“Love and justice – we would love to see that spread across the earth like water,” states Tony Rebel—singer, songwriter, producer and promoter. Not many reggae musicians are as self-actualized as this conscious self-described “edutainer.” Apart from being one of the top conscious dancehall artists presently out there, he also has his own record label that fosters a new talent roster that currently includes Swade and Queen Ifrica as only a couple of his talented protêgê. Additionally, he produces Rebel Salute every January, the conscious one-day reggae festival in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, through his production company, Flames Productions. Rebel is an involved husband, father, friend and role model and he envisions and strives for a paradigm where positivism reigns supreme.
Born Patrick Barrett, Rebel is a rastafarian, and he has garnered critical acclaim by merging dancehall rhythms with conscious roots lyrics. His philosophies mirror those of Bob Marley, and portray an inclusive, unified world-view. Furthermore, his vibe is sweet. Speaking with the Rastarenes, Abijah, Luciano, and others close to him, I have never heard a negative word. Many of Rebel’s hits, including “Sweet Jamaica,” “Ghetto People’s Song,” “Jah By My Side,” and “Are You Satisfied?” have been influenced by his great friend, Garnett Silk (who passed away in 1994 in a fatal fire), either directly or indirectly.
I had the opportunity to speak with Tony Rebel after his performance at Slim’s in San Francisco on February 20, 2002. His humble demeanor was a pleasant surprise, as he has every reason to show off his many accomplishments. What I found to be his most admirable quality, apart from his humility and infectious positivism, was his patience-he signed autographs, he reasoned with me at length, and is really driven to educate the people about what he sees as his purpose in life.
He is currently promoting his 2001 album, “Realms of Rebel” [Ras Records], and is riding the success of the combination track with Swade entitled “Just Friends,” on the Technique label. While talking to Rebel, it is crystal clear that good presides over evil.
Laura Gardner (LG): It was a wonderful show tonight. I noticed that you sang a Garnett Silk song. Can you tell me a little bit about what he means to you?
Tony Rebel (TR): Garnett was always a part of and still is a part of what I am doing or have done. Most of what I am doing is part of the vision that we had when we were growing up. We talked about taking the world by a storm, setting up record company, introducing other talents to the world, everything, but unfortunately he left out of the flesh in 1994… We used to be together in the same house, in the same studio.
LG: Was that in Kingston?
TR: Yes, in Kingston and in Manchester too. We had the same kind of conversations every day, saw the same people, we ate out of the same pot, everything. A lot of the songs that you hear that he wrote, I know about them. I have a line in a lot of them. He has lines in mine too and even some of them maybe two. In “Sweet Jamaica” he did the whole of the first verse.
LG: That’s a terrific song…
TR: So when we are writing, he was always there putting in a line and I was putting in a line. I can remember how and where the song originated and what was the vibe, when I hear his songs.
LG: I went down to Jamaica for Rebel Salute two years ago and thought it was an amazing show.
TR: Was it 2000?
TR: Yes, Rebel Salute 2001 was a good show.
LG: A terrific show. I wasn’t accustomed to staying up all night so I had to take little rests here and there!
TR: The environment of Rebel Salute is always conducive to people who want to take a rest because it’s a family-oriented show where you can bring your kids, you can bring your grandma, or your pastor because the type of music that we display is motivational and inspirational. We try our best with security and otherwise to have a safe environment as much as we can. So you can put your reggae bed on the grass, have a 5-minute sleep, wake up and watch the show!
LG: Absolutely! Where did the idea for Rebel Salute come from?
TR: Well, to be honest, at the initial stage of Rebel Salute, it wasn’t an idea about keeping a big show or anything, it was about the commemoration of my birthday which is on the fifteenth of January. All of our friends were having birthday bashes – Garnett Silk’s Birthday Bash, Everton’s Birthday Bash, and all of that, so the people who were around me encouraged me to do something. But I said I could not do the norm in terms of Birthday Bash because I didn’t believe in celebrating birthdays because of the whole notion of Christmas being on the 25 of December – when I read the Bible and didn’t see it there, I realized that that kind of birthday celebration was wrong and so forth. So I said I would love to do something with a difference and the idea was that we would call it a “salute” for Tony Rebel.
Because I don’t use alcoholic beverages we wouldn’t sell any of that at all. I don’t eat meat either, so we would let it be meat-free with the exception of fish. Because I don’t believe in profanity in my music, we would keep it in that same vane. So that is how it started.
The first year was 1994 and it was held in a venue with about 8000 capacity and it was jam-packed! Thousands of people could not get in and it rained. All night it rained. Me and Garnett were going to the show and we thought that it was over. We just went because I said it was my show and t’ing so let us just go and show up. It took us maybe an hour to get there in the rain, but the stage was covered and so when we went there, people were in the rain, changing their clothes, wet from head to toe, and the music continued until the morning.
Garnett Silk had taken a break for a little while and that was his first show back out, and trust me, I saw people crying when he was on stage! The next year he died, physically, so we moved it from that venue. We had planned to move it before he died. I remember I was saying to Garnett, “Bwai Garnett, this show will be a big show.” And Garnett said, “Yes. It’s definitely going to be a big show.”
