El Paso Music Scene

Pato Banton Interview

by Charles Hurley

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Pato Banton is a reggae icon. Born Patrick Murray, he was given the name Pato, meaning "wise owl", by his stepfather, and Banton, meaning "heavyweight DJ lyricist," by fellow reggae musicians. His debut album, made in 1985, was Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton,

His awards include the BBC's Lifetime Achievement Award, being an initial inductee into the Reggae Hall of Fame in Birmingham (UK), and a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album of 2001, for Life Is a Miracle.

He recorded a song on the UB40 album Baggariddim in 1985, and also recorded two re-mixes of Sting songs, sharing vocals with the pop superstar: "This Cowboy Song," which reached top ten in sales in the UK and South American charts, and the Police classic, "Spirits in a Material World", which was included on the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey movie, "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls".

Pato Banton and the Now Generation abound with a beat to keep you on your dancing feet, while Pato delivers a message that is food for the mind and soul. Many have considered his charismatic performance as live theatre, where no show is alike, and audience members become participants in the experience. Pato dialogues with the crowd on a range of topics, including current day events and spiritual freedom, while keeping the vibes upbeat and fun! The direction of the concert is totally based on the feedback Pato receives from the audience, as there is no fixed set list. Many have said that the positivity generated from the stage has changed their lives forever. Sometimes, Pato invites his fans to join him in a prayer circle after the show, where 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" and "Never Give In."

EPMS: You were born in Great Britain, but you live here now, right?

Pato Banton: I was born in London UK, grew up in Birmingham UK, and moved over to the USA in 2007. I am currently based in Los Angeles, but spend most of my time traveling across all fifty states.

EPMS: One of your top songs is Gwarn. What does gwarn mean?

Pato Banton: Go on, you can do it! A word of encouragement my mum would always give me.

EPMS: How do you actually feel about drugs? On one hand, you did Don't Sniff Coke, and I've seen you advocating the legalization of marijuana on live videos, yet you also talk about trying to avoid doing songs about such things.

Pato Banton: Concerning drugs, my two mottos are "ALL DRUGS OUT!" and "LEGALIZE IT!" For those who get it, no explanation is necessary, for those who don't, no explanation will ever suffice.

EPMS: How hard has it been to avoid violence and sexism in your music, seeing how it plays a big part in the music of other reggae performers?

Pato Banton: It hasn't been hard to avoid the negativity because I am focused on a mission that is beyond the fickleness of the moment of the music industry. My love for God is deep-rooted and my respect for my mother would never allow me to write something I couldn't share with her.

EPMS: Is your mission to help bring the world back to God?

Pato Banton: My mission in life has always been to educate, motivate, elevate and inspire people to rise above their current level of thinking! Music is my vehicle and God is my guide. My Master has told me to go to the all the world spreading the Good News; that we are all God's children, brothers and sisters, regardless of color, race or creed. This is my calling!!!

EPMS: You talk about having been "Blessed with the gift of Revelation." Is that a specific revelation, or The Book of Revelation?

Pato Banton: I am talking about the Revelation of the Urantia Book, which has had a major influence on my journey through life. After studying it for twenty years now, I am convinced it has been given to mankind to prepare us for the new age that we are entering into right now.

EPMS: In some of your official biographical information, it says, "As I approach the final chapter of my musical journey on Planet Earth..." Um, how final a chapter are you talking about?

Pato Banton: After almost thirty years of making music and traveling around the world, I feel it may be time for me to venture on a different path that will present new challenges in my life. I am currently fulfilling a lifetime dream of touring all fifty states of the USA in one year. I am the booking agent, tour manager and accountant for this journey, as well as performing most nights of the week. It's been an awesome journey so far and very rewarding, but I still feel as though the time is coming for me to move in to the next phase on my path.

EPMS: What is the next phase in your path?

Pato Banton: Every time I come to a crossroad on my journey through life, I always take a Time Out to pray and meditate. This allows me to open up to my Inner Guide and FEEEEL which direction I should take.

EPMS: How much formal education have you had?

