A journey that started through exuberance of a youngster, admiration and respect for the icons of reggae, and from the urban roots of August Town now blossomed into a world recognized reggae signature voice; Duane Stephenson chats with Stylz It.
Stylz It: What was your first experience like in music?
DS: I first dabbled in music when I entered the “Tastee Talent Competition” in 1994 entered for the sake of entering and fun, I didn’t win. In 1999 I entered with the twins from the To-Isis group again.
Stylz It: What was it like working with Dean Fraser? How great were his musical teachings to you?
DS: Working with Dean Fraser is always a great experience. He is my mentor, and the one who recorded my first musical experience. He taught me everything I know in the music, producing, mixing, and harmonies. He is very impactful and I still learn from him to this day.
Stylz It: Tell us about your musical inspirations. Who would be your top 5 artistes of all time?
DS: I am inspired by all genres of music classical, RnB, house music etc. I like the RnB groups for such as Boyz II Men, and in Reggae I admire the talents of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Bob Andy and John Holt.
Stylz It: You were born and raised in August Town. Did the living conditions (poverty, crime and violence) affect you or did it motivate you?
DS: Living conditions affect everyone whether we realize or not. August Town impacted me positively. It taught me, what not to do; it shaped my growth; how to behave, and has given me amazing life’s lessons.
Stylz It: What was the main influence for you to get into the Rastafarian movement?
DS: August Town was a great influence there is a large Rastafarian movement there. I interacted with them and musically too. They taught at the nearby university “University of the West Indies”. Some of my colleagues in the music industry are the influence too, they taught me black consciousness and these all shaped my path to the movement.
Stylz It: So how did the To-Isis linkup start? And why did you choose to go solo after?
DS: I played basketball with one of the members. One day he told me of an audition being held where a lot of pretty girls were. This peaked my interest and I went. It was held at “The Cathy Levy Little People and Team Players Club. I met the other members there and the rest unfolded to what we know as To-Isis.
Time came to move on as solo artiste, I gave my best to the group other perspectives came for the direction of the group and I was a roots artiste and that is what I wanted to continue to do, essentially it was time to move on.
Stylz It: Your style of song writing is so unique, what makes a great songwriter for you?
DS: Someone told me that your song should be a story consisting of a beginning, middle and an end. I try to make all my songs to be like a short story with a beginning, middle and an end. I paint a whole picture to the listener with a subject matter, which entails real life situations.
Stylz It: We noticed you’re the type of artist who does not do recordings frequently. What do you say to the artist who puts quantity over quality?
DS: This is just the type of artiste I am, and it works for me. If you put quantity over quality make sure the quantity is excellent.
Stylz It: What are the 3 outstanding tracks on the Dangerously Roots album which we could classify as "the best of Duane Stephenson" and why?
DS: “Rasta for I” - the message it sends and the picture it creates while listening to the single.
“Jah Reign” - It applies to anyone it is spiritually motivating.
“Sorry Babylon” - I am a roots artiste and roots artistes have a rebel hiding in them, and this is where the rebel in me comes out.
Stylz It: With all the celebrations and festivities that surround Jamaica Independence Day, do you think we are mentally independent after all these years?
DS: I don’t think so. If we are, we do not necessarily need to celebrate in such a fashion and the elaborate spending… do we truly need the celebrations or do we need to use the time as reflection?
Stylz It: With all the tragedies taking place to our children in Jamaica, do you think something is wrong with our society?
DS: Yes something is definitely wrong with our society. Our island has become a nation of beggars and our people feel entitled. When I say entitled I mean we think we are entitled to anything or a person even if it is wrong and immoral. No boundaries and this leads the very unfortunate situations we see happening now.
Stylz It: Do you think reggae is still somewhat of a political art form?
DS: I do not think it is or was Political. Reggae teaches empowerment, it teaches us to uplift each other stay strong during perils and do not conform to the mass; it is more so radical than political.
Stylz It: Where is the most unusual place you’ve performed and got a positive reaction?
DS: Tei-ta a small island located on the coast of China.
Stylz It: What do you have to say to the artist who is trying so hard to get the breakthrough they need and are not getting the airplay?
DS: Try and be innovative in how you promote yourself to the public. Before you enter the business educate yourself about the space and learn as much as you can. Don’t get dishearten, there is space for everyone to make it in the in music industry, once you work hard.