Mykal Rose on Auto-Tune, Black Uhuru, and Miami Vice

Categories: Q&A
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​Employing a blend of Rasta consciousness, sublime vocal harmonies, and the classic rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, Black Uhuru were arguably reggae music's most pivotal ambassadors in the years following Bob Marley's death in 1981. 

Above all else, lead singer Mykal Rose defined the group with his distinctive scatting vocal style (dubbed "tu-tu-tweng"), bringing a psychedelic edge to songs like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" -- later used as theme music in 1987's Jamaica-set The Mighty Quinn -- and "Sponji Reggae." Rose left Black Uhuru in 1985, the same year the group brought home the first-ever reggae Grammy for its album Anthem, but has periodically reemerged over the years both with and without Uhuru, most recently with "Shoot Out," a solo dancehall single that topped global reggae charts in 2008. A frequent visitor to Broward -- a number of his family members reside in Pembroke Pines -- Rose played a recent Icons of Reggae concert at Central Broward Regional Park.
New Times: So what have you been doing during your stay in Florida?

Mykal Rose: I'm doing recording at the moment. Preparing for something new. 

You had something of a surprise hit with the song "Shoot Out" a few years ago. Have you released any music since then? 

Actually, no. Things have come up but collaborations mostly. 

That song was pretty different from what people might expect from you, most notably in its use of Auto-Tune. I'm sure you've had people ask you why someone with a voice like yours would need a tool like that.

All right, a lot of people seem to be not remembering stuff. When we were recording with Sly and Robbie as producers, we had songs where we used vocoder. It's the same thing. If you listen to the album named Chill Out, there's vocoder on my voice. 

A lot of people get upset now because most of the younger youths are using it, but it becomes a part of the marketing now. People get hooked onto it. If you listen to Chris Brown... it's everywhere. In the business now, you can't do without it. [I've] been singing with Auto-Tune from a long time. All right, all right. I'm going to play you something different. Don't get frightened now, OK? Listen to this. [Plays a cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" with Auto-Tune-affected vocals]. Yo.

When did you make that? 

Five or four days ago. You like it?

Yeah. That wasn't what I was expecting you to play me. What made you do a Michael Jackson song?

Actually it's a group, Easy Star [All-Stars] out of New York. They were the ones who asked me to record the Beatles track "A Day in the Life." The harmony is amazing. Listen to this. [Plays another song, also with Auto-Tune on it]. This is my album now. 

"Shoot Out" was a pretty topical song, which dealt with recent tensions in Kingston. What are some of the topics you'll be covering on this album?

It's just to let the youth dem know say whatever happens in a Babylon, we still haffi make it keep working toward our equal rights and justice and upliftment. Education of Africa, the whole thing. Because you don't know these are the cause. This is not equal rights. It's a Black History Month, like last month; it's like Black History Year. It's a thing we [should have] continuously. Everything is blowing and blowing in that area. 


You are someone who can claim to have invented your vocal style. How did you come up with the tu-tu-tweng style?

When I just started out, I used to sound like Dennis Brown, in the '70s. It is good to idolize someone, but up to a point. Me just said to myself, "Bwoy, you can sound like someone, but you can't go too far with it." As somebody in the business, if you want to be established on a level, you have to create something for your own self that identifies you when you're out there and pushes that image.

Black Uhuru gained popularity at a time in the '80s where reggae was starting to be used a lot in TV and in movies. For instance, the first time I heard your music was in Miami Vice.

To tell you the truth, mi never know about that. A lot of things happened with the music where we didn't know. Nobody ever called us and notified us, and said "OK, we're going to use your song, and it's going to be in a Miami Vice." Certain things now like The Mighty Quinn, I was there. More times, somebody just takes the record and decides to use it. Nobody comes and talks to you and says, "All right, this is a contract." So how that did work, I wouldn't know how to start. 

Do you think it benefited you?

It was a good move, still. Even the other day, somebody called me on the phone and said, "Find a station," and I said, "What do you mean?" And they said, "Bwoy, on Bill Cosby, 'Sponji Reggae' playing." 


Have you ever seen that episode of the Cosby Show? Lisa Bonet and her boyfriend in that episode were talking in a fake Jamaican accent and singing "Sponji Reggae"?

I heard it before, but it was a long time ago. But they replayed it recently. Yeah, they tried a Jamaica kind of talk.


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