Pato Banton: I started skipping school at age six, and hardly ever attended during my teen years. It was my love for truth and my quest for knowledge that kept me reading and helped me to educate myself.

EPMS: How did you stay out of jail when you were growing up?

Pato Banton: Who said I stayed out of jail?LOL.

I spent eighteen months in jail, after being brutally beaten by the police and forced to sign confessions to crimes I did not commit. I had evidence, the police did not. I was convicted, the police were not. A racist jury in a racist city found me guilty of all charges with no evidence.

EPMS: When you were young, you and your siblings were placed in government care, and it took your mother two years to get all of you back under the same roof. How old were you when this happened?

Pato Banton: I was six years old when my mother had to run for her life to escape the beatings from her ex-husband. When he realized she was really gone, he locked me and my brothers in the bedroom and set the house on fire! Thank God I knew how to open the window!

EPMS: What was it like, when you were nine, and for a few years, participating in your stepfather's house parties? What did you learn from these parties that helped you become a professional entertainer?

Pato Banton: I helped my dad with his house parties from the age of nine til fifteen. I started out by being the security on the door for the first three years, then I got promoted to bar duties, then I became the DJ before going on the microphone and honing my skills. This experience gave me all the tools for every avenue of the music industry.

EPMS: How tough was it to be accepted into the reggae world, being from Britain?

Pato Banton: As I'm sure you know, Reggae music was originated in Jamaica. For many years, it was a uphill struggle for artists born outside of Jamaica to gain the respect of the Reggae Music Industry and listening audience. Even though a large number of Jamaican families emigrated to the UK in the 1950's and 60's, giving birth to a new generation of Black British kids, we were never accepted by the English and disowned by the Jamaicans. It wasn't until the emergence of bands like Steel Pulse, Aswad, The English Beat, and UB40 that the doors of opportunity were flung wide open for a new phenomenon called The British MCs. When artists like Papa Levi, Tippa Irie, Smiley Culture, Makka B and Pato Banton started to top the Reggae and Pop charts, the obvious could not be denied. After my first appearance at Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica which featured me and Tippa Irie as UK representatives, the front page of the Jamaican Gleaner showed a picture of us and sung our praises!

EPMS: Give me your reaction to something included in a review written about 1990's Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton: "Pato Banton does not have ghetto credence, but procuring the Mad Professor as producer gives Pato Banton the touch and ambience to compete with any of the great Jamaican DJs."

Pato Banton: The person who made this quote knows very little about my ghetto experience, but is totally correct about the Mad Professor's TOUCH! This was a very strategic move (on my part) during the start of my career in which working with an established producer with an authentic sound would enhance my performance and establish me as a bona fide artist in my own right. This album entitled, Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton became an instant hit, world-wide, and is still regarded as a Reggae classic.

EPMS: How has your music changed since working with Mad Professor? Did working with Mad Professor change your music from what it had been before?

Pato Banton: The experience with Mad Professor added to my production skills, but as far as musically, I have always been original and adventurous. From the times of the Mad Professor album, my music has evolved to a point where I am pretty confident about what I want and just how to get it. But most important to me is the message!

EPMS: Early in your career, you had recordings on UB40 albums, though you weren't a part of UB40. How does that work? Did UB40 perform with you on those songs? How much have you worked with UB40?

Pato Banton: I grew up in the same neighborhood as UB40 and when they were breaking into the pop scene, I was making waves in the underground scene.

They would come to my shows many times to feel the rugged vibe of the dance hall. They invited me to work on an album called Baggariddim in 1982 and featured one of my songs on their USA hit with Chrissie Hynde.

This led to us working on live shows occasionally, but I was always striving to maintain my journey as a roots reggae artist.

After ten years of supporting my mission as a roots artist, my record label pressured me to bring a hit to the table, so in 1994 I invited UB40 into the studio to cover The Equals' song, Baby Come Back, and it sold thirty million copies, world-wide!

EPMS: On your 1990 album, Wize Up! (No Compromise), you covered The Police's song, Spirits in the Material World, and you performed with Sting on his This Cowboy Song single,

How do you feel it went, merging your style with Sting?

