IRIE. Your music is pure roots reggae with just the right amount of dancehall and hip hop. Who are some of your musical influences?
Ras Muhamad: Perhaps so far in this interview, you could get a view that I’m quite diverse in terms of my musical influences. Lyrically I’m very much influenced by HipHop. Nas, Krs-One, Rakim, Gza are my top emcees. Iwan Fals, an Indonesian music icon is also one of my influences for my lyrics in terms of Social & conscious messages. Iwan Fals is regarded to be Indonesia’s Bob Dylan. Sizzla even though not everytime I agree with his lyrics, is a lyricist I admire. He is extremely productive and consistent. He changed Roots Reggae with his progression-chord changes in his melody structure, he showed me in Reggae music you are free to express in anyway you can and what suits you best. He was also the first that put militant, conscious Rasta message on a Dancehall riddim. In my eyes, first time in the scene Kaloji was like John Coltrane when he shifted and gave hints to Free Jazz. Sizzla was the first to strain and scream on a Reggae riddim in which many didn’t get. Let alone Sizzla’s song catalogue would remind you of another artist by the name of 2pac.
IRIE. In February 2013, you published your first book, ‘Negeri Pelangi’ which in Indonesian means ‘Rainbow Country.’ The book details your journey through Ethiopia as well as your thoughts on the Rastafari Movement. Without giving away too much about the book, can you share with us the similarities you discovered between Indonesia’s modern history and the Pan-African struggle?
Ras Muhamad: egeri Pelangi meaning Rainbow Country was a book that I wrote that was nationally published in Indonesia. It’s an account of my journey to Ethiopia, the Rastaman’s promised land and also my over a decade-long of my meditations of the Rastafari movement and what it means to me as an Indonesian. My journey to Ethiopia was a spiritual revelation; I learned so many things and experienced so many things also. I learn to love the Emperor more, my Emperor; I n I Emperor His Majesty Qadamawi Haile Selassie. Reggae music in Ethiopia now is actually refreshing the “glory days” memory of Ethiopia to Ethiopian youths during King Selassie’s reign. I even had a spiritual experience breaking the chain of my wristwatch while chanting “the Lion of Judah shall break every chain” by the old railway station Lion of Judah statue in Addis Ababa. Pan-African struggle is also Indonesia’s struggle; nations have endured and suffered so much due to Colonialism. Due to Colonialism Asians and Africans were forced to leave our way of life to assimilate with industrial western technology. We were forced to sustain in a way that wasn’t our own and that resulted in fatalities. Many have fallen and many of us have forgotten ourselves. As I said before, Presiden Sukarno; Bung Karno wanted Asia and Africa to rise so we won’t be trampled by Neo-Colonialist and Imperial powers. Just like the Pan-African revolutionary icon, Dr. Nkhruma, Ghana’s First President; he said tomorrow there will be a new Africa and a new Asia. Non-alignment movement was part of Asia-Africa rising; Sukarno had a major role in developing the movement. Dr. Nkhruma and Emperor Haile Selassie set up the Organization of African Unity due to the Non-alignment movment and President Sukarno set up the Nefos (the New Emerging Forces) at nearly the same time. The New Emerging Forces organization was Sukarno’s vision for newly independent countries to join hands so they won’t be controlled by superpowers. This could coincide also with the message of Reggae music. I call it the Small Axe philosophy, former colonized countries rising against Babylon World-system. “big tree, we are the small axe. Sharpen to cut you down”.
Setting aside petty skin complexion differences and physical traits, Asia and Africa share similar culture and also diversity. You could find Indonesians in Madagascar who came as sea-explorers and also in South Africa. Yet you could find Javanese Indonesians who were taken away to Suriname as indentured servants. There’s the African Diaspora and also we have the Javanese diaspora due to Colonialism. For example, Africans were taken away to the Carribeans and then were called “West Indians” and cut off from the homeland of Africa. Indonesians were called “Dutch Indians”. I am in no way Dutch and I am in no way an Indian, this I convey in the song called “Conquest” in my Salam album. The Pan-African struggle is to recognize and have solidarity for Africans and of African heritage and to end injustice against African peoples. Indonesia’s creed is that no matter what complexion you are, what tribe you’re from; we are first Indonesians living in the motherland that has been here for hundreds of generations. What’s interesting today is that the Asia-Africa Museum in Bandung, West Java Indonesia in the Merdeka building, out of all African and Asian flags flying around the compound, it could be said that the Old Royal Ethiopian flag with the Lion of Judah emblem is still flying in an official Indonesian stae building. Merdeka building of Asia-Africa museum is said to be the house for all Asians and Africans.
Now King Haile Selassie once said of Pan-Africanism “where there is African blood, there must be a greater sense of African unity.” Scientifically speaking, to me the human genome carries the DNA that links all of us to Africa, so there need to be greater sense for humankind to unite, work together instead of trying to dominate each other.