Red Lion (King Shiloh) “The album I played the most is ‘King Selassie I Calling’. One of the last Augustus Pablo albums that came out actually. ‘King Selassie I Calling’ is an impressive album”
BROTHER B: Let’s start with a hypothetical question: Let’s say for example your house is on fire. You can bring one thing with you. You have to run out really fast. What would it be?
RED LION: ….Red Lion laughs…. Wow! Ok, and every other person is outside the house? I would definitely check out my records but that’s so much to carry. …Red Lion laughs again… I don’t think that would work out if there is a fire. We don’t give much about material things. In the end you can get it back one way or the other. Some records will be hard to replace though… When you have the original for example…
Ok, let’s say you have labelled some of them. So you can take them out instantly. Which ones would those be? The most precious ones…
…Red Lion thinks for a second… For sure everything from Prince Fari and Lincoln Thompson. Those records would have to come with me… Augustus Pablo! Those records have to come too.
What is your favourite tune or album from Augustus Pablo?
That is really hard to say. The album I played the most is ‘King Selassie I Calling’. One of the last Augustus Pablo albums that came out actually. ‘King Selassie I Calling’ is an impressive album. It became even more impressive to me three or four years ago when I heard it on a program from Mutabaruka. It was like an orchestra to me when I heard that tune in the nighttime. I did have the album already so I went to check it again. Listening to that album is like listening to the high musicians playing in the palace of his majesty. Earl Chinna Smith on the leadguitar. That must have been a massive session. Augustus Pablo is a very impressive person unto I and I. His music is just meditation music.
You were talking about material things. What is your perspective on this? Why do you have some kind of a distinction between material things and spiritual things?
We had reasoning before about life on earth and death (before the interview, red.). Something we all have to face. Luckily I am not there yet. …Red Lion smiles… It can stay far away from I. Being part of the lifecycle is part of materialism. We live and grow up with material things around us. Most of those things we don’t have them no more. Them gone. Nowadays we have other things to play with. Some play with their mobile phones or whatever. We come out of relationships and we learn from that. You learn from the experiences and that’s part of materialism as well.
Outer Material World
So you kinda need the outer material world to learn from it internally?
Yes, to know how to deal with it. Find out you can learn from those things, enjoy those things. But they are just for a moment. Then it go forward and you will experience new things. Don’t try to hold on to certain materialism. It will pass. I feel like we could go on about this for hours but I also want to focus a little bit on the way people know you. As the Master of Ceremony at the King Shiloh
“But this is all the time, our whole livity is a challenge or a mission. So you hold a meditation on your own. Or you burn herbs and have a good time with your bredrin and sistrens. You can’t do anything else. I don’t go into extra meditation or some by reading the Ible.“
Can you take us back to the early days when King Shiloh Soundsystem and the crew started to exist? What time are we talking about? What happened in those days?
…Red Lion thinks… Well it was in the late 80s, 1989. First time I linked up with Neil really and truly, he did a session in Amsterdam-East. Neil is my partner running the King Shiloh Soundsystem. He was doing a session in a hotel with ‘Rastafari Chant’. This is a soundsystem outta England. Amsterdam was going through some transformation at that time. A lot of digital music. A little bit of Dancehall coming in. ‘English steppa roots’ was not popular at that time. Neil brought forward this Rastafari Chant soundsystem from England. There were not a lot of people then, but still we had a good session.
Niceness, I truly overstand the vibes you guys were feeling before all of this.
Yes, you really have to prepare yourself. Spiritually and physically. Playing for a different audience. An audience that knows Soundsystem.
You were talking about preparing yourself for a session. How do you prepare yourself? What do you do before a session?
Being nervous …Red Lion Smiles… We do soundsystem so you have to prepare the set. Make sure the set is ready. Luckily we have a great team. You have to have transport… This is all practical. Being nervous is spiritual. You are going on a mission… But this is all the time, our whole livity is a challenge or a mission. So you hold a meditation on your own. Or you burn herbs and have a good time with your bredrin and sistrens. You can’t do anything else. I don’t go into extra meditation or some by reading the Ible.
