It was a drastically different atmosphere on each end of the line as I listened to Gyptian’s words from the rainy skies of Kingston, Jamaica. Gyptian, in a hotel in New York, and I, in Red Hills, had a lot to discuss. After all, the singing sensation has been quite busy since his sophomore album release under VP records a few weeks ago. “New York cold like ice,” Gyptian said to me, with refreshing warmth in his voice that softened my apprehension about how the reggae artist would come across on a distant phone conversation. Yet after an hour-long interview, it was easy to conclude that Gyptian is a humble, easy-going and entertaining man on a mission.
I held the phone tightly to my ear as I stared at my computer screen to begin my first set of questions. But Gyptian, born Windel Beneto Edwards 25 music-filled years ago, made it less like an interview and more like a conversation between a gentleman, who happens to be a singer, and a woman who happens to be writing about him.
I only had two goals in mind: to learn about Gyptian the artist, and Windel the man. After recently studying his new album, “I Can Feel Your Pain”, in depth, I immediately knew that it presents a side of Gyptian that is just as emotional as his first album, yet it evokes a different kind of feeling. The album almost transcends what reggae sounds like to the normal listener, with a large R&B influence on many of the tracks. Gyptian sounds as smooth and diverse as ever, mastering the art of sweet love ballads on tracks like “World Caving In” and “I Can Feel Your Pain” and getting rough around the edges yet smooth where it matters, Jacob Miller and Tenor Saw style, in “Sensi”. Classic one drops trickle their way in towards the end of the album and finish the 13 track collection on a positive, inspirational note with “Guide Me.”
But for those who want to hear what the album is like directly from the artist’s mouth, then Gyptian has something to offer. “It is a smooth and easy-going album, full of variety,” he says with confidence. “You can pick your choices, and listen to easy vibes. It’s a natural and smooth album. More maturity, ‘cause I put everything that you would expect from the first album into it and more. It has about 5 love tracks and 8 reality ones. I just want to show the whole world that I’m versatile and that I’m here to stay.”
“Thanks And Praise” is one of his favorites on the album. “Oh, and tracks one…and two…and three, four, five…” he says with a laugh as he proceeds to list all the songs on the album. “All of them are my favorite songs. 8 of the songs I wrote in a basement in NY. It was real, you know? Down and dirty, not in a merry or pretty place. Me live normal. Those things mek you lose focus. Stick to the plan! Stick to what you’re used to!”
I couldn’t agree more. After learning more about his album, I still couldn’t get enough. I needed to know more; I wanted to find out what makes Gyptian sing, who makes him pen a love song, where gives him the most peace and tranquility, because it seems he encounters such a calm and commanding presence on this album, a presence that had to come from somewhere beautiful. So I asked him, one on one, how music has commanded his presence over the years.
What does reggae music mean to you?
Reggae is my life. Reggae has done so much for me and other people in the world. It is more than reggae for me, you know? From I was a kid, I’ve been into the music. Naturally, from a tender age, it has been a part of me. My mother and father can sing, and my father was a man who had a sound system so we have the music in a we bone.
A lot of people nowadays believe that there is a huge loss in the integrity of reggae music. What would be your response to this, and how to you plan to prove them wrong?
Naturally still, I can’t talk for them. I know that everyone comes into the music to do something. Everyone has a purpose. That’s why I try to keep it easy as the breeze. For me, I don’t see reggae going nowhere but where it’s always been, to rock the dancehall wherever you go. To me, reggae is everything. I’m just doing my fair part.
Who are your influences?
Quite anyone still. I’m a free flow yute. My influence is life itself. Bob Marley, because he has done so much for reggae. Alton Ellis who recently passed (my condolences to his family). Dennis Brown, Garnett Silk…A whole heap of big artists from Jamaica. I just give thanks.
Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
Right now, Tarrus Riley. Etana. Busy Signal, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel, and Mavado. They are the life of the dancehall. My favorite artists overall, I would say…so much of them…Beres Hammond, you know? More like the singers dem, you feel me? I love Beres’ tune, “She Loves Me Now.” Listening to Lil’ Wayne, too. And 50 Cent. John Legend: that brodda deh BAD! I’m just very into all music. All soca too! Like Alison Hinds’ “Roll It Gal.” One republic, dem rockhead deh, dem mad too. Don’t know them well but listen to them and dem a gwaan. The music, the guitar and ting come together in a one confusion and it just sound good.
You mentioned artists that you consider the life of the dancehall. What do you think about the recent trend in reggae music, and what is your take on dancehall?
