Interview by: Bill Locey – Ventura County Star
Finding someone as upbeat as reggae star Pato Banton is as rare as someone dying of old age on “Game of Thrones.” Banton is so relentlessly pleasant, he could make a statue of Dick Cheney smile — well, smirk maybe. A frequent visitor to the 805 for nearly three decades, Banton will bring his songs of uplift, joy and hope to Discovery Ventura Thursday, Jan. 12.
Banton, reggae’s Mr. Happy, seems to emanate good vibrations and when and if his live shows are ever interrupted, it’s not because of a fight or the arrival of the cops, but rather … a wedding? Always a spiritual guy, Banton shows have been known to end with a prayer circle between fans and rock star.
The son of a Jamaican DJ, Banton was born Patrick Murray in England and still hasn’t lost his accent. Through talent, persistence and a number of fortuitous breaks, Banton has recorded over 20 albums, performs all over the world and has finally relocated to SoCal.
A recurring theme for Banton since his earliest days is his dislike for drugs, especially man-made chemicals. On the other hand, mind benders that occur naturally — like the pernicious weed — now legal in many states including this one, have made Banton happier than Cheech & Chong and Jeff Spicoli.
Banton is happy to be anywhere as suggested by this recent interview — done nice because we did it twice.
Pato, this is Bill Locey with the Ventura County Star — how are you?
Very good, my brother.
I have some disturbing but mostly embarrassing news — my tape player didn’t work so our interview didn’t come out at all. I was just going to start transcribing our conversation but it’s not there. So I’m ashamed to ask — is it possible to do it again today at some point?
Yes, it is. I’m just about to jump into the car and I’m going to drive for about an hour, so I’ll call you when I get in the car and we can do it then.
OK, thank you, sir, for saving me.
(about an hour later) Hello.
Pato, nice to talk to you again — what’s the latest in your world?
The latest from Pato Banton is I am currently planning a tour. So far, we’ve got England, Africa, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Brazil.
Have you been to those places before?
Yes, in early 2016, so we’re planning to return in 2017.
So you went to Africa — Ghana, I believe? So what’s happening in Ghana? We don’t get much news from there.
Yeah, I went to Ghana originally just to host a spiritual gathering because I’m involved in a lot of spiritual activity now. So I went over to a spiritual gathering but when they heard I was coming they asked if I could do a concert … I also invited a lot of African artists who also performed at the event. I recorded with two of the African artists and did a music video with one of them, too, so it was really busy but fantastic.
You’ve always been a spiritual guy, so tell me about your latest activities in that realm.
Well, you know that reggae music has always been my inspiration to start my spiritual journey and as I’ve grown and kept searching I found a book called the Urantia Book which really blew my mind. It really made me understand that I don’t have to be a part of an institution, you know, or religion, to have a relationship with God and I can enjoy my spiritual liberty and be a spiritual person without belonging to something.
That sounds like Martin Luther 500 years ago when he split from the Catholic Church by telling people they could find God on their own just by reading the Bible.
That’s right. The Urantia Book is now read in most parts of the world and all over Africa, too. So really, it was a Urantia gathering that I went to host in Ghana but we invited all religions to discuss spiritual liberty and it was really exciting because we had Rastafarians, Christians, Muslims and agnostics. It was really fun and everyone enjoyed the freedom of sharing with each other.
OK, then what?
So a lot of my fans have asked me to marry them but I couldn’t do it until I got my ordination. So I got my ordination and now I’m a legally ordained minister and I perform baptisms, christenings and marriages. So for my fans as I travel across America, sometimes at my shows I’ll stop the show and do a wedding, or before the show, I’ll be outside marrying some of the fans.
Outstanding. So with peace, love and understanding — obviously the winning ticket — why isn’t that message winning? Or is it?
I think it’s winning, you know? I really think it’s winning. I think it’s not winning in the media because the media promotes negativity. That’s how they earn their living. When you look outside of the media, there is so much positivity going on. There are so many people out there helping the homeless, helping children who are being abused, helping battered wives — there are so many people out there promoting a new spiritual age where we can step away from all the religious dogma and accept each other as brothers and sisters. Some people see little specks of hope in a black clouded world, but I see small specks of darkness in a very bright future, you know? I’m very optimistic and very positive and I believe that this is God’s universe and if this is God’s universe, then ultimately good will always overcome evil.
Well, that’s why everybody loves you. So evidently, there are reggae fans everywhere. Are reggae fans the same everywhere?