We used to do those things. But like I said now; our whole life is a challenge. You have to be ready every time. Our whole life is non-stop giving thanks and praises. When you know the set is good and everyone is there. That makes you feel good already. It’s terrible to go into a session without knowing if the system will work. That’s a very bad start. Even if you prepare spiritually it will mash up your whole vibe.
What do you do to break that nervousness?
When I want to break that nervousness I just go into the hall. When it’s empty or when there are people already. Just to feel what they are feeling. What’s the atmosphere around and what’s the vibe. That’s breaking the nervousness a little bit. You are one with the people now. Seeing and feeling bredrin and sistren. Give thanks for being here. That’s just my part. Neil has to stand there …Red
Lion smiles… He is burning herbs and just deals with it through the music I think. All of us have it.
“Well it is important for I to manifest Rastafari in the works. So I am chanting in the name of Haile Selasse I the first and Empress Menen. Through the royal inspiration of Ethiopia. That’s the first connection that we try to make with the people. It is the divine vibe that we try to create with each other.”
So you had the baptism session in Brixton, from which King Shiloh Soundsystem moved forward..
Yeah, we started to do more sessions here in Holland. More club sessions. We were trying to get some space where we could perform on a monthly basis. It started in Amsterdam-West in a place called OCCII. We started regular sessions over there. Also moving around in the city a little bit. Years passed] and we started to move out to other towns as well. Couple of times to Eindhoven, later on Arnhem. Doing more sessions in different venues. Carrying our own boxes with us. That was a unique thing for us, taking our own sound with us all the time. Instead of playing on the set which was in the venue.
And after that came the NDSM right?
Yes! The first time I ever came in contact with true Soundsystem vibes was in the NDSM. I remember everything was moving. The walls were moving, I could hear the roof and there was a fire outside. It made a significant difference in my livity fueled by His Majesty of course.
I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of young bredrin and sistren when I say King Shiloh Soundsystem played a big role in that period. It made a big difference for us…
Well, for us as well. We also had a working space there, where we could store the boxes. We have been there for many years. A lot of cold sessions as well …Red Lion smiles… The place didn’t have a heater. We had some fires inside as well.
No baptism through fire this time?
…Red Lion laughs out loud!… No! No baptism by fire this time. Those were some great years at the NDSM. The system could just switch from room to room. We could rent it for quite a reasonable price. We had some great sessions over there. They really helped us to grow as a soundsystem. I was not the only MC. We had different DJ’s over from the beginning. Like Majestic B, Ras Billy , Iyiapo and even before that we had Lyrical Benjie.
Open to everyone
Those were the bredrins that were travelling with us. A lot of locals also got inspired to be MC or play an instrument. That is the way King Shiloh works. Until this day in fact. We are open to everyone who feels inspired to do Soundsystem works. It takes courage to do so we give thanks to those who are still with us. Most of the bredrins I just mentioned, also Jah Rootz, we still have links with those bredrins
What is the most important thing for you to facilitate as an MC? Where do you get your inspiration? What do you want to give to the people?
Well it is important for I to manifest Rastafari in the works. So I am chanting in the name of Haile Selasse I the first and Empress Menen. Through the royal inspiration of Ethiopia. That’s the first connection that we try to make with the people. It is the divine vibe that we try to create with each other. That’s very important because there must be a connection between the people and us as a soundsystem.
That’s why it is important to also feel the vibe of the place with and without people. You create a vibe that people know: this is a Rastafari soundsystem. Through the music, through talking to them. You can call it meditation… You bring them in that vibe of togetherness and unity. That is important to me as an MC. And if you don’t want to be close to the MC or the sound, you can be in your corner and hold your own vibe. But still be a part of the bigger collective.
