Interview: Maliika Walker
“No I never been someone shy
Until I seen your eyes
Still I had to try, yeah
Oh yes, let me get my words right and then approach you
Woman I’ll treat you like a man is suppose to”
Tarrus Riley has a gift that he shares with his fans. That gift is his silky voice that spreads nothing but positive messages to whomever hears it. They don’t call him “Singy Singy” for no reason. I felt uplifting energy from the first time I heard Tarrus Riley’s voice. The song She’s Royal told me and women everywhere that we were beautiful and deserved to be loved.
I was reminded of his gift when I attended Tarrus perform with his Blak Soil Band in Central Park this summer. Tarrus and his band performed an enchanting set from the moment he hit the stage. He performed several hit songs from his catalog as well as his version of Michael Jackson’s classic, Human Nature. One of the highlights for me was when Tarrus was joined onstage by his father, rock-steady legend and pioneer Jimmy Riley. Seeing Jimmy and Tarrus Riley perform together was magical for the entire audience. You truly saw two generations of reggae music performing, sending messages of love and upliftment in the process.
I got a chance to see Tarrus perform during the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise that took place in early December. Tarrus and the Blak Soil Band put on the show the cruise patrons will forever remember. We knew we were in for a special experience the moment we heard Tarrus’s voice. Singy Singy and band were flawless through performances of Beware, Larger Than Life, She’s Royal, and Gimmie Likkle One Drop. Tarrus’s dedication to reggae/dancehall great, Buju Banton, was met with a thunderous applause from the audience. Tarrus’s chemistry with his band can be felt by the entire crowd during their performance. You could hear the synergy in every note sung and instrument played. Dean Fraser’s mastery level play of the saxophone is an experience I encourage all too witness. We all were very thankful for the performance of Tarrus Riley and the Blak Soil Band.
Tarrus and I got a chance to speak the day of his performance on the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise where we discussed his cover of Ed Sheeran’s Lay It All On Me, the first time he performed in Africa, and his thoughts on interacting with fans today in the wake of social media. Here is our conversation.
Maliika: I discovered your music after purchasing the Parables album. I then went back and purchased Challenges. What are your thoughts as you look back at that time?
Tarrus: I was actually going through challenges at the time. It was my first time singing so that was a challenge. My father is a singer so people had expectations. It was very challenging. I continued the concept approach with my next release. My next album was Parables which included a lot of hidden messages. Contagious, my career was catching on. MeCoustic, speaks for itself. Love Situation which is my tribute to rock-steady. I appreciate everyone’s support. I just want to be here for the long run, that’s all. I want to ensure the music that we’re doing stands the test of time.
Maliika: MeCoustic remains my favorite release from you.
Tarrus: The interesting thing about that album is it’s really popular in Europe. The name of the project was MeCoustic because it’s me acoustic or Mec Coustic making the music acoustic, a play on words.
Maliika: I love the snippet you shared for your cover of Ed Sheeran’s Lay It All On Me? Your voice is a great compliment to the song. What stuck out about that song for you to cover it? Can you discuss the direction of your next release?
Tarrus: The Ed Sheeran song was great because we got contacted by Atlantic to record the song. The single was produced by Jukeboxx/Cannon Productions. I will be recording a video for the song soon. Album time is drawing near. I have a lot of ideas and with albums I like to deal with concepts. The last album project was Love Situation, where we paid tribute to the rock-steady era. Maybe this time I will gear toward a more militant album but who knows. I don’t like to talk about it too much. I like to be just be creative, let the vibes flow.
Maliika: Your label mate also recorded a cover. I love Alaine’s cover of Adele’s Hello.
Tarrus: Yes Alaine’s version is crazy good. I recently read Hello has the most covers of any song.
Maliika: You worked with Ellie Goulding on the single Major Lazer single, Powerful. The song has charted in countries like Australia, Austria, Poland, and UK to name a few.
Tarrus: Yes it charted on Billboard in various countries. This is the first time I was involved in a project that charted like this. I’m an independent artist so for me the success of the single is a big deal. Major Lazer and Ellie Goulding are big artists so yes this was a good project to get involved with. She is a very sweet person as well.
Maliika: Any other new singles on the horizon?
Tarrus: I have a single out now with Rock City, an artist from the Virgin Islands, called Crazy Love. Everyone should check it out.
Maliika: One of the reasons you are so loved by the people is you can’t put your music in just one category.