Dancehall is a boom you know. From you go a dancehall, you have to hear dancehall music. No matter wah dem a say or wah dem a do, dancehall has been here from before these likkle yutes born. Music is about joy, not pain. You know what Bob Marley said: “When music hits, you feel no pain!” Jamaican people dem love fuel in a di dancehall. Not that they want the artists to war with each other physically, but all the fight dem, Bounty and Beenie dem, is how dancehall came out. Dancehall is a must. It is largely about bruck out, skin out, and badman lyrics! For me to dislike dancehall because I’m into the conscious ting would not be fair. I cannot be one of those who are against dancehall because they are simply into the conscious reggae. Crime isn’t high because of dancehall either. It is high because of the government. They keep making promises, promises, promises, promises. But it come like Christmas and Santa Clause! A lot of people are frustrated, but dancehall a dancehall and if dancehall is not the way it is right now and if people try to change it into something different, it won’t be dancehall. It will lose momentum. You have to hear some Mavado, Busy, Beenie, Bounty. Dancehall a vibes, baby, believe me!
At age 25, you have accomplished much in your career. Where do you see yourself 20 to 30 years down the line?
For me to tell you that, I would tell a lie. I take each day as it comes. You find out you rich one day and broke the next day. Naturally we just take it easy, cool as the breeze, each day as it come. Music lives on. Just like Bob Marley nuh dead, as long as I live, I know serious times will always be playing. I just want the music to live on, from my son’s sons to their daughter’s daughters, generation to generation.
What do you think about the politics of the music industry?
Politics in the business! The whole music fraternity becomes business. Music isn’t about standing still. It is supposed to be free. Like a stallion or tiger in the wild, when you catch them into captivity, they can never be the same. That is like the business. Everyone wants to be a producer or singer. People nah buy CD again. If it were records, you’d have to buy the records! In those days, you couldn’t burn a record! Now, a man just get everything pon the net and download it, not knowing that they are destroying the music. But I don’t blame them. Who doesn’t like free things? Burning instead of buying….But reggae nah stand still; it gone up way up on di hill. Reggae will always be bigger than the business.
How do you feel about artists who aren’t Jamaican, or even Caribbean, performing reggae?
New ideas and new features are needed to spice up di ting. Even some of the baddest reggae songs right now are from artists like Estelle and John Legend. It could be good for us that they are opening a new door. Legend has a song with Buju too, and it bad! I feel proud. I don’t feel no way. When you talk about Jamaicans singing over foreign songs, we’d be prejudiced and badmind because of the amount of artists from yard who get hits from overseas. Come on! Nothing nuh wrong wid that. People just enjoy themselves.
Do you play any instruments?
I just buy them you know! (laughs) I’m not really literate with all of them, just get a little piece of them, enough to give people ideas and make dem build riddim.
Do you write your own lyrics?
Yeh man. Some producers teef yuh song. Gyptian knows that Gyptian just goes into the studio and mek tings happen. I don’t plan, I just do things. Gyptian write all di songs. I don’t like other people’s ideas. If they write a song, they must sing it! I want everything fresh.
Do you have a favorite song of yours or one that moves you more than others?
All are my favorites, right, but I would consider “Is There A Place” one of my favorite.
How have you responded to your rising popularity over the years?
I’m just easy with the response. I took in all the excitement when I first heard it on the radio, when Mutabaruka did announce it. I remember him saying something like, “dis bredda, dem call him Gyptian; let’s listen to what he has to say,” and then the riddim start and mi head swell big like it wan bust! Right then I knew the work had just begun. From then I was always on the road, 24/7.
Do you like being on the road so much?
I don’t like the flying but like the new places. When me reach, me good. Plane nuh have feather! I don’t like to fly…hate that! Hate boats too. Don’t like flying or floating in things without natural feathers or gills. I’m a land man! (Laughs) The only wata me like is when me a bathe and drink…or a river where I can put in my feet, but not the deep water when it past yuh knee!
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I smiled at Gyptian’s fear of deep waters and started to turn my attention to him as a human, as a Jamaican, as a man. It was time to learn about Windel, the man behind the music. “Cool as the breeze,” he said to me after asking him what describes him the best. “Everyday, we do music. Each day is just something new, and I take everything as the days come.” From politics to relationships, Gyptian spoke truthfully about who he is, what he believes, and what makes him genuine.
How do you feel about the presidential election in the States and about the disturbing violence against our women and children in Jamaica?
Well Obama, he could get assassinated like Martin Luther King, JFK, Malcolm X, ‘cause di people dem prejudice, so right now I’m just waiting on the vote. If I could vote, it would definitely be Barack Obama. Mi nuh see McCain with energy like Obama! McCain old and take too much pill. (Laughs) Bush a war di people dem fi nothing at all. Dem spend all of di money on Iraq. Right now, we really need a change! Everything wan’ arrange back again.