He left us on the ninth of December  and so I turned it into a tribute to him and about 50,000 people came and it rained all night and so since then it has developed into an annual thing. A lot of years it kind of got a little difficult for me because I have my career and want to do that and it takes a lot of planning to put together.
LG: Do you now have a full time staff that works on Rebel Salute all year round?
TR: I do have a full time staff that starts to get together from at least August, but as soon as Rebel Salute finishes and you do your post-mortem, you have to get back and think about what you’re going to do for the next one. So we are in the tenth renewal planning stage already. We know exactly what we want to do and it’s just to get everything in place as soon as we can.
LG: I want to go back to your music. You come with such a positive message and there are so many messages that you can use because the people are craving it. I know you work a lot on uplifting women, but what would you say are a few of the biggest messages you’d like to get across, up here or back home in Jamaica?
TR: The biggest message is that the universe, or the Earth is our home, so we should protect it. The people who are here are our brothers and sisters. We should protect them. If each one protects the next one, then everyone will be protected. So we should not destroy the environment by putting things out there that will destroy the ozone layer, cutting down the trees that will cause soil erosion and lack of rainfall and pollute the sea. We should try to keep our home as safe as possible and we should keep our brothers and sisters as safe as possible.
To do this, we must be kind. We must have love and we must exercise justice. I would dare speak about peace because you can’t have peace without justice, so I would say the message is universal love to the family of humanity. Love and justice-we would love to see that spread across the earth like water.
LG: How do you come to terms when you may want to cast judgment on something, or you may not like what you see? How do you deal with that? You know you shouldn’t say anything or do anything but it bothers you.
TR: Regardless of what you see out there or what you hear, it is a part of your world, so is not about what happened but how you feel about it. You can always change your feelings. Something might be bad and you can’t say anything because you might just lose your life. So you’re going to be diplomatic. It’s not every time you can say things, and sometimes you have to wait until the right time to say them. Sometimes you just have to be a rebel and rebel and let them know that that’s the truth! Because truth stands, you know?
I tend to be observant and careful about what I say because there is a message that can go across in a particular way and the people don’t accept it because the timing is not right or you say it a certain way, so I try my best to make sure that I communicate in a loving and peaceful way so peoples’ feelings are not hurt. But if you are doing something wrong, then you will be remorseful. Try to change, because who am I to judge? There’s so much good in the worst of us. There’s so much bad in the best of us that it doesn’t become any one of us to be condemning the rest of us, so we have to just try and support each other. Try to help as much as we can so that we can have a better world-that is the objective.
We need where we live to be conducive to life. Now you’re walking around and everything you smell is pollution. Everything you eat is something to help you dig your grave. We are not in synch with the universe and that is my kind of thing, because I think I’m an extension of the universe. The universe helps me, talks to me, looks through my eyes to see what is needed, and I say it in songs. That is why I say what I say. A lot of things that I am saying come out of me but it is from a difference source. I know because when I listen to my own songs, they inspire me! (laughs) You understand? I might be down and I listen to one and it just perks me up! And I say, “Wow, the message is more than me. I am just an instrument.”
LG: You do a lot of work with children as well.
TR: I do.
LG: I’ve noticed that a lot of the problems that children go through, especially here in the inner-city, is coming directly from parents who are misinformed or don’t have enough information. I think the key to helping youth is to educate parents or to educate adults. There should be more advocacy about educating adults. What do you think?
TR: I like that! It’s a different twist to it. My concept is that if you need a true change in the world, then you should really start with the younger ones because sometimes the older ones are harder and not so easy to change. But life is an endless cycle of change-things can never be the same. The next generation that is coming after us will talk different, will dress different, will look different, so we must expect that kind of change.
I endorse that concept that maybe we should educate parents to grow their children in a particular way because what I think is that some of our fore-fore-fore-parents have domesticated their children and it has been coming down since that time until this time. So from a child is born, you tend to give, inject your values and your concept in this child.
LG: Yes, they’re a reflection of you.
TR: Yes, you put attention in this child-this child cannot be themselves-that is why when a child is mature, about 18 or so, they tend to get a little different because they want to be themselves. I think the laws of nature will show you what is right from wrong… We should allow [children] to exercise their own concepts, because they have their thoughts, they have their own ideas and as Khalil Gibran said in one of his writings that we are really just carriers of these spirits. We know not whence they came, so we just bring them into the world but they have their own life, their own things to take care of. If we can realize that they are individuals and we must listen to them and try their way because their way might be right and we don’t have to domesticate them the way that we were domesticated, I think that would be good. So maybe, the real thing is to re-educate a lot of parents.
LG: I don’t want to keep you much longer but I did want to ask what we can expect of Tony Rebel in the future. What’s on your plate right now?
TR: I don’t want to be too much of a prophet. I am going to take it one day at a time and I am going to just do my best as I always do-try to continue to give good music, try to live, try to learn, try to enjoy life because I have life and I want to make the most of it. So I’ll be learning just like you and I will put it in words and give it to the people and edutain the people! We educate while we entertain!
LG: Well you are truly an inspiration and thank you for a beautiful performance.
TR: Thank you very much.
For more information about Tony Rebel’s music, Rebel Salute, Flames Productions, or tour dates, please visit http://www.tonyrebel.com/.