Pato Banton: Collaborating with Sting was one of the highlights of my musical journey! I have always been a fan of his music and when the opportunity was presented to perform with him, I was blown away! I was very happy with the whole experience that lasted for eighteen months, and my love and respect for Sting has grown since getting to know him on a personal level.

EPMS: Life Is a Miracle received a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album in 2001. The Grammy is an American award. Were you here at that time?

Pato Banton: During that time I was on tour with Peter Gabriel's WOMAD Organization. I was getting awards all over the world, some of which I haven't been able to collect yet. LOL! When I was nominated for the Grammy, I had to choose whether I wanted to fly to the USA and attend the ceremony or perform at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Well, that was a no-brainer!

EPMS: You also received the BBC's Lifetime Achievement Award, and were an initial inductee into the Reggae Hall of Fame in Birmingham, where you grew up. How do those rank among the awards you have received over the years?

Pato Banton: They probably rank second and third, after my Worlds Best Dad Award!

EPMS: I saw a video of you and your band, ( here at Stumpjack Coffee, and here and here). seated, in front of a small gathering in what looked like a large living room. Why do you not fuss about being recorded under less-than-ideal conditions, like many artists on your level would?

Pato Banton: Actually, the private shows and gatherings I do are sometimes better than huge festivals! It depends on what you're looking for. Instead of looking for a big sound and spectacular lighting. Check the vibes...

EPMS: You have no fixed set list. Really, how much does one show compare to the next, as far as which songs you do? Do you ever do songs that you have never done before, or songs that you haven't done in fifteen years?

Pato Banton: We have a list of songs prepared that would probably last for three-and-a-half hours. Most shows are two hours' maximum, so we have flexibility in the songs we play each night. If I was to play a song that wasn't rehearsed, but was requested by a persistent fan, I would do it solo, so as not to embarrass the band. LOL! The shows are different because the crowd is different and the people play a big part in the dynamics of every show.

EPMS: How much did you scale back your touring after your sons were shot in 2000?

Pato Banton: When my sons were shot, I put my musical journey on pause for six years. My focus was on a new challenge that would change the lives of many young people across my entire city!

EPMS: Which city do you consider your city?

Pato Banton: I grew up in the city of Birmingham, England. The home of UB40, The English Beat, Steel Pulse and The Specials.

EPMS: I can't imagine the emotions you went through after that. Have you ever used your power to exact revenge on somebody?

Pato Banton: No! I leave that to Karma.

EPMS: Are you touring now as much as you had been before that happened?

Pato Banton: I started the year with a tour of Brazil and Argentina. I'm currently on a fifty-state tour of the USA and I have plans to go back to Brazil, England, Peru and Israel by 11-11-11.

EPMS: Is 11-11-11 a special date for you?

Pato Banton: This is one of those FEEEELINGS which at this point I can't explain in words, but I do know it has something to do with our invisible friends who share their journey with us on this planet. Israel is a holy place so I will be in Israel to celebrate this beautiful occasion on 11-11-11.

EPMS: In 2009, you went back in the studio after eight years to record Destination Paradise. Did you worry that an album after so many years would be a success? Did you try to stick to a formula that worked before, or did you do anything different from before?

Pato Banton: I had no fears going back into the studio because even though I hadn't worked on my own material for a long time, I was still sharing my knowledge with young people and it felt good to get back and give my creativity a chance to be expressed.

EPMS: A couple of months ago, you married a couple on the beach, in California, I believe. How are you able to legally do that?

Pato Banton: My fans forced me to get ordained so I could start marrying them and christening their children. It was done online at UniversalMinistries.com and has allowed me to legally officiate marriages, et cetera. When my fans see my tour schedule, they contact me and arrange they're special occasions around my itinerary. It's awesome to serve!

EPMS: Thanks so much, Pato! This has been a special honor for me.

Pato Banton: I just want to thank you for this awesome interview, and I truly look forward to coming back to El Paso with some Positive Vibrations! One Love Always.