Tarrus: I hate boxes. You can’t put me in a box (category). The only box you can put me in is my music has substance, says something, and is positive. I sing one drop reggae, dancehall, love songs, you name it, because I am trying to give you emotion in my music. Sometimes you need to exercise so you need upbeat music as well. A lot of other artists are the same way, including Damian Marley. We give you variety in the music. You can’t fit us in one box.
Maliika: I was able to attend the historic Catch a Fire tour a few times and loved seeing a reggae tour like this in the U.S. I also attended the Welcome to Jamrock Cruise. How important do feel these events are to reggae music?
Tarrus: These events present reggae to both a U.S. and International audience in a classy way. I have not been hesitant in stating that Junior Gong is a genius and his team is just great. Stephen Marley is a genius as well. It feels good as a young person in reggae music to see and perform at events like this. Sometimes Damian and Stephen may feel like they are fighting the battle alone, of exposing reggae music to the world, and I may feel like that at times as well. However, when we link up and present the music like this, we realize that reggae music can contend with any music genre out there. We just have to give thanks and appreciate the times we are living in, our present.
Maliika: A trend that remains consistent is American reggae bands have been dominating the Billboard charts and selling records. Do you have an opinion of this as a Jamaican reggae musician?
Tarrus: Of course reggae music is indigenous to Jamaica so we want to see our people doing it but reggae music is great and people are drawn to great things. It’s like when everyone wants the jeans that are perceived to be the best.
What is it they say, mimicking is the highest form of flattery? I know they love the music. What I would like to see is if they can contribute to Jamaica and the people but I can’t tell them what to do.
Maliika: One of my favorite songs from you is Start Anew. I love the video as well. Why was it important to you to write a song speaking about domestic violence?
Tarrus: It’s a topic I feel strongly about. I am against domestic violence 100%. That’s the kind of thing I want to do in music, speak about things I feel strongly about. That song was written by me and produced by Jukeboxx before we even had a management agreement.
Maliika: One of the things I loved about the NYC Catch a Fire tour was when your father joined you onstage and performed the duet you guys have on the MeCoustic album.
Tarrus: I loved that moment also. He actually wrote that song, Black Mother Pray. The people who love his music know and love that song. He wrote that song all by himself. He’s a great singer and songwriter.
Maliika: I spoke to some fans at the Catch a Fire in NYC who didn’t know you had a father who sang.
Tarrus: The cycle continues. For them he is a new artist. We have done a lot of work together, my father and I. I am still very young and spreading my wings. Hopefully in another five years we have another conversation. These are the glory days, the years we are making a name for ourselves, then we can look back at that time.
Maliika: You have performed countless shows around the globe. Can you reflect on the first time you performed in Africa?
Tarrus: I do remember. It was in Kenya and it was a great concert. Just to be in Africa was an experience. The people were happy to see me perform there. It was the first time I was nervous, not nervous to sing, just overwhelmed about performing in front of an African audience. Just being on African soil was and amazing experience.
Maliika: Social Media and camera phones have changed fans expectations of interacting with artists. What is your view on managing fans expectations in today’s market?
Tarrus: It’s bitter and it’s sweet. If no one knew you and didn’t want a picture, then you would probably feel bad. The mere fact that someone wants to take your picture is a compliment. But you do have people that are kind of mean and want to look at you in a compromising position and take a picture. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. At the same time, we are musicians and if your music is popular then you are popular also so you have to give a little of yourself. Sometimes it is not ideal but it is what it is. If you do not want to interact with your public, then you can just stick to singing in your bathroom. Artists are human and we hope the public with work with us. We live our lives in public while you get to live your life private.
Maliika: Herb is decriminalized in Jamaica but becoming legal areas around the globe. How do you feel about the legalization movement in Jamaica?
Tarrus: The fact that herb isn’t legal is bullshit. Like Bob Marley said, Herb is a plant. I don’t see why a plant should be illegal. Why is alcohol legal but herb illegal? Every man comes on earth and sees plants. Plants were here before man. Now people are recognizing the good things about herb and what it can do, like fighting cancer with the oil. Some people realize they made a mistake so they are making it legal. The Rastaman has been telling the government about herb. Herb is medicine. Sometimes things take time and until they get the experience they simply do not know. You can say don’t walk over there and the person will do it anyway and trip. It’s the same thing with herb, you can’t really fight it.
Maliika: Sometimes I feel if Jamaica would have been leading the legalization movement, then the government could have really helped the people.
Tarrus: Well hopefully the poor people will benefit. The Rastaman was beaten down for decades for advocating the herb. Hopefully the little farmer in the ghetto can make a living off of it.
Maliika: Any closing thoughts you would like to share?
Tarrus: I love all my fans. Keep listening and I won’t disappoint you.