Reggae is everywhere. Everywhere I’ve been, there is reggae. Reggae fans are different in different places. In Asia, the reggae fans are more laid back and subdued. I’ve been told that in China they’re very subdued.
So they don’t go nuts in Korea like they do in Brazil?
No, they’re more laid back. They have a good time but in Brazil and Southern California — those are two of the places where they really express themselves. They give you great, loud feedback.
So the Koreans are having fun, but you’re not really sure, unlike here, where there can be no doubt?
No doubt about it.
So reggae — bigger, smaller, staying the same?
Reggae music is growing but it’s growing in a different way. There was a time when reggae music was evaluated by the level of success of the Jamaican artists, but that is no longer true. Reggae music has now become the property of every culture in the world; in America, we have reggae bands — white reggae bands — that are bigger than the bands from Jamaica.
Just like up here in the 805 with bands like Rebelution and Iration…
And Slightly Stoopid — so yeah, there are a lot of bands now that are really huge. In South America there are bands that now play reggae as a mainstream act, so reggae music has definitely grown and it has evolved into a new form of expression.
It’s fairly amazing how such a small island — Jamaica — can have such a large impact…
Yeah, it’s really because of Bob Marley mainly. Bob Marley has become a household name and his picture can be found in many places — in barber shops, everywhere. Anywhere you might go, Bob Marley is really a part of the culture there.
Did you ever get to see him play?
No, I did not — he passed on just before I got a chance to meet him, but I toured with his wife, the I-Threes and the Wailers band, and I toured with Ziggy and Stephen Marley. I traveled with nearly everybody in the family.
So you’re finally in California — what’s happening in Lake Elsinore?
It’s a nice quiet and peaceful place for me to kick back and get my creativity on, but I’m ready to branch out across Lake Elsinore and this region so that I can get to meet more people and get to understand what the music scene is like out here, you know, and get involved.
So what was your big break or have you had it yet?
I’ve had numerous breaks at different times. One big break was working with the English Beat. Another big break was working with UB40. Another big break was having the opportunity to do two duets with Sting and two music videos with Sting, so I’ve had a lot of big opportunities. Another big break was when I was nominated for a Grammy for an album I recorded in my own home, “My Life Is A Miracle.” Not long ago I was put into the British Music Hall of Fame, and I also got a lifetime achievement award from the BBC, you know? Another big break was when Peter Gabriel asked me to headline a world tour and during that tour we also did outreach to different communities on the tour. So all of these things have been really awesome experiences, and my life has been full of big breaks and I’m still active on my musical journey and I’m still enjoying it.
Yeah, and now the pernicious weed is legal in California…
Exactly. (sings) Legalize it! I’ve been singing about this for so long but there was a time when I used to get demonized.
That’s right — back in the ‘90s, you were singing the same song.
Yeah, I used to get a lot of fight from the media when I sang, “I do not sniff the coke — I only smoke sensimilla,” but now it’s become legal and people get it at last.
What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever played?
One of the strangest gigs I’ve ever played was in a small town in Texas, where I actually booked the tour. It was a 50-state tour and I was just happy to get gigs any place I could find them. It was kind of a rough and ready tour, and this small town I went to — they had never heard of Bob Marley, most of them, and they couldn’t even pronounce “reggae.” So it was an ice cream shop, you know, and we only played to a handful of people, but they loved it and we enjoyed doing it. We’ve played in some very strange places but we always create new fans and then there are always bigger opportunities the next time we come to town.
So what’s the next step?
The future right now is very full. I have a new album called “Love Is The Greatest,” which is a love-themed album based on different aspects of love — brotherly love, sisterly love, the love of God, the love of a couple and there’s also the first song I’ve ever written about the love for my mother. There’s all kinds of love — one love, universal love — that album’s coming out in February. Also, I just completed a three-CD box set where I read the words of Haile Selassie over the music of Bob Marley that I’ve recreated in a more laid back, jazzy style. The album is amazing and I’m inspired every time I listen to it. That one’s coming out on Bob Marley’s birthday on February the 6th.
Perfect timing and I’m inspired every time I talk to you — and lucky me — I got to talk to you twice in one week.
Don’t quit your night job.
I won’t. Thank you, my brother, have a great day.
GETTING THERE: Pato Banton at Discovery Ventura, 1888 E. Thompson Blvd., Thursday, 7:30 p.m.