'Perfectionist' Natty talks about Africa, making music that is spiritual, and why he's never happy
24 November, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Rasta musician Natty plays live at The Garage in Islington on December 4
“I DO not like being treated like a caged animal and no matter how much money I am given, this cannot happen.”
When it comes to his music, Rasta musician Natty is uncompromising. The singer, who has grown up in and around Camden, Kentish Town and Finsbury Park and went to Highgate School, has stopped off on his way home from performing in Morocco to talk about the inspiration for some big changes in his life and his upcoming show with band The Rebelship at The Garage on December 4 with Royal Sounds + DJ and Host K’ibir La Amlak.
In more recent years Natty left the UK music scene to spend some time in Africa and South America, returning to form six-piece band The Rebelship.
“I’d been playing music with these people for a while, I’d started meeting them before I went to Africa,” he said. “You could say I’m part of the Rebelship, they became a little bit like my brothers. They are friends but also the best musicians, in my humble opinion, in the UK and probably the world as I’ve been told. We just like to make music that is spiritual – I’m not going to ask you to put your hands up or repeat after me.”
Natty’s first album with the band, Release the Fear, was released on his own label last year but is now available to stream. “[It] is something I’ve been working on for a very long time,” he said. “It’s a semi-concept album. It starts with a song about giving thanks and, for me, this is the start of the journey where I could release my own fears and speak to others about releasing their fears. The giving thanks bit was an important part of it.
“My first album, Man Like I, was put together in a couple of weeks but this one was done over time.” Man Like I, Natty’s 2008 first solo album, was released on Atlantic. However, despite good relations with some at the label, creative differences finally prompted Natty to leave. “I used to be signed to a major label that was spiritually debilitating and turning me into someone I didn’t want to be and representing myself in situations I didn’t want to,” said Natty.
“I ended up saying f*** all you lot, I’m going. That was around 2011. I was supposed to put an album out in 2011. Atlantic were cool, the head was fine but it’s some of the minions making names for themselves saying ‘oh, I think you should make a song with Duffy’s songwriter etc.’
“I was working with a lot of people who convinced me to try it for a bit and when I did I hated myself. You’ve got to try and compromise in this economic-based environment when you’re trying to get on. It was compromising that did it. I can’t compromise when I’m making music.”
Natty put his energies elsewhere, travelling and producing Release the Fear on his own label Vibes and Pressure, the name of a club night he ran at Passing Clouds before it was closed. “I started my own label – it’s f***ing hard but it’s rewarding when you achieve stuff, so selling 4,000 to 5,000 albums is amazing.”
His time abroad has shaped his current work. “No musician can go to Africa without it affecting their music, none. If you do go to Africa without it affecting you, you’re a fraud,” he said. “It affected me musically and also spiritually, how I view myself, others, at what point you give thanks. There’s a lot of suffering in Africa as well as a lot of wealth. The amount of suffering humbles you and brings a certain humility to the music. It’s hard to self-analyse and say ‘I was like this and now I’m like this’.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘wow I’m loving this new journey you’re on’. I think it’s obvious where I was making music from a perspective of self before, now it’s definitely not a perspective of self, even though it’s from my pen.”
He was inspired by his experiences. Natty said: “A friend is a good-hearted pan-African, trying to address the disconnect in Africa. He started this charity, Erase Foundation, years ago so I said ‘I’ll put my charitable efforts into what you’re doing’. We have an orphanage, five schools, we’re going to take over a sixth. We have work in Gambia, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone…
“We send 20ft containers full of stuff. We’ve just sent one full to the brim with mattresses, warm clothing, desks, chairs, we’re kitting out two schools and a nursing unit in Lesotho.”
Natty has made use of his profile to promote his work. “The music plays a big part in everything I do,” he said. “If I wasn’t making music I wouldn’t be able to do this work. “When the mudslide happened in Sierra Leone, I put up a post and within two weeks, we were able to send a container.
“It’s hard to call it charity work, let me just call it work that needs to be done. I can go places that a lot of people can’t go. I can speak to a politician and also a gangster with a gun in the street. Maybe it’s because I’m an African Rasta musician and I’ve been educated to be comfortable in different situations.”
He says growing up in Camden surrounded by so many diverse cultures and close to other UK musical talents such as Ms Dynamite, Akala and Mr Hudson was a “massive influence” on him and “turned me into something quite unique in terms of my music” but is careful not to be complacent.
“No, I’m not happy. I’m never happy, I’m a perfectionist, always striving for the next thing,” he said. “Happy is the second cousin of satisfied which is second cousin of lazy. I’ve got a lot to give which is why I can spend three hours getting the right tambourine sound and everyone thinks I’m crazy and that’s why people come to my shows. I don’t think this society is a giving and good society even though the people are giving. There’s a lot to fight for and to sing for, so no, I’m not happy.”