Junior Reid is Still All About “One Blood”

Junior Reid is Still All About “One Blood”

During a recent performance at New York’s Central Park SummerStage, Junior Reid flipped the lyrics of his signature hit “One Blood” into Spanish, reaching across linguistic barriers at a time when government leaders are struggling to build walls to divide people. As the Rastafarian singer would explain later, “Una Sangre is One Blood.”

One of the most distinctive vocalists in popular music, Junior Reid has been singing irresistible songs with powerful messages for more than three decades — and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Raised in the Kingston, Jamaica, neighborhood of Waterhouse (a.k.a. “Firehouse”), Reid came up under the influence of the late great Hugh Mundell, who gave him the name Junior Reid and inspired him as an artist and businessman.

After Mundell’s tragic murder in 1893, Junior Reid recorded early tracks for Sugar Minott’s Youth Promotions, King Jammy’s and Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes. He would go on to sing lead for the Grammy-winning reggae group Black Uhuru and launch his own successful label, as well as collaborating with the likes of Lil Wayne and Alicia Keys.

“One Blood,” released on his JR Records label in 1989, still rocks crowds all over the world. Sampled on rap hits by Wu-Tang Clan and The Game, the original song’s message of unity in the face of racial xenophobia is more relevant than ever in 2019.

Days after the Central Park show, Junior Reid stopped by Tidal’s New York City headquarters to talk about the inspiration for “One Blood,” his latest project with Mike Will Made-It and why reggae music cannot be held back.

Three decades later and ‘One Blood’ has become a reggae anthem. What made you write that song?

I made that song because of certain incidents that were taking place at the time — political war. In Jamaica, you have Laborites and PNP, just like how you have Crips and Bloods in America. Youth and youth was killing each other over politics, and it brought a tension in all the communities. People were not free to travel. If they walk certain places they might lose their life.

I was on tour and when I went back to Jamaica, the place was like a ghost town. I was checking out the whole scene and I said to myself, ‘This don’t look good.’

Same time now me hear ’bout some youth in America who call themselves Crips and Bloods — and me hear say them a kill off one another same way. Me just start sing and create the melody and put the words to it.  ‘Nah care where you come from,’ I said. ‘We ah one blood.’

I sing about my community. I’m from Firehouse; I couldn’t go to Tower Hill. And a youth from Rema couldn’t go Jungle. So we sing about those areas. After that I take it international and say, ‘You coulda come from Libya or from America… Canada…. Africa — one blood.’

You wrote and sang the song, but who produced it?

I got the musicians together, and went into the studio to record a demo. At the time when we were working on a demo, a youth run through the yard, like him a run from the police. All of a sudden we see soldiers come into the studio with guns and say them a look for a man.

They come in and search, but them no find who they were looking for, so them leave. We still go through with the vibes and here comes ‘One Blood.’

And look how powerful that song has become! Did you ever think that song would be so relevant all these years later?

[Laughs] Yeah, we know the song ‘One Blood’ would be relevant for the rest of time. It’s a part of creation. Because when you use certain words that people can understand, once you have the right beat behind it, people are always going to rock to it and listen to the message.

If I was singing about style and fashion, it wouldn’t be relevant right now because the style changes regularly.

How are things in your community? Do you feel like Jamaica has improved since you sang that song?

Well, the song ‘One Blood’ helped a lot in my community and all over the country. Where I presently stay, that’s a place called Red Hills Road. Before I go there we used to have a whole heap of killing every day.

All of the communities that used to war, they stop war because they listen to me. You have different communities like Naseberry Garden, Money Banks, Park Lane, Hundred, all of them places now living together. Even where I was born and grow, in Waterhouse, I spread love amongst the youths and the youths respect me.

It’s important for people to have someone they can relate to, someone who understands their life.

Yeah, because the people love artists, you know. If every artist go out there and try to spread that love in the community — not just for their own section but for all the sections — that will really help. Let the youths see you don’t take no side.

Do people look to the artists for leadership more than politicians?

Yeah, because they don’t trust politicians. They know the politician already take a side. So they gonna say that politician is trying to get them over to the other side.

They don’t even listen to the police, because some of them are Laborite police and some are PNP. So the people listen to the artists that they respect. An artist who’s been down that road and go through that tribulation and survive.

