LargeUp Interview: Cocoa Tea on ‘In A Di Red,’ Payola + Being a ‘Slow Leak’ Artist

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October 12, 2012

LU: So how has all that history culminated on this new album In A Di Red?

CT: This album is just to show the versatility of reggae. But you have to understand my journey; after my first song came out, there was a man called Massgan, that use to come pick me up every Thursday to perform. He always told me not to watch the people whose success came very fast, because they usually lose it with the same speed. I always remember his words to this day, even as a grown man and a veteran in this business. Gas balloons buss and done but I have been slow leaking from 1984 till now, and still doing my thing. I also did a LP for Motown Records, but the direction they wanted me to go, it couldn’t work out, because I was delivering to what my fans wanted but they needed a quick return on their money. Few of the hip-hop artist have a long career, because they sacrifice it to make quick money for the record company, and that is how I see some of the dancehall now. Similar to fast food music with fast food artist. It’s not like the original music that was like yam, banana, some cornmeal dumplings with salt fish, and ackee, that could sustain you for a day— it is now like a hamburger, where you are hungry again an hour.

I have seen a lot of artist come and go, some came powerful and terrible, and they mash up the place like an earthquake, make you have to take a deep breath and think about your career. I remember when artists like Pinchers and Sanchez were dominating the place, so that’s why I just gwan slow leak. The purpose of this album is to bring forth the essence of what reggae is, good reggae music, I talk about topics that are close to the fans, things that happen in life.

“Beat the Drum” is asking African people where is your culture? Don’t tell me you have lost your identity—Reggae used to be a part of our identity; what is our identity now? Even the Rastas them look like them stop beat their drums, cause it is like we sell out for vanity. This album is also opening conversations about certain topics, using live instruments and making the songs with feeling. I don’t want people to just listen to the beat but also listen to the lyrics.

Cocoa Tea Photo by Niketa Thomas

LU: Why the title In A Di Red?

CT: Well initially I wanted to call this album “Weh The Reggae Deh” because I go all over the world, and everyone asking me “Weh The Reggae Deh?”  I had to do a song about that question, because I alone can’t answer it. No more Nyabinghi, no roots, all we hear is twingy twingy [A cheap artificial sound]. The thing is out of balance bad, but I never wanted to start off sounding like a preacher.

I had released a song called ‘Tek Weh You Gal” after this guy came down from the USA with his girl and he was just showing off. Now, I am a humble guy but his girl kept flirting with me, I never went there but it inspired me to write the song call “Tek Weh You Gal.” This guy on radio criticized that song and that just inspired me to write “In A Di Red” because I felt he was putting the title of Joe Grind on me to say any man who‘s woman cheated on them, should blame me. So that song is not a true story but just something that played out in my head, and that radio personality became the insecure husband.

[audio:|titles=In A Di Red]
Cocoa Tea—”In A Di Red”

LU: The first single “Love Is,” is a combination featuring D’Angel, She is treated as a pariah by some and viewed more as a drama queen than an artist by many—why her?

CT: D’Angel is like family to me and she came on my show, Jam Jam. I saw her talent when she mashed up the place, that’s when I decided to take her in a different direction. Most of the young ladies today, their careers get caught up in their looks and drama over their talent. When you look at good singers like Tessanne Chin and Alaine, they are good artist that are being promoted as sex symbols more than singers, I think that is what also happened with D’Angel, and we wanted to show that she is a real DJ.

LU: You seem to be opening a can of worms with the song “Press Freedom”…

CT: Well that song might not find favor with the Broadcasting Commission and certain hypocritical individuals, but my Granny always says the truth will float like oil on water. A big part of the problem is that the radio personalities are not being paid properly, hence the corruption and payola; and that needs to be addressed.

LU: So you are saying that a lot of the radio DJ’s are not being properly compensated?

CT: Of course, the people at the top are talking about payola as if they are not collecting. When Digicel sponsors an artist and pay their advertising money, their artist is getting played also, so some form of money changing hand. When a man takes out an advertisement, that money goes to the owner and the executive, how do the DJ’s benefit from that? So they turn around and want to pressure the artists. Listen, is a lot of hypocrisy going on in the business, and some of the most corrupt people are licking out on payola while taking or paying it.

LU: Do you pay to have your music played? 

CT: I pay the musicians, I pay the engineer, I pay for mastering, stampers, labels; and I pay a promoter to go promote my music. If I put out bad music and promote it, nobody will want to buy it or want to see me, but if I put out good music and promote it, a bag of people are going to buy it, or spend money to come and see me. The problem is not payola; it is the lack of balance in the media. Most stations will tell you to sponsor a program; that is legal payola. One of the solutions is to pay the DJs a living wage or share the profits with the DJs. I even heard a rumor that a Jamaican radio station owner told the DJ’s to take money from the artists, because he can’t pay them any money.

A couple years ago, I said to some of my peers that were making big money, let us pool our money and buy our own radio station. They said no, they didn’t have it; but they were spending on Range Rovers, and Hennessy, champagne, and a lot of women. When their careers pop down, they are squeezing out that payola money under the quiet, but bawling out loud about corruption. Is not payola mash their career, it is the refusal to invest in themselves; but they can afford to pay for a whole gang of men to hang out with them instead of putting that gang a man to work to support themselves, so they can probably come back to help them in the future. They want to do music videos out of vanity but they refuse to pay a promoter to push their songs and videos.

A lot of people might be shocked by what I am saying, but I am a truths and rights person. Artist have to start investing in their own careers when they have it, and stop depending on other people. When I spend on my career; who is benefiting going from it? Me! You spend money to make money, and until these artists wake up and start treating their career like a business and stop hustling it, they will suffer.

Cocoa Tea Photo by Niketa Thomas