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Interview: Natty

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Between the time Natty’s debut album Man Like I was released in 2008 and today, on the release of its 10 year anniversary record Man Like I&I, the world has endured a hell of a lot of good and some terribly, terribly bad. But the evolution of Natty’s identity as a performer, creator and revolutionary certainly falls in the former.

Man Like I was bold in its approach to carefully balancing an intellectual analysis of modernity and traditional Rastafari culture. Blending the dreary greys of the stressed-out London streets with splashes of Caribbean colour and brushes of African percussive rhythms came truly to fruition in one song more than the rest: ‘Coloured Souls’. Inspired by the mindset and recurrent patterns we can fall into living in the big city, Natty tells us that ‘Coloured Souls’ roots out that little flicker of light within us all.  

“The lyrics are inspired by taking the tube on grey dreary days in London at rush hour. When you lift up your head and try look into someone’s eyes, searching for the colour and life within. Let’s not forget that these black and white harsh tones and lines do not define us, so we react in different ways… some of us will “jump the train fare”…some of us will drink until the sun comes up just to deal with the pressures,” 

The playful rhythms and melodic arrangement of the track is something that came quite naturally in the beginning, Natty explained. Those African drums and a crescendo of hi-life guitars in the chorus gave, what couldn’t be described any better, as a “joyful healing”. And the rest of the album continues in exactly the same vein; touching on catastrophic and much-concealed themes of war, discrimination, interracial politics and slavery, with a delicate hand and a flourish of feel-good. 

“a lot of the creative process is about harnessing what is flowing through you, void of contrived thoughts or ambitions. Music is a definite catharsis and playing music is healing just as much as listening. I write from a place of truth,” 

And that’s why the word “authentic”, albeit wholly overused in the music industry, seriously applies to Natty. As a creator of voice and sound, he encapsulates his audience with a stream of consciousness so revered for its clarity, poise and positivity that it’s impossible not to revel in. Rather than deconstruct the divisiveness of social and political tensions through Man Like I, Natty used it to his advantage.

“Music is my weapon of choice, it does so much more than we think in terms of creating understanding unity and cohesion between all sorts of people. Some tensions are there for a reason like when the police murder another innocent. But sometimes it’s about focusing that tension instead of dismantling.”

Natty’s maturity in his lyrical content is nothing short of astounding, particularly when you remember he released Man Like I at just 25 years old. And that maturity has simply developed more and more in the ten years since. After producing the debut in 2008 “very quickly, under quite a bit of pressure” in time for it to become the soundtrack to the deep orange summer, Natty took a step back and refocused for the big return.

“It was a little daunting as I wondered in the beginning if so much effort to record and produce these songs was going to be worth it…but I was excited to do it once the recording process started and even more excited about the final result...Since Johnny Dollar passed away, I have produced all my own stuff, and it’s a different kind of pressure. But with maturity comes patience, and so this time around we let the songs breathe a bit and dealt with it at a slower pace.”

The revisit of ‘Coloured Souls’ has brought the tube to a screeching halt thanks to Maverick Sabre’s rich, seeping tones and only helps to further exemplify Natty’s trademark light and shade songwriting style: Sabre punctuates the raw, social commentary with a reminder that we are all “light in the sun rays”.

By its side stands the revisited fan-favourite ‘Badman’, boasting a soulful, righteous spoken word section by close friend Benjamin Zephaniah. Livingston Studios was a busy in and out of close friends and inspirational artists for this anniversary album; from Sabre and Zephaniah to Seun Kuti, El Fari and Ramzi from 47soul, Natty hoped to provide “something fresh for the audience but also to honour the friends and influences that have brought me to this point”.

Listen to the full album Man Like I&I now and make sure to catch Natty at one of the many UK venues on his huge upcoming tour in November.

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