MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE: Macka B
ANYONE WHO wanted to get a sense of Macka B’s musical ethos would do well to listen to his track, Big Thief.
Taken from his new album, Never Played A 45, the song sees him declare with his signature deep vocals: “Give back di tings that you take from Africa, give back di tings, we want back we tings.”
Over a pounding bassline, Macka B delivers a scathing attack on all the European “big teef and gangsters” who pillaged treasures from the Motherland throughout history. And as such, he reaffirms his place as one of the UK’s most revered representatives of conscious reggae music.
“It’s just who I am,” the veteran deejay says of his musical style. “Coming up in Rastafari, I read a lot of books about Africa and Jamaica. Being born in England, I was interested in my ancestry so I read about greats like Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie. Those things stuck with me.
“I listened to reggae and I also listened to soul, but the soul I liked was songs like Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin. I liked music with a message – that was the music that seemed to resonate with me. All those things shaped me to become who I am.”
Since the release of his 1986 debut album, Sign Of The Times, Macka B has established himself as one of British reggae’s most sublime storytellers.
Using personal tales, historical facts and a good dose of humour, the deejay addresses a plethora of issues, from his Rastafari faith; his roots in soundsystem culture (“mummy had to get used to the bass boom – she wasn’t over the moon,” he recalls on album track Soundman); and the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
Firmly believing that ganja should be legalised in the UK for medical good, Macka B voices his thoughts on Medical Marijuana Card.
The track sees the 54-year-old sharing a humorous tale of travelling with a friend in California and being pulled over by the police.
The officer proceeds to ask the friend if he has any marijuana on him, to which the friend responds yes, before showing the officer his medical marijuana card. Satisfied, the officer tells the friend: ‘Ok, be on your way and have a good day’.
Shocked to learn that his Californian “bredrin” owns such a card, Macka B declares on the tune: “As soon as mi reach back ah England, mi go to di doctor and say: ‘Doctor, gimme di card like di doctor dem abroad, mi say mi want a medical marijuana card’.”
Did Macka use a touch of poetic licence for the track or did he really ask his doctor for such a card?
“Yeah man, I asked him – him say dem nuh have it yet,” Macka laughs. “So I told him to tell me when dem have it coz me want one!
“In America, it’s quite easy to get one. You only have to look in some of the newspapers out there and you’ll see adverts in the classified sections, telling people that if they suffer from certain conditions, they might be eligible for a medical marijuana card. In certain places in America, they’ve realised that it’s medicine.
“A lot of people still fight against it, but I would say to those people, when it’s medicine, you can’t fight against it. People are given morphine and morphine comes from opium – the same as heroin. So it’s a thin line. If something has medicinal properties and can help to cure people, we should be open-minded.”
And the reggae star is optimistic that England will legalise marijuana one day.
“I think it will happen. Dem say ‘when America sneeze, England catch a cold,’ so I think we will follow America on that eventually.
“I think once the powers that be here in England realise the economic benefits – how much money can be made from it – they’ll realise that it makes sense. It’s not about saying everybody must smoke marijuana, it’s about giving people a choice. Those who do smoke it or use it for medicinal purposes shouldn’t be classed as criminals. It’s madness.”
Further demonstrating his skill at using humorous storytelling to deliver a powerful message, Macka shares how he has tried to get his friends to give up poultry on the album track, Too Much Chicken.
“What if ah di chicken doing the sicking?,” he rhymes. “Would it still be kicking? Would you still find it finger licking?”
Has Macka been successful in getting any of his friends to give up chicken?
“Yeah man,” exclaims the artist, who is a vegan. “I’m a great advocate for that and people look pon me and say ‘Bwoy, Macka look fit’ [laughs]. So I have to be the example. And once I educate people, I’ve done my job.
“Like I say in the tune, if you’re still gonna eat chicken, fair enough, but know what you’re eating and realise the whole heap ah chemicals that are in what you’re eating. There’s definitely something going wrong, especially in the black community – a lot of the diseases seem to be more aggressive in our community. I think we have to recognise that our diet may play a part in that.
He continues: “There are a lot of alternatives out there – we nuh haffi to stick to the old tings, like chicken back and all those kinda tings. Those things were slave food, but in Jamaica, dem still eat a lot of chicken back – and it’s America sending the chicken back to Jamaica. So we have to educate the people.”
Macka is particularly passionate that black youngsters should be educated about their history – and not just during one month.
“Black history is from the beginning of time, so trying to put it in one month is like trying to put an elephant into a Fiat Punto – it’s not gonna work!
“And the yout’s need to know their history, because once you know your history, it answers some of the questions about who you are, where you’re from and the journey you’ve been through. Knowing those things allows you to address certain things a bit better.”
Considering his own hopes for the future, Macka says: “I’ve travelled to a lot of places but there’s still a lot more places I’d like to visit. We’ve got a lot of shows coming up so things are looking bright. And I still have nuff lyrics – the lyrics keep coming.
“I always say, ‘When it’s a perfect world, then mi might stop chat.’ But things are far from perfect, so for now, I’ll carry on.”
Never Played A 45 is out now Peckings Records/VPAL Music