It sounds like a big responsibility being an artist in Jamaica.

[Laughs] It don’t come lightly. Anything that happen in the community, it reach me. And we have to assist them in the best way we can. Make sure everything on a level.

Even the police in the community salute me and say they respect me for what I’m doing. I make their job easier. There was a time they would have to get out of their bed every night, running to pick up a body or something.

So you are able to do that by putting out a message of peace?

Yes, you have to put out the message to let bygones be bygones, because if you keep on following up on this violence, it never stops. At the end of the day, it’s the youths from the ghetto and their mothers that feel it.

A lot of youths war and they go to prison and they don’t leave any money with their mother or father. They put that pressure on their parents.

So what is the solution? For people to educate themselves?

The answer is just to live in love and learn to forgive so you can be forgiven. Teach the youth inna the right way, not teaching them to come and take revenge.

When you performed the song ‘One Blood’ on SummerStage you also did a Spanish version. Why did you do that version?

I had a request from some Spanish people to sing ‘One Blood’ in Spanish. I have a friend called Miguel, a singer youth from Argentina who is based in California. Me and him get together and we do that song in Spanish. ‘Una Sangre’ is ‘One Blood.’

That version has a special impact right now because certain leaders are trying to build walls to keep Spanish-speaking people out of this country. Kids who were born in this country are living in fear because their families might be deported. What do you think about all of this?

Well, it’s really hard on the people where visas are concerned. The people worry about it a lot. But the Father says, ‘Free earth and free sky, free sea.’ There was a time when no one needed a visa or a passport to come here. The whole immigration and the visa thing is just a business.

So you feel the land should not be owned by anyone?

Once upon a time they come here and see free earth, free sky, free waterway. And one day we will have that again, but time deal with everything. If we don’t make the change, the next generation will make the change — or the generation after.

Who inspired you to put out music on your own label?

My bredren Hugh Mundell was my inspiration. He was the first person to take me into the studio and produce a song with me. At the time he was about 16 and I was about 13 or 14.

I saw him doing his own thing. After my bredren dead, it was just me alone. Me and him travel to where they shoot him, and when him gone I was like ‘What am I going to do now?’

From that time I just start producing myself as a little youth. And then one of my friends draw a label [logo] and I just take it and keep doing my thing.

And you were still a teenager at the time?

Yeah, and then I join up with Black Uhuru. When they leave Island Records they didn’t have a label, so I put them on the JR label. The first songs that came out with me and Black Uhuru — like ‘Nah Rich And Switch’ ‘Dread in the Mountain,’ ‘Pain on the Poor Man Brain’ — all of those songs come out on JR. And Barrington Levy come out on that label as well.

When the splitting go on between me and Black Uhuru, I start to record as Junior Reid again and that’s when my first song went on the label: ‘One Blood.’

What was it like becoming the lead singer for Black Uhuru, which was already a legendary band at the time?

Black Uhuru was the first group to win a Grammy in the reggae category. While I was on tour, I heard they were having problems with their lead singer. After I go back to Jamaica they approach me.

I didn’t want to see the group mash up after achieving such a big thing. That would make it look like any time black people get their little highlight we can’t live together.

Your songs have been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists. How do you describe your sound?

One of my biggest inspirations was Michael Jackson, and I used to listen to man like Dennis Brown. Those were my two favorite artists, so that kinda give me an international vibes.

The words that Michael sing, the whole world can understand. If you say ‘One Blood’ the world can understand that. Those are words for a lifetime.

What’s next for you?

I just completed an album with Mike Will Made-It in Atlanta. So 2020, you can look out for this big album with Junior Reid and Ear Drumma. It’s not just straight reggae; it’s an international album. The name of the album is Kingston Yard Style.

You also have a track on Jah Cure’s upcoming album — a collab between you, Cure, Yami Bolo, and Capleton.

Yes, Jah Cure reached out to me and say he wants me to give him a strength towards his next project, so we just go in and give him a vibes. That song is called ‘Street Kings.’

What do you think is going on with Jamaican music right now? 

The likkle island of Jamaica produce the biggest music inna the world, which is reggae music. It’s the only music that have such a message.

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