Friday, 20 July 2012


Hailee Araya performing in Sweden
The city of Lund in Sweden may seem an unusual place to launch a record titled “Diaspora Blues”, but that’s the town Hailee Araya calls home.

The young Swedish singer has another ancestral home, however - Ethiopia - and her second single is a tribute to Africa and to those of African descent living around the world.

Released this week, “Diaspora Blues” is a song about “love and respect” for Africa, Araya told SWAN.

“I wrote Diaspora Blues with my mother, and it was a way for me to express my passion for Africa,” Araya says. “It shows how much I respect what Africa has survived and gone through. When you grow up in Europe, sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to claim your heritage and show how much you’re proud of it, but I want to do that with my music.”

The 23-year-old singer says that there are so many distractions for people of her generation that it’s sometimes hard to cut through the noise.

“There’s a great deal of pressure to deliver and be quick for people of my age, but we’re still looking for meaningful things,” Araya says. “There’s a lot I want to say in my songs, and if I can give something that people can dance to as well, that is what makes me happy.”

She is already attracting an audience. As the opening act for Stephen Marley in Sweden, on his recent European tour (see article below), she was pleased that many of the spectators knew her songs and could sing along.

Stephen Marley and Hailee
Araya says she is drawn to reggae because she grew up listening to it, and the music does infuse what she has produced to date. But the album she is currently working on will include Ethio-jazz and R&B, with lyrics that relate stories of the African diaspora.

She grew up hearing these stories from her mother and manager Rahel Haile who fled to Sweden in 1980 after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Rahel told SWAN that she, like many children, was detained at the age of 9 in a community prison just because she was part of a neighbourhood children's football team.

“Times were very turbulent because of the massive killing and terrorising of the Ethiopian people,” Rahel said. “So all who could send their children out did - most to the USA and other English-speaking countries but some to Europe, like me.”

Rahel adapted to Sweden and gave birth to Hailee in Lund on Ethiopian Christmas Eve in 1989, naming her daughter Deborah Araya. Hailee eventually assumed her current artist name by adding an additional “e” to her grandfather’s first name of Haile.

Opening at the Marley show
“I made sure that both my children can speak their language and understand their culture while they also respect and perform well in the country that they were born and raised in, which is Sweden,” Rahel told SWAN.

“I am myself a Pan Africanist and try to make sure that my children understand and respect what people of African descent have gone through and what our continent has gone trough and not be bitter and angry but engage in any way they can to uplift and work and contribute,” she added.

Rahel moved back to Ethiopia when Hailee was 6 years old, and they lived there for four years before returning to Europe. The experience helped Hailee to develop her Amharic language skills and also to gain an appreciation of her ancestral culture, which the singer says she draws on for her music.

“My background and my heritage form who I am as a singer,” she says. “My mother always told me and my brother that if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you can’t get to where you want to go.”

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Stephen Marley in concert in Paris
PARIS - The audience may have come partly for the songs of his father, but Stephen Marley did not seem to mind when he performed at a sold-out show in Paris this week. In fact, Bob Marley’s second son sang his father’s greatest hits with pride, as a tribute to the late reggae icon.

Stephen even brought his own son, Jo Mersa, out on stage to join him on songs such as “Could You Be Loved” and “Redemption Song”. The well-known melodies got some of the biggest cheers from the young and diverse crowd, who sang enthusiastically along and waved their arms (and lighters) in the air.

Stephen - a singer, producer, songwriter and talented musician in his own right - mixed the famous Marley standards with material from his Grammy-winning album Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life, for a memorable concert. The audience grooved to “Made in Africa”, “Now I Know” and the very infectious “The Chapel” (sample lyrics: “take your troubles to Selassie, he’s the only king of kings”).

The Paris show was part of a nine-week European tour, as Stephen takes on the responsibility of promoting what many consider to be the best aspects of roots reggae -  the conscious lyrics and mellow, uplifting beats. In an informal interview after the show, he talked with SWAN’s Alecia McKenzie about the music, the message and the motivation.

McKenzie: What is it like performing in France?
Marley: It’s wonderful to be in France. It’s always nice because France has embraced reggae music from my father’s time. It’s really great to be here.

McKenzie: You performed at Reggae Sun Ska (an annual festival near Bordeaux) last year with your brothers. How was that?
Marley: Great vibes. Wonderful vibes. It was a very diverse crowd and it was great to see the different cultures all coming together.

McKenzie: Let’s talk about the “Marley” documentary, which is currently in cinemas in Europe. What do you think of it?
Marley: Great. (Long pause.) What you want me to say?

McKenzie: Well, is this a “correct” picture of your father?
Marley: A correct picture? I’m a man myself. I have many moods. There are different tears to me, and different sides of me. It’s not just what you see on the stage. So, that’s a part of Bob that you’re seeing. You can’t depict Bob in two hours, or an hour and twenty minutes. Take what you want to take from it. What you didn’t know, you learn. If you never know that, then you learn that. That’s Bob, you know what I mean.