All this hard work pays off because King Shiloh has grown a lot. Even internationally, known in other countries as a big and influential soundsystem. Do you see any difference right now in organizing the venues or the vibes compared to the NDSM-days?
Yes, definitely. We also got a lot of new people in the NDSM but most of them were hardcore-reggaelovers. People who have known reggae for a long time. The amount of people that could get in the bunker was limited. Maybe 200, 250 or 300 people. Therefore we started to do bigger sessions. There is a big difference between those days. We started to go to places where they have a hall or bigger places like the MilkyWay. Paradiso not that much. We did do some Paradiso sessions also in the 90s. A whole series of soundsystem from the UK visited us.
Any place that we can find to do a good session we hire it. Try to do the whole organisation ourselves as well. Instead of handing it over to the venue we do it ourselves now. The amount of people that we reached got bigger of course. I think it is not only the reggae lovers that we reach nowadays.
A lot of people are impressed by the sound. They like the loudness of the sound instead of the message.
… Red Lion smiles… Yes, that’s the difference with those times.
“We have a soundsystem-set there already in Ethiopia, but Ethiopia is very unstable at this moment (2021). Political wise and also tribal wise. We had a meeting the other day and got offers to still do sessions in Ethiopia. Ethiopia and Africa will never move away from I and I. It is the motherland for us as Rastafarians.”
We see more younger people coming in. The sessions in clubs are more accessible for them. We can see some people drinking a lot of alcohol. I am quite curious what your perspective is on this change that you see in general. Young people that are a little bit excessive with alcohol in the soundsystem sessions…
First, none of us drink alcohol. That is part of our livity. We always inspire people not to use alcohol. We have been confronted with the question of going commercial and allowing alcohol in your spaces. Due to economic reasons you cannot always avoid that there is alcohol available at your session. Even when we organise our own sessions we cannot do that without serving alcohol, really and truly.
We don’t have sponsors or whatever. We have to do it with money from tickets or consumption. It is the responsibility of the people themselves, to know the limits in what they use. It’s your responsibility to behave yourself, when you are in the session. There is never a fight in our session, but we used to have some fights earlier in the days. I am a big man and I am quite cool as well. I am not a troublemaker. So most of the time it was me or Iyiapo who would go and just humble the thing. Tell them to take a breather or carry them out. Not only men but also women can be very nasty when they are drunk.
In the earlier days we were our own security. Any problem due to alcohol or whatever we would deal with it ourselves. You have to take responsibility. Nowadays in the big venues we hire security. Therefore we can concentrate on our own work. Alcohol and those things are everyone’s own responsibility
Ithiopia plays a big role in life. In my life and your life. There are a lot of King Shiloh, Ethiopia, Shashamane and Addis Ababa connections. What role will King Shiloh Soundsystem play in the future of Ithiopa and Addis Ababa?
Well, we have a soundsystem-set there already in Ethiopia, but Ethiopia is very unstable at this moment (2021). Political wise and also tribal wise. We had a meeting the other day and got offers to still do sessions in Ethiopia. Ethiopia and Africa will never move away from I and I. It is the motherland for us as Rastafarians. I don’t think all of us want to live in Ethiopia, otherwise it
would have happened already. Speaking for myself and Empress I-na Lee, we would want to live in Africa and still be able to travel.
The same thing as we are doing here. We would love to do that in Africa. Travel to different parts of Africa and sometimes travel back to Europe. The political situation plays an important role. You don’t really want to get stuck in Ethiopia. Due to war or whatever. We are closely watching what is happening in Ethiopia. This will influence our movements. We have family there and some of us are probably gonna move there soon. Our future with Ethiopia is there. We cannot lose confidence in that. A lot of things are happening in Ethiopia. Things that we see and things that we don’t see. Ethiopia has always been on the forefront of world history. Nowadays again: it is in the forefront.
FB: Red Lion – King Shiloh Sound System
Interview: Brother B
We also did an interview with Empress I-Nalee that same day. You can read that interview here