Written by: Brian McElhiney – The Bulletin (Bend, OR)
British reggae singer brings spirituality to The Capitol – Everything comes back to community and spirituality for Pato Banton. In the reggae genre, this almost goes without saying. But the London-born singer takes his involvement to a level most of his peers don’t reach, starting with his live performances. His biography on his website and Facebook page describes the prayer circles that often end his shows: “… Some have cried while sharing their stories of contemplated suicide, isolation after losing a loved one, struggles with substance abuse and how their personal connection with Pato has given them the strength to ‘Stay Positive’ & ‘Never Give In.’”
There’s also Banton’s ministry work. A longtime follower of The Urantia Book, a religious and philosophical text that originated in Chicago in the 1950s, Banton was ordained as a minister online. He has performed weddings for his fans, sometimes at shows, and makes time on tour for christenings, counseling and other duties.
“Since I got my ordination, I’ve actually encouraged over 250 other people to also become ordained ministers,” Banton, born Patrick Murray, said recently from his home in Lake Elsinore, California, south of Los Angeles. “We call each other ministers of the verb because the noun is like having the title of minister; minister of the verb is actually doing it. We don’t really care about the title; the title is just something that comes with the responsibility. But (we want) to be out there doing service — to be out there changing lives, improving lives, helping people to feel better about themselves.”
Since Banton began touring heavily in the U.S. again in the mid-2000s, he’s become a regular in Bend and at The Capitol, where he’s performed annually for the last two years. He’ll make that three when he returns Thursday.
In addition to the show, Banton will give a talk and performance at the Westside Village Magnet School earlier that same day, and also give kids the chance to perform onstage. Banton, who spent the early 2000s working in music education and community outreach in his childhood hometown of Birmingham, England, has continued to work with kids in the Los Angeles area.
“I know a lot of talented artists wouldn’t be who they are today if it wasn’t for the art programs that they had in their schools,” Banton said. “… For some kids who are not academically inclined, without that creative platform and the artistic platform, school can be pretty difficult for them if that’s not the way that they learn the best.”
Banton’s interest in community involvement came about early. His stepfather, Lester Daley, was a DJ from Jamaica, and from the age of 9, Banton would work doors and help set up equipment, eventually trying his hand behind the DJ booth and microphone and earning his nickname from his stepfather (derived from “a wise night owl in Jamaica, that stays up all night, calling “patoo, patoo,” per Banton’s website).
“Even though I had a great English teacher who inspired me to write, it was really my community (that got me started in music),” Banton said. “My stepdad was a DJ, and there were other young, very talented artists in my community who inspired me and gave me the confidence to actually try it for myself at a young age. ”
Banton got his first big break at a talent show judged by The Beat’s Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling, eventually recording the single “Pato & Roger A Go Talk” with the band; a string of studio albums and collaborations with UB40, Paul Shaffer and Sting followed in the next few decades. In 2000, his album “Life is a Miracle” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
Most recently, Banton released 2017’s “Love is the Greatest!”, a compilation featuring collaborations with Ghanaian artist Mohammed Alidu, Pilot Touhill and others; and “The Words of Rastafari,” a three-CD set in collaboration with his wife and keyboardist Antoinette Hall that combines speeches from Ethiopian emperor and key Rastafarian figure Haile Selassie with re-imagined Bob Marley riddims.
Since making his comeback, Banton has noticed a reggae boom throughout the world. He’s found fans in burgeoning reggae scenes in Hawaii, Puerto Rico (where he’s toured five times) and Ghana.
“The past 20 years have seen reggae music be embraced by every culture around the world,” he said. “There’s reggae bands in Australia; there’s Japanese reggae bands that sound just as authentic as the musicians from Jamaica. … I don’t even think that Jamaica can claim ownership anymore.”