Stepping onto the purple tour bus I place my hand into the outstretched palm in front of me. I look up to find two intense brown eyes, staring into my own. A wide smile draws me forward. Eddy Grant, hailed as one of the most influential artists of black British music in the late twentieth century, is in front of me. As a childhood hero of mine I am awestruck, yet he guides me to the only seat between us, insisting, “Ladies sit”.
Born in Guyana in 1948, Grant moved to London with his family as a young boy, and kicked off his musical career in the multiracial quintet ‘The Equals.’ “My proudest moment was when ‘Baby Come Back’ reached number one,” Reminisces Grant, leaning against the dashboard. A heart attack in his early twenties forced Eddy to leave the group and return to Guyana to recover. It was this move however, that began his journey towards global success as a reggae star.
As a teetotaller and a vegetarian, Grant isn’t your average reggae singer. “I’m a natural born vegetarian, meat has always revolted me.” He muses. “I raised little pigs as a child and then I’d see them being slaughtered at Christmas; it just went against my grain.” Grant’s accomplishments include setting up Europe’s first black-owned recording studio and his own label ‘Ice Records.’ Grant embarked on his sensational solo career, scoring a top twenty with the socio-political ‘Living on the Frontline.’ He performed such well-known hits as ‘I don’t wanna dance’ and the American number one ‘Electric Avenue.’
Performing live in the UK for the first time in over twenty years on the ‘Reparation Tour’. “I consider reparation to be the most outstanding issue yet to be discussed and deliberated upon by the world community,” explains Grant, his speech undulating with Caribbean rhythm. “Just making the word appear will force those that can’t stand it – like the Americans who walked out on the conference of reparation in South Africa a few years ago – to revisit it. It is such a fundamental issue; reparation which is a result of the world’s greatest genocide, surely deserves a mention.”
He refers to compensation for those who suffered at the hands of slavery. In Grant’s forty year career he has never stopped fighting, a fact recognised when he was asked to perform ‘Gimme Hope Jo’Hanna’ at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in summer. The song was released as an attack on South Africa during the apartheid regime and was consequently banned in the country. “It was extraordinary”, Grant says, “there was a really special feeling there, a really special vibe. I think that where music is honest and powerful, people listen. And when people listen, sometimes they act, and when they act, you get a result. This result is dependent upon how powerful the song is. I think that music, like air and water and all the elements, is one of the great articles of this world.”
Impressively, Grant has sung every lyric, played every instrument and produced nearly every track on his solo albums released to date. His inspirations include Chuck Berry, James Brown and Mighty Sparrow as well as Blues players such as Miles Davis and Jimmy Smith, “the true lovers of music”. Grant’s own musical influence has been so great that he is in fact credited as the creator of two genres of music; Soca and Ringbang, (his record ‘Hello Africa’ being recognised by connoisseurs as the very first Soca record.) “Soca was a concept of the late 60s,” explains Grant. “It sought to aggregate the music of the Caribbean; Calypso, soul music, and pop music, to bring a greater awareness to that part of the world.”
Noting his ‘Ring bang’ emblazoned Rasta hat I ask for an explanation of the second genre, and watch his eyes glow. “Ringbang was created for the youth who had never been really thought about in terms of making music in the region.” His features become more animated as he begins to pace excitedly. “It came about because we seemed to be losing our grip on the young people in the Caribbean to America. Most of them wanted to be second rate Americans, before they wanted to be first rate Caribbean people, so I started Ringbang, which was edgy, aggressive and youth orientated. Then there came the Ringbang philosophy which is encapsulated in three simple lines: First you must start to love yourself, and then you must learn to love the things that you create, then you must buy the things that you create, thereby gaining respect and having true freedom.”
He explains that like a song, a philosophy is “an amalgam of things that you’ve experienced or dreamed about.” The gradual degradation of the cultural region of the Caribbean spawned those three lines. “Philosophy doesn’t come and stick like a hit record, it comes and people question it, they turn it upside down to see what kind of impact it would have on them, and gradually, if they see it as something that is good, it takes hold. Nelson Mandela, who is being praised as an Angel now, forty years ago was a criminal wanted dead or alive. He and others like him were jailed just for their belief that the ninety odd percent of a country that is black should have equal rights to the white minority. Yet because the concept was right, ultimately it triumphed.”
His responses are relayed with a zeal so sincere I feel sure that Grant’s life and efforts have truly benefited this earth. “Everything I do is with passion or I don’t do it all. What counts is what you believe. But you have to believe for the right reason; if you believe for the wrong reason not only may you create some kind of aberration sociologically, but you can do yourself a lot of damage. I try to remain consistent – since my teens I’ve been writing these songs. Fashions come and fashions go, but I keep writing.”