2010. Another interviewee, Bill, like Rowald prefers vinyl to a large degree, but Bill seems to play it more often as Dee Jay as well (combined with digital). Bill, like Rowstone, also plays guitar, by the way. Bill seemed to like Dub more than the other interviewees, while Rowstone seemed to focus relatively more on Lovers Rock. Also in other genres they listen to there were some differences between the people I interviewed, and e.g. in how they came to reggae, as each person is different, of course. They also have different cultural, or “ethnic”, backgrounds that could have influenced them. There were also age differences between the 4 interviewees that could be influential.

Comparing with myself, I recognized some things, because I know the Amsterdam reggae scene too of course. Rowald/Rowstone and me even go to the same clubs and concerts at times. Differences were also there. Rowald’s parents were actually reggae lovers, so he sought other things when growing up at first, different from his older parents, as many children do. Many other reggae lovers did of course not have parents who listened to reggae – or even knew what reggae is – so reggae became something they found themselves, from an “outer world”. In the wider Caribbean region (including in this case Suriname and Guyana), especially English-speaking parts, reggae is quite popular, so there is a chance that parents from there tend to listen it more than Dutch/European parents. This may also depend, though, such as on generation.

In my case, when I was growing up, there was music played sometimes, but mostly Italian songs (my father is Italian), or – more often - Spanish music (like Flamenco) and Latin American (especially Mexican and Cuban) music, by my Spanish mother. Through television, radio, and friends I since the 1980s got to know other genres (soul, funk, Stevie Wonder, reggae, reggae, reggae etc.).. So that’s a bit a different route.

Back to the vinyl issue: I actually started listening to reggae intensely when I was about 12 years old, around 1986: in the vinyl age. So I got into reggae through vinyl (as well as cassette). I also, like Rowald, in a later stage felt the quality of CD was less and too “artificial” when I started to listen to it, in the later 1990s. I saw, also like Rowald, nonetheless practical advantages of easily transportable mp3s and wav files. I even made some attempts at “making mixes” through certain music computer software (beyond just compilations), but that’s as far as I went with my “bedroom deejay-ing” - as Rowald called how he started.

Rowald plays guitar in a reggae band called DejaVu. My brothers also played string instruments (guitar and bass guitar, both acoustic and electric) – albeit with varying intensity - , so I chose something else, first a bit keyboard, later I concluded that percussion attracted me very much, besides singing at times.

The interesting thing about music, like reggae music, however, is of course the combination of different instruments and sounds toward an own musical art, in which rhythm is crucial, along with aspects like tones, melody, harmony, “soul”, culture, lyrics, but also human character or personality.

Either way, I am glad I got to know more about both the activities and the personality of Rowald, also known as Rowstone..

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