The cover of "Revelation Part 1"
McKenzie: Yes. All right. You won a Grammy for the latest album Revelation Part 1. Congratulations. You’re going to do a follow up?
Marley: Yes, Part 2. We were in the studio last night working on it 

McKenzie: When is it scheduled to be released?
Marley: It’s like a tree, you know. It’s growing, and it’s blossoming, but it’s not ready as yet.

McKenzie: Some of the songs that you performed tonight were very personal …
Marley: All of them.

McKenzie: That continues on the next album?
Marley: Well, this was Part 1: The Root of Life, like the root of a tree. Part 2 is called the Fruit of Life, and we’re talking about how the tree blossoms, and the different colours of the fruit and leaves. So Part 2 is more of an eclectic album. It’s building on the foundations.

McKenzie: You asked the audience if they loved reggae music and they screamed yes. But reggae music is not just Jamaican anymore, it’s global now, with a lot of African musicians, for instance. How do you see this – as competition or as positive development?
Marley: Yeah, man, it’s positive. The Bible tell you … Jah say that if who him choose don’t deal with it, him shall cast stones. So that’s how it’s supposed to be. We who come from the root have to realize that it’s not just us.  So we must maintain the integrity and the essence of where it’s coming from so that the music can be respected at all times. We have to know what we doing as the root. It’s great to see our branches and to come to Paris and to be able to play in front of a diverse audience, with Jamaicans in it too. Yeah, man. A great thing, man.

Marley: "You don't have to have music that degrades."
McKenzie: Okay, so that leads me to the question - what do you think about dancehall music, especially as regards women?
Marley: Oh bwoy! (Takes deep breath.) Well, first of all, dancehall music was always around. It’s a deep part of Jamaican culture. I remember being around my father and seeing Big Youth coming into Hope Road. I also remember Dillinger at Hope Road talking with Bob. So even my father was a great fan of the toasting, you know, the ability to rhyme lyrics and put it together pon a dub. It was great, man. So dancehall is a big part of our heritage. It used to be the voice of the people, it used to be about rebelling against certain things and about the integrity of who we are as Jamaicans, as a struggling people, as a Third World country plagued by politics.

Now, the question is what I think about dancehall. I don’t agree with things that don’t uplift you. Is empty barrel make the most noise, dem say. So all of dem that you see jumping up and a-go on, making the most noise. Is empty barrel that, man, and you confuse the people. I don’t say we mustn’t have fun, or that there mustn’t be fun songs. You must still have simple songs, good songs that make you want to dance and feel good, and don’t have to think bout nothing. But you don’t have to have songs that degrade one.  I don’t agree with it. Woman is the mother of creation. Could not be here without you, Mummy. Man can’t do that, see it? So, all honour to the woman.

Marley with son Jo Mersa (right)
McKenzie: Thanks! Final question. This has been a hectic tour, going from city to city with a concert nearly every day. It hasn’t been too tiring for you?
Marley: I feel good! Some days are better than some. But this is what we signed on for. This is why we are here. So we have no complaints. It’s wonderful to be able to say “the tour is hectic” versus “bwoy, we can’t get enough shows”. So, we’re privileged.

(Copyright SWAN 2012. Thanks to Nicole Webley for technical assistance.)

Monday, 2 July 2012


The cover of Melissa James' debut album
British singer-songwriter Melissa James has released a jazzy, insightful debut album, Day Dawns, that is sure to go places.

James, whose parents hailed from St. Kitts, said she grew up around music and always wanted to be a singer, but her family's definition of "real work" made a career in music seem like a dream.

"For my parents, life was tough when they immigrated to England, and so they wanted to push their children into directions where they would have a good solid career," James told SWAN in an interview. "From an early age, I felt that singing wasn't an option. But it was always a secret passion, and in fact, my Dad himself loved singing."

After working in various sectors, such as communications, James finally decided that she had to follow her heart; Day Dawns is the laudable result, with songs that fuse James' love of blues, folk, jazz and soul.

"The album is my life," she says. "I've drawn on different experiences, things that have happened over time. It's what I know and what I've seen."

Stand-out tracks include "Don't You Keep Yourself Down" and "Long Road Travelled" - with self-penned lyrics and snappy arrangements created with music partner Ross Lorraine. Each song seems to have a message for listeners, and James’ strong, expressive voice will delight most audiences.

The album's talented musicians also complement James' passionate style.  On “You Make Me Feel Good”, Larry Bartley’s simple but infectious bass rhythms provide a perfect back-up, for instance

James says she is looking forward to taking the songs on the road, and she has several gigs lined up this summer. For listings, check: