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IRIE. You are the self-proclaimed Reggae Ambassador of Indonesia. What inspired you to begin your roots reggae journey?
Ras Muhamad: Salam and warmest greetings to Irie Magazine for this wonderful opportunity you have given me. Yes, simply I am Indonesia’s Reggae Ambassador. It was self-proclaimed because I did not wait or try to search for a state to officially appoint me as an Ambassador of Reggae. It was a natural process of self-realization and awareness within me, that I have a responsibility to advance, bring forth progress in Indonesia to the music that I love and the culture I am involved in. Almost all the positive aspects in Reggae culture I try to spread it to the Indonesian people. Its message of humanity, oneness of spirituality, justice, expression & experience.
The foundations of Reggae music that was built by the Rastafari movement. Soundsystems, icons, philosophy, history, fashion, the many styles of Reggae from Roots, Lover’s, Dub and Dancehall. The evolution of the culture and how Reggae unlike other forms of World music is the only music that could adapt to any Culture and find a strong balance. I try with my best effort to show all those aspects so the eyes and ears of my people could witness what Reggae culture truly is. If I had professional dancing skills, I would also show the dance aspect of Reggae.. hehe.
This life-long journey that I hope to carry was not chosen by me. In my heart, Reggae chose me. I grew up listening to many music. My parents listened to Indonesian Pop & Traditional songs and also the Beatles were present. I was exposed to Rock music at an early age, when I was in 4th Grade, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ & Metallica’s ‘Black’ album were the first cassette tapes I ever got and I was totally drawn by music and the energy it radiates.
During this time also, I was exposed to Hip-Hop, Public Enemy was very big in Indonesia especially when they had the remix of ‘Bring the Noise’ with Anthrax. Only a few years later, my parents moved to New York City in 1993. Hot 97 a radio station that played 24 hour Hip-Hop was what most kids those days listened to on the radio. During this time also Wu-Tang just came out with their “36 Chambers” album. First time I heard them on radio, I was completely fascinated as a boy. I couldn’t understand the meaning of the songs but I loved the rhythms of the vocals, the energy it gave off and also the Sword Kungfu sound effects in their songs. Me, being Asian and growing up with Bruce Lee, Jet Li & Jackie Chan flicks, Wu-Tang totally spoke to me & made me relate that I wasn’t a stranger arriving in NYC. The song was “Mystery of Da Chessboxin”, their first album I still listen to this day and remember every single word from beginning to end even down to the skits. I still get goose-bumps every time I hear the opening lines of “Shaolin Shadowboxin…”, I realize RZA’s productions is what Scratch Perry is to Reggae. Anyway, I’m a bit side-tracking… during this time also, my cousin listened to a whole heap of Dancehall music, at first listen when I heard it I thought it was HipHop but I couldn’t figure out the words and thought it wasn’t in English and it definitely had a different feel than Hip-Hop. I asked my cousin what was it he was listening to , he said “Reggae” so that was my first exposure to Reggae music, it was Terror Fabolous’ “Action” with Nadine Sutherland.
At this early age, I always liked dense vocals and lyrics in songs so, Hip-Hop n Dancehall were my main menu until my parents bought me a drum-set and I started to learn to play the electric guitar also. Metallica & Nirvana were back on my music list and other rock bands also, one by the name of Rage Against the Machine that really pushed me to join a band.
The end of my Junior High School Years, I started to write my own lyrics and write songs. I joined bands until I found a few kids that I was comfortable to play with. It was this time when I found a drummer who was completely in love with Bob Marley music; that time also my mother just recently went to Jamaica and brought back Bob Marley “Legend” album and I listened to it endlessly. Not far from that, Bob’s “Redemption Song” was the topic of a class discussion I was in of “Social Impacts of Music”. But Roots Reggae never got my full attention until the Drummer I met told me to listen to Bob’s “Natty Dread” album and “Them Belly Full” was my first experience where Roots Reggae music resonated in my soul where previous music I listened to never gave me that feeling. I delved in deeper, studied and completely fell in love with Bob Marley’s music. The more I learn, the more I love Reggae music. Through Bob , I found Burning Spear, I found Scratch, Abyssinian, Joseph Hill, King Tubby, Garnett, Luciano, Sizzla and Rastafari found me. Finding those artists and learning more of Rastafari, I started to have a shift in my spirituality. Those things came together as if it was pieces of a puzzle shaping a person, while I was learning more of Roots Reggae & Rastafari; I started to become more focused in expressing myself musically with Reggae. Since, I have a bit of a skill on emceeing, I don’t consider myself a rapper, I love singing and carrying melodies too much but I’m also not a “singer”. You could call it singjay, deejay and so on… but Reggae music is where I could perfectly express musically. And here I am today in this musical journey.