He Was There: Gappy Ranks on the Earthquake in Japan

April 8, 2011

Words by Jesse Serwer, via the Guardian


A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to interview rising UK reggae star Gappy Ranks for an article, “From Harlesden to Yokohama,” which appeared in today’s edition of esteemed British newspaper, the Guardian. While the original plan was simply to discuss Gappy’s recent success in reviving the British reggae scene, as well as his upcoming sophomore LP, Thanks & Praise, (since delayed from an April release, to June) events intervened. In the time between our first contact and the interview, Ranks traveled to Japan, where he bore witness to the devastating earthquake of March 11, just two hours after his arrival for a tour there. When we spoke, just days after his return home to London, Ranks had already recorded a song about the experience, called “I Was There,” and he discussed in detail his experience in Japan. Check out the video for “I Was There,” shot on the streets of Yokohama and on his plane, below, and read Gappy’s full account of his experience in Japan after the jump.

It was my first time in Japan. I had a tour out thereโ€”seven to nine shows. It was a long, 13-hour flight all the way from Heathrow, to Narita Airport. When got there, I noticed the change of culture. You knew you were somewhere far off, you knew you were in Asia. I saw the politeness, the way things were done. It was about an hour drive to the hotel, we just got to the hotel, and in half an hour, the earthquake struck. The earthquake lasted for about 15 seconds. It was unexplainable. You see and you hear disasters on the TV but that was the last thing I would expect to happen to me when I arrived in Japan. The people were so calm and brave. I remember everybody on the same floor coming out of their rooms and into the corridor and there a cleaner there. And through the big earthquake, he continued cleaning. I don’t know if he was scared of losing his job more than a life but that was just an example of the bravery and the strength.

After, we came out into the road…at first there was a notice that came through the air of the hotelโ€”we had a translator there at the timeโ€”and he was saying don’t use the stairs, don’t use the lifts. Eventually we actually went to make sure the promoter out there, Crossfire from Unity Sound. We actually left the hotel and went to his family’s house, which was three kilometers away, just to see if his family were alright and fortunately they was.

We were allowed to go back into the hotel, and get our valuables but then we had to leave because it was unstable. After the main shock, there were aftershocks every four hours for like five days. And it’s still going on as we speak. I’ve been to volcanic islands where they have regular tremors, but this was nothing like that. This is an 80-story building swinging side to side like a kite. We went into the town center and you’d see pavement ripped up out of the ground.We are lucky we weren’t 100 miles north because then we definitely wouldn’t be talking right now. Give thanks for that. A couple of the shows were up in the north, a couple of the people we were most probably going to be performing to, some of them actually lost their life.

I make music through my life experiencesโ€”what happens to me, and other people’s stories. This is one experience I had to sing about. The following day I wrote a song called “I Was There.” Everywhere we go, we have a video camera, me and Special Delivery, which is my management. And that’s how we do our videos. We recorded a small video out there. It’s just an awareness and my experience but everything from this song will be donated to the people of Japan and that’s being taken care of by the people out there. I’m just happy to stay alive to tell the story. Remember that was my first earthquake ever. I was in shock in the first part. I can remember grabbing a Red Bull and a PSP. Imagine that. Out of all of my valuables that I had in thereโ€”my laptop, my phone, everything. I grabbed a Red Bull and my PSP.

After, we went to Osaka and Shizuko. Just two cities. Obviously we couldn’t go north because of fears of radiation. I felt a bit guilty and obligated at the same time, and in debt. It was crazy for me. I initially came up there to do a show but how do you go and do a show in a time like that? Many shows got canceled but the other couple in the South, they insisted that it go on. Even the night before we were supposed to do one, an aftershock hit there and mashed up the place and the show still went on. There weren’t a lot of people. Maybe 30, 40 in each show. When we got to the country, the main promoter who controlled all of the other shows was saying there’s a big buzz. I was getting so much Twitter support from people out there before I even arrived in the country, who wanted to come out to the shows. I have no doubt that I will be back in Japan. No earthquake has put me off the country.

When I was leaving, there were Japanese journalists interviewing people going onto that plane. They knew people were going to the UK from Japan and asking, why are you going, is it because of the media attention? I don’t know what you were seeing on the news at the time, but from what I was getting, it was leave the country now, if you are a foreign person. I think the Japanese people wanted to know if it was a conspiracy against them. It wasn’t the whole of Japan that was destroyed–a large part is still standing.