Richard Shabazz: Greetings Ras Kofi. I have to start off asking about the name. Where did you get the name ‘The Farmer’? I know what a farmer does but I want to give you the chance to explain to my readers the meaning behind the name.
Ras Kofi: Thanks for asking brother. I can be fairly long winded because I like to be thorough. But suffice it to say that a lot of what we do is multifaceted, multi-dimensional and carries several related meanings. I am Ras Kofi the Farmah first and foremost because from my early youth, my siblings and I were encouraged (at one time forced...lol) by our parents to tend to our garden plots in Guyana. The love for farming has grown in me ever since, and as I grew, I also developed more of a consciousness of the NECESSITY of a self respecting people feeding themselves. A nation that depends on its enemy for food is a nation of fools. Ras Kofi the musician is the farmer metaphorically speaking because we attempt to plant and nurture seeds of inspiration in the minds of those who are exposed to our art. Not like Johnny Appleseed, but a long term relationship. (laughing)
RS: How long have you been performing the particular genre of music that you do?
RK: LOL. From birth. I often hear other artists say that as a response to that question. I would have to say the same. The love of music and the opportunity to express myself through chant and song has been cultivated in me and my family and it has been consistently reinforced by my environment. I started recording music around 1987 as an artist of the Hip Hop/ Reggae genre.
RS: I hear a lot of spirituality in your music from the lyrics to the soulful beats you have. What religion, if any, is it that you practice?
RK: Love is my religion. Religion is that which we strive to practice consistently and deliberately in order to achieve whatever our goals. I tend to reject the term religion as it relates to my spiritual self. I use, as a very practical basis for this rejection, the words of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie as he speaks on the distinction between religion and SPIRITUALITY.
RS: Where are you originally from?
RK: I was born in Guyana, South America.
RS: What type of international presence and influence do you feel you have or can have with your music?
RK: I have been fortunate to travel to a few countries on the African continent as well as the Caribbean. Through our various works and also with the influx of social networking sites, I have been equally fortunate to interact with sisters and brothers on every continent. I find that wherever we reside, the basic need and aspiration of our people is the same. We have been scattered physically, emotionally, spiritually and every other king of “ally” you can find..LOL. As Isis helped Horus to REMEMBER himself, we are all in some way on a quest to do the same. This may be in the form of bringing our immediate families back together, or getting more in tune with our bodies, or finding a spiritual center after experiencing hurt or trauma. On a global level, it explains the tireless and priceless work of the Hon Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the work of Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah and other founders of the OAU, etc in manifesting Pan African unity. That’s just from my perspective as an Afrikan youth. Everyone around the world has that basic need to be WHOLE. With this in mind, we use our art to imitate and reflect life as we see it, and even to initiate NEW life. People don’t like (or need) to be preached to. People need to feel that they are not isolated in their day to day struggles. We know that this is a reality, anyway, because we are all connected as human beings. For instance, the current suffering of our people in Haiti is a direct reflection and connection to all Afrikans of the diaspora, if for no other reason because Haiti is a lasting example of an oppressed people’s determination to speak for themselves. As a fan of so much music, I like for the artist I am digging to speak to issues, energies and vibes that I am interested in. I also greatly appreciate when an artist is able to take me somewhere NEW…to stretch my imagination and expand my knowledge. Internationally, the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ is REAL and we have been given a message for the world to hear. Fortunately, I have been RICHLY BLESSED with the friendship of some very talented producers such as the Suns Of Light who produced our upcoming release “Who know how to put the FUNK and the GROOVE in the riddim” so that people can enjoy it with a light heart instead of listening out of a sense of “obligation.” The producers and musicians we roll with are in the tradition of our grandmothers who always knew how to make the medicine SWEET...LOL
RS: Who are some of the artist that influenced your music and style?
RK: Aw, man you are asking for a roll call that would have us here for 7 days and 7 nights (laughing). I would have to start by acknowledging Grannie Frieda Marcus and SisiBab. 2 elders from my village who carried the chants and kept the Congo culture. At this moment, I would say Aretha FRANKLIN, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Paul Roberson, Sugar Minott, Ras Micheal, Big Youth, Brigadeer Jerry, Charlie Chaplain (the reggae chanter), Count Ossie, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, the ballads of Miles Davis, Bill Rogers (a Guyanese folk singer), Bob Marley, Hugh Masakela, Peter Tosh, Miss Lou, etc, etc, until the cows come home LOL.
When I came over to the US at a young age, I heard Run DMC and Yellowman do a tune that spoke to my cultural expression. Later on is PRT, BDP, early NWA and others came into my life. I am more recently coming to a full appreciation of Fela Kuti, whose music and life affirm our musical mission. I am a student of the Sound System school. I LOVE original MC/DJ combinations in Hip Hop like Guru and Primo, L.L. and Cut Creator/Bobcat, even Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince from the earlier days. Jazzy Jeff is one of the most underrated masters of the Hip Hop art. I really have to stop here, because we could go on forever (laughs). It’s like the danger of giving shout outs to people who have helped you along the way. Fortunately for me, I have a list that seems to have NO END!
RS: What do think of the state of music today rather it be dance hall, reggae or hip-hop?
RK: Quite simply, the music is a reflection of the mind set of the people. The struggles, the fantasies, the illusions, the hopes, etc. This is not just true for this current generation. Study of history always leads us to the arts of the particular culture to help us gauge the collective consciousness. The need is for balance. It is quite possible for a music fan to have a wide collection of all manner of music…and I mean FUNKY music, and never touch the mainstream stuff that the masses are subject to on a daily. The other need is for independent media…control of the dissemination of info by the people who benefit from the info. I think that this is the main issue, COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS AND CREATIVITY…because we often only hear about 10% of the great music that is out here. The internet is really helping to bridge that gap and empower the voices of everyday people.
RS: I know you are true DJ. Can you explain to my readers the important part the DJ plays in your style of music?
RK: LOL. Another word with a double meaning. DJ in reggae culture is the griot…like the Hip Hop EMCEE. He or she tells the latest news, makes complicated issues simple to digest, speaks on behalf of the people…and then some. But with those attributes alone, that’s a FULL time job (laughing). Taking into consideration that music is the new “church” or place of information and inspiration for many, this increases the importance of the D.J role not only in Ras Kofi’s music but in society as a whole! The D.J as we popularly know the term in the US is the DRUMMER. He or she keeps the heartbeat of society. This DJ is EXTREMELY important, because he or she presents the music that we create with a certain feeling, a certain emphasis that carries our music even further than sometimes we expect. I remember a time not so long ago that we in the indigenous music community were at an all out WAR with the influx of CDs, and this was particularly because of the obvious threat to the culture of vinyl records being scratched and cut or selected on a turntable. That’s like taking away the drummers’ style and flavor. Now that CDs are a full blown reality (and really becoming antiquated) it gives us joy to see how we have prevailed and creatively used technology to still beat our drum in the way that only we can.
RS: What is the mission and message that you feel your music can bring and represent to the people?
RK: The music that we make attempts to speak to real life scenarios and concepts and hopefully to always creatively offer a way “out” instead of just gloomy analysis. Even more importantly, we are here to celebrate life. There is so much going on that sometimes people take the word “reality” to mean all the gloom of the world. The first and only REALITY is the LOVE that is manifest in so many simple and profound ways everyday. We are here to make LOVE with our music.
(Photo 1 - Taken by Richard Shabazz of Ras K?