Words by Nadine White
Photos by Varun Baker
If you read yesterday’s feature, you know Dre Island is one of our Artists to Watch for 2016. In fact, he’s right at the top of our list, when we think about artists set to have a breakout year. Nadine White recently linked the “Way Up” and “M16” artist to talk about reggae, his career thus far and what’s in store for the next 12 months; photographer Varun Baker shot him at Nanook in Halfway Tree, Kingston.
LargeUp: Why the name Dre Island?
Dre Island: My full name is Andre Johnson; Dre is my nickname. The ‘Island’ moniker was given to me by a friend of mine called Birdy. After some research, I’ve found that an Island is a place that one can go to find themselves. So the concept around is Dre Island is really word, sound and power, y’know?
LU: Why do you sing, Dre? Let’s talk about purpose.
DI: When it comes to singing, my purpose is almost unexplainable. As a youth growing up, I learned to play the classical piano but entertaining was never in my mind. I loved to be behind the scenes; I actually started my musical career in production and engineering. For me, singing is not of self, and is way beyond my power. I’m about bringing a conscious message and do Jah works through music, and what better platform than reggae?
LU: Interesting title for the EP. Walk me through the concept behind the name and what’s in store on this project.
DI: The EP is actually named after a song which I wrote some time ago, based upon a profound experience of mine. Plus, now is the time that I see my rise, y’know? The project will feature collaborations with my musical brother Chronixx and Agent Sasco; “M16” is doing well at the moment and will be featured on there.
LU: So, in your opinion, what’s happening on Jamaica’s music scene at the moment? Whagwaan?
DI: There’s been a breakout of conscious artists out here and I’ve even seen it within other genres like hip-hop with the Kendricks, etc. I see more and more youths uniting and that’s how it should be – let’s pull together and move forward. Jah sends youths like us to fuel positive energy!
LU: Do you think that this stream of consciousness, as it were, is a coincidence?
DI: No. We’re living in dark and dangerous times so, for the most part, that is going to force one to slow down and become more aware.
LU: Naturally. So the music is at a peak right now in Jamaica?
DI: It’s alive and well but the land where it was created needs to respect the music more; no man can dilute what we have as a people despite the fact that it’s said that reggae music isn’t owned by Jamaica anymore. More opportunities in Jamaica need to be created for the artist to craft more freely and express more. If the government don’t really want outdoor shows and events, then where are the auditoriums and theatres? Put on more live shows – everyone will benefit. Take care of your place!
LU: What advice would you give to any up-and coming artists?
DI: Believe in who you are first and what you have in order to excel across the earth. You have to know where you are coming from. Hard work, smart work and team work make the dream work.
LU: Ah, teamwork because no man is an Island, right?
DI: [Laughs] Right; unless your name Is Dre!