Krista Henry, Staff Reporter
Before the widespread return to 'cultural' lyrics in the 1990s, Admiral Tibet was the most consistently conscious singer of his age and widely regarded as the first cultural singer of the deejay-dominated period.
Born Kennel Allen in the parish of St Mary, as a young child growing up, he always had a keen interest in music. He started performing on sound systems in and around his vicinity at a tender age.
In 1985, Tibet did his first recording for producer Sherman Clacher, entitled Babylon War, giving him recognition locally and internationally. Another single, Leave People Business, was an instant hit, followed by Serious Time, which was later remixed with two-time Grammy winner Shabba Ranks and the Don Gorgon Ninjaman.
The track featured then rivals Ninjaman and Shabba Ranks and was employed to signal reconciliation between the two deejays in the early '90s.
Tibet's lyrics, delivered with a convincing, vulnerable quality, are as true today as they were when first delivered. Admiral Tibet has toured extensively in the United States, Europe, Japan and the Caribbean.
The Sunday Gleaner caught up with the artiste recently.
Sunday Gleaner: How did you get the name?
Admiral Tibet: I was going primary school and my cousin, both of us were sitting together looking into an atlas, and saw the name 'Tibet'. My cousin took it as a mockery and seh 'Tibet! Tibet!' and it stuck - that was in the 1970s.
Admiral came on in the 1980s when a friend of mine asked me 'bout my stage name. Him seh Tibet kinda lonely and others have long names, so I'm the 'Admiral'.
Did you always want to do music?
Well, definitely, from I realise miself and start have sense, mi realise that mi love music.
Did you ever get any formal training?
No, just a natural thing, I had no form of voice training.
How did you get started in the business?
I was born in St Mary in Free Hill. I discovered my talent in the country, but it wasn't easy 'cause there were no studios at the time, unlike now.
I went to Kingston in 1982, but didn't break till 1985 with my first song Babylon War, that gave me popularity. That continued wid songs such as Serious Times on King Jammys and Leave People Business Alone with Winston Riley.
Were your parents encouraging of your career?
Mi neva get no negative feedback from them toward my career. When I get the break in Kingston, mi leave country already and I was a big enough yute and mek my own decisions. My first song got me out there, so is not like I was struggling.
How would you describe your music?
Mi seh reggae music, although some people call it roots 'cause mi conscious. Mi give thanks for nuff producers, nuff respect, like Bobby Digital, who was a great influence.
How come he was such a big influence?
Because most of my work mi do it wid Bobby. He's a great engineer and great listener. Him have nuff ideas and if I have a problem wid a song, him fix it quick quick.
Where did you get your inspiration?
It come from the Almighty Father. He really inspire me. Influence also comes from artistes like Dennis Brown. As a yute in the country, mi love his music, him touch me a lot. There is also Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Issacs.
What sounds did you used to perform on?
There was a likkle sound in my parish called Torpedo. It neva known in Kingston, but in St Mary, that sound was my bona fide sound. There are different other likkle sounds like Scorpio and Kilamanjaro.
What is your most memorable experience in the business?
Is 1989, Reggae Sunsplash, even in my sleep mi a remember dat. Tibet get the buss in 1985, but a 1989 people see di real Admiral Tibet performing on Reggae Sunsplash wid champion artistes. Most people had me as an underdog, seh mi wouldn't dominate wid so much artiste.
How did the song 'Serious Time' come about?
Is like observing di time and see how it run. Nuff a my music a so it come about - watch how it go on and meditate on it.
How did Ninja Man and Shabba get on the track?
Dat was a couple of years after; it was a single before that. Shabba and Ninja had a likkle ting going on, nutting too serious, so Bobby Digital seh is a good ting to get Shabba and Ninja on it, which happened.
Was everybody in the studio at the same time?
Each one come in and do their part separate. It was sumting that was discussed among us though, wid no objections.
Did that song have any effect on your career?
Yes, it give the career a big push when I collaborated with Ninja and Shabba, it gave me a bigger push.
The song 'Terrorist', do you think it applies to all notions of terrorism that came up after 9/11?
Yes. When mi go places and sing that song to people who never hear it before, people ask me if mi record it after 9/11. It was many years before it revive back.
The song 'Leave People Business Alone', was that from a personal experience?
Yeah, is just like di everyday thing where yuh see people a chat people, mi see it from a likke yute.
Why don't you like to pull up songs at stage shows?
To me when yuh sing and pull up di song, although di people a forward, yuh weaken the strength of the song. Yuh nah get the same energy the second time round. Sometimes, yuh can give the people too much; yuh haffi leave dem wanting more.
What are you doing now?
Di road need a new album. It's been a couple of years but mi a work pon a few singles. So, whenever mi hear di potential for a hit song, I'll release it.
Do you do a lot of touring?
Still it might be not as it should. It could be more, but it could be less. Right now mi soon go to Canada for two shows, then Switzerland. So, there are a couple of things in the making.