LU: Tell us who your parents are…
Protoje: My mom is Lorna Bennett. She is best known for “Breakfast In Bed,” which was a massive hit in the ‘70s. My dad was Calypso King down in St. Vincent. His name was Lord Have Mercy. He’s a mad performer. That’s who I take after on stage. I just grew up in a house of music and that led me to gravitate towards being on stage. It wasn’t as much about recording. My love was always to be in front of people.
LU: Did they continue making music as you grew up?
Protoje: My mom stopped recording after she went to law school but she would always do shows, more for fun that for pursuing a career. But it resonated with me, going to the shows. My father went on into coaching, that was his other passion. He trained a number of athletes that went to the Olympics. A couple have won medals. His love was always track and field. That’s what I thought I would do when I was young. I had them with me growing me up as opposed to being on the road but I still got a chance to see them perform so it was the best of both worlds.
LU: Now, you grew up in St Elizabeth in the country, right?
Protoje: And I still live there now. I spend most of my time in the country. It’s so much more peaceful. It’s where mi belong, I am a country youth at heart. I just come to Kingston to get into the studio and into shows and to promote. Sometimes I also need the feel of the city and I’ll come in for the weekend and get the inspiration from the people. The people are really feeling the struggle in Kingston so I have to come up there and feel it, too. It resonates more because it’s real.
In the country I get to do my running, my fitness, I get to do my songwriting, eating properly. It is a lifestyle to keep balanced. I don’t have to go to Kingston to do music, I just like to record in Kingston. I have a band also and a lot of times my band will be at my house in the country so music can still be made. We are very independent as artists and as a unit, me and the Indiggnation band. We are never hostage.
LU: How long have you had a band?
Protoje: The Indiggnation is three, going up to four years old. The core group has been together for about two years. This is the unit that is going to be on the road this summer. This band is the vehicle with which I carry the sound. It’s a very important part of my music. I took a stand to not travel without my band at all. It’s live music, that’s the way reggae music is being spread right now. The way we play the music onstage is so different than how it sounds on record. It has much more dub influence and rock influence. That’s when I’m at my best and strongest as an artist.
LU: Tell me about the live music revival happening in Jamaica right now …
Protoje: Right now, people are starting to log on to the music and give it some strength. Now in Jamaica there’s a lot of artists coming out bringing a conscious energy, a conscious vibration and people are really seeming to appreciate it. We have seen crowds expanding little by little. I give thanks to all the support we’re getting and all of the artists helping to spread this movement and bring reggae—Jamaican reggae—back to the forefront.
LU: If you look at the reggae charts, the bands that are doing well aren’t Jamaican. Younger artists from Jamaica are not selling here in the States. A lot of it has to do with being able to tour and bring the message live. These other bands from California, etc. hit the road hard, and that’s why they’re successful. So tell me about what you’re doing outside of being an artist. I know you keep live events with your company, I&I. Why, as you’re gaining as an artist, do these other things to support other artists?
Protoje: If we don’t do it for ourselves, who is going to do it for us? I have studied these bands in California and I’ve seen what they’re doing. It is a lot of time on the road and me now, I intend to spend a lot of time on the road this summer. Live from Kingston is an event that we keep, really, to bring people out. A lot of times when we do events in Jamaica it is not promoted properly or not catered to the musicians, so we as musicians are saying, ‘Listen, let us keep our own event and do our own promotions so that artists coming up 10, 15 years from now will have an infrastructure that we never had.’ It’s not just about me now in the present, it’s about the people that are going to come after. We have set it up now in a way they can really aspire to a career in music. A lot of other people [are doing this], too. Raging Fyah has their own event. It is very important to teach di youths dem about this aspect of the business, instead of just “do music.”
LU: Are you noticing more interest in live music and being a musician among young people in Jamaica?
Protoje: Yeah, for sure. It’s so much more than it was two or three years ago. We as artists are making it cool again to have musicians. My band is a lot of young musicians, Chronixx is the same. A lot of people are putting together their bands—Raging Fyah, C-Sharp, No-maddz. When we’re onstage now these musicians have an identity now. Younger people in the crowd know they want to have their own band and they want to give their band a name. Jamaica’s always produced a lot of young musicians but the era right before us kind of pushed musicians to the background, and we are now bringing them back to the forefront. It’s going to take some time but a lot of people want to play guitar now. It’s cool now. When we go on tour with our bands, we can even give the musicians the chance to be touring and be on the road and actually do this as a career now.