As for the violence in Jamaica, di man dem out and BAD, baby. Bad, bad, bad. Right now too much people a run Jamaica. Badman a run Jamaica, police man a run Jamaica, artists a run Jamaica, government a run Jamaica. From you have money, you run Jamaica! A so Jamaica go. The prime minister a try lock down on tings still, so hopefully that will make a change. So far the government a try. First thing dem need to do is implement police back into the system. Nobody a yard afraid of police! (Laughs) Badman have more gun and shots than police! Police dem scared too ‘cause di man dem out and bad. Just hope for the best still because Jamaica nah safe again.
What advice would you give to up and coming musicians, and any youth out there with a dream?
Just do the music, you know? And you have to know how to hold your composure and be yourself. And love the people who will help you be who you want to be. Have a respect when u come into the business. Many new artists forget the men who were in the business before. Give respect and honor to people who have grown in the business! Is like a father or big brother thing. Some old artists don’t respect the young artists too. Dem grudge dem. So it goes both ways. Just honor the work. It nuh normal, don’t tek it easy. U have to consider yourself fortunate when you get a break in the business. Just know she you respect it and honor the time and moment. Then when new artists come around, you become a senior; you become established. Just keep singing good music and positive music to live on. The new artists are the new sensation, so just keep doing what you do. Like Beres said, step aside and don’t let no man come to tek ova!
Other than deep water, do you have any other fears?
Mi ‘fraid fi gun man. ‘Fraid of woman too! Woman wicked, zeen? Man too. But a woman, me see dem wid man for couple years, and to her he’s an asshole, but she cope wid it all these years, till the man deh pon him dying bed n she run off leff him! (Laughs) Woman run off leff man wid pickney too. Nuff man nuh tek up dem responsibility, zeen, and not saying you don’t have nice women, but woman wicked!
What about men? As a woman, and I can speak for many of us, I can tell you than men have their ways too!
Man wicked too! But woman wickedness…woman go deeper and harder. Nothing nice like a woman in your bed in your arms, night cold and ting, but a di same wicked woman! (Laughs)
How is your current relationship with other women?
Me hurt people and people hurt me, but me get hurt first. Realistically, artists go everywhere and some people call dem groupies. But me go fi di girl who don’t want me. As a man, I’d try to be your friend first. Mi nuh need love too, nuh? I don’t go pon di road and talk to everything I see. Half my fan base a woman. So I have to get smart from early and save my energy! No one is perfect. So I just go cool and go easy. Me a single man. Always single, is mi alone born! (Laughs) If you can’t manage the jockey ride, just leave it alone! Don’t expect to come to me and get what was never put there.
What is your take on religion?
Me a di people’s people. 24/7 man, anywhere mi go. I love to give. If you don’t give, The Almighty will find a way to give you something back. Gyptian is a Rasta and child of The Almighty also. Rasta is all about a life of living. All about peace and love. Rasta is all about being clean and tidy for the rest of your life. It is not about bun this and bun that; that’s all an illusion. How can you say you a Rasta but you want to kill a man?
How has growing up in Jamaica made you the person who you are today?
As a Jamaican man, everybody love you. Yuh blood hot! We have the fastest runner right now, and I love that. Reggae even get larger because of Usain Bolt. Him help reggae step up again, you know. Right now dem a tek him blood and build fast blood like him! As we say, “We likkle but we tallawah!” A we dat. Look at Iraq, so we nuh half bad! Nobody in Jamaica strap up wid bomb and walk in and dun di place. We are loving and nice and cross and angry at once.
Is there anything else that you’d like your fans to know about you?
My life is different. Me a country pickney. Me easy as me simple. If you know me, you will never look pon me as an artist. If we go out, no one really ago know is Gyptian. Pon the stage I’m an artist. It’s all about me singing. Singing and just doing my little slow motion side to side. Me always a sing.
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As I ended the interview, we continued to speak about everyday things: the weather, his shows, music. I opened iTunes and selected a Beres song that he earlier said was one of his favorites. As the bass kicked in, Gyptian exclaimed a gleeful sound as he recognized “She Loves Me Now” streaming from my laptop. “She loves me now…Ooooh, she loves me nooow,” he crooned as the chorus kicked in. I next played one of my favorites by another artist he likes: “Oh Me Oh My” by Garnett silk. “A di baddest Garnett Silk dat!” he exclaimed before lowering his voice into a luring whisper as he sang the chorus for me. “Oh me, oh my, pretty baby don’t shy!” And he sang the sweetest song to ever travel to my ears, a silky rendition of one of my favorite songs as I played it from my laptop a thousand miles away. After the phone conversation, I knew right away that Gyptian is charming. Cool. Calm. Confident. And just as talented as you’d expect the young artist to be.